This Cold June Morning
There is a used condom on the floor. It is particularly glued to the carpet like what’s left of its life hangs in the balance. Should it find its way out of that carpet and into the dustbin, then that’s it. It is truly dead.
There are legs sticking out of the bedding. Tough legs. Hairy legs. Male legs. A mosquito lands on one and takes a long juicy deep in there for blood. The leg disappears back in the bedding, a male voice groans and someone turns.
An engine revs in the neighborhood and the powerful noise makes him turn again. He groans and tries to go back to sleep but now that he knows he is awake, he won’t go back to sleep. He can’t. So he opens his eyes and comes face to face with a woman. A sleeping woman beside him. Something beautiful to wake up to on a cold Sunday morning.
He lifts up the bedding and checks underneath. They are both naked. There is something stuck on his ribs. He retrieves it. It is another used condom. He holds it in front of his eyes like he is trying to look for the contents therein.
Then she speaks. The woman beside him. Her voice is small. But commanding. She sounds like she believes truly in everything she says.
Her: I doubt that’s how you check to see if you have a low sperm count.
He turns to her and smiles. She is beautiful. Very beautiful. He smiles, not at her beauty, but at his ability to pick only the most beautiful ones.
Him: Oh, thank God. I was getting worried for a moment there.
Her: That must have been the last condom before we ran out.
Him: We ran out?
Her: Don’t you remember?
Him: I wouldn’t say I do.
Her: Ouch. You had me raw and you completely forgot about it.
Him: That totally offends you, doesn’t it?
Her: Not really. You called me Sue a few times last night.
Her: That’s OK. If I were a dude, I’d probably call me Sue too.
Him: Yeah. I’m sorry. That’s my bad uh…
Him: (Smiles convincingly and dumps the condom on the floor beside the other one) Nothing.
Her: You don’t remember my name, do you?
Him: Oh I do! I totally do! I remember your name so much; it is the only name in my head right now.
Her: Oh good. That’s very good. I was afraid I was that chic whose name gets forgotten by morning.
Him: No! No! You are not.
Her: Well, all you have to do now is say it and I will totally leave you alone.
Him: Um, well (Scratches the back of his head) Shit. Alright. I don’t remember it. I’m a jackass. I’m sorry.
Her: No that’s OK. At least you remember it’s not Sue, right?
Him: Uh huh.
Him: So what’s your name?
Aster: I know. I know. Let’s not have that discussion right now.
Him: Well in my defence, I would give you ten thousand shillings if you told me my name.
Aster: What? Why would you want to make that bet?
Him: To make you feel terrible too.
Aster: (Laughs. It is a powerful laughter. She brushes her long hair away from her face and leans on one shoulder. Her breasts are like magnets drawing his eyes to her chest.) Fine. Show me the money.
She watches him skip out of bed on to the floor where his jeans lie. He picks them up, fumbles around his pockets, finds his wallet and takes off his phone.
Him: Well, say my name and I will send ten thousand shillings to your bank account right now.
Her brows folds. Trying to remember. But she keeps her eyes on his. Trying to show him that she remembers.
Aster: Oh my God. I can totally see your name in my head. It keeps coming, but then goes before I can see it well. So it’s like a blur in my head. (She frowns again and yells out) Henry! You’re Henry!
Aster: (Points at him accusingly) Yes! Yes! You’re totally Henry! I remember you now!
Him: (Laughing) How drunk were you? Henry was the bald dude I rescued you from. Well (inserts quotation mark in the air with his fingers) “Rescued”.
Aster: (Covers her eyes with both palms) Oh shit! I remember now. Oh my God that was totally embarrassing.
Him: I wouldn’t call it that. He was totally into you.
Aster: No he wasn’t! He just wanted to fuck me. Well, obviously so did you, but he was like…fifty. And he had no hair and his tummy felt like a pillow in my hands.
Him: You felt his tummy?
Aster: Yeah! He like grabbed my hand and put it on his fucking stomach. Oh my God. That was so (emphasis) fuckin’ disgusting.
Him: Yeah? Coz when I came over he was like dipping his hands up your ass.
Aster: (Eyes pop wide with shock) He was?
Him: No I’m just fucking with you.
Aster: No you’re not.
Him: No I’m not.
Aster: Oh my God what is wrong with people nowadays? How do you approach a total stranger in the club then start putting your hand up her buttocks? That’s like totally illegal, right?
Him: Yeah. In some countries, they’d just chop his hands off.
Aster: You’re serious? What countries?
Him: (Smiles with his eyes and jumps back in bed, phone in hand) No Aster. I’m not serious. So, are you ready for the ten K or not?
Aster: I’ve been wondering; how come you’re so sure that I don’t remember your name?
Him: Are you sure you want to know?
Aster: Why the fuck else would I be asking?
Him: Well, I never told you my name.
Aster: (Shocked) What? How did that happen?
Him: I was in the club watching you being hit on by this guy who so obviously disgusted you…
Aster: (Hides her face under the pillow and he lets his eyes feast on her smooth back) I’m so embarrassed right now.
Him: Why? I can hardly blame you for being beautiful.
Aster: But he like wanted to fuck me right there.
Him: You’re serious?
Aster: (Uncovers her face and faces him) Well, not right there at the bar, but he was like (Inserts bass) “Let’s go to the washrooms. I’ll make you grab the wall and take you from behind.” (His jaw drops) Yeah. He said that. With those exact words.
Him: Does that ever work for him?
Aster: I wasn’t even thinking that. I was just seated there wondering, “Is this who I am now? Have I sunk this low? Am I that chic who gets pushed against the wall in a nightclub toilet and gets taken from behind?” (She gets really serious) Is that what you see when you look at me?
