In a burst of rays sparking a spectrum of frills fencing her wavy hair, she stepped out of the glow of the sun hanging low. Medium length hair with outward furls all the way round. A shadow, fine as her figure, fell before on the dusty road to an extent of seconds in reach to the crossroads. An image of a burning flame that captivated his senses from the very first time. She walked briskly in long strides making ripples of waves on her heat-pressed knife-pleats flaunting fine legs and firm skin. Her lips red like a rose and natural pointed. In uniform dress; red tie, tennis shoes and socks, sunlight penetrating through her short white frock. A queen in beauty ranking.
Short stared her down from the turn to the bend. She attended Layla School a block around the corner. He caught her routine; going to school two in the afternoon, a break at five and home at eight. His heart missed a beat every time he saw her.
He was an extremely introvert boy with an ego, fourteen years old. Dreamy eyes and a quiet character so inhibited that when he first appeared on stage to recite a poem in an English forum, his voice was inaudible to the crowd. He could not remember which grade it was prone to a syndrome of post-traumatic stress disorder.
In December 1980, he read a note pinned on the noticeboard at school about John Lennon assassination. He attended a tribute concert that took place at Olympus Theatre. Short loved music.
By 1981, he joined to play bass in a three-piece band called ‘The Devil’s Interval’. There were many rock bands at his school executing jam sessions in the practice room. Boys wanted to launch a concert and supervision held a stage rehearsal judged by senior teachers to assert their potentials.
Mosaic Concert was then organised and sold out three nights in April. Boys and girls had a good time. He found a passion to climb out of his shell and still inclined to a degree of caution when girls call his name.
In Corduroy pants, he was introduced to a thin girl who wanted to meet. Her name was Shire. She wore a glittering red top and a black miniskirt, flirting with boys. She was escorted by another friend called Nisa from the girls’ school. First time ever he kissed a girl.
In the weeks that followed he attended dancing parties at random houses. Besides dancing and sweating in the heat and beat, bunks were rolled on the floors side by side where boys and girls conduct open sex. Short had his first smoke and drink. He was told to consume Hart Rum if he wished to turn white and flush in skin. As for the record; those who went abroad returned home with blanched skin.
In May, they threw the Youth Concert. His three-piece band opened with ‘Purple Haze’ of Jimi Hendrix. It was an open show in the schoolyard. Most bands played rock music and blues.
When the band played ‘After Midnight’ copying Eric Clapton’s version, a red light on the stage blinked on signalling them to climb down…time has run out. Short could see Shire in the crowd with a new boy cuddling in the rain.
The Devil’s Interval continued to jam on. Finally, somebody tapped on their shoulders to cut short. Many bands had to play.
Short observed those moments of boys and girls dancing and flirting, cries and shrills, noise and feedback, in the pouring rain. Shire wore the same dress…charming this new boy. Short failed to date her when she showed interest.
Shire and Nisa happened to be party girls. There were many gigs in town and youth tend to peer the senior students in attending concerts and do like they do. As for the record, those dancing parties and night study groups busted several girls for becoming pregnant.
Short continued to watch this girl going to Layla School passing his gate by the corner of the crossroads. He could tell from the shadow that falls in her path who it was. Sometimes two more girls accompanied her.
He listened to BBC’s ‘Guitar Workshop’ – Peter Green, co-founder of Fleetwood Mac recorded the original ‘Black Magic Woman’ that became a 70’s worldwide hit of Santana. Green was the replacement for Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.
It took him another year, occupied with music or to his sluggishness, to take a step to know her better. On his calendar, it was 18th March, he followed her. She went home alone. After few turns in her tail…he lost her.
Next it was 22nd Monday, Short followed the girl with books folded across her chest and hair wagging in double ponytail tied in red ribbon…to a house that stood boldly erected. He saw the light that fell on her when she opened the gate. He read the signboard; ‘Bittersweet’.
He stood jaw-dropped. This house bordering tall walls could only belong to the elite.
He told his classmate, Shrink, about it who said that place belonged to Dick Lord.
Short recalled a vague memory from childhood. Dick Lord with his family of several kids visited his home on a Land Rover without a top. It was close to sunset and the lawn neatly arranged with flowering plants welcomed visitors. Mother was alone and she could not serve tea for some reason. Or perhaps there was a muted dispute. Dick Lord left impatiently. Those kids climbed the Rover from all sides. Short heard him utter these words, “I don’t want to come here anymore…”
Those days he listened to vinyl records of Elvis Presley on a turntable; ‘Burning Love’.
Many years later he learned and pieced together. His parents sought help from Lord for medical treatment abroad for his elder brother’s health. Shortly afterwards, his mother was grieving over his father’s unfaithfulness. She believed Lord helped him tour with another woman in the neighbouring country.
It was a time his father left home and his mother delivered an unanticipated baby. His mother was sacked from job while in hospital bed. His grandparents were old and mostly bedridden. His family was desperately falling behind poverty. His mother went to see Lord begging for money but he wasn’t able to help.