On the days leading up to the evening when I had a brush with the law, there were signs of a sandstorm sweeping through my desert. That morning I rolled over in bed, lit my face with the blue light of my phone, and squinted at the time. It read the last numbers of Alan’s license plate. The night before I was watching a series that had a character named Alan in it. I had a real conundrum on whether to skip over it and admit to myself that he still struck a nerve in me or power through it and have to think about him for however long it would take to press him back into the folds of unexplored minefields in my mind.
The eeriest of them all though, was the time I sat on the remote and the channel flipped to a televised church service my mom and I watch all the time. The bottom of the screen read ‘Call Alan’ along with a foreign donation number. I hadn’t seen Alan in four years and I was especially resistant to thinking of him, even when Josh started asking about his father. I had a good system going; well-oiled gears of repression I had installed when we broke up. They kept me from excessive ruminating and growing bitter. Alan is the baby daddy. The ex. I’m not a superstitious person but I believe that there are no coincidences. No happy accidents. There is an order in the chaotic spool of the cosmos and you can almost always see it if you let things unfold long enough.
Since I did not influence how fast life happens, I ignored it. I visited my folks on the farm and took Josh with me over the weekend. At Lenny’s bidding, I brought him on a day out. Introducing a man I had only been dating for a while to an impressionable boy is perilous terrain but it seemed like an appropriate time to assess whether they’d get along. I had kept from investing my emotions in the whole thing which unfortunately took more energy than I was comfortable with.
I told Josh, “We’re going to hang out with mommy’s friend.”
He asked, “From where?” because every time I introduced someone to him I’d say, “Come say hello to mommy’s friend from work.” Or school or the estate.
I blanked. He didn’t yet have any concept of dating and I was happy to keep it that way. I asked him if he remembered Lenny from Bob’s birthday and brought up the motorcycle to distract him. He tried not to appear too excited even though his eyes lit up. Still, he lingered in the kitchen doorway asking endless questions about the motorcycle which gave his eagerness away. Finally, he got to the crux of his interest after several somersaults in the corridor, and breathlessly asked, “Can I ride the motorbike?”
I couldn’t say no to his ashen face so I said, “If you’re good we’ll ask Lenny.”
He took that for a yes, of course. He was a darling throughout the day, asking permission to leave the table, referring to me when he didn’t know the proper answer to a question…But when Lenny wasn’t looking he tugged on my sleeves and urged me to ask him when the ride would be happening. On maybe the fourth time Lenny caught us and asked what all the prodding was about.
“He wants to ride the cruiser,” I said. “I told him we’d have to ask you.”
“I’ll take you, but only if your mom agrees.”
They both looked at me pleadingly. I caved on the condition that they stayed within the hotel grounds. So off we went to the parking lot, I with my phone camera on the ready, them chatting away like old friends. Lenny pulled out the PG-rated tour of the motorcycle that was nothing like what he’d told me. Just thinking about it again made my skin tingle and I had to mute those sensations in a closed fist.
He let Josh play with the throttle unsupervised and him being the boy he was, revved the bike into a racket – the stuff of NEMA’s nightmares. A security guard (who now that I think about it must not have met his day’s quota for dense ineptitude) approached us and caused a kerfuffle over the noise. Being of the same mind, Lenny and I exercised Twainian policy as regards arguing with a fool and complied. He left the parking lot for the adjacent grounds with Josh while I went back inside to clear the table of our belongings and settle the bill.
So there I was crossing the parking lot when Alan’s license plate, this time in completion, halted me. I’d barely processed what that meant when the driver’s side door thumped shut and Alan stepped out in front of me. I am not often nonplussed. It’s been damn near impossible since I became a mother. There’s no room to freeze with a choking child, or scraped knees or burnt fingers. But everyone has their kryptonite and Alan is mine.
He was his usual self in all the ways I was so over (or even if not over, I could do without). It was easy to fall into conversation with him, which we did. He was affable, a quality I found most appealing that I mirrored him. But out of weakness in character, he’d end up saying something dubious that inevitably put me off, which he did. And that, I found most disappointing about him.
He asked about Josh. I said he was doing well, intending to leave it at that, but Alan was uncharacteristically inquisitive. Until that point, I had assumed that he’d just arrived and had neither seen Lenny nor Josh but order returned to my thoughts. It occurred to me that he must’ve been there a while. Probably even watched Lenny dote over his son and felt some type of way.
I fixed him with a laser-hot glare. “What’s it to you?”
He fidgeted then tightened his chin. “He’s my son.”
