Best Friend (The Unrequited Love)
A gregarious and rambunctious woman, I had never been left alone in any place at any time. Wherever I went, there’s always flock of friends that stayed in my wake, joking and laughing out loud as if there was no tomorrow.
People were attracted to me like a bee to the honey because of my well-rounded personality. I had an easy laugh; I could read people’s minds, or at least their feelings; I could give them advices that work; and I was a good conversationalist. I could converse with anyone, young or old alike with great ease.
Oh, yes! I was a human being, too, with my own sets of strengths and weaknesses. But so successful I was in hiding my problems and insecurities that my friends and relatives considered me the strongest woman they ever knew.
But why was I alone now inside this BS Math department? Where had my friends gone? Why did my heart beat odd today?
The School Year 2006-07 had just begun in earnest. As usual, I was with my closest friends who made the BS Math department their hideout when one of them handed me her assignment for the day. I studied and analyzed it thoroughly that I didn’t notice my friends were going somewhere one by one. It’s like being awaken of my reverie when I heard the soft masculine voice:
“Hi, miss!” the voice said.
“Oh! You surprise me,” I said.
When I looked up to gaze at the owner of the voice, my heart did beat faster than just a few minutes ago. The man was the person who irritated me most when I first laid eyes on him. My first impression of him was that he was a pathetic new face, unfriendly and cold.
“What’s that you’re reading?” he asked.
“Just some assignments,” I said in a disinterested voice while waving the notebook in the air hoping him to go away and leave me.
A small piece of yellow paper fell to the floor from the notebook. He swiftly picked the paper up from the floor and read from it.
“Uh-huh! So, you are Maira, and you’re also an IDB scholar,” he said. “Just like my sister Khalsum.”
“Do you say Khalsum is your sister?” I said, my face brightening up. “Khalsum Mukattil?”
“Yes, that’s the one!” he said.
“You don’t say that you’re a brother of my dear friend Kah Khalsum!” I said. “If I only know about it early, I may not have been too indifferent to you.”
“So you don’t like me?” he said testily with a face that conveyed mock disappointment.
“Who likes a person who doesn’t know how to mingle with his classmates?” I snapped playfully.
“That’s the reason I’m here,” he said. “I need a beautiful woman like you to be my friend.”
“Oh, I’ll text Kah Khalsum and tell her that she has a flippant brother in you,” I said blushing.
“I’m not kidding,” he said. “I really like you to be my friend,”
“That settles it, then,” I said. “From now on, count me in as one of your friends. But please return my Yellow Form back.”
We both laughed as he handed me my Yellow Form that had dropped to the floor minutes ago.
That’s how our beautiful friendship started. In a short time, I learned many things about Khalid, that’s his name. He was a very complicated person: It seemed as if he’s burden with the world on his shoulder. He told me about all his excitements and worries. He had become so open to me that made my heart aquiver. I felt so special because I knew he’s a very private individual, and yet he was able to lay his life to me like an open book.
Little that I knew, I was also beginning to tell him about my insecurities and weaknesses that I didn’t dare tell anyone about. He was surprised about it. He’s blinded about my strong, shiny, and hard outer shell that when I told him that I was soft within that shell, he’s always skeptical.
Yet, he accepted me for what I was even without that awful mask of security and composure. That’s just a fair return since I had already accepted him body and soul, no matter how weird, crazy and unpredictable he was. Concomitant with that acceptance was the feeling that there’s something queer happening in my heart towards him.
Was this love?
This could not be. He told me how he had become very angry when he knew that one of his best friends had fallen in love with him. Though he said that rules might have exception, I was not at all convinced. The realization that I might be in love with him was brutal and unnerving.
God, I didn’t want to lose him. What should I do? I’m afraid that if he knew that I was beginning to fall for him, he’d leave me. Besides, he had dear loves on Sherma and Rayna. Why should I follow my heart and be the number three?
Hah! But I really felt that he loved me, too. When I looked into his eyes, no matter how fleeting, I could see the content of his heart there. There was no need to voice it out. Woman instinct. He never told me about his feelings towards me. Our silent duel of love was all around. But I didn’t want to lose. I had many plans in life; love was only a hindrance to achieve it. More important, my family was heavily counting on me.
