Eve was seated on one of the chairs by the swimming pool, watching with pride as her son, Damian, taught his cousin Sasha how to float. Damian was a good swimmer and he had said it on many occasions that he wanted to become a professional swimmer when he grew up. He spent most of his time watching Swimming championships on TV and on Wednesdays, the designated day for swimming competition in school, he always woke up early after a night of fantasying himself in a pool. On the deeper end of the pool, Clair emerged from the water, pulling herself up to sit on the tiled floor. She looked sexier in her green bikini, wet hair and with water dripping off her skin, that she immediately attracted the attention of the white guy seated by the pool. Dressed in a pair of brown shorts, a grey T-shirt, and his MacBook Pro laptop opened before him, he seemed to have forgotten all about his swimming wife and two kids.
With an hour to kill before my meeting with a friend, I walk into The Peach Hotel on Moi Avenue, close to Samba Club, to the sound of laughter and loud banter from the men and women irrigating their throats with tea, others with freshly squeezed fruit juice, others with soda, and others with, well, you catch the drift. It’s almost 7 O’clock in the evening so I know finding a table is going to be a challenge. I go upstairs and the noise there is worse. For a moment, it looks like the men and women of Kericho Tea Farmers Association are holding their AGM here, leaning close to each other, noses touching, and whispering loudly, beating the whole purpose of leaning.
I spot an empty table in the middle of the room so I quickly walk over and make myself comfortable. A waitress, a young dark skinned lady in a yellow T-shirt and black skirt, walks over with a menu in hand. She smiles as she places the menu on the roundtable without a word before taking a step back to allow me a second to decide on what I want to eat. She obviously doesn’t know that Menus are wasted on me. I am not the curious guy who wants to taste the newest addition to the menu. I come in with an already made up mind and this time my mind is set on having black coffee. Without touching the menu, I turn to look at her and she leans over my shoulder to take my order.
“Just coffee?” she asks, surprised like it’s an abomination to order ‘just coffee’ in a restaurant. Like when she eventually retires to her village, a committee will be held and decide to punish her and her generation for serving me just coffee. An elderly woman with one foot in the grave, holding a walking stick in one hand and the judgement of their ancestors in the other, will pronounce the decision. “It’s despicable,” she will start in a trembling voice, “We did not send you to the city to serve people ‘just coffee’ when you could serve them something bigger and better like a hamburger.” Okay, forgive me, hamburger sounds bigger and better, right? Anyway, her punishment would be to clean old people’s ears until the day she (the waitress), dies and passes the baton to her eldest daughter who will pass it on to her own daughter.
“Just coffee,” I say.
“Black or white?”
“Black,” I say before changing my mind to White because why pay for black when the white one goes for the same price?
She serves me a few minutes later and while on my second sip, a shadow looms on my cup so I look up to see this fine lady smiling at me. Dressed in a black mini and a pinkish blouse, the lady, whose skin is lighter than my pocket usually is during the month of January, asks if she could sit with me.
“Sure,” I say.
“But it’s loud in here, God!” she says, pulling a seat.
I stare at her for a second. She looks like she’s in her early or mid-thirties. She has this mature look on her face, you know that look that says she will never call you swee or ask for bundles so she can send you a photo of her belly button? Yes, that look. I do not look away even when she catches me staring at her, I instead smile and mumble, “Yea, it’s loud in here. The Kericho Farmers Association members should take their AGM meeting somewhere else next time.”
“Oh, they are holding their meeting here?” she says, looking at the group of men and women seated on the red couches next to the massive glass window. The men have oversized coats and the ladies are holding notebooks, so I change my mind about telling her that I was joking.
“So they came all the way from Kericho to hold their meeting here?”
“You know how Kalenjins are. They were probably strolling, looking for the perfect venue to hold their meeting when they found themselves in Nairobi.”
I chuckled and sipped some more coffee.
A few minutes later, I watched in silence as she slowly cleared her plate of rice and chicken. The waitress who served me came back to our table and walked away with my bill before I could protest. When she came back, my bill and the lady’s were combined because apparently, we looked like we were on a date. I offered to pay anyway because it’s not like food cost an arm and a leg in that restaurant.
“No,” she said, “It’s not fair to burden you with my bill.”
“I know, but I will pay anyway.”
“Are you sure?”
I pay. We then make small talk which ends with us exchanging our numbers.
Sasa, she called a few days later to ask if we could meet over a cup of coffee and I agreed. After that meeting, she texted me, saying she enjoyed my company and I said I enjoyed hers, too. We met again. Then again. Until it became clear that she was dying to see what I was hiding in my pants. I wasn’t curious about what was in her pants though and I told her as much when she kept flooding my phone with messages. Eventually, I told her I am married.
