Picture Imperfect

“Some wear a mask to hide. Some wear a mask to be free. Some just want to see the world burn.”

                                                                                    – Bray Wyatt

She had the most wonderful smile. It was one of happiness growing; much like a spring flower opens. They say a person smiles with more than their mouth, and you could see the way it came from deep inside to light her eyes and spread into every part of her. Her eyes that radiated a beam of hope and ecstasy and her fleeting gaze were a maze you couldn’t help but get lost in.

That was her a month ago.

They say that the eyes are a window to the soul. That; whether bloodshot or crystal clear, they paint a comprehensive picture of all your emotions; sown up together to form the art of your soul. In her eyes, I saw gentleness demystified. I saw a free spirit, full of life. Her brother used to joke that her joyful aura made every bitter thing sweet, and the vice versa would be true without her around. The rain would be depressing and the wind would be cold, but with her around, the rain would be serene and sanitizing and the wind invigorating. And rightly so, she would say, to almost everyone, to live with awe, humbleness, so much that your joy will overflow and make better the lives of all around you.

And that’s why everyone was shocked to see her come to work with a bruise on her left cheek.

She tried so much to hide it. She would add a little bit more of concealer to cover it up. Still, she made sure to ensure it complemented her lashes, which were weighted with mascara. I confronted her about it, and for the first time, I saw a change in her eyes. They looked heavy with unshed tears. It was like the fire she always possessed in her eyes had been dowsed with ice water. She said her husband hit her the previous night because the food she had cooked was a little bit too salty.

She said she couldn’t leave him, because he’s such a good father to their son. And rightly so, we had never seen him raise his voice at him. She blamed the beer goggles he had on and possessed unrelenting forgiveness that she felt necessary to keep her family together. Family…I mean you couldn’t blame her. She wanted a family of her own, a close-knit one…like the one, she had while growing up. And going by her words, what she had was better than nothing. All these she said, with a hopeful look in her eyes.

The neighbours had a different narrative.

What do you think of monsters? Do you believe they exist? I do. I just don’t think they are furry and live under my beds or in my closet. I don’t believe they are green or purple, or that they have sharp talons. Monsters are those that find pleasure; or as some would say, enjoyment, in inflicting pain. The monster we were getting to know had deep brown eyes and perfectly aligned teeth that gave his smile a glow of happiness. His dimple would crinkle when he laughed and a frown would be a stranger on his face. This monster that was okay with laying his hand on the one that he swore he loved. The monster that would throw objects across the room, or crash them on his victim, amidst screams and shrieks.

Then she tried to leave…

****

She had the most wonderful smile. It was one of happiness growing; much like a spring flower opens. They say a person smiles with more than their mouth, and you could see the way it came from deep inside to light her eyes and spread into every part of her. Her eyes that radiated a beam of hope and ecstasy and her fleeting gaze were a maze you couldn’t help but get lost in.

That’s her on the portrait upon her coffin.

Addendum

As promised, the third tier of the trilogy.

No long hearty speech this time. You may as well check out the previous two posts; New Blood and A countenance more in anger than in sorrow, while you’re here

Hope you enjoyed this piece.

Till next time my good peoples.

 

A countenance more in anger than in sorrow

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”                             

                                                              – Martin Luther King Jr.

“You see my Lord. There’s nothing to convince this court that my client, the accused, is a sexual predator. He is an upstanding citizen and an astute businessman, with no previous criminal record, especially anything to do with sexual assault.”

The courtroom; chockablock with observers, was sent into a flurry of loud murmurs. In the background, a few flashes of cameras added some colours to the room. The man in the dock was facing sexual assault charges and being a highly-regarded business personality, the press was having a field-day.

Kate stared blankly at the man in the dock as endless thoughts raced through her mind. She wondered what she thought of him. She was confused. He was a monster. Albeit; still her father… the only family she had. He was staring vacuously into the courtroom ceiling, sitting reclined to the wall behind him. He was deep in thought, seemingly oblivious of what was ensuing around him and given his predicament, he couldn’t afford to not give a damn. However, she did notice a faint smile appear as his advocate spoke… the only shred of emotion he had registered in the entire trial period.

Across the room was Christine. She had her face in her palms. The contrast of emotion was eye-catching. She was dressed in a black skirt suit, and her brother was whispering in her ear, with his arm over her left shoulder. The happenings in her mind were unfathomable. She raised her head to look at the Judge. Her eyes were red, as the print of a kiss might be. She looked groggy. Then again, one could possibly have deemed it as sorrow. She had been grilled by the defence counsel repeatedly, to an extent that it had visibly impinged on her. Akin to a distressed hedgehog, she had rolled into a ball of tears. Noticeably, she had completely avoided the gaze of the man in the dock.

She turned her eyes to the defence counsel and began to think of the many reasons she hated that man. She analysed his dressing and concluded that there was no flaw. Despite the subtle compliment she had about his pinstripe suit, the episodes of the cross-examination replayed in her mind, much to her horror. He had no limits to sensitivity, and that made her hate him even more. She turned her head to Kate and was met with the warmest of smiles she had ever seen.

Kate initially knew Christine as no more than an associate at her father’s investment bank, working especially under her father. She soon grew fond of her especially since they were both suckers for shawarma. They were best friends before long and were inseparable. It was as if they had known each other a lifetime. As most would say that familiarity breeds contempt, for them, familiarity was a catalyst for affection and loyalty. It was, therefore, no surprise, when Kate noticed the bruises her friend would show up with; which Christine would often pass off as small accidents such as falling in the bathtub. She had her suspicions; and until she provoked an answer out of her, she knew she couldn’t let her friend go through this. Her friend begged her to remain silent on the matter, as she had been promised doom of all sorts by her aggressor. Still, she felt compelled to blow her whistle.

Kate looked up at the man before her dressed in a pinstripe suit. She knew she had to say something that would at least, if not liberate herself, ensure justice for Christine. She felt a sudden overwhelming heaviness, with its origin rather unexplainable. A load is usually heaviest as you near your endpoint. It was time to let go.

“That’s not true.”

The room was, for a split second, dead silent. Even the slightest of farts could be heard. The man in the dock sat upright, also startled by the outburst. Kate too appeared surprised, as she expected no one had heard her speak. All eyes and camera lenses were trained on her for the moment.

“Is there anything you wish to share with the court?” The Judge asked, looking over his moon-shaped spectacles.

She turned her face to the platform before her, and slowly, like a dream, her mind was tossed into an avalanche of thoughts. Memories she had suppressed for so many years were playing out so clearly as if they were happening before her very eyes.

****.

Her father sets aside the magazine he was reading on the bench and walks over to her. She’s happily playing with LEGOs at their backyard garden. He looks up to the figure before her and smiles widely at the man. He returns the gesture, but not so convincingly.

She tells him that she’s making a LEGO re-make of her future house as he sits beside her. She gets no reaction, except for a forced smile. She notices something different about his demeanour but ignores it. Everyone has those types of days the ones that feel tightly stretched by pain that they seem as if they can allow no room for hope, and she was sure he’d get over it. She knew no one else as strong as her dad. He had tried his best to fill in for her mum, who had passed away five years ago, and as clueless as he was about parenting, he made sure she was alright every day.

He raises his hand to stroke her hair. She looks up, thinking he’s going to talk to her. He doesn’t, instead, he reaches out and gently caresses her thigh. She has a really bad feeling.

“Daddy, what are you doing?”

He lifts her up and unzips her dress. It’s as if she doesn’t weigh anything. He holds the small mound of her breast in a tight grip and slowly begins to explore it with his fingers. She is startled and dumbfounded. The LEGOs she had stacked up are knocked over.

“Daddy!? I don’t understand. What are you doing? Please stop it!”

It’s like nobody has spoken at all. Her tongue feels heavy and her breathing becomes recklessly intense. She feels a tightness develop in her chest. Her body is stiff and tense, like a statuesque figure. She silently prays for him to stop. If only she had the strength to get up and run. But where to? A tear freely flows down her cheek as she watches the LEGOs she had stacked up topple and pull apart. She was a day shy of her ninth birthday.

                                    ****

Kate looked up to see a flood of eyelids staring at her with a whiff of anticipation. This was her cue. Her few minutes of fame, as some would call it.

