There was a moment when I thought he would lean in and kiss me. I had given in to a pleasurable adrenaline rush that was crackling inside of me and I wished to prolong it. Instead, he asked, “Now you see why I carry my piece?”
I hadn’t realized that my lips were parted until that moment. I swallowed and hid my eyes from him. “What would you have done if you’d had it?”
“Nothing. I don’t go around brandishing it willy-nilly if that’s what you’re asking.”
“It’s not,” I lied.
“Sure,” he shook his head. “A gun is like currency. Better to have it and not need it than to need it when you don’t have it. You always carry money with you, don’t you?”
“And do you use it every chance you get?”
I shook my head.
“Because I’m disciplined.”
“That’s how it is with my gun.”
“Have you ever had to use it?”
“Only recreationally at the gun range.”
“Would you use it if you had to?”
“Without a moment’s thought.”
I half-expected him to aim and shoot using finger guns and then blow over the top like a smoking barrel in a cowboy film but he didn’t. He didn’t take it lightly; I took that as an indication of his level-headedness. Still, I couldn’t decide right then how I felt about guns, especially having one near Josh and me.
I didn’t have to ponder the question too hard. The answer came to me the following week when I took an afternoon off from work to run some errands at the bank. I picked up Josh from Fiona’s, where I was leaving him while I went to work. He had grown needier than usual after the tumultuous weekend we had and refused to go back to the farm. Since I didn’t have any help, I figured Fiona would have to do.
In the banking hall, he clung to my dress and followed me everywhere I went. He showed no interest in the ticketing machine even though he’d usually have me lift him and press the buttons I showed him. I filled out forms at the counter and sat him next to me while we waited for my ticket number to be called. By the large wooden doors, an armed policeman returned to his seat and swang a rifle across his lap. I only noticed the movement because Josh kept darting furtive glances in his direction.
When I finished up with the teller, Josh started to fuss, said he had a tummy ache and wouldn’t leave. I thought I’d have to drag him across the floor like a bad mother. A public tantrum put my stomach in knots, so now I too had a dull ache in the pit of my belly. Then I pieced it together. He had developed some anxiety over policemen after the little misunderstanding he witnessed the previous weekend. He had missed me after all, afraid that I’d been arrested and wouldn’t come back home.
I squatted to his eye level and unleashed one of many pep talks I was aware I’d have to give over the course of his lifetime. At the door, I made small talk with the officer before I told him of my predicament. His face brightened when he spotted Josh who was plastered to the back of my thighs. He took off his beret and humorously showed him an uneven, bald patch on his head. Josh laughed. The officer coaxed him out from behind me and shook his hand, showed him how to salute which piqued his interest enough that they began chatting, first about the uniform, then about the rifle.
The askari said, “Hii ni mbao na chuma tu. Apana ogopa bunduki. Bunduki apana shoot watu. Watu ndio nashoot watu.”
On the drive home, Josh couldn’t get enough of the cop’s accent. He wrestled against the seatbelt restlessly, mimicking the accent over and over and managing to amuse himself each time. I, on the other hand, pondered what the officer had said. A little chat I had meant to ease my son’s anxiety ended up being most informative for me. In a few words, the officer had summed up what I would adopt as my view on having Lenny carry his gun around me. Anything can be made into a weapon if the right person is wielding it. Therefore it’s not about the weapon, it’s about the person wielding it.
I wondered what Dad would think about that, having been an armed forest officer in the earlier days of his career in the forest service. I dared not ask him though. Besides, he wasn’t the one who had to live with an armed man. Mom was. It was her thoughts I most craved. Was she ever afraid for her life? Was there ever an ‘incident’? Did she know how to use the rifle and had she ever felt the need to know? I resolved to ask her about it clandestinely over the weekend, but life got in the way.
Alan’s incessant calls and texts continued throughout the week so that by Friday morning, he’d worn me out.
“I’m sober,” he said when I picked up.
“It’s ten o’clock in the morning. I’d be surprised if you weren’t.”
“No, I’m just putting it out there so that you know I’m asking for this soberly.”
“Of course you’re asking for something.” I rolled my eyes. “What is it?”
“Can we meet and talk?”
“I’m at work.”
“I can come to you over the lunch hour.”
“What’s there to talk about?”
The long and short of it was that he wanted to be let back into Josh’s life. He chose lunch hour on a workday knowing I’d be pressed for time and couldn’t get into it with him over his misgivings. Nonetheless, after the distasteful way he’d comported himself the previous weekend, I was happy not to spend a second more than necessary with him. Besides, I wanted it to be clear when I told Lenny about the meeting, that his efforts weren’t wasted on me. That I hadn’t gone and invited the leopard back into the sheep’s pen.
