My near-arrest catalyzed my relationship with Lenny, but what I didn’t know was that it also unfurled a set of cataclysmic events that would eventually leave me on a grassland savanna with my shin scraped to the bone. For a few hours, I entrusted Josh and my house to his care and came home to the sound of sizzling onions and the aroma of garlic. They were both in the kitchen, the little man playing build-a-truck on Lenny’s phone while Big Papa chopped meat on the counter.
“It smells great,” I said hauling shopping bags in. “What are you making?”
“Don’t be impressed,” he said drying his hands on a hand towel. “It’s just meat and pasta and I’m improvising a kind of onion sauce since you don’t have enough tomatoes. I don’t know if you guys eat pepper, but personally, I’m a big fan. So I’m frying some onions in butter and black pepper –”
“There’s tomato sauce,” I said.
“It’s not the same.”
Huh. In all my years living there, I don’t remember ever seeing my dad in that kitchen. He also forbade or rather strongly discouraged my brother from spending any time there. But my brother – the big baby – never wanted to leave my mother’s side and hang around every chance he got. I suspect it was exciting for him but not so for me. Unlike him, I had no desire to help with vegetables or dishes or mopping and remained thoroughly miserable whenever I had to. Because of that, I made my mother miserable as well which led her to prefer my brother’s company over mine. This was the true dynamic at our house but my dad never got to see it because we arranged ourselves accordingly as soon as he came back.
It was a refreshing sight watching Lenny making himself at home in my kitchen. I am certain that the display of his nurturing side was for my benefit but it still earned him lots of points. I was most impressed with how he’d managed to distract Josh who had trouble deciding whether to abandon the screen or run to me. He chose the latter. I’d driven all the way home before realizing that I needed a cover story, so I drove back to the local minimart and bought milk, cookies and ice cream. We unpacked the shopping together while I tried to probe him into telling me if he missed me. First, he looked at Lenny who was self-assuredly whipping up a sauce and then shyly nodded no. His modeling phase was in full swing.
I chuckled. “Well, the kitchen is all yours. I’m going to get out of these heels.”
Upstairs, my phone began ringing. It was a number I didn’t recognize so I let it slide and slipped into the bathroom. Even as the lukewarm water pelted my face, I could still hear my phone buzzing. I was so ready for the day to be over that the mere thought of that ruckus following me home filled me with dread. But then I hadn’t given my number anywhere and I worried that it might be important so I rushed my shower. In the bedroom, I grabbed a towel and slid a wet finger across the screen apprehensively. It was Alan on the other end.
“Did you get home alright?”
The way he’d skidded out of the police station I didn’t think him capable of any concern for me. I felt uneasy at the question but I answered yes anyway.
“Is he there?”
“Of course,” I said, certain that he was asking about Josh. He grunted and hung up. I thought nothing of it.
It turns out that Lenny had perfected his art in making pasta in the four or so years he had been a widower. We ate more than we usually would if it was just the two of us. The company helped too. Then Lenny developed a stuffy nose after the drafty ride home during which he’d had to give his jacket to Josh. As I did the dishes, I boiled some water for honey lemon tea to fight the cold. By the time I was done it was approaching 10 PM. Following the day’s excitements, Josh had passed out on the couch so I put him to bed and went back downstairs.
“You know what would go great with this?”
“Don’t say an energy drink.”
He laughed. “Whiskey.”
“Oh right! Yeah. Whiskey and hot water though? You’re such an old man.”
“I am not an old man!”
“That’s an old man thing.”
“You keep saying that and I’ll show you how not an old man I am.”
My face flushed. I giggled.
“I think I might have some whiskey somewhere. Is Bond 7 okay?” He nodded. “No guarantees on how old it is though. It was my dad’s. I think he left it here so he’d know if I brought men over.”
“That seems…” he paused to find the right word. “Overbearing.”
“I’m no stranger to overbearing men,” I said.
“Like your ex?”