“Miss, we are waiting for your response. Why do you think what the defence counsel says is untrue?”

She turned her head and stared impassively before her. Her eyes seemed fixed somewhere in the distance, pensive, as though they were about to confess secrets of the heart without speaking.

“I remember I used to think the world of my father. That man in the dock was everything I had. I learnt, through him, and believed that nothing bad existed in the world. That was when the world wasn’t so big and I could see everywhere. I existed in this little cocoon where my father was a hero and not a human. I mean, the one thing that I considered remotely close to evil was the mere thought of a doctor holding a syringe.”

She paused and smiled faintly. She still had the spotlight.

“Still, he felt obligated to introduce me to the bad side of the world. All he told me was that it was a game we were playing. But he knew I was smarter than that, and the only way he could keep me quiet was by beating me and issuing threats. It became the norm day in and day out. I was afraid to speak. I felt like he had this hold over me like he controlled me.”

The courtroom was dead silent again, akin to a stadium where a penalty is being executed at the final minute of a football match. One could imagine the thoughts racing through her mind. Was I saying too much? Have I overstepped? I’m really doing it. I’m speaking up. I certainly can’t stop now.

She looked up at her father, who for the very first time showed interest in the proceedings. She cleared her throat and continued, amidst some sniffles.

“I dreaded my life every single day. Not because of what my father was doing to me, but because I couldn’t speak up. My father became a figure who would sit in a room and you could feel it: the simmer, the sense of some unpredictable force that might, at any moment, break loose, and do something terrible.  And that could stretch out even in his absence. I guess that’s the reason why I didn’t speak up even after I moved out.”

The Judge leant forward. She had him in her grip. Christine had her hand over her mouth. She didn’t know this secret. A few of the cameramen had even stepped away from their camera stands.

“I was relieved to discover that what I was going through happened more often to other girls. Maybe not exactly like my case, but I realized that sexual violence happened all around in a way that we are blind to. I found it in bits and pieces everywhere around me in the architecture of my social world. I saw it in the way men touched girls without asking. I found it in the vocabularies and comments of men when they referred to a certain girl as a ‘whore’ and even in the sexism of their voices. From then on, I swore to myself daily though, that I wouldn’t let anyone else suffer. That I would help others survive sexual violence if I got the chance. I swore to myself that girls wouldn’t be blamed for the skirts they wore that are a few inches too short. That they wouldn’t be condemned for drinking just a couple of tequila shots at a bar while the person that assaults them uses the same as an excuse to justify himself.”

Her voice was breaking. She looked up at the Judge, seemingly looking for a signal for her to stop speaking. He was reclined in his seat, with one of his arms crossed and the other stroking his chin. It was like he was watching a movie, feeling no sense of urgency to fast-forward the proceedings. If he had the power, I bet he’d have put the subtitles on. He had taken his spectacles off and his eyes were filled with concern. Her father’s face was buried deep in his palms. Tears were starting to flow freely from Kate’s eyes, but she still retained her composure. Amazing, right? In the background, a muffled cheer from a lady was heard amidst one or two claps that were met with a stern look from the Judge.

“When Christine told me that my father had sexually assaulted her, she endlessly begged me not to speak about it, and I really understood where she was coming from. Because at that moment, this whole ordeal becomes like this evil enchantment from a fairy tale, where you’re made to believe the spell can never be broken. Sometimes, I look back and wonder why I didn’t speak out in all those years. It’s only now that I realize that it wasn’t because of the threats that I received. It was the fear of unbelief. It’s because, when you are sexually assaulted by a relative, it’s terribly complicated. You feel shock, numb, and powerless, and speaking out becomes like leaving an addiction. It becomes a traumatic norm. Do you know how scary that is? No amount of me trying to explain myself would do any good because I didn’t even understand what was going on, so how could I have explained it to them? And so I kept silent. It was all I knew and all there ever was. I kept quiet and pretended nothing had happened and that nothing was wrong. But that silence was slowly killing me. I felt powerless before him but I was certainly powerful enough to stop him from hurting another person… and that’s why we are here today, isn’t it?”

She reached for her handkerchief and wiped the tears from her cheeks and blew her nose. In the background, a few more women clapped their hands before being silenced by the Judge.

“But let’s face it justice never comes easy, right? In this system where one is innocent until proven guilty, victims remain liars until proven honest. I’m not saying this so that this court can ultimately punish my father for ruining my life and Christine’s, and there could be many others. No! Because I believe you were far from doing that than the opposite. I’m saying this so that you can be educated about what sexual abuse does to a person. It instils terror. The memories of it get carved in your mind that it leaves permanent scars and you get fixed in a trance of a residual haunting. What’s worse, we get blamed and faulted for such tragedies. And when we start to speak up, we get dismissed as playing the victim, being dramatic, over-sensitive and over-emotional. We are slowly indoctrinated into believing that surviving sexual abuse is a sin, that if you survive, you have to prove it was that bad; or else, they think you instead are bad.”

She paused for a second and looked around the room, shifting her eyes from the Judge to the audience. The only thing lacking was some dramatic music in the background, just like in the movies.

In the softest voice she had in the whole of her outburst, she continued to speak. “There’s no justice in the world unless we make it for ourselves. Justice isn’t just about punishing these perpetrators; it’s surviving this whole mess that happens to us. It’s about not losing a lifetime of happiness because of one ghastly ordeal. It’s about finding yourself after being so lost in a sea of despondency even though we may never see, feel, taste, or touch life in the same manner again.”

She turned to look at the man in the dock who appeared swept with emotion.

“I want to blame you for all the worse things that have happened in my life, but I realize I won’t heal enough if I dwell on the past. I realize that surviving is about how I treat myself. I want people to know that I am a real person who exists in a real world and not a raped girl or victim. I had a life before that evening and I will continue to have a life. What happened to me twenty years ago will stay with me but if it has not killed me, it has only made me stronger. I am a real survivor because I survived, even if some days it feels like I didn’t survive at all.”

She shifted her eyes to Christine and warmly smiled at her; a much warmer smile than before. She stood up suddenly and headed out of the room.

****

“Have a nice day at school.”

Kate watched as her son, Eric, ran off across the school compound. He stopped to look back and wave before disappearing into the school building. She smiled as she turned her head to look back as she reversed the car. A sudden piercing sound of her phone ringing tore the prevailing silence to shreds. She searched for it, hoping the caller would be patient enough. She finally found it.

The caller was from some correctional facility.

She answered it and whispered loudly, “It’s okay. I forgive you.”

“Hello, Katherine Munene? I’m sorry to inform you that your father passed away this morning. The prison officers found him dangling from a rope in his cell. He named you as his next of kin. I was wondering….”

She never heard the rest of the words.

Addendum

First published in ‘My Name is Sorrow: An Anthology of Poetry, Nonfiction and Fiction on Sexual and Physical Violence’ by the Creative Writers’ Club – Kongo.

I wrote this story, back in June, amidst school project deadlines. That tells you how much I got my priorities straightened out, yes? But anyway, I never thought it would go as far as being published because, in my mind, I was just writing something I would post here. I guess God had other plans.

So prudentially, gratitude is a must! First to God. Because in all honesty all of this would not be possible without Him.

I sincerely owe gratitude to the fine folks at CWC Kongo for providing such an opportunity to African writers and poets alike as part of an initiative towards allowing victims to tell their stories and hopefully heal in the process. I’m utterly grateful to them, for their commitment towards making this anthology a reality. It would be an understatement to say that I’m proud to be part of their inaugural Anthology on ‘The Survivor Stories’. Let me just say that the Anthology contains many other stories, as well as poems, created by a bunch of awesome writers. I’m in awe of the raw talent that some people have.

Also, it would be unfair of me not to appreciate Shelmith Wangari, both for her contribution and encouragement, because she was crazy (sorry…diligent) enough to push me to try submitting a story for this anthology.

This is the second storied post, part of a trilogy series based on sexual and domestic violence, that I had started in my previous post, New Blood  (If you haven’t checked it out, please do so) The next one should hopefully be in December. Hopefully!!

Hope you enjoyed this particular one.

Till next time folks.

