On Christmas evening, my sister and I are sitting outside talking about nothing in particular. The air is sharp and full, the kind that opens every pocket in your lungs. It smells minty because of the rosemary bushes mom has planted out-front. We watch the banana leaves swishing in the wind. A flock of weaverbirds has taken over a bamboo tree near the cowshed and formed an orchestra of unholy noise.
Nancy calls for the first time in weeks. She asks how Kagwe and I are doing. I say we couldn’t be better, spending Christmas with my family.
She says, “Oh,” and the line goes silent for a long minute.
She can’t bring herself to say anything else. I can hear the disappointment ringing in her silence. I don’t know why she must take personal offense that I rejected her advice to leave my husband and make a fool of myself confronting another woman. Am I supposed to destroy my marriage and soil my state of grace to show Kagwe that I am in charge? And I am to do this by being unnecessarily spiteful, crass and insecure? What happens when I cut him loose and he decides that he could actually do without all of that? Where is she when I wind up on the wrong end of that power struggle choking on crow?
I’ll tell you where she is. I’ll see her a month after she’s been dodging my calls and she’ll tell me (without being able to hide her glee) that her husband doesn’t want her hanging around the likes of me.
“You know, failed marriage and all…You know how it is,” she’ll say, tapping my shoulder, “You’re lucky you don’t have to put up with this anymore.”
As usual, she’ll act like her husband is such a drag, but she has hers and I don’t have mine. Then I’ll have to wonder why because it’s an open secret that Martin doesn’t send money home anymore. He might’ve abandoned her and the kids altogether and she’s not trying to cut him loose.
We know before we hang up, even without saying a word, that we won’t talk again for a long time. If we do, it will be strained because the landscape of our friendship has changed. What am I to do? I have outgrown certain trails of thought and the people hiking them.
It has been five years since I spent Christmas with my family in my childhood home. There is a horde of children – nieces, nephews and neighborhood kids – raising a ruckus all over the compound. They climb trees in search of raspberries while a pack of curious puppies howls and barks at them. One of the mothers emerges from the kitchen hands akimbo and tries to get them to come down.
“Brian! Shukeni chini!”
One of them, not Brian, mimics the woman’s voice. “Braayaaan! Shukeni chini!”
The older ones snigger and the younger ones, whose gills are not developed enough for laughter, let out piercing shrieks. They start chanting for Brian to get down from the tree and the chant turns into a song complete with drumming. For a good half hour, they’re up there swinging and singing like a tribe of monkeys. The mother throws her hands in the air and retreats to the kitchen, leaving the troop of monkeys to fill up on raspberries until they are bloated with food babies. We watch from our vantage point on the verandah, taking no responsibility. We are Nairobi folk after all, and we’ve taken an early start on the wine.
It’s all fun and games until one of them spots a tree frog and says it’s looking to burrow through someone’s nose. Chaos erupts and I’m sure people can hear the screaming in the village across the ridge. The men have to disband their baraza round the fireplace where they were downing mugs of goat soup to hurriedly deal with their offspring’s wayward ways.
As you can imagine, they are unhappy that their mellow evening has been disturbed. The kids whose parents are uncool receive a spanking right there while the rest watch in horror. Suffice to say this kills their mojo and they spend the rest of the evening sulking and being needy. Right then, I feel I am not too in a hurry to have one of those. Although, I have to admit that watching Kagwe coax the neighbor’s little girl to jump into his arms did stir the ovaries.
Once the commotion has settled, the men return to their soup, which they soon swap for traditional brew. I am surprised to find Kagwe holding a cup of his own. Any other time he would’ve turned his nose up at it and taken out his own fancy whiskey, which only affirmed that he had the airs my relatives already assumed he had on account of being a pilot. But here he is now with his mug and the men don’t let him catch a break.
They taunt him with what do you think Captain, is it up to your standards Captain and does it hurt your feet to walk on solid earth Captain. He remains good-natured about it and asks that they reserve a jerrican for him to carry home, much to their pleasure. In all likelihood, he will give it to Ochi, our estate’s watchman, but it’s good to see him having a true interaction with my side of the family. It’s good to see him making efforts for redress.
Do I occasionally taint my spirit with thoughts of this other woman whose name my tongue resists? Do I torture myself with images of Kagwe and her when I toss at night and lose my sleep? Do I watch him snoring for hours at a time, hands curled up on his chest, wondering if he goes to her in his dreams? Yes.
When I do, I think about the things he does right to quiet the doubt. I call on my intuition to speak to me, begging it not to lead me astray. I reckon that will go on for some time, until we get far away enough that the whole thing is but a speck in our rearview mirror. For now, he’s here, I’m here and in times like this, showing up is winning.
Hey Owlets 🙂 Alas, the curtains have closed on this part of Njambi and Kagwe’s story. We’re taking some time next week to catch our breath and will return in May with a brand new short story series. In the meantime catch a little flash fiction on our Facebook and Instagram pages. See you Thursday the 10th! Love & Light.