Part 1: That was Fast
Shee [for Sheryl] wears gloves. I wear gloves too. Hers, surgical; mine, goalkeeping. I figured we would one day take a photo, each wearing their pair, our faces covered halfway, and caption it, “When a keeper is in a relationship with a doctor #safehands.” And there would be a ton of #goals comments and heart reactions from ladies and likes from men. Because in these streets, us males don’t heart photos; owe it to bitterness because I got there first or some form of masculinity that I lack words to describe.
I loved how we both loved and loathed the same things. We loved to laugh heartily at jokes and found them in the most stupid of things. We couldn’t stand people who used LOL in conversations. That and Femi One’s music. But mostly the latter. I loved how we got things running from the onset. How we didn’t hold ourselves back even though we were strangers. Cupid calls it chemistry.
You know how viewing your crush’s WhatsApp status seconds after they’ve posted it will have them think you are desperate and creepy and already fallen head over heels for them. And you don’t want your crush to think you’re a stalker even though you obviously are. So you resort to squinting to read it. Or you subject yourself to the torture of turning off read receipts and then back on after you’re done. We didn’t have to do that. There were no masks. We were two beautiful birds in love.
We met in a WhatsApp group, just not how you think.
I rummaged through my boy’s phone. Knowing his penchant for hiding things in plain sight, there’s no way I would find any in his camera-roll. There’s a time he hid blunts along the curtain rails. So I went to the trenches – the folders I was least likely to get nudes. SD Card/Personal Dev/ Books/ African Lit / Favourite Reads / Biko/…only to find Drunk, the book, not a jpeg nude named Drunk. In fact, the only thing close to nudes I’d have seen was the debauchery hidden in the pages of the book. What a let-down. But I didn’t leave empty-handed: I scrolled through his camera-roll and was stunned by an attractive lass.
“Bruv, si you hook me up with this mama.” (We need to stop calling women mama unless she’s your mother or sponsor.)
“Omera buda, why are you going through my gallery?”
“But still si you just ask. Privacy kidogo won’t hurt. Anyway, she’s way out of your league. Anacheza EPL, wewe unang’ang’ana na vumbi Koth Biro.”
“That’s for fate to decide. You hook me up. “
“So how do I even introduce you guys? She’s always busy. Alpha female. Career woman. Labda I give you her number you tetea yourself.”
(My boy Swahilisizes English. He says stuff like, “You guy my guy, I’m kujaing kesho but I won’t be endesha-ing my ride. I’ll be javving.” And I understand him because he has lived in South B all his life. South B. is the no man’s land of Nairobi. It’s not in Eastlands; it’s also not in Westlands. Kids from South B. attend posh schools but still get a bit of sheng’ lingo from Mukuru kwa Njenga. In the end, you have a mix of conflicting personalities.)
“No, do this. Open a WhatsApp group with only me and her as the members alafu ujileftishe.”
“Hehehehe. It’s a brilliant idea but it’s rude, I can’t do it. I don’t add people to WhatsApp groups without their consent.”
“Think about it. A few years from now, when our wedding is aired on Samantha Bridal, we’ll…”
“Hehehe. You haven’t met, and you’re already talking about a wedding? Tell you what, if you get her to go on a date with you, I’ll give you a thousand bob. If she doesn’t, you give me two. Deal?”
On our first date, she showed up in a red knee-high skater skirt that still flaunted her curvaceous hips and a matching chambray shirt: decent but intentionally unbuttoned to reveal just enough cleavage to stoke my imagination. A bold statement of intent. Her eyes were accentuated by a dark eye-liner she told me was natural, her smile by beautiful dimples, her perfectly-aligned teeth by a mwanya so cute, only Rubaridi’s gets close. (Of course, she had to have a mwanya. If you know me, you know that’s not debatable.) Yes, her slowly receding hairline revealed her beach of a forehead, but she had learned to veil it with a side swept bang.
We met at Aga Khan Walk and sat facing the huge parking lot in front of Uchumi. In sight, Samsung’s ads were running on the huge screens crowning K.I.C.C.’s ledge, forming a cornice hard to miss. A few chorales dotted the parking lot. One, exclusively male, sang so well, guys rushing to get home stopped to take videos and applaud them. Right next to Java Reinsurance Plaza, was a young man with a busking amp and a guitar in hand, playing songs to an assuming audience.
A lady with a 10-litre tea urn in one hand, a pack of KDFs and small white plastic disposable tumblers in another, and a child not more than 2 years perched on her back; held tightly by a tattered leso that had the words ‘PAMBANA NA HALI YAKO’ printed along it’s hem, passed by. We almost laughed when we read it but it would have been insensitive.