New Blood

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

                                                                         – Marcel Proust

The rain outside is pouring hard, with a fierce malignity that is all too inhuman. It’s far from the sunny evenings that we’ve been accustomed to for the past few weeks. I clasp my coffee mug tight and take a large sip. I feel it burn its way down my throat. I stare at the blank Word page before me, racking my brain on what would be a good starting line to a ‘boy meets girl’ story. I’m waiting to meet someone. The immediate preceding texts are no way related. Anyway, I’m meeting a friend of mine; Sophie, for coffee just to catch up, and since she’s running late I took the chance to get started on my next blog post. I had spent the past two hours in a cycle of writing and deleting anything I had typed out, having only managed to go as far as three lines.

This café is my refuge, for two reasons. First, a hopeful cure to my writer’s block. It is here where, amid the indistinct chatter of people and baristas, as well as the occasional awkward glances, I can get rid of the banging cymbals in my head, and try pushing my clunker of a brain to think of a killer story. Something far from dark, as I’ve been told about my previous posts. It is also the place where I seek social asylum and get to fool the senses that I live in such a caring society. We exist in such a way that we require social bonds, a need to connect to each other, as it would be disastrous if our conscience believed that we are alone in the world. But aren’t we?

The café is half-empty. Pardon my pessimism. I’m one of those naive people who are sometimes clueless about optimism. My pragmatic streak demands that I don’t shoot too high, but still remain idealistic enough to be logical. Does a ‘goodbye’ or ‘see you later’ offer an assurance of actually seeing each other in the future? In this case, for instance, such weather demands some hot beverage, no? You know, notwithstanding people’s financial capability.

My gaze shifts to the outside. The thick dark clouds accentuate the descending nightfall. The pedestrians on the pavements are frantically walking or running, looking for the nearest shelter. Others were leaping, presumably trying to avoid the puddles of water caused by the appalling drainage systems. Some were just walking at a normal pace. It was either they had given up, having been drenched already, and were beginning to enjoy the beauty of the rain. As is the case when God decides to cry, cars are packed on the adjacent road. Processions of headlights and rear lights have painted the street with colour far into the distance.

My attention shifts back to the blank Word page. I’m tempted to go ahead and write the cliché ‘boy meets girl story that forms the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster movie. You know the one where the girl moves into boy’s neighbourhood. Boy sees girl. Boy feels infatuated but is too shy to approach girl. Boy stares at girl, and girl catches him staring at her. Boy discovers they go to same school. Boy soon bumps into her at school. The girl’s books fall down. Boy and girl bend down to pick them up at the same time. Their eyes meet. Boy introduces himself as Billy. He says no one calls him that. They prefer Bill, which he’s pretty much accepted. Girl says her name is Gathoni, but her friends call her Noni. They go for several dates, infatuation turns to love….blah, blah. You know how the story goes on from there.

The lights are switched on and the café is painted orange. It’s a shiny look, akin to the colour of supermarket oranges. There’s jazz music playing softly in the background. A lady walks into the café, dressed in a white dress. She had a drenched umbrella in her left hand and her bag draped over her right arm. She walks slowly to a table at the far corner, careful enough not to cause too much noise with her heels. The bottom part of her dress is stained, the outcome of a carelessly driven vehicle over a muddy puddle of water. She takes off her jacket and takes a seat adjacent to an elderly couple whose love language seems to be quality time. The man is deeply engrossed in a newspaper while the lady is reading a novel. They are seated side by side, with two mugs and a plate of unfinished croissants before them.

I check my phone again; for the sixth time in three minutes. No message. It’s a few minutes past 7pm, the time of our meeting. I decide to order for another round of coffee. I motion to a waitress who immediately sees me.

“I’m guessing another round of coffee?” She asks, with the warmest of smiles. She has tired eyes, but with an inkling of radiance; that which makes every man and woman who sees them feel the irresistible impulse to smile.

“Thanks, Angela. You’re the best.” I retort, trying my best to return the gesture.

I have given up on Sophie showing up at this point. I minimize the Word page and maximize the open Chrome window on the taskbar. There are numerous notifications aligned to the left, most of them from my YouTube subscriptions. There’s one however from BBC News Africa that I hardly remember subscribing to. It leads me to a story about a femicidal occurrence in South Africa. My phone vibrates and I pick it up. It’s a message from Sophie, who says she won’t make it for our date because she’s working late.

“Hey, excuse me?”

I look up. It’s that lady in the white dress from earlier.

“Are you expecting someone? The socket where I’m seated isn’t working. May I use that socket to charge my phone, kindly, if you don’t mind.”

“It’s fine, you can use it. My laptop is fully charged.” I reply, impulsively.

I quickly glance at the battery icon to be sure. It’s halfway charged.

She connects her phone to the charger and hurriedly walks to get her bag from where she was seated.

“I can’t believe you just replaced your date that quick,” Angela says while setting down my order before me. She has a sheepish smile.

“She just wants to charge her phone,” I respond, in a defensive tone. “Sophie’s told you she can’t make it too, huh?”

“Yeah. She had an inkling you might be too disappointed not to return her text. She just asked me to make sure you’re okay.”

“Everything’s fine. I’ll call her as soon as I get home.”

She hands me the bill folder and I immediately put in a 1000/= note, and hand the bill folder back to her.

The lady comes back and takes a seat across from me, and begins to fumble her bag, searching for something.

“Aren’t you going to order something for her?” Angela remarks, loud enough for the lady to hear; with that same sheepish smile.

I’m lost for words. I turn to face the stranger seated across from me and our eyes meet. She immediately drops her gaze, with a hint of a shy smile spread across her face. I turn to look back at Angela. She’s revelling in the silent tension. Damn woman!

“It’s fine. I’ve already made my order.” She finally breaks the awkward silence.

“She’s good,” I say, turning to Angela, overwhelmed with relief.

I turn to the femicide article I had begun reading as soon as Angela walks away. She removes a novel from her bag and opens it to where her bookmark is placed. Her order arrives just as she’s starting to read. She places the book aside and pulls the plate close to her, not feeling the need to showcase her inherent multitasking skills.

There’s a loud silence that ensues between us as she eats.

“Excuse me. Sorry for interrupting you.” She says with her hand covering the contents of her mouth. “I noticed you were reading an article on some murder-rape case. Was that the one that happened in South Africa?”

“Sorry?” I respond a bit taken aback by the question.

“I’m sorry. It was plastered all over your screen when I asked you if I could use this socket. I didn’t mean to be nosey.”

“It’s fine,” I say with a smile. She returns the gesture. “Yes, it’s the one about Uyinene Mrwetyana. That’s the one you’re asking on?”

“Yes. That’s it.”

Again, we dive into a pool of silence. This time it’s different. It has a tinge of nervous anticipation for one of us to break it.

“It’s sad, isn’t it?” She takes the initiative to break it.

“Yes, it is,” I say. “Sexual violence has become such a trend. At this rate, we should just get used to it.” I regret my words the moment I say them.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“What I meant to say is that it’s a bit difficult to be optimistic about a change of events when the system gets more misogynistic and defensive around issues affecting women each day.” I find a rational point of argument and flow with it. “I’m not sure I still have the fight in me.”

She looks at me, her facial expressions matching my sentiments, and she nods and says, “There’s this game I love to play when I log into social media. I call it “Not Triggered.” The goal is to completely be indifferent to the callous arguments surrounding sexual abuse. You can’t imagine how many times I have to restrain myself from getting into such altercations.  A part of me did this to give myself peace after the contemplation of whether or not there is hope for change in society, but also to cure some sort of bigotry I felt that I was developing along the way.”

“Bigot? Could never see you as one!”

‘Why? Based on the four seconds you spent feeling awkward about buying me coffee?” She bursts into a peal of short laughter. At this point, I am fascinated by her personality, so I laugh awkwardly.

She continues “But really, I’m quite intolerant to the gibberish. You wouldn’t want to be on the opposing side dishing arguments that are layered with levels of patriarchal and misogynistic claptrap, because these Audre Lorde clapbacks will cut right through your hypocrisy and subconscious addiction to privilege at the expense of those you claim to love.  I will take you to school, relentlessly…”

“Okay! Let’s not get too excited here.” I comically clear my throat and continue, “Uhm, tell me again why this is such a bad thing? I mean, you get to verbally annihilate people that deserve it. “

 “Well, it shouldn’t be, but when you become aware of the stagnancy in the status quo, you also realize that your deep intolerance of the insensitivity will stay for a long time. I just didn’t want to move in that space forever, and sometimes that makes me feel like I gave up the fight somehow as well.”

