If you think this is the kind of story that has a happy ending, then you have not been paying attention. If it was, however, I would tell you about Parklands and how small it is. Too small that on Friday evenings when the Christian Union is in the hall, their voices can be heard in the hostels where Elephant Man and Usain Bolt are sweeping the earth with their legs. I would tell you about the food, and how you can tell what time in the semester it is just by the most popular chow. At the beginning of the semester, when HELB money soaks the campus, guys flood the Pool Cafe for chicken, or they go to Flame Grill just across the road for pizza. In the middle of the semester, the crowd moves to Queen’s Bench Cafe with its oily pilau and bland mukimo, but by the end of the semester, everyone is at the university-subsided joint aptly called The Mess. Those guys put carrots in everything. You eat so much carrot your eyes turn orange. But they are cheap. For 30 bob, you are full, but the food is so terrible you doubt there is even a name for that taste. Food at the Mess is a scientific breakthrough in culinary clusterfuckery. I would also tell you about the TV room and how on football nights boys kicked out the girls to go watch those lousy Mexican soap operas in their rooms.
But this is not that kind of story. You tell those some of those stories on your new blog, The Real G Inc. and others in The Parqlander Weekly, the profits from which you spend at the Poolside Cafe on samaki wa kupakwa and ugali.
Given the smallness of the campus, word gets around quick. A dude cannot walk with a chick for all of ten minutes before whispers start flying around that he is tapping it. That is why people think that you and Ma are going out.
“Eeeeeh, baba, tell us. How is she?” one asks. Get serious.
“What does a Chipolopolo taste like?” Oh come on, really?
“Does she scream or is she…?”
“Ah maze Goon,” another one bridles, “si you give me a through pass bana! Si ati yeye ni sabuni itaisha!” Stuff this shit, I am out of here.
It is only Jamo who asks, “Boss, now what is the plan with that one? Are you guys like going out? You like her?”
Jamo has always been like that. He has never been an advocate of the smash and dash. “You do not eat and run, my brother, pay the fucking bill,” he says. But even him, he has been acutely misled. You have to fend off questions like those and it annoys you when you have to keep denying. And for students in Parkie, an allegation becomes true the moment it is denied. The more you deny it, the more people insist and the more you wish that it was true. You could as well look them in the face and say, “Yeah. Me and Ma are together,” just to shut them up. The problem is that Ma gets a new boyfriend, and now it would be weird. But even when she does get a new guy, people still say that you two are doing the nasty.
Cheap talk you can live with. What you cannot live with, is Tasha. And crazily enough, for a spell, she becomes the one thing you cannot live without.
It is not as if all this time you have been falling for Ma, you have been single. Nothing. In fact, when you joined campus you had a girlfriend. A tall chick from Strathmore who could replicate any dance move she saw on TV. Thing is, by the time you met Ma, you and your girlfriend had been going through some shit. Shit caused by you. The kind of shit that breaks up relationships. Unforgivable. You fucked up, literally. It was with Tasha; another dancer who moved and twirled to salsa so elegantly without even trying. You’d met Tasha in the morning bus from Kabete. The bus was full, so both of you missed seats and sat on the rail next to the driver. She was wearing red and white flowers over a a pair of blue jeans. You did not do it for a reason, other than the fact that there was an opportunity. The progression was pretty straight forward. You spoke on the ride to school. Talked a lot after class. Had lunch, I think. Sat together on the ride back. Took a walk around the Kabete gardens. Had supper. You invited her to your place. Right off the bat, you said you had a girlfriend, and she said she also had someone. When the talking was over, you pulled her close to you. You carried her against the wall, but not for long because your frail arms were as weak as a Zuku internet connection. Then back to the bed.
It was not that long before you were lying next to her, your pulse beating like it was on steroids, the sweet scent of sin lingering in your room, as her phone introduced you to Kiss from a Rose by Seal.
Then your girlfriend found out. Actually, you confessed when guilt was starting to eat you up. She cried. You said a sorry you did not mean. You told her it was an accident. That it would never happen again. Only that it did, but this time you did not say anything. This time you became a typical shystering hyena of a Jaluo. Jamach piere tondo through and through.
She forgave you, at least that is what she said. Lakini girls never forgive cheating. It is like trying to understand people who eat burgers with knives. They will say they have let it go but then they will grow distant. They will stop visiting you on your campus. They will not call, and when you call and suggest you go out to their favourite club, Tacos, they will say No. And you know it is over when they hang up without saying goodbye. And you know what scares you is not that you have been left, but that you feel nothing. Well, until the beginning of the next semester when HELB checks in and you cannot remember where you put your ATM card, so you go to withdraw over the counter, and the girl on the other side of the glass says, “Sorry, but your account has insufficient balance.”
Only then will you feel something.
Things with Tasha ended badly as well. You you kept on seeing her walking around campus long after you stopped talkig. When you met in the corridors, she acted like she had never sang Seal and Neyo to you. As if she had not tried teaching you how to sing, but your keys were all over the place. As if you had not implored her to show you how to dance salsa in the middle of your campus room. It amazes you how she could be so phlegmatic. But you let it be. You did not explore. Every time she walked away, though, you are the one who kept looking back, watching her with want.
