“She has found a job in radio . . . She is getting married to Achika’s brother . . . Being friends with a journalist is giving her a big head!” Amara was right, being seen with Achika had made her larger than life in Ola village. The green-eyed girls who always frowned when a boy stopped her and not them were about to turn their resentment into a rope and hang themselves. The story of Achika, the famous and gorgeous Achika, driving around the village with Amara in a Range Rover, seemed to grow new legs at dawn, each day running faster than the previous day. Amara was yet to get used to walking past a group of people who would fold their arms and watch her in silence when she approached, waiting to murmur and gossip about her when she was out of earshot.
She loved the respect that naturally came with people knowing who she knew. She loved how the girls in her church choir looked at her with admiration and nodded to every opinion she gave about their singing, even though deep down they resented her for being too fortunate to be on personal terms with the great Achika. Even Masai treated her differently ever since they drove to his compound and Achika told him, “Look, you do not know how fortunate you are to have Amara for a girlfriend. So I suggest you bury the hatchet and claim her before someone else does.” It sounded like a warning, one that Masai took seriously. Days later, lying naked in a hotel beside each other, Masai had said, “I still don’t understand how you and Achika know each other since none of you is willing to diverge that information, but I am glad she talked to me the way she did.”
“Does it mean you wouldn’t have forgiven me if it weren’t for her?”
He chuckled. “I was dying for us to get back together. Her words, however, fueled the forgiveness.”
They were still discreet about their relationship because neither of them wanted her father to know they were still together until they told him. Masai was preparing to go see him just as Amara’s mother had advised. Knowing that she was a big shot in Ola village and beyond and that Masai was always doing all he could to make her happy, made her wake up in a jolly mood every morning, until a new rumour surfaced. It was not clear who started it but one thing was for sure, her newfound respect and admiration was in jeopardy.
It was a cold evening and she had gone for the Church Choir practice when Sally, her friend and choir member, pulled her away from the rest of the group. The manner in which she tagged her along suggested that something was wrong but nothing could have prepared Amara for what was coming. When Sally was satisfied that no one would eavesdrop, she touched Amara’s arm and searched her eyes.
“Is it true? Please tell me it’s not true.”
Confused, Amara asked, “Sally, what are you talking about?”
“You mean you haven’t heard?”
“Heard what?” Amara was getting nervous.
“Word has it that Achika has converted you into a lesbian. They say that’s why she came all the way here to see you.”
“Converted? What do you mean I have been converted into a lesbian?” Even though the rumour had shreds of truth, it still shocked Amara. Until then, she had believed what happened that night in the club and later at the hotel room was a well-guarded secret and that chances of rich men going to heaven were bigger than chances of her lesbian escapades leaking. In an instant, she tried to remember everyone that was in that party to see if there was any familiar face that could have recognised her and only Hassan’s came to mind. She shook her head. It couldn’t be Hassan. In any case, he did not see them kissing at the club and he did not know that she spent the night in Achika’s hotel room and not her own. Who leaked the story now? In fact, how did they find out? She turned to Sally, her eyes burning with fury. Sally was looking at her as if her future and that of her generation depended on Achika’s sexuality.
“Who is spreading this nonsense rumour?”
“I don’t know.”
Amara sighed. “What do you mean you don’t know? Did the rumour fly from the sky straight to your ears?”
“Look, I have heard it from different people. But the first one to tell me and the others was Abigail,” she pointed at Abigail who was talking to a group of other girls. She was among the girls in the choir who did not like Amara. She was tall with a big ass, which she flaunted around by wearing tight skirts and short dresses, which swung as she walked. If they were to compare, she was the second most beautiful woman in the group after Amara, so it was only natural that she harboured a dislike for Amara. Amara slid out of Sally’s hold and hurried to where Abigail and the girls were. They stopped talking when they saw her approaching.
“Why are you telling everyone that I am a lesbian? Did I have sex with your mother?” She was standing too close to Abigail, making her uncomfortable. But in defiance, Abigail did not move back, she stood still, staring her in the eye.
“Please, do not drag my mother into this, otherwise . . .”
“Otherwise you will do what?”
“I do not want trouble . . . I only said what I heard. In any case, if it’s not true, why are you worked up?”
It did not occur to Amara that they were within the church premises when she pounced on Abigail and grabbed her by the throat, her grip getting tighter with every effort Abigail made to free herself. The other girls, before trying to help, first took pictures with their phones. They finally succeeded in pulling Amara away and as Abigail was gasping for breath, Amara wagged her finger at her, with a threat. “If you ever talk shit about me again, you better pray I don’t hear it because I will teach you the manners your mother forgot to teach you, bitch.”
She was surprised by her own reaction. By how she called Abigail a bitch without batting an eyelid. It surprised her even more how she easily grabbed Abigail’s throat, almost squeezing the life out of her like you would squeeze the juice out of an orange. It was almost as if she had been waiting for this moment. She was surprised because what Abigail had said was not entirely false. She should have instead asked where she got the story from, she thought. As she dragged her feet home, the implications of what it meant for the whole village to know she had been with a woman clouding her head. At home, her father would skin her alive. Her mother would blame herself, most probably, wondering where she went wrong in her parenting. It didn’t help that her mother was a staunch Christian. What about Masai? He would leave me. Dusk fell while she was still en route home, and she was glad for the darkness now shielded her from the accusatory fingers, real and imagined.