I’m in awe of the depth the rain brought me on a hopeless evening. I’m fascinated by the figure before me, who despite our tête-à-tête, which one would confuse for life-long friends, still remains a stranger. I want to ask her name, but the conversation is too intriguing for that distraction. I feel a purge in my writer’s block and murmur, “This is it!”

“I’m sorry, what?” She asks, also snapping out of her brief trance. 

“This is it!” I state audibly. “The system disappoints you until there is only despair in your DNA, and you have no option but to become passive or identify as the problem. An over-emphasized image of masculinity is portrayed by the same media that purports to advocate for equal rights.”

“Divide and rule, but we swear we aren’t sleeping through this!” she sharply remarks.

I raise my hands in agreement and add, “It’s no wonder masculinists are defensive around sexual abuse discussions. They have been convinced that it is their right to have no control over their sexual thoughts, so the weight of this problem rests on women.”

Oh yeah!” She jumps in. “I mean, take a look at the Me Too movement. It was supposed to be that ground-breaking realization of women’s un-safety around men in public spaces, and yet the feedback from the media reflected forceful suppression of men’s masculinity by women and the law. I can’t understand how it has become so acceptable for men to casually voice their dissatisfaction towards the barriers that keep them from posing a threat to women. It’s the 21st century, but once again, men have made themselves the victims when they’re clearly perpetrating!”  

“Up top! I just feel I have to high-five you for that statement.”

“How about a fist bump? Just to make this moment even cooler.” She says, excitedly.

“Fist bump it is.”

She pauses for a while, after the adroit gesture and continues. “I just hope the fight in me never completely dies, because I know generations that could depend on it.”

Totally! To never losing sight of our fights!” I say, as I raise my coffee mug and click it over her glass of juice.

I look over at the counter and see Angela grinning like a fool. I fight every bit of laughter in my veins and shift my attention back to my conversationalist. “So are we going to talk about that stain on your dress?”

“You saw that?” she says as she takes a sip, “Well, there are as many inconsiderate drivers in the rainy season as there are ignorant men on Facebook.” We both laugh, and in the midst of it, she looks down at her plate of cold snacks and says, “Mental stimulation over food, that’s me! I’m Namue by the way,” she adds, as she signals at Angela to warm her plate.

“Oh, Bill’s mine!” I say.

She smiles softly and says, “You’re damn right it is!”

Pun intended…

****

Angela leans over to me as she walks by with Namue’s plate and whispers, “Well, I have a version of a ‘boy meets girl’ story that you’d really like. I could give you a hint if you ask nicely.

Addendum

This story, If I’m being honest is way overdue. I had intended to post this piece as early as two months ago, but I found myself drowning in colossal writer’s block. Anyway, this shall begin a trilogy of storied posts, particularly surrounding the theme of sexual and domestic violence. A massive digression from my trend of posts, I know, but something that I feel I needed to do.

Massive thanks to the amazing Sandra Namutebi. This particular story would honestly not be complete without her astute and brilliant contribution. If you can, follow her blog http://beautyndthelens.wordpress.com I’m sure she’ll appreciate.

Till next time folks.

Thoughts become things

“The first of many days, but the dawn was black before it turned gold.”

                                          • Aleister Black

He watched as the stone he had kicked spun freely onto the tarmac road. Sam turned his eyes to the sky and spotted a crescent moon peering over the horizon, ready to take up its shift from the setting sun. His shadow, before him, had been swallowed by the encroaching darkness. The bright blue defiant sky was slowly transforming into an ocean of blackness. A cool breeze swept the alienated street, bringing a sudden coolness to an especial sultry day.

Sam had rushed to the hospital after being informed that his mother had just survived a car accident. Three days had passed and she showed no sign of regaining consciousness. He had decided to take a walk to clear out the sound of beeping machines from his mind.

The day had soon descended into an impenetrable blackness. However, the crescent moonlight lessened the inky blackness of the night, but not so bright as to dull the stars that speckled and glittered in the heavens above. This was what most would describe as serene. You know, how the eerie stillness of the night births a comfortable peace? It’s interesting how people perceive the night. This was a time when the familiar trees and rocks of the daytime took on new and ominous forms; as the night stole their colours and their friendly spirits and replaced them with malicious demons. Yet some would in the dead of the night see their worries go up in smoke and find peace amid hooting owls and the faint wind blowing against them.

For Sam, however, the darkness brought forth no peace. His mind was twirled in an avalanche of thoughts,  desperately searching for some peace in the disorienting blackness. Just before he left the hospital, the doctors who were at one point full of optimism had turned into prophets of doom, claiming it was only a matter of time, and pulling the plug wouldn’t be the worst idea. His mother was all the family he had in the world, especially since he was adopted. This walk he had decided to take had only drowned him further in trepidation.

He spotted a wooden bench and sat down on it. Underneath the bench was a homeless person who had curled himself up and was snoring heavily in deep controlled breaths, visibly oblivious to the cold physical world. Sam tucked his hands into his jacket’s pockets as he overlooked the procession of headlights in the distance. He could feel the chilly wind bite harshly through his jacket.

He stared up at the starry sky and noticed how the stars surrounded the crescent moon, seemingly holding it under siege. He was reminded of the myth that the great kings of the past lived there. He smiled faintly at the random thought. Were those the persons people turned to for help? I mean, people did pray while referring to someone in the sky. He had seen his mother do it countless times in church during his childhood. Perhaps he ought to try it.

A cluster of voices, deep in conversation erupted from the compound behind him. An ugly laugh in the midst of the indistinct chatter as well. The large signboard above the compound disclosed it as an Anglican church. Those people were presumably coming from an evening service.       

****

Sam sat in the empty church hall, completely clueless of what to do next. This environment was foreign to him. The eerie silence that engulfed the place was profound, and only intrigued him more.  He felt like a stranger, exposed to the indifference of this world. He stared at the mosaic showing a cross on the front wall of the hall. Its slow flashing captivated him and had seemingly hypnotized him. Across the walls of the church hall were several mosaics in blue, red and green mostly, along with several inscriptions of Bible verses. The door on the right section of the hall had two angels sticking out, seemingly trying to escape the woodwork. He leaned back and rested his arms on top of the bench. From the front-most pew of the hall, he sat inspecting the picture before him in detail. A sheep with wings with a halo.

He turned his head to see a young lady walk inside the church and up towards the podium. She wore an oversized jacket and held a large Bible underneath her left arm. She was half-carrying a backpack on her back which she immediately flung onto the front pew once she got to the altar.

Sam got more intrigued as he watched her light the votive candles on the altar table. He moved closer to have a better look. Up close, the dancing flames brought warmth to the cold, dead feeling of the hall. The lady was obviously oblivious of the lurking stranger.

“Why do you light up the candles?”

She seemed startled, obviously oblivious of his presence.

“If I was to put it into words, it calms me down.”

“What about this calms you down?”

She turned her eyes to meet his face for the first time. The inquisitive look on Sam’s face was hard not to ignore.

“Have you ever tried to hold fire?” She said as she continued to light the candles. She looked up momentarily to see Sam shake his head. “You try to hold it and it just escapes your grasp, and it dances elegantly buoyed by the breeze you’ve just created with your hand. It dims a little and burns a little brighter each time you do the same thing. And each time you do that, you feel the fire burn purposefully deep within you. You feel the warmth of the fire on your face. And despite the fact you know what the fire can do to you, you realize its beauty and the calmness that rests within the flames.”

She placed down the candle she was using to light up the others and glanced at the inquisitive stranger.

“You see, everything in this world burns. You just have to know what kind of fire to set.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m a neurosurgeon. There’s a thing we say, as doctors, when someone dies. “I’m sorry for your loss.” We say it to the patient’s family. It’s a powerful little phrase if you think about it. An empty one, if you ask me. Because it doesn’t begin to cover what’s actually happening to them. They are losing someone who means the world to them. Maybe a brother or sister, mother or father, wife or husband, or maybe even all of them. That phrase lets us empathize without letting us feel their devastation ourselves. It protects us from feeling that pain, that dark, seeping, relentless pain, and therefore makes us cowards. Because we are not brave enough to deal with the status quo. You know why? It’s because deep down we feel that pain, maybe even more. And we all have a different way of dealing with that pain. Most put their beer goggles on, while I come and light candles, not only to pay my respects to those who passed away but also to burn that feeling we hold inside away.”

