Outside, the sky is a pink-grey canvas bleeding micro droplets of water. The trees are still. There’s no sound of traffic. The soil is wet and the earthy air is tingling my nostrils. It’s a pleasant sensation. I draw in more of it and blow it into my hands. It comes out steamy. On the powerlines, a bird is perched on one leg. The other is tucked into its fanned out feathers.
Even the birds are still asleep and this man wants to go on a walk!
The grass is wet with dew and it reminds me of my school going days when it would soak into my canvas shoes, and they wouldn’t dry until after ten o’clock break when I got out in the sun. That’s probably why mornings have always been miserable for me. On the perimeter wall, a cat shines its eyes at me like laser beams. The streetlights are still on when Harry comes to pick me up. There are light bugs dancing around them.
He’s leaning on the hood of his car when I go down to meet him. He pulls me flush against him, wraps one arm around me and parts my lips with his. A tide of warmth surges through me. For a long moment it feels like we’re the only two people in the world. I come out of it heady, take a breath and then he locks me in this swirling dance again. The moon peeks through a parting in the clouds and is quickly covered up. We made her blush.
“Good morning,” he says, rubbing his cold nose on mine.
“Morning,” I squeak.
“It’s nice to steal these moments of quiet, don’t you think?”
I have to agree.
His car is warm and smells like coffee. It’s a short drive from my house to Karura Forest. There’s barely anyone on the road but when we get there, two cars are parked in the lot. A white couple are signing in with their bikes while another man, a jogger, waits in line. I rub my hands together for warmth and tuck my nose inside my jacket. When we get through the gate he takes me on the five-kilometer trail.
“This is just a walk, right?” I ask Harry. “Coz I don’t do any of this.” And I didn’t wear a sports bra.
“Relax, I just needed some air and good company.”
He tells me he’s an early riser because he finds most clarity in the morning. The only reason I’d wake up that early is for a shooting assignment, and I haven’t had to in a long while. Most times I’m working late into the night shooting corporate dinners for their newsletters. Occasionally I get some travel work or a private party when Makena has no work for me, and rarely does it require me to rise early.
He says he usually reads in the morning but he couldn’t read today.
“I read the same paragraph like three times and then I said you know what, it’s Saturday morning. I should try something different.”
He strikes me as a doer. When he decides on something he goes full steam ahead without too much deliberation. That’s the only way he would offer me, a complete stranger, a lift home, and drop everything he was doing to come bail me out when my van broke down.
On the walk, he asks if I always wanted to be a photographer. I tell him what I tell everyone. I finished my Masters in Counseling Psychology and worked exactly two jobs before I opted for a strategic disengagement. The first of those jobs was at a rehab center I had no business being at. The second of those jobs was as the personal assistant of a family therapist. She’d taken me on as a favor to my mom. The pay was no good and the work was mostly clerical, but she let me shadow her sometimes. As I still harbored some ambition to start my outfit in that line someday, I stayed for the experience.
When she took on a young, female patient who didn’t mind having me in the room, she started inviting me to chime in. Sharon had come in to work through her trouble with relationships. The afternoon of my undoing, she asked my opinion on making the first move on a love interest of hers.
There were several things playing out in my life at that time. For starters, I’d been on the dating scene a while and it was bleak. Secondly, before then I had been a learner soaking up everyone else’s views and playing by their rules. Then I started to experience life as an individual and form my own opinion on things and I happened to form the strongest ones on that particular subject.
This is what I told her.
In my own thinking, there are only two reasons hunters hunt. The first, is to gorge on their prey, and the second is for bragging rights. So they can pose next to them with their rifles and exhibit their work and later ravage their bodies for trophies. I’d been in relationships where I’d been consumed to the point of not recognizing myself. I’d been with a man who isolated me from my family, friends, even dreams. I’d met men whose sole concern was how my hips fit on their palms, and men who wanted me to spend all my time with them, but wouldn’t spend a minute of theirs getting to know me.
I knew what it was like to be a fixture, a rug on someone’s floor, a trophy on another’s wall. Shaking the life back into myself was a fight. So the whole idea of being told to identify with prey like a rare piece of steak, and give a man a good chase for his thrill, made no sense to me. I told Sharon as much.
“As a woman who knows her own mind, I find this culture disempowering,” I rambled on. “Has a man’s value ever been assessed by his attainability? Why should yours be? I think you should go for it.”
I was pepper green and didn’t know that when called upon to speak as someone’s shadow, you’re supposed to parrot them. In saying so, I had directly contradicted my boss and she was unimpressed. Even though she had invited me to give my unbiased opinion, she said that I’d brought my own politics into the patient’s treatment. That it was unprofessional of me and disrespectful to her. I should’ve known my place.
She fired me.
The whole thing left me with a bad taste in my mouth. During the time I was unemployed, I started to listen to my little voice. I realized that being a therapist would always empty me and I didn’t want to be empty for the rest of my life. I needed a career that would fill me and I found that fulfilment in photography.
“Okay, you have baggage too,” Harry says. “I’m in good company. I knew you’d be good company.”
The leaves crunch under our shoes. From a distance we can hear the quiet rush of a stream. A bush squirrel dashes across the branches of a tree. The drops start to get bigger and it looks like the sky will open up soon. We end up taking a brisk walk back but by the time we get to the car, winded, it has already started to pour. Harry says we can’t go anywhere in that rain. We get comfortable in the warmth of the AC, listen to 80s boogie music and watch Soul Train on YouTube. At a certain point I’ll start worrying that he’s too old for me, but not now. Not when he’s this excited about Kool & The Gang.
Kicking my feet up on the dash reminds me of my nights with Kagwe, but I feel no compulsion to dwell on him. Relationships, like other living things, wilt when not fed. I don’t feel sad about it because then they return to the soil and something else grows in their place. I’m having the time of my life singing along to ‘Get down on it’ with a man who’s come all this way to buy me breakfast and take me on a walk. The sun has shined on my garden patch. Something new has already sprouted.
Taste of Mel continues here: The Witch’s Lair19