She stares at his portrait photo. A photo that has been on her desk ever since she got promoted to Creative Director at the agency, a position that came with the coveted corner office. Her office sits on the fourth floor of The Mall in Westlands and, while at her desk, her back faces a huge glass window overlooking Waiyaki Way. She could hear faint noises of speedings cars and a few daring hawkers shouting the interesting names and benefits of their products. She smiles when a tiny voice in a surely old speaker mounted on a moving car narrates how lethal their bedbugs pesticide is. She doesn’t see anyone openly approaching that car to buy a bedbugs pesticide because that would be an open confession that they had bedbugs, and no one wants to admit that they have bedbugs, especially those with bedbugs. His smile is broad. She tries looking away but she can still see his smile and thick sideburns from the corner of her eyes. It saddens her, this smile. It saddens her because he doesn’t smile like this anymore.
She remained rooted to the spot long after they were gone. Shuddering with fear, she held her waist with one hand and her cheek with the other, occasionally pinching herself, hoping to wake up from this nightmare. The cologne of the man who had, not long ago, threatened to shatter her world by killing her brother or cutting Masai open to retrieve his kidney, lingered in the air that was heavy with tension, and it sickened her. She began pacing the room as she tried figuring who these people were and how they knew Masai. When she failed to come up with something meaningful, she turned to Google. In the search bar, she typed, ‘The most dangerous men in Kenya.’ Google search brought forward names of people she knew nothing about and so she narrowed her search to ‘Wanted Human Organs traffickers in Kenya,’ but that too brought names and faces of people she did not recognize. She stepped back from the laptop, thinking, and then walked back to it and typed, ‘Wanted Drug Lords In Kenya,’ and to her horror, the face, and name of the man she was looking for popped up.
Amara shifted to the very edge of the seat and leaned against the car’s door. She hadn’t known what seeing Masai would have amounted to, but she hadn’t expected it to fill her with more pain and emptiness. Nothing Masai said made sense and it was worse he had already given up on her by declaring he would be okay with her moving on with her life. She raised her head and stared outside the moving car. It was hot outside. The women had a few buttons of their blouses loosened and the men held their jackets in their hands. She was envious of them when she imagined that maybe the hotness of the son was the only thing bothering them. James sped past a speed bump, throwing her in the air, her head almost hitting the roof. She turned to look at him with scolding eyes and he apologized profusely without turning to meet her gaze. From the way he held the steering wheel with a firm grip and how his eyes deliberately refused to look her way, she knew something was eating him up.
Amara found a duvet and nightdress waiting for her on the couch when she got home from work; it was her idea that her mother spends the night in her room while she takes the couch. She changed into the nightdress and turned the TV on, tuning into the channel that was showing Masai’s arrest but a late-night action movie was on instead. Tired, she turned the TV off and slipped under the duvet to catch some sleep. At six o’clock, she woke up, stripped her nightdress and placed it in the laundry basket. She stepped into the bathroom and as the warm water rushed over her skin, placed her hands on the wall and closed her eyes, uncertain of what lay ahead. Almost twenty minutes later she stepped out of the bathroom with a warm towel wrapped around her chest, silently opening her bedroom door and tiptoeing in so she doesn’t wake her mother up. She took her lotion, perfume, and makeup from the top of her bedside cabinet and went to apply them in the living room before coming for the red flare dress she was to wear. After dressing up, feeling ready for the day, ready to see Masai and listen to his excuses, she fixed herself a cup of tea and fried eggs, which she slowly took from the living room as she waited for James to pick her up.
Growing up, her mother threatened her with death for mistakes so small it would take one with a cleansed soul to notice them, so it wasn’t difficult for Amara to imagine what her mother’s reaction was going to be, now that she had found her smoking like a chimney and drinking like a fish. She dropped the cigarette butt in the sink before going to open the door, all the while feigning a smile. She hugged Achika first, and if it wasn’t for the fact that her mother was standing within an earshot, she would have demanded to know how Achika could lead her mother to her house without giving her a heads-up. She then walked to her mother, hesitantly, almost as if she expected her to push her away but when she wrapped her arms around her, her mother hugged her back and a wind of relief swept across her. The hug lingered for a little longer and Amara beamed when her mother rubbed her back gently like she knew she could do with a little of comforting.
“I am so happy to see you, mum,” Amara said.
Her mother pulled away from the hug but still held her by the arms, eyes fixed on hers.
“Amara, what happened to you?”
It was a loaded question, one that turned Amara into a stammerer when she tried to answer it. Was it that her mother wanted to know what happened, or was she wondering, aloud, how her own daughter, one she had brought up to be self-respecting, would turn into drinking and smoking just because she was facing some difficulties.
