Sometimes, life hands you a gift when you’re not looking for anything. You’re just going about your business, worried about the same old things. Am I burning through money too fast? Is my job secure with all the instability at work? Why do I feel stuck? So you go out for a drink, if only to squeeze out the numbness and that’s when you meet her. A few things jump out about her, but they’re nothing you haven’t seen before. Yet there’s an energy about her, something you can never quite place your finger on.
She is like a magician’s never-ending, handkerchief trick. Just when you think you’ve pulled out the last one, you find another one underneath. She’s warm, easy to talk to and you begin to find a kind of joy in peeling off those layers. You keep going back because you want (and secretly hope) to be the only one who gets to see her bared. Things are challenging and confusing. You sometimes wonder whether you need that kind of turbulence in your life, but with her, you feel alive. You feel energized. More importantly, you feel safe to be yourself.
This is what I’m thinking about – how I met Mel. It’s three thirty in the morning and I’m parked outside my house. Nothing like a little darkness, silence and solitude to spark an existential crisis. When things are about to go wrong, I can usually smell it like a storm in the wind. In hindsight, I probably could’ve stopped it – the fight. There were red flags – subtle, but present. The shrugs. The one-word answers. The small smiles that didn’t touch her eyes. I had just driven her home and we were seated in her driveway – not much unlike this one – when she talked me into opening the envelope.
“Just man up and open the damn thing,” she said. Then she burped. I should’ve known it was the vodka talking. Vodka is the devil. Knowing that I couldn’t put it off much longer, I braced myself and tore the envelope. We took turns perusing the contents.
“What do you know about Bahrain?” I asked her.
The offer letter from Gulf Air was now sitting on the dashboard.
“Besides that it’s an Arab state, not much else,” she said. “Is this a good offer?”
“It’s a great offer – better pay and perks for sure.”
“We would have to move to Bahrain.”
She was quiet for a while, biting her nails in deep thought. “Do you think Njambi will go for it?”
“I’m not sure… but my contract is coming up for review, and there are rumors of more staff being leased to Ethiopia Air. The offer from Gulf Air expires two weeks before my contract review. If I pass on it…I don’t know.”
“If she doesn’t I can always take you with me,” I said, stroking her chin. I’ve replayed it in my mind and resolved that that exact moment, with my hand on her chin, was where shit hit the fan. It was a joke of course, one that she found not just cruel but ‘incredibly cruel’. I should have taken it back. I would have, had I been levelheaded, but I wasn’t. Instead, I got defensive.
“What do you mean ‘incredibly cruel’?”
She said, “You know exactly what I mean.”
I said, “I don’t.”
She said, “The hell you don’t.”
I looked at her incredulously. She squared herself and cleared her throat. Then, in the most annoying voice I have ever heard, she presumed to do an impression of me. “Oh Mel, I don’t want to hurt you. Oh Mel, I don’t want to lead you on. Oh Mel, I’m a good man,” she said.
“First of all, I don’t even sound like that and I can’t belie – I CANNOT believe you would throw those things back in my face like that!”
She rolled her eyes. I wish I could tell you that she was repentant, that this was where it ended, but it wasn’t. She said even more inflaming things to which I responded in kind. We got in a full-fledged shouting match. The longer it went, the more surprised I was at myself, but I just couldn’t stop. She really got under my skin!
“You are a manipulative, withholding, narcissistic little –”
Damn! That’s mean! “Okay! This, this right here,” I waved my hand back and forth between us, “Is exactly why I could never be with you. I don’t need this!”
There are a few times in my life when it has become immediately apparent to me that I have overshot the mark. Several times when I’ve tried to slice an avocado with the precision of a Thai fruit vendor and ended up with a mushy mess in my hands. And, once in flying school when I overshot the runway and almost gave my flight instructor a heart attack. They had to bring out a fire engine and everything.
I overshot the mark on that one. Went overboard. Breached overkill territory. And I couldn’t walk it back either. I could tell because she blinks about a hundred times per minute when she’s regular irritated with me – like when I leave her to get off a high stool by her (short, short) self or forget to pace down for her.
She wasn’t blinking then. Her lips just started quivering and the tears weren’t far behind. There was a bit of half-crying and half-laughing and then she wiped her cheeks, squeezed my hand and turned to leave. Perhaps it is the way her nails dug into my palm or how cold her fingers were – I don’t know. (They are always sub zero even when the heat is up in the car.) It stirred something wretched in me. It started with the smell of blood in my nose and a metallic taste at the back of my mouth. It reeked of goodbyes and an unsettling feeling of the ground shifting beneath my feet. Then, in quick succession, snapshot memories as powerful as a time machine hurtled through my mind.
The sterile smell of the hospital. The doctor saying, “He’s not crying.” The silent plea in Njambi’s eyes. The impotence. The nurse handing him to us in the blanket Njambi bought because we’d ‘need something to remember him by’. The way I slipped my finger in the little fella’s hand and willed him to squeeze it.
“No, don’t go. Mel, don’t go.”
I’m not sure how long I sat there, staring at the gate. Eventually I started the car. Its tires crunched against the gravel as I backed out of the driveway. I was handing the watchie my gate pass when he ducked his head and peered through the window.
“Boss, uko sawa?”
Argh no. If he starts telling me he hasn’t eaten since morning because he’s a donda by day and watchie by night I will lose it. I tossed him a pack of airline nuts and drove off. I was seeing in tunnel vision at this point. I can’t say why I brushed my hand against my collar, but I did and it felt wet against my neck. Where is this coming from? I felt my face and then I felt my shirt again. I’m not – I don’t – I’m crying? What the hell.
I can see Daisy’s paws under the front door. She knows I’m home. If I don’t go in she’ll start scratching the door and barking. Then I’ll really hear about it in the morning if she wakes Njambi. I better go in. She sits at my feet in the kitchen as I munch on cold pork ribs. I can’t help but share them with her even though I’m not supposed to reward her when she’s begging. Sssh! Don’t tell. Watching her mark time on her paws and wag her tail so eagerly helps me put everything out of mind, for the time being at least. Then I walk up to the bedroom, wash the day off and slip into bed.