“Exactly like my ex.”
I grabbed what was left of the Rose I was drinking the previous night along with the whiskey and settled onto the couch. The conversation headed for Alan County like a bullet train and I didn’t resist it, in part out of a need to vent but also because I wanted to explain the incident earlier.
When we first met, it seemed to me like there was no outright reason why he chose me. He could’ve been with anyone and heavens know there were women tripping over themselves to be with him, but he always gave them soft landings. It was me that he pursued without relenting; at a certain point, I started to feel special. I thought I must be extraordinary. But by the end, it became clear that I had been extraordinarily stupid.
What can I tell you? Every woman has this one guy she debases herself for. Someone she picks up in the early stages of her growth. A guy who knows jack about being a man because she herself doesn’t yet know what it is to be a woman. She lets him define her and not by coincidence he’ll be the kind of guy who has the gall to tell women how to be a woman. He’ll say things like, “Women should douche,” or “Women shouldn’t wear headscarves to bed,” or “That bra is not your size,” even though his knowledge of bra sizes comes from movies and only extends to double Ds. A guy I now think is an evolutionary precaution in case of regression; a landmark that should she come across is supposed to remind her that she’s fallen too far down. The rock bottom guy. Alan is my rock bottom guy.
He wasn’t nearly as charming as he thought he was but he had perfected a façade rooted securely in imitation and he was well-liked. Occasionally he’d regurgitate things he’d heard other people say to sound profound but whenever I broached an intellectual discussion he would deflect it with one of many learned techniques. He preferred that I play bimbo for him. He was happiest when I not only pretended not to know things but also allowed him some friendly admonition for not knowing those things. I was surprisingly skillful at refilling the giant bag of hot air he was. What did I know about the ways he subconsciously groomed me into the lead role of his marionette show?
I was young and uneducated in the ways of inadequate men so of course, I didn’t see this wannabe bushwa at first. But I can also admit to my own self-absorption. I constructed an identity around him. I was caught up in my own need to play the role of woman-behind-the-successful-man and be formidable at it. Ride or die. The Bonny to his Clyde. He did a few things right and where he was lacking I filled in the blanks with idealizations of his state and his potential. Over time there were more and more blanks to fill. Even the little good there ever was seemed to evaporate but I was stubborn. A future that looked any different now was out of the question. I held on with misguided devotion.
The thing that still gets my goat to this day was how little I trusted my intuition. How quick I was to dismiss it. Even when I could see him clearly, I still relied on other people’s opinions. He was still a popular guy on all accounts. He always had some witless dirty joke to share that people laughed at because even an ostrich can shine if seated among chickens.
You know that quote, ‘You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time’? It jogged me out of my stupor. That and Aretha’s R.E.S.P.E.C.T. I just up and left cold turkey and what good riddance it was! Unbeknownst to me though, I was already pregnant. Who said the devil doesn’t have a sense of humor? A caustic one, but a sense of humor all the same.
“So then you told him you were pregnant?” Lenny asked topping up his whiskey.
“Yeah. We hadn’t talked in a couple of days but since I hadn’t told him I was leaving him he didn’t even know we’d broken up. I think he simply couldn’t be bothered to find out the reason behind my withdrawal.”
My phone began buzzing again just as someone started to clang the padlock against my gate. This time Alan was calling on the number I had saved.
“I want to see my son!” he slurred on the other end.
“I want to see my boy! He’s my boy,” he continued. The rest of his speech was muffled by the clangor at the gate.
“No. He’s asleep. And stop banging on the gate, you’ll wake him!”
“He’s my boy… father…my blood. My boys…my swimmers…strong swimmers –”
Argh. “Alan, you’re drunk and you’re stupid when you’re drunk. Leave!”
I hang up. The clanging stopped. I listened for the sound of a car driving away but it was still. Lenny suggested that I double check that the doors were locked. As I was doing this, my phone started vibrating again. He picked it up and put it on silent.
