As told by Mel
World Cup season finds me in Ukunda, South Coast for a three-day intercultural conference. Makena hooked me up with this photography gig but I couldn’t bring Sally because she’s taking a videography class. She would’ve been happy to ditch it for the beach but I couldn’t pay for her air ticket. Which means I’m dead bored and have backaches from having to sit in for all these speeches and plenary sessions alone.
When my phone buzzes in my pocket, I leap when I see his name on Caller ID.
“Tomorrow’s my day off and I was thinking I could take you somewhere,” he says.
I smile. He never says when it’s his day off. “What do you have in mind?”
“Eer…good food, good music and excellent company kama K.”
“I’m glad you think I’m excellent company,” I say, tongue in cheek.
“I was talking about myself.”
“I know!” I laugh. “I would love to, except I’m in Coasto right now. Work stuff.”
“And I’m in Zanzibar.” Goodness. I can feel him shrugging over the phone. Of course he would say that because why ask when I’m coming back like a normal human being?
“My flight isn’t till tomorrow evening.”
“Huh,” he pauses. “All right. Say hi to your mean assistant.”
“Her name is Sally and she’s a darling.”
“Humph. She’s a darling with those dirty looks she gives me?”
“She has good reason to. Anyway I’ll say hi when I get back.”
“Oh, you’re not together? I thought you go everywhere together.”
“No, I couldn’t pay for her flight this time.”
“Huh.” I can tell he’s toying with the edge of his moustache as he does when he’s thinking. “I’ll call you right back.”
He doesn’t call right back, but then, he never calls right back. He is particular about certain things, but the terms ‘right back’ for him have an arbitrary meaning. As soon as they leave his mouth they trigger a silent standoff between us. I have always thought he does it to throw me off or draw me out to engage him. He enjoys those kinds of shenanigans. Nonetheless, on this day he calls four hours later and says, “Where should I tell my cab driver I’m going?”
I nearly do a Charlie Chaplin jump.
“You came? You actually came? You just hopped on a plane and came?”
“Yes. Don’t ever say I didn’t cross the ocean for you,” he says, clearly pleased with himself. It’s the cheesiest thing ever but it takes my breath away. I want to ask him if he held onto that one the entire trip but I just stand there wide-eyed and dry-mouthed. I have to glance at a napkin to remember the exact name of the resort I’m staying at.
My room is on the ground floor overlooking the pool and garden. I’ve asked for room service so that we can eat on the veranda. There are bees buzzing around pink lilies so we shut the slide door. There’s honey on the room service tray and we don’t want them going in the room. The sky has taken on shades of purple that remind me of my childhood, when dad’s friends would give Nina and me money and we’d rush off to the shops to buy KSL sweets. I especially loved the purple blackcurrant ones which had a full, rounded flavor. Afterwards we’d go look at the color on our tongues on mom’s mirror. I feel oddly warm and safe here. It is warm actually, despite the constant drizzle brought on by the tide turning.
“So what would it look like, if we did it?” he asks.
“I just want something easy,” I say. “I want something where we say what we mean, mean what we say, and do what we say we will.”
“That does sound like a good start,” he says. “What do you think wouldn’t work?”
“Everything is a power trip with you,” I say without thinking. “You’re so used to being in control you don’t know how to turn it off.”
“Aaaiihh!” he is taken aback, but I stand by my words. “Are you saying I am controlling?”
“Not overtly. You just want what you want and you’re not above using manipulation to get it. And when I don’t comply you become passive-aggressive.” It is the quality I find most unattractive about him. “I have to keep my guard up all the time; it’s exhausting. This can’t be the first time you’re hearing this.”
Or perhaps it is, I don’t know. Maybe he’s used to being around people who don’t call him out on his bad behavior.
“What about you?”
“What about me?”
“You’re a pronunciation nazi.”
“I am not!”
“You are too! Remember last week I pronounced myriad wrong and you were like, ‘I think you’re thinking of tirade, it’s myriad, not mirade.’”
I laugh. “It is myriad! Mi-ri-ad. You were thinking of tirade!”
“That’s not a real thing though.”
“But it’s annoying in a real way. That, and your impressions of my voice.”
