When do you think you’ll be leaving?
So, I can come over on Thursday… Friday. I can come over on Friday?
Nah, I can sneak out for you. You’re not just any one.
Uhm, make it Thursday. Friday kuna pahali naenda graduation.
Ronnie. Mama Ronnie alini-invite.
Isn’t Ronnie in nursery school? Alright, Thursday.
Sawa. See you then.
She is leaving, so soon after she arrived. It seems like just yesterday we met at Carol’s movie joint, one of those tiny basement ones, and looking back, none of us ever thought we would end up here: friends and a little more. It all started with a toffee. I cannot remember why I had them. I do not eat sweets… Well, confectionery… Wink wink. She once told me that one of her friends made fun of her because of that: she could not even wait to be seduced with a bar of chocolate. How cheap!
I sometimes think she was the only person I genuinely laughed with when talking about my struggles. I could laugh at myself with her and she could laugh at herself with me. Sometimes that is all that friendship is about: someone who can laugh at us and with us. I fondly remember the kebab dates, or rather, the laughter. I cannot recall most of what we talked about. Sometimes it felt like I had forgotten how to laugh. She reminded me how.
She is leaving because she found herself at the sharp end of a dirty stick, just when things had started looking up. We all hear stories of how corruption is rampant in this country. It is not until someone close to you is touched by it that they cease to be just stories. She was touched. I was touched. No more strolling over to her office to kill a couple of minutes and brush an afternoon’s cobwebs away. I gaze longingly at the glass facade where her window used to be every time I walk by there on my way home. It is someone else’s window now. I do not think I will ever have a reason to go there again.
No more vodka and Coke on balmy weekends, with a movie playing on one of our laptops and remaining unwatched, providing the background to our frenzied fucking. Maybe we somehow sensed that it would not last and we spent every naked moment trying to consume as much of each other as we could. I could never get enough of her. She showed me the depths of my lust, how fiendish it could get, showed me how to stand truly naked before another person. And she was beautiful, it was beautiful; lying tangled up, a mess of arms and legs, sweaty and satisfied – the non-satisfied satisfaction that is peculiar to intense sexual and romantic encounters.
Ndio natoka town. Is there anything you need?
No. I’m fine. Utakumbuka kwenye utashukia?
I’m great with directions. Siwezi potea.
Sawa. See you soon.
I sat at the back of the matatu, my legs almost pulled up to my chin. There was the spare wheel and a sack of… something pushed beneath the seat, so I had to step on that to fit. I was about to rail at the discomfort of it all when it occurred to me that those items had as much of a right to be there as I did, and matatus to her place take a while to fill up in the mid-morning. Time was of the essence. I had sneaked off from work that day, a valid reason already lined up for my absence in case someone called looking for me, “Kuna client nimeenda ku-sort…”, or “Net iko down na ndio niko hapa na-sort.”. “Hapa” presumably being the service provider’s premises. I need not have gone to such deviance, but one can never be too sure.
The journey was a blur. My mind had already gone ahead of me: she would be alone, after sending her daughter to spend the day with the house-help and her children, the silence would fill up all corners of her cozy house, waiting for us to shatter it with our frenzies and impatience, hungry lips and searching hands and hungrier bodies. I imagined our clothes would not come off fast enough. The ride suddenly became a little more uncomfortable and I shifted noticeably, pulling my pants legs down to… make room. I touched the side pocket of my backpack slightly, comforted by the light bump and quiet scratch. Condoms, check. The stage came up, a little too fast but not fast enough. A wave of nostalgia washed over me as I alighted. I liked that place, quiet and distant, it was the perfect escape. No one knew us there, no one knew me there. I strolled towards the gate to her place, hoping that this was all some grand illusion and that I was not going to be saying goodbye. I hate goodbyes.
The murmur of children at play greeted me even before I walked into the compound. Shit. Her house was set far from the main gate and I could see that she had company. Ah, well, c’est la vie. Her daughter needed her hair done, so the hair braider was there and so was the house-help. There was packing and cleaning to be done too. I laughed at my selfishness, that I thought I would walk in and ravish her one last time like a great warrior before going into a battle from which he may never return. She had mentioned it before, that we would not be alone. Or had she? I forget at that point. All I can see is her leaving. Leaving me.
I left my bag at her house and we took a walk, not really knowing where we were going and knowing that we would end up from where we started. A somewhat apt metaphor for most of the things we do: we always end up at the beginning. She needed the space, a slice of tranquility away from the organized chaos that is moving house. We came across a vegetable stall and she bought two stick of sugarcane, one for each of us. She had sugarcane, alright, just not the kind I had in mind that she would be having. It had been a while since I had eaten sugarcane properly, raw and earthy like that, not the skinned and chopped-up one you can buy in the market or from those wheelbarrow guys. I went slowly, fumbling. She giggled and said I eat like a town boy, which I did, daintily and clumsily, as if I was scared of the sugarcane. Her giggles turned into full-blown laughter. She was already done with her piece and I was barely halfway through mine. The juice dripped down my chin and along my hands and forearms. My mouth felt cleanly sweet and bruised. I felt around it gingerly, paying particular attention to the gap on my left; a reminder to always maintain good dental hygiene and to stay away from sweets… and, possibly, sugarcane.
She took a photograph of me taking a final bite. I was done, and I joined her in glee. She was still laughing. Her happiness felt like it came from the same place innocence comes from; it was pure, uninhibited, not self-conscious and all consuming. I could never help but be swallowed up by it. We walked further on, doubling back to her house to have lunch, rice and beans. It seems that we were always having some sort of cereal when I was there. Most of the other times it was lentils, and omena, once or twice, by special request. An uneasiness hung about the room, even with her daughter and the house help and her son and the hair braider there chattering happily. It was a foreboding of loneliness and distance. I think only the two of us could feel it, share it, this secret universe. I ate fast, then sat fidgeting, and she noticed the passive-aggressive way I asked to leave.
This time, we headed straight for the main road, quietly. There seemed to be nothing left to say, and in the somewhat discomfiting silence, she made phone calls to organize for transporting her belongings.
Hii kuhama imenisotesha. Nimekopa credo yangu yote.
I smiled at this, the humorous and endearingly deprecatory way she said it. We had reached the main road I would have to cross to where I could get a ride back into town, or rather home, seeing as the day was over. There was a shop at the corner on the left and I dashed into it and bought airtime scratch cards. I hurriedly scratched them and then gave them to her. This way I knew she would not say no. Her pride would never have let me do this tiny favour for her without a fight. We hugged with an unspoken finality, “This could be it.” I crossed the road and boarded a matatu that had just stopped. I watched her walk away just as the matatu peeled off. Flecks of sugarcane still dotted the blue sweater I was wearing – a baggy one which we had bought together on impulse on one of those beautiful evenings after a kebab date – as if to remind me of all the sweet things we had shared. I sunk into a joyful yet melancholic reverie, until the conductor tapped my shoulder to ask me for my fare. I could almost still feel her and smell her on myself. I could still almost taste the residual sugar on my lips and feel the tiny bruises left on them by the sugarcane.