The air had been thick with heat that morning. It was the week after Easter Sunday and I had just returned from a trip to Tsavo. I had just three days to rest before heading out on the next safari. That weekend, I would be guiding a Canadian tour group around Mt. Longonot and Lake Naivasha.
The roads had been hectic and I’d hoped for some time to myself to decompress, but Mundia was working from home. It was something he’d started doing earlier that year when I had days off, after everything. Supposedly, it was to spend more time with me. But all he did was camp in the living room with his laptop all day while I kept myself busy with scrubbing, dusting and laundering. On that particular day, he was updating a catalogue for his family’s auction house ahead of an auction that Saturday.
At four o’clock, the sky darkened. Rain birds began swooping and circling, announcing the imminent downpour. On the street, the urgency was palpable. There was hooting and angry shouting from impatient drivers and riders. Motorcycles weaved speedily through the lanes while pedestrians seized every lull in traffic to dash across the road. One couldn’t tell it was four o’clock in the afternoon unless they checked the time, and even then, they might’ve thought that the clocks were running behind. Everyone hurried home or tried to squeeze in one last errand before the storm.
Mundia still hadn’t looked up from his laptop, so I picked up a book on trees that I had been reading for my work as a wildlife tour guide. While I love my job and would not be happy making a living any other way, I don’t enjoy bringing my work home. I’m the sort of person who likes to unplug once I clock out of work. Mundia, on the other hand, spends every waking moment trying to close the next deal. He works long past any reasonable threshold of productivity, I suspect, in order not to have to participate in our home life or anything that pertains to it.
It was with equal parts reluctance and resentment that I picked up the book on trees. I would much rather have been watching mindless TV on my own, but I was in no position to make demands. It was a time for atonement, not self-indulgence.
A gust of wind swept in, banging the back door shut and rattling a tree branch across the spare bedroom’s window. At last, the heat broke and fat raindrops pattered the ground. The wind blew furiously, bending the bottlebrush tree in my garden this way and that. It was the kind of rain that falls at an angle, such that anyone who gets caught in it is drenched with or without an umbrella over their heads.
The sagging power lines were not spared either. They were whipped around and crackled loudly every time they made contact. Soon the sky lit up with what looked like lightning for ten short seconds. Except, the light had been a splendid violet, and had come after the roll of thunder instead of before. From the direction we saw it, its source could only have been the power substation down the road. Sure enough, the power went off and the generator in the mall across the street rumbled to life.
With the lights out, I abandoned the idea of reading and instead grabbed a fleece blanket and settled in a bay window seat. Mundia closed his laptop and stretched with a yawn. He started for the kitchen but got his ankle caught on the furniture and cursed. Limping, he went ahead in search of candles. By the way he was banging drawers and cabinet doors shut, I could tell that he didn’t know where they were.
“Ceera… Ceera?” He called out to me. I refused to answer. There were only two of us living there and the candles were in the same place they’d been since we moved there. He can find a candle without my help.
Not two minutes afterward, he came out holding a lit candle and without a candle stand, I noted. I was sure he’d left a trail of wax on the floor that would be a pain to scrape off. It was the kind of small annoyance that would previously have ruined a perfectly good afternoon for me, but I couldn’t be bothered then. He sat next to me and helped himself to the bubble of warmth I had trapped under the fleece blanket.
“Tuck yourself in,” I said, masking irritation with concern. “You’re letting all the warmth out.”
“It’s raining hard out there,” he said, beaming his full gaze at me. My hair pricked up. I knew exactly where he was going with that. All other men lucky enough to be home with their wives during a storm and a blackout were having the same idea right then. His style hadn’t changed since we met. He always began foreplay with an arousal pun and the rain provided a ripe harvest of double entendres. Of course, in the beginning I enjoyed a bit of stimulating banter. I liked it when he played the scoundrel who was a softie at heart. Now, when he tries to be charming it sounds like nails on a chalkboard to me.