“You’re just as annoying as I am but we’re not talking about annoyances. Those will always be there. You have to say a real thing.”
“All right,” he thinks about it for a moment. “You’re a withdrawer. When things get intense you run away. It makes it hard to solve conflict with you. Our fights are unnecessarily drawn out. It gives me headaches that I could do without.”
“I don’t know that I agree with that, but okay.” Now he’s not pulling any punches? “Power struggles and conflict resolution? Those are solvable problems. We could learn to communicate better.”
“True,” he nods. “What do you think is our deal breaker? The thing that would be a mushroom-cloud-boom in our relationship?”
I sigh and watch a line of sugar ants frantically colliding and climbing over each other towards a crack in the balcony where they’ve bored a hole. Next to it is a lump of sand and what looks like breadcrumbs. I follow their trail with my eyes all the way back to the room. They must be coming from the tea rack.
“All right, I’m just going to say it.”
“I could never trust you,” I breathe out.
“I could never trust you. I think this will hang over our heads for the rest of our lives. Or at least for the foreseeable future. I would never get over the fear that you’ll find someone else and replace me. It would make me insecure and crazy and in turn I would drive you crazy with curfews and suspicion and accusations… Even if you weren’t cheating, it would drive you to pull away from me and I’d be like Aha! I knew you were cheating on me!”
“Mmh. Yeah. That does sound like a mushroom cloud boom,” he says, dismayed. “Why though? You know me, or at least I think you do.”
“A relationship changes things. We’re more vulnerable and more susceptible to act from a place of fear and egoistic motivations. It wouldn’t be easy.”
“It doesn’t have to be, I just want to know that we could make it work.”
“Can you imagine the humiliation if it didn’t?”
He chuckles. “We’re not doing it to prove anything to anyone. This is between us.”
“Are we still speaking hypothetically?”
He leans forward in his seat. “What do you think?”
We take the steps down the Bombardier Dash 8, minutes to 7PM. He drags my suitcase across the tarmac and I follow him closely behind, clutching onto my sunhat as the chilly evening breeze of Nairobi whips about. In the staff parking lot, we take his car. He glances at me and squeezes my hand. I search his face for doubts but he looks tranquil, more so now that he just took a one-day vacation at the beach. I take a deep breath and try to quell the fluttering in my stomach.
How are we going to do this?
When we join Mombasa Road, we’re grateful that there’s not much traffic. Everyone’s either at home or at the local catching the Senegal vs Colombia game. He speeds up and weaves masterfully through the cars. Usually, I think nothing of it because I’ve seen him do it enough times, but this time I find myself gripping onto the car door handle. Being pregnant has brought on all these subtle changes.
Right around the quagmire that is the Southern Bypass joining Mombasa road, while on the extreme right lane, I hear a loud burst. I know the tire on my side has blown out because the car dips and veers slightly into the next lane. My mind registers vaguely that a small delivery truck in that lane tries to brake but they still bump into us, enough to send our car spinning into the inner lanes.
The next thing I know, we’re facing oncoming traffic. There are cars hooting and swerving around us, but of particular concern are the blinding headlights of what looks like a cargo trailer heading right for us.
Oh God. I’m gonna die on this road! We’re gonna die on this ro –
Well well. So that happened. Wanjiru here, in case the five asterisks up there didn’t make it clear. This is my side note. Apologies for yanking you out of the story like that. You’ll notice that today’s story is shorter than usual and has leaps in the arc. It is an excerpt of the final chapters of Taste of Mel that I am working on. In the next few weeks I’m going to be editing and rewriting Taste of Mel, after which I will compile it and put it up on Amazon. My plan is to make the ebook available for sale on Amazon at the start of December and I’m praying hard that it’s in alignment with God’s plan. These final chapters will be exclusive to the book, which means this is the last Taste of Mel story I’m posting.
It might be quiet here for a bit, although I’ll try and pop in every once in a while. Otherwise if you haven’t, join the Telegram group where I sometimes talk about the books I’m reading (or having trouble reading). There’s a fun gang on that side that does a deep dive into the stories and the themes explored and it might be your cup of tea (or it might not, your choice.)
It’s been a good run. Here’s to us.13