She paused for a moment and sighed heavily. “I lost a young boy today. Eight years old. He had a huge tumour on his brain. I got it out but he never woke up.” Her voice was breaking. Sam was clueless on how to console her.

“You seem to go through a lot in that job of yours. Why do you do it?”

“I love it. And besides, in a perfect world, I’d be out of a job.”

“Then what’s your point?”

“My point is this. If you aren’t willing to keep looking for light in the darkest of places without stopping, you’d be giving up a chance at finding the least happiness.”

The flames were the only thing lighting up the hall at that moment, aside from the street lamps outside that illuminated the glass windows and the glowing mosaics. Sam noticed that she hadn’t taken her eyes off the flames since she stopped speaking.

“What about you? What’s your deal?” She asked, as turned to pick her bag.

“I came to pray, for my mum especially. She’s at some hospital. I want her to wake up.”

“Well, good luck. I’ll leave the candles for you.”

“Hey.” Sam turned back and was met with the warmest smile he had seen in a while. “Hopefully yours wakes up.” 

Sam had learnt in that short period that lighting candles were somewhat a form of prayer. Still, he had the funny feeling that he had to talk to the sheep with the halo. He looked down at the candles and noticed the lady had forgotten her chain. He lifted it to examine it and noticed a crucifix at the end of it. He saw a figure of a man, who hung upon a crosspiece of wood. The man was without clothes except for a bit about his loins, and to all appearances, he was dead, since his head drooped upon his shoulder and his eyes were closed above his bearded lips.

This was the same symbol that was plastered on one of the books he skimmed an hour before. Perhaps this was the person people prayed to.

****

Sam walked into the hospital, unsure of what to make of his outing, but excited at this thing he had tried out. The hospital hallway underscored the chronic underfunding of the country’s medical sector since it was crammed with patients on gurneys, some tended by strained relatives and some alone. The confined space magnified the groans but to no avail, as the nurses had grown immune to the wails, hardened by repeat exposure and over-work. The fluorescent lights added some personality to the hallway, buoyed by the white walls and grey tiled floor. The light was too bright for his eyes after the darkening gloom outside. He found it abrasive, enough perhaps to bring on a migraine.

Something felt different though. The walk up the corridors that led to his mother’s ward felt weary with each step. He saw a nurse step out of the room and was walking towards him. She looked up and noted the sadness in her eyes. She had that look. The poker-face look that doctors put on to shield them from succumbing to the pain of loss and indifferent to suffering and loss.

“Sam. I’m sorry….”

Sam didn’t need to hear the rest.

Sam walked to where his mother lay. Everything else around him at that moment was irrelevant. He asked everyone in the room to leave, so he could say his final farewells. The recurring flatline sound was prominent in the now empty room. He sat by his mother’s bedside and held her hand in his, staring dejectedly at the ceiling. Her body was lifeless, and behind the tubes going into her nose and the mask placed on her mouth, he swore he spotted a smile. She had made peace with her fate and was skipping happily towards the light at the end of the tunnel. Sam was unsure of what to feel. All this meant his short outing was all for nothing. He leaned forward and placed his forehead on top of his mother’s hand, slightly tightening his grip. Tears welled in his eyes.

“Please…I prayed for this. Please.”

****

In the background, the flatline stopped, and the machine began to beep again.

The Script

It’s 2 a.m. I’m seated at my reading table staring at a blank Word page on my laptop, completely out of ideas on what to write about for my next blog post. I pick up my phone, unplug it from its charger and decide to scroll through Twitter. I’ve been tagged in numerous memes showing how interesting Arsenal is at the moment. Yes. I’m an Arsenal fan. That should give you a hint of how emotionally stable I am. My phone hangs and forces me to exit the app. I recline on my chair and stare at the clock. The minute hand rests on the number 6 as I still rack my brain on what to write about.

It’s raining outside. All that can be heard are rain droplets crashing against the tiles on the roof.  I start to type. I cover four lines and my conscience tells me it just isn’t working and so I delete all of it. The cycle goes on three more times as my eyes grow weary. I want to try something different, totally discrete from the gritty missions that characters in my stories always seem to have. Don’t forget the heartbreaks too. Soon, aside from the rain, is the sound of my fingers clashing on the keyboard.

****

The world’s a stage, and we are all merely players. Each man, in his own time plays many parts. These are words that I presume may be well acquainted to avid Shakespeare fans. But more importantly, it is really overwhelming how life is captured within the confines of these words. Don’t believe me? Take your life as an example. You have several friends, but you can really depend on a selected few to bail you out when you’ve messed up. I’m sure there’s people who disgust you. There’s a crush somewhere, who doesn’t know you exist. Make the first move by the way. Slide into the DM and show them how strong your texting game is. Drop a line or two that you got from Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Crash and burn. Get up and try again. Live to tell your children of the L’s you took. Your life could be a real-life spin-off of How I Met your Mother for all we know. And furthermore, just like in a play, characters die and new ones are born into your life. The show always goes on.

That’s the way life is. It’s a really bemusing phenomenon. Days swing past you as you remain static; left unaffected, apart from the little hair growing just below your chin that is slowly becoming visible and just in case anyone thinks I’m being gender-insensitive…we’re all broke, right? I’m not trying to point out how miserable your life is (or could be). I’m just saying life should be about making an impact on someone else’s stage. You get the metaphor by now. Don’t forget to win on your stage too. That means going for the absolute best in everything you do.

The impact you make in someone else’s life also goes a long way. The little things count. For one, your dealer coming through, starting a blog to rant about how beardless you are and still manage to fit in some good hacks of life somewhere within your ramblings. In addition, just being a nice person too could go a long way. Be a hero without a cape.

I’ll stop there.

Long story short, your life is a play and you control your own script. Make yourself Oscar-worthy.

Author’s note

Just for the record, I might have mentioned someone who rants about how beardless they are. That’s not me. That’s Kinyua. His beard came through though. So don’t give him a hard time. Anyway, his birthday was this past weekend. Go visit him in his two-bedroom palace on http://thegaps.co.ke. I’m sure you’ll be comfy there. 

Too long a letter

I hate funerals. I always have, for obvious reasons. They have this eerie aura of despondency that engulfs you. The mood is always heavy with emotion. While some weep for the deceased, others celebrate. After all, a funeral is also a weddingor is it the other way round? Sometimes, you really don’t know how to react. I find myself inclining towards the latter in most instances. I’ve never had any remote association with the dead. The closest I did come was my father’s funeral, but since he spent most of his days with his beer goggles on, I felt no sort of remorse whatsoever. I vividly remember declining to give a eulogy because the dead certainly cannot hear.

But this one feels different. It feels strange. To be honest, I really don’t know what I’m feeling. This is your funeral. You were great, really. You were the best thing that had happened to me in my life. I had never thought I could ever love someone so deeply. Never! Sparks had flown endlessly from our very first meeting. Your departure had not made the slightest difference in my love for you. I stare at my reflection in the mirror as I tighten my tie. Is this love that I feel? I mean, that would solve everything, wouldn’t it? But it can’t be. Love is meant to be pleasant. Is it heartbreak then? Yes! Surely it has to be. I’ve heard about it though but never actually felt it. That arduous feeling you get deep in your stomach. I read somewhere that it means that the butterflies are slowly dying.

As the occasion demands, I have worn a black suit. My white shirt is half-crisp and half-crumpled, but the thought of wearing my suit jacket for the entirety of the day brings me relief. You would have had some words with me for wearing a shirt in that state. You had perfection engraved in your blood. I smile faintly as memories of our first meeting come to mind.

****

“Excuse me, Sorry to bother you. I saw you from across the…”

“Staring!” She said sternly, as she looked up from the book she was reading. ‘A Storm of Swords’ by George R.R Martin.

“I’m sorry?”

“You were staring at me.”

“You saw me?”

“Yes I did.” She said amidst a short laugh. “You even spilled some of that juice you were drinking because you forgot how small the table is.”