Him: I feel like I should say something very defensive right now.
Aster: (Smiles) I’m sorry. Yeah. (Sighs. Rubs her face) That was unfair.
Him: No it’s OK. I mean, look at us. We had sex for hours, ran out of condoms and went like, “Fuck it. This shit is too good to stop now.”
Aster: Oh my God we totally had raw sex. When was the last time you got tested?
Him: I don’t know. Last year?
Aster: You’re kidding me, right? (Sits up and faces him properly)
Him: Relax. It’s not like I go around dogging everything with a hole.
Aster: (Pulls her hair back with both hands) Yeah. I’m sorry. I’m just projecting my shit on you. I should probably get going now.
Him: Yeah. Well, maybe I should tell you my name first? If that’s cool?
Aster: Yeah. (Smiles. There is a sad kindness in her eyes) What’s your name?
Aster: James? Just James? Or are you going to say something cool like, (That fake bass again) “Bond. James Bond.” I’m sure I have a cigar in my bag that you could use. You know; so as to be totally in character.
Him: (Laughs) We’d need a casino too if we’re going to go that route I’m afraid.
Aster: (Getting excited) OK! OK! Tell me your name real quick so I can ask a question before it goes away.
Him: (Acting like James Bond) Osoro. James Osoro. (She is looking at him blankly) That didn’t come out at all like James Bond’s, did it?
Aster: (That sad kind smile again) Nope. No it didn’t. But you’re a movies guy?
Osoro: I like a good movie, yeah.
Aster: Me too! What’s your favorite movie?
Osoro: You haven’t seen it.
Aster: Try me.
Osoro: It’s a 2001 movie called Monster’s Ball.
Aster: Oh! Monster’s Ball!
Osoro: You’ve seen it?
Aster: No. I have it in my computer though. I’m still working my way round to watching it. I do know it won Halle Berry the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Osoro: I know, right? The first and only African-American woman as of 2017 to win an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Aster: What’s up with that? Is it that black women don’t do female leads? Or is it that they really suck?
Osoro: I don’t know. I think Viola Davis is pretty awesome. And Octavia Spencer too!
Aster: Why do you like it so much? Monster’s Ball?
Osoro: I don’t know. Of course there is that steamy (emphasis) steamy sex scene between Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton, but then there is this change you see in your characters as the story develops. They are all so deeply hurt, all so lost and all grasping at straws with visceral desperation; trying not to get lost in the dark. And those that are lost, trying to find their way back to the light. It is such a sadly optimistic movie. And I loved every second of it.
Aster: Loss and sex. Is it not weird how these two things go together sometimes?
Osoro: How do you mean?
Aster: Have you ever felt empty? Really empty? I think most people have. If you haven’t, then you need to go down on your knees and thank whichever God you pray to, because you are very blessed.
Osoro: Tell me about it. The emptiness.
Aster: Well, I was nineteen when I met this dude, right? Kevin. Pretty solid guy. Of a small build, kind, had this sweet smile that appeared to be the very embodiment of innocence. I loved him. I loved him with every fiber of my being and I knew I would love him forever. Have you ever loved with such certainty; that you know that no matter what, that love will never end? That was the love I shared with Kevin.
Osoro: Then what happened?
Aster: I told you I’m a model, right?
Osoro: No you didn’t.
Aster: I’m telling you now. Anyway, Kev and I, we have this great innocent, pure, unpolluted love going. We are bound at the hip. We are broke. We do everything together. We love each other so damn much, everyone starts saying we look alike. And we make all these promises to each other. “One day Kev, I’m going to be Naomi Campbell. And I will take you to Paris. We’ll see the Louvre, view the city from the Eiffel Tower, make love in the best hotel in Paris…” And he’d say, “I will love you till loving you is all I do.” Then I hit twenty-three and he left me for an eighteen-year old model. (Chuckles) Man, I was devastated. Have you ever woken up in the morning and felt like you had no purpose whatsoever in this world? Your mama calls asking how you are and you lie through your teeth? “Mama I’m doing great. I have never felt better my whole life.” And at that time you are holding a handful of pills in your hands contemplating ending it all?
Osoro: Eventually you put the pills back in the bottle and left the house.
Aster: Yeah. Found myself a nice handsome dude, fucked his brains out and left.
Osoro: Another dude came along.
Aster: And another.
Osoro: And you spiraled down the sexual rabbit hole?
Aster: I did it all. Trying to find my way back to the light. Thing about using sex as your way back is you sooner or later realize that you are so far down, there is simply no way back up. You use sex like a drug. Like cocaine. You want to use and be used. Abuse and be abused.
Osoro: It is a dark dark place to be.
Aster: Then I pulled back. I just felt like I was done, you know? I was done waking up with this dull ache in my chest. I was done crying myself to sleep. I was done feeling so lonely. Like nobody will ever love me. I was done lying to everybody that I was OK. Everybody thought I was this strong model who was the very definition of modern femininity. But I was just a broken little girl who nobody wanted to love. And then Bessi happened.
Osoro: Bessi. Sounds exotic.
Aster: Yeah. (Slight blush) It was one of those love at first sight things. It was last year May. My friends and I had a shoot in Doha. So we go for the shoot, make a fuckload of money and decide to hang around for a week. You know; hit Dubai, see how the other side lives. And we are in Doha and it has just been announced that Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup, right? And now they are test running their soccer pitches. Or at least that’s what the translator said they were doing. And so we go to see a match between Qatar and some other country in the Gulf. And there is Bessi. Playing defence. And he is good. Not the best, but good. I watch him closely. The way he tackles the ball. The way his hands and feet coordinate as he dodges and tries to get the ball away from the danger zone. I don’t know what I like most about him. Must be the thighs. Those firm, strong, football players’ thighs. Or maybe it is the eyes. He has the brownest eyes I have ever seen on anyone. After the match I ask him out for coffee. He agrees.
