As told by Mel
On Sunday, I step out of the May, morning drizzle and wipe the dew and grass off my shoes on the door mat outside my house. Inside, I am greeted by the hum of my fridge, the foulness of a half cup of tea I left unfinished in the sink, and the sourness of being bereft. Jonathan has left.
When I left for work on Friday, I thought I’d be back home in the afternoon. I meant to just pop into the office to get word on whether the magazine accepted our pitch for the photo essay, and they did. Then Jonathan called with great news. He got his stripes. He’s a Captain now. Everything’s lining up perfectly. We had every intention of going out to celebrate but we ended up back at his place.
“It hasn’t even been two weeks and you’re leaving already,” I said. The upgrade meant that he needed to go for training before taking over the left seat.
“Not for long, I’ll be back before you miss me,” he said.
“I already miss you,” I whined. “You’ll be all the way in Amsterdam.”
“Well I’m here now, so feast to your content,” he said. And that’s how we ended up staying in, crumpling the sheets, Leon bridges breathing tunes out of the stereo in the background.
I saw him off at the airport this morning and tried not to let on how anxious I was about things changing between us while he was away. It is only ten days, but an earthquake only takes thirty seconds to swallow a town whole. A lot can happen in ten days.
I put on Seinabo Sey and turn the volume up. Then I unclasp my bra, which seems to have shrunk overnight and is now digging into my ribs. God, that feels great! Wrinkling my nose, I head towards the offending smell and pour the tea down the sink, all the while gagging. I have to sniff the citrus dishwashing soap on the counter to keep from retching. I grab a new roll of tissue on my way to the toilet, tinkle and continue to sit there catching up on memes, the three hundred and fourteen messages on my WhatsApp groups and everyone I’ve been ignoring the last two days.
I sit there so long my thighs start to go numb. All the blood drains from my head when I stand up. The floor swims in my head and I have to sit wobbly back down. As I sit there blinking, I have an unsettling moment of déjà vu and of course I do what everyone does when they get déjà vu. I try to remember the real memory because the brain does not thrive under the reign of dissonance. It comes back to me after a few tries, and I immediately regret going down that rabbit hole.
The year was 2014 and Sauti Sol had just released ‘Nishike’. In characteristic fashion, radio folk were cawing about it incessantly. It was an ordinary Wednesday, a quiet day rid of matatu hoots and the rumblings of a boda here or a mjengo there. Nothing in the air could’ve foreshadowed the life-changing events awaiting me later on that day. I remember it in technicolor because when I got out of bed that morning, the olive green ceiling swirled in my head. I pushed through the wooziness and thinking that I was just hungry, tried to make some eggs. As soon as I cracked them though, I had to eat a yellow lemon slice to stop myself from hurling.
I was still seeing Bill at this point. Having risen out of the funk of being fired from my last job, I had decided to quit psychology and gone through photography school, where we met. I was so pleased with what was arguably my first, truly adult decision, and was still bathing in the afterglow of this rebellion. I was at the apogee of self-awareness, or at least that’s what I thought. It always seems that way at any given time, until you look back in hindsight and realize you knew nothing.
Life, like the savanna, is full of perils. One day you’re cooling off at the watering hole after a particularly hot day, events unfold around you without you realizing it, and just like that you’re a character in somebody else’s narrative. That’s how it was with Bill and me. I didn’t choose Bill. Bill chose me.
He was a potent presence in the classroom not because of any eloquent contributions he made, but because of how grounded in his identity he seemed to be. When he wasn’t restlessly toying with his Shamballa bracelets during theory class, he was tying his dreadlocks back to take a shot we would all swoon over.
He had a fervency for photography that I admired, particularly because I was new to it and grappling with self-doubt. He had an artist’s roaming spirit that ensnared me, being in my own exploration phase, seeking to experience life in its fullness. Without asking for it, his attention became mine to direct as I pleased, a power I’ll admit to have never held over any man before.
It was this abandon that made us sneak our cameras up rooftops all over in search of that highly sought after sunset shot of the Nairobi skyline. It was this abandon that had us stealing kisses between colonial carriages at the railway museum like a couple of renegades. And it was this same abandon that led us to carry on a dalliance that remained undefined for years.
This is how we embraced the ‘Nishike’ challenge literally, and with gusto, a thick path that brought us to that not-so-ordinary Wednesday morning. Breathe. In through the nose, out through the mouth. I dialed Bill’s number. The phone rang on the other end. I panicked, reconsidered calling Bill, and considered hanging up. He picked up on the second ring. Aah, it’s too late now.
“So I’ve been having these dizzy spells and I checked my calendar. I’m late on my period.”
There was static on the line, then the sound of wind whipping about on his end.
“Okay…okay. Don’t worry. We’ll get through this together.”
“We just need to control the situation,” he said. “I hear there are pills for this kind of thing.”
Huh? “We’re three weeks into this,” I said. “It’s too late to take the e-pill.”
“No, no. There’s other pills.”
What is he saying?
If you haven’t caught on, don’t worry. I didn’t catch on right away either. First, was the sensation of a boulder dropping in my stomach like a ship’s anchor to the sea. Then my body going cold with fright. I’d like to say that I had words frozen in my throat, that I could’ve told him off or at least called him out, but the words never formed. It was all systems down. And if you can believe it, the affront to my femininity didn’t come until much later.
I had expected that he’d be the voice of reason, that he would calm me down. That we’d discuss how to take the test together. Beyond that I hadn’t thought it through; I have always been a strong believer in crossing the bridge when I get there. Then here comes this man saying we need to get rid of it. Nothing could’ve jogged me out of my stupor more effectively. Forget being renegades. Forget the fullness of life. I was about to carry a pregnancy all on my own.
Ugh, what an unpleasant place to go back to. I try to expel the memory back into the cold reaches of my unconscious but it hangs on, claws its way back up and digs in its heels. Could it be? Nah. My period is not even due for another week. Well, I’ll check just for the sake of it.
Google early pregnancy symptoms. Fatigue? Yes, but only because Jonathan wore me out. Dizziness? Yes, but I haven’t been the same since I overheated in his tub. Swollen boobs? Mmh, maybe. Headaches? Yes, but it’s been a stressful week what with breaking up with Harry and everything. Backaches? Those are par for the course in photography work. Aversion to smells? Aversion to bad smells – that’s normal. Mood swings…cravings…just feeling pregnant? Is this a joke?
I take a pregnancy quiz that tells me to take a pregnancy test. Another website tells me it’s too early to take the pregnancy test and that I might get a false positive, while another tells me I might be three weeks pregnant. Another still, tells me that I could just be experiencing PMS symptoms and by the time I stop burrowing through the internet, I am short of breath. I am having palpitations. I am having a full on panic attack and Jonathan won’t get off the plane till 3:45 PM. Goddamn! That’s in seven hours. What is this? Damn. Of course this would happen to me.
Things were perfect. Tsk. I should’ve said knock on wood.
Taste of Mel continues here: Pea in the Pod13