“What? You are too young to be married.”
“I know. It was a forced marriage.”
“I am kidding, but I am married anyway.”
“Mbanacho, don’t be like that.”
“Things were going on so well between us.”
“I know, which is why I don’t understand why you want to ruin it by forcing a relationship.”
“I. Am. Not. Forcing. Anything.”
“Alright then, so kindly take your foot off that relationship peddle.”
You know, here is the thing. Sex complicates things. You have sex with someone thinking it’s a one-day thingy and the next thing you know they are decorating your bathroom with their bras and thongs or, God forbid, mothers Union. Or for the guy’s case, he is ransacking your phone when you go to the bathroom to see who else has access to your server. Unless I am ready to commit to a certain degree with you, we are not having sex. So I downplayed this lady’s advances for a while when she refused to believe me when I told her that I am married. I ignore her calls, texts and everything else because I am not a fun of waking a sleeping lioness in the name of Mama Natasha.
Then one day, a few weeks later, she sends me a text message saying that her sister had passed on. I thought she was just trying to get my attention but because death is not something you bring to life just to grab someone’s attention, I decided to call her to offer my condolences. She told me she was feeling lost, and lonely and just needed someone to talk to. Could I please go to her place to see her? I knew this was a trap. I told my friends as much but they said, “Baba, go see her bwana. Si she said there are people keeping vigil at her place? Just go and see her.”
You know, you should only listen to your friends when you are yearning to die, but I listened to them anyway and showed up at her place. Luckily, there were lots of people there. Unluckily, most of those people were her relatives and she wasted no time in holding my hand and introducing me to them as her boyfriend.
“Meet my boyfriend,” she would say, and I would shake her brother’s hand firmly like a proper boyfriend should. She introduced me to her brother. Then another brother, both of them staunch men in their 40s. She then introduced me to her aunt, who shook my hand vigorously and made me promise that I will take good care of her niece. She then introduced me to her sister, then to the daughter of her now dead sister, then to her friends, then to her neighbours, and I was cursing and fuming from inside because I couldn’t show my annoyance openly. Later, she said, “Haki, I am sorry for ambushing you like that, but they have always wanted to meet my boyfriend.”
I wanted to say, “I am not your boyfriend,” but decided to lenga. Because that was the last time she was going to set her eyes on me and it was until I thought of writing about that incident and guess who I bumped into in tao? Your guess is as good as mine.
The sun was yet to rise when Eve woke up that Saturday morning. Tiptoeing to the window with a loud yawn, she drew the curtain to let in a tide of fine breeze, jumped back in bed, and grabbed the book she’d been reading before falling asleep—A Way Out Of No Way by Wanda Wright. She loved everything about the book, but she especially loved how Wanda didn’t hold back when writing the sex scenes, laying everything bare and making her burst into flames of want. On Page 37, she threw her head back against the pillow and imagined how wrong and fulfilling it would be if she were to find someone who would do to her what ‘O’ was doing to Paradise. A few names crossed her mind, but for each one of them, she had a reason why they didn’t fit the bill.
The Reverend, seated on the edge of his bed, flipped through the Bible pages with a look of dismay on his face. He mumbled something under his breath before placing the Bible down to retrieve a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. With a cigarette sticking from the corner of his mouth, he thumbed the lighter’s wheel with so much force than Tony thought was necessary, but it didn’t ignite. He thumbed it again, this time harder, and when it still wouldn’t ignite he plucked the cigarette from his mouth and threw it against the wall with a groaning sound. Tony, who was watching him in silence, slowly got out of his bed and picked up the pack of cigarettes lying on The Reverend’s bed, drew out one stick and stuck it in The Reverend’s mouth. He then gestured for The Reverend to give him the lighter, which ignited with just one stroke from him.
She groaned in frustration when the zipper refused to budge. Infuriated with the idea of now having to inhale deeply and hold her breathe for the zippers to move, she kicked the pants off and stuck her head in the cabinet, fishing with her eyes for something that would fit. Meanwhile, she blamed herself for not coming up with a better excuse when Clair called in the morning to invite her for a night out with her girlfriends. With a chuckle, she had said, “I would love to but you know there’s no one else in the house to look after Damian? Maybe next time.” But Clair was quick to tell her that she would drop her nanny, Maria, at her place together with her daughter, so she could look after the two children. Eve had mumbled other incoherent excuses but Clair carried the day.