Osoro: So far so good.
Aster: Yeah. Maybe it is the way I love. When I love, I love hard. I love with all the love that I can love with. No holding back, you know? I don’t even leave some space for me in case things don’t work out. I don’t play safe. I just…love. You know? Because if I can’t give you everything, then what the hell am I doing saying I love you? And he is fascinated by the fact that I am a model. He asks me to pose for him. I do. He asks me to trust my body with his camera. That he’d never destroy that trust. Because it is the most important thing he can get from me. So I trust him. I trust his word and give my body to his camera. He takes the best nudes of me. Then we start fighting. He is late to show up at my birthday party. Then when he shows up, he’s drunk. Then he starts snapping at me. There is an edge in his voice whenever we talk. He is getting impatient with me. I keep asking him why. And he keeps apologizing. Saying he just has a lot on his mind. Then his club trades him and he hates that. Takes it out on me. Drinks. Gets really creepy. Makes these night calls whenever he is away or whenever I’m away. He doesn’t trust me anymore. He keeps asking if I am posing nude for other people too. Apparently that’s what models do. And so I leave him. And he cries and begs for me to come back. I come back. This time he slaps me. And I walk away. I am just done. Next thing I know, my nude pictures are all over the internet. I was going to be the brand ambassador for a deodorant but that’s all forgotten now. And I was going to finally sign an international contract but the nudes cost me that too.
Osoro: I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.
Aster: Yeah. That is what he says too. He calls. He texts. He emails. Sends me messages on Facebook and Instagram too. “I’m sorry Aster.” He says. “I’m so sorry. I never meant to hurt you.” Like uploading my nudes online was meant to make me leap with joy.
Osoro: I was wondering how come you don’t have scars on your body. Now I know they’re inside.
Aster: Everyone has a scar or two. The ones inside hurt more. You can take that from a lady who’s more recognized by the world with her clothes off.
Osoro: Love, huh?
Aster: Love. Such an unrealistic fairy tale.
Osoro: You think?
Aster: I have been in love twice now. And I feel like everyone is so careful around it. So guarded. And I am the only one who gets to love truly. Deeply. With no qualms whatsoever. Like everyone has found a way to love with their heads and I am the only one left loving with her heart.
Osoro: Love is a fairy tale, yeah. But then so is humanity. So is the world. We are people that were created out of mud, living a world created by words. “Let there be light.” “Let there be mountains and hills and animals.” Doesn’t that sound like a fairy tale to you? And it is all capped with “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” If that is the case, then you are right and everyone else is wrong. Why love if you are going to think your way around it? Love is meant to be felt. Not thought about.
Aster: We belong in the same school of thought then?
Osoro: I loved. Once. I haven’t been blessed enough to love again. Sometimes I think I never will.
Aster: How did you fuck up?
Osoro: I loved her. That was how I fucked up. We had been together three years Judy and I. Three great years actually. In retrospect I think they were three miserable years but then they felt great. Then one day she says, “Jamie, I cheated.” And I’m there like, “What the fuck do you mean you cheated? When? I thought we were happy together. When did you even cheat? We are always together.” Coz we were. We had moved into a house together, we worked in the same town and were seeing each other at least five hours every day and we spent every night in the same bed. We were practically married. But now she cheats. She walks into a bar with a friend, gets drunk, has a conversation with this guy and they go to a hotel room together. They do it. Then she gets slapped by guilt and shit. And comes home crying. “Jamie, I cheated.”
Osoro: Yeah. Shit. You know, I used to think that people cheat because they are unhappy. Or because they have met someone else they’re in love with. Turns out people walk into bars too and betray their best friend with a stranger.
Aster: So you left her?
Osoro: I wish I did.
Aster: You didn’t?
Osoro: No ma’am
Aster: Why the hell not? Why aren’t you with her now? Did she do it again?
Osoro: I don’t know. It doesn’t matter now.
Aster: So what happened? Where is she now?
Osoro: She’s married now.
Aster: Let me guess. You hope she is happy.
Osoro: I hope she is. I know she is not.
Aster: And how would you know that?
Osoro: Because she could never be happy. When we were together, she was very beautiful. Really really hot. So beautiful that I couldn’t walk with her down the street without men stopping to stare at her. I loved that. I loved that she was mine. That she was beautiful, smart, sexy, totally capable of being with any man she wanted to be with in this whole world, but choosing to be with me. I loved that she was mine and mine alone. She had a great job, a family that loved her, a man that would have moved mountains for her; she had everything a human being could ever ask for. But it was not enough. It was never enough. She kept worrying about what everyone thought of her. She cared too much about everyone’s opinion and nothing was ever good enough. It was either her job demanded that she works long hours, or that her family was pressuring her too much, or that I was taking life too easy like I wasn’t serious enough… she always had a way of sucking joy out of everything. And blaming everyone for everything. Everyone but herself. She cheated. I forgave her. We moved on. Or at least I thought we did. But then after that, I could never ask her where she is without her going all like, “Oh. You’re asking because you think I’m at a hotel room with some dude, right? You know you keep pretending like you forgave me; like you trust me, but you and I both know that you didn’t. And you don’t.” So she kept bringing it back again and again until it was impossible to forget it.
