I see

“To each their own.”

You said it. I nodded.

It’s what I do best. I nod. I say “no worries” and watch you.

“So, do you drink?”

“Yes, I love coffee,” I said. You laughed, shook your head and said, “do you take alcohol?”

“No thanks.”

“Well, I do once in a while when I’m in the company of my friends. When we are celebrating.”

whisky alcohol drink on the rocks glass ice cubes coaster
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We attended your friend’s birthday party and I found myself doing what I do best at parties- disappearing.

One drink.

Just one Hun. I smiled and kissed you on your cheek. “Go and have fun.”

It was a delight. Watching you. Not being at the party. It always delights me that I can see in you what I choose to. You often say “don’t overthink, it’s not good for the kids.”

Your friends immediately turn their gaze to my stomach. Too flat. What kids? Are you having kids? Congratulations! Boss! You finally did it!

“No, we are not having kids. It’s just something we tell each other, you know like you tell your wife you love her and stuff like that, isn’t it right hun?”

“Yeah, no kids here people!”

We laugh. You laugh with your soul. I laugh with my heart, we’ve never laughed with both but you know we will, I see it in how you struggle to let me in.

One drink. When I settle to a cup of coffee before going to bed, you reach out for one drink. You call and say “I just wanted to hear your voice.”

We talk about an episode you saw on National Geographic. You say you are worried about your Dad. He’s not himself. You wonder where I’d be if you attained his age. You ask me about home, the work I’m doing and you sip your drink. Each word I utter is washed down with a sip and you say “It gets lonely, this world I mean.”

I do not overthink our conversation. I do not overthink what I feel and I spit it out. When I’m done you say “I see…and you know what, it’s one of the things I would always love about you. You say it as it is and sometimes, I wonder what you are doing with a guy like me.”

Well, honey, sometimes I think of how I’m going to write a story that it slips my mind.

It’s raining

I thought the clouds had a torrent to say,

It seems they really could not sway.

Remember, last week, on Thursday? You were trying to balance some accounts and I was seated across the table, stirring my coffee, acting like it did not matter.

“Just give me a minute, okay?”

“Sure.”

You asked for one but took ten minutes.

My anger could not be swayed.

You said, “you’re like rain, if you decide to fall, you fall and I am the fool who forgets to carry an umbrella.”

It is raining now. It is half past seven and I am brewing tea. I wonder, do you know how right you always are?

Do you know how annoying it is to have to like you?

It’s raining. You are probably watching National Geographic so you can tell me all about animals in the wild.

It’s raining.

You’ll need an umbrella for I fear that one of us will be drenched and I have a feeling that it will be worth every drop. 

Chapter Eighteen: Jeff and Belinda

Belinda looked up from hugging Iman and Hakeem to see Jeff driving into the compound. She walked with the children into the house and took their bags. They went to their rooms to change into their play clothes as she waited in the sitting room for Jeff. He walked in a few minutes later, “I was hoping to see you today. Have you had something to drink?”

“No, I haven’t. What are you doing home so early Jeff?”

“I was hoping to talk to you. I called Mary and she told me she was in school so I guessed you would be here and seems I was right.”

“Yes, at least you are right.”

“Come home Besh.”

“It does not feel like home Jeff.”

“I know that things cannot change overnight Besh. You always used to talk to me, to tell me anything that came to your mind. It was easy back then and then we had Iman and you started retreating into the shadows. You know we never argued about a thing, we would talk things through and I miss that. Mary said something to me yesterday, it was almost as though, she was giving life to the pain you’ve been going through. She said that you did not just snap, that you broke…and Besh, I am sorry, look, if there’s anything you want me to do to make things right then I would do it. I just want you back home. I want you here beside me and I want Hakeem to wake up at night knowing that his mom is there. I want Iman to see you home because this is all they know.”

“You want me to come back to this house?”

“I want you in our lives Besh.”

“I’ll think about it Jeff and let you know.”

“Do you still work at that place?”

“I got a job. I’ll also keep working at Okwan’s but not as often as I did. We worked on a system that suited us.”

“Congratulations, where’s this new job?”

