Love can be a lot of things. Love can be patient and love can be kind. Love can be that warmth of heavy socks on your feet or that raging boner in your heart. But real love, the kind of love that you fall in, isn’t like the one mentioned in the book of Corinthians. This love doesn’t care. This love can cut through your skin like a double-edged sword and leave you lifeless and broken. Or strangle you around the neck like a serpent until you suffocate. It can be those permanent stains on your favorite dress or those deep cracks on the screen of your phone. It could feel as cold as the titanic or be uncomfortable like those kind of stilettos Sheila wears to work.
In her office, she walks to the window with a cup of coffee tightly held in her hands. Her palms curve around the surface of the mug, absorbing any heat from it, hoping that the heat will warm the coldness in her heart. She’s moody, very moody. Her female workers think she is overreacting, and the male workers…well, they think it must be that time of the month for her. Her office is in Westlands, just a fifteen-minute drive from her apartment in Ngara.
She stares through the thin mist in the gloomy morning weather that matches her mood. Her vision is glued to a complex several meters away, where she sees a distorted image of her on one of the glasses. She catches her reflection adamantly mocking her in cruel ways. She begrudgingly tears her gaze away, irritated. It is like life is mocking her and her situation. A kind lady who happens to be the only person she could tolerate in the office tries her once more, tells her that breakups are normal and with time her wounds would heal. She seems unmoved. She looks at her with disgust and jolts past her on her way out.
The next few days she stays at home sobbing and drinking. Doesn’t even leave the house once. She has been raised well, and her mother is not one to tolerate untidiness or brazen conduct. Her house was always clean, until now. The house which held the scent of lavender and the warmth of love now reeks of booze, empty promises, and a broken heart. She tries texting him, but he doesn’t respond. Calls him to apologize for something she hasn’t even done but the calls go unanswered. He blocks her from all his social media and keeps being cold as ice. Her sister comes often to the apartment to bring her food and help her clean it. Slowly things start to shape up for her. On the weekends her best friend takes her to Alliance’ Francaise in uptown Nairobi to see cultural performances and dances, after which they treat themselves to pizza before heading home. Her best friend tells her she doesn’t have to go if it evokes bad memories of him, tells her they could go somewhere else instead. But she insists that she’s moved on and he doesn’t affect him anymore.
“This is where we met.” She now narrates. Of course, she met a boy. What good is a story if a girl does not meet a boy? We are at the Subways restaurant along Kenyatta Avenue where she had agreed to meet. She is wearing a spaghetti strap ivory dress with a complementing headwrap and some nice matching stilettos. It hugs her perfectly. She’s ordered a BLT sandwich with lots of ketchup on it, and I’m wondering if she knows that ketchup and bright dresses don’t get along well. I stare at her while slowly seeping my Mocha. I wasn’t in the mood for cappuccino today so I ordered a double Mocha which I’m now drinking professionally. Why you may ask? Well, because I said cappuccino is sex in a cup, and she isn’t the right person to give that impression.
“I had watched him perform a traditional dance, and I was moved by his energy.” She says.
“Are you into traditional dances?” I ask.
“Not really. there was something about his passion and the intensity in which he performed that captivated me.” She laughs at my question. “On our way out, after the performance was over, we realized that we were heading in the same direction. And so, we decided to walk together.”
“How long did it take for you to break the ice?” I’m curious.
“I actually wasn’t the one who did it. My friend did. She invited him to accompany us to our pizza-eating routine.” She says. “He accepted the invitation, and that’s where it all began.” She recalls doing this every time they would go and watch him perform. They never missed a seat because he would always make sure they had the best ones. Her friend thought this would be good for her. That it would make her forget the recent ordeal that she went through when her parents got a divorce.
“It really served as a distraction for my already messed up life.” She looks in the direction of the now deserted avenue. “I felt really happy with him and I looked forward to every moment we would be together. When I was away from him time seemed to slow down, but with him, hours seemed like minutes.” Well, she fell for him. He was charming and gentle. Joe never seemed like the kind who could harm a fly, or the kind to knock when the bathroom was busy. He was manly but soft-spoken, and she liked her men masculine.
They met regularly, the days he performed and the days he didn’t perform. Occasionally he’d make a surprise visit to her workplace and they would hang out together. When he wasn’t in the theater performing, he was at home performing for her. On weekends they made Paris out of Nairobi, held hands wherever they went and more often went on dinner dates.