Aster: She just never forgave herself.
Osoro: And that was why I left. I just couldn’t deal with all that negative energy anymore.
Aster: Yet she’s married now and you’re not.
Osoro: (Soft chuckle) Yeah. She had another man barely two months after the end of our seven year relationship.
Aster: Seven years?
Osoro: What can I say; I’m a keeper. (With a smile) A lover. Not a fighter.
Aster: I’m sorry Jamie.
Osoro: Don’t call me Jamie.
Aster: Reminds you too much of her?
Osoro: Yeah. But in a bad way. You know in retrospect, I see that I was miserable. I was unhappy. I spent every waking moment trying to please her. I was so busy trying to put a smile on her face that I forgot what it felt like to be happy. I thought that as long as she was happy, I would be happy too. She was never happy, so I was never happy. How did I waste seven years of my life putting up with it?
Aster: You were in love.
Osoro: I was stupid.
Aster: You loved her. She loved you. Or she wouldn’t have spent seven years of her life with you.
Osoro: Well, two months after we broke up, she got into a relationship with this kid. They filled the social media with their pictures. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram… they were everywhere.
Aster: Kinda like my nudes?
Osoro: Kinda like your nudes.
Aster: Fuck you
Osoro: Didn’t you do that already? (She thumps his shoulder playfully and he laughs) I remember looking at that kid and feeling sorry for him. Like, “Do you know what you’re getting yourself into?” I felt sorry for him. But I couldn’t do anything about it. Maybe I’m the one who loved her wrong. Maybe he would succeed where I failed. Maybe he could and would make her happy.
Aster: What about you? What happened to you?
Osoro: Well, I met this kid. She was about seven or eight years younger than me.
Aster: How old are you?
Osoro: Thirty three.
Aster: Shit! You’re a fossil.
Osoro: You’re what? Twenty four? Twenty five?
Aster: Twenty five.
Osoro: (Pats her naked back softly as if comforting her) You have your whole life ahead of you. Anyway, this kid, right? We meet, we talk, we smile, we laugh, we eat…
Aster: You fuck.
Osoro: We fuck. And she keeps saying that she loves me. And I don’t get it. I have just left this long, draining relationship and I have kind of lost the meaning of the word, right? Anyway, in one of our conversations, she tells me that she has these stomach problems. Something about acid and shit. So she can’t drink milk or eat kales or spinach. But I forget all about it. One day I invite her over and I have prepared rice and chicken stew and greens and I have topped it all off with a bottle of wine. I serve her. She seems happy. We eat. Risper… her name is Risper. Well, Risper enjoys her meal. Complete with the greens. But then later she excuses herself and leaves. Next thing I know, she is in the hospital. The greens didn’t agree with her tummy. And I ask her why she ate them. “Why Risper? Why would you do that?” And she looks at me with this nice innocent smile, this nice gap between her front teeth; and she says, “I love you. And I would eat those kales all over again just because you cooked them.”
Aster: Well, that’s just dumb.
Osoro: Yeah. She was just a girl in love.
Aster: Was she a minor?
Osoro: She was twenty one. I was about thirty then.
Aster: What’s with you and babies?
Osoro: The law says they are adults.
Aster: Well, what did you do to her? Why isn’t she the one lying in this bed with you this cold Sunday morning?
Osoro: I dumped her.
Osoro: I didn’t feel the same way.
Aster: But you felt something, right? Or you wouldn’t have fixed that meal just for her.
Osoro: I felt something for the kid. I spent nights awake thinking about her. She had the softest touch. And the softest, longest hair. And she used to cradle my head on her lap and play with my ears. I loved that. But I wouldn’t eat kales for her if I were allergic to them. And she deserved someone who would eat those kales for her too.
Aster: She’ll never find such a man. You know that, right? Because such a man doesn’t exist.
Osoro: She deserves a chance to find out.
Aster: You broke her heart.
Osoro: No Aster. Not her heart. I broke her. Completely. And it kills me a little every day just thinking about it.
Aster: You loved her.
Osoro: Not the way she deserved.
Aster: You’re an idiot.
Osoro: I would have eaten the kales for Judy my ex. But not for Risper.
Aster: You would eat the kales for the undeserving but not for the deserving.
Osoro: I guess when I love, I love completely too. Or there is no point loving at all. And love just makes no sense. It’s not supposed to.
Aster: I feel sorry for all of us. For all humanity. We don’t know what we are doing. Do we? We don’t know if what we are feeling is love. And even when we do, we can only hope that we’re loving right. We are all so lost, yet we act like we are not. We act like we know exactly what we are doing, but we don’t. We make mistakes, live with regrets, carry these burdens in our hearts, leave the ones we love to be with the ones who it makes sense to be with and decide to spend life with them even though there is a chance it’ll be a miserable life. And nobody ever knows whether the way we are living is the right way to live. Doesn’t that make the very concept of living really sad?
Osoro: I guess it makes it easier if you find the one you would eat the kales for.
Aster: It didn’t make your life easier, did it?
Osoro: Well, I spent those seven years thinking I was happy. If I had died then, I would have died thinking I was happy. But then it ended and I realized that I could have been happier. But in the course of those seven years I was in that relationship, life was easy.
Aster: So you’re saying that love is a blindfold that keeps people’s eyes shut to the hard realities of life?
Osoro: Nope. I’m saying that love is a drug that makes the hard realities of life a little easier to deal with. (Just then, his phone rings. The screen reads “Dad Calling”. He puts it on silent.)
Aster: Why are you ignoring your father?
Osoro: I can’t deal with him right now.