“It’s here in Kisumu. Do not worry about the details but just know that I am embracing the eight to five lifestyle. Mary will be coming over next week to help with the kids and after that I was thinking they could go home and spend some time with your mom when they close school. It will give me enough time to get someone to help around the house.”

“Sure, that’s great.”

“Okay, let me go and see what those two are up to.”

“Besh…”

“Yes, Jeff.”

“You are the mother of my children. I love you, always have…and though I have made all these stupid mistakes that cause you nothing but pain, I just want you to know that Michelle was a mistake and it took me a while to accept that.”

“Honey, no woman wants to be called a mistake when it comes to love. Can we not talk about this today?”

“Sure, I just wanted you to know.”

Chapter Thirteen: Belinda

Belinda was ready to respond to her friend’s statement when she saw her turn. She looked around and then saw that Mesh was biting her finger nails. “Mesh, what is it?”

“Look, I will talk to you later on. I just don’t want drama.”

“What drama are you talking about? I swear you are the only Drama Queen I know in my life.”

“I am not joking Belinda. Look, you see the lady in that green maxi dress?”

“Where is she?”

“Look through the window of the hotel and you’ll see her.”

“Okay, but she is far from us. Who is she?”

“Belinda, look, let’s just leave. Please.”

“I am not leaving until you tell me why you don’t want her to see you.”

“I am not being a child Belinda! She is Michelle!”

“Well, let’s go and join her for lunch.”

“Wait, what? I don’t want her to see me. She will get ideas and I cannot fight her. Belinda, God did not bless me with fighting skills. Look at me and then look at her, I’m like a pole she can lean on, please, let’s just go. She is not worth the drama.”

“Okay, we are not going to fight. We will talk and I want to introduce myself. Look at it as some form of enlightenment. I have to face the woman my husband is having an affair with.” Belinda walked into the restaurant and headed straight for the table where Michelle was sitting.  Maureen stood her ground and remained where she was. Belinda pulled a chair and looked at the man having lunch with Michelle.

“Excuse me, we are having lunch,” started the lady.

“Hello Michelle, my name is Belinda. You are having lunch with my husband. I believe I have every right of being here. Jeff, this is the Michelle I asked you about three weeks ago. Do you now know her?”

“Besh, please, don’t do this…”started Jeff.

“I am not doing anything Jeff. I was passing and I saw you holding her hand across the table and thought she must be very important to you. She is beautiful. I like how progressive you are with skin tones. I never liked Molly or the secretary you couldn’t stop taking to Mombasa, but with this one, I have a feeling she’s nice.”

“Besh, this is not the place…” started Jeff, but Belinda turned her attention to Michelle and smiled once more. She said “If I were you Michelle, I would get an HIV test. My husband has dipped his hand in many pots here in Kisumu and you two make a wonderful couple. I hope you have two children just like he did with me. Kids are awesome. Enjoy your lunch.” She pushed back her chair and strutted out of the restaurant and made her way to Okwan’s restaurant.

Ghosts in the forest

If you would have asked Grace how she felt in that moment, you would have glimpsed at something. My mother says it is like the oldest tree falling in the forest at noon, when the sun has fully kissed the earth.

Grace.

Henry.

He always said that he was named after a missionary. He brought good news, conquered her heart, toyed with her will. When he called she ran. When he said, “I want to see you,” she packed an overnight bag.

Grace was his light. She felt like his partner, the one drug strong enough to numb his nightmares, but nightmares called wife and children can never be wished or kissed away. If Grace were to ask anyone, or tune into any local morning radio talk show, she would have received her judgment. She was too smart to feed her brain such mush, instead she took it as it came; the love and kindness, but of all, she lived for the way he cherished her.

Dinner after a long day at work.

Career recommendations and the phrase he kept saying “never change yourself to suit a man, change to suit yourself, keep your dreams alive and never stop working.”

It’s why eight months later seeing Henry at a dinner party walking with his arm around her made Grace desire never ending sleep. When he found the courage to walk up to her, she shook her head firmly, as though each shake could wipe away the images that were playing in her mind.

He reached out for her hand, “Grace.”

