Short Stories

The Unravelling
January 4, 2018
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Photo by BSP

Previously in Njambi & Kagwe’s world…

As told by Njambi


“So how was the vacay?” Nancy asks.

I shrug. I don’t know what to say about the trip. We’re seated in her backyard having Chardonnay in teacups, because she thinks her kids will tell on her if she takes out the wine glasses.

“Martin thinks I have a drinking problem, can you believe that?” she chuckles. She has a problem all right, but it’s not drinking. She is a closet smoker. For a woman with a steady job and a seemingly idyllic family, Nancy can be a wild card. “I’ve told them this is strong tea ha-ha!”

Her kids are deep in a game of water warfare, squealing and running around as they point the squirt guns at each other. The cold has finally paved way for the sun, making this a superb, Sunday afternoon chill. Kagwe is off to Entebbe, so I have some time on my hands. Thought I’d spend it having pizza with Nancy and her son, and Noni, her daughter. Nancy is a childhood friend – my oldest friend. She’s one of those people who can drift out of your life and back in, and you pick up right where you left off regardless of how much time has passed. Martin, her husband, also works out of town, so in that sense she gets me.

“Are you at least going to tell me what happened here?” she points to the brace on my foot.

Finally, a question I can answer. “Sprained it on the trip.”

She raises her eyebrows and opens her palms at me expectantly. I tell her I was taking pictures when I felt dizzy, perhaps from exhaustion or the claustrophobic feel of the gorge. I went off looking for a place to sit that wasn’t wet, slippery or ridden with sharp rocks and exposed tree roots. The next thing I remember was waking up in a trench with my leg stuck between two rocks and Kagwe nowhere to be found.


“Well what?”

“Eh Njambi, must we really do this?” She leans in to make sure the kids are out of earshot and asks, “You thought you were pregnant, right? That’s why you didn’t tell your hubby you fainted.”

I feel a pinch in my chest. Nancy has all the bluntness of a piece of timber, a quality I sometimes find tactless even though I appreciate the candidness behind it. I gulp down the last of my wine and set about pouring myself more.

“I thought so, yes. But I don’t anymore,” I motion to the wine-filled cup. “It was terrifying, I’ll tell you that much. Still, when I took the test and saw that little red line, my heart sank.”

Noni runs up to us and asks for another slice of pizza. Nancy makes a little ‘o’ with her lips and asks, “The munchie monster is awake? Is the munchie monster awake?”

She uses a Muppets voice as she tickles the dimpled girl. Noni covers her face with her hands and lets out a shriek that’s like straight out of a dolphin. I smile, even though there are tears pricking my eyes. I didn’t think it possible, after losing my first child, yet here I am.

Noni looks about seven years old, the age I was when I started nursing this odd fascination with yarn. I thought it was remarkable, how you could weave it into such intricate patterns. It’s funny. For all that fascination, the only thing I ever did was unwind old sweaters. I’d find one with the tiniest hole in it and poke my finger through. If there was no loose end, (and there often wasn’t), I’d make one and tug at the string. I’d watch it unravel and get this high, like being on a rollercoaster, but only until the guilt inundated me to the point of nausea.

Then I’d stop, and have to hide it some place I thought was ingenious, but never so ingenious that my mom couldn’t find it. It was my guilty pleasure. Any time my mom went into my room, and her exclamation rang across our little, stone house, it was likely elicited by finding a treasured sweater ruined.

When I think about it now, I realize that it wasn’t the yarn I was transfixed on. The joy was in giving in to my compulsion to unravel the yarn in the hopes of creating something beautiful with it, yet knowing that it may exceed my capabilities. I gave in to the same compulsion when I married a pilot. I knew the hours. I’d heard the stories, but I numbed my mind to them. I fastened my seatbelt and prepared for takeoff. I am wrestling the same compulsion now, craving another child when my marriage is in such a state.

“It has been almost two years,” Nancy points out. “And you did the couples therapy thing. It makes sense that you are feeling that way. Why don’t you tell Kagwe that you’re ready?”

“That’s just the thing, I’m not sure that I am. I mean…I’m not sure that I want to.” Sigh. “It’s complicated.”