“Weka mbili.” Shee said. I have to admit I was glad she did because I was saving face.
The lady, quickly pouring into the small tumblers, “Na KDF?”
“Mi sitakula labda yeye. Nachunga hii tumbo yangu isinone. Babe will you have one?”
More shocked at her calling me babe than at the offer, I replied. “No, I also have to protect my abs.”
“You just had to boast about your abs. Si you’ll send me a pic. Tonight.”
“How about you just see them now?”
”In front of all these people?”
“Kwani what’s to fear? It’s not that I’ll strip naked.”
I lifted my shirt, held my breath and drew in my stomach. But since of importance is life and you can only hold your breath for so long, I exhaled, and she saw “my abs” for what they really are – a well-rounded paunch.
Playfully poking my side, “You’re always joking.”
“Most of the time, but I hope you know I’m serious.”
Then she smiled, looked me in the eye and locked her fingers with mine. And she didn’t have to say one another word.
Our feet dangling mid-air against the cold stone pavement and our asses getting numb by the minute, we listened to the men’s chorale as they rehearsed a rousing and stellar rendition of Kwangwaru while slowly sipping the hot cinnamon coffee; holding our tumblers by the rim. Cheap thrills.
“I had nothing to lose. Carpe Diem. When you responded with seven laughing emojis, the ones that laugh to tears, I knew we’d go the distance.”
“Aaaw! You counted?”
“I did. Why did you text back?”
“I wanted more of where that came from. Yeah, I know you are shook but he told me everything.”
Crossing my fingers and hoping he wasn’t dumb enough to tell her about our wager, “Like everything everything?”
“Yes. He said you fronted the idea and asked him to throw the blame on me if it went south.”
“He didn’t tell you anything else?”
“Is there something I need to know?”
Letting out a slight giggle, “Not that I know of. Si you just know him and how he likes to exaggerate.”
We were too consumed in the moment to notice time had been far much spent. The place was silent. Fewer people walked by. The members of the chorale were now hurdled in a circle. There were fewer cars in the parking lot. And the screens no longer ran ads.
“We should leave.”
“Si I drop you home.”
“No, don’t stress.”
“I insist. Take it as an appreciation for the treat and the beautiful evening you’ve given me.”
“You don’t have to repay me. I’m okay.”
“Please!!!” she begged. She had a way of getting her way. With me, she only needed to smile and the lovely dimples would make me submit to her demands. You can imagine the thoughts that crossed my mind as we were on our way to Buru.
She turned off the engine and held my right hand with both of hers.
“When are we doing this again?” she asked.
“We’ll plan something next week.”
“Can I see your cave?”
“We both know how that ends. And you made it clear.”
And then there was loud silence. And it felt there was only one way to end the night. I got close. She got closer. I got close. She got closer. Close enough to smell a hint of mint from her breath. And my lips were moist. Hers more. And just as we were about to…her car speakers let out a deep baritone, “Baby, where are you?”
Part 2: Skeletons in Our Closets
We met at Kilimanjaro and sat on the balcony overlooking K.F.C; the aureate light set the mood for what we had planned to talk about. The murmurs from other customers engaged in anything ranging from deep meaningful conversations to casual chatter coupled with the common hitting of knives and forks against the plates negating it; waiters rushing to take orders, shouting them at the cooks in the kitchen.
Shee texted that she was running late but promised she would make it up for me. So I ordered my food and ate it slower than a sloth does. An hour later, she showed up, stunning as usual but in pink crocs. “I didn’t want to keep you waiting any longer than you had. Heels would have slowed me down. Hope you don’t mind.”
“I totally understand. You should know by know that you don’t need to explain yourself. How was the surgery?”
“It went well but it was the type of surgery even a rookie would hack. I need them to trust me with bigger cases.”
Ahmed our waiter came to take her order.
“What will you have madam?”
She wanted to order fries and fish fingers but it came out as,“Me I’rr just have flies and fich fingas,” because we don’t choose where we come from.
“Sorry, I didn’t get that,” said the waiter.
“Flies and fich fingas.” she repeated, irritated that Ahmed wasn’t getting it. “Flies and fich fingas”, she emphasized while pointing the menu. I swear I’d tried to keep the laughter in but when she said, “Na uniretee fruit sarad ikona tuwaru” I couldn’t keep my poker face. I laughed hard.
“Ahmed ata sijui huyu anasheka sheka nini.” Then she too, seeing that Ahmed was taking her seriously, followed suit.
It’s one of the reasons I loved her. She would pull such pranks out of the blue.