“You noticed that?” I laugh too as I take a seat at her table. “I’m Frankie by the way.” I stretch my hand across the table to shake her hand. She introduced herself as Lucy-which was short for Lucille.  “I see you’re a Game of Thrones fan.”

“I’d rather consider myself a fan of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ book series,”she says amidst a stifled laugh, “But yes, an avid fan.”

“How far have you reached in the book?”

“Tyrion’s trial has just ended.”

“Ah! That is one of my best scenes. Peter Dinklage really lets you feel the emotion.”

“I haven’t watched that episode yet sadly. But you really get to feel it too while reading.”

“Wouldn’t it be much easier to watch the series?”

“I get that quite a lot.” She smiles faintly. ”I’m usually reluctant to watch the series before I read the books, because I get to test my imagination and picture the emotion the characters would show at that moment. ”

“That’s really awesome. I should try that.”

“Yes you should. I mean, don’t we have the liberty to make our life more interesting than it already is. I do believe that our imagination is the key to that. That’s why I really admire any writer’s imagination.  The books they write keep us in that trance and we get to build the characters in our mind or even imagine them as ourselves.” 

****

You see? SPARKS!! That was six months ago. It seems a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? Well, the drive to the church seemed to last much longer. I’m staring at your picture which sits upon your coffin. You have that Mona Lisa half-smile that I endlessly told you was so radiant that it cast me under your spell. You have that significantly conspicuous dimple on your left cheek. Remember how you grew insecure about it? I do. Every time you’d laugh, that ugly laugh, it would sink far much deeper into your cheek. You had that very smile even in your last breath.

A crowd of people have arrived to pay their respects to you. I can’t help but smile at the thought that you had touched so many lives. It’s no surprise. Most of them have eyes wet as pansy petals in the rain. Your old boss is giving his eulogy now. I really hope he’s genuine about it, considering you ignored his advances. Judging from the crowd’s applause, they seem convinced. Otherwise, it would be a speech worthy of an Academy Award. I scan across the room looking for other potential nominees. I find no success. Your mother and sister are here too. They are handling the situation well, surprisingly. They seem to be doing much better than me apparently. In fact, your mum has just smiled at me. A smile of encouragement I presume. I return the gesture.

I’m next in line to speak. I really wonder if I’ll be able to stand, let alone speak coherently. Thoughts race through my mind. I fear I may forget to say some parts of my rehearsed eulogy. You never really say every single word to a rehearsed speech. Ideas emerge so profoundly in the middle of your monologue and you may opt to discard a joke or two for their insensitivity. Or you may decide to chip in a series of quotes because you want to impress your crush in the crowd with your fabricated intelligence. Some ideas are flowing into my mind and it’s starting to overwhelm me.

I once believed that the dead don’t hear. But this time I really wish you do. I miss you. I haven’t said it expressly just yet. But yes, I really do. My eyes are welled up with tears screaming not to flow. That feeling I mentioned earlier, the one so profound in my stomach? I’ve figured out what it is. It’s regret clothed in sorrow. I feel betrayed. You don’t get to die. You don’t get to leave me in this dreaded world, surrounded by these prevaricators. Let’s face it! None of these people here really knew you. None of them got to experience you up close. None of them even visited you in hospital. They didn’t even send a damn card. They are happy you’re gone. A chance to write off your character in their stories, they call it. And yet they raise a glass to your honour.

I’m heartbroken. You were in remission for Christ’s sake. Isn’t it funny how someone else’s disaster can leave us hurt or devastated? Something which isn’t even remotely associated with your physical anatomy but it constantly perturbs your senses? All of a sudden you become sleepless and you start hallucinating.  Just the other day I saw you at that ice cream parlour in town, the one you loved so much…Sno’ Cream, is it? Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t go get ice cream without you. Besides, I might not even have been there.  I guess what I’m trying to say within my endless tête-à-tête is that I love you. I should have said it while you were still breathing. I would have said it once I gave you the ring I bought the day you died. I could give excuses for all those missed opportunities…argue that I was waiting for right time…but it never came, did it?

****

I’m heading up to the podium now. Let’s hope the lump in my throat disappears before I start to speak. Fingers crossed.

The Protagonist; Part II

It’s Clive. He greets me with his trademark smile. It’s hard not to notice his upper left canine which looks more of an incisor.

“Are you going to answer that?”

He pauses for a second before accepting the call. “Can I come in now?”

“Yeah, sure”

He steps forward and embraces me amidst laughter. The embrace lasts for about seven seconds. I can feel his aftershave faintly pierce my nostrils. He finally stops, takes a few steps back and observes his watch

“We have to get going. You’re getting married in under one and a half hours.”

I frown. Don’t I know that? I mutter silently.

“We have to be there in time for you to…” He stops suddenly when he sees a lighter and an open pack of cigarettes lying on the living room table. One cigarette is peering out of its pack.

“Have you been smoking?”

“I thought about it.” I say timidly, like a baby afraid of punishment.

“I see the wedding day jitters have got the best of you. How are you feeling?”

I ponder this question carefully as I retreat into the living room. I look back at Clive and note the look of concern in his eyes. For the first time I also notice he’s shaven-sporting a full number-one cut on his head while his beard remained untouched. I inspect his outfit. He’s wearing a tailored charcoal-grey suit, similar to mine. His white shirt is however more crisp, which makes his black tie completely stand out. Any objective opinion would undoubtedly render him the groom and not me.

“It’s not jitters. Trust me. It’s just that I’ve never felt so neutral in my life.”

“You’ll be alright.” He says with a warm smile spread across his face. It’s reassuring. “Don’t worry yourself too much.” I smile back, trying to show some conviction.

We stand in comfortable silence for a little while. I glance at my watch. It’s about an hour to go till the wedding. I break the ensuing silence.

“We should go now, don’t you think?”

“Yes we should.” Clive says, also glancing at his watch.

I walk hurriedly to the door but Clive stops me. He ties the top button of my shirt and tightens my tie. He takes a few steps back and inspects me keenly from head to toe, with a frown on his face. He takes out the white rose boutonniere from the left lapel of his suit jacket and pins it on mine. He steps back again, and this time smiles widely at his work.

“Now we can go.”

“What about yours?”

“I have an extra one in the car. I’ll have time to fix mine before the ceremony. You won’t.”

He makes a good point. We hurry out but I stop when I see a limo parked in the compound. Clive continues walking hurriedly.

“It seems some people have leapt higher up the social ladder.” I joke.

“Yeah you!!” Clive says as he opens the passenger door for me.

******

The first person I meet at the church is my mother. It seems like she had been standing there a while, probably to meet her son, I don’t know. I smile at the prevailing thought. My mother smiles back; oblivious of my thoughts, and reaches in for a hug. I wrap her in my arms tightly, as if holding on for dear life, and think about how much I love her. She tightens her grip too. We finally let go of each other. She then looks at me. I could tell how happy she was, proud that she can finally see her only son get married. There is something about her face; it was glowing, akin to a Beemer’s headlights at high beam. She licks the tip of her thumb and rubs the corner of my mouth and for the first time in my life I don’t feel embarrassed that she’s done that.

The bride’s relatives who have arrived begin to convene a few metres away. I kiss my mother on the cheek and I go meet them. I overhear my mother thanking Clive for being such an elder brother to me. I was born three hours before him. I want to shout. But I don’t. For some reason I don’t dispute that statement whatsoever. He was always there for me in my toughest times and had a knack for giving good advice. Perhaps this is why the decision to appoint a best man was a no brainer. A piercing laugh from one of the women in that group interrupts my thoughts.

I greet them. Most of them are people I have never seen before in my life. They’re dressed in such a flamboyant fashion. The odour of their extravagance was telling; trickling down from their colourful dresses and imported shoes to their sophisticated handshakes. Behind them, the last of the guests are making their way into the church.

I feel a tap on my shoulder, turn and see that it’s Clive. He pulls me into a hug that gives an eerie sense of farewell. He takes out his boutonniere and pins it on his suit jacket. Does it look okay?. He asks. I reach in and touch it; making a pretense of attempting to fix it. I nod my head after surveying it for a few more seconds.

“Well, that’s your cue.”

I immediately wrap my head around his words. I tug at the lapels of my suit jacket, turn and walk towards the church with Clive close behind. I stop at its entrance and I do a superhero pose, something I’ve seen happen on a TV show. Apparently if you do that before a really hard task, you will perform immeasurably better. Clive walks up and asks what I’m doing. He laughs and tells me I have to stop watching Grey’s Anatomy. I disagree. It’s one of the best. I tell him.

