As told by Mel
Nina and I are in my bedroom closet jamming to Tove Lo and disturbing the neighbors. Our loud music is making all the windows vibrate. We couldn’t hear it in the closet so we pumped up the volume. If anyone comes to knock on our door about it, we won’t hear and we don’t care. It’s mid-morning on Saturday and we’re trying to match outfits to go home in. Mom has summoned us for Jack’s retirement party. My stepdad is in the auto spare parts business. He’s had a shop in Industrial area for the better part of his life, but he’s decided to give it all up now for a warm place by the fire at his Kiambu farm with his youthful wife, my darling mother.
Since she has seen fit to oblige us this, I have decided I will ask Jack to find a buyer for my van. It has been rusting away in the parking lot downstairs since Jonathan started letting me use his Fortuner while he is away. Also on my agenda today is introducing Jonathan to mom. Since it’ll be a day with many distractions, I have decided it is the perfect time. She won’t be able to interrogate and possibly scare him away. But more importantly, when I tell her I’m pregnant after the three month mark, I’ll be able to refer back to today and tell her she’s met the baby’s father already.
It’s a foolproof sub-plan of the master plan I have been drawing for the past week, which is what Nina and I are chattering about.
“What about this one?” she holds up a red swing coat.
“Nah, I wore that last weekend. Kwanza put it in the dry cleaning pile before I forget. It has a sauce stain on the collar.”
“Where were you last weekend?”
“I went to a sax jam in Spring Valley.”
“I didn’t know Jonathan was a Jazz guy,” she says tossing the coat in a laundry basket.
I consider letting her think that I went with Jonathan, but he is at this very moment on his way to pick us up. Knowing her, she’ll probably bring it up in the car and I’ll be caught in a lie I haven’t told. I tell her I went with Kagwe.
“Tsk. Again with this guy?” She says, tone thick with impatience. It tingles my hackles.
“Now what are you so sour about?”
“I’m not sour. I just thought you were done with all of that yo-yoing.”
Yo-yoing. What an annoying way to put it. It makes us sound like children. I take a breath. “I am.”
“But you’re still going out with him?” she looks at me, symmetrical eyebrows raised.
“Yes, and we’ve decided to just roll with it this time, so no. It’s not a back and forth anymore.”
“What does ‘roll with it’ even mean? Weren’t we talking about solid plans just now?” she stops perusing clothes on the rack to look at me.
“We’re always in limbo, neither here nor there. I pull away, then he pulls away and then we both pull away, all the while trying to do the right thing and all roads still lead back to each other. It’s exhausting. For both of us.”
“And for all of us looking from the outside in,” she points out.
“Yes. Exactly. I think we owe it to ourselves to get it out of the way.” She starts to say something but I cut her off. “Yes yes, and to all of you looking from the outside in.”
“And your plan is just to… roll with it, you said?” she returns to the rack, looking at coats and feeling their fabric.
“Well it’s a little more nuanced than that. Jeez! Could you be any more skeptical?”
“This is the very definition of playing with matches,” she says.
“Not if I know what I’m doing.”
“It’s not playing with matches if I know what I’m doing.”
“And what’s that? What are you doing? What are you two doing?”
“Fighting fire with fire. The only way to quell a raging forest fire is to start a controlled burn. That way you use up all the fuel and the fire goes out. It’s science. Dawa ya moto ni moto.”
“Did he use a forest fire analogy to sell you on it?” She chuckles and rolls her eyes. “That’s so him.”
“Nope. The analogy is all mine. What, you never went to a science class?”
“Not that science class, no. I don’t understand what all these fires are about. All I know is you two have the hots for each other and – oh yeah, fight fire with fire. Okay I get that part. But … so… what? You’re lovers now or something?”
“Who said anything about lovers? We’re not lovers. That’s my whole point. Everything about us since the day we met has been almost; almost lovers but it’s not right; almost friends but we have feelings; almost strangers but we can’t let go – almost, almost, almost! The uncertainty and the drawn out back and forth is enough to scorch a person to a crisp! I’m taking matters into my own hands. And you know what? It’s about goddamn time. I’m surprised you’re not happy for me when you were the one who was all like ‘oh Melissa, you’re drifting. You’re sleepwalking through life -”
“I did not say that.”
