The Divano Pub,
Thika Road, Nairobi.
Kimani is seated at the pub with his friends. The pub sells beers at 350 shillings a bottle. It is daylight robbery but the joint makes up for this by the quality of ladies it attracts. You know the type that smell like money with skin that looks like it has been dipped in chocolate. Kimani however, does not notice this bevy of beauties perched on stools around him. Their knees smiling coyly at him. Almost daring him to do something. He does nothing. He is seated with his friends. A noisy bunch even when you account for the alcohol in their systems. Oneko who works as an engineer is busy spinning a story for the crew. He is very generous with his escapades for the week. He lines up the girls he bedded and proceeds to provide sordidly graphic details of each of his trysts. He smells of immaturity. The others listen intently trying to learn a few things from the master. In truth, Oneko is terrible with women. But the universe is fair, what he lacks in confidence he makes up for in extra zeros on his payslip. It is a fact he seldom lets anyone forget. Kimani not one to be outdone would happily divulge similar details of his extra-curriculum activities. The only difference being he is an extremely good liar, capable of spinning the most intricate of yarns at a moment’s notice. He is in truth a monogamous man; preferring the security of a one woman to the excitement of many.
He is however, silent today. His face telling the story of the turmoil in his mind. Troubles that even 7 shots of the stoutest whisky the pub has, cannot lift. His friends however, do not notice this. Oneko is telling them of why he does not use protection. The way he tells it, everyone believes him. He is lying, the way men lie to each other in bars. Kimani however, is thinking of how he will go home. Back to the lie his life has become. You know how when you are young you believe in love, in the soapy, mushy kind. The call -your-partner-every-day kind, leave voice notes on her phone, and call each other pet names. He used to be that guy, when he married his wife. He knew this was it, the end. He would never look at another woman that way again. Do you ever look at young lovers and pity them? The way their fingers find every excuse to intertwine. The simplicity, the genuineness of how they like each other. The naivety of believing it is enough. Kimani misses it sometimes. He remembers years back when it was him, and his girlfriend then and now wife. Then life happened. He sips his beer, the froth lurks for a moment on his lips. She liked that, his other woman. He met her 3 months into his new marriage. When his wife still called him baby as a term of endearment. Now she forgot his name, so she uses baby liberally.
Her name was Mumbua. He buried her today. Not really buried, because he was unknown to her people. So he stood at the far end of the gathering. It rained heavily, he hid himself under an umbrella. As other men did what he should have done, lowered the casket into her new home. He watched as her people cried over her. Her husband standing stoically over the casket. Tears falling freely from his face. Mumbua used to say he never cried. He was a man’s man. Kimani wanted to go and give him a hug, to tell him he knew exactly how he felt. They shared the same woman after all. They both knew the way her eyes danced in their sockets when she was happy. And how she liked to kiss both their eyelids. She said it was her way of touching his soul. Her husband has known her for 11 years, Kimani had loved her for 7 of those years. Kimani knows that the husband would not appreciate this information. He is as all men are, insecure, beneath that iron exterior. Such information would cripple him, destroying the last vestige of dignity remaining. He loved her deeply, and she loved him too, sometimes. The other times she loved Kimani. Was it such a sin to love more than one man?
Her kids line up to take a photo with the casket. I have always wondered why anyone would take such photos. As if the kids will one day show that particular image to the people they marry, like “I looked very nice when burying mum.”
The only time Kimani came close to her was during the viewing. When they let everyone line up and move past the casket as they looked at her face one last time. He wanted to be the last one on the line. But they insisted on family. He took his place, every step moving him ever so close to her. As he came near the casket. He felt it, the smell of her scent. He bought if for her. It was Chanel no. 5. Her favorite. Someone had thought to dab it on her. He was grateful. He breathed in gulp fulls of air. Trying desperately to save it in his lungs while holding back the tears. Then he stood there, before her. She was draped in a wedding gown. She had always wanted to get married in church. Her husband had hated the church. So this was their compromise. He would bury her in a dress she never wore. Hoping, that she would forgive him for taking away her life long dream. Her eyes are closed, her brows arched. As if surprised that even death was master over her. He lingers there, for a moment more than is appropriate. The next person in line however, does not push. Uncharacteristic of Kenyans in queues. He wants so desperately to hold her, but he knows she would have hated it. He moves, someone wonders out aloud who he is. He walks away a bit faster, not willing to answer uncomfortable questions.
Dust to dust
The last time he sees the casket is when he throws a handful of dust into the grave. The way Christians like to do. From dust you came, to the dust you return. Here he does not linger. She is buried in her husband’s ancestral home. At the feet of her mother in law. Kimani will never come back here again. He knows it. He would be unwelcome. The sight of a stranger crying at the grave of a married woman would raise questions.
He sips his beer again. His friends are still laughing but slower this time. They have not noticed his absence from them. He stands up, pretending to go to the washrooms. He instead heads to his car. Thinking of what to tell his wife. A reason good enough to explain his absence from his home for 2 nights. It is raining slowly. The soil smells just like a freshly dug grave. It takes him back again. He get in and shuts the door. His being tittering on the brink of despair. He stills himself. This is not the time to cry. He did that when he heard the news. Her friend who knew of them called him and told him. He was forever grateful. He had tried to call her. Her phone was off. He has called her daily since then. Even in death, she was the one to decide when they would talk. He starts his car and points it towards home. He wonders how he will hide his pain from the woman he should be loving.
He drives carefully, a little bit more appreciative of life. It is raining heavily now but he gets there quickly. He can see his daughter’s room from the driveway. He thinks of asking his house manager to bring out an umbrella. Just before he makes the call, it stops raining. He smiles, maybe Mumbua has become a god in heaven. He will worship her gladly, as he did here. He gets out, breathes in deeply and heads to his house. He has decided, he will explain himself to no one. He is the man after all. He opens the door, his wife is in the kitchen cooking. She comes out to give him his usual kiss. She is happy to see him. The pain comes rushing in, he tries to stop it. It refuses to yield to his will. He looks at his wife, she knows! Just before her lips touch his, he remembers the question Mumbua asked him the first time he met her, in a dark bar under shimmering lights. “What kind of beautiful am I?” He answered.