Short Stories

Close Range
April 4, 2019
0

Photo by Erica Lewis on Unsplash

Previously on Biker’s Island…

I have taken to standing with my back to the wall now because every time I have my back to a room I feel his presence behind me. I see the back of his head in my mind’s eye and a bolt cuts across my stomach. There’s a cold sweep of air and a sudden feel of roominess that tingles the hair on my skin and gives me the first inkling that there’s an eerie stillness present. An emptiness that is not supported by what I see, and what I see is Lenny seated awkwardly on my couch, not making a peep. He is stooped over ever so slightly and even before I know; I know.

I can’t say what woke me for sure, whether it was the thirst, the upsetting dream I’d just had that I forgot as soon as I awoke, or the noise I thought I heard downstairs. It was still dark outside and I remember not being able to swallow from how parched I was. I was supposed to stay off my leg but I had this little storm brewing in my chest, unsettling surges that collapsed like a wave before it reaches the shore. An internal smoke signal indicating that somewhere in my cosmic field, something was burning. Something needed my attention. Of course, my first thought was Josh, but he was sleeping soundly in his room, his covers all scrunched up at the foot of his bed. The heat must’ve got to him too. That, or he’d been having nightmares.

Just a few hours before we’d had the shooting incident. The way I remember it, I woke up to Lenny’s grave expression hovering over me. I looked from him to Alan patting himself, bewildered that I actually shot at him. He examined his clothes theatrically like he couldn’t believe the bullet didn’t go through him. He almost looked wishful that the bullet had at least nicked him just so he’d have a story to tell at the bar and the conversation veered (as it often does) to crazy exes and baby mamas. I think he imagined the scar might give him character but adding character to Alan would be like adding character to flat soda.

Hold up, I didn’t kill him! He’s not bleeding out on the floor! I didn’t shoot him… I felt a little disappointed at that outcome and then caught my dark side trying to shine and stowed it back to the shadows.

A moment passed before I noticed Lenny’s lips moving and realized that I was deaf in one ear and that I had been talking. How much of that did I say out loud? I turned my good ear towards him.

“What?”

“The shot went through the window,” he said beckoning with his chin. “You don’t need to worry. Everyone is fine. It’s okay.”

I looked at the unmistakable markings of a projectile through glass akin to a spider web. I felt numb but later Lenny told me that I was hysterical, that I couldn’t be calmed down. That my face turned red and I tagged on my stitches till they bled and that my arm, which was only sprained from the biking accident would now need a sling.

There was a long moment where we just sat and waited for the eventuality like a deer in the headlights.  We were certain that people had heard that gunshot. Someone would come, a neighbor would call. Any minute now the estate WhatsApp group would ping. But what do you know? This is Nairobi. We are used to hearing gunshots, cars backfiring on the highway, flammable cans exploding in garbage fires, kids playing with fireworks…We stop, we listen and if we’re not in any immediate danger we keep to our lanes and mind our own business.

So no one comes. No one calls.

“All right then, let’s not be sitting ducks here,” Lenny said, springing to action.

He retrieved the shell from the floor, inspected the broken window and concluded that the bullet was lodged somewhere on the perimeter wall, hopefully not in my car or Alan’s car. He took Alan outside with him and instructed him to break the window from the outside. I tried to call for Josh but he wouldn’t come out so I hauled myself up and went in search for him.

I found him crouched in the next room with his hands over his ears. There wasn’t a tear in sight, which I would’ve believed was brave of him if I weren’t his mother. He was traumatized. I tried to smile through my own tears and use a falsely reassuring tone but my voice broke. Because life is funny that way, it was Alan who came to the rescue. My adrenaline was wearing off and I had started to tremble like a body in shock. Watching Josh get upset through my own fault killed me but Alan had no qualms. Any other time I would’ve thought him unfit but his nonchalance was what Josh needed to calm down.

When Alan had lulled Josh to sleep and Lenny had patched up my window, we all congregated in the living room. No one would meet the other’s eye. I was wracked with guilt about using Lenny’s gun when I shouldn’t have. He specifically said not to put my finger on the trigger unless I was ready to shoot. Either way, I shouldn’t have been handling his firearm without training. If I had been any good with it I might’ve known there was a round in the chamber. At the same time, I wasn’t thinking clearly. If I had been any good with it I certainly wouldn’t have missed the shot at close range.

Later, Lenny would make fun of me for that close range fiasco and we’d laugh about it, but right then, it was a tense room.

Finally, Alan said, “So we all agree this never happened, right?”

I nodded.

“Lenny?” We both looked at him.

“Sure. It’s all good.”

There were no apologies made, nothing to hash out. Everyone understood how things were now. If Alan came back to my house drunk he could expect a hostile reception. If they started another brawl someone might catch themselves a case of lead poisoning. But last, and most important was that I was right about the goddamn home gun accidents.

*

Now that movie night was ruined and my stitches were flaring up, we decided to go to bed early. When I had taken my pills, Lenny kissed my forehead and lingered at my bedroom door.

“Aren’t you staying?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “I’d like to go home and clean the gun.”

“Stay, do it here.”

“No,” he said simply. “Tomorrow I’ll bring a guy to fix the window. You rest and keep off that leg.”

“That’ll be hard with a kid to take care of.”

“I’ll be here in the morning.”

That was what he said. With such certainty that I can’t help but marvel at how we say things as though we wield any real control.

*

The doctor said that it was a pulmonary embolism, a clot in his lung that had traveled from an injury in his leg. The calf he’d said was pinching. I’d gone downstairs to get a drink of water and found him sitting on the couch hours after I thought he had left. There was dried foam running down the side of his mouth. His phone was on the floor next to him. I remembered the way he’d been short of breath when I thought that he was refusing to fight Alan out of honor. Ah, the curse of hindsight. What good is clarity in the aftermath of something you can’t change?

So I have taken to standing with my back to the wall now because every time I have my back to a room I feel his presence behind me. I see the back of his head in my mind’s eye and a bolt cuts across my stomach. There’s a cold sweep of air and a sudden feel of roominess that tingles the hair on my skin and gives me the first inkling that there’s an eerie stillness present. An emptiness that is not supported by what I see.

Tsk. Goddamnit Lenny. People die on those things.

***

This marks the end of our Biker’s Island series. Next week I will be on break catching my breath because I have been running on fumes for a few weeks now. When we resume I will be back with a fresh series so be on the lookout

Thank you for staying with us. 

 

21

About author

Wanjiru Ndung'u

Wanjiru Ndung'u is a Published Poet and Founder of The Hooting Owl. She is an irretrievable, tea-loving nightowl with an ardor for matters of Personal Development.

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