She loved the soft touch of the ragged carpet’s fur caressing her skin as she lay sprawled in Achika’s living room, her short dress barely covering her thighs. In her right hand was an unlit cigarette, which she had been contemplating for a while now, even though she had asked for it with the confidence of a chain smoker. Her head was tipped to the left, eyes staring at Achika who was standing at the window, blowing a thin string of smoke from the corner of her mouth outside the window. Sometimes, the smoke came out of her nose and when she looked at Amara, Amara was fascinated by how her eyes burned red as if a small fire had been lit underneath her eyeballs. She also loved how Achika closed her eyes when she rubbed the back of her neck. It felt suggestive. And each time their eyes met, they both smiled and continued to gaze at each other until one of them, mostly Achika, looked away. It was like two people noticing each other in a club, neither of them willing to be the first one to approach the other.
This had to be a dream. She surely was dreaming because there was no way, in this life or the other, Masai would call her a ‘bitch’ without flinching and slam the door in her face. The loud bang painfully echoed in her head; she squeezed both sides of her head to try and subdue it. She heard giggles. The overly excited voice of the woman Masai was with annoyed her. She lifted her right hand—curled into a fist—ready to bang on the door and lash out at both of them, but James was quick to grab her hand mid-air. She struggled to free herself from his grip but he was too strong for her. When she had calmed down, he loosened his grip and asked what happened and she nearly broke down when she tried to speak.
“You know what? Don’t worry, I will find out myself.”
He gently pulled her back and repeatedly knocked on the door until Masai opened. Masai had a disgusted look at first, but it drastically changed to that of concern when he saw James. It was obvious he hadn’t expected to see anyone else other than Amara. He stared James in the face and James stared right back. When it was obvious neither of them was going to back down from the staring contest, Masai stepped out and shut the door behind him.
She remained rooted to the spot. Though she had prayed that Masai is found soon, she was not sure how to react now that her prayer appeared to have been answered. In this unsettling moment, the smile on her face would change into a frown and curve into a smile again, all the while telling herself that Masai was okay. Or was he? She hadn’t asked James where his friend saw Masai and the state he was in but her gut told her he was okay. Ordinary, him being okay would be a good thing, but not if it meant his leaving was intended. That he had decided he wanted nothing to do with her or their baby, and so he was distancing himself from them both. James called again and she hesitated before answering. She hesitated because she was not sure which questions to ask and what answers James would give. A part of her was still holding on to the belief that Masai’s leaving wasn’t deliberate and that something, one which she wouldn’t stomach, might have happened to him. But she was the one who had silently accused James and the two officers of doing nothing to find Masai, so the least she could do was answer her phone.
There, in the silence of her room, she stood trembling. She could hear the sound of faint music and the occasional burst of laughter from her neighbor’s house, and she wished she had socialized with her neighbor because she would have then gone and asked if she had seen anything strange. Taking two steps back, she plopped into the bed as if her knees could no longer support her. Where was Masai? How could he do this to her? She was already imagining the worst, that he had deserted her, just like her father did. She buried her head in her hands and tried not to sob but her emotions got the better of her and soon her eyes were drowning in the small pond of tears forming in her hands. When she looked up, she caught a glimpse of herself in the dressing mirror and the terror in her bloodshot eyes frightened her. Or maybe he hadn’t run away. Maybe something bad had happened to him and he needed her help. She sprung to her feet and in a lightening speed, scrolled through her phone to find Achika’s number.
She paced the room, willing Achika to answer her phone, but she didn’t. She had probably left her phone in the car and her tongue was sweet talking whomever she was with. She thought of whom else to call to no avail because she couldn’t think of a single soul, other than Achika, that would answer to her call of despair at such an ungodly hour. Hassan would, but she couldn’t bring herself to dial his number. She was beginning to lose hope when she remembered James, the tall suited guy she met at Joanne’s charity event. It got even better because he had told her he was a security consultant, making him the perfect guy to call in this situation. As his phone rang, she prayed that he would answer, and he did. His deep voice coming through the phone was like a voice of God.
He had told her so many times that she made him a happy man, but it wasn’t until now that she saw what he really meant. The smile on his face, wide and sunny, was like the gentle hands of a masseur, caressing and filling her body with Goosebumps. It was a smile of a man who had finally hit his target in life and now was ready to go to sleep and drift off to after life because there was no other thing in the world left for him to achieve. Of a man who no doubt was contented with what he had, and what he had was her. It filled her with joy to know she was capable of putting such a smile on his face. She held his gaze, her heart beating with anticipation, yearning to hear the first words out of his mouth after this enormous revelation—though he had already said what she needed to hear with his facial expression.
“If this is a joke, I will—”
“I am pregnant.”
“You are pregnant.” He said as if by repeating her words, they would turn out to be true.
“Which means we are going to be parents.”
“Normally, that’s how it works.”
“Oh My God!”