But, God, I was ready to give him my heart if he only asked for it, yet, another part of me said I shouldn’t. I had a heart of stone before I met Khalid. But he’s making me crazy all over now. His eyes—his very expressive eyes—conveyed more than words can say.
So, when my most ardent suitor Akmad asked me again for a date that I always refused before, he didn’t have to ask me a second time this time. I went dating with Akmad hoping that I could rechannel the love I fell for my best friend to Akmad. We spent one afternoon together in the SpeedyPizza restaurant. But, try as I did to learn to love Akmad, I just simply couldn’t. My heart was secretly yearning for somebody else’s love.
It was on September 6, 2006 when Khalid and my other friend Nurmi came to my house. Because I was not feeling well, I hadn’t gone to school for a couple of days. My heart did a triple summersault when I learned from Nurmi that it’s Khalid who insisted to see me. Luckily, I had just recuperated when they came, so, I went with them to school, ignoring the bad luck that should ensue from my tripping—albeit with poise—in our kitchen floor earlier that day that made Nurmi and Khalid laughing aloud.
We trudged the slippery wet dirt road to the school while talking boisterously.
When we reached the MSU campus, one of my close male friends, Ibrahim, came to me and excused me from Khalid and Nurmi. He then took us along to the CAS building. While Khalid and Nurmi settled down inside the CAS building but near its entrance, Ibrahim brought me to the far-end corridor, near the Poli. Sci. Department, where only the two of us were there.
When we’re alone with Ibrahim, I asked him, “What’s up?”
He pulled me an armchair and gestured me to sit down. He sat in a nearby chair opposite me.
“There’s nothing in me, Maira,” said Ibrahim finally. “But you’re not you lately.”
“What are you talking about?” I said, alarmed.
“Why are you behaving like a fool when you are with Khalid?” he asked. “Who is he to you, anyway?”
“Uh-oh! It’s Khalid your worrying about,” I said. “We’re best of friends.”
“That’s the problem, dude,” he said, sounding very much concerned. “You’re just friends and yet both of you is acting like lovers!”
“What’s wrong with that?” I snapped back.
“Everything’s wrong, Maira,” he said. “You’re a sister of a hafiz, and all your other siblings are very religious; yet, you are behaving in a non-Muslim way.”
“Why should I be shackled with their reputation?” I retort. “I am my own person, anyway.”
“Oh, Maira, you’re becoming very irrational,” he said. “If you’re just best friends, then don’t treat him the way you do now. Don’t be too sweet to him. If other people won’t misinterpret me as jealous of you, I will box that Khalid till his eyes pop out their sockets. He’s crazy, you know!”
“Please, Ibrahim, don’t harm Khalid,” I said. “He’s very dear to me. He does nothing wrong. Don’t speak ill of him.”
“I am just concern about you, Maira,” he said. “Please don’t act like a fool. Khalid is not worthy of you. There are many other men around you. Oh, look! Isn’t that Akmad?” He pointed at somebody in the distance.
“Yes, that is Akmad,” I said. “But please understand that I and Khalid are just best of friends. Yes! Every person in the campus mistook us as lovers. But they seem to like the two of us. I’m surprised that of all people, you’re disagreeing about the prospect of us getting together.”
“Are you saying to me that you like what they’re saying about the two of you?” he asked, shocked. “You really want to be a girlfriend of Khalid?”
“Of course not!” I lied.
“You better not be!” he said. “Khalid has a very bad reputation. He changes girlfriends as often as he changes his clothes.”
“Are you brainwashing me?” I asked, slightly hurt. Ibrahim had just done something which I disliked. I didn’t want to hear people who badmouthed other people, especially from a man’s lips. I was beginning to dislike Ibrahim.
“I’m not, Maira,” said Ibrahim matter-of-factly. “But please keep your eyes and ears open.”
“Of course, I am,” I said. “I know Khalid better than anyone of you knows.”
There, I left Ibrahim, his mouth gaping in disbelief. Hearing Ibrahim clucking in the distance, I rejoined with Khalid and Nurmi who’re still waiting for me.
“What’s the matter, Maira?” Khalid asked. “You look pale. Are you OK?”
“Yeah, I’m OK,” I said. “But I think you’re not. Your face looks very difficult to paint.”