A force of revulsion surged up my throat and left my mouth in a spiteful laugh.
“Some father you are,” I said and turned to walk away.
He held me back. I snatched my arm. It was aggravating enough that he’d decided to change his tune about disavowing us on a chance meeting in the parking lot of a random hotel. But to dare say that he wanted the child to bear his name? I was livid.
“Now? Now you want him to bear your name?”
I knew he was goading me into a fight because he’d figured out it was easier to get his way if he flustered me, but I was past the point of return. He had me hook, line, and sinker. Out of a far-away awareness that I didn’t want Lenny and Josh to see me fighting with him, I got in his car where I could yell at him properly. Everyone could see the wreckage we were tangling ourselves in except for us. From that point onward things happened in quick succession. The guard from earlier showed back up, highhandedly asking us to open the car door. Alan had a rambling exchange with him whose details I don’t remember because I was still seething. Then he mentioned something about calling askaris at the gate and I wondered what he needed more guards for. All the same, he slithered back to whatever hole he’d appeared from and I even forgot about the whole thing while I set about pacifying myself.
But, as you might’ve guessed, the cops showed up. The real cops with their overcoats, berets, and AK47s. Shit. I slipped out the co-driver’s side, to which one of the officers, the junior one I think, swiftly came.
He was younger than me – in his early twenties for sure. I think it disarmed us both how quick I was to acknowledge his authority. Or at least that the power scales were not tipped in my favor. He softened, summoned me to the driver’s side where Alan and the other officer were exchanging words I wasn’t processing. Then he asked me, “Huyu ni mzee wako?”
And I said, “Ni baba mtoto.”
This is what happened. The senior officer – one of those broomstick-up-the-ass types – decides he has cause to call the station and ask for the OCS. The first two calls don’t go through so I’m thinking, All right, they want to play ball. But the third one does and it sounds legit. Now we’re standing there waiting and I’m incredulous but also hoping to God he’s bluffing. So we had a little tiff in the car, what’s the big deal? People fight all the time. The whole thing is a misunderstanding escalated unnecessarily by a malicious dimwit for a guard. We all know what language we need to be speaking here.
“Sasa tutatatua aje hii maneno?”
We make every concession short of prostrating ourselves but Officer Broomstick is not hearing any of it. Madam OCS arrives in a menacing cruiser with an entourage of maybe five other officers. Three of them disembark so now there’s four cops and the OCS on our case and I can’t for the life of me understand how things got blown so out of proportion. Patrons, wait staff and other hotel employees start gathering. At the same time, the woman who waited our table comes to hound me about the bill so there’s some back and forth about that.
While we’re still trying to talk ourselves out of that mess Lenny and Josh return to that spectacle. Officer Broomstick is talking about towing Alan’s car and the last thing I want is my son to see both his parents bundled into a police cruiser. At this point, that would be his earliest memory of his father and I can’t bear what that would do to him. Lenny wants to help, make some calls, but I tell him the only thing he can do for me is to get Josh home.
Things get even more confusing because they can’t agree on the charges. Officer Broomstick has it out for us. He senses that he jumped the gun calling the station so he tries to pile things on. He says we’ve been in the parking lot too long and the security guards monitoring the CCTV footage have gotten antsy. Then he says there’s alcohol in the car and the hotel doesn’t allow food and drinks from outside. Madam OCS is more amiable. She takes one look at us and sees us for the bickering couple that we are. Much to his chagrin, she contradicts him by saying the hotel management reported us for being a public nuisance. (WTF!?)
“It is your right to know what you’re being charged with,” she says.
Since she’s now the highest-ranking officer on the scene, everyone else falls back. Alan turns on his charm and I stand one step behind him chiming in on cue. For once my body acts right and sends balancing tears to complete the sympathetic look but it is all to no avail. An arrest is still on the table. The word station is still being thrown around and it’s looking bleaker. But then the OCS overrules the idea of towing the vehicle and instead assigns the officers in her entourage to accompany us to the station in our cars.
I don’t know how many times I’ve prayed at this point but an answered prayer comes in the form of the junior officer I encountered first. He steals a moment to apologize to me when we’re out of earshot. Even he acknowledges we’re being railroaded. He says they have to put on a show for the hotel management because they’re hosting a conference for over a hundred scholarship kids and they’re the kind who are quick to report to the higher-ups that cops don’t do anything.
At the station, I leave all the talking to Alan. After much negotiation, everyone sees it the same way. We agree it was all a big misunderstanding and hightail the hell out of there in different directions.