She kicked off her shoes, picked them up and threw them in the corner already playing host to other pairs and, with a pensive sigh, let her weight drop on the couch. Her house looked abandoned. The furniture begged to be dusted. The pile of shoes in that corner needed to be put back on the shoe rack. Utensils, which no longer found their way back into the sink, yearned to be cleaned. Her living room pleaded with the curtains to be drawn so they can have a test of fresh air but, she told herself, postponing the chores for a day wouldn’t kill her. That’s what she had been telling herself ever since Maasai left to take care of business in the village. It was the first time she was alone after her father’s death and she was finding it difficult to continue being the ‘strong woman’ everyone thought she was. Two days after Maasai left, she had gone in his wardrobe to look for something of his to wear, for she was missing him already, when she saw the watch Maasai bought her father, one which he never had the chance to present to him. The watch triggered her father’s memories and she had put it on and lied on the bed facing the ceiling, fighting her tears.
The watch would remain on her wrist for days, only coming off when she hit the shower. In a strange way, she felt her father’s presence when she wore that watch and she decided that Maasai was right when he claimed she hadn’t moaned her father properly. That was going to change. Gradually, this effort to moan properly robbed her of the ability to feel anything else but the pain of her loss. She did not answer her phone unless it was Maasai or her mother calling, and when talking to either of them, she would pull herself together and talk without a shaky voice to avoid giving them a hint that she was not okay. This was easy for her because she did it all the time at work, pretending to be okay and talking with so much vigour than before. After her show, she would make small talk with Jack, ask him when he was going to garner the courage to tell Achika how he felt and when he said, “Never.” she didn’t push it. She did not give him one of her many philosophical lectures about never hiding your feelings because she was only good at pretending and not being a hypocrite.
Achika called but she did not answer. She had been ignoring Achika’s calls her for a while now because, just like Amara’s mother, Achika worried too much. If she suspected something was wrong, she would come over and try to make her feel better, denying her the chance to just be. Seconds later, her phone beeped with a message from Achika.
“Hey, I hope everything is okay with you. My friend Joanne asked me to request you to attend her forum next weekend. She runs a foundation aimed at empowering girls in the rural and slum areas and in this forum, she has invited the who is who of this country to share ideas and contribute towards this noble cause. Think you can make it?”
No, she did not think she would make it. Since she started this radio job, her Social Media inboxes were filled with such-like messages. It was almost as if everyone expected her to be on board with whatever charitable mission they came up with. She respected them for what they were doing but she could not stand the glaring fact that they were only inviting her because she was an ‘influential media personality’ and not because they were convinced she believed in their course. Once, a woman who had found her e-mail address from the radio station’s website wrote to her and asked her to join her group of Women For Exclusive Six Months Breastfeeding. In her well-written E-mail, she had outlined the importance of encouraging and educating mums on the importance of breastfeeding exclusively for six months and Amara was totally sold, until she read the next part where she insinuated that women who did not breastfeed were mostly selfish and only cared about keeping their breasts firm and not their baby healthy. Normally, Amara would ignore the e-mail and move on with her life, but with this, she made an exception. She felt it was her moral duty to respond and enlighten the woman a little bit.
She wrote: Hi, thank you for your e-mail. I have no doubt what you are doing comes from a good place. Babies are gorgeous, and the world will be a beautiful place if we had more healthy babies giggling and forcing us to make funny faces in public (I love doing that), but I don’t agree with you when you say that mums who complement breast milk with formula, or those who feed their babies with formula exclusively, are selfish. Some don’t breastfeed because, for one reason or the other, they just can’t. Something I believe you already know. Regards.” When she hit send, she imagined the recipient on the other end reading that email with raised brows and, when done a reading, cursing under her breath, wondering why she even thought of contacting her, a woman with no baby probably, in the first place. But she did not regret sending that email.
Because patience was not one of Achika’s many virtues, she did not wait for her to respond to the message; she called. Amara answered and asked, “What’s the name of the foundation?”
“You said your friend runs a foundation, what is it called?”
“Girl Child Must Triumph.”
‘Girl Child Must Triumph.’ Amara liked that name. It had the oomph to it. She wondered what struggles Joanne was going through when she came up with that name for it did not sound like a name one would arrive at from brainstorming. The name had an intimate ring to it and the more Amara kept repeating it in her head, the more she fell in love with it and with Joanne. She pictured Joanne as a slim bespectacled woman who often nudged her spectacles with the tip of her finger. She imagined her as the kind who wore heels that announced her presence and who spoke with an intimidating eloquence. Joanne was probably single because Amara doubted there was a man out there strong enough to date a woman who, from the look of things, was more concerned with the triumph of the girl child more than kissing a man’s ass. Now Amara wanted to attend. She wanted to meet this Joanne and whisper in her ear that she, too, was prepared to make the girl child triumph.
“Hello, I did not call to listen to you breathe,” Achika said.
“Pick me up on Saturday.”
“So you are coming?”
“Should I send it as an attachment to your e-mail for you to understand?”
“Calm down, Amara, what is it with you. Anyway, if you are not busy tonight, there is this ballroom party and—”
“Goodnight, Achika,” Amara said, laughing, and hung up.
