As told by Mel
When you put promises into words and utter them into existence, the universe gives you an opportunity to fulfil them. That’s the power of the spoken word. The universe always wants you to succeed, so it is generous and swift with these opportunities. They come to you sooner than you expect, as I find out on Wednesday morning when I leave Dr. Sang’s clinic, my Ob/Gyn.
I set the appointment as a kneejerk reaction to the pregnancy test I took coming out positive. Her receptionist was adamant that she could not book me in on such short notice. Dr. Sang is well known, I should know. Her private clinic is always swarming and when she’s not there, she’s doing her bit at the government hospital. But at the last minute, she relented and slotted me in at seven o’clock the next morning. Waking up at five in the morning wasn’t ideal for me, but I dared not complain. Receptionists are the gatekeepers at doctor’s offices and she could easily have turned me away. It was all well anyway, because Jonathan’s plane will touchdown later this afternoon, and I want my mind to be at ease when I tell him.
It has been four years since I was pregnant; four years since Bill asked me to get rid of it; four years since the baby felt it was not wanted and left my belly of its own volition. Dr. Sang faces me squarely, fingers interlocked into a pyramid on the heavy, oak desk. She makes eye contact and proffers me her full attention, something I find unnerving. I fix my gaze instead, to the bottle of hand sanitizer and latex gloves on a shiny tray behind her. She is quick to allay my fears about a repeat miscarriage but suggests a pelvic exam if it’ll ease my anxiety.
I try to take deep breaths as she prods and swabs, after which she sends me to a lab for a blood test. Her office is in an office mall, two towers linked on the fourth floor by a vein pulsing with throngs of people pursuing unmet needs. The lab is on the ground floor of the adjoining tower and I find it smarter to take the elevator down and walk across, rather than elbow my way through the bridge, then jostle for the elevator down with everyone else.
At the lab, women at different stages of pregnancy sit rubbing their bellies, waiting for their turn at the ultrasound machine, the needle or the little cup. I check in at reception, fill out a form and then scan the room for a spot to sit. There’s room next to a lady seated with her husband – or baby daddy at least – who’s typing furiously on a Blackberry. She’s got her arms crossed over her chest, legs facing away from him. I don’t have to look too hard to see her gritting her teeth and I don’t want to be there when she explodes and hisses at him, “If you didn’t want to be here you shouldn’t have come!”
“I didn’t want to come! You said I had to!”
“And why shouldn’t you? This baby is yours too!”
There are two sheilas chattering behind them but the last thing I want right now is jibber-jabber. So no to the woman with a toddler picking the lilac paint off the walls and screaming at the TV as well. I choose to sit one chair away from a woman in the corner whose face is buried in ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’. All I have is a polite nod in me and she looks like she appreciates personal space. Anyway she’s wearing a crisp, blue blazer over a pinstripe dress draping over her shapely legs. If she turns to me and I’m pressed for talking points, I can just compliment her look and ask about the book she’s reading.
This is what happens. I recognize her on my way down, a bolt of electricity splits through my sternum, but I’ve already committed to sitting down and I can’t lurch back up. The cushion exhales as I sink into it and disturbs her. She looks up, recognizes me and unflinchingly goes back to her book. Her eyes glaze over and I know that she’s only staring at the book unseeing, blind with…what? Rage? Jealousy? Disdain? Whatever the case, she doesn’t topple over with discomfiture and neither will I.
My hands tremble but I calm them by smoothing over my dress and lean back, chin up. I focus on the rush of blood in my ears and steady my heartbeat and my thoughts. Kagwe’s wife is pregnant?
I immediately think how thrilled Kagwe must be. Were times different, he would’ve told me. He would’ve tried to temper his excitement but I can always tell when he’s gone jelly inside. His voice takes on a melody and his face lightens up like the sun when the storm clouds part. It might’ve turned my insides out but I would’ve taken it in stride. We would’ve toasted to thriving and I wouldn’t have taken too long to realign my insides.
Now though, I don’t feel that way at all. I feel two parts numb, and one part good-for-them. Outside of this context, I would’ve congratulated her without a thought. In another life we might even have been friends, but in this life we agreed to be recurrent hangnails in each other’s lives, so I set my jaw and play the villain. She must be here for an ultrasound because I get called in first, and by the time I leave with my test results she’s still waiting in line.
At the doctor’s office I pick up a prescription for prenatal vitamins and take the elevator down. It’s a little past ten o’clock now and the sun is still floating behind a curtain of clouds, taking a peek every now and then. It’s not warm on the skin, neither does it glint off the gray façade of the building, but it’s enough to cause the east tower to cast a partial, faint shadow on the west tower. At the fore of the flurry of thoughts fluttering about in my mind is the architecture of this building. I had thought it drab when I first saw it, but I realize now that its magic is hidden in an optical illusion. If you stop to pore over it, it looks like abstract, geometric art.
There are restaurants and retail stores on the ground floor; banking halls on the first floor and office suites the rest of the way up. I’m crossing over to the adjoining tower one last time to buy my meds when the smell of tobacco wrangles my nostrils.
I see the sign now, ‘smoking zone’ in caps, tucked outside a narrow cigar shop that looks more like a money laundering front than anything. A vaguely familiar figure moving at the corner of my eye seizes my attention. I turn to look and who do I see pacing the length of a shadow, blowing clouds of sin into the air? I have to do a double take, but it’s him all right. Kagwe in his natural habitat – the gray areas. A tiger never changes its stripes, I chuckle.
He sees me and I suppose it startles him because he chuckles, squashes what’s left of the cigar against the ashtray (a piece as long as a finger of chalk I might add), and heads straight for me.