Aster: Why not?
Osoro: I don’t want to talk about it.
Aster: (Slumps in bed and covers herself.) I am cold.
Osoro: (Lies beside her, covers himself and invites her to lie on his chest. She obliges him) You warmer now?
Aster: I’m warming up to it.
Osoro: You’re warming up to warming up?
Aster: (Chuckles) Uh huh. So is this how you spend your Sundays?
Aster: You pick random girls in clubs on Saturday nights, then spend Sunday bearing your soul to them?
Osoro: Why? Are you jealous?
Aster: What if I am? (She raises her head just enough to see his eyes)
Osoro: Well, don’t be.
Aster: About what part? The bringing them to bed part, or the conversation part?
Osoro: The conversation part, I’m afraid.
Aster: You must think I’m such a whore.
Osoro: You must think I’m such a whore picker.
Aster: So you’re only a whore picker if I am a whore?
Osoro: You’re not a whore. Or I’m a bad judge of character. And I don’t think I’m a bad judge of character.
Aster: Oh yeah? How do you figure?
Osoro: I’m a photographer.
Aster: That must explain the pictures on your walls. (She looks around the walls. The house is one large studio full of pictures and paintings and books. The bed is placed somewhere in the middle of the room. She pays attention to a picture of a smiling child. Whose face is drenched in tears. It is a black and white picture of the child’s face plastered across a large canvas.) Did you take that one?
Osoro: The one with the child?
Osoro: Uh huh.
Osoro: It makes me feel like you can’t have a smile without a few tears here and there.
Aster: That’s quite a disillusioning approach to life, don’t you think?
Osoro: Can one spend a life of happiness without accompanying it with sadness every now and then?
Aster: I suppose not. But what makes you think the tears on the child’s face aren’t tears of joy?
Osoro: You can’t see the child’s body in the picture, so you can’t know that she doesn’t have legs.
Aster: Oh my God.
Osoro: I took that picture ten years ago in Mt. Elgon. The girl stepped on a landmine. Damn near cut her in half. Anyway, she was crying because her siblings were fighting for food and she couldn’t join in because she doesn’t have legs. So I gave her a bottle of water and she smiled. And I took the picture.
Aster: And then?
Osoro: And then I left. And please spare me the judgment.
Aster: You’re one of those photographers, huh? The ones who take pictures of starving babies and splash them all over the internet?
Osoro: (Sitting up) Yeah. I’m one of them. Those photographers. What about it?
Osoro: What about it? Don’t pussy out on me now. You already opened this door.
Aster: I just don’t get how you can do that.
Osoro: I am a photographer. I take pictures. What the fuck am I supposed to do? Start a home for the suffering? I can’t save everyone Aster! My job is to tell a story with a picture. I take the motherfucking picture and put it in front of someone whose job it is to help the kid. That is it. So you can lie there on your cloud of judgment and give me shit, but I’m a man with a job to do. And I’m pretty fucking great at it!
Aster: Whoa whoa. Easy there tiger. Let’s not act like you’re doing all that for free. You get paid for these pictures.
Osoro: (Through slit eyes) You know, it’s not like you asked, but no. I don’t get paid. I do this for free. (He steps out of the bed and puts on his boxers. She lies in bed watching him expressionlessly) I’m going to need you to go now. I have some work to do.
She doesn’t speak. Not yet. She just lies there for a few seconds longer. Watching him. Then suddenly and fast, she jumps out of bed naked and hugs him. She is warm. He can feel her warm, the softness of her body seeping into his skin.
Aster: (Whispering in his ear) I’m sorry. I swear. I’m sorry.
Osoro: You just can’t go around judging people.
Aster: I’m sorry. That was stupid of me. I should have asked. (Her head is lying on his chest and his chin is now on her temple. He can smell her hair. If he were to give that smell a color, it’d be blue.)
Osoro: This part of my job gets tough sometimes. I have covered the war in Somalia. I have been to Rwanda and taken pictures of the genocide aftermath, been to Syria and covered the refugees, covered the effects of war in Lebanon, Pakistan, covered effects of terrorism here in Nairobi, in Germany, Paris, England, Belgium… I have seen the best and the worst in humanity and captured it in my work. And it gets to me sometimes. Do you think I would put myself through that kind of shit for money? Take pictures of little girls whose bodies have been cut in half by bombs for money?
Aster: (Cups his cheeks in her palms) I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I should have known to ask.
Osoro: That’s OK. You want to get back in bed? I’ll tell you what the deal is with my father.
Aster: Yeah. (Tiny smile) Yeah. I would love that. (Takes his hands and leads him back to bed.)
Osoro: See my old man; we have a very simple relationship. I don’t call. He doesn’t call.
Aster: But he called now.
Osoro: Yeah. Because my mom asked him to call.
Aster: How do you know that?
Osoro: Very soon, my phone will ring again. It will be my dad calling. I will answer. He will ask, “Did you buy your mother’s medicine?” I will say no. He will ask when I intend on buying it. I will say later. He will say OK. He will ask me to call my mom. Then he will hang up.
Aster: Your mom is sick?
Osoro: My mom is sick.
Aster: What’s wrong with her?
Just then, his phone rings again. It is his father calling. This time he answers.
Father: Hello Osoro.
Osoro: Hello father.
Father: I tried calling. You weren’t picking up.
Osoro: I was sleeping.
Father: Your mother’s medicine. Did you buy it?
Osoro: No. Not yet. The chemists were closed by the time I left work last evening.
Father: When will you buy it?
Osoro: I will just take a shower and go out. Two? Maybe three hours?
