Waiting To Exhale

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Bahati slowly pushed the front door open, afraid to make a sound. She peeked outside heaving a sigh of relief that no one was outside. The watchman was sleeping in his shed. Checking one last time to be sure, she carried the bucket of washed clothes and headed towards the hanging lines.

She loved this time of day. The sky looked confused: partly dark and partly lit. The sun peeking at the horizon like a shy lover afraid to come out. From the hanging lines, she could see all the houses.

No lights were on yet.

The alarm clocks were yet to go off. She could hung his clothes peacefully. She was halfway through when she saw a light come on in one of the houses on the second floor. She had to hurry before the neighbours woke up. She quickened her pace, not bothering to turn the clothes inside out. There was no time. She had to finish before they came out. Before they could see her bruises and swollen eye. Before they could ask questions.

Questions were not good…

* * *

I am a mountain, I am a tall tree..
Oh I am an eagle, sweeping the country..

R. Kelly’s sonorous voice filled the room. Richard was about to come home. One of his rules was that he had to find the song playing. Bahati had come to hate R. Kelly. He controlled her life and he didn’t even know. On a good day, Richard would start singing along as soon as he got in the house. On a better day, he would grab her and ask her to dance with him. He would ask her to sing along. Saying that “Kels” encouraged him to be The Greatest. On a bad day, he would tell her to make that filthy man shut up. On a worse day, he would accuse the filthy man of mocking him.

He would punish her for playing the song. For aiding in his mockery.

Leaving the song playing, she went to the bedroom and looked outside the window. She was breaking one of Richard’s rules but she figured she could look quickly and move away. She loved watching the sun set. Witnessing such a beautiful sight made her forget about the ugliness of life; albeit temporarily. She looked at the numerous buildings around her.

Most of them were residential apartments. The limited land in Nairobi did not allow for bungalows. She looked at the building directly opposite the window. It looked like a thin man squeezed in between fat men. The lights were already on in some of the windows. She wondered about the people on the other side of the windows.

Could they see her watching them? Were they watching her too? Could they see her bruises from that far? Did they hear Richard’s drunken shouts over the music last night? Did her cries reach them? Could they hear the R. Kelly music? Did they hate it too?

Turning away from the window, Bahati realized it didn’t matter. People never understood. One look at her bruises and they judged her. It was a knee-jerk reaction. Weak. That was the word they used to describe her.

Stupid. Another word they whispered to each other.

They could never understand. They could never understand how good it felt to be needed. Richard needed her. He needed her to clean, cook and take care of him. They could never understand how it felt to be loved. Richard loved her. It’s just that sometimes he would get angry.

Even then, when he calmed down, he would nurse her wounds and promise never to do it again. She couldn’t leave. Her bruises were symbols of love. Wasn’t it better to be loved than alone?

The sound of a key turning in the lock jarred her out of her thoughts. Richard was home.

…If anybody asks you who I am, just stand up tall, look him in the face and say….

He pushed the door open.

She held her breath.

© Lynda Wawira


Twitter: @_miss_pepper_

Blog: Miss Pepper


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