Like Kisumu rain, I can hear them coming from far. Starts with a hum, then the noise intensifies. It gets louder and louder as they approach. And even long after they are gone, I can still hear the sound of their engines droning into the distance. I think it is this noise that will kill me about this new place, but other than that, it is not so bad. I mean, it is basically an empty hall at the moment. There is nothing here other than my desk and TV stand in the sitting room and the bed in my room. I swear if I so much as fart, an echo will respond in the other room. However, sitting here in the darkness typing this, it is not the lack of furniture and things in this my new house that makes it feel empty. It is the fact that you’re not in it. So I sit on my bed and stare at the window and listen to the cars passing by. The yellow of the street light outside has taken to my curtains until they look like they are soaked in pee. A metaphor, if you may, of just how stained my life is right now.
I hope you understand, though, that none of this was planned. There is this girl, Jane, who woke me up that Thursday morning looking for a copy of Stay With Me. I think she had lost someone’s copy – or ruined it. I don’t know. Either way, she had fucked up. And so she needed to replace it. Ideally, she was supposed to call the bookstore line and order from there, but you know how such people are. Those who have my personal number would rather call me to make an order, never mind that I do not do that shit no more. I do not remember the last time I serviced an order at the kiosk. That is usually you, right? But she called me, understandably, because at the end of the day, my name is the business. The Magunga Bookstore.
She called at around 8am, if you remember correctly. And God! how we hate people who call us at midnight! Who is even awake at 8am? After she had woken me up and I had organized how she’d get her book, I could not go back to sleep. I kept turning and fidgeting and then I realized that it was my brother’s birthday. Deo was now just a wink away from 30. So I texted my mom to wish her a happy birthday. You know me. I do not believe people need to be celebrated just for being born. Showing up into the world to occupy space and diminish the earth takes no effort, nor valor. Not even sacrifice. You know what takes all those things and more? Giving birth. That is why I texted Karua.
You woke up in the middle of all this. Your sleep most likely interrupted by all my fidgeting. I should have at least greeted you with an “it has opened” greeting or a good morning kiss or even pretended to care that I’d woken you up by asking, “Nimekuamsha?” I did not. Instead, the first thing I said to you on the morning of November 1st was, “Are you ever going to change your mind about kids?”
I can still remember seeing how sleep disappeared from your eyes the way olwendas do when you switch on the lights.
“No, I do not think so,” you started, sitting up, “Why?”
I did not know whether your question was why are you asking, you already know the answer to that question or why are you asking this today, right now, in the middle of the night? Either way, the answer to that question – if I was to be completely honest – would be a complicated one. A long-winded story with more twists and turns than a bowl of noodles. I mean, I’d have to start with your 30th birthday – about how after all the fanfare had faded away and you were preparing to go to America, I started thinking of how time was running out fast, yet we still had not figured out how we would handle this kids thing.
Then I would have to tell you about Jane and her carelessness with other people’s books, and then about my brother’s birthday, and how when I texted Mother Karua about it, she replied with a memory George, in fact I have just delivered Deo. Your father William is by my bedside with Aunty Anastacia. Everything in the house has been turned blue and William named him after his father who loved me so much.
I knew, then, deep down that even though I may deny it, I am not ready to miss out on fatherhood.
Hectic as it may sound, I did tell you all these things that morning. I told you why. With gaps in my speech, yes. With a heaviness in my chest, I told you. With uncertainty making me stumble over my words. I did tell you all the same.
But you are Akello – a woman from the South. Resilience is part of your DNA infrastructure. You were determined to find a way to make it work. A way to compromise. But what compromise can exist between a man who wants to keep his line going and woman who has decided she is never ever having kids? Surely, what is the meeting point? That you have half a child?
“What about that thing we once spoke about, remember?” You kept going. “You could have kids with someone else that is not me.”
Yes, we had spoken about it before. And for a while I had considered it. Lakini sasa the more I thought about it now, the more implausible it seemed. First of all, there are many things I admire about my old man, but polygamy is not one of them. I, like many other people in Luo Nyanza, grew up in a polygamous household and it is one of the best things that can ever happen to a person when they are kids. Then you grow up. Then I grew up, and began to understand the complexities – noticing the bile between people who are connected by blood but act like strangers. That is not anything that I’d put my child through. Or someone’s daughter. Not by choice.
Also, where would I find this woman? This woman who would have my children but let me stay with you? Will she also be allowed to have another man? And how the hell am I even going to afford raising two households? No way. No way I am rectifying a mistake by making a worse one.
Halafu there is you. You are sure you are ready to share me with someone else?
“I don’t know. I guess I was hoping that that is how we would both get what we want. You would get your kids and I would get to keep you,” you said. And when those words fell out of your mouth, I paused and looked at you in both shock and wonder. Not sure whether that sort of commitment is acquired or in-born. But it is rare. And the truth is, I am not the kind of guy who deserves even an inch of it.
We stayed in bed the whole of that morning and a little bit of the afternoon. For the most part you cried, and I pretended not to. For the most part of that day, and the days to come, and the past ten days, I have been hating myself for all of it.
The guilt that’s gripped me stems from the fact that you have always been clear about your position regarding kids. You asked me, when we first started going steady, whether or not I was planning on having children sometime in the future and I said I did not care. And to my credit, I was not lying. I was 24, fresh out of college, constantly in fights with my mother about my career choice, trying to make a name for myself with this writing/blogging thing, hustling to make a salary as a copywriter in my cousin’s ad agency, newly out of a previous relationship and completely taken by you. The last thing that was on my mind, honestly, was kids. I wanted you more than I wanted to care about whether or not I wanted kids.
