In the second month since Mel left for Cape Town I start to crack. It is not a sudden crack, like the snap of a twig. It is a gradual crack that crawls through my psyche the way one does on the walls of an old house. I don’t know when it started; it just appears.
I’m sitting in traffic one afternoon on my way from the airport. The sun is hell-hot. The road is silvery. There’s a matatu trying to cut in front of me, and a breeze blows my way. It isn’t cool on my skin but it brings with it a fragrance that teases the hairs in my nostrils. I turn my nose upwards and try to catch all of it. For a moment it seems like she is sitting next to me, legs crossed, looking out at the passing buildings, trees and powerlines. Five seconds, seven seconds and then it is gone. Mel’s scent is gone. An unchecked thought pops into my mind. God, I miss her.
A few days later, a calendar notification pops up on my phone. I realize, swelling with pride, that I have hacked 50 days of no contact. Mehn. Fifty days…you have done well for yourself. I pat myself on the back. That all lasts for about five minutes before it occurs to me that she has also made no attempt to contact me. I haven’t had to decline her calls or leave her messages on read. It puts a damper on my triumph. Does it still count if she hasn’t buckled? Yes, it’s not about her, it’s about me.
In the weeks that follow, everything seems to remind me of her. I see a meme that I know she would find funny, or catch a movie and wonder what she would think about it. I hear a song in the car and turn it off because she doesn’t like it. I take pictures of my view from the cockpit and it takes everything not to send them to her. I wonder what she might say about the lighting and perspective. Once, on a flight back from Cape Town I think I’ve seen her. I have a whole scenario play out in my mind throughout the flight.
She’d hear my voice come over the intercom as I did the in-flight announcements.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We have now reached our cruising altitude and I’ve turned off the seatbelt sign. Feel free to move about as you wish.”
When we landed, she’d hang around the entrance to the cockpit and ask one of the crewmembers, “Excuse me, who was the Captain on this flight?”
I would emerge just before Janet or Brenda brushed her off and say, “It’s all right. She’s with me.”
This is what she would do. She’d be standing there, that damned blue bag with the polka dots in tow. She would cock her head to the side, smile and nod, “Captain.”
I would fight like hell to hold her gaze because man does not blush. Man does not succumb to jelly legs. Man does not grin like a smitten teenager. I would take her on a quick tour of the cockpit, maybe take her to dinner and drive her home from the airport. The whole thing would be poetic. But life’s rarely poetic, isn’t it?
After a while, missing her turns sour, like curdled milk. Fondness turns to aching. I have a physical reaction in my chest. Missing her burdens me. It pisses me off that she could have such a hold over me. Each day the feeling intensifies and bubbles slowly to the fore of my mind. I go to sleep riddled with thoughts of her. Not surprisingly, she shows up in my dreams. Those dreams where you can’t see a person’s face but you know it’s them. When I wake up, my mind picks up where it left off. It feels like unpausing an old CD you hate every time you start the car because it is stuck in the CD player. I start to think that I might actually hate her.
God, I hate her. I hate her so much!
It is 3:30 AM on a Thursday morning when I have this revelation. I am up preparing for a 5:00 AM flight to Lubumbashi. I am sitting on the kitchen counter having breakfast. Daisy is dream growling on her doggy bed. Njambi is asleep upstairs. My phone pings. I almost fall over the high stool. It is a picture of a spectacular sunset in wine country in South Africa.
‘I found that Blue Owl merlot we had at Sigona. Apparently, this is where they make it.’
I stand up and pace around the kitchen because some things demand motion. Some things send the universe into dance and you find yourself doing a jig barefoot on the kitchen floor. It is as if she has opened a floodgate of euphoria. She thought about me! She thought about me! Mh! Mh! Mh! Mel thought about me! I leap for my phone and reply quickly before she goes offline.
‘Yeah. My head is throbbing from all this kwaito. I’m about done with it.’
She’s back from a rave? ‘Have you tried Jazz? It’s pretty big over there.’
