As told by Kagwe
There are few things I enjoy more than an evening takeoff. There is a golden hour when upon takeoff, my aircraft pierces the veil of sublime, pink clouds to greet the fierce sun on the other side of them. In a matter of minutes, it dips in the horizon. The moon shakes her hair loose, slips out of her kimono and bathes us in her glory.
On good days, the weather is temperate. There’s no wind blasting through me on the airside, and when I look out in the distance, there’s no hot air dancing on the asphalt paving. On the best days, I get to surf the white ocean of clouds under the blue sky. It’s like being on the flip side of the universe, like dangling from a tree on your legs. It is heady and exhilarating in ways I have not been able to replicate.
A few instances have come close though. Like the first time I heard Njambi’s laugh floating on the wind outside an old hangar at Wilson Airport. She has one of those genuine belly laughs that just sprout from her core. I remember saying something inane that God only knows why she found funny. She laughed.
Her eyes gleamed and I just stood there swelling with feelings. The image of her sitting next to me on a couch, wearing warm clothes and drinking hot cocoa, flashed in my mind. I knew right away that I wanted her warming up my house with that laugh of hers for the rest of my life, because hot cocoa girls, are the best kind of girls.
I usually enjoy landing in the early hours of the morning, the hour of the recluse. The air is still crisp. The breed of bad drivers who blind others with their headlights has left the roads. Only the occasional guy who waits till last call to leave the watering hole on a weekday is left. You know the guy. He’ll flash the headlights at you like you’re in a secret brotherhood of the night even though you don’t know him. His life is probably going off the rails.
The city is still an expansive glow of yellow, red and white lights. I imagine that one of those lights is the security light outside my house where upstairs, Njambi, my Njambi is asleep. Only she is in a bedroom down the hall that is not ours, because now she finds me revolting.
On Tuesday, she did the laundry and the pillows stopped smelling like her hair. Now when I turn to her side, there’s no warm breath smelling vaguely of mouthwash and pennies suffocating me. I don’t wake up to her legs wrapped around mine, or her arm draped over my belly, or her cheeks nestled against my chest. I don’t know what to do with this newfound real estate on the bed.
After a particularly arduous, fourteen-hour return flight, throughout which I battle sleep and emerge with a backache, my old man calls. He schedules a casual lunch at Greenwich on Saturday, but I know better than to treat it any less than a summoning. He must’ve seen the hangover in my eye bags during Ng’endo’s graduation. The only reason he would schedule lunch, instead of our usual dinners, would be to avoid drinking. Which means that despite my denial, he does think that I’m drinking too much. It pops into my mind every now and then during the week, and I feel so anxious my stomach hurts.
Njambi wakes up early on Saturday and blasts white girl music over the vacuum cleaner. Nobody has to tell me to read the mood. I am compelled to leave the house at noon. Old man finds me at Greenwich soon afterward. While our cars are in the car wash, we share a platter of meat. My stomach is in knots so I eat poorly.
Just when I start to think that I misread his agenda, he says, “Listen. Your older brother could’ve been an engineer if he had wanted to. He is smart. You know that, but he takes after your mother. Those two are like this,” he lines up his index fingers parallel to each other. “They like rewards without work. But you and I are different. We know what it is to buckle down and do the work. Is it not so?”
That is my father’s favorite phrase, born from years of lecturing and the necessity to keep his audience awake and engaged. There is no chance of remaining a passive listener with him. He uses it after every two sentences so that even when you have nothing to contribute, at the very least you have to nod and acknowledge his thoughts.
“I would hate to see all of that go down the drain because you are losing focus,” he says with the sharp frankness of a parent. I feel stung. I want to defend myself. “I know you have had good reason. Unexpected setbacks can throw you off. Those happen. Children, they come and go. Is it not so? Those are God’s works. Have you been going to church?”
“No matter. A person’s faith is between them and their God. This is what I’m telling you,” he speaks this way, my father. Always has three or four trails of thought going, jostling for a chance to be expressed. You have to listen keenly to keep up. “A man with your kind of money should have a family to provide for. Your job can be the reason you wake up every morning because you love your work. I know that about you, Kagwe. But your family is the reason you go home every evening after work. You understand? Is it not so?”
He rubs the edges of his mouth and toys with his gray beard, a habit I picked up from him. On Saturdays, they play country music at Greenwich. Some fella, who I Shazam and find out is called Kenny Chesney, is singing something about life going faster than you think so don’t blink. Old man is impressed with him, but not as impressed as he is with Shazam and my phone, similar to those ones being sold on Jumia Mobile Week. He takes it and turns it over in his hands as you would a leather shoe, inspecting the cobbler’s handiwork. I am amused. Our conversation drifts but eventually comes back to a country music phrase.
“You have to get back on the saddle, now, when your wife is young, healthy and still interested. Young women get restless, you know,” he lets out a sly, roaring laugh. “Is it not so?”
It is painful and cringy. Suddenly I’m twelve years old again, getting caught with my first girlfriend behind Mother’s chicken coop. I have to hold onto the counter to keep from bolting out of there. All the same, the message is home. Old man wants a grandchild, but I suspect that behind the curtains, Mother is the one holding the puppet strings. I tell him I’ll get right on it but neglect to mention that first; I have to get my wife back into my bed.