She gobbled up her starter as she chatted about her day: the rounds, details of the surgery I couldn’t remember if I tried, and patients who after Googling their symptoms thought that her five years of study and two of practice couldn’t match up.
Then we talked about my work. How we worked hard for clients who paid our employer well but it didn’t translate on our payslips. How I, with a group of other millennial writers, designers, and social media marketers in the firm, eager to dent the ad universe, as a consequence of being used, were going to poach the very clients our bosses couldn’t have were it not for our hard work. We had to because every time we asked for a raise the guys in their expensive suits and fake accents hidden under their corporate veil, bored us with motivational speeches that wouldn’t work even on newbies. When they realised that we had grown numb, they guilt-tripped us by telling us shit our bills would hear none of, “Look beyond the money. Seek job satisfaction, growth, and experience. This company will grow, and when it does, you’ll be grateful you held on when everyone else didn’t.”
She raised a question on morality and karma but I deflected it by asking if she ever thought our busy work schedules would get in the way. To which she responded, “We’ll manage.”
Then we talked about the skeletons in our closets. At the start, it was plastic which was quite weird since everything until then had been spontaneous. “Go first”, she said.
“Ladies first”, a convenient rebuttal in-line with my motive: to get her to spill the beans and test the waters. I didn’t want to share secrets only God and I had knew only for her to hold back. I learned to keep my cards close to my chest and my demons closer. But she didn’t fall for it. She wasn’t that gullible. So I gave her enough, enough to tear her into shreds of tenderness. There are stories even the toughest of humans buckle to. I made sure to tell those. Only they were lies. That’s what I had become- a manipulative conniving bastard.
When she let out hers, you’d have thought she was talking to her therapist. She went on and on and on. And when I thought she’d finished, she peeled off an extra layer. Like an onion it made me tear a bit. But my glasses covered it up. I had long realised that some truths are only visible through one’s eyes. Shee noticed and stretched to remove them but I stopped her when they rested on the bridge of my nose and quickly put them back in place. It happened fast but she had seen that I was human- I was betrayed. She was sincere, honest and vulnerable with the innocence of a child. And there was guilt, guilt that stemmed from my manipulation. Even my worst enemy didn’t deserve that. At that moment, I knew that I had to be in this.
I had many questions. “Does he come to see her? How old is she? Is she an introvert? Does she mirror her in trait? Will I love her daughter as my own and still love Shee as much without making her feel I was doing them a favour? If we broke up, would she be as broken as she was when he left her with their daughter?” But I never asked her any.
I knew we would somehow figure things out. Raising a baby that wasn’t my own wasn’t exactly how I pictured our union but I had, for the longest time, been open to it even when others thought I was selling myself short. It wasn’t a deal-breaker before, and it wouldn’t be then. I had long established that to be in love with her meant to love the whole package: her child, her past, her temperaments, her peeves, her gains and losses.
But I waited until we left. Until she had parked in front of our court’s gate. Until she had thought it would be the last date. That that was the final curtain call. That it wasn’t going to be the fairy tale she had hoped for. I waited until she flashed out her phone to show me baby Ella’s photos.
“She’s beautiful. We’ll be a beautiful family. When do I get to meet her?” It was exactly what she wanted to hear- what the doctor had ordered.
Her eyes brightened and gleamed through me like I was clear water. Her skin glowed. Her heart had melted. She had never touched me more fawningly.
Undoubtedly that was the time. There couldn’t have been a better one. This time her dad wouldn’t call to ask where she was like he did on our first date: she had disconnected her phone from the car’s speakers and put it on airplane mode. There couldn’t have been a better time to have our first kiss. But just as we were within reach, someone knocked on her side of the window. “Ero! nauliza, Nyinyi ni wageni apa?”
It was, Ole Tipis, our watchman in his Maasai shuka, a rungu and a 5-liter bottle of blood in his hand and a marvin on his head. To make it up to me for coming late, she gave me a book: Stay with Me. Another statement of intent.
That night Shee posted something on her WhatsApp status.
It read: Yin to my yang…can’t wait to introduce you to Ella.
What her parents read: She’s finally seeing someone. Tuanze kushona vitenge.
What Ella’s Dad read (bitterly): Is she seeing someone?
What I read: What have I gotten myself into? I was in it to end my dry spell.
Part 3: The Final Curtain Call
She lay on my bed as I did the dishes. My small Ampex speakers filling my bedsitter with sweet Afro-beat music played via YouTube’s auto playlists. She agreed to sleep over. How could she not when I had agreed to fight her demons with her? We didn’t talk about it but we both knew what would be going down.