Father: Don’t send your brother to bring the medicine this time. Bring it yourself.
Osoro: But father, I have a shoot later today. I told you that.
Father: It has been sixteen months since your mother saw you. Sixteen. Bring the medicine. Today.
Osoro: But I … (The line goes dead. He sighs and dumps it carelessly on the bedding. He curses and slides deeper in the bedding.)
Aster: Maybe you should go home.
Osoro: And do what?
Aster: It’s your home. Don’t you want to see your mother?
Osoro: Of course I want to see my mother. I love her more than anything in the world.
Aster: Then what’s the problem?
Osoro: There is always a big problem at home. The fence is broken. The workers need to be paid. The water tank needs repair. A chunk of the land slid into the river…
Osoro: I’m serious. I come from a place where land slides like nobody’s business.
Aster: I wasn’t calling bullshit on the landslides.
Osoro: Then what?
Aster: Why don’t you want to go home?
Osoro: I already told you. There are more problems there than I can fix. Alright? I just choose to send money and they’ll handle it themselves.
Aster: Yeah. (Disappointed) Right. OK.
Osoro: That sounds like the kind of “Nothing” that means something.
Aster: I have just realized we don’t even know each other so I have no business getting my nose into your business. I’m sorry I asked.
This time it is her phone ringing. It is vibrating from somewhere inside the bed. She looks around for it until she finds it. The person calling seems to anger her. She silences it and dumps it on the bed.
Osoro: Creepy ex?
Aster: Creepy ex.
Osoro: The dumper or the nudes dude?
Aster: (Soft chuckle) The nudes dude.
Osoro: Calling to apologize?
Aster: Calling to apologize.
Osoro: You should answer.
Aster: Now why the hell would I want to do that?
Osoro: To show him the futility of his creepiness.
Aster: I have tried blocking him everywhere. But he always finds a way. Always a new number. And I can’t ignore calls from new numbers just in case it is someone calling to give me a job. God knows I could really use a job right now.
Osoro: You know he’ll keep calling, right?
Aster: Why? He knows I don’t want to talk to him.
Osoro: Because he thinks that if he apologizes one more time, you will forgive him. He thinks he is fighting for the love that the both of you had. He is sure that he’ll change and that if only you give him one more chance, he will treat you like the queen he should have treated you like from the beginning.
Aster: Are you trying to be the devil’s advocate here? Because Keanu Reeves tried that in the Devil’s Advocate. Al Pacino the Devil took him on a thrilling ride. And not the good thrill.
Osoro: He changed his mind just in time. And I am a different kind of a Devil’s Advocate.
Aster: Yeah? How so?
Osoro: I turn around and fuck the Devil in the ass. No homo.
Aster: (Laughs loudly. The kind of laughter that seems to enter the world not from the mouth but from the throat) You’re so stupid. Are you sure you want to engage the Devil in a fucking contest? And who said the Devil is a he?
Osoro: The Bible?
Aster: The Devil is an “It”. It can change into whatever it needs to change into to accomplish its mission. (Her phone rings again.)
Osoro: Well, “IT” is calling.
Aster: I can’t talk to it right now.
Osoro: Just answer and say hello. I will handle the rest of it. I promise.
Aster: What are you going to do?
Osoro: Just answer, OK? I will formulate a plan as I go.
Aster: (Her long hair has fallen to her face. She pushes it back, tucks it under her ear and answers the phone) Hello? (Her eyes are on Osoro’s. She seems a little afraid. He takes her soft hand and squeezes it)
It: Aster? Oh my God Aster you answered.
Aster: What do you want?
It: Look, I am so sorry for what I did. I swear to God I am. I was being stupid but now I have learnt, OK? I have learnt.
Aster: (Puts him on loudspeaker) OK. Good for you. Now you can be a better man to your next girlfriend. And a better human being too.
It: But I don’t want another girlfriend. It is you for me. Only you. I should have known better and I am so so…
Osoro: Sorry? (Aster freezes)
Aster: (Whispers to him) What the fuck are you doing?
It: Who’s that?
Osoro: She has a great body, doesn’t she?
It: Who the fuck are you?
Osoro: You still have her pictures, right? Do you see that crescent shaped birthmark on her left shoulder? It is beautiful, isn’t it?
It: Aster babe, what the hell is going on?
Aster wants to speak but Osoro places his finger softly on her lips.
Osoro: Did you see it? Or were you too concerned with getting a clear shot of her vagina to capture the rest of the beauty on her body?
It: Whoever the fuck you are, I am going to hunt you down…
Osoro: (Getting excited) Uuuuuuu… This is getting interesting. (Adopts a Liam Neeson impression from the 2008 movie “Taken”)”I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.” Alright Liam. I’m your girl’s new man. You need to find me, just find her. I’ll be waiting.
It: Aster, is that true? Aster baby, that creep will never make you happy.
Osoro: There is a tiny butterfly tattoo behind her right knee. Did you see it? With two tiny spots on each wing? No I suppose you didn’t. But you sure got a clear shot of that ass, didn’t you?
It: Aster? Aster please don’t do this to me. To us. (Aster wants to speak but Osoro touches her lips with his finger again and winks at her)
Osoro: She is beautiful, isn’t she? And innocent. She trusted you. With all her beauty. Physical, emotional… she trusted you with that. And you shared it with the world. She was yours. Yours. And you decided to let every wanker out there masturbate to her pictures. Don’t you have a sense of territory man?
It: I told her I was sorry.
Osoro: She heard you.
It: Then why won’t she forgive me?
Osoro: You don’t want forgiveness. You want her back.
It: I love her.