“You did too. Maybe not in those exact words but you did.”
She sighs. “What if, and I know you don’t want to hear this, but what if you go on one of your rendezvous, and he does that voodoo magic shit he does on you which I think is inevitable by the way -”
“You have such little faith in me?”
“Actually, hold that thought. I have seen the guy! No offense to your palate but is he really that impressive? Or is he just another Harry in sheep’s skin?”
I suck my teeth. “Do you remember that time you lost your mind and asked mom the same exact question about Jack? And she said, ‘don’t speak about things you don’t know, child!'” We laugh so hard. “I’m telling you the same thing.”
“Then if he’s so impressive, why are you walking right into temptation? What if you can’t handle it and it blows up in your face? Do you really want to risk all that ugliness, that none of us needs?” she stresses the last part.
“What if I can handle it and it doesn’t blow up in my face? What if I rise to the occasion and put it to rest once for all? What if this is the risk I have to take to earn my peace of mind?”
“What about Jonathan? He’s not going to like this and I bet you Kagwe’s wife won’t either. I know you’re not a selfish person, so me I think you’re self-sabotaging. I think you’re doing that thing where you get scared and you start self-destructing -”
“It’s not self-destruction. It’s self-preservation. This has been two years in the making. When you have something building up that long, and you keep suppressing it, eventually you’ll implode. And I’m not waiting around for that, not now that I’ve finally found me a good man and I have his baby on the way. And yes, being pregnant is scary and overwhelming, but I think I have handled that like a queen, like goddam royalty!”
“Well, all things considered, you have. This bit though, I don’t know where you’re going with it.”
“What am I supposed to do? I made a promise to Jonathan that I was all in. I intend to keep my word, but I can’t do that as long as I’m in this dance with Kagwe. Do you get that?”
“A dance with dragons,” she says picking out a leather jacket. “What about this one? Is it warm enough?”
“Yes, I’ll wear that one. Now find a top before Jonathan gets here. He doesn’t know how bad I am with time yet, ha-ha!”
She turns to a stack of folded tops. “Couldn’t you just walk away? Isn’t that what people do?”
“I could, but we’ve tried the avoidance route already and it hasn’t stuck. And may I remind you that you’re the one who said ‘Oh Melissa, you’re not addressing your avoidance’ -”
“Oh my gosh! Do you do that voice imitation thing with everyone? Coz it’s hella annoying! That’s not even what I sound like.”
“It is though. And that’s what you said. But back to my point, I feel like if even if we did walk away and by some miracle or herculean willpower that everyone seems to have and I don’t, it actually sticks and we never speak again, then we’ll always have this idealized picture of what could’ve been. We’ll always be pining for the one that got away. I don’t think that’s fair to Jonathan. He’ll always strive to reach that ideal and never be able to because it’s not even real.”
“It’s risky. I think it’s a crazy plan.”
“If Jonathan is the one for me, since you’re so convinced about it, then I want to start my relationship with him on a clean slate. He deserves that. And anyway, everything’s risky. Sometimes life hands you uncertainty and the only way out is through. This is how it’s going down for me and I’m all right with that.”
“Well, it sounds like you have it all figured out. And it’s your life, anyway. If you want to play Russian roulette with it,” she raises her hands in resignation, “You do what you have to do. But for your sake I hope it works. I hope you spend so much time with him you stop finding his dad jokes funny. When you get there, ah! I’ll know the fever has broken…the tide has turned…the storm is behind us!’
I manage to laugh, even though I am stunned.
She has backed down. Nina never backs down. I love her dearly but when she gets to pounding on about something, she doesn’t stop until there’s no grass left. This must mean I have put up an earnest fight. I am all the more convinced that it’s the right thing to do now that I feel it in my bones.
She was right. I was drifting, but not anymore. Now, I’m rowing. I’ve got an oar in one hand, a master plan in the other and I’m rowing out of this murk.
Huh. I think I’m back. I think I’m back b****!
Taste of Mel continues here: Oddballs.13