She called Achika. She needed to tell her what happened and that someone had betrayed them. She used ‘them’ because her guts told her it was someone who knew them both. Someone like Hassan, though her mind had refused to accept he could be the one. She believed Hassan wouldn’t snitch on her because it would hurt his chances of scoring with her. But who was it? What did they stand to gain? She hit her head with the palm of her left hand, the right hand holding the phone to her ear.
“Hi, my beautiful Amara,” Achika’s voice was always joyful. The last time they talked, they had agreed Achika would visit and they would spend a few nights together. Amara could have visited her in the city, but she was running out of excuses on why she needed to be away from home.
“You cannot come, Achika,” Amara said.
“Are you developing cold feet?”
“No. It’s out.”
“What is out?”
“Someone knows we spent the night together the other day and they are not keeping it a secret.”
Achika laughed. Amara did not understand what was funny about what she said. “This is not a laughing matter.”
“I am sorry, is that why you sound so scared?”
“My parents will kill me, even if they don’t, people will drag my name in the mud I will no longer walk with my head high. I am confused. And stressed.”
“It’s not a crime to be a lesbian.”
“You think people in this village will understand?”
“It’s not your problem whether they understand. Their lives will not be affected in any way because you are a lesbian. Their children will not fail in school and turn to crime because you are a lesbian. Ola village . . . It’s Ola village, right? Poor leadership will not afflict it because you are a lesbian. Your life is yours. You live it how you want. If anyone has a problem with it, that is their problem.” She spoke like she was on-air. Her voice had that vigour it had when saying things she believed in. It was reassuring, but Amara’s worries stayed put. She was sure her parents did not give a damn that her life was hers to live how she deemed fit. Was it not because of them that she was on earth? And what about Masai?
“Even then, I still need my parents and Masai in my life. What do I do about them?”
“Talk to them in a language they will understand.”
“And tell them what?”
“That you love girls more than boys.”
“But I am not a lesbian! Look, I know what happened between me and you happened but I still have feelings for boys. I still love Masai.”
“Then deny it. If they have evidence say it was a mistake. One which you deeply regret and won’t happen again.”
“Do you think it was a mistake?”
“I don’t know, was it?”
Amara stopped outside their gate. She detected disappointment and hurt in Achika’s voice. She knew she had bigger problems to worry about but she was still unhappy that Achika was unhappy. What happened, as disastrous as it was, as unbecoming as it was, was not a mistake. She enjoyed every bit of it and she would do it in a heartbeat if she were to do it again. “Achika, I am sorry. I am confused right now and—”
“Don’t worry. Go talk to your folks and later Masai. If things go south, call me, I will come pick you up, okay?”
“Okay. Bye.” She did not ask, pick her up and take her where? She just said it was okay.
She was thankful her father was not in. Her mother was in the kitchen. It was obvious she knew something; from the look in her eyes. Amara wanted to kneel and apologise immediately but on second thought, she figured it would be best if she waited till she brought it up. She helped her mother prepare dinner; Beef stew, greens and Ugali. Her mother complained about the size of the Sukuma Wiki, cursing the woman in the market who sold it to her. “How can one cut Sukuma like this as if we are supposed to use it as baby shawls and not food?” The Sukuma wiki was the right size, Amara noted; her mother’s complaint was only a preparation for something bigger. They ate in silence, Amara’s heart jumping each time her mother looked up to stare at her. By the time they were going to bed, her mother had not said anything about the incident in Church and the story behind it.
She delayed leaving her room the next morning, though she barely slept at night. She stood by the window and stared outside. Her younger brother was riding a bicycle in the compound, his face brightening the compound more than the sun did. She loved how free he was, unbothered by the nightmares that came with being an adult. She reminisced about the night with Achika and it clouded her with confusion. Was she a lesbian? Or bisexual? How come she had never looked at any other woman in a sexual way until she met Achika? Was it possible that she was only smitten with Achika and what was going on was a result of her not thinking straight? Her brother fell from the bicycle and started crying. He wasn’t hurt, she was sure; he only wanted someone to give him some attention and soothe him. She decided to go out and tell her brother to be a big boy and stop crying because of small-small things. Her father walked out of the room almost the same time she was leaving hers and so they met in the hallway.
“Good morning, Amara,” he greeted. He had said Amara and not my favourite daughter. She sensed trouble. “I hope you had a good night’s rest and that you are sober enough to confirm whether what I am hearing is true and if yes, whether it’s Jesus you need or a trip to your grave!” His stun voice startled her. She also noticed, with alarm, that he was standing too close, blocking her way. She wouldn’t run even if she wanted to.
Credits to my super awesome editor— Nyarinda Moraa. You are doing a fantastic job. Cheers!