I have tried over many years to shove this aside in my mind, perhaps in the hope that if I didn't think about it, the pain would somehow be kept at bay. And so it has been for much of the time, although the thoughts have always lingered, hovering around vaguely somewhere inside, intermittently causing me to fail to find sleep, or causing me to awaken abruptly in the middle of the night.
I was 17 years old and it was the first day of lectures at university in the freshman year. The memory is vivid. I was seated at the rear of the huge lecture theatre, taking in the new experience of being in a lecture with a hundred other students; eagerly absorbing every word of the Constitutional Law professor as he guided his new students through what we, the students, were to expect from the course and what he expected from us. My attention was fixed throughout on the professor, me assiduously taking notes from time to time, as any good student should. And it was not until towards the end of the three-hour lecture that I noticed a presence seated next to me, to the left. I cannot tell if it was deliberate on his part, but the main reason why I'd noticed him was that he had positioned himself in such a way that not to notice him would be impossible. Glancing sideways briefly, I registered in my mind a not unattractive older guy, facial hair, well groomed, strong hands taking notes.. Hmm..
And so the lecture came to an end. The exit from the lecture theatre was located towards the front and we were seated at the rear, so we had a few minutes to pack up our stuff and join the queue of students filing out of the theatre. And that was when we met for the first time. I will call him TJ. TJ was a serving officer in the military. He was 10 years older than me and had just concluded training at the military academy at Sandhurst in the UK. He was undertaking a law degree to bolster his career in the military. So, while I lived at one of the student hostels within the campus, TJ was resident in a flat in a bachelor officers' building at an Army installation off campus, but not far from the campus.
It transpired that for every subsequent lecture for the remainder the first (and the second) year, TJ and I sat next to each other. And even when we attended lectures at other venues, we would arrange to sit side by side. Needless to say, as time went by, we had become fast friends and ever closer. And it would be fair to say that we became even more than just friends, since most evenings we would spend together hanging out at his flat, watching movies or listening to music or just talking. He liked talking to me it seemed and maybe I too enjoyed listening to him talk. He played tennis and I enjoyed hanging around the courts on campus watching him play and sometimes we would study together, at the library or at various reading rooms.
And he had a girlfriend too, some nurse at the Army hospital, who from time to time would show up at his flat. But this would throw a spanner in the works as far as I was concerned, since in her presence our conversation would take on a different tone and become quite less intimate than it usually was. Then, perhaps in compensation, TJ would whisk me off on a long drive in his car, twice taking me across the border to Cotonou in the Republic of Benin on a day trip. I was particularly impressed by the way he flashed his military ID at those clowns in Customs uniforms at the border post, and the way they jumped to attention and waved us through, lol.
(To be continued)