“It felt magical.” She says. “My days were full of happy moments and the world accepted me.” When the world accepts you, it conspires to make your desires and wishes come true. Her clothes fitted her curves perfectly. Her skin stayed smooth, complementing the glowing complexion of her body. “Whenever we went on dates, I would groom myself to look perfect for him. I didn’t entertain the idea of him looking at other women.”
“Was he the one who bought you the clothes?” I ask.
“Well, I was working so I bought them myself. I didn’t want to be the kind of woman who asks to be bought things by her boyfriend.” She wipes the sandwich crumbs on her lips. “As a matter of fact, I would even pay the dinner bills sometimes.” She was a working-class lady and she loved being independent. She had found solace in Joe and did all she could to keep him. Even if that meant supporting him financially.
One day she called and asked to meet her. He seemed a little distracted when they met, and like a concerned lover, she asked him what the problem was. “Here…was a man who always had his head high and never at any moment shed a tear, curling himself like a question mark in my presence, and explaining to me what had happened.” She demonstrates. He told to her that he had lost his job for whatever reason, and didn’t know what to do.
“Did you feel sorry for him?” I ask.
“Of course, I felt sorry for him.” She says. “His spirit was very low that day, and I somehow felt responsible to salvage his situation.” Like a good girlfriend, she supported him, because that is what good girlfriends do. They support their men. She did this while Joe tried to secure jobs from different firms. His skills narrowed his opportunities which only made the process harder. It took her around six months of paying his bills and supporting him financially before he finally secured another job.
He got a well-paying job at Kenya National Theater where he directed plays and wrote scripts. With time he moved from his bedsitter in Umoja to a one-bed-roomed apartment in Highridge. He never mentioned to her that he had moved. When she found out, he promised to show her his new place, but she would have to wait because he led a very busy life. With this new job, they met less often. Sometimes she would call him, and the phone would ring continuously without response. And whenever he answered, he would blame her for troubling him for no good reason. He would rant at her for not understanding his situation, telling her that she would only understand if she was in his shoes.
“I felt that Joe was ignoring me. He would go days without communication; weeks, sometimes even a month. No phone calls. No texts. Nothing” She’s facing up trying to hold back her tears. “I gave him my whole being. Spent most of my time with him. A time that was now filled with emptiness. I didn’t know what to do.” The short hours at the office started becoming longer. She worked herself exhaustively, leaving the office at 9 pm to go home. She barely had anything to look forward to, and the fact that he was avoiding her only made it worse.
“Did you find out what was going on with him?” I ask feeling like I am rushing the story.
“One afternoon, my sis and I went shopping for her wedding anniversary cake along Mpaka Rd. Westlands. While at the shop my sister poked me, “Sheila. Isn’t that your Joe?” Ivey asked. At the mention of his name I felt an adrenaline rush through my body.” She says. “I looked and surely it was him. I saw Joe with this young lady at the entrance of Fortis Tower flirting and laughing. He was holding her waist like she was some property he never wanted to lose.” She narrates. Before I even ask her how that must have been for her, she continues, “Right there my knees started trembling. My hands were shaking like I was convulsing. I felt weak. I was this close—” she pinches her thumb and index fingers to her face to demonstrate, “…to falling but my sister held on to me before I did.”
There is this thing about adrenaline. You can either activate it in fight or flight mode. You could be in a hospital bedridden and feeling weak from a parasite that causes Malaria, but the moment you hear a lion approaching, you run like you are sprinting for an Olympic medal. You don’t even think about Malaria anymore. Screw Malaria! because when the lion catches you, the parasite becomes meaningless.
Somehow, she found the energy to confront him. She wasn’t going to let this go. She was furious, so she charged towards him with the wrath of two bulls ready to lock horns. She had not planned for it but she performed better than he did on stage. The drama caused was enough to attract a small crowd of passersby and diners inside the Cold Stone restaurant. She cried and cussed a lot, almost slapped him but her sister intervened. She separated them and hurled a bucketful of insults to him before she took her home.