“Oh, never you mind. I am OK,” He said.
I was not convinced that he’s OK but I kept silent. I looked to the place where he glanced furtively every so often. There, I saw Akmad sitting, talking with a friend. When I looked back to Nurmi, she’s staring at the same direction, too.
“Hmm, I know now why you’re not OK, Khalid,” I told myself. Why was it that this Khalid was so transparent? I could always guess what’s he’s thinking at any moment. Was he doing it on purpose? But, of course, I was a very sharp person. I could always understand other people. But, this Khalid, oh, he’s very romantic in his silent way.
“Guys and gals,” I heard Khalid said. “Wait for me here. I will just get my bag in the BS Math Department. After that we’ll gonna go home.”
When he’s gone, Akmad approached me. He wanted to talk with me. It was almost four o’clock in the afternoon, so Nurmi went home ahead of us. Sensing that Akmad wanted privacy, Ibrahim left me and talked with the CASSA officers who’re collecting the CAS students’ contributions for the 32nd MSU Foundation Day celebration.
Alone with Akmad, he tried to convince me once again about his love to me . . . telling me sweet nothings. But it always ended up bitter. I couldn’t find an iota of care for Akmad. My heart was secretly hoping for Khalid to come and rescue me from this horrible conversation.
At last he came.
Once again, his face was difficult to paint. But I was convinced that I knew what’s keeping him in a bad mood at that moment: He’s jealous of Akmad. But why? If he only knew. . . .
I could feel from the way he acted that he’s reluctantly decided to take me away from Akmad. When he attempted at last to go near us, Ibrahim held Khalid’s arms as if trying to stop Khalid from going near us.
My situation was then hopeless, so I told Akmad: “It’s time to go home, Akmad.”
“OK, but what about if we go to town together?” he asked. “This will be my last day here; I’ll be leaving for Pangutaran tonight.”
“I’m so sorry, Akmad, but I have many companions today,” I said, pointing at my friends nearby. “If you want you can come with us.”
“Thanks, but no thanks,” He said. “I want to be alone with you.”
“Again, I’m so sorry,” I said. “Maybe some other time.”
“OK,” He said, dejected. He then left me when I rejoined with my Barkada.
My Barkada was now walking the stretch of road from the CAS building to the Green House. There were many of us. Some SSG officers and CASSA officers joined our leisurely walk. My best friend Khalid was ahead of the group, alone in his solitary world. He’s not at all talking. He’s always like that when he’s not OK.
“Hey, Maira!” I heard Ibrahim said beside me. “You’re very cruel with Akmad.”
“I’m not!” I said.
“Of course, you are,” Ibrahim said. “He told me that he invited you to have some snacks downtown but you refused. Why not give him some chances?”
“I’m sorry for him, Ibrahim,” I said. “But I can’t give him what he wanted.”
We kept walking while talking multifarious topic while Khalid, still in front of all of us, had not yet uttered a single word. Reaching the gate, we decided to get a ride on the jeepney because it’s almost getting dark. I sat near the uncommunicative Khalid. Our group was the only commuters inside the jeepney. Then, our boisterous conversation drifted into the topic of Akmad.
Alas! Many of them talked highly of the polite and religious Akmad. When they were exhausted giving an encomium to Akmad, my cheerful Barkada put the issue into motion, to know who was for or against Akmad as my boyfriend. The voting kicked off; Akmad got almost all the votes as I dismally expected.
Finally, when all had cast their votes except the quiet Khalid, they asked Khalid about his vote. “At last, Khalid will be able to talk,” I thought. “He isn’t a snob not to answer that question.”
To my dismay, he also voted for Akmad with his single word: “Yes.” So Akmad almost got the perfect vote if not for the cautious SSG Prexy who decided to first learn Akmad well before voting.
Reaching the terminal, we disembarked the jeepney. The Barkada separated just near the Municipal Office. Alone now with the silent Khalid, and in spite of my rambunctious attitude, I didn’t know what to say to him to break the ice.
After a couple of uneasy moments, us standing immobile on the roadside, hearing the roaring of the motor vehicles passing by, his breathing very pronounced, he finally said, “Let’s go to the Kish Snack House.”
“OK...,” I said.