Later on, when Maasai called, before telling him about Girl Child Must Triumph Foundation and her obsession with that name, she mused about how silly it was that people invited to their events those whom they thought were popular and would make them look cool, and not necessarily who mattered or would be willing to walk with them through their journey of making the world a better place. Maasai only laughed and said, “It comes with the territory, my dear, it’s not their fault. if they were to invite ordinary people or those who are rich but no one knows of their riches, no one will pay attention to what they are saying, leave alone contributing to their course. So that’s why it’s people like you, blessed with powerful platforms, who have to stand up and advocate for change. So go, and if they ask you to speak, speak. You have my permission.”
She laughed, “I wasn’t asking for your permission, you idiot.”
“But you have it, still.”
She smiled. “I miss you.”
“I miss you, too. And I will be back in a week’s time.” He paused. “I went to see your mum today.”
“You did? How is she? Is Alexis okay?”
“Yes, my brother.”
“Oh, I am embarrassed to say I never knew he is called Alexis.”
“It’s okay, now how are they doing?”
“They are fine. Though your mum says she will appreciate it if you call often. She is worried about you, Amara.”
“You should have told her that I am fine.”
“I did, but are you?”
“Am I what?”
“Are you fine?”
“It could be my imagination but ever since I left, I have been having this feeling that you are not. That I should have waited a little longer before coming to the village.”
“I am okay, Maasai, don’t worry about me. But if you can come back sooner, I will appreciate.”
His words kept her warm that night. It was endearing to know that he was worried about her and that he had visited her home to check on her mother and brother. Before drifting off to sleep, she felt something else other than the pain of losing her father. She felt love. The entire time she had wallowed in misery, it wasn’t just because her father had died, but also about what his death meant. His death had left her, her mother and brother exposed to the cruelty of the world and it was difficult to imagine what would happen when the day would come when they would need his authoritativeness and wisdom, but now she no longer worried about that. At least, not entirely. Maasai was proving he was more than capable of filling his shoes. Because when she called her mother immediately after she was done talking to Maasai, she couldn’t help but notice that her mother’s voice was tingly when she mentioned Maasai’s visit. Her mother’s words, “Maasai’s visit made me feel that we still have someone out there looking out for us,” stuck with her, and it would prove true in the coming days.
She woke up in high spirits. The voices encouraging her to let her house gather dust had disappeared. She started by picking the pairs of bras, blouses and coats lying on the bedroom’s floor and tossing them in the laundry basket, before going for those in the living room. But in the living room, only a few pieces of clothing were on the floor, so she chose to clear the table first. She was about to do the dishes when she noticed someone was standing on her doorstep. She drew the curtain slightly and she was taken aback when she saw Hassan, hands thrust in his jeans pockets. The image of him struggling to breathe under Maasai’s grip replayed in her mind and it took him walking to the window and calling her name for her to snap out of it.
“It’s me, Amara, how are you doing?”
“I am fine. What are you doing here?”
“I had travelled outside the country when I heard about your father. I only came back yesterday evening so I decided to come and offer my condolences.”
“Uhm, that was thoughtful of you,” she said, “Let me come around and open the door for you.”
“No, that won’t be necessary. I know things aren’t exactly okay between us so it will be okay if I don’t come in.”
“Come on, was it your plan to offer your condolences at the door and leave?”
“Was it a bad idea?”
“You are coming in,” she said and went to open the door for him.
When he walked in, she noticed the bewilderment in his eyes and she offered an explanation to what she imagined were the questions running in his head. “The days have been tough, so don’t worry about the mess before you.”
“I understand. Do you need help?”
“No, I will be okay.”
“But now that I am here, I help you clean up. Or is Maasai in?”
“No, he isn’t, but—”
“But he won’t appreciate my coming here.”
She grinned and pointed him to the couch. He sat.
She went into the bedroom where she called Maasai and told him that Hassan was around to offer his condolences and that she was telling him so he doesn’t get mad when he finds out any other way. “It’s okay, but are you sure he is not using that as an excuse to see you?”
“Whatever it is, he is here.”
“If he touches you, remind him that my offer to send him to the cemetery still stands.”
“He won’t touch me because I won’t let him.”
With that out of the way, Amara asked Hassan if his offer to help still stood and when he said yes, she led him to the kitchen. Hassan did the dishes as she washed clothes. He finished before her and immediately embarked on cleaning the house, drawing the curtains and opening windows. The scent of washing powder reeked in the air and when they were done, the house sighed with bliss.
She prepared lunch; ugali, beef stew and greens. Amara did not touch the greens and joked that she was still too young to worry about healthy living.
“How is Anita?” she asked.
“She is doing fine.” He said before looking up, “What of Maasai?”
“He is okay. He has been gone for two weeks now.”
“I am sorry I put you in trouble the last time,” he said.
“We put each other in trouble. In fact, You are the one who almost got killed!”
“But I am still alive. If I were in his shoes, I would have reacted the same way.”
“I swear. But look, henceforth I will respect your relationship with him and I will keep my distance. I am hoping that one day Maasai and I will be friends again.”
The prospect of Hassan and Maasai being friends again excited her. She yearned to know how they were like when they weren’t competing or trying to kill each other. Given how Maasai hated Hassan, Amara assumed their friendship back then was solid for it was only the best of friends that could make for worst of enemies. But knowing Maasai, he would hang himself first, before accepting Hassan’s friendship offer.