Roméo is the guy who appeared in a condom advert some months ago. He was in very tight boxer shorts, his abs and nipples blessing the world with their loveliness. He was in a swimming pool with pretty girls, Brazilian hair flying, breasts pumped to the chin, crotches neatly waxed. He slowly climbed out of the pool with one of the bimbos and they made straight for his black Range Rover sport. He quickly looked around for his, or rather the girls’ “protection” as the girl wriggled and giggled sheepishly, and when he didn’t find it the girl slammed the door in his face and swayed away. But he looked so hot in that I doubt many girls would have thought of anything else but his biceps and hollywoody torso. Myself I could give many things to just have him hold me for a minute.
June is my sister. My twin sister. Apart from the scar on her left shoulder and the fact that she likes heavy makeup, we look alike. Physically, at least. She’s very short-tempered, a dominator in everything. A heavy drinker. Her skirts always stop right below her hips. She is a professional dancer and lives in a fancy apartment thanks to her ex-husband.
One weekend of galloping bottle after bottle of beer gets June talking; about her boyfriend; He’s an actor. Thirty-two years old. Tall, eyes like those of Denzel Wells. Voice, something almost Koinange-ish in it. Party animals, both of them, they make love as much as they eat. He likes the soixante-neuf position, he works with his tongue more than she needs it. He likes French movies, especially La vie d’Adèle. He also can’t do without his Rolex, like all Ugandans. He’s the biggest Francophile ever, the reason why he writes his name ‘Roméo’ yet, in reality, it is ‘Romeo’.
“Wait, Romeo, the Rome…” I ask mouth dropping
“Yeah, the Roméo” she pronounces it in an attempted French accent.
Me, well, I’m Juliet. A shy girl who puts on mid-calf skirts and wears no makeup. Rebellious, my hair. Accountant with a Chinese company. They are quite many here, these Chinese. I’m a virgin. Juliet the virgin; my nickname from June. And yeah, I’m superstitious and thus find it a big pity that I’m called Juliet and Roméo is my sister’s boyfriend, not mine.
June informs me one day that Roméo and she are going away on a vacation to Kalangala Island in Lake Victoria
“Would you like to keep my house for two weeks?
“But of course, who wouldn’t want to?”
“Thanks. The food is in the fridge. I’m sure you know where everything else is. In case of any problem, call me.”
“I’ll go pick up Roméo. Bye!”
I watch as the butt of her Klugger disappears into the sea of cars, and then I head for the TV. Fast and furious 3, Vin Diesel. Mad Buddies, two mad South Africans. Passion, Rachel McAdams. Safe Haven, and anything else a bored girl can find to watch until she obliviously slides onto the other side of the sun.
I pause the movie suddenly, sixth sense stretching. Listening and listening. To the silence. Did the wind just blow a little loudly? It’s never a nice feeling being alone in the dark, in a house that’s not even yours. But yes, I hear it again, a faint breath. A human breath.
I silently tiptoe to the window and draw the curtains slightly apart to see the driveway. I start sweating like a pig, my heart pounding against my chest as though I swallowed an animal and it’s having the time of its life inside me. What to do? Call up June and bother her? She must be in a Banda somewhere with fingers digging deep into her hips, a tongue noisily wriggling and turning and watering between her nether lips, provoking wild throatal resonation. Call the police? Tell them what? There is a car in front of my house and I think its owner is a robber. Which kind of car? A big car, like a Prado.
A figure slides into the corridor that leads to the kitchen. I freeze. My head begins to pound as a wave of heat flows through me. In one swing I hit the switch. Nothing! No power! How thoughtful of Umeme, cutting off power the day someone breaks into my house. His breath is uneven, coming from the kitchen. You pass by the kitchen to go to the bedrooms. The only thing I’m wearing are these goose bumps; I never wear clothes while I’m alone at home. I look around desperately for a piece of cloth. Nothing. Should I stay alone in the house with the robber naked, or knock on the neighbour’s door, still naked?
I twitch as the key croaks in the door. The knob feels damp and frozen as I slowly turn it and push the door aside. A cool breeze caresses my face, my entire body. Above me, the moon is large and beautiful. And, oh, I can’t move an inch. His hands, strong but gentle, hold my waist and slowly pull me backwards so that a wisp of hair cannot fit between our bodies. For almost ten minutes we are on June’s front porch, his hands on my bare skin, holding and rubbing. Teasing. My brain abandons me. Suddenly, I’m a calf thrown into the hands of a wolf. A hungry wolf. Absolutely helpless. He whispers something in my ear. Years of tennis and monthly tampons assure me there won’t be much hassle.
