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I grabbed a pair of shorts from my closet and ran out with him. Our school didn’t have a gym, but there was a tennis court, basketball court, a soccer field, and a track field. We walked to the track field and Kenny said we should do five laps.
“Dude, didn’t you hear? I’ve never done this before. How am I supposed to do five laps?” I asked.
“You’ll do fine, just try,” he said. We started jogging and I was doing great keeping up with him.
“So, are you going to tell me about your scars?” I asked.
He looked at me for a second and his face looked serious.
“Do you really want to know?” he asked.
“Believe me, if I was willing to give up sleep for this, I really want to hear about it,” I said.
He stopped jogging and started walking. I stopped and walked with him.
“Listen, I don’t know how it is with you guys in Malawi, but it’s dangerous where I’m from. And I could be killed for this, but I’m fortunate enough that only my parents know and all I get is a beating,” he said.
“What are you talking about?” I asked, more confused than I was before.
He started jogging again, this time faster so that I couldn’t keep up. I tried for a while but after about two laps, I gave up and collapsed on the ground. He finished his laps and we walked back to the dorm. He never said anything about the scars after that. And seeing how he tried to not talk about them, I tried never to ask him about them again.
The first week went by fast. I got to know people, I walked around campus (mostly with Kenny), and got used to the surrounding, I called home every night like I had promised, and my classes were going really well.
“Are you a party person?” Kenny asked me one Saturday afternoon. We had been cleaning all day and we were back in our beds resting.
“Not really, why?” I responded.
“Because it’s Saturday today,” he said as if that explained anything.
“Okay, and?” I asked
“It’s Saturday entertainment tonight,” he said.
“Wait, we have those here? What happens there?”
“Well, you just go watch movies, or dance, or something. Nothing illegal though,” he said.
“Is it usually really crowded?” I asked.
“Packed is the word, man. It’s usually packed!” he said.
“Then no, I’m good. I’m not a party person,” I replied.
He laughed and didn’t say anything for a while. I kept thinking of what I was going to do other than go for the entertainment. It was the first week and there wasn’t much to study for. I had no homework since teachers rarely ever assigned us any. I couldn’t watch movies because the school head boys could walk in at any time and take the phones away if they saw them. Just when I was about to tell Kenny that I’ve changed my mind if he wants to go, I heard him say, “It’s really not that bad though. You should try it at least once.”
“What time does it start?” I asked.
He jumped off his bed and sat on mine, looked at his watch and said, “In about 8 minutes!”
I grabbed a pair of pants as Kenny was grabbing his.
“What are we supposed to wear?” I asked.
“Anything,” he called back.
I slipped on a black pair of adidas shorts, high top black and white sneakers, and a white t-shirt. I turned around and Kenny was still digging into his closet. I sat on my bed and waited for him to be done. Katlego and Bernard walked in excited about the party.
“You guys aren’t ready yet?” Bernard half screamed.
“I am. I’m waiting on him,” I said pointing at Kenny.
They changed and headed out before Kenny was done. I laid on my bed and watched him digging into his closet, picking one shirt and putting it back, then picking another one.
“Dude, you said we could just wear anything. What are you digging for?” I asked him.
“Nothing goes with my blue jeans!” he said in an annoyed tone.
I laughed and walked over to him. I looked at the pile he had dug through and tossed aside, and saw a short sleeved shirt with at least a thousand little nerd glasses design on them. I held it up and said, “This looks good.”
He stopped and smiled, took it from me and slipped it on. He looked like he was going on a date instead of just a Saturday night party on a secondary school campus.
I sat back on the bed and watched him pick the shoes and then started picking at his hair. We were 20 minutes late by the time he was done. He had blue ripped jeans, the shirt I had picked for him, a small silver necklace, and white sneakers. Next to him, I felt like I was on my way to the playground for a jog, but at least I felt comfortable.
Before we got in the hall, I pulled him aside and made him promise that we’ll leave if it gets crazy. He agreed and we walked in. There was loud music playing, and people were dancing alone or with partners. A few close to the entrance stopped dancing when we walked in and stared at us. We walked to the back of the room and watched for a while. Kenny looked like he was enjoying this, but I wasn’t. Just as I was about to walk out, a girl from my religious education class walked up to me. She had on a red dress and black shoes.
“I’m glad you came, Juma. Would you like to dance?” she asked holding out her hand.
“Wasn’t I the one supposed to ask you?” I asked, reaching for her hand.
“Guys are lazy or shy sometimes. I never seem to understand them,” she said as she dragged me away.
I turned around to wave at Kenny and our eyes met. He looked a little let down but he signaled me to "go ahead," so I went. The girl’s name was Neo. She had short hair and was almost as tall as I am. She wasn’t heavy either, so we were really close to being the same size and height. I danced with her for a while and then a slow song came on.