I start to tell her about my time in South Africa and this Jazz festival I went to but then she replies with, ‘Oh my gosh! *frustrated emoji* Do you even know me at all?’
I delete it. All right, we’re not off to a great start. I want to say, ‘No, you’re a bit of a puzzle actually.’ But I don’t. It seems to me that she just wants to vent so I open the floor to her. ‘How’ve you been?’
I don’t moan about how long it’s been. I don’t tell her I missed her so much it hurt. I don’t tell her I wished she’d sent me more photos. Told me how her photography classes went. Had she been to Robben Island? Did she see what I was talking about and what did she think? I remain impervious to the urge to ask her when she’s coming back, if she’s coming back at all.
What I really want to know is; is some South African umfana clicking in her ears at night? Does she look at him with her doe eyes and ask him what that means? Does he whisper back something salacious and does she giggle and say, “Oh stop! You’re so bad!”
I click just thinking about it.
I pose the question to her and she says, ‘Lots of chubby chunkies. Not my type.’
I look at my belly. I think about how she slaps it when I’ve said something silly and funny.
‘I thought chubby chunkies were your exact type.’
She laughs and says, ‘I only have room for one and that seat is already taken.’
Okay… okay… she means me right? It would be an otherwise mean thing to tell me.
She sends me a few more shots she’s taken, but none with her in them. I don’t ask for any because she’s telling me about her work and that’s important to her. Only a jerk would be all like, “Send pics of you.” Points to Kagwe for reading the mood.
‘The chef at this house I’m staying at garnishes the food using flowers, which is great for photography but I would kill for some plain nyamchom right now. Their steak is mad spiced, medium rare, honey glazed’
‘Those all sound like good things to me!’
‘They are not! I’m tired of this cooked apples biashara…’
She goes on a full rant about the food and I listen. At this point, I think about saying, “Come home. I’ll take you to Olepolos we stuff our faces with meat.”
She would love that. I know she would, but then I do some quick math. It already sounds like she wants to come home. Why show my hand if I don’t need to? I’m not about to let myself sound all needy, not especially if she is going to throw those things back in my face. Besides, how do I even know what this is? After two months of no talking, she just pings me in the middle of the night? Maybe it is just a moment of weakness and I’ll be making a fool of myself trying to make something of it. Maybe she is just bored.
I check the time and realize that I have to speed to the airport because we have been chatting for forty-five minutes. I am running fifteen minutes behind, so I tell her that I have to take off. When I land back in Nairobi later that evening, I check my phone. Our conversation is right where I left it.
“Maybe she just missed you,” Mwai tells me over some cold ones. “Look, why don’t you just ask her? Women like to talk.”
Since he started dating Olivia, he’s become a relationship guru overnight. I didn’t think it possible after that mess with Karen, but homeboy seems to have bounced back.
“Not Mel.” Mel is something out of an alternate world where she’s the puzzle, and I’m the one trying to put the pieces together.
“What if, and I’m just spitballing here, what if she’s in exactly the same position you are in and she took initiative in the hopes that you might reciprocate?” Mwai comes through with another touchdown.
What if indeed? That would make me the jerk in this situation.
She doesn’t say anything for another two weeks and neither do I. I wait five days to take shots of River Congo on my flight from Ndola for her but they don’t turn out great. I have already shown her my Kilimanjaro shots, and the ones of the Zambezi delta. Had I not waited five days I might’ve been able to ease back into the conversation. Whenever I try now, my stomach knots up.
My first officer tells me I have been making kangaroo landings, bouncing everyone around. Every buzz on my phone has me overwrought. If Njambi notices, she doesn’t say anything. It feels like Mel hit the reset button on my two months of progress and now I have to start over. I rue that morning she texted because I had actually started to settle back into my old life. I had been present with Njambi, asking how her days were. I’d gotten a read on what was going on at her office. The vacation seemed to do her good. She has been less broody and my house doesn’t feel like a minefield.
Then, last Saturday Ng’endo comes over talking about, “You have to get me this photographer,” and puts me right back on the minefield.
Sigh. Man can’t catch a break.
Kagwe’s World continues next week.