Shame. Shame indeed. Madness even. But yes, in any case. I’m so going in deep with him!
Isn’t it weird that my very first time has to be with a stranger? A criminal who breaks into my sisters’ house in the middle of the night. A thug who had planned to take advantage of my sister. Isn’t it even weirder that instead of calling the police or screaming, I welcome him with open arms and, oh, he turns my would be banal night into an explosion of fountains and sensations, the discovery of all these sweet flavours of a human body.
I wake up alone, but his side is still warm. Weirdest feeling of my life. Spending a passionate night with someone whose face I haven’t even seen. He walks right out of my thoughts into the room wearing nothing, holding a tray, mouth-watering scents digging deeper in my stomach with every imagination. I quickly look away. I’ve never seen a man this naked. His large smile and well-toned body are, however, the best thing my dream system has ever come up with.
The wonders of life.
Who would have thought! Roméo! The Roméo. Should I scream? Laugh? Run away?
He places the tray on the bedside table and I quickly cover myself up to the neck. Suddenly, I wish this was a dream. Did actually sleep with Roméo? He suddenly grabs the bed sheets and flings them to the floor, laughing. Once again I’m sweating like a pig. What on earth did I just do?
“Why do you always cover your shoulders?” he asks as he places a kiss on my left one. Le Coeur battant la chamade. No scar. He knows now. It’s not June. Every single muscle tightens with every second that passes. I don’t know what he’s going to do now. How he’s going to react. Sleeping with a girl who passes for your girlfriend. At your girlfriend’s house.
It was just a night, a misunderstanding, let’s put this behind us and move on, I want to say. But no, it was not just a night; I don’t want to put it behind me and certainly don’t want to ever move on. I will forever live in that night, that tongue will forever explore me…
“Are you okay honey?” he looks into my eyes and I quickly look away, worried he might see right through me. Hasn’t he figured it out yet? I nod. The last thing I want to do is talk, just in case, my words are not as sophisticated as my sister’s. But one thing is strange; how is it that June is on vacation with Roméo, and yet Roméo is here with me? Did they have a misunderstanding and he decided to come here? Did he miss the bus? He asks why I’m so silent, his arms all over me. I still feel a little stretched from yesterday’s vigorous thrusts, having been the first, but I let his hand move lower and lower until we make love. At least then I don’t have to talk in a forged accent. He smells like an old book. He murmurs something about me tasting like pineapple, yet I always taste like freshly harvested guava. He asks how many kegels I do these days, he could bet he was with a first timer!
After, we take our breakfast, cold tea, cold toast, cold fried eggs. I don’t remember ever being this happy, this nervous at the same time. Each time he says something I put my finger on his lips.
An idea comes to mind, what if we communicated by writing a note on a piece of paper and handing it to each other? That way I won’t have to twist my tongue and try to sound like I’m on gun point. As long as I write exactly the way June does. He might actually think it’s interesting. Anything not to botch up this beautiful experience with Roméo.
He finds it extremely exciting and asks why we have never thought of something this brilliant.
Well, it’s a new beginning. We are starting over. From scratch.
I write this on a piece of paper and pass it to him.
Start over from scratch, oh yeah, why not? For you, I would do anything!
The day goes on with us eating crackers and drinking Mountain Dew, watching movie after movie. Escape from Luzira. The perfect match. The choice. And then, La vie d’Adèle. When the point where they make love comes he pauses the movie and picks the paper from where we are communicating. No more space, it’s all blackened by our romantic words. He goes to the bedroom to pick a fresh paper. He scribbles;
The word doesn’t make sense
Come on. As usual
Yeah! You know what we do whenever this movie gets to this moment. I’ve been waiting for this for hours. I can’t wait any longer…
My poor heart begins to swing. What else do Roméo and June do? Apart from
What we’ve already done? What else?
No, my dear, not today
You never say no to our little game
Why? I’ve been waiting for this for hours. Come on…
But I thought we said that we are restarting from scratch.
Everything is new now.
Yeah, that also!
I have absolutely no idea what this is about. I’m afraid it might be some kinky thing which I may not be fit for. And the more I can’t do what June naturally does the more he’ll realize that I’m not her.
Please. Just today and then we start afresh. Please.
You never say no to that!!
No! Can we now continue with the movie?
He stands up at once, hurls the pen into the TV and enters the bedroom.
It’s pure panic for me. What do I do? How does June usually react in such situations? Does she yell? Does she talk to him? Does she leave him alone? If only I could call her up and ask her how she resolves such challenges. I know it’s madness to be with my sister’s boyfriend, in her house, and now I’m trying to dig into her life to find her own tricks in order to soothe her boyfriend.