“No, don’t,” she said and took one look around the room, but even then she knew. She knew that his wife knew and that is what my mother says is like sharpening a knife.

Cathy

Grumpy met a girl.

He says, “she told me to call her Cathy, but she looks more like a Katherine to me, but you know how girls are, they can be a Cathy to me, a Lisa to someone, Nancy to another, Sweetie to many more and when the time’s right a Mrs. to just one man.”

coffee latte art coffee shop cafe cup blur wooden table
Atichart Wongubon took this!

 

To be human

people man sitting alone sad hoodie cap trees plant outdoor nature
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We have all hurt someone tremendously, whether by intent or accident.

We have all loved someone tremendously, whether by intent or accident.

It is an intrinsic human trait, and a deep responsibility, I think, to be an organ and a blade.

But, learning to forgive ourselves and others, because we have not chosen wisely is what makes us most human.

We make horrible mistakes, it’s how we learn and it is inevitable.

Nayyirah Waheed

Last night’s star

I saw you.

Yes, you.

I saw you walking down the road, hands tucked in your pockets, earphones plugged into your ears. You had somewhere to go.

I saw you.

Yes, you.

I saw you at Nakumatt, wondering which deodorant to buy- pacing back and forth, Axe, Nivea, Fa. You had something you needed to buy.

I saw you.

Yes, you.

I saw you at the bus stop, you were eating roasted maize. You were talking to another guy, the story he was telling you made you choke on the maize you were eating. You had something to laugh about.

I saw you.

Yes, you.

I saw you talking to her. She wore a turquoise sweater, black skinny jeans that revealed that firm behind. You were talking, she was shouting. You were pacing back and forth. She was folding her hands across her chest. She left, and you turned to punch the wall…and then you saw me.

You saw me.

Yes, you.

You saw me and walked away.

The Visit (Part Two)

“She would return to her home at five o’clock in the evening every day. She would pass the gate, the neighbors, the children and walk on to her door as though the sanctuary was beckoning her. Her eyes took in everything that her ears heard. She would always return wearing a red scarf around her neck. Mama Daisy once asked her about her husband and all she could say was “he is not here.” When the lights would go out in each house, Ruth would keep hers on. She would sit on the balcony with a thermos full of black tea. Each night, their cries, Thomas’s smile, his laughter, his conviction before the trip, the police, the border, the land cruisers, the masks, the dust and the blood would envelop her like the dark. Anna would be five and Tim would be three. Thomas, well, he would be in this country, in her house, in her bed, in her thoughts. He would be whole. His hands, legs, head-all of them would be there and her little Anna’s heart would be in her body, radiating the warmth that filled her life.”

“I know what you are trying to do and I have had enough.”

“There is just one sentence left Rose and then I can stop.”

“No, leave it like that. Not all holes have to be filled and once you learn that, then you would be well on your way to being a great Writer.”

“What if I want something else?”

“A person who writes is a Writer.”

“But what if I just want to tell stories?”

“You cannot sit down and speak of such things. You spoke of tragedy, but there is nothing tragic in what you have read out.”

“Don’t you see it? Ruth is traumatized and she lives in the past, is that not tragic?”

“No, tragedy is thinking that she can wake up one day and forget everything. You are heading there if you continue reading it to me because she is like a housewife, all happy and neat and full of love, but when the night comes she is haunted by demons that are embedded in her memory.”

“I was thinking of writing some mystery or crime fiction about what happened to her family, wouldn’t that be awesome? I mean, like a crime story.”

“It would be a disaster.”

“What? I think it would be great, imagine picking it up and reading it to find out who killed her family and why, wouldn’t you want to know what happened?”

“See, that’s your problem and I think all those classes you have been taking have been deluding you into a fiction-high. Do you know why the full stop was invented? To put an end to things and stop people from babbling just like you are doing right now. When you say too much, you lose my attention. When you say too little you lose my devotion, but when you say just enough, you have my respect. Which one would you want?”

“Your money”

“Too bad, this hospital is taking my money. Think about it, where are you going with what you are writing?”

