Before emerging as a socially somewhat awkward adult, I was a socially very awkward teenager.
Age eighteen, in my first year of medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, I was peeved that I hadn’t yet managed to attract a boy, but not surprised. Dad, a conservative authoritarian, had kept his three daughters close. Apart from school activities, he’d not allowed us further from home than a bungee cord. As a result, I withered into an inarticulate walnut shell when approached by a serviceable male. Not that this happened often.
I blamed my looks. Some devious fertility god had crafted me in the dark, with my breasts, hips, thighs, and calves fashioned to attract a preindustrial farmer. I’m sure my upside down glasses, all the rave in the mid 80s, and long frizzed hair, springing from my head at an acute angle, hadn’t helped. Although I hadn’t entered medical school to find a boyfriend, I was still vaguely disappointed.
My best friend, Chloe, was also a white teenager from a conservative home. She had similar luck, although she was petite, and pretty, with hazel eyes and a delicate, heart-shaped face, as charming as a cat lounging in Cleopatra’s court. Not even she attracted boys. It was a mystery.
Despite myself, in the second month of our first year, I fell hopelessly in lust with a tall, blonde Adonis. Ari. Tall, glorious Ari with his whimsical, blonde curls suggesting a sensitive side and well defined lean muscles promising enough strength to support even the most boisterous dance partner -- an absolute must.
The unilateral relationship lasted all of four weeks and in that time I ogled him mercilessly and dreamed about him ceaselessly, until the sheer force of my attraction created the opportunity for a magical connection. It was a Wednesday and one of our lectures had been cancelled, leaving us with a free hour mid-afternoon.
Chloe and I stood outside the main campus canteen, debating whether to enter or go instead to our residence, Jubilee Hall, for coffee. I glanced over Chloe’s shoulder and spied Ari coming up with his friend. I caught his angel blue gaze. My knees wobbled as he moseyed towards us.
‘Hi. I’m Ari. This is David. I don’t think we’ve met.’ Ari’s voice was as deep as the pit I fell into. David was a blurred nonentity.
My jellied legs transmitted a vibration to my voice which shook as I greeted them.
Ari suggested coffee, and, desperate to escape the noise and distractions in the canteen, I invited them to my dorm room. I swore later it was fate telling me no way in hell was I going to land a boyfriend or ever have sex unless I paid for it.
The boys walked next to us as we struggled to maintain the semblance of a conversation. I tried my best to sound as intelligent and cool as possible, but my heart was drawing all the blood from my brain and pumping it into a particularly parched and uncharted territory. When we reached my room, I flung open the door and ushered the boys in ahead of us. Once in, there was no way out.
Strewn over the desk, for my dream boy and his friend to see, were three gargantuan size 28 G bras, displayed in all their Dolly Parton grandeur, except Dolly’s bras were almost definitely lacy, frilly, and surely entirely whole. I only discarded my bras when the number of holes in the garments exceeded their structural integrity. My bras were also hideously functional and puce grey, a testament to my disinterest in clothing and the lack of decent hosiery in the rural town I’d come from.
I was semi-paralysed with embarrassment, but I filled the kettle, poured Nescafe instant coffee into plain white mugs, and tried hopelessly to ignore the brazen hussies exposing themselves on the wooden desk -- an impossible task. So, with Chloe’s shyness, and my distraction, the conversation lumbered on awkwardly. Half-way through my cup of coffee, I could bear it no more, and I threw a towel over the monstrosities, kicking myself for not thinking of it before.
No doubt the inadvertent flaunting of the matronly hammocks and the hobbling conversation were enough to put the gorgeous hunk off me for life. He never spoke to me again.
I didn’t mind too much. I had Chloe for company and medicine to keep me busy.