The next few days she stayed at home crying and aching. She felt hurt and betrayed. She felt the pain of heartbreak everywhere. When she walked, it hurt. When she brushed her teeth, it hurt even more. When she closed her eyes, she had nightmares. Her mind would take her to dark places where the incessant pangs of death awaited her. She would see a creature with Joe’s face, his hand holding a dagger, and a jar of hearts trailing on the ground behind him. His passion spoke in gruesome vehement stabs as he stormed towards her. Other times she dreamt of falling skies and darkness consuming her. She was deep in abyss and not even the light from the moon presented a single glimmer of hope. She lived in fear of being alive.
“You don’t have to say this if it makes you uncomfortable,” I say as I hand her a serviette.
She decides to let her feelings show, she’s crying. We are at a restaurant and SHE IS CRYING! I notice the sicken look the two ladies at the corner of the restaurant are hurling at me. They must think I’m making her cry. Such rubbernecks! I shake my head to show them that this isn’t my doing.
“No, it’s okay, I feel like it lifts the burden off me.” She continues. “I cried and kept crying not realizing that my tears brought me no relief. I would go to work, and people at the office would give me this pity look, the kind you give a crying child when its mother is not around. I rarely talked to anyone, and my tone was rude, at least that is what people thought. Some of my workers understood the pain I was going through. Others thought I was overreacting, while some idiots thought I was on my periods.” I almost laugh at that, then realize how critical the situation is.
“It must have been pretty bad,” I say.
“It was. One day to someone you are the Queen, and they shower you with praises, kneel at your feet and crown you with all sorts of goodness. The next day they have changed. They have snapped away and disappeared, and you just stand there at the side watching your world crash and burn. He made me believe that we were strong together. Made me think that we shared a heart.”
He tried calling her, but she didn’t pick. It was her time to play the game of musical chairs, but only that this one involved hearts. When he realized he couldn’t reach her, he tried her again using an unknown number. At first, she wanted to ignore, but later she answered. He talked and talked while she kept quiet. Tried to apologize but his admission of guilt felt on deaf ears. When he was finished talking, she didn’t even say anything, she just hung up. He came to her apartment to see her, but she banged the door at his face.
“He came again and again, and I was starting to develop a soft spot for him. He told me that he understood why things had to happen this way, that he understands my reason for causing him pain.” She exclaims. “I wanted so badly to believe him. I wanted to cling to the hope that love conquers all and that holding on was a sign of strength. I wanted to understand things from his perspective. But when I tried, I realized that the mere understanding could not chase away the pain I was feeling.”
Later on, she realized how a perfect liar he was. When the truth dawned on her that all he lived on was lies, she decided that it was time for her to choose between turning the page or closing the book. “I talked to my mum and sister about it and they both advised me against getting back together with him. My mom hated seeing me cry, and she swore she would skin Joe alive if she ever met him.” She smiles. They were her pillar of strength and her best friend was also there for her. With time she healed. Her clothes started fitting her perfectly again. Her shoes were more comfortable, and her once flaky skin now radiated with the robustness of the midmorning Marsabit Sun.
“What happened to him?
“Yes. Are they still dating?” I ask.
“Well, before I get to him, I should say that I decided to move on and start anew. The best feeling came when I realized I could move on without him. Although it caused me so much pain, I accepted the inevitable and dealt with the strife.” She confesses. “And now his voice echoes no more. Past years seem dark ones, vanquished ones while the future lives in my cloud formidable from his distance. There is more air to breathe, air that is free from his whimsical charms.” She inhales deeply as she stares intently at blank space.
“Joe. What happened to him?” my curiosity is becoming unbearable.
“Oh, him? They broke up with the lady not long after the confrontation. He also lost his job at the Theater.” She says with the voice of victory. “It seems like Karma is tracing his path and love has been cruel on her.” She adds.
We’ve been here for almost an hour. She’s done with the sandwich and I’m starting to feel the Mocha in my bladder. The waitress presents the bill in a leather folder which I almost pocket after confusing it with my wallet. The two rubbernecks at the corner of the restaurant are also done eating. And I have a feeling they are waiting to ambush me outside. Before we leave, I ask her one last question.
“Would you give him a second chance?”
“Second chance? Second chances are for people who know the value of other people’s heart. I do not want to give him an extra bullet for his gun because he missed me the first time.” She says in distaste.
“He still calls trying to win me back. But once I remember that my heart was taken by him, broken by him, and shattered to pieces because of him, that’s when I say ‘Screw him!’ and my life goes on.”
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