Thief. I’m one and I know it. Question is how to get out of this salad and get back together as one whole tomato. June must be on her way back. I will tell Roméo to never mention this experience, that if ever “I” ask him what he did in these days, he will pretend to not understand the question and he’ll change the subject right away. He should never remember that he was at “my” house.
I peek into the bedroom. Roméo is lying on the bed facing the wall.
My boyfriend is pissed. He’s ignoring me. What should I do? I ask the all-knowing google, and the response is enormous. Leave him alone. Give him what he’s asking for. Lui faire une pipe.
I end up leaving him alone. I merge with the kitchen, putting together a meal from a recipe I found in the kitchen written on “He loves this”. I make some pasta à la française. Il s’agit d’un francophile. I set the table. Two glasses. Red wine. Scented candles. Frero de la Vega music.
I go back to the bedroom. Roméo pretends to be sleeping but I know he’s listening to every single thing I’m doing. He can smell the food. He must be famished, seeing it’s almost five pm. He eventually stands up and walks towards me. He can see the dining room. The candles. The glasses. He holds me so tight, and I don’t know why but tears start flowing from my eyes.
“Why did you bother my love?” he whispers
I feel so sad because I know, this won’t last more than a few days. He holds me like I’m the most precious thing he’s ever held. I know, the warmer his embrace feels, the deeper the blade will go when this is finally over.
“I don’t deserve it, all that you’re doing for me, my Juliette, I don’t deserve it.”
A sweat, warm yet cold ran down my back. Did he just say, Juliet? No, actually he said Juliette, like how the French pronounce it, not Juliet in English. Mine is Juliet.
We sit. He’s very surprised that I took time to cook for him. And his favourite chicken! Not mentioning the music. He’s saying all these things… no one exceeds me in beauty and brain. How on earth did I ever fall in love with someone like him? He doesn’t deserve my love! Could I ever forgive his stupid mistakes? Allthe pain he’s put me through? He left her forever, it’s now me and only me. Will I ever forgive him?
I don’t know what to say. Is he cheating on my sister?
“Could we please talk about it?” he says when I stand up from the table thirty minutes later.
His eyes look so tender he makes me think of an abandoned three-year-old. I leave the table but come back with a fresh paper.
Who is she?
He hesitates, then writes.
She’s a no one
Who is she???
He hesitates again, then very slowly writes
Anastasia? Who is Anastasia? The bitch! So it’s true Roméo is cheating on June. For three minutes Roméo is writing on the paper.
I don’t love her. I swear. It was just twice. Both times I was drunk. I don’t know what I was doing, believe me. I only love you and I’m ready to do whatever is necessary to reconstruct our love. I love you June. My Juliette. I was mean and selfish. That day you came home and I refused to let you in even if it was raining like a pissing cow and you were soaked to the bone. Honestly, I wasn’t there with a girl. I swear. I was just in bed and didn’t want to be disturbed. And I was mad at you for turning down my plans the past week. Forgive me. I know I don’t deserve it. I promise you, I’m never doing anything that stupid ever again. Never. You’re the only woman I can ever love, my Juliette. I love you forever and ever more.
My eyes water when I read the words. I feel horrible that he’s confessing all these things and I’m not June! When the sun gets hidden behind the horizon and the breeze floats in we make love. Softly. Passionately. We fuse naturally, like how a plug effortlessly rests in a socket. All throughout he promises and swears; I’m engraved in his DNA. Our hearts are grafted together. He would rather beg from door to door than leave me.
In the morning I can’t even look him in the eye. How on earth can I ever live away from Roméo, when my heart is grafted to his and I’m in his DNA? How can I ever live, knowing those lips are repeating those words to June?
“Get out!” I manage to say, voice heavy with pain, eyes melted in their own lava.
“Get out!” I bark. God help me if he doesn’t leave now I’ll tear his clothes and dive into him.
“How about yesterday…”
“Get ouuuut!” I scream. He silently walks to the bathroom and locks himself. The water burns through me as it hits the floor. The sad reality that he’s washing all of me off him, from him, stings worse than a wasps’ kiss. In a moment he steps out of the bathroom, muscles rippling, tiny globes of water trickling down his skin, and it’s suddenly ten wasps descending on my back. Justin Bieber’s Purpose is playing on the TV. Please please, don’t go. I say, in my bleeding heart.
He dresses in silence, right in front of me. A deliberate masculine act. He wants to see how miserable I look at the prospect of him leaving. He walks to the door in silence, and just as he turns the knob I clear my throat. This is probably the bravest thing I’ll ever do. Letting go of Roméo. But I must know one thing.
