This short story first appeared on Ndugu Abisai’s page.
“Kwetu pazuri nimeshapakumbuka
Ninayo hamu kuishi na mwokozi wangu…”
You kick my knee again. “Babe, kazime hiyo alarm!”
I roll over, groaning “But, si it’s your phone?”
You insist. Promising to keep kicking me until I wake up.
I throw off the sheets and step out of the bed. The tube of lubricant cluttering to the floor as I struggle to find my glasses. I put them on, and the haze clears. I pull back the curtain and an, “aah ahh, usifungue!” emanates from your side of the bed. I close them again. Walking carefully away from you. Careful not to trip over the mass of bra, new panties, old boxers, t-shirts, and slightly used condoms on the floor.
“Mpendwa njoo turudi nyumbani
Asubuhi yaja tuyakimbie ya dunia”
I move faster, closing the bedroom door behind me in a rush to get to the seating room socket. I get to your phone. I swipe up to turn off the alarm. I then pull it out of the charger, quickly scanning the notifications.
Hmmmmh, what’s this?
I lock the phone, and I bring it to you. I place it under your pillow and I get back under the sheets.
“Kuna mtu amenitext?”
“Babe…kuna mtu amenitext?”
I pull the phone from under the pillow. I type in your pin, pretending that I had not seen the messages already.
I open WhatsApp.
“Ni kama Roba anakutafuta. Anasema uwache kukataa kushika simu yake”
“Sawa, achana na yeye”
I return the phone to its pillow. And pull the sheets over me again. Pushing your legs away from the hot water bottle at the foot of the mattress. Instead, you push your legs into mine. And for a long moment, we sleep there like that. Back-to-back, feet intertwined, with mine inches from the water bottle.
“Hautamjibu?” I ask.
“Unataka nimjibu nimwambie nini?”
The neighbor’s door opens, and you can hear her attempting to corral her kids to come out. A noisy bunch who are always up to mischief. One of them does something and a slap lands. Followed quickly by a cry that is silenced by another slap.
She barks out orders, “muende kwa gari haraka! Na nisiskie sauti!” Shuffling feet, and today none of them dares knock on my window. Shuffling keys, as she struggles to close the door likely while carrying her large, black handbag in one hand.
Njoki turns, and faces my back. “Babe, niangalie!”
I ignore her.
“Babe niangalie…” as she pulls my shoulder towards her.
“I told him, I needed space. That’s why sishiki simu zake!”
“Yeah, but why not just send him a text telling him you are okay?”
“Mimi ni mtu mkubwa! I can’t be controlled like a child”
A car starts in the parking, and you can hear its engine struggling to come alive. Spluttering, coughing twice, sneezing before agreeing to move. The gate creaks….
“Babe, I am with you here, why are we even talking about Robert? Kwani you don’t enjoy me spending nights with you?”
The gate creaks again, likely, as the watchie closes it behind the neighbor and her kids.
“But he is your husband Njoki. Si chali fala fala tu!”
“Shida yake!” You respond.
And with that your head disappears under the sheets. The next word from me will be a prayer….
Robert has his right foot on the table for its bi-monthly cleaning. The nail clippers are on the sofa, and right now he is busy staring at the space between the big toe and the second toe. He doesn’t quite understand why the skin in there keeps peeling. Plus, when he shoves his finger there, drags its around and smells it.
Almost like Lazarus was dead for a week in there. He doesn’t mind it though, “mwanaume ni kaharufu!”
He is busy maneuvering the clippers in place to cut off a chunk of the nail on his kasmall toe when the door rumbles. The metal piece covering the bolt is lifted and a manicured hand appears. It bumbles around a bit, attempting to locate the bolt. Then deftly pulls it to the side, all while pushing the door in.
She is surprised to see him, but she catches herself.
“Haiyaaa babe, kwani umerudi?”
Roba, ever the comedian, “hapana, bado niko Mombasa.”
They both laugh, as she unties her shoes, and comes in to hug him.
“Hata wewe, si ungeniambia unakam mapema babe nijipange.” Her voice drops 3 octaves lower as she says this.
“Kwani naomba ruhusa ya kukuja kwangu?”
Of course not.
She kisses him. Tenderly. And a bit of that male hardness ebbs a bit, replaced with a mischievousness that is uncharacteristic of him. He pulls her in, and with the finger that was minutes past, drying toes, pushes back her hair.
“Nimekumiss” He says.
“Aaaaaah, uongo!” The way she says it betrays her. Or her beginnings at least. You can hear a bit, and I swear, just a bit of the Murang’a in Njoki. It only appears when she is vulnerable. Or emotional. Or horny. The practiced Ls disappearing, and in their place her native tongue reappears. But she catches herself again.
And kisses him. Untenderly now. Like a wife who has missed her lover’s touch. He responds. Pulling at her dress a little too hard, that she almost winces. She’s never told him but, she likes her love made slowly. Easily. Think a feather running, no, easing up a thigh. The feather almost unwilling to do this, but it must.
He senses her unease and, “kwani hunitaki!” The gruffness returning to his voice.
“Hapaaana babe! Nataka kuoga kwanza nitoe hii jasho ya job.”
She collects herself and disappears into the bedroom. Pulls out her phone and texts her gateman, “Mzee alikuja saa ngapi?”
“Njoki, kuna chakula huku?” Her husband asks from the other room.