“I don’t know. I came here thinking that I would read you something and it turned out to be crap, and I don’t know where to go from there. This assignment is due tomorrow, what if I fail?”

“Good”

“You are my sister. You are supposed to help me with this! Now you are saying failing is good? And then, if I fail, mom and dad would be on my neck about all the money they are paying for my university, and everyone would hate me and it would be too much.”

“Hey, that is exactly what you need. You need to fail.”

“I can’t believe this, are you okay? My very educated sister, the one with a Masters in English Literature is telling me that I should fail? Are you listening to yourself right now? Should I call the doctor?”

“You should probably call the Priest because that’s the only person I need right now.”

“Rose…”

“No, we have to face the truth, these tubes and needles and the nausea. The whole world is sitting on me and I cannot stand up.”

“Rose, you promised me you’ll fight this, and besides, I have not yet…”

“You have not yet failed. How many letters are there in the English alphabet?”

“Twenty six, but…”

“But nothing! You have twenty six letters and you can arrange them whichever way you want to form words. Do that. If you had told me that when Ruth sat down on her balcony, she saw blood, Thomas’s head, hands and neck, I would have seen it too. The trouble with knowing too many words is trying to use them all. Tragedy knocks people off their feet. People become speechless; they do not utter so many words or think, ‘wow! This is really happening!’ They are there but their mind is busy prompting them to either flee or participate. The best kind of trauma is where one is an unwilling bystander. Fail. Own your mistakes. If Professor Otieno tells you to deal with clauses, do so. I miss crisp narration.”

“You are trying to turn me into you Rose and I don’t know if I can do it.”

“You can be so many people before you are yourself. For the record, you can never be me. You would have to give lectures and grade papers. I don’t think you can mark two hundred scripts in seven days.”

“I don’t want to fail Rose. I have to get this right.”

“Anything that’s right takes time, but while you are at it, you can leave me a copy of the story and I can always get Nancy to text you any comments I have.”

“Thanks, you are the best!”

“I know, now, you said something about the last sentence, and what is it?”

“Do you really want to know?”

“Do I have to beg you to read it out to me? No, in fact just hand me that paper and I will read it.”

“I will read it for you. You don’t have to move Rose.”

“I’m all ears.”

“So, the last sentence is: Ruth would be in the kitchen, Thomas would come in and say “We should go and visit my parents this holiday,” and she would stop washing the plate and sigh, then nod.”

“That is really great. So, now you can get back to campus and attend some lectures. I need some rest before those nurses come bearing needles. And Rose, you will get it right some day, when you do sis, please remember this visit.”

PS: This was my 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize submission. I did not make the cut, and I am grateful the Judges read it and went on to choose the best out of the over 6,000 submissions they received, can’t wait to read the regional winning stories!

Bloom

Hi.

Hi.

What are you doing?

Me?

Yes, you, tell me…what are you doing?

(Trying to cross the road while listening to Shape of You by Ed Sheeran, and you called right when I was planning to sing along.) Nothing.

Really, I missed you.

Seriously? But you saw me like, ten minutes ago, kwani?

You mean I can’t text to say that I miss you?

(You can call to say it, say the words!) Nah…it’s not like that, you can miss me and text me, a girl’s got to smile sometime.

So, what are you doing kesho?

Why?

Okay, is this like a bad time or something?

No, why?

Nothing, I’ll talk to you later.

Sure, bye.

I miss you, bye.

bloom
Courtesy of StockSnapio

If these thoughts fill me with gloom, then let it be known that my heart’s doomed.

A word, a text, a slight remark…it’s all we have, you and I and words,

they flow out your mouth, your heart bleeding into my ears.

Black t-shirt, blue jeans, black converse…brown eyes, set jawline, a dimple on your left cheek right above the smile you greet me with.

“Hi,” that’s how it started and now here we are, I am in my smurfs pyajamas being bitten by mosquitoes as I tell the world about you,

or is it the idea of you…

Because,

we both know, I see you, I hear you, I feel you,

but

I’m not the one who is blooming, it’s her…

and that is why your texts and calls wither,

for this is meant to die for the one whose heart you hold is already in bloom.