Heads turn as I make my way down the aisle. I walk somewhat unsteadily, like a blind man feeling his way as I try to keep pace with the slow music. The knot in my stomach gets tighter with each single step. The faces in the crowd encompass strangers and long lost friends and relatives. The faces on the cupboard in my living room are brought to life again. They came after all. I mutter silently. Some memories absent in my mind until that point in time reappear. I turn my head and focus on the wooden podium at the centre of the stage. I glance again at the congregation; this time subconsciously, and notice the heads still turning, like I’m a gust of wind blowing through a field of corn. I heave a huge sigh of relief when I finally reach the altar.

The vicar is there. He is as dark as pitch. His head is bald as an egg and shiny as the dewy star of dawn. One could use it as a mirror. I joke, silently. He’s wearing half-moon spectacles that make him look more of a judge than a vicar. I stand there motionless, with my hand in my pockets. I smile faintly, exposing a small part of my teeth for those interested in flash photography. There is a sudden scourge of whispers as heads turn more than they did for me.

The bride approaches the altar as the string orchestra behind me plays the Canon. I watch her as she calculates her steps diligently, as if she was playing a game of chess. Her dress is as white as the moon’s flame. The atmosphere around the church has now changed. The knot that had by now become loose in my stomach is now lodged in my throat. She’s soon adjacent to me at the altar. She’s stands there silent, like a little statuesque figure. Sweat breaks on my forehead as my knees become weak, much weaker than they were a few hours ago. The vicar smiles and delivers the all familiar opening statement.

“Dearly beloved…” he begins. Dearly beloved? I analyse the words. What does that even mean? Is he saying he is in love with the congregation? Is the congregation in love with us? That’s stupid. What am I even saying? I look at Anita. The calmness she had shown earlier had begun to wane and a sense of nervousness had ensued. Her fingers are twitching slightly. I reach my hand out to ease her. She’s trembling softly, like a shivering squirrel on a pine-tree branch. I hear the fading voice of the vicar. He’s asking whether anyone has a valid objection to our marriage. A voice deep within me is eager to respond, akin to primary school children shouting ‘Teacher’ repeatedly when they know the answer to a question. It’s that voice from earlier on in the day. It loses patience and begins to speak, and much to my astonishment, is as convincing as ever.

“I have a reason, because marriage is such a leap in the dark.”

“I have a reason, because I want to stay the same for donkey’s years. I want to stay in the past. I want to be left alone, to hang out with my friends at football matches and bars and argue about who has the best FPL team.”

“I have a reason, because I am stupid generally. I don’t know how to be happy let alone make someone else happy.”

“I have a reason, because I am impulsive and have a knack for being overconfident at the wrongest of times. That’s what has led me to this funeral, with someone who is just as lost and frightened as me.”

“I have a reason, because quite frankly, I am scared as sh….”

In those few seconds I feel as if I’ve lost all speech. I turn to look at the congregation. I spot my mother at the front row. She’s elated and can’t stop smiling. I turn back to the woman in front of me. Her smile has reappeared. It’s dazzling white, like snow in sunshine. I realise at that very moment that I wouldn’t love her differently if I did decide to walk out at that moment. I realise that that inner voice will never be heard, not because it would provide a dramatic end to this funeral, but because I realise marriage is what happens when you realise life is bigger than you. I realise that I want all this to be over, not because the tide of events is too strong; okay maybe that could be a reason, but because, but because, but because, I do want to marry her.

The vicar smiles and asks me, “James Ndiritu, do you take this woman as your lawfully wedded wife?”

“I do.” I say, in a matter of seconds, with an absolute conviction that amazes me.

Anita says the same. The vicar delivers his verdict, pronouncing us man and wife. I take her veil off. Her eyes are shining, just like the way they do in the movies. I lean in to kiss her. She kisses back rapidly. She’s regained her acuity from before, as she walked down the aisle. She whispers that she loves me. I say the same to her. A deep dimple appears on her left cheek as she stares at her ring. I realise at that moment that, I am reborn.

******

Or at least I think I am.

The Protagonist; Part I

I’m lying on my bed, alone in the house, staring hard at the ceiling. I haven’t had a shred of sleep the entire night.   I’m tensed; probably even on the cusp of a panic attack. I know. That may too much of an exaggeration. Maybe I’m just nervous. Do people who are about to get married feel this way? I sit up, in a bid to ease the tension in my stomach. The sound of the alarm clock tears up the pin-drop silence in the room and rips me away from my avalanche of thoughts. It’s 7.30 a.m. I stare at the digital clock long enough to see it turn one more minute.

I look outside. The day is breaking unusually fast. The wedding is at midday. I get out of bed and draw the curtains. The sky is clear with not a cloud in sight. It’s a typical Saturday morning. I make my way to the bathroom and catch a glimpse of myself walking past my bedroom mirror. I stop and stare at myself for a while. I look like a damn zombie. My skin is pale and my eyelids look heavy.  I run my hand through my unkempt hair and rub my eyes. I walk towards the mirror and examine my face carefully; much like the way Barry Allen looks for clues. I notice this small pimple at the edge of my nose. ‘How long has that been there?’ I wonder. I stand there motionless for a while, my eyes, now turned red, stare back. I step backwards a few steps and observe myself a bit more. I take off my vest and look back at the camera. My body still looks good. I’m neither too fat nor too thin. I turn and look at the mirror sideways ‘Well my abs are a little bit concealed behind a small layer of fat but at least the latter isn’t protruding,’ I lie to myself.

I head into the bathroom and turn on the shower. The water is nerve-wincingly hot. The room fills up with steam as I stand there staring at myself in the bathroom mirror watching it become moist. I suddenly laugh, or maybe it was more of a chuckle-a nervy one. I look like those people in movies who go to the bathroom when they’re severely hammered and right before they do something stupid. But I was exactly in that position. Well, maybe not the former but that latter part made a whole lot of sense. I mean, isn’t getting married a stupid decision?

“Will I be the same person after today? Do people change when they get married? Are you ever the same after today? Look at Vic. It’s like his wife puts him on a leash. I don’t want to be on a leash. It’s scary. The future’s scary.  I wish we could stay in the past. The present? That’s a worse option.”

I step into the shower. I wince in pain when the hot water makes contact with my skin. My body finally gets used to the heat and I’m soon done. I fill my palm with shaving cream and smear it across my face and whittle away at the foam, carefully until my face is clean. I look at myself in the mirror just to make sure it’s all gone. I splash water on my face and wipe it clean. I make my way out of the bathroom and head towards my closet. Carefully I lay out my clothes, which apparently are all new.

“Everything in life has its own perception. The way you view something really influences how think, feel or talk about it. A failed interview can be what leads you to your destined career.  An injury makes you cut lines. In this case however, a wedding can also be a funeral. But what exactly are we mourning? The bachelor life? Game nights? Frankly, I think you mourn yourself. You become new. You die and get born again. To be reborn, you have to die.”

I’m used to putting on suits. Besides, my profession requires it. Rather, I require it. I always felt putting on a suit would make me stand out from my peers at the workplace, not because they didn’t wear them but because I looked mind-boggling great in them. Those were Barbra’s words, not mine. Barbra’s my mum. She’s a gem. She told me those words twelve years ago and I took it to be my lifetime slogan. I look in the mirror as I fix my tie. I take the pocket square and neatly place it in my coat’s breast pocket. I stare at my image in the mirror. ‘I kinda look like James Bond,’ I tell myself. ‘That’s a little too much, don’t you think?’’ my conscience rebuts. 

I’m not sure exactly what to do nest. It’s well over two and a half hours to the wedding. I begin to walk around the house, examining it like I’m about to buy it. I feel the weight of my body on my weak knees as I walk. My mind slowly drifts off and images of Anita start to pop up. What will she be wearing? Is she having second thoughts like me? How will she look like under that veil? Someone somewhere may be planning to sabotage this whole ceremony.

I turn on my phone and connect it to my Bluetooth speaker. I scroll through my playlist and pick out Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto album and play it. Hopefully Chris Martin would drain all these thoughts from my head. The whole house was soon reverberating softly to ‘Paradise.’

