Our paths cross just long enough for me to realise this is fate’s way of telling me, “This wasn’t meant to be.”
It. Can’t. Happen.
I turn my head – twisting the upper part of my body with it, like an amateur contortionist – just in time to see a silhouette fade on Kimathi Street. A slender man, of Somali descent, rushes past me and his scent is the blood boiling in my head beckoning to sit him down at the makeshift table in Kilimanjaro Restaurant and ask him what about Nairobi appeals to him.
He is long gone; a shadow disappearing into the bright neon lights of this city. The scent lingers, and with it there is a residual warmth welling up inside me that makes me want to scream and tell everyone rushing past me, “I am alive!”
That won’t change a thing. Going. Gone.
Maybe, some things are not meant to end.
How could it possibly end without ever starting?
Jogoo Road on a Wednesday afternoon is the devil’s dance. I have sworn to remind myself never to sit next to any window in these buses. The girl seated next to me smells of Harpic and something else that I know so well but evades my memory at the moment. Her stubby fingers punch the keypad on the screen as she types a message to someone whose number remains unsaved. I have become a peeping Tom since getting my new pair of glasses – entering into spaces that I am not invited to. Seeking. Searching. Intruding. Plucking narratives before they are fully formed. Re-structuring them. Deconstructing.
That may as well be a message to her boyfriend/husband/fiancé.
Babe, I am leaving you.
Or, to a sibling.
Our stupid father is dead.
The act, not the narrative, matters to me.
The bus jerks in motion. The bus conductor stands before me and spreads his palms outwards. A single act. No words passed between. His calloused hands graze mine as he thumbs a twenty-shilling coin in my hand. The end.
One simply begins with the familiar then slowly, progressively, moves to the unfamiliar. You are no longer able to decipher the familiar. A certain grip that one has on reality starts to slip, and the edges become blurred; just enough for you to feel your sanity (personified) trundle off without looking back. It’s a crisis. Is this the end? Sometimes, sitting across from him, he will scribble notes and tell you, “It is.” But those are the good ones. The other one, patting her maroon weave, will tell you, “Xanax has been known to help.”
But, that is not now. The present is not the past.
Down the stairs of a dimly lit club. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. Into a cab and begging the driver to just get you out of there.
He stares at you using the mirror just above his head to the left. Home, it sits in between you two; a stranger with a tawny set of front teeth and laughter that rises higher in pitch at every turn and cackles like dry wood being eaten by the fire.
Quietly, you let yourself into the room and slump on the bed. It creaks with the weight of someone lonely. Alone.
The way this ends is with you standing in front of a mirror, staring at your image and wondering – asking – if you’ll ever be good enough. You stand there and rehearse your life (for the day). The smile. The hug. The walk. Keep. Your. Head. Up. Somewhere, in the reflection, you see your image shaking its head – disappointed.
Your mother didn’t raise this broken porcelain vase with duct tape and paper glue holding the fragments together. She did her job. Sent you out to the world with a sword and a shield, dressed in steel armour. Made you look her in the eye and told you:
Never back down from a fight.
Make me proud.
Don’t come back until the war is over.
Be. The. Best.
Think maybe she didn’t know, but she was the first to take away your armour.
Pushed you out into the front of the battlefield…naked.
And although you squeeze yourself into these spaces, you have never felt that you truly belong. You glance over your shoulders every time for when someone – anyone – is going to come over, lead you to the basement and tell you, “Right here, this is where you belong.”
Are you in love?
Tell me about her/him/it.
Lol. What’s this question?
Just a question.
Myself. That’s the answer. You have met me, right?
You’re a great choice.
I don’t think myself capable of loving another.
I don’t know. And trust me I have tried. It evades me.
Do you have a person who has become a habit for you?
No. I never seem to have those either.
Are you seeing someone, is the question I usually ask.
Are you seeing someone?
I don’t think so.
This conversation, taken from my WhatsApp messages, continues a few sentences later and then fizzles out.
It ends, like all else.
Cover image; Mobile Photography by Magunga Williams