The coughs of a lorry and a banging on my gate wake me up. The tent people have come to collect their tents and chairs. Njambi rolls over in her sleep. She must be dog-tired. I rouse myself and head downstairs feeling grateful for the noise. It has stirred my guests from sleep, which is great, because I’m hoping to shuffle them all out before lunchtime. Tomorrow is a workday and Njambi needs her rest. It is also my last day off before the night shift rotation. Any other day I would leap for the opportunity to make myself unavailable until Njambi was pacified, but this time I’ve taken it too far. I can feel it. These last two days I’ve been an air dancer flailing in the wind. I need to do damage control.
Ng’endo ambles downstairs and makes breakfast for everyone, which mostly pertains microwaving yesterday’s leftovers. Outside, my yard is ruined. The workers pluck out the tent pegs and leave mounds of soil lumped around the holes. There are trampled lily petals strewn about. Some uncouth people who failed to appreciate the value of fine landscaping trampled all over Njambi’s flower garden. She’s not going to be happy about that.
Philomena – a quiet pleasant woman who appears to be in her forties – arrives with her daughter to clean the house. She is dressed in simple clothes and clutches her coin purse to her stomach as she walks by. Ah, perfect excuse to hurry everyone along. I offer lifts to the bus station to everyone who will fit in my car. No relative left behind.
When I get back home, the house is quiet. Finally. It smells peachy. The patio is still wet and all the windows have been opened. It looks like Philomena and her daughter have just left. I’ve brought Teriyaki takeout for lunch because a hurricane of relatives went through the kitchen and emptied it. Daisy perks her ears up when she sees me but doesn’t wag her tail. She curls back up on her doggy bed as if to say, “You’re on your own dude.”
I dilly-dally in the kitchen trying to calm my nerves. I consider taking a shot of whiskey but Njambi will smell it on me and it’ll piss her off. I decide against it.
I find her on a garden chair with a cup of tea in the backyard. Her eyes are puffy from crying herself to sleep. She acknowledges me by looking up, but says nothing. As I lay out the food, I fill the silence with prattle – a nervous habit. She does a thing where she establishes unflinching eye contact and doesn’t feel the need to speak. The silence damn near drives me crazy. I’ll break a sweat and she won’t even have said anything.
She takes little bites, more out of politeness than hunger. I consider inching closer, but I can tell from the way she’s sitting that she will not be receptive to my touch. So I just sit there, bracing myself for a verbal thrashing.
She doesn’t say anything.
When I’ve ran out of things to prattle on about, I decide to bite the bullet. “Aren’t you going to say anything?”
“What would you like me to say?”
“I know I stayed out late the other night and I shouldn’t have. Time just flew by.”
“Time just flew by?”
Oh no. Whenever she repeats my statements back to me, I know it was the wrong thing to say.
“Time just flies by when you’re with her,” she says picking lint off her sweatpants.
“That’s not what I said.”
“You didn’t have to say it. I saw the way you were looking at her, and I know you too well to pretend that I don’t understand what that look means,” she chuckles sadly. “How long?”
“How long what?”
“How long have you known her? Did you know her when she took pictures of us at Safari Park? Or was that when it started?”
“What didn’t happen?”
Aah. That was a mistake.
“I didn’t say anything did,” she says. “Why are you being defensive?”
I exhale. What can I say? Have I blurred the lines with Mel? Have I been reckless? A little bit, yes. But it’s not for lack of trying. In great romance stories, people who love each other are kept apart by wacky misunderstandings, sinking ships and memory loss. Perhaps those things do happen in real life, but in my life, I have been my own stumbling block – me and all the hangars in my heart that accommodate so much feeling, and all the teeny tiny runways that refuse to let those feelings take off.
“You know, you’re hardly ever here, so if you go, I’ll be just fine. But if you want to go, you’ve got to say so. Don’t do this thing where you stand outside the door frame and watch me pouring my everything into a marriage you’ve checked out of. It’s not fair.”
“I haven’t checked out. I’m hardly ever here because I’m working.”
“And you’re here all the time when you’re not working?”
“Are you here all the time when you’re not working?”
“Ha! Two minutes in and you’re already turning it around on me. That’s a new record for you,” she rolls her eyes. “I’m not the one coming home smelling like a – aargh! You know what, I can’t do this. I’m not this person. Stop making me into this person,” she exhales. “Make up your mind, all right? Stop pussyfooting around. Either you’re in this marriage, or you’re not. If you’re not, you should say so, sooner rather than later. And if you are, you better act like it.”
There it is. Mehn. She is not playing around. She gets up to leave but then I guess she remembers something else she wants to say and whips her head around.
“And stop playing circus with our hearts, juggling us around like…like…”
The next thing I know, a pillow is flying at my head.
Later in the afternoon, Mel sends pictures of the graduation along with an invoice. I have been banished from the house to go and think about my life and such like things. So I’m sitting in my car, streaming videos on my phone, trying to be pensive but sulking instead.
“So what’s the verdict? Has she kicked you out? Can we finally run away together?”
“Dark jokes? No, thank you.”
“I’m still raw from breaking my lens,” she says. “I’m in a dark place.”
“That makes two of us. Where are you? Dark places improve drastically when you’re with someone else.”
She hesitates, and then she says, “That’s a terrible idea.”
“Come on. Be a champion of my sobriety. I really don’t want to drink today. I’m starting to think I might be an alcoholic.”
“You’re not an alcoholic Kagwe, you’re just a sad man.”
“I don’t feel sad. I feel untethered.”
“Maybe not right this moment. But if you think wide and deep, you’ll find it’s true.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean… I think that now that Njambi has moved past grieving your child you don’t know what to do with your own grief. It’s eating you from the inside, so you try to fill your days with work and booze and noise and…” she sighs, “and me.”
“Remind me why you stopped practicing again?”
She laughs. “You’re deflecting, but all right. Try it on for size and see how it fits.”
She is right; I am deflecting. Sometimes, when we’re talking she psychoanalyzes me. It makes me uncomfortable. She is a photographer now, has been for a few years, but before that she was a psychology major. I asked her once why she left the profession.
She said, “With therapy, you’re sitting on a couch listening to stories about the worst moments in people’s lives. But with photography, you’re out in the field capturing people’s best moments. Awards, weddings, business launches. They’re both great jobs, but photography is better for my spirit.”
I thought it was interesting because she is such a wise old soul. I know for sure that’s why I gravitated towards her, not because I was trying to fill my days.
As the moon comes up, Njambi flips the lights on in the living room. She comes outside and leans against the door frame arms crossed.
“There’s tea,” she says, and then she goes back inside and I don’t see her the rest of the evening. She doesn’t come to bed at night. When she leaves for work in the morning, I only hear her car as she’s driving out of the gate. It takes me a while to notice, but the reading lamp from her bedside is gone. Her favorite perfume is not on the dresser, neither is her shampoo in the bathroom.
Hell. She has moved out of our bedroom.
I’m losing her.
I’m losing them both.