Then one day Tasha disappeared. For a month or so. When she came back, it is your mutual friend who told you. She came to you crying. You put your hands around her and she buried her head into your chest.
“Hey, hey, hey. What is it? What happened? Is it Oloo?” You played a crucial role in hooking the two up. Goddamit if he had screwed things up.
“No. It’s Natasha.”
“What about her?”
“She is having a baby.” FUCK! Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. You start doing mental calculations. Simple math becomes calculus. Your breath becomes shallow. And fast. And you do not know what to do. Your hands fall from her shoulders. You do not know what you will tell your mother. You do not know how you will tell your mother. Perhaps you should also disappear. But before that, there is this tiny issue of the girl wetting your shirt with copious tears.
“How did this happen?” It is not until the words fall out of your mouth that you realise just how stupid you sound. Kwani what are the chances that it was through immaculate conception? What you really wanted to find out from her was whether it was yours.
She tells you a story.
“This is your fault,” she says before she leaves, “If only you had stayed with her, we wouldn’t be here. You did this to my friend.”
When she leaves, you remain in your room. You sit in the dark and watch the blackness mock you. It hits you that you and Tasha never closed your chapter. You had been planning on approaching her one day to square things up. But now things were complicated. You remember many things. The poetry you had embellished on Microsoft Publisher and sent to her, but she never responded. You do not know whether she tore it up, or kept it. You remember being in the computer lab with her, streaming Part of the List. You remember how things between you two ended with a comma, as if one day you guys would meet again to finish that story, but instead, grass grew wild where apologies were meant to.
You did this to my friend.
Some words are sharp; they cut you to the quick. Others simply burn. But ni sawa tu. When you were a kid you fell of your bike during a race and broke your front tooth, and split your upper lip. Took six stitches to patch it up.
So yeah, words may hurt, but pain is nothing new to you.
The school’s educational timetable makes sure you do not see Ma again for a while. It is structured such that after second year, Module I and Module II are not in session at the same time. A number of things happen when this distance separates you. You become lonely. Jamo gets a gig at a professor’s office. The pay is shitty and the work leaves him with bags under his eyes. You see him less. And then to makes things worse, homeboy decides to fall in love. Then he too disappears. The little time he gets when he is not slaving at work, he spends on this bird from our class. You even wonder where he got the energy to fall in love in the first place. However it happened, this adds a spring to his step. This girl introduces him to the stars.
“But she is saved?” you ask him one Saturday, “If you pull some shit the Christian Union will lynch you for sure.”
With your closest friend gone, you find time for yourself. Only that you have never been a fan of your own company. So you start joining akina Maitha, Jeff and Jibjo to the gym. Difficult shit. Jibjo wants to rip like those weiders on the posters who pose in speedos and have veins popping out of their skin. Maitha wants to add some meat to his arms. Jeff just wants to be fit, and to be distracted – you hear he has been thinking of quitting law school lately. You quit the gym after a while. You concentrate on the campus magazine that has now evolved from a weekly newsletter to a university magazine. It really caught on in Main Campus. The name even changed from The Parqlander Weekly to Campus Chronicles.
You have few girlfriends. Once in a while a fresher will become touchy with you, but then you are a band aid drenched in lonely, and it is as if they can smell that. They scurry. You cannot believe there was a time you had three girls at your heels and now there is none. When you are in a relationship, they want you, when you are freelancing, they keep off you like you are Beelzebub tits. This is not even a dry spell. This is the bloody motherfucking Sahara. Once, your ex girlfriend, the one who made away with half of your HELB loot calls you unexpectedly. She has been arrested by City Council. According to her narrative, they were harassing some of the mamas who sell oranges on the streets and she just had to say something. So they picked her up too and swore to pin some ridiculous charges on her now that she was such a smart ass.
“I did not know who else to call,” she said after you have bribed her out of the kanjo van. She looks shaken. This is the first time she has ever been arrested. You take her to your campus room, and on that night you fumble through an awkward fuck. The next morning she goes and you never hear from her again.
“How much was the bribe?” Maitha asks that afternoon. He had seen her around and demanded an explanation as to what the hell you were still doing with her.
“2-5.” You look away.
“Eish, Goon. You need to get a grip bana.”
“Well, at least something good came out of all this.” Takes him a while before he gets the pun.
Things go back to how they were. You are broke with no coins to rub together. Then one Friday evening when coming out of Queen’s Bench, you hear someone singing. You follow the voice into the Lecture Hall where the Christian Union folks hold court to worship. You walk in and there she is. A girl in a blue sweater with her hands held up in surrender, singing with her eyes shut so tight you would imagine she is in pain. You watch her. There is something oddly romantic about the way she sings to God, giving herself up to Him like that. That song she sang, you do not know it because the last time you were in church, God was probably still in high school. The rest of the congregation follows her lead, but they do not seem as carried away as she is. She is sucked away into it, into another world where nobody else exists, a place where she can be herself. Her safe haven. If you were not in church you could have said that she undressed herself in that song.
You choose to stay a bit longer. It is not as if you had plans. What can it hurt, right?