Prince swirls around in almost perfect revolutions, his buttocks almost off the bicycle seat as he leans forward, his legs pedaling swiftly, making him go fast.
I am scared that he will fall. I am afraid of a lot of things, but at this moment, it is the likelihood of an accident from which he emerges cut and bruised, and my bicycle, broken, that towers above my other nibbling fears.
I want to tell him to slow down, but I don’t. I want to say many things to him, like how I would like to have a turn at riding my bicycle, seeing as how he’s ridden it for the past thirty minutes. How I dislike when he barges into my kitchen and dishes food for himself when my parents and our house girl are out. Or, how I hate his endless teasing; the way he calls me ajebo – soft child, especially in front of the other street boys so that they burst into laughter, and I am left wondering if he is truly my friend, or if I only imagine it.
Or, that I think his lips are perfectly proportioned and the light pink is the perfect shade for his caramel skin, but I know he will call me a homo if I say that. So, I bite my tongue.
He is still doing circles when he takes his hands off the handlebars. He is unsteady at first, but he manages to regain his balance, and he immediately throws me a smirk. I smile back, even though I have anger budding at the back of my mind.
I drink in the images of his thin, topless torso as it ripples with sweat, his toes as they curl ever so slightly over the pedals, sort of like the talons of a hawk, his lit-up eyes. For a moment, it is as though I am in a trance that I am quickly snapped out of as he falls to the ground.
I sprint over to the scene and survey the damage as he gets to his feet. “Did you injure yourself?” I ask.
“No. Although, I think I scratched my leg,” he says, dusting sand from his body. I raise my bike to its feet, and I spot it; the left pedal, the one on which my bicycle fell, has broken off.
“Guy!” I exclaim. “You’ve broken my bicycle.” I search furiously with my eyes for the detached pedal, and I spot it lying on the ground, not too far from my feet. Prince gets down on one knee for a closer look.
“Guy, what kind of fake bicycle did your uncle buy? Because this nonsense cannot truly be from America,” he says.
I want to slap him hard so that it leaves welts on his face. I feel my heart speeding up, the way it usually does when I am furious. “You broke my bicycle,” I repeat. “A bicycle that my uncle just bought, and now you’ve broken it.”
“Calm down, jare,” he retorts, impatiently. “It’s not a big deal.”
Is it not a big deal? I think, even though it had taken two years of constant begging for my uncle to agree to buy me this bicycle for my fourteenth birthday, which was last week? This nonchalance further fans the flame of my anger and causes me to shove him in the chest. He staggers back, surprised, and then retaliates so hard it was as though he intended for his arms to go through my chest.
I grabbed his arm that when I fell, so did he. Now, he’s on top of me. His slightly foul breath hits my face, and beads of sweat fall from his forehead onto me. Some slides into my mouth. It tastes of salt. It tastes of him.
He pushes himself off and walks to the clothesline, where he grabs his shirt. Tears are threatening to slide down my face, but I quickly wipe them off. I will not let him see me cry. He will not use this to mock me amongst those other boys.
As he leaves, I get back up on my feet and yell, “Don’t come back to my house again. Don’t come back!” He doesn’t even glance back as he walks out of the gate.
I imagine that my kinky afro is long and flowing and blonde, and the wind that I feel is throwing it back in waves. The road goes downhill, and so I do not need to pedal. In this part of the estate, there are no houses on either side of the road, only overgrown grasses in which Prince once told me he’d spotted a Python. I thought he was lying, but I didn’t say so.
I have not seen him in two weeks. No, that’s not true. I have seen him several times around the estate, but neither of us has acknowledged the other’s presence. Like yesterday at the mallam’s shop. I’d gone there to buy some things, and he was standing a few meters away. Ordinarily, he would have come over, picked up a snack from the shop, and then made me pay, but not yesterday.
My back was to him, but I was sure that I could feel his eyes boring through me. When I turned, he was gone, though. Sometimes, it’s as though I can still taste his sweat in my mouth.
I reach level ground, and houses begin appearing on either side. It is as though the landlords didn’t build on a slope for fear of homes sliding downwards. I have to pedal again, and perhaps it’s just in my head, but the new left pedal feels wobbly. Uncle Bomboy was furious at first, but he eventually had it repaired, and the first thing I did was ride it through the streets so that Prince would see.
There weren’t many people or cars on the freshly-tarred road, and most of the maneuvering I had to do was around potholes that widened daily, like yawns. The wind still ran over me, like hands. My blue polo, which was the same shade as my bicycle—and a swimming pool, billowed around my body.
I have been riding for an hour, and I know my muscles will be tight tonight, but I do not care. I can see my house from here, and I can see a person in front of my gate. The bright red of their oversized Manchester jersey and their skinny build could be any of the street boys, honestly. But I know it’s not just any of the street boys. I know it is Prince.
I press the brakes lightly as I reach my gate, and I use my legs to complete the stop. He stands there, bopping his head and tapping his feet as though he is listening to music, but his ears are empty, and no loud music is playing. I stand there staring at him, and he does the same. In his eyes are something like an apology, hints of remorse, and although I cannot see myself, I am sure mine hold relief and longing. Or, maybe it’s all just the sun.
I wonder which of us will talk first and I decide it must be him. I imagine myself carrying my bicycle into the house and slamming the gate shut, but I know I will not do that.
“Can I ride?” he finally asks. The image from last time still plays freshly in my mind, but I find myself pushing the bike toward him. As he takes it, his hand grazes mine.
There are things we will never say to each other, something I long for but will never have. But I thought the same about my bicycle, and here I am, two years later.
He is doing that circling thing again in the middle of the road, but this time, his hands are firmly on the wheel, and he is laughing, and I am laughing too.