“Mmh. Cats and dogs,” I said, trying not to sound dismissive. I tore my eyes away from his gaze and concentrated on a stream of water flowing out of a crack in the spout outside. I noted that it was flooding a potted bamboo plant sitting on the patio. If that went on for too long, the soil would get soggy and rot the roots. I made a mental note to google gutter sealant as soon as the power came back on.
“Do we still have those Viennas in the freezer? I could whip up some onions and make us some hotdogs,” I said. I didn’t really want to make hotdogs by candlelight; I just couldn’t sit still.
“I’m still full from lunch but I wouldn’t mind a coffee.”
“How do you want it?” I asked, reaching for my slippers with my feet.
“Black, extra sweet.”
“Oh come on! That one is straight out of Instagram,” I laughed.
“It’s not a line. The weather is perfect for a hot coffee.”
“And you just happen to like your coffee like you like your women?”
“I think you’re thinking of cigars,” he said, scratching the back of his head. I began to wonder if I had misread his intentions.
“Bold and smoky?”
“Thick, brown and tight.”
Of course! “Just like I like my stockings!”
He burst out laughing. “Not the stockings. No! Burn the stockings!”
Oh no, I’ve gone and made him laugh. He’ll be a hound on a scent now.
I took the candle with me and started a fresh brew of coffee. I didn’t realize that he’d followed me until he wrapped himself and the blanket around me. I stiffened in his embrace but hoped he hadn’t noticed. One, two, three seconds later I wriggled out from under him and reached for a cabinet door.
“Do you want RumChata in yours?” I asked, setting glass mugs on the counter.
“Sure. Although…I’ve been reading and it says online that caffeine and alcohol make it harder to get pregnant.”
“It’s a good thing you’re not trying to get pregnant then,” I snorted, a little too proud of myself.
I turned to look at him but it was too dark to read his face. “Are we? Trying to conceive? ‘Cause this is the first I’ve heard of it.”
I smoothened the edge of confrontation out of my tone. He hated being called out, which meant I was always conscious of doing it.
“I thought this was something you wanted.” He remained standing by the kitchen sink but I could already feel him retreating. The heat of anger started to creep up my temple. I rubbed my forehead to calm myself but I couldn’t keep it back.
“Why now?” I asked.
“Now is as good a time as any, I guess,” he shrugged. “We’re on the clock, after all.”
On the clock?
“On the clock?”
“On the clock?” I asked again, the warning sizzling on my tongue, ready to burn him at the first wrong turn. He dug his heels in, the fool.
“I don’t make the rules. The fact is that we’re running out of time.”
“It’s never seemed to bother you before,” I said, remembering the evasive silences whenever I brought up having children over the years. The way he grew tense at the mention of it, one would’ve thought I was pursuing him for a long-forgotten debt. Eventually, I’d dropped the subject and we hadn’t spoken of it again; a great reprieve for him.
He’d never wanted to think about my biological clock back then. Now here he was, bringing it up over a kettle of boiling water like it was nothing. I had half a mind to throw that kettle at him, scathing water and all. I could picture it — the kettle flying, the horrified look on his face, his elbows flying up to protect himself, the water splashing on both of us, the madness blazing in my eyes — but no. That would be a jackpot win for him; getting to be a victim while I was permanently cast as a deranged villain. Oh, how he would love to play the martyr!
“Why the sudden rush?” I pressed.
“It just wasn’t the right time,” he said.
“And what makes this the right time?” I asked, frustrated that he kept slipping from my grasp. Usually I was able to get to the heart of the matter with surgical precision. It was a skill I had learnt over years of fighting an opponent who was as slippery as an eel, but I couldn’t seem to get in my element then.
I wanted him to admit that the only way he would concede to having a child was if conception happened accidentally. That he had gone to great lengths to avoid such an accident and that had he not felt threatened, after everything, he would never have brought it up. Most of all, I wanted him to admit what we both knew — that his feelings of inadequacy as they pertained to fatherhood were only superseded by the fact that a pregnancy, and subsequent baby, would put me out of circulation long enough for Nazir to lose interest. He was trying to tie me down.
He was trying to trap me!