We sit by the fire place. She keeps poking the fire with a long rod. Her brown skin glows against the light of the flames. Elsie is asleep in my arms. There is much silence decorating the room since we sat here three hours ago. Time has passed before I last laid my eyes on her.
Everything about her might have changed, but for someone who has enjoyed her nakedness and saw her at her most vulnerable times not much change can be registered. Still, she wears tight jeans that keep a man experiencing hard-ons. She furnishes herself with elegance because where she hails from money flows like a river. She never had money problems.
Her skin glistens, and it is smooth. Her cheeks have become bigger and rounder like those of a pregnant woman. I don’t recall the name of that flagrant body splash she uses; it is still the same 7 years later. Such loyalty is admirable from all angles. Even a loyal man cannot keep one barber for that long.
She is the mother of my baby. Elsie. Her name is Alexa. Elsie is entering into the deep thighs of her 9th year. I wonder what life looks like at her age because I would love to know how she perceives the world at this point. Is the world still soft at 9? Does one ever get stressed at 9? Do 9 year olds ever sit down; look up at their parents and think of marriage and their perfect partners? These are some of the things I usually feel Elsie should shed more light on- to untangle me from these inquisitive, ugly and useless queries. Not so progressive you know.
`I wonder also what she thinks of me- an absent dad. At times, I also get to wonder how she thinks of her life. If she curses, wishes of more of my presence, or even wonder what kind of dad I was meant to be. What bothers me is if she grows up to blame me of all the wrong going on in her life. That would kill me. Will she grow to insult me for not being able to father her enough?
“She looks so lovely in your arms,” Alexa comments. The rod is still in her arm and her face is still facing the fire. Like someone in deep thoughts. Of things she might have wanted to say to me but she hasn’t mustered the courage. Or she is arranging the thoughts and then get them out once for all. I have seen this behavior, not once, but all the times we’ve met.
“I bet she does. I missed her.” I echo back as I kick my kicks off. Using my toes, I get the socks off and enjoy the fuzzy feeling of the mat under my feet. The attitude picked by our relationship has always been getting worse. We never hug or talk a lot. Elsie is the only binding spanner that ensures we don’t get on each other’s scarf and tear the veins. Whenever she is around, the environment is pressed with lots of laughter and pretense; pretenses to sound and behave like real parents.
“You know it could have worked…it could have.” She continues. It startles me but I begin to understand that the thoughts are finally coming out. Deep inside I know it can never work.
“What could have worked?” I ask harshly. Sometimes I regret for treating her the way I do, like she is nothing to my life. I kind of wield some dominion over her. She knows it. In my presence, she is always weak and submissive. I am her weakness. The love she professes for me is profuse, that one I know- so unconditional yet so unnecessary. To be honest, I don’t decide to be rude and harsh to her, it just comes naturally. To regulate this temperament, I espouse silence in most cases. This love she has for me disturbs her, her eyes are always weak and shy.
“This… Me and you. And Elsie… Perfect family.” Her response is so soft and calm. No matter how much she is angered by my attitude, she never gets affected by it. One could say she has become used to it until she has come to accept that it is my nature. Is it not said that love hurts? No one knows better than her. Years of holding on, in the hope that maybe this man seated next to her could become a husband she dreams of, the father of her daughter, the mischievous yet loving man he once knew. She knows there is something sheathed in this man’s heart that she could uncover and change the equation once again.
It is 7 years now since we sat side by side in a home. This moment brings back sweet memories. I was aged 15 when I met her. At the age of 15 I was in form one. Towering at 5’7 one couldn’t think of me lesser. I bear a face of an old man. It lies a lot and you could easily confuse me with my age (I matured way faster than my age. I am not shy to admit that fact). Often, it is not my job to change people’s perceptions about my age. Why should I Iabour to change what can be evidently seen? It is for me to act my age or else I would end up leading my life on the wrong lane.
Once, I almost married a 32 year old woman. I was at my early 20s but looking like 40s just kissed my face. The calm, collected and mature man in me moves thoughts and the way people perceive me. I had just joined a chama, only to realize I was the only kid. No one knew. They all thought I was heading to my 30s and I let them wallow in that thought. I could count the number of men in the chama. Women dominated and ended up beating us in making decisions- tyranny of numbers. During this time, I had taken a break from school after life had fed me doses of misery and mutilation- a two year break to deliberate on the future of my life as I engage myself in business and make some money for myself.
Women in the chama liked me. I was the only single guy who was open, calm and mature and one who brought laughter on the table when boredom was sinking a well in each of us. Besides, I was a single man with a kid- a similarity many single mothers in the chama could identify with. Most of them were in the range of 25-32 years.
One particular lady loved me. Her story goes that she got impregnated while in secondary school. The man was forced to marry her despite the 20+ age gap. They had been married for a number of years before I came into her life. Although her husband was begifted with lolly, their marriage thrived on endurance (kuvumiliana). He considered himself too old to sire another kid. In his 50s, he said, he didn’t want to be dealing with kids and diapers and unnecessary noises. The wife, who wanted another kid, and another, and another, felt that the fun she had envisioned in her marriage was a long shot.
It is during this period that she wanted a working option that could revive that girl in her- an option to make her feel young, to make her feel beautiful, a man to give her more children so that she can enjoy motherhood again, a man around her age so that they can share jokes freely and generally enjoy life. She saw that man in me.
There is this one time she travelled from Mombasa without issuing me a notice. Just as I was ready to take a bus home, she called and informed me that she was in town and wanted to see me. I was with Moraa (cousin) and a friend.
Prior, I had told Moraa of the encounters that we had with this sweet woman from Mombasa who desired to share a life with me. Knowing that inside me a voice of reason would counsel me on what to undertake, she had agreed with me that I shouldn’t put asunder what God had brought together.
