Short Stories You're Still You

Tipping Point
February 18, 2021
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Previously on You’re Still You…

*As told by Waita

On the drive home, I am braced for a fight. I haven’t spoken to Nora all weekend, or at least that’s what she’ll say. I haven’t fawned over her in front of our friends. I haven’t painted the picture of perfect love and devotion. She can barely sit still. The accusation is taking shape in her throat, which is a shame because it’s a nice afternoon for a drive back to Nairobi. It’s still perilous, city drivers clambering up the highway like termites, but it’s that golden hour where the sun rays break through the clouds over Lake Naivasha causing it to shimmer like a sheet of tin foil.

I turn the volume up on Otis Kane’s ‘Fight for you’ and she instantly turns it down. We’re past the point of ignoring each other. Now she does look at me, but with scathing contempt.

“Why did you even bring me on this trip?” She asks. “Was the point just to humiliate me?”

I glance at the rearview mirror. Jordan is making whooshing sounds and exploding motions with his fingers. He is playing Rocket Mayhem on his tablet. He won’t listen in as long as we don’t raise our voices.

“Humiliate you?” I ask. She looks outside her window. “I don’t know why you have to assume the worst of me.”

“It’s one thing to do it behind my back, but to throw it in my face like that?”

“I didn’t know she was going to be there.”

“And you wouldn’t have asked me to come if you’d known?”

“I wouldn’t have done anything differently.”

It gulls her. I see it. She finds my candour cruel, but I seem to have tipped over. I am unable to accommodate anything that isn’t the blunt truth at this time. She doesn’t speak to me the rest of the way. I stop at Westlands for her to buy takeout while I refuel the car. She comes back with two bags, just enough for her and Jordan.

No food for the wicked then.

I say nothing. When she does these things I always turn inward and search myself for guilt, remorse or even shame, but I find none. I couldn’t be bothered. The person I was when I chose her was pulverized a while ago. It’s not her fault. I made her believe I was someone I wasn’t. Hell, I convinced myself. What I don’t understand is why she hangs on, knowing there’s nothing left between us anymore. To punish me, I suppose. Have to lie in the bed I made and all that. Even if I were to feel any sort of guilt, the things she does assure that it is quashed before it ever rises to the surface.

Or perhaps I do understand. She wants me to see her the way I once saw her. That’s what we all want, isn’t it? To be seen, understood, affirmed. It’s not me she’s hanging on to. I’m not there. It’s what was and what she hoped for. She hasn’t reached her tipping point yet. She’s going to drag this out from here to Rapa Nui. This split is no doubt going to turn adversarial and I don’t want to put Jordan through that if I can help it. Unfortunately, that’s what she’s counting on. She knows I don’t want to lose my son. I’m hoping if I just wait her out she’ll give in of her own accord.

That’s a poor plan if I ever heard one. Jill will never go for it. I know how her mind works. She’s that all or nothing type of person who leaves no room for chaos in between. She’ll want to know what my plan is. She’ll want to talk about custody, co-parenting and living arrangements and I haven’t got the bandwidth right now. I’ve merely arrived here. I don’t have anything figured out. Still, I want her to know that I meant everything I said.

*

At home, I fix myself an Irish coffee first thing. Then I power up my laptop and message Jill. Jordan is plopped up on the couch eating the rest of his takeout while his mother pads around the house answering calls from the rest of the gang. Everyone’s got home all right. I flip the TV on and switch it to Cartoon Network. I don’t want the little guy to get amped up on games. He’s tired, cartoons will put him right to sleep.

Jill messages back. She’s home safe too and glad she came. So am I. The last few months had been dark for me but I didn’t know how much until I saw her. Something gave way. That fire I’d been carrying around in my chest went out. The blood that had curdled in my veins thinned and began to pound in my ears so hard that I suddenly became aware of having a face. A human face with eyebrows and nostrils and oh god, I should’ve shaved. I should’ve had my beard trimmed. And why in Apollo’s name did I wear this t-shirt? It’s so loose around the neck now that she’ll notice I’ve lost a ton of muscle mass!

When she stood next to me I wanted to reach for her. Instead, I closed my fists and let her grill me about work. I told her about putting more time into my start-up outfit. Is it still a start-up three years in?

“I don’t know how that’ll go yet,” I said.

“Tell me you’re finally quitting that godawful agency!”

“I – yes. I’m giving my notice next week.”

“Good! Your talents are wasted there.”

“It’s steady work.”

“They don’t pay you nearly enough.”

“It’s the industry standard.”

“But you can do so much better with your studio! You have the skill and connections. If you brought your clients to your own company instead of jobo, they’d be out of business today.”

I chuckle. “Probably.”

“No. Not probably. Definitely! This is the best news. I’m happy for you.”

“I haven’t done it yet.”

“I believe in you. For the love of Apollo, just once would you pick your own side?”

I laughed. “I thought we retired that joke. Nobody else thinks it’s funny.”

She shrugged. “Made you laugh though.”

Yes, she’d gone and made me laugh. Made me joyous. Some people just know how to fill your cup, you know? I decided right then that I wouldn’t let her become a stranger again.

*

Now she says she’s not sure what I want from her. If there isn’t an immediate and clear direction to spring to action, Jill feels lost. It serves her well at work, always knowing what needs to be done and how to get there. She knows how to map everything out on the move, but that doesn’t work when the only thing to do is sit still.

Nothing, for now, I say.

I’m still thinking about what to add to that when she asks, So where are we?

Where are we? Seeing where this goes? No. Say, don’t ask. Women don’t like to be asked. They’ll never admit it but they secretly think you’re spineless. Squishy. Easily crushed, like a bug. Unfit to mate with. They don’t want to be told either. They want to be included, but not burdened with the heavy lifting. They want you to take care of everything, but also for them to have veto power over your decisions. In short, they want you to seek their approval. They want to be pleased.

We’re seeing where this goes, I say, and it’s the wrong thing. I should’ve said we’re finding a way to be together. That would’ve been better.

Sigh emoji. We’re kidding ourselves, aren’t we?

Now at this point, what she wants is reassurance. She wants to know that we’re standing on firm ground. She wants to know that I am solid. Immovable. Because women only trust and relax when you have demonstrated your strength. But I don’t catch it. Instead, I get frustrated with her for preempting our end even before we begin.

Jill, where are you getting this?

Do you have a plan that I don’t know about?

Maybe she just wants to hear that I have a plan. I lie and say yes.

Tell me.

I hadn’t thought this far ahead. I just need time, I scramble.

How much time?

I can’t say for sure.

And what am I supposed to do in the meantime? Wait for your family to break up like some kind of ghoul? God, the things she says sometimes.

Facepalm emoji. Who said anything about that?

She goes quiet and I know that I’ve lost her. When she gets in her head it’s like another dimension made entirely of rabbit holes in there. I don’t know how to talk to her without sparking the same old fights. Have we not grown since? Why don’t I know how to put her mind at ease?

I tip the lid of the laptop as Nora reenters the room. Jordan is rubbing the sleep out of his eyes so she takes him to bed. Soon afterwards she turns the lights out in both his room and ours. Might as well get comfortable on the couch. I fix myself another Irish coffee and start drafting my notice of resignation. I thought the weekend away would help me decompress but instead, I am deflated. Spent. It’s going to be a long week ahead.

15

About author

Wanjiru Ndung'u

Wanjiru Ndung'u writes fiction. She is an irretrievable night owl. Loves tea and cats. Devours stories and knits cozy scarves

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