The gateman hasn’t responded yet.
“Madam siko job, wacha niulize yule yuko.”
“Fuck!” Does Robert know she didn’t sleep here?
She undresses, keeping a careful watch on her phone. She then pulls out her soiled undies and bra from her bag and hides them in his socks drawer. He never digs through it. She does a quick review of herself. Scanning her neck in the mirror. Thank god the bastard didn’t leave hickeys this time. She checks her phone again. Nothing.
She heads out to the bathroom. Eager to get a quick shower in before he gets too frisky.
“Can a man, smell other men on his woman?” She wonders.
She closes the bathroom door behind her, turns on the shower, and steps into it. Letting the water wash her sin away.
“Babe, umesema kuna food ama I order?”
Shit, she forgot about it.
“Order tu!” She shouts.
She faintly hears her favorite song playing.
“Kwetu pazuri nimeshapakumbuka
Ninayo hamu kuishi na mwokozi wangu…”
“Babe, the watchie is calling? Nichukue ama nikupatie”
Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! She changed her ringtone.
The bathroom door opens, and a naked, slightly fazed Njoki, with hair full of soap appears hand outstretched.
You can tell Njoki is almost done with the bathroom by the sounds she makes. The steady tat-tat-tat from the shower replaced with the swishes of a broom. As she directs the shower water to the round hole at the bathroom’s corner. She sings as well. Kikuyu evangelicals that sound like love songs in her mouth. When she finally opens the door, wisps of smokey air escape first. The she emerges, wrapped in a brown towel. Proudly emblazoned, “Sairuni Hotel, where relaxation meets freedom,” a remnant of her stay in a Mombasa hotel. She usually carries her wet panties in one hand, stopping to wipe her red slippers on the mat. Before walking carefully into the bedroom.
Today however, she carries panties in one hand, and her phone in the other. And her pace from bathroom to bedroom is decidedly unladylike. She finds Robert in the room, an empty suitcase on the bed.
“Kwani unaenda already babe?”
Babe grunts, then continues to scroll through his phone. He can be like that sometimes when he is thinking through something. Njoki opens the balcony door, grabs a few pegs from a container on the dresser and steps out to hang her panties. She has a 2-step plastic tool she uses to get to the hanging line. It was one of Robert’s random gifts to her.
“Ndio uwache kuniambia nikuwekee nguo zako kwa line.” He’d explained as he pulled it out of the box.
She comes back into the room, to find Robert’s mood considerably worse. The general grumpiness replaced with a pacing back and forth.
“Babe, uko sawa?”
It seems the questions sets off a tirade that he had been struggling to hold back.
“Ulilala wapi jana Njoki?”
She doesn’t answer it. She walks to her drawer pulls out a fresh set of panties. Drops her towel, reaches for her bottle of lotion, and proceeds to oil her feet. Slowly. The question can wait.
“Njoki, nauliza ulilala wapi jana? Ama umekuwa deaf huniskii?”
“Kukusikia nakusikia! But I do not like your tone.”
Robert’s pacing becomes feverish, shorter steps executed faster.
“Njoki, SITAKUULIZA TENA!”
“Huyo amekuambia sikulala hapa amekuambia nililala wapi?”
Robert is stunned. He stops pacing, flops onto the bed and watches her oil her left leg now. Starting at the foot, and in gentle movements rubbing the lotion in.
“So hukulala hapa?”
“Babe, why are you asking questions you know the answers to?”
“Ulilala wapi? Leo utatoka hapa ukaishi na huyo mtu wako. Sitaishi na malaya mimi!”
It is the last statement that gets her. She stops her lotion application for a long minute to stare at him.
“Ati umeniita nini?”
He continues, “You thought you are the only one with the watchman on payroll? Hiyo elfu mbili unamlipa, I pay him double. I know hulalangi hapa when I am away on work. Ndio leo you must tell me, unalalanga wapi?”
It is her turn now to counterattack. Only, she does it with nuance. Slowing down to wear her panties first. Right leg in, as usual, and then the left. Then a t-shirt.
“Na wewe unalalanga wapi ukiwa Mombasa? Ama you want us to pretend you still sleep in hotels?”
She says this while combing her hair slowly into place. Staring at her reflection in the mirror, as she “Babe, I know you thought you are the only one capable of sleeping around. But ni kama ulisahau before unioe, hukunipata virgin, na tukiachana sitakosa wanaume wengine.”
Robert is now back on his feet. Pacing. Muttering to himself. Njoki, seemingly at ease, is now attempting to fit her thighs into new leggings that a hawker promised would make her husband love her again.
“Mimi sitaishi na mwanamke analala nje….mimi sitaishi na,”he keeps muttering to himself.
“Na mimi sitaishi na mwanaume analala na kila mtu.” Njoki mutters in answer.
They finally stop and stare at each. Each accepting that they have re-met their equal and the game is in essence. Checkmate.
The door-bell rings, and a voice comes through the intercom.
“Ni mtu wa Jumia, nimeleta chakula”
Njoki turns to him, “si you get the food babe, I’m hungry.”
Robert walks out.
PC: Cliff Booth
How are you doing? Are you safe, are you being loved, do they feel like home when you are cuddled up next to them? I hope so. Meanwhile, I wrote a book. Rather, I was part of a collective that wrote a book. It’s called, “When a stranger called and other short stories.”