“You should put it on airplane mode,” he said handing it to me. “Did you hear that?”
“What?” I said. He froze. I leaned in and strained to listen. There were only the usual sounds of traffic on Thika Road. An ambulance speeding by, the blazing horns of buses at the stage, my electric meter beeping, the clock ticking on the wall unit. Then, a dull thud.
“What was that?”
“Step away from the window,” Lenny said. “He’s throwing things…stones.”
There was a commotion at the gate, indiscernible voices.
“Has he done this before?”
“Yeah, once or twice. He gets drunk and then he remembers he has a son. Nothing major. If we don’t engage he’ll go away.”
“Don’t engage?” Lenny said incredulously. “Don’t engage?”
I started to sense that he was getting worked up but before I could talk him down we heard another thud. Dull but louder, like someone had jumped over the fence.
“Go check on Josh,” Lenny said.
“What are you going to do?”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said leading me to the staircase. “Just go check on him. Stay away from the window and don’t put on the light.”
“Okay, but what are you going to do?”
“I’m going out there.”
“Are you drunk? Don’t go out there!”
“I’m going out there.”
“What if he’s not alone?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Are you strapped?” I whisper-shouted.
“Are you strapped? Are you packing heat?” It took the third try for him to understand. “Do you have your gun?”
“You don’t? Of all the times not to have your gun!” I couldn’t believe he was trying to go out there without any protection and no idea what he would find.
“Why would you ask me that? You said I couldn’t bring the gun around you and Josh!”
“And you listened?”
“Would you just go?” he waved me off.
I found Josh sitting up in his bed rubbing his eyes. He started to say he’d heard noises but I shushed him and convinced him it was all a bad dream. His bedroom was across from mine and didn’t face the gate. It was safe there, but that meant I couldn’t peek out to see what was going on. There was shuffling outside but I was too afraid to check whether it was Lenny’s or an intruder’s. When I heard keys clinking against the gate, I couldn’t resist my curiosity. I slipped out of Josh’s bed and pressed his stuffed dinosaur into his arms. Then I tip-toed to my bedroom which had a direct view of the gate and peeped through a slit in the drapes. The heavy metal latch groaned as Lenny pulled it open.
Immediately Alan’s slurred voice came alive in the night. His car’s headlights were trained squarely on the gate so I could only see Lenny’s silhouette. A heated exchange ensued in which it sounded like there was a third person but I couldn’t make out everything that was said. There was some shoving, curses and then Lenny stepped out of the gate, out of my view.
One minute passed. Two minutes passed. I couldn’t bear it. I flew down the stairs to the front door and I’ll admit that at this point I contemplated locking the door leaving Lenny to the consequences of his bravado. But then I decided that I had to see, I had to know. I picked up my phone and dialed 999. Then I rethought the idea and decided that it would be faster if I called my dad. He’d know who to call, he had contacts. I ventured out, phone in hand, ready to dial.
When I pulled the gate open, the lights blinded me. Everyone else could see me clearly though, so they all fell silent. Then Alan began to blather out apologies. I saw that there was a male friend of his holding him back by the shoulders when my eyes adjusted, along with two other women. One in the car, and another standing between Alan and Lenny. Poor girl.
“All right bro,” the male friend said. “We’re leaving.”
“And you’re driving,” Lenny said.
“I’m driving. I’m taking him straight home.” He tended Alan into the back seat, throughout which he said every variation of ‘cheers’ that exists. Then they reversed and sped around a bend that led out of the estate.
“So you guys are all buddy buddy now?” I asked Lenny as he locked up. “What did you do?”
“I pounded some sense into him.”
“By pounded you mean you punched him or you talked to him really intensely?”
He laughed. “I took care of it.”
“Let me see your face,” I tried to examine him the way I examined Josh after school but he swatted me away playfully.
“I went to war for you. Are you happy or not?”
“Well, if you put it that way…I’m happy,” I conceded after a moment’s thought.