[Final Part. Proceeds from Part 4]
You spent your entire campus life promising other girls what you had already given to Ma. But you denied it because you did not want her to see how desperate you had become. And for some reason you thought that if you tried hard enough to ignore it, then perhaps those feelings would fade away. However, that did not mean that you were incapable of loving other people. No. Love does not work like that. This selfish kind of love that is peddled in magazines and TV shows for ratings and golden statues was created so that Hollywood can make money. People buy into this kind of thing because they want to own a human being for themselves. There is nothing in this world that people cannot share, but for some reason, we have been conditioned to believe that love is an exception. And you do not just buy that bullshit. So did you lie when you told Natasha that you loved her? No. What about Gloria? No. Pat? Fuck no. You did, and even as you sat in the back seat of that cab, with Jamo lying in your lap, unconscious, windows rolled down to dilute the stench of vomit from Jamo’s mouth and clothes, you knew that the only lie you ever told those girls was not that you loved them. Uh-uh. Your fault was in making them believe that you loved them more than anything in this world. That kind of stature was already taken. Ma would end up being the one that got away. Everyone knew it. She knew it. You knew it. The entire University of Nairobi School of Law, Parklands Campus, knew it. The fact that you kept on denying it did not make it any less true.
You could have told her, but what would the point be, eh? All those times when she came to your room to study (you were living alone, now that you were Chairman) you could have told her. When you went to K1 every Tuesday night, you could have told her. On Fridays at Club RnB, you could have told her. When you went to Flame Grill just across the campus on Friday nights to get the buy-one-get-one-free pizza, you could have stopped her in the middle of the night and told her. When she decided to one day cook for you and your people nshima – that is what Zambians call ugali, even though it is not hard like Kenyan ugali, and it is not as loose as porridge either. It is something in between. And it is tastes like an old promise begging to be kept. Still, you just chose not to because now you were seeing someone and she was with someone and that kind of talk was known to ruin everything.
Then on that last day of campus, something changed. You had planned on getting some time alone with her to tell her, “Here is the thing, eh. I know it will not make a difference to you, now that you are going back to Lusaka for good, but the truth is, inasmuch as it makes you mad uncomfortable, there is a reason why I am unable to keep myself from looking at you.” Now you would not get the chance to tell her all this because you had just left her boyfriend’s place in Rongai, and you were in a cab with this burly man with a cut on his lip and breath that reeked like Jezebel’s conscience.
[I know that windy intro is all over the place, so let me tell you this story properly.]
You are now in forth year, right? Pat is not around because she cleared the year ahead of you. Same as Ma’s boyfriend. It is the end of the last semester. You are sitting for the final paper, Energy Law, in the evening, after which you and a delegation of your friends will be going to Ma’s boyfriend’s place for her farewell bash, because she will be leaving the next day. Meaning, it is potentially the last time you will be seeing her (until perhaps she comes back for graduation in December).
The paper ends at 8pm and as soon as you guys are through, the fourth year class lights a bonfire and burns every handout and book they had. They open bottles of whiskey, vodka, beers, sodas and chant around the bonfire like cavemen.
And it is not ati your fault, you know. Finishing law school at UoN drives students to a point of feral madness. It is not the books and knowledge that you are burning. It is the hours you spent at night, trying to understand whatever the fuck Private International Law was all about. It is the memory of that lecturer who never taught anything, but gave people Ds all the same. It is dreary Indian professor who insisted that you hand in handwritten assignments. It is staying up late with a can of Red Bull, coffee and miraa, studying for an exam and then forgetting everything in the exam room, only to remember that bloody date two minutes after the invigilator said stop. It is the green swimming pool that was never cleaned or opened on time. It is the bad food. The relationships that did not work out. The end of a semesterly HELB stipend. All these are the things you are burning in that bonfire. And as you watch the fire eat those papers, you feel some kind of release that makes you let out a long, loud, animalistic growl of a wounded animal.
Anyway. After the bonfire, you guys decide to hit the road to Rongai for Ma’s farewell party. On the way out, you meet Jamo. He had finished his exam earlier on in the day, and so he has been drinking the whole afternoon.
“Boss, unakuja Ronga?”
