I snap out of my forced reverie when I notice we are no longer on the tarmac road. I found it hard to nod off, car rides usually lull me, and now I have to open my eyes to see where we are going. The traffic snakes it way to where it seems like the horizon – somewhere far and open – a snake made of dots of red, white and yellow lights. The air stealing its way into the van smells fresh – raw, earthy, woody and smoky. It is one of the things I miss. We circle the worst of the jam back to the main road. I re-find my bearings. The town is near and the roads seem emptier. I have to remind myself that this is not the city. Eight o’clock is late here. This tiny innocence stings me sweetly. I am going home. I am going back to the place I am always welcome, the place where my mistakes and flaws are clear and and I am still embraced and loved. A place of no judgement.
The grass has been recently cut and the spaces in the compound look neither as bald nor as vegetated. It has rained. It is cool and clean. I knock on the kitchen door, the back one (we rarely open the front door) and Mum opens it. She looks smaller, the wrinkles around her eyes more pronounced. The walls and the floor look stark, seeming to put my recent sins into glaring perspective. But, I am safe here, in this place of friendly mirrors. I can see what I am (the fairer parts more clearly) and what I could be. In this warm, bright, airy house, I can hide without hiding. I am home. Mum says I have become bigger. I have. My allergies run a prickly hand across my sinuses and the back of my throat itches. It must be the mould spores that blossom on the walls whenever it rains. Without seeing, I know the walls have swelled up and are peeling. The irritation is expected, like the dust I darkly look forward to seeing dance and touch everything when the sun finally comes out. I will enjoy the greyness and cold before then – it is a far cry from the blinding leonine that is synonymous with this place.
I sleep on the couch, deeply and dreamlessly, still nursing Thursday’s hangover. Papa is not yet back from school. I got him that book he wanted. I am sure when he returns he will ask me how much he owes me. I will shrug, clear my throat, laugh nervously and wave the question clumsily away with my hand. What more would you want from the man from whom you are etched, the man who etched you from himself for some of the best years of his life? Still, morning takes too long to come and sleep abandons me early. The ticking clock sets me on edge with its relentless march into eternity. I get up and take out the battery. In the enhanced silence, I can hear my little sister’s wrist watch click-clicking-click. I get up again and put it in a drawer. Nothing. Good. A lacerating silence, a few moments of being alone with my thoughts and my memories before the rest of the house wakes up.
I have not so much as come home as run back home. No one can find me here, no one of the ones I hurt and abandoned, and the ones who stand ready to accuse and to judge me for my evils. I know how silly this is. I would have to be a narcissist to worry relentlessly that there are people out there endlessly concerned with my business. Still, I cannot shake off the niggling feeling that I should look over my shoulder just to be safe. I shake all this off. I am home and that is all that matters now. Tomorrow, the tomorrow when I go back to my life, is for these things, these griefs and concerns.
I spend the day watching Hannibal and Regular Show. Breakfast is eggs, fried with onions, tomatoes, black pepper and curry, and toast. And tea that makes my stomach frown. Full-cream milk, straightish from a cow, none of that pussy stuff that comes in packets. I go for a haircut in the afternoon. When I come back, I proceed to other haircuts. I can litter the bathroom with parts of me here. One of my sisters has gone for a school trip, the other one fills up the house with her tempered warmth. She is quiet and composed, not restless like her sister and her brother. And then the hours are gone and I have to pick up my youngest after her school trip at her school. They are late. One of my phone lines has gone dead. Those platitudes on patience become koans. Papa has a new yet not new cologne, Aramis. I had dabbed a bit of it on my chest. I smell manly. I should trade the book for this and wear some (for her) when I go back to the city.
I pick up my sister, all energy and light but reserved (it is pushing nine o’clock and she must be hungry), and we walk quickly on the now dark roads, towards the matatu stage. We take a boda-boda ride after walking about half the distance. The matatus at this time are rickety, coming out only at night as if ashamed of themselves. We have to take another boda-boda from the main road to home. If I was alone, I would have walked. Supper is fish and chips. My little sister and our live-in house-help do not eat fish. I celebrate a bit, as I forgive them for this. Papa is back home for a short while. He is going to Mombasa tomorrow. He seems jittery. I must be because he is tired (we all seem tired these days). Pursuing a PhD is never a light undertaking, and that they are learning Statistics now does not help. He admits numbers and him have never been friends. I miss him, even as I sit across from him and somehow strain to talk with him. He is bigger and a bit flabby. What I still see is the fresh-faced man with a rakish grin, toned and chiselled, with well defined biceps and calves. Almost daily five-miles runs and fifty push-ups easy. Superman. He gets up and stretches, marking the end of his stay with us in the sitting room. He asks how much the book cost me as I hand it to him. I shrug, clear my throat, laugh nervously, and wave the question clumsily away with my hand.
Sleep takes long to come. I call her and we chat. She is in my ear. I can almost feel her hot tongue that alludes to intellectual and sexual ecstasies. I can smell her here. It occurs to me that my other sister wears Axe deodorant, as she does. I, on the other hand, mask my lust with a scent “with the picture of a ship on the bottle”. I light up constantly lights in her presence. Where there is usually wet wood, for her there is endless dry tinder. Afterwards, I listen to oldish music, Justin Timberlake. The music reminds me of past loneliness and longing. There was another “her” then. She is married now, and even then, she was gone. I try reading The Ethical Slut. I cannot. I switch to Billy and Mandy.
Every second that passes in her absence is a micro-silence, and millions of them together have whipped my heart raw and left it exposed. She lurks in the shadows of my thoughts and all I can seem to wonder about is the next time I will taste her dark-chocolate lips and run my fingers through her dreadlocks. And squeeze her against myself, feeling both her soft and hard places and align my frame to her curves.
Papa wakes me up before he leaves, grabbing my ankle. Aramis floods the room. It is a sensual fragrance. I ask him if I can drive him to the road. He says no as he eats some of his youngest daughter’s mints. I hear this before I can see it, the plastic rattle of the Tic-Tac container. “Toothpicks for breakfast?” He laughs. He leaves without looking back. I feel safe. The hunter has gone to provide for his brood. He will be back. The lights go out as I replace my head on the hard cushion and I am restless – the free time feels too abundant. The books and the cartoons cannot fill it up. The day whips by in a haze. My body took back its sleep even in the daylight – hot, sticky, and deep. Spaghetti and beef stew for supper. I have last night’s leftovers instead. The chips sit like hearthstones in my tummy – unmoving. I should know better and eat some greens. Meh, I am home. I will indulge and then drink water. The water here is clean and tastes saltier than I remember. Mum says that it is the Nairobi water that tastes bad. The water here is just fine. I wonder if any “town” water is good. I am leaving tomorrow and I do not want to. But, I will see her soon, so that is something to look forward to.
She takes a longer time to reply to my messages. When she comes back, she is saccharine. I imagine her leaning in and smiling in that unconsciously sensual way that I can barely resist. Her fingers reach out from the ether and stroke my face. With her, I want to be impressive and I find myself chiselling all my answers and my statements. I do not usually watch myself, wondering about what I say, and I enjoy the sensation. How long can I stand on tip-toe, before I slip on the blood at my feet and fall?