I asked her to meet me at Ambassador where I picked her up. The cold was biting to the last nerve. I had just borrowed a heavy sweater from my cousin George, a summer bunny who was spending his work vacation at Arkland Hotel. I offered the sweater and we headed home. There were two of us, Moraa and I, occupying a two bedroom abode for ourselves. At the time we had around four beds.
Moraa and the friend were wasted, they hugged the blankets immediately. I prepared pasta, French beans and scrambled eggs for supper while our visitor took a long hot shower. She entered into tights and sprawled over the sofa. Her thick thighs were tempting. She is big eyed with calm painted all over her face.
I sent her to bed at around midnight. We sat in bed and held hands for a while. This was closely followed by a hug that could have translated to a kiss and sex had it not that the voice of reason inside me reminded me- do not put asunder what God has brought together…
“I was right there, you couldn’t event kiss me,” later in the week she texted me. I promised that I would make love to her till we wake up the neighbours next time.
After I met Mama Elsie (she was my first) and had sex with her a few months later, my eyes opened. My testosterone levels peaked and the hunger for sex rose. I did things I should never have done then- but when salvation came my way, just like Paul, there was no turning back. No sex with someone’s wife.
The next time I saw her, I offered a very nasty massage that put me in a position to have sex with her. The agreement was that I would perform a massage for 15k. She’d taken the deal so easily. But there was no way I could break someone’s marriage despite the circumstances. The Lord of hosts taught me that a proper man is not one who has dominion over others but he who can have ultimate control over himself even in the face of trouble. I was a proper man and there was no way I could let my guard down.
Our friendship lost ardor after the event. To minimize the chances of us meeting, I withdrew from the chama and continued to lead a life on my lane. She, on the other hand, decided to move on. The only way she could do that was to rid herself of everything that could knit her to me.
“Don’t you see that it can never work? What’s wrong with you?” I retaliate back.
“But we haven’t tried. Look…”
“What is there to try? What we had died 7 years ago. I was just a teenager.” She looks at me with watery eyes. I hate to see her cry as I become fragile as well. The tear glands will loosen the gates, and tears I’ve shelved for years will come out. Then I will become the one to be comforted, a situation that might lead to occurrence of unprecedented events.
“Don’t you see I have waited for that entire long for you to grow? I have been patient, so that one day we can be a family.” Her arms are restless and she is throwing them in all directions.
“What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to come back to me. It is here that you belong.” She says as her right arm tries to reach for my knee. “We can do this. We just need to give it a second chance.”
When I met her, she was a dazzling woman whose stunning beauty caught my eye. It wasn’t hard to notice her for a simple fact that she was the only white woman in the room. While everyone kept busy, she was standing there, alone, with no one to talk to. It would have been that many people in the room had challenges communicating fluently in English. Or that phobia of approaching a white woman was reigning among them.
It is not that I was eloquent myself, or as confident as I might sound. I just told myself there was nothing I would lose if I greeted her. It is the greeting that translated to chumminess.
She was 21, in med school.
The friendship defied all odds and sprouted like a plant in the desert. At this time, I never imagined that anyone could fall in love with me. I didn’t possess this charm that a girl would be looking for in a man, nor was my face handsome enough to attract a girl of her class. As our love breathed to life and continued to grow, I then began to understand that love was blind. It had no eyes to consider the image of who it wanted to love. It spread wide its arms wherever it felt a connection and stayed there. Love is not conditional, it is loose and it does not struggle to impress because it does not have eyes to see who likes it or not.
“Me and you can never be one piece again, woman.” I tell her.
“Why are you always on the defensive? You never give us a chance.” she accuses.
“I don’t like wasting time on things that can never work. I am not that man.” I say with a tone of finality. Once I knew what I wanted, I never entertained beating about the bush. It is the man I have become, facing reality quickly so that I don’t waste time and regret later. At this point, I knew she was on her own, with her own share of pain and heartaches. My heart was somewhere else. Though not cozy, it was not broken.
“You didn’t know that when you pulled me into this?”
“No one pulled you into anything, woman. Everything in your life is a reflection of your decisions, not mine. As you can see, I pulled myself out. Do the same and your life will not be pegged on mine.” I defend myself. Clearly, emotions blind our thinking. No matter how much we refuse to accept reality, at the very end it is the only thing we are left with. The earlier we realize so, the better for each of us.
“I know you still love me. Only that you cannot accept it on my face.” she tries to conclude.
“Of course I love you, but as the mother of my child. There is no reason to hate a fellow human being. Hate is too a great burden for me to bear.” I lay Elsie on a warm mat spreading out in some corner of the living room. I cover her with a thin silky cloth; look at her for few seconds before I return to my chair.
“Uhm… so you don’t plan to marry me?” she asks
“Why do you ignore all the red flags my dear? You’re six years older than me. Six damn it! That will be like marrying a cougar.”
“You’re now calling me a cougar? Is that it?” It is long before we were in such demanding circumstances. With Elsie dead asleep, I was sure Alexa had a window of letting herself loose.
“NO! Those are your words, not mine.”
“So you’re not going to marry me because I’m older than you.” She tells herself.
“Hand me the rod please.” I request the rod because at any moment the situation might become sinister and it would be the weapon to end my story. Even if we are not prone to violence, it doesn’t mean that we have no ability to do crazy things like killing someone. Emotions can make you snap in a second and do something silly. I have seen people do things that make their lives go topsy-turvy. It is good to predict trouble and abate it before it strikes. Even though I have never seen her get angry to such a point, you never know someone well enough until the moment they do something tragic. You discover you no longer know them…
Extracted from Breaking Bad, a memoir I’m working on.
Where shall we go, we who wander in this wasteland in search of better selves?