The first time I saw her was in a church; yes, a church. This was the last place anyone would expect to meet a person like this. So rare, so mysterious, but most of all, a person who had what she had. What was this that she had? Well, to understand this, and why I did what I did to her, I shall have to take you back to that chilly Sunday morning service at St Martin's Church.
That day, the preacher spoke with more vigour than ever. The air around the room seemed to vibrate with every word he spoke. The congregation listened with a keen ear, their eyes beaming with admiration towards the man. Pastor Harris was his name. Occasionally, his microphone would let out an unexpected screech, causing discomfort to all who were listening. Pastor Harris would give it light slap and continue speaking to the people. They were his people, and they listened to the Jesus inside him as he spoke.
I sat at the back bench with my friend Dennis. Anyone who saw us could clearly tell that we were not only bored, but agitated. Indeed, we were bored, but for what reason, one may ask. The answer was simple: we did not like going to church. Not that we were atheists. As a matter of fact, we would usually pray for our meals and also before and after sleep. We just hated going to church.
"I hate coming to this place," Dennis told me as Pastor Harris coincidentally and ironically shouted "AMEN!"
"Me too," I replied, "Why do our mums insist on bringing us here when they know that we clearly hate it? I mean, this is practically the hypocrite's den."
"I hear you," Dennis said, glaring at the preacher, "Most guys come here solely to look for women. Look at that bloke over there. He is only here to please his wife. And look at that one. He only sat next to that lady so that he can have a chat with her. Ha!"
That was when the idea hit my mind. I quickly spoke the words that would soon change my life, "Hey, maybe we should also try meeting up with girls here."
If anyone had known how desperate I had been at that time, they would understand. I was seventeen years old and had barely been even hugged by a girl who was neither my mother nor my sister. Yes, I was that desperate! Like many boys of my age, I was eager for that first kiss, and who knows, maybe more.
At first, Dennis, who had had several girlfriends before, laughed. It was only after I expressed my seriousness that he agreed to help.
"Let's see . . . that one?"
"No, she's too tall. Looks intimidating,"
"How about that one?"
"No, that one's already taken. I know her boyfriend."
"Hmm . . . how about that one? She's a pretty one!"
It took me three glances to believe that this one was actually for real. That's how strikingly pretty she was! And she was seated all alone on another bench, two benches away from us, her head and hands placed upon a large book, obviously a bible. Perched on shoulder, was a black bird. Weird as it seemed, it was not a bad sight. Her light skin shone along with the church chandeliers and her dark greasy hair seemed to vibrate along with Pastor Harris' words. How could I refuse her?
"Wish me luck," I said to Dennis before eagerly groping towards my prey. I soon reached where she was and decided to melt down the church bench in the manliest way possible in order to get her attention. She merely tightened her grip on her bible, without turning to look at me. That was when I realised that it was actually a Braille bible. I had always liked blind people, simply because they never judge a person by how they look, but by what they are inside (whatever that means).
"Are you here alone?" I casually asked her.
"My aunt is in the choir," she replied without looking up, "she will take me home after the service."
"Do you have a name?"
"You are new in town, aren't you, Lola? I haven't seen you around."
"Yes I am. After my parents died I moved to this town to get away from it all."
That's a strange thing to tell a person you've just met, I thought. Still, I continued with the conversation, "I'm sorry for interrupting this sermon for you. It's just that I couldn't help it. You are so beautiful."
Lola let out a soft laugh before muttering, "Thank you."
For the rest of the long sermon, the conversation continued. I liked talking to her, and could tell that she also enjoyed my company. Gladly, I filled her in about the ups and downs of living in our neighbourhood. I even shared my crazy experiences with her, and was glad that she found me interesting and 'pleasantly silly', as she called me. By the time Pastor Harris muttered the last words of his sermon, she had agreed, though seemingly too early, to be my girlfriend. How lucky was I!
"I don't like that Pastor Harris guy," I told my new girlfriend as the service, was being wound up, "He keeps on talking about the fate of hell to people when there are rumours that he took advantage of a fifteen-year old girl. I wish he can also go to hell and see how it's been prepared specially for guys like him.''
Lola merely smirked at that joke. Soon, the service was over. We exchanged numbers and concluded the best conversation I had ever had with a fellow human being. That day, not even my little sister's annoying whining could wipe the smirk off my face. I was dating a pretty girl! The fact that she was blind did not change how I felt about her. She was great. That night, I went to bed feeling like one of those Alejandros, Antonios and Diegos from Mexican soap operas. Wow!
The next day, I woke up with what seemed like a hangover. It was if the night had brought with it a pleasant nightmare: an evil clergy man trying to hurt me before Lola swooped in like a superhero to my rescue, taking down the antagonist of that visualisation. I guess I was still getting used to the fact that I had a girlfriend. Everything was going to change.
At school, the news quickly spread: Looser Damien finally had a girlfriend; a blind girl who seemed to have lots of pet ravens. Some rumours even stated that I had desperately abducted her from Somalia to prove that I could also be boyfriend material. I found that one to be a little bit harsh. Nevertheless, I did not care. Lola became famous as soon as she joined our school. Whispers could be heard through the corridors, "She is with Damien! What is she, blind? Oh, right. She is blind."
"Hey Damien, check this out," Dennis handed me the day's newspaper as we strutted down the hall towards the Biology class. The headline was in bold: PASTOR EDWARD HARRIS OF ST MARTIN'S CHURCH HAS MYSTERIOOUSLY DISAPPERED.
During that lesson, I had the pleasure of sitting next to my new girlfriend. Trust me, it was the best Biology lesson ever! No, the lesson was not interesting, but I got to hold hands with her throughout. Not bad, really. Lola had efficiently mastered the art of Braille and therefore did not need much attention during the lesson. She said she preferred this to being taken to a special school.
After the lesson, Mrs Kimani, the Biology teacher had to remind me why I hated her. I was called to a private session, which condemned me to a half-hour lecture about 'not taking advantage of the blind girl and focussing on her lesson'. By the time I left her office, I had known for sure that I craved seeing that woman's head on a silver plate.
"I hate that old hag!" I told Lola as soon as we met up at lunch hour, "Sometimes I just wish I could stick a fork into her brain!"
Lola did not look at me, though from the way she reacted, it was as if someone had jabbed her on the back. She quickly sat up and muttered, "Be careful what you wish for."
"Bah! That's only said in movies," I laughed, then decided to change the subject, "Why do you like ravens, anyway. Don't they symbolise death, or something?"
"I don't know," she replied with simplicity, "Ravens just seem to like me . . ."
I cannot fully recall the rest of the day, but all that I could remember were those words, which seemed to recur from her that night as yet again, she rescued me from my Biology teacher. Drenched in sweat, I woke up, agitated from this other dream. What was happening to me?