I get home before the streetlights come on. Njambi has curled up on the couch watching a whodunit. She raises her head and watches Daisy give me the kind of warm reception I don’t deserve. Then she pulls the covers snug under her arm and turns back to the TV. Feeling challenged and slightly jarred after speaking with my old man, I gather myself and do what feels like plunging into shark-infested waters with a nosebleed. I sit at the edge of her feet and rub her calves.
“Come back. The pillows don’t smell like you anymore. It feels strange.”
She shrugs me off.
“I like it better there. Go away.”
“Leave me alone,” she pushes me with her feet but I hold onto her.
“You’ve made your point. You have my attention. Now tell me what I can do to make this right.”
“I don’t want to talk now.”
“That’s all right. We can just sit here. But wherever you are is where I’m going to be. So you decide where – in that bedroom or ours.”
She sighs and doesn’t speak for a long time. I can tell she’s not really watching the whodunit anymore; she’s looking at a spot right above the TV.
“What happened with her?” she asks.
I knew she would ask. All week I waited for that question to leap at me like a ninja out of the dark. I thought about what to tell her. What could I say? I myself don’t know what’s going on. There’s nothing but a bunch of mixed signals and nobody knows what they mean. Nobody knows how they feel.
“I talk to her. We go places together sometimes. That is the scope of our interaction.”
“How long have you been rehearsing that response?” she gives me the side eye. “Let’s not, all right? If you’re not here to be honest, let’s not pretend. I’m done making excuses for you.”
“I like talking to her. I like taking her places. That’s all.”
“What do you talk about?”
“Stuff.” She gives me a you-can-do-better-than-that look. “Things, you know. My flights, her photography, music, life.”
“What about life?”
“Just…what’s up with her and what’s up with me…”
“Mmh. What about me?”
“If the subject comes up.”
“If the subject comes up,” she repeats with a sarcastic chuckle. “And what else?”
“That’s pretty much it.”
“So you’re telling me, you’ve known this lady almost two years now –”
“One and a half –”
“I am not done speaking.” She glowers at me. “Two years of talking about life and work and your interests,” she gets animated now, making big gestures with her hands, “And nothing ever happened between you two?”
“Well,” I crack my knuckles, “I may have crossed the line once or twice –”
“Once or twice? Which is it?”
“Once. I kissed her once. And it wasn’t even like a…a –”
I contemplate saying it wasn’t a real kiss but it was, so I quash the instinct to lie.
“Mmh. Why should I believe anything you say?”
“It’s the truth.”
“So you say,” she shrugs. “I’ll never really know, will I? What do you want me to do with this now? Why am I not enough for you?” she swings her legs onto the floor and stands up. “Why would you do this to me Kagwe?”
Blood rushes to her face. The vein on her forehead bulges. For the second time today, I receive a dressing down that sends me back to my childhood. She paces back and forth in front of me, pointing fingers, throwing her hands in the air. Occasionally, she chews on the edges of her sweater sleeves thinking aloud to herself.
“Real husband-of-the-year you are,” she says doing a mock clap which to be honest, I find funny but I bite back that snicker hard. I can still feel the teeth marks on my lower lip.
There are tears rolling down her cheeks but she’s not crying. I gather they are angry tears. Laughter, and a deranged look in her eyes that makes me genuinely afraid for my life, soon follow. My thoughts stray to a newspaper story I read earlier in the week, of a woman in Nakuru suspected to have planned her husband’s murder. I keep my eye on the clay vase sitting on the wall unit, which per my assessment, is the only item she can weaponize. She doesn’t throw things when she’s pissed, but then, I have never seen her this pissed. She spews it all out as I sit there petrified, but I say nothing and give away nothing. I bear it all on my brow.
“It wasn’t about you, it was about me,”I say finally.
“Of course! It’s always about you.”
“Oh my gosh,” I rub my eyebrows with the tips of my fingers. My head swells with frustration. “There’s no winning with you.”
“Give me time,” I sigh.
“I need to figure out some stuff.”
“And I’m supposed to just sit around waiting?”
“You don’t have to sit around waiting. I’m just asking for time. This is what I need. And if the tables were turned and this is what you needed, I’d give it to you.”
“There’s nothing to figure out. I am your wife. The only thing you need to do is act right.”
At this point, I’m ready to crawl into a hole and die. Eh, this husband thing is not for me. All of this noise for what? The couch creaks as I get up to leave.
“Where are you going?”
“I need time to clear my head.”
“Mmhm, running off as usual. Are you going to see her? Huh? Is that where you go every time you need to ‘clear your head?’” she makes exaggerated air quotes with her fingers.
“For heaven’s sake!”
“What? Tell me I’m wrong. Go ahead. Lie.”
She rolls her eyes. Had I known the graduation would’ve gone this south, I would never have agreed to it. Note to self: listen to Njambi when she says no to hosting family events.
“Two things,” she holds two fingers up. “Either you sit back down and we figure this out, or you walk out that door knowing you don’t have a wife anymore.”
She takes off her rings and holds them up to me. Then she slides them to the middle of the coffee table, like cards on a poker table. The cracking noise of a low-flying plane reverberates across the gray sky. Outside, Daisy barks. The rumble of a motorcycle approaches and then fades. A crow caws. In the kitchen, the fridge hums. The clock tick-tocks on the wall. The drapes hang as still as the silence between us. I can almost hear myself blink. Then I remember the country song from earlier about not blinking, so I dig my hands into my jacket pockets and shrug.