Osoro: She is mine now. And unlike you, I am a jealous lover. So the next time you call her, I will know. And I will send a couple of boys from the Army with huge sticks. And they will break your legs. Do you understand me mate?
It: Who the hell do you think you are?
Osoro: Call her again. (His finger hovers over the “end call” button”) I dare you. And you will find out. (And he hangs up)
Aster is just watching him silently.
Osoro: You OK?
Aster: You just threatened him.
Osoro: He said he’d hunt me down. (Chuckles) Sounds like a nice guy.
Aster: Do you know anyone in the Army?
Osoro: I have been a war photographer. Yeah I’d say I know a few guys in several Armies.
Aster: You are a bit dark, aren’t you? It reflects in your pictures and paintings too. (She gets out of bed and he watches her ass as the cheeks wiggle and sway as she walks towards one painting leaning against the wall in the corner) This painting? It makes me feel lost.
The painting features a topless woman with a baby strapped to her back. Behind her is a burning hut. She appears to be looking into the painting’s viewer’s eyes and is holding her hand up as if bidding one adieu.
Aster: There is a set look of determination in her eyes and yet a sense of uncertainty in them. Like she doesn’t know where her life goes from here.
Osoro: (Leaves the bed and stands beside her looking at the painting) When I ended my seven year relationship, I was thirty. Before that day, I was the man with the plan. We were going to get married, start a family, have a house, insurance, mortgage, land, cars, jobs, children, in laws, bills… we were going to be normal. I was going to be normal. Then I’m thirty, our wedding is a couple of months away and the relationship ends. And I wake up in the morning and find that my plans, plans I have held on to for the better part of the last seven years; I find them shattered all around me. Crumpled at my feet like pieces of unwanted paper. I am that woman in the painting with the baby on her back and a burning house behind her saying goodbye to all she knows.
Aster: How do you get over something like that?
Osoro: You spend weeks, months even, in bed. You don’t leave. You drink, you watch TV, you sleep and you wallow in the pain of knowing that your life is meaningless. Purposeless. If you could color the feeling in your heart at that moment, it would be the darkest shade of black you could ever find. (There are other paintings behind the woman one which is titled “Hopeful disillusion”. He picks one that is a black vertigo) This is how you feel. Like you are falling into a deep dark hole out of which there is no exit. But then one day, the darkness gets a little less dark, it gets a little lighter the following day and a little lighter the following week. Then one day there is more light than darkness. It takes some months, others a year or even two. But the only thing you have to do is stay alive long enough and sure as hell, the darkness will be gone someday. Just stay alive.
Aster: So the woman is determined to move on even though her entire life is burning up behind her?
Aster: Why a woman? And what’s the deal with the baby?
Osoro: You can’t be with somebody for seven years without them impacting your life in some way. The baby is the impact. The negative impact is burning up in the house. The positive impact is on your back. You will take care of it. Raise it. Nurture it like a mother to a baby. Watch it make you a better human being.
Aster: I’m sorry you had to go through that.
Osoro: My mom, she is dying.
Osoro: My mom. She is dying. (Nods affirmatively as if he’s addressing himself) Yeah. One day soon, my dad will call and say, “She is gone.”
Aster: You should be with her.
Osoro: She calls me, you know? She says, “Jamie, did you remember to buy my medicine?” And I say, “Yeah mama. I bought the meds.” But I know it is not about the medicine. She just wants to talk to me. Hear my voice. Get me to go home. See her. See her one last time before she has to leave.
Aster: So why won’t you go?
Osoro: I don’t want to watch her die! OK?! Jesus Christ, is that so difficult to understand? That’s my fucking mom! If I go home, I will be admitting that she is dying and I have only gone to say goodbye! How the hell I’m I supposed to deal with that? (There is a glass table close by. On it is a Canon Camera. A big one. Aster heads out for it, grabs it, switches it on and points it at Osoro.) What do you think you’re doing?
She takes a picture and he walks over to her with the intention of grabbing the camera from her hands. But then she shows him the picture she has just taken. She has captured him from his bare chest, up. There are tiny creases around his eyes and his eyes are wide. Fearful. Scared. He is like a little boy, lost from home.
Aster: See that? You need to fix him. Put a smile on that lost boy’s face. (Her eyes meet his) He deserves it.
Osoro: Can I ask you something?
Osoro: Would you trust me with your body? With the beauty that I see in and on you?
Aster: What are you asking me Osoro?
Osoro: (He slowly runs the back of his hand down her cheek) I want to take pictures of you.
Aster: You want to take pictures of me naked?
Osoro: Would you trust me with that? (She takes his hand on her face. His is warmer than hers.)
It is around 01:15h. Osoro is seated on a leather couch at the corner of this classy lounge with sophisticated looking colleagues. There are bottles of wine and full cocktail glasses on the table. They are all drinking and smoking, laughing and talking.
But his eyes are on this light skinned lady at the bar having a drink by herself. She appears to be deep in thought. Men come, talk to her, she smiles kindly at them, shakes her head ‘no’ and they go away. Until this fat white dude in his fifties approaches her. Osoro sees him put his hand on her butt. She stiffens. There is cool blues playing on various tiny speakers in the lounge. The entire place is illuminated by a beautiful and relaxing shade of blue. He stands up, excuses himself from his colleagues, adjusts his jacket and walks over to the lady. The old dude is saying;
Old Dude: I’m Henry. I already told you that, right? (His voice is slurred. He is very drunk)
Aster: Please Henry, it is really nice meeting you, but please get your hands off my ass.