Holding you that morning, devastated as you were, it seemed incredible that that was the first time in four years we delved deep into the futility of our relationship like this. Not because it never came up. It did, there is even that one time you said you should walk away if we cannot find a way, but I said no. And even though you stayed, we both knew in the poetry of our hearts this would be a difficult ship to sail. So we put it off. We thought we had time. Then almost half a decade passed and here we were.
That night was salsa night at Brew Westi. You had left to go see your mom. I went to dance. Dancing cures sadness in ways science has not explained yet. Then God decided to play the games He plays when he is bored. Right there sitting on the bar counter was the girl I parted with to be with you. And as we hugged hello, I could feel karma’s teeth dig in to claim a good chunk of my ass.
I guess I deserved that.
I knew if I stayed for any longer, we’d probably fuck and forget what the fuck just happened. So I started looking for a place to stay for at least until the end of the year as I get my shit together, then in January, I move into my own place. Wapi? I scrolled through my phone and came up with just three people. Two friends and a cousin. All of whom I knew stayed by themselves and would probably not mind a guest. First one said no coz her mom was gonna be around. Second one said yes, then consulted the girlfriend, then called back they could only do two weeks. I needed two months. Third, the cuzo, did not even respond to my text. LOL. I know this is Nairobi and we should never overestimate our positions in other people’s lives, but fam! That one stabbed my right here.
After the third attempt I was like fuck this shit. I am not a beggar bana. Did a few laps and found this place. Good thing is that on the day we broke up, a client came through with a cheque. The two months deposit, water deposit, lease agreement and rent swallowed that whole shit up. But at least I had my own place.
Moving was a bitch.
Let me tell you something. When you have money, you walk into a supermarket and buy things and then you get to the till and you’re like “aaaai, these things hata hazijafika 3k?” When you are broke, you will walk into the same supermarket, buy literally three things and at the till you are like, “ALA!!! Hizi vitu tatu ni 5k?”
I swear I could not believe the cost of things. Small things. Like curtains. Me in my head, curtains are just tough bedsheets. If you go to mtumba, it should be like max two gees, right? NOTHING! First you have to go to Eastleigh where they sell them for 550 bob a meter. You will think a meter is long until they measure for you and that is the moment you realize a meter is not even the length of your leg. So I asked myself why I need curtains when there is nothing to hide in that house even. People put curtains when they have things they do not want other people to see. My house right now only has air and my black ass. Neither of which is unique nor valuable.
You have seen the new diggz though. Not too shabby, right? Sure the landlord here is one of those who firmly believe that the toilet and the shower must be in the same room and the kitchen must be the size of an othonje of ugali. Lakini you know what? The toilet flushes at a go. It is not like that one we used to share where you go for number two but when you flush your golden sausages still remain afloat. Finally I have a loo that when visitors come and ask to help themselves, I do not need to start making apologies.
The shower on the other hand is funny. As in it removes hot water, but there are like six strings of cold water. It feels like showering with something that God would spit out of His mouth. You know? It is yet to decide whether it is hot or cold. It is both a blessing and a curse, when you look at it well. The cold rivulets tend to remind me that showers are for spaces for showering and not booths for voice practice. Saves a lot on the water bill at the end of the month.
Jamo came by the other day. He walked in, looked around and first thing he asked was, “DUDE!!! WHERE IS YOUR SHIT?”
“I left them all behind. I am starting afresh, omera.” I said laughing.
“Even the TV?”
“Even the TV.”
“The big curve TV. Aiyayayaya….” He almost collapsed. Dude had go wash his face on the sink, but then left the water running, and I had no choice but to smack his stupid matchstick head, “WEWE! Unajua bei ya maji? Mijinga!”
He does not understand. Neither do you. Wewe you think I left all that shit behind because of guilt. Partly true, but also because I doubt there is nothing I can’t walk away from just like that. I mean, it used to be you, but now that is gone too. I have lived with little, very little, and that is the kind of upbringing that stiffens you up for when you need to go back to basics.
Then he asked, “What happened, bana.” A question that I am now getting tired of answering. Every time someone asks me that question I start my response with “So there’s this girl, Jane…” And it is so hilarious to see their eye swell up with righteous indignation because no breakup explanation that starts with another girl and goes anywhere other than, well, south.
Remember the last time we moved? When we were moving from the old house to this one? We’d just come from a Sauti Sol concert – the Live and Die in Afrika album launch – and we were sweaty from dancing for hours, only to get home to find there was no water to shower. And that was it! We were done. The next day we went out and searched for a house and that is how we ended up in the diggz we shared for three years.
It’s funny how history repeats itself, eh? The night before I moved out we were also coming from a Sauti Sol concert at Blankets and Wine. I was watching you when they came on stage. When they performed Isabella. I saw the tears glistening in your eyes in the dark. I hated myself for putting them there. And when they sang Coming Home, my goodness, it’s incredible how your feet held you fast.
Mpenzi leo naenda safari, safari na ni ya mbali
Ukiweza kunimiss madam, tabasamu kidogo
In every stage and every song I play
Every fan that would scream my name
I will always be with u in my heart
I will miss you forever
The next day you were helping me unpack up stuff here. The books (personal copies, not for sale) that we got when together, we split. You kept House of Stone, and I stayed with The Underground Railroad. You asked if you could keep Water Anthology and I said sawa. You asked if you could keep Dance of the Jakaranda and I said sawa. You asked if you could have The City of Lies and I said sawa. I just kept saying sawa and sawa and sawa. I could not help from saying sawa because how does deny someone something after breaking their hearts like that?
Then you let me keep your favourite, The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta. And for a moment there, I wondered whether the irony was intentional.