I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way than this:
where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.
The last line hits her in all the right places. Her soul is at ease. She has always loved poetry. She prefers American poetry, what with their care free, devil may care attitude. She does not normally stray outside this genre. But he bought her this book, and insisted she read it, said something about Chileans writing beautiful poetry. He does not mention his ex-wife loved this particular poem.
He increases the tempo a bit. The moan escapes her lips without warning. She asks him to stop, he does not. Instead, he moves from one foot to the other. She thinks that of all the things this man can do well, his foot massages must be at the very top. She places the book on her lap and lets herself be present in the moment. Her right hand reaches out for the steaming cup of coffee on the stool beside her. He at that very moment tickles her foot. And somehow this happy cosmic accident ends with her dropping the cup. The crashing sound does not unnerve him, he stops only to look into her eyes and says something about him cleaning it up.
Her friend was right, when she insisted on dating only older men. The type on the wrong side of 40s. They have, the friend insisted, an unerring ability to take care of a woman. Which is why she is seated in his sofa, her legs on his lap, his hands on her feet. In his previous life, he was a baker. She can tell from the way he expertly kneads through every nerve ending on her feet. Making contact with every pressure point. It is as if the heavens gave him the map to her 22 year old body. And he is gifted, in his ability to explore. She wonders if his skills are as attuned to other body parts…she will not wait too long to find out. Her friend likes to tell her of how she bathes her men. This, in her opinion, is why they never want to leave her. Imani would gladly bathe this one daily. If only she could figure out how to keep him.
William comes back from the balcony carrying the broom and mop. He quickly clears the broken shards of glass and cleans up the floor. He does it quickly and efficiently. A skill learnt from decades of looking after himself. Save from the short spell of 3 years when he got married. It ended amicably, he thinks, his wife letting him keep all his assets. The only drawback was the wife would keep custody of their son. It had seemed fair then, some 10 years ago. She did not want their son to grow up to become the man his father was. She had always been stubborn, even before he married her. He had loved that about her. Her unwillingness to conform to his every whim. Quite unlike the woman seated on his sofa, breaking his dishes. He has been chasing her for a month now. He has hid nothing from her, sharing his darkness with her. And she has loved him for it. Him playing to her natural instinct to change him and her thankful for someone to love. He knows she sees a little bit of her father in him. He will leave her, maybe a month from now, she will hate all men for it. He will not care.
He holds the mop gently as he cleans the coffee away. The dark stain on his Italian tiles is stubborn. He applies a bit of pressure, the circular cleaning motion slowly taking his mind away from the present moment.
5 years ago, he had gone back to her, his ex-wife. When mid-life crisis hits men, they turn into everything they never thought they would be. He wanted to share custody of their boy. He was ready to a father. She refused, he insisted. She refused again. But women are forgiving creatures. So she let him see the boy whenever he chose. Which was once a week, on Saturday afternoons. Enough time to take the kid for a haircut and some chicken at the KFC in his estate. The boy had his father’s appetite.
On that Saturday morning, the boy begged his mother to let him play outside. She said yes, but insisted. He should play just outside the kitchen where she could watch him. The boy loved it. Plus it would let him see his papa as soon as he drove into the estate. But children do not think rules are for them. So he and his playmates moved ever further from the little play area near his house. In search of some space big enough to play football. They found it.
The boys were playing by the roadside. Careless, as all boys at that age are. Living in the simple simplicity that someone else was taking care of them. You should have seen him, the boy. Him and a small troupe of other boys, chasing a dirty old ball. Their little hearts a little too excited that their mums let them play outside. It was July, and it was as cold as the hearts of corrupt African politicians. And as it happens when Nairobi is cold, a grey fog envelops the city. We huddle ever closer in traffic. In the matatus, we are a little glad to share body warmth with that mama mboga who smells like 3 day old raw cabbage. The smell is not so bad when she releases warmth similar to a 74 KiloWatt heater.
The driver, a man, had been drinking all night. He was hurrying home. Eager to get there before he passed out. It was not really his fault that his German machine careened off the road and landed smack on the little boy. It was not his fault, that Nairobi was foggy and visibility was poor. And it was definitely his fault that he was driving drunk, fast and without care.
They called him first, William. Men bear loss with a bit more dignity. They called his mother only when they were sure he was on the way. He got there first. The German machine still on top of his boy. He had tried to push the car by himself from his kid, he failed. Even the 7 men who had tried to help him had not succeeded. He would have continued, if not for one woman who has asked him to stop and hold his child. The boy, trapped under a tonne of European steel was gasping for air. His chest compressed, his vessels dilating from the lack of oxygen and his eyes folding slowly. He had smiled when he saw his papa. Unaware and not caring that papa only showed up once in a week. He had his father’s eyes. The boy had told him his feet were cold. A sure sign of poor blood supply. He was dying. His father had taken his boy’s legs in his laps and massaged them. The boy smiling all through, unaware, not caring that he was dying. The innocence of childhood. He had slipped away just as his mother arrived. Secure, in the knowledge that the people who loved him, were with him. She had screamed for hours there. Wailing even as the firefighters lifted the car. He heard nothing, he sat there transfixed his hands kneading his little boy’s feet.
William had buried him in the valleys of his ex-wife’s ancestral home. A little village in Rumba, South East, Nyanza. Where little boys still run around naked with mud the only thing on their skin. The boy had never really been his in this life. It was only fair that he sleep in the soil of the people who had loved him, his ex-wife’s family. His ancestors welcoming him into eternity. He would be welcome there. William hoped they would welcome him from the start and not wait 5 years as he did.
“Babe,” she calls. A little louder, “babe!” Imani calls.
He hears her, jots back into reality and continues to wipe the floor. She looks at him quizzically. Wondering what happened to him for those 5 minutes. He stopped wiping and for 5 minutes stared at her legs. She assumes that is something old men do. Look at the feet of the people the like.
He is instead thinking of the last moments of his son’s life. The way he held his feet in his hands. Holding them gently, and firmly. The boy’s torso under the weight of a German machine. The driver attempting to run off, his drunk legs buckling under him. The people beating the shit out of him. Some of the people working to lift the vehicle. The boy’s blood sipping gently into the soil. A fitting union with the soil he came to and the soil he was returning to. The other boys, with their dusty ball at a corner somewhere. Looking at it all, traumatized. Some wary of the beating their mothers would inflict when they found out, that they had been playing near the road. Their mothers would be a little lenient that evening, giving verbal warnings only and hugging them a little tighter. The boys would not understand it.
His boy had, when the vehicle was lifted, looked at him smiling asked, “Do you love me papa?”
He had lied.
He stops wiping and puts the mop and broom away. He makes another cup of coffee for her. He places it in a stool by his sofa. The smell of burning Nyeri coffee dregs filling the room. He sits her down and places the book on her lap. He sits down again as he was places her legs on his laps and continues to knead gently. She loves it. She will in a week get tired of this routine. She will never know that when her feet are in his laps, he goes back in his mind. To that cold July morning, the smell of exhaust and expensive whisky in the air. A boy’s blood sipping into the soil and his legs in his lap.
And every time she speaks, he remembers the question the boy asked, “Do you love me papa?”
He will lie again.
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