“Si bash ya Ma? She is leaving Kenya for G.”
And that is how he joins you, Kibz, Maitha, Waf, Chess and some other guys. In his hand is a boti of vodka, halfway empty. He passes it around and everyone takes a swig, then he throws the bottle by the road so hard it breaks into a million little pieces. By the time the delegation gets to tao, Jamo is already tipsy. Eyes barely awake. Ma suggests that we need to buy more drinks to go with, just in case our host need more alcohol, and would Magunga be so kind as to go get them? I say sawa. Maitha, Chess and Jamo insist on coming along.
Meanwhile, it begins to rain. Not to heavy, but not too light. Just enough heavenly pee to make your shirt stick to your skin. You tell Maitha to watch Jamo, because he is not okay, however much he keeps saying, “Niko fiti, Jakom. Wee tuishie. I only had that one vodo.” You and Chess walk ahead. You squeeze in between Latema Road traffic, leading the way. You know that Chess is right behind you, and so are Maitha and Jamo.
You get to the wines and spirits joint, and when you look back, Jamo cannot be seen. Chess and Maitha look at each other puzzled.
“Jamo ako wapi?” You ask them after making your order.
Chess replies with a blank stare. Maitha says, “Me sijui!”
“What do you mean hujui? Si you were the one looking after him?” More blank stares. “Hebu call him and ask him where he is.”
Maitha and Kibz leave, and when they come back with Jamo, they say that he was downtown, at Mfangano Street, near the Bus Station. How he got there unmugged and made it back with his wallet and phone, is God’s way of reminding you that He never forgets his people. By this time, Jamo is animated. Talking loudly, but saying nothing at all. The four of you lead him back to the crew, where we find that the ladies have already hired a matatu to carry all of you. You and Ma sit at the front next to the driver. A bottle is opened, and you give clear instructions that Jamo should not take any more. Throughout the drive from tao to Rongai, the bottle only gets to you once. Just once. You ask if Jamo is fine, and the passengers at the back say, “Usijali jakom. He is alive.”
Perhaps your mistake was in thinking akina Chess could actually control Jamo. You thought that by telling them not to irrigate him further, they would manage. Horse shit. You get to Rongai and homeboy is now drenched. Voice decibels multiplied. He talks as if he is trying to resurrect a dead bat in Hong Kong or something.
See, Rongai is a kasmall town. I am pretty sure if a resident was to pick up a landline and dial a wrong number, they would still talk for at least forty minutes. Shops close early. And silence is considered fashionable after the sun dips. That is why as you walk towards Ma’s boyfriend’s apartment, and Jamo is shouting his lungs sore, everyone is looking at you. A stranger tells you, “Hebu settle him down. There is a cop station just ahead.” Dude instead responds by talking even louder, saying “Waaaaaadefuaaaaaa (his corruption of ‘What the Fuck’)!!!! Mimi hakuna mtu anaweza kunishow ufakin.” and then he threatens to remove his shirt.
[what is it with mad people and nudity anyway?]
By some stroke of luck we get to our hosts. You get in last with Jamo, leave him in the care of akina Maitha, and then head to the back balcony. There, something illegal is being passed around. You join the queue, and when it finally gets to you, you take a long hard drag that awakens the bats in your belfry. And just as you are starting to enjoy the chaos in your head, a jamaa comes to you and says, “Jakom, hebu go take care of your boy. He is spoiling the party for everyone.”
You know, alcohol does different things to different people. Some people when they get drunk, they start to sing. Others strip naked. Others piss their pants. Others get so damn horny they would fuck anything with a hole. Other people like yourself lose their tongues; they keep silent and let whatever happens happen. And then there is Jamo. When booze gets to him proper, he gathers energy – usually he starts sprinting around like a nightrunner, and sometimes, he can decide to start carrying people on his back. But when neither of these modes is activated, then he begins to sniff around for a fight. The fact that he is bigger than Jeff Koinange’s ego gives him the confidence to pick on anyone.