“We have to stop meeting like this,” he says as he walks towards me, and without faltering scoops me up in his arms. Then as if he just remembered himself, he pulls away so suddenly I have to steady myself on his arm. He glances upwards and I know he’s just thought of his wife but I don’t care. I’m hoping he hasn’t left any trace of cigar smoke on me. I have to pick up Jonathan’s car at his place and pick him up at the airport, and I won’t have time to go home and change.
“What brings you to these here parts?” he asks, alive with exuberance.
I chuckle. “Look who finally watched Westworld.”
He tips his fedora. I laugh aloud. It’s strange the ease with which he makes me laugh, the way I can follow his trail of thought on its heels. It’s like slipping back into the groove of a mattress that knows me well, like hearing my father’s engine purring from the road and knowing he was home before he walked in.
He cocks his head to the side, awaiting my answer.
“Same thing you are. Well, not exactly. I had a doctor’s appointment here and I ran into your wife upstairs.”
The realization pools in his eyes and I follow them down to my belly which bears no indication of what I’m saying. It throws him off. He looks up at me with questions that eventually mesh into one question.
“Who?” he asks. I hesitate and it surprises me. I didn’t think I had any loyalties left to him. “It’s okay. We’re both here so you know it’s okay. Tell me.”
“Jonathan the one –”
“Yes, Jonathan ‘the one’.”
His eyes soften with recognition. “Goodness, you really do have a type!”
“Don’t tease me,” I beg.
He whistles. “Jonathan does not play around eh.”
“I said don’t tease –”
“Right to work. I didn’t even know he’d come from Addis. Kumbe – wait, where are you going?” he asks, arms outstretched.
“I’m not going to stay if all you’re going to do is tease me,” I say over my shoulder.
“Okaaay. Come here,” he reaches for my hand, pulls me back and wraps me up in a hug – complete with his open palm rubbing my shoulder blade. “Congratulations.”
There was a time not long ago when being this close to him made me heady with euphoria, tortured with longing but taut with restraint. Not anymore. Now contentment springs from a warm well inside and washes over me. I’m happy, he’s happy, everyone’s happy.
“We should move out of this smoking zone, in that case,” he says. “Let me buy you a coffee to go, or tea. You’re a tea lover. Wait, you’re not allowed caffeine.”
“I’m allowed a bit of caffeine.”
“There’s a juice stand over there, let me buy you a smoothie.”
“I am wildly uncomfortable with this plan.”
He stops to look at me. “Not just uncomfortable, but wildly so?”
“Noted, for the record,” he says dismissively and proceeds towards the juice stand. I try to hang back but he says, “If you don’t come I’ll order you a banana smoothie and you’ll have to drink it because it’s bad manners to look a gift horse in the mouth.”
I sigh and shuffle towards him. He knows I don’t like bananas. How does he manage to make me feel like a little girl in pigtails?
“I’ll have the passion juice,” I say to the vendor.
“I can buy you a smoothie if I want to. Sit, sit over there. Get off your feet.”
He pulls up a chair across from me, far enough that it can’t be misconstrued for anything.
“Why aren’t you up there with her?” I ask, and he knows that I’m also asking why he’s down here with me. If we’ve moved past polite, distant talk then we must address the fact of him leaving on account of me getting in the way of his marriage.
“I’m giving her space, as requested,” he raises his palms over his chest. “Which is okay, because space doesn’t always mean distance. I know that now. I’ve had my big epiphany. If I had known…”
He fingers the logo of the plastic tumblers with our juices in them. “We’re not much different from trees you know. On the surface we stand alone but underneath, in the depths of darkness we all need nourishment from one another to live and grow. What’s the use pretending otherwise?”
I want to ask him how long he’s been sitting on that one, but now is not the time for my smart mouth. And if I do he’ll know I’m making light of what he’s said because I didn’t expect a well-thought out answer. Instead I freeze in place, air blowing in the blank pockets of my mind where thoughts ought to be.
“Everyone needs a place where they return to be themselves, outside of their roles, where they’re not stifled or judged, or constantly herded like mifugo.”
“Like mifugo?” I chuckle.
“Yes! Isn’t it exhausting? You women don’t get tired?”
“You know how I feel about generalizations.”
He takes a long sip of his juice and looks out the window. I steal the moment to study his face, the in and out of his breathing, his curled fingers drumming on his thighs. I played Ruth B’s ‘Safe Haven’ in the wake of our parting on a loop. For weeks I bled darkness like wet coal and he’s sitting here, eyebrows all serene, trying to blow fire back into the cinder he left behind.
“You’re not angry with me, are you?” he asks.
“For doing the right thing. It wasn’t right for us, but it was right in the larger scheme of things.”
I sigh. “You seem to have all the answers. I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“Say you understand.”
“Understand what? What do I understand? You want me to say that I understand like it’s a small ask, but it’s a big ask. Why do you get to waltz in and out of – of – whatever the hell this is? I don’t even know what this is.”
“Does it have to be anything?”
“If it’s not something, it’s nothing.”
“Do you have to overthink everything? Can’t you just let go and flow?”
“I’m not overthinking – pfft. You know what, I don’t want to fight with you Kagwe.”
“I’m not fighting with you, I’m fighting for you.”
His phone buzzes from the inner chest pocket of his sweater jacket and pries us apart. From the way he answers and starts pacing away I can tell it’s his wife calling – probably telling him she’s done and to bring the car around. Whatever it is, he obliges and I’m glad he has to go. I have confusion brimming in me now that needs to be quelled.
“I’ll call you,” he says getting up.
“No, don’t call.”
He fixes me with an unwavering look. Sigh. He’s going to call anyway.
Taste of Mel continues here: Blurred Lines.20