I still continue with my random walk around the house, still feeling the weakness in my knees. I come across a cupboard decorated with pictures. Most of them were with my mum. The majority of the remaining percentage was with Clive, my best friend who is my best man today. The rest were just random relatives who rarely visited and a class picture taken in my last year of high school. Out of all these people I was sure only two would be at my wedding. My mum and Clive. The rest? I didn’t have much expectation.

I come across a picture of Clive and I. We must have just cleared high school. The camera had just captured the right moment as we cannonballed into the pool. We looked so happy. The whole setting looked beautiful. The sun garnished the surface of the pool while every single stranger that had appeared in the photograph was smiling.  I suddenly wish I was back at that moment. That would be nice. I wouldn’t have to deal with this right now. I notice for the first time there’s a man in the pool trying to swim away underneath Clive. I wonder if he really got away. It’s funny when you notice something completely new in something you’ve seen numerous times.  The phone rings but I don’t answer it.

“I really don’t think I can do this. Am I wrong to be hesitant?”

I make my way to the couch and slump on to it. I glance at my watch. It’s two hours to the wedding. I rest my head on the couch and look at the ceiling. I feel awful when I think of my current state. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself. I feel the urge for a cigarette.

“Everyone is susceptible to emotion. That’s what makes them human. I’m human. I’m smart, I’m stupid, I hope, I despair, I’m confident, I’m timid. I watch football – not soccer. I drink porridge – not eat it. I sleep when I drink coffee and I think Rick and Morty is the best thing ever created.”

A part of me wants to get married today. But it lacks the guts to go and do so. It’s not too late though. All this could be finished in one phone call. The shame could last for a while but end eventually. Of course my mum would be disappointed me for the remainder of my life, but it will soon diminish.

“Decisions, decisions. Everything would be so much easier if things just happened. It would spare us the trouble of making choices.”

I move towards my phone and disconnect it from the speaker. At this moment, the whole playlist is over and I hardly listened to it. I wonder who to call. It would be brutal to call Anita. It would be heartless to call my mother. I loosen up my tie and untie the top button of my shirt. I dial up Clive’s number.

The doorbell rings and makes me frolic. I walk towards the door and open it.

The Perfect Sunset

It’s 5.45 p.m. You sit there watching the sun descend in a somewhat spectacular fashion. “Well that’s beautiful.” you say aloud, at least loud enough so that you hear it. The sky is filled with an array of colours spread across it and its sheer beauty has enchanted you. You love watching sunsets. There’s something about it that makes you feel relaxed. That the day, however bad it was, was finally over, and you could finally be hopeful for the next day. You look outside and begin to notice that you’ll soon be the only one in this parking lot, but it doesn’t bother you. You adjust your posture and tilt the car seat slowly back. And slowly your mind drifts off and her face emerges in your subconscious. You try to suppress it but it slowly resurfaces again. This time, it’s vivid, much clearer than before. It’s like she is standing right in front of you. You notice that dimple on her left cheek that never disappears and those freckles on her face that she is very insecure about. You see her hair, as black as volcanic glass, complemented by the dark colour of her eyes. Her eyes, dammit! It is at that very moment you realise you love her. You remember your first encounter with her. She was planning to move into the neighbourhood and was looking for a house, and you, as the great estate agent you claim to be, rose to the occasion. You stalled getting her one just to spend time with her because you were too shy to ask her to have dinner with you. But she was too smart to notice what you were doing and she asked you out instead. As evocative as the first date was, the only thing you remember is that smile she pulled off throughout it. You blink twice and you’re back in the parking lot.

It’s getting darker now. You tilt your seat forward and place your hands on the wheel. You look out the window to see an empty parking lot dimly illuminated. You remember you didn’t get her a house but she moved into yours instead. You smile when that thought crosses your mind and refuses to leave. A feeling of triumph envelopes you as you put on your earphones and slowly drive away.

Such Serenity

“Sir, kindly fill this form and have a seat.”

Andy searched for a pen on his body before he realised that he didn’t have one. He reached for the pen attached to the reception desk and nervously filled in his details.

“First time huh?”

Andy looked up from the form and his eyes met with the receptionist’s warm smile. “What a pretty smile,” he thought. He nodded his head and returned the gesture, but not so convincingly. He handed the form to the receptionist who was patiently waiting for him to finish.

“When can I go in and see her?”

“Sir, you can’t go in right now but we’ll inform you when she’s ready.”

Andy nodded his head and walked towards the seats in the waiting lounge. He sat adjacent to an elderly man who looked well in his sixties. He was asleep with his walking stick firmly in his hands. He looked at the wall-clock. The time was two-thirty in the morning. He swore the clock’s ticking was all he could hear at that particular moment, apart from the old man’s snoring. But he wouldn’t let that bother him tonight.

He reclined into his seat as the events of that night began raced through his mind. He was awoken by Judy uttering the words “It’s coming” and that didn’t need any elaboration. They were at the hospital within minutes and she had been rushed into the labour ward close to four hours ago. He was excited but at the same time tensed. He had been asked to leave when she had lost consciousness while in the ward. He hadn’t been told of her condition and it was killing him.

“It does get easier, you know?”

Andy looked up, searching for the origin of those words. It was the elderly man sitting in front of him.

“What?”

“The wait. I’ve been there. It’s so easy to lose your head. The longer she’s in there, the more exasperated you’ll be. Don’t worry. I’m sure she’s fine.”

“Thanks for the advice.” Andy couldn’t help but smile at the old man’s advice. He actually felt better for a moment.

“Excuse me Sir!” Andy turned round to the nurse standing next to him.

“I’m sorry, but there have been some complications…”

“Complications? What do you mean? Just stop these medical terms and tell me what has happened to her.”

“She passed out and we had to resort to a C-Section. We are doing all we can to ensure her condition stabilises. I assure you she’ll be alright.”

He slumped onto his seat. He hadn’t thought about calling Judy’s mom until that moment. He picked up his phone and dialled.

He hadn’t realised it but he was soon pacing vigorously around the room. At that time Judy’s mom and several of the couple’s friends had arrived at the hospital. He finally sat down and buried his face deep into his palms. He could feel the sweat build up on his palms as the lyrics of ‘Lose Yourself’ popped up in his head. He smiled faintly at the coincidence that that very song was what led him to meet Judy in the first place. They rapped that whole song on their first encounter seven years ago. She had come out of a bad relationship while he was that rebound that turned into a clean score. The perfect match!

 

“Andrew Kinyua!”

He immediately stood when he heard his name. He hurried towards the nurse that called out his name. She led him to a room and closed the door behind her. He tried to read her face but nothing was forthcoming. His breathing was getting intense.

“It’s done?” He asked, in a squeaky voice. He cleared his throat immediately after; embarrassed he was capable of producing such a sound.

“Uhm…yes it is, but…”

“But what?”  The smile that had formed on his face quickly disappeared once ‘but’ was uttered.

“You’re going to have to sit down for this.”

“I think I’m better standing up”

“I insist!”

Andy sat down and rubbed his palms on his jeans.

“There were complications…”

That word again.

“We put her on life support but she wasn’t responsive.”

“Wait, what are you talking about? Life support?”

He knew that word. No way! Her life was being supported? Why? Wasn’t she just here for the baby?

The nurse’s voice was fading. She was relentlessly trying to explain something about a failed resuscitation. He stood up abruptly and asked her in a slow but sharp tone.

“What are you saying?”

“She didn’t make it Andrew, but the baby did. I’m so sorry”

He slumped back onto the chair. For the next few minutes, he thought about nothing while he stared vacuously across the room. A thought crossed his mind. He had to see her. He stormed out of the room and walked down the hall. He could see his mother-in-law at a distance, resisting consoling from those around her.  At least somebody did what I didn’t have the guts to do. He said to himself.

He stared at her lifeless body. Her face was still lit up by that smile that made him fall in love with her in the first place.

He walked out of the room amidst wailing from his mother-in-law and a few of his female friends. He knew if he stayed in that room a minute longer he would also cry. He didn’t want that. He passed by the nursery and stared at his daughter for a while. She was soundly asleep despite all the crying that was going on around her. “Such serenity” He whispered beneath the tears that fell from his eyes. He stood there, staring for a little while longer.