“What’s complicated?”

I went to the post office yesterday. There was this letter in the mail. I thought it was just another catalogue or dividend cheque, but it turned out to be a letter for offer of employment with Gulf Air. “With a ‘revised remuneration package’. Do you know what that means? That there’s another letter with the initial remuneration package that he hasn’t told me about. He’s negotiating to go work in Bahrain behind my back.”

“You don’t know that,” Nancy says.

“Maybe not, but it’s clear that they’re wooing him, and the fact that he hasn’t told me about it, means he’s considering it.”

I don’t say this to Nancy, but the package was like something out of a genie’s bottle. There’s no way Kagwe isn’t tempted by it.

“What would that look like? Bahrain?”

I think about it for one long, silent moment. “I would resent him if he made me leave my job and family to go while away my days alone, in a desert. He knows I wouldn’t go for it. So if he’s considering it, it must be to relocate by himself.”

“Then tell him you’re ready for another baby. A baby will make him stay, and it might be the thing that finally fixes your marriage.”

What an absurd thing to say! “A baby never fixed anyone’s marriage. Babies don’t fix marriages. They fix you in the marriage, and the loss of one nearly destroyed us. So no, I don’t think a baby will be the ‘thing that finally fixes my marriage’.”

“Fix you in the marriage? Honey, you’ve been married seven years. I’d say you’re firmly fixed in the marriage.”

When I have been quiet for too long, she asks, “Or don’t you want to be in it?”

She asks as though it’s a black and white situation, but then, Nancy is a black and white kind of gal. Her world is pivoted on straight lines and firm decisions.

“No, it’s not that. Maybe I’m being fussy about it. But you know what I think? I think that I’m already used to living alone. I come home to an empty house most days and eat alone. Even when he’s home he’s either tired or asleep. Hell if I know where he spends whatever energy he has left over on his days off. It’s barely ever with me. I mean, really with me. He hasn’t been present since…since…I can’t even tell you. What more is there?”

She takes a sip of wine and gives me the side eye.

“Meh. It’s not what it used to be,” I say, waving my hand dismissively.

“Says the woman who suspected she might be pregnant.”

“You know what I’d like?” I ignore her. I’ve worked myself up and now I’m on a roll. “To spend my Saturday afternoon watching a movie or reading a book, instead of ironing those damn pilot shirts ‘just the way he likes them’. I think I might like that very much.”

“So you want him to leave?”

“Yes…No…I don’t know.”

“Sounds like you have some things to figure out,” Nancy says. “Hey, will you watch the kids for a minute?”

“Are you going to smoke?”

“And don’t you say anything about it,” she wags her finger at me. I raise my arms in surrender.


Later that night I hand Kagwe the letter when he gets home. I want to ask when he was planning to tell me about it. When you accept the job? On the morning of your departure? At the airport? I have snark resting on the roof of my mouth, but I bite my tongue. I busy myself serving him dinner instead. I can tell that I have flummoxed him by departing from my MO. He reads it on the edge of the seat, his eyes shooting up like a deer that’s heard a crack in the leaves. Either he says he needs to hit the barbershop or he has some reading to catch up on and will be in the study. Just wait for it.

He doesn’t bolt. Instead, he just sits there, all pensive. When I set his food before him, he tosses the letter on the coffee table and asks, “You’ve read this?”

I purse my lips.

“What do you think?”

“What do you care what I think?”

He restrains his irritation and rubbing his stubble, continues. “I’m not taking it. The money is good but…I’m not about that right now.”

Huh. Now it’s my turn to be flummoxed. “You’re not?”


“Mmh. And what is it that you are about right now?” I ask, picking Daisy’s fur off my pants.

“You. Us.”

I could call him out on that on so many levels, but right then, I feel a sudden exhaustion come over me, like a downpour out of nowhere. I leave him with a ‘good to know’ as I head to bed. Tomorrow is Monday and work awaits.

Next: The Duke


About author

Wanjiru Ndung'u

Wanjiru Ndung'u is a Published Poet and Founder of The Hooting Owl. She is an irretrievable, tea-loving nightowl with an ardor for matters of Personal Development.

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