That Saturday I drove to my parents’ farm in Kiganjo, barely an hour away from my home. They thought that there was no harm in listening to what Alan had to say.
“Let him bring you his proposal,” my father said, ever the methodical one.
“A person’s father is their father,” Mom added with her usual sentimentality.
I was not convinced. There’s something about Kenyan baby boomers that still has the stink of colonization on it. Their threshold for suffering is so high that they remain pliable to situations we find unthinkable now.
Later, I asked Lenny what he thought and he said, “I am not an objective source of advice on children or co-parenting.”
I thought it was noble of him not to interfere. In fact, I was glad he was not predisposed to flattery or bias based on his loyalties. I would’ve found him suspicious if he’d taken my side right off the bat. I knew then that I could always rely on him for his honest opinion.
I hated the idea from the moment it left Alan’s chapped lips. He offered to pay child support but I knew how that would go. He’d make the first few payments, enough that I let my guard down and started getting used to the help. Then he would stop just so I would pursue him. Just so he’d know that my days were wracked with thoughts of him. He knew how it would grate on me to humiliate myself chasing him but he also knew that for Josh, I’d do it. Because he was so starved of it, any form of attention was good attention for Alan.
Along with child support, he wanted visitation rights, every other weekend to start with. Josh and I had a system in place, weekend routines established – afternoons out swimming, visiting the farm or watching movies, and hanging out at mall fountains. Then here comes Alan upsetting our whole lives. And what about when schools opened? Would he help him with his homework? I was dead-set against it, especially because it called for me to open myself up to the hope that he would keep up his end of the bargain. And hope sometimes ends in disappointment. I couldn’t stand it.
However, left to my own devices, I doubted myself. I thought that perhaps my folks knew something I didn’t, so I acquiesced. We began a ping-pong conversation about it that eventually morphed into a handshake agreement. Alan agreed to pay for Josh’s school fees and medical insurance premiums and I tacitly agreed that I wouldn’t mention, let alone ask for back pay. I didn’t want him to think that he could just swoop in when the hardest part was over, throw money at us and call himself a father. So I slid in attendance for half of the school events – the parent-teacher meetings and those sports days I loathed so much.
For visitation, he would come over to my house sober and consistently and spend time with Josh under my supervision. I was categorical about that. I thought he might be opposed to the supervision bit but he looked pleased, exuberant even.
When it was all settled, I was apprehensive but hopeful. Maybe we could make co-parenting work. Maybe all the contempt I had for Alan would melt away and be replaced by a cordial adult friendship. Perhaps it wasn’t too late to give Josh a firm sense of himself and where he belongs. To give him the security of coming from a home with two doting parents. To show him a good example of what his future relationships with women should look like. Maybe it wasn’t too late to raise him into the rare class of well-adjusted men.
At the same time, even though I suspected that Alan would pounce on any opportunity to weasel back into my life, I was clear in my mind that I had moved on. I felt unencumbered, free to see through whatever would come of Lenny entering my life. It was in this spirit that I called him on Friday evening after a long week of arduous negotiations with Alan. Per the new arrangement, Josh would now be spending all his weekends with me, leaving me no time to myself. With this in mind, I felt desperate for a night of dancing and the kind of indulgences that would make a nun blush. The last hurrah of sorts, before adulthood took over again and everything got hectic.
We ended up back at his place at a very unreasonable hour and barely made it through the door before we started kicking shoes off and flinging items of clothing across the room. I can’t tell you what the house looked like but I know that I bumped into a lot of furniture while groping our way to the bedroom. The floor was cold as porcelain in the bits that weren’t carpeted. He must’ve had one of those automatic air fresheners because I could smell it everywhere – something clean and blue, like aqua. I remember feeling lint balls against my legs and having to throw the covers off after the sweat we worked up. His sheets must’ve been made of polyester.
Then in my drunken, sated state, a thought popped into my mind. I told Lenny we could buy a safe for the house. That he could bring the gun with him but he’d have to stow it away in the safe.
“What is it, like twenty k?” I thought I heard myself slur aloud but he didn’t answer. My head swam. I thought maybe I’d had that whole conversation in my mind which made me chuckle. Then, just as I began drifting slowly into the arms of sweet slumber, nuzzling into his chest, giving in to the lullaby that was his heartbeat, he asked, “Are you awake?”
I opened my eyes. It was so dark that I could only make up shadows and inexistent shapes. I thought I had been dreaming and allowed myself to float back into semi-consciousness. He must’ve thought that I was asleep; it didn’t feel like a confession he meant for me to hear. He said, in a most tormented tone, “Em, I can’t have children.”
I sobered up. “I’m not asleep,” I said.
And the revelation just hung there like a garish chandelier you can’t stop looking at.
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