I have never danced to one before, so I needed an excuse to get out of there. I looked at the back to see how Kenny was doing but I couldn’t see him. Maybe he was dancing with some girl somewhere. He’d be easy to spot, so I looked around for a second and still couldn’t see him.
“Neo, will you please excuse me for a second,” I begged as I started to walk away.
She grabbed my hand and made me face her. “Where are you going?” she asked.
What should I say to her? I looked around again and still couldn’t see Kenny.
“I want to use the toilet,” I said and ran off before she could say anything. I walked back to where I had left Kenny, but he wasn’t there. I walked to the other side of the room and still couldn’t see him. By then I was sure he wasn’t there. I ran out of the building and called out, “Kenny!” No response.
It was dark by now, and Saturday entertainment was for students only, so there were no teachers. I knew he couldn’t have gone back to the dorm without telling me, so I knew he was somewhere around. I didn’t even know why I was looking for him. It’s not like he’d be kidnapped or something. I circled the building and he was still nowhere to be found. Then I remembered I haven’t checked the toilets. I walked back into the room and on the other end of the hall, Neo had sat down and was still waiting on me to get back from the toilet. I felt bad for the way I ran off and how I lied to her. I walked in the male toilets and I could see Kenny’s white sneakers from underneath the door. I walked over silently and stood by the door.
“Kenny?” I called softly as I knocked.
He didn’t respond right then, so I called again, “Kennedy, are you ok?”
“Yeah, I was just bored. Why aren’t you dancing with Neo?” he asked in an annoyed tone.
I turned around and walked towards the sink and looked in the mirror.
“You almost gave me a heart attack, dude,” I said.
He opened the door and walked out slowly and stood next to me.
“Why, it’s not like I’d be kidnapped,” he said as he rolled his eyes.
I looked at his reflection in the mirror and asked, “Are you sure you’re ok?”
“Do you wanna get out of here?” He asked and I could feel there was something bothering him. So I nodded and we walked out. There was a different song on now and Neo was dancing with a group of girls who I assumed were her friends.
Students were free to leave campus on the weekends. And a few day scholars would come for the entertainment and leave when it was over.
Kenny led me to the parking lot and we got into his car. I could never had guessed students brought cars to campus, or that any of them had cars. We drove away from the school to a small shop/restaurant that was a little driving distance from the school.
We grabbed drinks and Kenny said we had to leave the car there since where we were going wasn’t too far off. We walked for a while and came to an old bridge. Underneath it was mainly sand and fallen trees. We walked through it slowly saying nothing and finally sat by one of the fallen trees. Now that he sat so close to me, even though it was getting a little dark, I noticed that he had dark marks around his neck. He still didn’t look ready to say anything, so I pretended I didn’t have anything to say either. We must’ve sat there for at least half an hour, because he stood up and offered his hand for me to get up. I took it and dusted myself off and we started walking back.
“What’s with you, Kenny? You know you can tell me whatever is bothering you. I might be able to help,” I offered.
He remained silent and kept walking like he didn’t hear me. I was getting impatient and annoyed by now.
“Kenny!” I yelled.
He stopped walking and spun around as if I had scared him. “What?” he said.
“What happened to your neck?” I asked without thinking first. It's obvious there was something wrong with him, but there seemed to always be something wrong with him.
“These are scar marks from a suicide attempt. I tried to hang myself. Anymore questions?” he said all that under one breathe as if he was scolding me for something. For asking. He didn’t wait to see my reaction or hear anything I said after if at all I did, he just stomped off and walked even faster the way we had come. I intended to ask him about why he desperately wanted to leave the party and why we came here, why he hadn’t said anything, and the whole story about the scars on his back.
I followed him slowly back to his car and we headed for the school. He seemed very distracted as he drove, and once or twice he took a sharp turn that nearly had me bang my head on the car door.
“Kenny, stop,” I said gently after about five minutes of driving. He ignored me and drove even faster, breathing deeper than earlier. “Kenny! I said stop!” I yelled. He slowed down, tears streaming down his face, and stopped on the side of the road. Without giving it any thought, I moved closer and hugged him. He laid there on my shoulder and cried for a while. We didn’t say anything. I didn’t ask him any questions, I just help him.
Entertainment was still on when we got back, because it usually goes on until midnight or even later. We headed straight back to our dorm.
We didn’t speak about anything on our way there. I went to take a shower and Kenny was laying in his bed when I got back. I changed and got in bed too. I stayed up for a while thinking of what had happened and what he had said. A suicide attempt? Back scars? What else about this guy didn’t I know? How much pain is he dealing with?
“I’m sorry about earlier,” he said after a few uncomfortable minutes.
“Don’t worry about it. You’ll tell me when you’re ready,” I said and went to sleep.