“Why did you cancel the trip?”
He stares at me blankly for a moment.
“The trip we were supposed to take”
“A trip? Which trip?”
I don’t know why, but suddenly a morbid feeling envelops me. Where on earth is June? Who with? Why did she lie about going with Roméo? Is she also cheating on her boyfriend? Maybe it’s a normal thing with actors and dancers. My head begins to pound.
“So what made you come here in the middle of the night? Like a thief!”
“June. You can’t kick me out and then expect me…” the tears are out of my eyes before he can say another word, and his look goes from plain to pained.
“My June. My June” he says as he walks closer to me, “I had to come. I needed to see you, June, to hold you tight and feed my heart with your scent. I needed to have your chest in my mine and breathe you in and… and…oh my love, please let’s not break up! I can’t live! I can’t live without you! I promise this time I’m doing everything you…”
I’m in his arms before he can say another word. We spend the day together. And the next day. But I’m more worried than ever.
She’s coming back, sooner or later. And Roméo is madly in love with her.
On the weekend we hit the beach. Playing tennis. Roméo is very surprised and asks when I started playing tennis. The deep-fried fish and French fries start flowing. I clear my plate, munching on the bones until every single flavour is onmy tongue. He jokingly asks if I’m pregnant, and I burst out laughing, asking why. He says he’s never seen me eat half my food all his life. And he asks what happened to those short flowery dresses I always wear and tear off immediately we reach the beach, displaying brightly coloured bikinis. I’m in a large T-shirt and knee-length shorts. And also, when did I start to swim? Why did I never tell him that I had finally overcome my aqua phobia? He’d never noticed that I love fish that much, and why do I sound like I’m at a job interview? When he drops me home I plead with him to go home. I can’t imagine the tragedy that would happen if June came back and found us here like this. He says he’ll go in the morning.
He’s in the bathroom, and the sun is forcing its soul through the drawn curtains when his phone rings. The person calling is June.
I pick up. A sobbing weak voice is on the other end.
Hello. It’s me, Anastasia. She stops and sobs as I wonder what the bitch wants. And why on earth she’s calling using June’s phone. Little snake! Roméo, something terrible happened. I’ve been calling you for days! She sobs again, and my heart starts contracting.
The boat sunk, I don’t know how. I tried to pull her out…
I hung up at once. I can hear the water in the bathroom flowing, Roméo humming gaily. My palms are suddenly damp. My vision is blurred with heavy tears. I call the police. My stomach boils as I wait. Yes, the lady says on the other side nearly twenty minutes later. Two days ago June and a friend, Anastasia, were in a canoe when a sudden storm came and hit them…Anastasia is still in the hospital. June’s body is at Mulago…
When Roméo comes out of the bathroom prematurely because of my loud sobs, I tell him and he gets very angry, saying I keep him out of my life on purpose. Never mentioning a sister in all these sixteen months. Not even once!
The shock gets me from loud sobbing to screaming as Roméo stares at me blankly. He casually dries himself with the towel and goes on to dress as if nothing has happened.
“I can’t believe you have a sister,” he says reprimanding, not even caring about the tone he’s using, and an unexpected anger rises within me. It’s not my fault that June never mentioned me.
I fling his phone into his face with all my might, and it hits him in the temple before crashing at his feet. He treats me to an icy tirade of how pathetic I am and how he can never understand me, how I just can’t understand how shocking it is for him to learn that I have a sister. I tell him to go drown his ego in a bottle somewhere. He can from now on learn to live without his June. She’s dead after all. And now I know why she would give up on such a perfect man. “Perfect” man. The coldest particle you can ever lay a hand on. The particle casually walks out without looking behind even once.
I scream as he calmly disappears. Le Coeur battant la chamade. I pull on a pair of jeans and a dirty T-shirt, the same one I wore to the beach, and jump onto a boda boda to Mulago.
Two days later we are in the heart of Kabarole. It is June’s burial. I’ve cried all I can I don’t know what to do anymore. All these people saying all these things about my sister whom I’m sure they hardly knew. And then this girl with large puffed up eyes and tawny Brazilian hair, crying like she’s the one who died. I get to later find out she’s called Anastasia. So, Anastasia. I want to talk to her, ask her a few questions. Why did she go in Roméo’s place? Why did she sleep with Roméo if she really was June’s friend?
What were June’s last words? No need to ask; June knew nothing about swimming. She had no chance to form last words at that moment when she was fighting against the waves of water, which were piling up in her lungs one after the other.
My poor June.
