You’re staring down the barrel of a six-gun and you don’t even know it. How can you, when you’ve just met? You’re in that blissful, tipsy state where the music has started to course through your veins and you can’t sit still. He’s seated across from you with a faraway look in his eyes. The smoke of the cigarette between his fingers swells in the air between you two, refusing to rise, mirroring his mood. You immediately feel this pull to stir him, somehow. Now you don’t even smoke, but you stretch your hand across the table and nudge his lightly, with the back of your palm. He looks at you, unalarmed. When he hands you the cigarette your fingers linger over his.
As you take a drag, he turns towards you and engages you in light banter with interludes of outpourings about what he was brooding over. Unbeknownst to you, this is the only time he will ever have his guard down with you. Later, he buys you flowers and drops you off at your doorstep. Round one.
He doesn’t call for a long time. The first few days are a breeze. Your mind is occupied and you are grounded more firmly than a Baobab tree. As time wears on, thoughts of him start to intrude on your day like a banker calling about a late mortgage payment. You start to notice a flitter in your heartbeat that grows exceedingly every day he doesn’t call. Work must be tight, you tell yourself. Maybe he’s dealing with a personal crisis. I may have just caught him at the start of his dark night of the soul. Perhaps he’s on a 40-day fast in the wilderness.
When you’ve ran out of excuses for him, finally, you decide to bite the bullet. Play it cool. Be casual. You drop him a cheesy line on WhatsApp and fling your phone on the other end of the couch like you just got zapped by static. You pace around the kitchen and stuff your face with comfort food that all turns insipid on your tongue. You crack your knuckles to silence the tremor in your hands, draw in a deep breath and tiptoe around your phone as if it might suddenly grow scissor hands, and stab you in the neck. He’s left you on read. Round two.
After ten agonizing days of deep bewilderment, listening to Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ on a loop and chanting Warsan Shire’s ‘For Women who are difficult to love’ like a Catholic nun, you are ready to shake it off. Dust to this nigga! You delete his number, but because you are a smart woman, somewhere in the shrewd chambers of your heart you know that the road to recovery is paved with relapses. You absolutely do not want to call that friend of his you despise in a moment of vulnerability to beg for his number, so you write it on a piece of paper. You put it somewhere you know you are likely to forget, so that should temptation strike, you will at least have a slight chance to beat it.
He calls you up that weekend with a time and a place, as if he telepathically felt the rush of air brush his face when you walked out and shut the door behind you. You want to be stern. You want to ask where the hell he has been but your mouth is saying, “So how’ve you been?” All of the frost you thought you’d ice him out with melts in the heat of your throat. People have told you that you’re soft-spoken but they have never heard this before! You are surprised at yourself. He regales you with these unremarkable stories, but the way you are laughing… His life the last two months sounds mundane enough that he could have called. He wasn’t stranded in the desert after all, but since you just then realized how his voice makes your spirit soar, you yield. Round three.
Imagine you’re driving on the Mai Mahiu highway in April, just after the long rains when the scenery around Mt. Longonot is a rich, green canvas. On the opposite side is the escarpment, and with the road stretching out in front of you, you couldn’t care less about what is on the rear-view mirror. The journey is exhilarating, the destination is alluring, the car is cruising just fine, but there’s a clicking noise in the hood. Click! Click! Click! You can’t ignore it. Something is not quite right. That’s what it’s always like with him.
When you get a surge of willpower, you lay down the law. You draw your lines in the sand and issue an ultimatum.
“What are we doing here?”
He says, “Look, I’m not looking for a relationship.”
Then he looks at you like an odd bird with strange feathers that he is thoroughly and irrevocably fascinated with. Round four.
You never quite know whether you’re going to see him again. He doesn’t try to clear it up for you either.
“Will I see you again?”
“I don’t know.”
The first two times, it’s a blow to the chest. It throws you off, knocks you off balance. You don’t realize until eons later, that it is a calculated maneuver to get you to avail yourself at the drop of a hat, should he ask you to.
Meanwhile, you are telling yourself, “Maybe if I see him just one more time, for closure, you know?”
By then you have half-given up, so when he calls at a terribly inconvenient time you agree to meet him because it is the last time. Work can wait. The next time he calls at a similarly inconvenient time you go out of your way to meet him, because it is the very last time. Prior engagements can be rescheduled. When he insists on the kind of small talk that makes you want to eat your own hair, you nod agreeably and drink more than you should. Of course, the wine can’t fill the parts of your soul that he is emptying. But you are the kind of woman who loves with every fiber of her being, more so when you’re trying not to. The next time you catch yourself pouring his drink, and you both realize, at the same time, that he’s got you by your pink marbles. Round five.
The last chamber is empty, just like your phone. No calls, no texts. He’s off chasing another strange bird, a younger one in all likelihood. You don’t even know why you are surprised when you knew all along that he wasn’t going to stay. He started firing from the moment you met. Every day knowing him was a dying day for you.
“Another one bites the dust,” they say.
“What happened to her?”
“She lost herself in a situationship.”14