That was what John-Bosco whispered into my ears when after Catechism class I came outside the church hall before Theresa and Assumpta.

“I love you, Margaret.” He repeated when I did not say anything but just stared at him.

“You love me?”

I was awed. No one had ever said this to me. But I have read about them in books—novels I usually get from Augustina, my friend in school. Of course, I read these novels secretly and did not take them back with me to the Convent. I simply leave them inside my school locker and read them during school hours. And they have been educative and have opened my eyes to many things.

A boy telling a girl “I love you” was one of those things my eyes have opened to.

“Of course I love you.” John-Bosco asserted. “Who won’t love you? You are such a pretty girl and you’re very sharp. Not dull and ugly like Assumpta and the rest.”

“Is that why you love me, because I am pretty?”

I didn’t mind if that was the only reason but I needed to be certain.

“Of course that is not the only reason.” John-Bosco debunked. “I love you from my heart. I want to do things for you and take care of you. I want to be your boyfriend.”

“My boyfriend?” Now I stared at him in shock.

That was a sin—according to Sister Mary-Joan. It was a sin for a girl to have a boyfriend. But the novels I read didn’t make it sound like a sin. The big, beautiful girls, whose pictures were at the back of the novels, all had boyfriends and their boyfriends told them they loved them. Just like John-Bosco was doing now.

“Yes.” John Bosco nodded eagerly. “I want to start there but at the end I want you to be my wife. To bear my children.”

“Wife? Bear children?” I snapped my hand over my head. “God forbid! I am only fifteen years old, John-Bosco. I can’t be getting married and having children now. I want to go to the university. I want to be a lawyer.”

“Who said we will get married now?” John-Bosco laughed. “I meant in the future, after we finish school and I have built my own house.”

“You want to build your own house?”

“Of course. My father has already provided me a land. He gave me mine and gave my brother his. So I’m working and saving to start the building.” John-Bosco boasted.

“You are working already?”

“I do farm jobs here and there. But mostly I work with masons on building sites. I am even planning on helping to build my own house.”

I was instantly impressed, and dazzled. He was working already and he was only in S.S.3.

I looked at him and then turned my eyes down. “I don’t think I want a boyfriend now.”

“Why not? Don’t you like me, Margaret?”

I shrugged, twisted my hands and buried my toes into the sandy ground. “Maybe I like you… but I still don’t want a boyfriend now. I am only a small girl.”

“You a small girl… what a fallacy!”

His use of that big word made me look at him again. Once again I was impressed. I know the meaning of the word, had hung onto it after Mrs Obiekugo, our Literature-in-English teacher used it one day.

“So you don’t think I am a small girl? Don’t you know I’m just fifteen years old?”

“And were you never told that our great-grandmothers and their mother before them were all married at that age?” John-Bosco countered.

“Eh, at fifteen?”

“See this one. So no one told you, eh?” Again John-Bosco laughed. “Margaret, you are not too young to have a boyfriend. And anyone who tells you that you are just want to cage and imprison you. Is it a sin for me to love you and take care of you, eh?”

I briefly pondered that. And in truth, I did not find anything wrong or sinful in anyone loving another person and taking care of them. But I wasn’t entirely naïve either, for I have learnt from my novels that boyfriend-and-girlfriend sometimes do things that Sister Mary-Joan said were forbidden by God unless you were married.

So I asked John-Bosco if he wanted to do these things.

“This one you are talking about loving me, I hope is not because you want to start touch-touching me everywhere oh.” My eyes were angled away from his and I was swaying back and forth as I asked this. “I don’t do things like that, let me just tell you.”

“If you don’t do them, how do you know about them?” John-Bosco teased, winking at me.

“Is it only the things you have done, you know about?” I pouted.

“So you are telling me you have never kissed before?”

“Eh! God forbid!” I snapped my hand over my head again.

“Is that so? Then I will be the first man to kiss you.”

“What? Stop saying things like that, John-Bosco.”

But even as I reproved him, I felt a strange sensation in my tummy and I could feel the tingle of anticipation inside my jumping heart. Yes, I have been thinking about what kissing felt like since I first read it in a novel when I was in J.S.S.2. I had, from that day on, started dreaming of a man placing his mouth over mine and—kissing me.

“Let me be your boyfriend, Margaret. Please.”

I managed to look at John-Bosco but quickly dropped my eyes in shyness. “I don’t know oh, John-Bosco. I don’t think I should say yes.”

“Meet me tomorrow under the cherry tree behind the market. It is market day and I will be waiting there for you.” John-Bosco took a step closer and then whispered. “I love you.” And he marched off, waving to Assumpta and Theresa who were now heading towards me.

“What was that silly boy telling you?” Assumpta asked at once.

“Nothing.” I answered. “Let us go.”

I didn’t want to tell them and I didn’t think I would be meeting John-Bosco under that cherry tree tomorrow.

But I did.

And that became the beginning of our secret rendezvous… and many other things.