When she finally found a dress with a zipper that did not need cajoling for it to move, she sighed loudly and rubbed her palms together in delight. It was a short, sleeveless white dress which left her ass tagging behind her like a child reluctant to follow its mother. She tied a thin red belt around her waist and matched it with red heels. Later, when she opened the door for Clair, Clair held her waist, tilted her neck to the left and exclaimed, “Damn!”
Eve had just stepped out of the bathroom when the doorbell rang. She tossed the towel on the bed and grabbed a dark brown Kanga, wrapped it around her chest and tiptoed to the door. She flushed Christopher a smile when she opened the door, said “hi,” and stepped aside to let him in but he did not move. Something seemed to have grabbed his attention and Eve could immediately tell what. The kanga covered only a small portion of her thighs, leaving the rest bare for Christopher to marvel at. Worried that he would think she was doing this on purpose, Eve cursed herself for not throwing on some random clothes before rushing to the door.
When Christopher didn’t look up or pretend he wasn’t ogling at her, Eve feigned a cough which snapped him out of his bewilderment. He smiled, his usual easy smile that lightened up his face and made his eyes appear bigger in a good way, mumbled something she couldn’t hear and stepped in.
Tony lay on his back with his left hand behind his head, looking at his cellmate who was way older than him. His cellmate, a short, staunch man with a shiny bald, was seated on the edge of his bed, a burning cigarette wedged between his left hand’s fingers and an open Bible balancing on his right thigh. He took a puff each time he wanted to turn a new page, the cigarette butt smouldering red as he drew in smoke, which he let out through his nose, eyes closed in what Tony imagined was sheer delight. Tony searched the man’s face, wondering when he was going to look his way and maybe strike a conversation with him. But the man bowed his head to his Bible and continued reading, tracing Bible lines with his finger, intriguing Tony the more. Who was this guy? How come he smoked in a cell while reading a Bible like it was a normal thing to do? And, perhaps most importantly, what was he doing his time for?
Her son, Damian, had fallen asleep on the couch again. Eve guiltily wished her husband were around to carry and tuck him in bed because she was tired of being the one to do it every night. At the age of seven, Damian was no longer tiny, and she felt his weight each time she lifted him. After contemplating letting him spend the night on the couch and deciding it was a terrible idea, she hoisted him, his head resting on her left shoulder, and walked him to his room. Damian opened his eyes and smiled at her as she placed him on the bed, forcing her to tickle him for tricking her into carrying him to bed. She loved how he roared with laughter and kicked his feet in the air, so she continued tickling him for a while before climbing in bed next to him and sang him the Itsy-Bitsy Spider song she had discovered on YouTube. He loved the song so much that he would not sleep until she sang it to him.
I’m watching a movie on my laptop as I sip tea. Tea brewed in a lot of milk is all I take nowadays. I don’t like tea but I have no choice for without tea and enough fluids, the newborn won’t have anything to feed on. So I’ve learnt how to take tea all the time because if I don’t my mother will call and ask, “Are you taking tea? What did I say?” Today is a good day, the baby breastfed easily, burped almost immediately and took a nap. I also don’t have any of the many friends who visit to check on us often. I’m pretty much impressed by myself, and by the peace in the house. Then he comes in. I know it by the stench of cigarette smoke that repulses me to the core. This would never have bothered me on a normal day of our relationship but since I became a mother a lot of things annoy me. And most of what annoys me is what I feel directly affects my baby. The baby wakes up, I don’t understand. He tries to go for him but I am paranoid about where his hands have been. The year is 2013.
Victoria, the female cop whose name Amara did not know yet, lowered her gun and placed it back in its holster before walking in, eyes fixed on the three criminals seated on the floor. She bent in front of Abdi Hassan, raising his chin with her finger so she could look at him, but she quickly lost interest in him. She turned to Masai and noticed he was holding the area on his chest where he had been cut, and blood was leaking from between his fingers. “Doesn’t anyone here know that his wound needs to be attended to?” Worried, she walked to him and pulled his hand away so she could have a look at his cut. Without waiting for an answer, walked Masai to the couch, picked his reaped shirt from the floor and gently wiped out the blood with it.
Everyone turned to Amara who wasn’t sure how she felt about this. She loathed how Victoria had swung into action, attending to Masai as if she didn’t know she was his girlfriend, yet she had done nothing when she had the chance. She looked at Masai and he had his eyes shut. She hated him too but did not why exactly. She felt that she had forgiven him too easily. That he had not proved in any way he was worthy of her forgiveness, yet she had given it to him, and now she wished she could take it back.
“Can I have water in a basin and a clean washcloth, please?” Victoria asked.