He walks up to her, places his elbows on the counter and smiles brightly at Aster;
Osoro: Hi babe, sorry I stayed too long in the bathroom. I see you garnered some attention. Now if he (Regarding Henry) would be so kind as to excuse us, we would so much love to go home and fuck.
Aster: Babe, would you please ask this creep to get his hand off my ass?
Osoro: (To Henry) Hello creep, please get your hand off my girlfriend’s ass. (Henry squeezes Aster’s ass. Osoro, challenged, takes a step closer to him and looks him right in the eye) Please. Take your hand off my girlfriend’s ass.
Henry: You leave your girlfriend alone at the bar for hours? At night?
Osoro: (Whispers in his ear so Aster doesn’t hear) Ask yourself, “Is she worth dying for?” Because if you don’t walk away, one of us won’t see daylight. (Looks him in the eye, smiles at him and pats him on the shoulder) And it won’t be me.
Henry: Freak. (And he staggers away.)
Aster: (Laughing) What did you say to him? (Her voice is slurred too. She is drunk and so is he) When you whispered in his ear, what did you say to him?
Osoro: That I would tell his wife.
Aster: How did you know he’s married?
Osoro: (He lies) His ring finger, there is a circle around it. Like he just took his ring off before coming to grab your ass.
Aster: OK babe. Enough talk. No names either. Let’s just go home and fuck.
This Cold June Morning
Aster: We met in a bar. Drunk. And now you want me to trust you? Even after all I have told you?
Aster: I have to go. (Her dress and bra and panties and stilettos are lying in a careless heap by the bed. She gets the panties on first. As she puts on her panties,) I can’t believe you. I mean, what did you expect? Jesus Christ! Are you some kind of an idiot? We were doing so well. Then you had to go and ask that of me? What is wrong with you?
He is just watching her silently with the camera hanging loose in his hands.
Aster: Are you going to say something or are you just going to stand there and stare at me with your fucking puppy eyes?
Osoro: You want to go, go. You want me to apologize for asking you to trust me, I won’t.
Aster: Trust you? We just met. What, because we fucked and shared sob stories you think we are best buds now?
Osoro: Like I said, you want to go, go. (Points at the door) The door is wide fucking open for you.
Aster: (Grabs her bra from the floor and hurls it at him) Don’t talk to me like that!
Osoro: Why the hell not?
Aster: (Spreads out her hands. Her face is creasing. Shallow furrows of pain) What the fuck do you want from me James? Huh! What? You want me to part my legs for you and part my lips for you so you can get a clear shot of my pussy? Huh? You want me to be your pornster? (Heads to him, grabs his shoulders and shakes him as she yells in his face) You want me to bend over for you and let you immortalize my asshole in a picture that can go viral any second? IS THAT WHAT THE FUCK YOU WANT FROM ME?
Osoro: I want you to trust me! (Yanks himself free and pushes her back) We met last night and I already told you everything about me. EVERYTHING!
Aster: And now you feel like I owe you?
Osoro: This is the hardest thing you could do. Trust a man you just met. With something that already got you betrayed once. And I want you to be brave and do that. Or this will just be another wound in your heart.
Aster: Says the man who’s too scared to go home and see his own mother.
Osoro: For fuck’s sake! What does that have to do with anything?
Aster: How can I trust you to help me heal when you won’t let yourself heal?
Osoro: I’m not the one dressing up to leave.
Her face is so crashed. Thinking. Weighing. Wanting to trust, but afraid of getting hurt. He lifts up the camera and clicks away. There are little furrows between her eyes. He captures those. Her chin has hardened as she squeezes her lips together to fight her tears. He captures that.
Osoro: (Softly) Turn around.
Aster: (Sobbing) Why?
Osoro: Because you trust me. You trust that I won’t hurt you.
Aster: But how would I know that you won’t hurt me?
Osoro: You wouldn’t. That’s why it’s called trust. Just let go. I know it is not easy, but what kind of life would you be leading if you didn’t trust?
Slowly, she turns around and sighs. There are two dimples just above her waist line. He squats and takes those and that little butterfly at the back of her leg. She is standing in front of the window. The curtains are drawn. She looks over her shoulder such that only one side of her face is visible to the camera. He snaps away, taking the teary half face and the crescent shaped birthmark.
His spirit, his energy, the light in his eyes as he snaps away warms her up. Slowly, she slides her panties off and he captures the tiny bellybutton. The curve of her back when she lies on her side on the bed. The beauty spot on her red lips when she smiles. The glow in her eye when she looks in the camera…
Later, he transfers the pictures to his laptop.
Aster: These are so beautiful Jamie.
Osoro: Stop calling me Jamie.
Aster: I just trusted you with my pain. Trust me with yours.
Osoro: I used to think that the best love stories always started with a smile and a kiss.
Aster: And now?
Osoro: Now I think they start with trust.
Aster: Me, stripping for you and your camera, do you think that’s like that kid who ate those kales she was allergic to for you?
Osoro: Yeah. You ate the kales for me.
Aster: And you ate them too. When you told me about your mom. And your ex. Your biggest scars.
Osoro: My mom, the fear I have of her dying, that’s a wound. Not a scar. Not yet.
Aster: You should go home. See her.
Osoro: If I asked you to come with me, would you?
Aster: You wouldn’t know if you didn’t ask.
Osoro: Aster, please come with me. I feel like I’ll be stronger with you there.
She brushes her long hair off her face, smiles at him and pecks him on the cheek. Their eyes meet. Then they look at each other’s lips. They close the gap between them and slowly, they kiss.
Aster: Maybe the best love stories start with trust, a kiss and a smile. Of course I’ll come with you.