Short Stories

A Seismic Event
April 9, 2020
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Photo by Dhivya Subramanian on Unsplash

Previously on Eucalyptus Man…

What can I tell you about Mundia and me? Our marriage – the beginning, the end, and the murkiness in between – is something I mull over from time to time. Ruminating is a great source of anxiety for me, but I’m the sort of person who can’t move on from something until I’ve understood it. Rearranging what happened in a way that makes sense to me feeds my aversion to being blindsided.

I evaluate all possible scenarios in painstaking detail to avoid any unpleasant surprises. Preparation is an effective defense mechanism of mine. If I have the answers, I have the reigns. For me, being blindsided is like waking up and realizing I’ve been teleported into a horror world and I don’t know which one. Is it A Quiet Place? Is it Bird Box or maybe Miller’s planet on Interstellar? And what are the rules? Once I understand the rules – don’t make a sound, don’t look, don’t land – then I have control over the construct. If I don’t, kaput. I go straight to meltdown town.

Going into it, I was genuinely happy. We agreed on the kind of life we wanted to build together. What I didn’t realize was that we were going to do it on his timeline. One only realizes such things when too much time has passed. We both had a part to play in this outcome. I am infuriatingly benevolent with second chances. I give two, three, even four second chances. I find it easier to act on patterns rather than one-time events. I always give the benefit of the doubt even when it is ill-advised.

I don’t have to tell you how this makes me vulnerable to deception. I’m slow to catch on not because I don’t see the lie, but because I persist in seeing the best of people and giving them room to come into that space. Seldom do people ever prove worthy of it. Still, even at the cost of my self-preservation, I repeat this pattern reflexively.

It would be easier to be cynical, but nothing tells you you’re alive like a dagger in your chest. It’s better to enjoy life with a dash of masochism, no? I mean if there are already waves in the river, you might as well direct your raft to the ones you can navigate. If I must be a mirror to a person, then I will be the one that shows them their potential. People usually already have an acute awareness of their failings. In any case, if they don’t, there’s someone on every corner waiting to shine a light on that.

The long and short of it is; it took me a while to observe that everything we did was on his timeline, and an equally long while to begin agitating for a change that never came.

On his part, it was simpler – in my view. He wasn’t forthcoming with what he wanted. For instance, I wanted to get married at 27 to have at least two years to acquaint myself with being a wife before becoming a mother. I did not want both those roles thrust upon me at the same time. He did not share this view. That’s why five years down the line; we are still not parents despite the once subtle but now overt campaign by his aunties to start a family.

It wasn’t an unreasonable thing to ask for yet he was unflinching about it. He refused to meet me at the negotiating table. What’s worse, he left me – the most pertinent person to that conversation – out of it but talked about it with his friends. It undermined my position in the marriage. Usurped my decision-making power. Denied me agency over my own life, and not inadvertently either. It wasn’t something I could overlook – as is fervently encouraged in marriage. No. It was a deliberate manipulation. I was simply an item on his checklist to check off. Once I’d professed my love and declared my devotion, he knew he had me in the bag. He carried on, checking off other items on his list. And all the while, I waited. In vain. It made my skin burn. Of all things, this was the most egregious.

We went back and forth on it and I remained unheard, (or perhaps heard but ignored). Enough time passed for me to wake up though. I became alert to certain truths that had always been there but had somehow eluded me. The biggest revelation was that sometimes, I see good where it isn’t. I superimpose good qualities on people that they don’t possess. Reverse projection.

When they first meet someone new, many people withhold their trust until the person has earned it. Man evolved to assume that a person is a threat until proven otherwise. However, I’ve found that I take a more upside-down approach. I make exceptions for some people; assume they are trustworthy until they prove otherwise. I remain vigilant until eventually, they show me who they are. If you give a person a dagger, they might stab you with it or they might carve out a jewelry box and present it to you.

I can’t say whether it is prudent. There are a few bad apples in every bunch. Still, I stick with it because it is less volatile. The lines are clearer. There’s no room for misinterpretation. If you cross me, we’re both aware that you’re violating my goodwill. That allows me to exorcise you from my life as ruthlessly as I please. And I don’t forget it. It remains an irredeemable taint in our interactions.