When I was done, I dimmed the lights, lay beside her and turned down the volume. There’s really no way of asking for relations, no way to ask for permission. You make your move, shoot your shot and cross your fingers. Naturally, since I hadn’t made such a move in a long while, many thoughts rushed through my mind.
(Disclaimer: If a tabia mbaya scene came up when watching movies back in the day, our parents would quickly grab the remote and forward it to a PG-rated scene. This is me telling you to forward this scene.)
Brain Cell 1: Keep calm, you don’t want her to know you were in it for the sex.
Brain Cell 2: Tuliza nyege.
Mouth: Kichwa tu.
It sounded like an expletive but we had waited too long for this day. I had wanked my balls dry the whole day and ate tons of Moringa seeds and leaves to avoid embarrassing performance issues. Before long, we were kissing passionately and ripping each other’s clothes off. There was a corset beneath her top that revealed multiple layers of ‘tyres’ but in that moment, no one gives a shit about such things. They say turning on a man is synonymous with lighting your gas while women take ages like a jiko and I had this in mind. I patiently focused on the right places. And waited for the two magic words, “Have me!”
I want to tell I used every style described in Kamasutra. I want to tell you that by the time I was done with her, I was sweating like the “marathoner” I was. That I gave her one good pounding. That I didn’t stop until she had had multiple orgasms. I want to beat my chest like King Kong’ and portray myself like most men do. But I won’t. I didn’t last. Disappointing. If a voyeur stood by and counted, he would have counted fewer thrusts than those the fries they serve you at K.F.C.
(End of tabia mbaya.)
We still lay close to each other, but there was an elephant that squeezed right between us. YouTube’s algorithms thought it best to play Short and Sweet. I stole a glance that landed me directly to her eyes. They were stinging. But what had I expected when I did her like assignment when she wanted to be done like a term paper or at least a 30-minute C.A.T? I turned the other side and slept.
“Steve, where’s the soap?” she rudely shoved me out of slumber in the morning. This time I was Steve, not babe.
“In the soap dish, where else can it be?”
“There’s no way I’m showering with bar soap.”
“That’s what I use.”
“I didn’t sign up for this.”
We both knew what she meant and it didn’t help that when she added, “You are way below my pay grade.”
“I’d have lasted if you were honest about your “flat” tummy.”
“Stop the bullshit. I told you everything about my life. Stuff I hadn’t told anyone. And now you think keeping something as superficial as a tummy is an issue. Why are you body-shaming me? ”
“Well, it turns me off.”
“You are shit. Be a man enough to admit you are not man enough. You can’t please a woman.”
I couldn’t argue with her on that. There was a better, less hurtful way of saying it but it was the truth.
“When I tell you about the fat layer of fat around your waist I’m body-shaming you but when it’s about my P.E., it’s not. What did you want me to say, ‘Hi Sheryl, I have P.E. What world do you live in? You are the most naive and gullible person I’ve ever met. How did you even get to and make it through Med school?”
“Wait till I share your story to the world.”
“Whatever tickles your fancy Shee. My knee ligaments are torn, my kidneys are failing, last week my heart attacked me. You think I’m worried about a condition that’s beyond me? Go tell it from the mountains. Have a blast. Do you need a presser? ”
“You are fucking fragile. You are still living in your parent’s SQ at 31. You don’t know what you want with your life. You are deluded prick living in a word of make-believe. Calling yourself a creative. Tell you what, you are a disgrace to the word. Nothing creative about you. Bland shit articles plastered all over the web.” I could not stomach it. Those were hits below the belt. And I wasn’t going to take them lying down.
“Here’s the truth: I only wanted to get in your pants. Know what else? We had a wager with Jonah that if you agreed to go on a date with me he’d pay me a thousand shillings. I wanted nothing to do with your fucking past. And yes, I write shit stories but at least I’ve never killed anyone because of my incompetence.”
“Steve, I told you that in confidence.”
“That’s beside the point.”
“That was then. I know my stuff now.”
I rushed to my drawer, took my E.C.G and ECHO scans and brought it to her face shouting, “If you know your stuff as you claim, read these scans and tell me what I’m suffering from. Tell me what’s ailing me.” I shouted louder, “Tell me Shee, what’s wrong with my heart?” She looked confused. I knew that it was a big ask to get her to diagnose me. Only a cardiologist was fit to do so. But she didn’t know I knew she didn’t know. “You’d have at least made something of the public funds your dad stole to take you to school. Give us value for our money.”
And there was one cold backhanded slap. I felt the marks her fingers had tattooed on my face. That day, somebody stopped reggae.