After the burial, I get onto the bus and doze all the way home. My home. My housemate thinks I’ve lost weight and I’m being awfully secretive, not mentioning the large rings around my eyes. Seeing that our parents left earth precociously, we grew so attached as a result of tossing us from one relative to another. Up until she married some fifty-year-old crook at the age of twenty-two, whom she divorced a year later on grounds of physical and emotional abuse, leaving with a lovely apartment in her wake.
I spend the other weekend I was supposed to spend at June’s, at mine, in bed. Sobbing. Laughing. Crying. Laughing again. Eating. Starving. Avoiding the shower. Blowing my nose in the bedsheets. Not talking to Carole, my housemate. Worse, not a grain of sleep ever enters my head.
I can’t even look at myself in the mirror. I can’t believe I tried so hard to be June that she ended up excusing herself and leaving me her place. Now that she’s gone I regret ever trying to steal from her, even if it was a useless empty bottle that she’d thrown. A stale baguette accumulating layer after layer of mould. But hers all the same.
The cycle goes on, métro-boulot-dodo, banal hectic days, dull empty nights. I miss Roméo so much the pain became a permanent knot in my glottis. I can’t forget his breath on the nape of my neck under the moon. His kisses. His voice when he is whispering little nothings. The promises he made to me, even if they were destined for June. They fell in my ears and I believed them.
Overcome with nostalgia, I go over to June’s house for the first time since. Five months of her living in a tiny wooden dark box. I wonder if at night she hears the sad howl of vagabond dogs, or if she can smell the weeds, which have grown all around her.
Memories of the five days I spent there come gushing down my head, acidic tears involuntarily streaming down my cheeks. Five months and it’s like yesterday.
“I’ll go pick up Roméo. Bye!” The words are so clear in my head I can hear them resounding and resounding! A melody I’ll always hear. She actually said bye to me!
Every single surface is covered in thick layers of dust. Cobwebs. Everything is the exact same way it was the morning I kicked Roméo out and pulled on a dirty T-shirt and jeans to run to Mulago. There are lots of folded white papers right at the door. After I have looked at the bedroom, sombre and damp, and seen the scattered pieces of paper from which we communicated that day when I didn’t want to speak, I run back to the door and kneel to get the folded papers on the floor, hit with realization. Fresh tears drown me at the sight of all the colour. He was thinking about me. About June. I open one.
Date, 29th May, a week after our ‘break up’. A week after June…
My darling, my lovely one,
I would have committed suicide a long time ago, but since I’m called Roméo, I didn’t do it, afraid you’d do the same. So this way I sentenced myself to a very harsh and painful life. A life without you. I know you think I’m a jerk and you hate me. I say horrible things sometimes, things I don’t mean. I do absurd things. I yell at you, I walk out on you, but I love you after all and I will say it a thousand times. I love you June. I will forever love you. Those four days I spent with you changed my life completely if you can believe that. I didn’t know you loved me that much. There’s a lot more I didn’t know about you, that I found out in those four days. It’s like you transformed into a new person right before my eyes and I fell in love with you again and again. I now love you more than ever, and I will do whatever it takes to prove it to you.
I open another. Date, 25th May
My beautiful one,
My deepest condolences on the loss of your sister; It’s sad I never got the chance to meet her…
There are so many folded papers I don’t know which one to pick.
Date 5th November. Today is 9th November. He was here four days ago.
It seems you abandoned your house. Pity that you could leave such a treasure to ruins just because of me. Guess what, I signed up for contemporary dance classes at National Theater, so that I can dance for you when you refuse to do it for me. Yes we are restarting from scratch, but the dancing, that one will not go. You can’t believe how sensual it is when you begin to roll your waist…
Sensual dance. So that was it.
I immediately google it and right away I have all these interesting videos. I spend the rest of the day, after cleaning up, rolling my waist. Rehearsing. Who knew I would one day do such an absurd thing?
The time the world goes to sleep I soak myself in the bath, Bieber’s Purpose playing on repeat on my phone. I hear frantic knocks on the front door and I calmly walk there, thick traces of soapy slippery water in my wake, the scent of the bath filling the entire house. I open the door to a thinning, starving, harassed-looking man, hair coiled into a million tiny balls. He staggers in, his sickening breath contaminating my lavender-olive strawberry atmosphere. He smells like something decomposing, the combination of local beer and stale urine on his filthy jeans and sweater.
He lands on the floor with a thud, and I kneel next to him and pull off his dusty moccasins. I drag him into the shower and turn on the icy water, which jets straight into his drunken eyes. He may be disgusting, sickening even, but he’s my Roméo. I can as well be his June
Writer: Mercy Twinomujuni
Editor: Nyarinda Moraa