Mundia is more cavalier about trust and honesty. I’m not even sure he operates from a base of any particular values. If it’ll get him out of a dicey situation, he’ll lie. Not in the conventional perpetuation of a falsehood way though. His strategy is selective ignorance. This is how I know Mundia is lying. He’ll say, either ‘I don’t know’, or ‘It didn’t occur to me’, or ‘I thought I did’.

They sound just vulnerable enough to pass for innocent admissions, but they’re not. They are a stick in the cogs. Derailments to get him out of the spot. For instance, he goes somewhere with someone else and then forgets that it wasn’t me (as men regularly do). Then he starts telling me about it as though I was there.

“When were we at the Hub in January?” I ask.

He says, “You know that time…I bought you ice cream…there was that screaming child –” At this point, he sees the look on my face and starts to rethink his story. I can almost see the very second he decides to gaslight me. “You were there.”

“I wasn’t.”

“No…you were wearing that dress…the pink one with the pockets.”

“First of all, it’s peach, and I haven’t worn that dress since October.”

“Peach…pink…” he says, weighing the colors on his hands. “It’s all the same.”

“It’s not the same.”

“It is for me.”

“You’re changing the subject.”

He lets out a drawn-out sigh and stops just short of saying that I’m overreacting. By now, he’s learned the hard way that telling a woman to calm down does not have a de-escalating effect. Nevertheless, he likes to live dangerously so instead, he implies it. This time I don’t chase the distraction. “I remember you were there. You complained about the kid being whiny and the mom was just standing there –”

I do complain about spoiled, out-of-control brats in public spaces. That does sound like me. Except, it wasn’t. I was on the road all of January. It was peak season for us so no way was I out gallivanting with him. I know this because I was dying for the time off. “No. That wasn’t me. Must’ve been one of the other women you take out for ice cream.” I too like to live dangerously.

“Well, then I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” I ask incredulously.

“Yeah. I thought it was you but you’re saying it’s not so now …I don’t know.” Then he shrugs for good measure.

“Mmh. Sure.”

He also watches a movie with someone else and then forgets that we didn’t watch it together (As many a man has). Then he starts talking about it and I’m like, “When did you watch Parasite?”

And the guy has the temerity to say that he watched it in the house alone. “You were on the road,” he adds for credibility.

We both know he’d never watch a movie with subtitles though. I’m the one who got him started on Narcos. Even now, he still hasn’t watched Money Heist. Someone else must’ve prevailed on him to sit through it. He watched it with someone else.

“Oh. You could’ve watched something else and saved it for our pile. We could’ve watched it together. I know how you sleep through movies with subtitles.”

Pause. Wait. Any other day he’d try to counter the jab. When a lie is on the table though, it demands a cover-up.

“It didn’t occur to me.”

I repeat the statement back to him in the form of a question. Just to hear if he’s going all-in on the lie. “It didn’t occur to you?”

Sometimes he backtracks and confesses. Other times, when he knows it’s something I won’t forgive, he sticks with it. Naturally, I file it in a repository of offenses that I cannot prove but will use to trip him up in future fights.

*

There was also an odd misunderstanding about money. While I am indifferent towards money, Mundia reveres it. He chases money for the sole purpose of acquiring it. Once he does, he can’t believe he has it. Which I think is the wrong attitude towards money because it’s almost as if money says back, “You’re right. You don’t have me.” Poof! That’s what I like to call his budget. He spends money on dormant assets like a child in a toy store. They are worthy purchases, but in so doing, he forfeits an opportunity to make his money work for him. Therefore, he always works. There’s not a moment of rest for him. I, on the other hand, like to play as hard as I work so I put my money in things that will pay back tenfold. Money serves me, not the other way around.

Mundia’s first allegiance is to mammon. He’s not above venturing into a morally vague territory for an extra shilling. Since we live in a society where money talks, he can afford the privilege of seeing himself as shrewd rather than unscrupulous. That has always given me the sensation of having water stuck in my ear; it’s not life-threatening, but that’s not how it should be. I don’t bring it up lest he accuses me of being sanctimonious. In fact, we stopped discussing money altogether which thinking about it now, was another fault line lying in wait for an earthquake.

Yes. A seismic event. That is how I would describe meeting Eucalyptus man. Then again, that’s a story for another day.

***

Read Next: Dominoes

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About author

Wanjiru Ndung'u

Wanjiru Ndung'u writes fiction. She is an irretrievable night owl. Loves tea and cats. Devours stories and knits cozy scarves

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