When you are called from the balcony, you go into the living room to find your homeboy shirtless, flexing his manboobs like Johnny Bravo in front of other men in the room, spoiling for a duel. You grab him and take him outside. Kibz joins you and you try to talk to him to calm the fuck down, but then trying to reason with a drunk campus student as easy as trying to understand hieroglyphics. There is no other option other than to take him back to campo. It stings like a motherlover because this is supposed to be the last night you see Ma. This is the night you, somehow, are supposed to confess all those things you have been holding back. But then clearly, Jamo’s alcohol has other plans.
You are now at the verandah of the apartment. Jamo’s eyelids are starting to shut – which is a good thing and a bad thing. Good because the drama will die, and bad because now you have to carry his 90kg of dead weight down three floors and into a taxi back to campus.
“Kibz, niletee maji. Huyu msee atajimess hapa” You say and Kibaki walks back into the house. You tell Jamo to hold onto the railing, just next to the stairs. You ask him to hold on to it for a second as you try to text Ma to tell her that you have to leave. You let go of him. Take out your phone and start typing. And that is when it happens. Everything that your boy had eaten that week starts to come out from his face. He lets go of the railing to cover his mouth, looses his balance and then goes tumbling down the flight of stairs. The tumbling ends with a thud when his head hits the last step. That thud is a fullstop to a long sentence, because everything goes silent.
You say Fuck and Shit so many times as you go to pick him up. Dude is out. Cold. There is a cut on his upper lip. You pull him back up from the landing to the verandah, and just then Kibz appears with a bucket of water. If this was any other person other than Jamo, you would have left them to their own devices. But this is Jamo. You know for a fact that he would do the same for you. So you take out his soiled shirt and wipe him down with it. Then you mop his vomit from the verandah and pour the shit into the loo.
Ma comes out and finds you and Kibz sitting next to a comatose Jamo.
“Me I have to go. I guess this is goodbye.”
“But why do you have to go, Magunga? Si you just let him sleep here and then come back inside?”
You did not expect her to understand, so her response does not offend you. Of of Ma’s boyfriend’s friends calls a cab for you. You search his pockets for his wallet and inside you find a stack of brownies. It costs him 2000 bob back to campo from Rongai. All the way, he is lying on your lap, and next to you, Kibz is staring at the night outside.
Outside, electric poles and buildings rush past your cab in the opposite direction. They take you back to the beginning. You think about the first time Ma ever spoke to you. How you were even surprised that a girl like her would even consider looking in your direction, leave alone entertaining your company. You remember falling in love with her. You remember the half baked promises you made to other chicks, that you kept only half the time. That is real heartbreak. Forget the fairytale stuff. True heartbreak does not come like a thief in the dark. It comes the way night falls – you know it will happen, but you cannot stop its ultimate arrival, however much you try. So you dance in the daylight for as long as you can, knowing that very soon, the sky will start to loose its sheen, and your world will lose its life.
You do not see Ma again, until she comes back from Zambia for her graduation that December. By then, you have moved out of your mother’s house because the moment you told her that you wanted to quit law to become a writer, she lost her cool. Your own mother does not even attend your graduation, never mind that you graduated with a Second Class Honours, Upper Division. That evening you meet her at Club Mollys along Electric Avenue. But she is with her boyfriend, so you do not even talk much. Then the following day she is gone, back to Lusaka. Any other conversation you have with her is via Facebook.
One day she tells you that she and her jamaa are no longer together. Why? Because she wants to settle down for marriage.
Na wewe kwani…si you are like twelve?
No, Magunga, you Kenyans take too long.
But he is probably still like an intern in a law firm. Young lawyers earn as much as house-helps in this town. How will he be able to look after you? Si you give him time?
All along you thought that you would be happy if they broke up. That some opportunity would open up itself for you, finally. But now that they are apart, you kind of feel sorry for him. Honestly speaking, out of all the guys she dated, this chap was the one you liked most. Dude must be devastated. I mean, they had practically lived together in her last year. She moved out of campus hostels to his house in sijui where, and now she had left him. His chipolopolo mami was gone, and for some reason, you felt compelled to grieve with him.
So what will you do now? Is there a guy?
Yes. He has even come home to meet my folks.
But your ex also met your folks when they came for your graduation?
After that she goes silent. For many months. Then she posts a photo, months later and you can tell that something that has changed about her. She has grown thinner. Not so much flesh clothing her bones. Is there something wrong?
Hey. You have grown slimmer. Are you OK? Ama they do not feed you in Zambia?
yeah..thats how hubby wants me…. says the response.
Who the hells has this woman become? That is how her hubby wants her? What kind of nonsense is that? You do not respond. Later on, you blame it on jealousy. One month later, you get an inbox from her.
Hey,hey.. do we have a mutual friend who did Law of the Sea in Campus? You do not answer immediately because you did not take Law of the Sea in campus. Actually, most of your fourth year was spent at the pool table rather than in class. You make a mental note to ask around for someone who did Law of the Sea, but then depending on mental notes is as efficient as treating a tumour with Cod Liver Oil. You forget. She does not. That is why two days later, you receive another inbox.
hello?youre ignoring me?
Now what is wrong with this woman? Si I said I will ask around for those notes? There is no need to remind me every two days! NKT. In fact, that is her problem.
That is the last thing she ever said to you. You would later regret ignoring her two months later when you receive a WhatsApp message from your friend, Maitha. He sends it to a WhatsApp Group for you and your boys. It is a photo of Ma. In it, she is wearing a snowy dress with long translucent sleeves. There is a weave on her head, bloody lips, a white necklace on her neck, red roses in her hands and a smile as fresh as milk teeth. There is no denying that her beauty could make you apologise for mistakes you do not even intend to make. Apparently, she had just gotten married. And you know how boys are – cold as death. They laugh at you, saying how you have been washed. Your lunch has been stolen, they say, complimenting words with laughing emojis. But you know that this coldness is not ill-meaning. It is just a way to release tension from you. A way to make light of the moment because they know that that shit cuts you to the quick. That is how boys love their boys, and sometimes this love requires a little bit of mockery. Kuoshwa ni kwa muda.
So you decide to go and verify this story yourself. You head straight to her Timeline – only to be met by the last thing you would ever have expected. Ma has unfriended you on Facebook. The shock runs you over like a train. A couple of minutes pass with you just staring at her Profile. So this is how it ends, eh? This is how your story ends. With a rejection so icy it could freeze the balls off a brass monkey. You go to her Photo Albums and for sure, homegirl is taken. She has even changed her name on Facebook. She no longer responds to Matanki Chilimunda Mwaba. She is now Matanki Someone. The chap who has made an honest woman out of her is a tall guy with a balding head, and a forehead so pronounced it can be heard in the afterlife. You decide to check out this dude who managed to score your campus crush and that is when you realise that you two are Facebook friends. How the fuck did that even happen? What the hell is going on? That they also look happy together makes you jealous. But jealousy is a wasted emotion. It changes nothing. It simply consumes you with a fire that scalds only you.
It is said that if you want something so badly, the universe will conspire to give it to you. In your case, you are not sure whether you did not want Ma badly enough, or that the universe delivered your package to the wrong address.
That night you sit on your bed and think about Ma for a while. Next to you is your girlfriend. She knows about Ma. She knows that Ma is the one that got away. You explain to her that Ma was like a demon in your blood. You are honest with her. She takes the news pretty well. At least you think she does. You hope that she will understand. She is a poet, after all. A love poet, no less. She of all people should understand that there are some people who come into our lives, go through our existences like a thread such that everything we do is stitched with their colour. As you sit on that bed, listening to your Jaber’s silence speaking, you decide that it is time to move on. To exorcise Ma from your system.
You open This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz after supper. You read it for the second time, cover to cover. This time you empathise with Yunior’s tribulations moe. You understand him better, because you have been where he has been. Sort of. And then in the hours that ensue, you bow your head and bang words on your computer. You write about you and Ma from the beginning. From the moment you decided in 2006 while at Maranda High School that you would go to law school, to the time you met Ma for the first time, to that draining afternoon when you realised that she had taken up a new name. You tell the story the same way Junot told Yunior’s. (Well, you try to. Not as good, but something of that semblance.) You write from the marrow. And when you are done, you look at the words and admit to yourself that indeed, this is another cheater’s guide to love. This is how else you could lose her. You do not feel horrible for saying those things. In fact, your pores open to let out steam.
“it had to be done.” You say to yourself, exhaling. Mosquitoes buzz around your ears, singing in agreement.