I enter the club the way I entered the first time. Like I own the joint. Like it is my home and I have paid the rent for the next eight months. I enter it like I own it. With the confidence of a man who knows exactly why he’s here.
Thing is, I don’t.
Two Months Ago
First time I met Shanti, I didn’t know what to expect. She had dropped me a message on Facebook, I rather direct one saying,
“Hello Nickie, my name is Shanti. I am a big fan of your work and if it is all the same to you, I would like to buy you a bottle of Vodka. If your work is anything to go by, I figure you won’t say no to a girl who buys the Vodka and can smoke a good pipe. Bring the beast, I’ll bring the beauty.”
I have never been on a blind date before. And the sole reason why I turn up for this one is because I am curious. Shanti doesn’t have a profile picture on Facebook. Hell, she has no pictures anywhere. And only has a few automatic entries on her profile.
Born on 03.11.1994
18.02.2008. Joined Pangani Girls High School
Nothing very informative. Not even when she joined campus. Or even if she joined campus. Hell, Shanti Marley Sofies might be a dude for all I know. The mystery of it all is what sends me to the club where she has arranged the rendezvous.
I enter the place like it’s mine. The music is loud. The kind of loud that makes music feel like a fat man sitting on your chest. I wonder how we’ll have a conversation in this kind of noise. But I head right to the bar, grab one of those high stools and rest my skinny bottom on it.
There are screens on the walls, huge screens, some showing NatGeo, others the music video to the song that’s currently playing and others showing a past football match between Liverpool and Manchester United. Liverpool gets whooped. Of course.
There are Ethiopian women smoking sheesha at a booth at the corner. I know they are Ethiopian from their hair, complexion, eyes and breasts. Yes. I have the eyes of a hawk. Plus, I understand a word or two of Amharic. Long story.
“What do you want?” That’s the barman asking me. I guess what he means is what drink will I have. But he is Ethiopian too. It’s a wonder he can speak any English at all. I flash a wide smile and I am about to order a Tusker when a light hand lands on my shoulder, gives it a gentle squeeze and a voice whispers hoarsely in my ear.
“Hello Nickie. You look even more handsome in person.”
She is whispering so close to my ear that her tongue touches my earlobe. And I get a chill down my neck. I close my eyes and try to imagine what she looks like. I’m hoping dark, tall, with a figure that will bring envy out of an hourglass.
Her voice, even whispered hoarsely, is indicative of confidence.
I turn around with a smile and there she stands. Shanti in all her glory. Neither tall nor short, firm breasts, flat tummy, long curly hair, smoker’s lips, long neck…neither light nor dark skinned. She is overtly pretty. The kind of pretty that ignorant people associate with stupidity.
She takes my hand in her warm palm and pulls me from my stool. There is loud Bongo music booming away. She pulls me to the dance floor and I protest;
Me: I can’t dance
Her: Sure you can!
She faces away from me and starts wiggling her bottom. In her tight green dress that hugs her slim figure like one in love, her firm bottom is mildly exaggerated. I find my lip in my mouth with sentences like “I can handle that” running through my mind.
The bottom is on my groin. Rubbing and rubbing. She squats, comes back up, faces me, brushes her long hair to one side of her face and places her arms on my shoulders. Her lips are really close to mine. She smells like cigarettes and mints.
Her: I’m Shanti
Me: I know
Her: I love your work
Me: I know
Her: I’m wet.
Me: Well, there is something I didn’t know.
She takes my hand again. Her palms are dry. Her hands are tougher than mine but then I got my hands from my mother so… she leads me to a table in the dark corner, furthest from where the Ethiopian ladies are smoking Sheesha and chattering in Amharic.
There is a packet of Dunhill on the table and a lighter encrusted with some shiny substance. Looks like diamonds but if you encrust your lighter with diamonds, you don’t leave it on the table in a club to go pick up some dude you have never met before. It is specially made for her as it bears the words “Smoking will kill you. From Daddy to Shanti, with love.”
I want to sit across from her at the table but she takes my hand and leads me to her side where she squeezes me against the wall and plants a kiss on my lips.
Her: (Breathlessly) I have wanted to take those lips in my mouth for so long now. I just had to get that out of the way.
Me: Was it all you hoped it’d be?
Her: I don’t make comments until I’ve hit second base.
Me: What does that mean?
Her: I like you. You’re not afraid to admit you don’t know what something means.
Me: Another mark in my corner?
Her: That and the lips, let’s just say so far so good. But if you and I have sex, I will file a complete report in the morning.
The Ethiopian barman swings by the table and asks what we want.
Her: A bottle of vodka.
Me: A bottle?
Her: Are you scared lover boy?
Me: Me? Scared? Of Vodka?
Her: We’ll make so many mistakes you and I
The bottle comes with Krest bitter lemon as the chaser and we get to work. She asks for tot glasses and I figure I’ll be a dead man by morning.
She pours shots for the both of us and has a seemingly unending supply of toasts –
Her: To beauty
We take a shot
Her: And the beast
Her: To good literature
Her: And words that’ll make a woman touch herself in the toilet
A double shot for that.
Right now, I’m thinking that she is as crazy as she is beautiful.
Her: Have you ever been in love Nickie?
Her: That stupid phenomenon that hearts get idiots into
Me: Yeah I know what love means.
Me: Yes I have.
Her: Are you in love now?
Her: Why not?
Me: I realized that I screw better than I love.
Her: That’s a dangerous tenet to a man’s life
Me: The girls seem to like it.
Her: No they don’t. They are intrigued by it, sure. They want to screw your brains out, that’s for sure. They want to sit and pick your brain. In a word, what those girls want is to demystify you.
Me: I get laid in the course of it.
Her: What’s the difference between getting laid by one woman and getting laid by another? It’s not like vaginas come with flavors. Ati mine is strawberry and that bitch’s over there (refers to a chic twerking solo on the floor) is vanilla.
Me: True, but sex isn’t about the genitals. It is about the person to whom the genitals are attached.
Her: Sex is neither about the genitals nor about the person to whom they’re attached. Sex is about power sweetheart.
She leans back in her chair, pulls out a cigarette from the packet and lights up.
Me: Light one up for me?
Her: Sure. (Passing me hers) Actually, have mine.
Me: No. Light me another one.
She smiles and lets her lit cigarette lie idly on her dark lips.
Her: Playing games already, are we Nickie?
Me: You’re about to drop a huge bomb on my head. Least you can do for that little piece of truth is light my damn cigarette.
Her: OK tiger.
She fishes out another cigarette from the packet and places it delicately on my lips. Our eyes make contact. As she lights it up, she doesn’t let those slit eyes that resemble a Chinese person’s leave mine. And I don’t avert mine from hers either. Not even when I take a drag and blow the smoke from the corner of my mouth.
Me: Hit me with it.
Her: Sex is about power. And you might be there thinking that all these women you bed are your conquests but no. You are theirs. You’re something they like to demystify and once that’s done, they move on to something new. By screwing them, you empower them enough to walk away from you.
Me: What makes you think they’re the ones who walk away?
Her: Why aren’t you attached to anyone of them right now?
Me: I walked away
Her: Keep telling yourself that Nickie baby. If it’ll make you sleep better at night.
Me: Just because you watch House of Cards doesn’t mean you understand life, games people play or the thrill of the temporary.
Her: What are you talking about?
Me: “Everything in life is about sex. Except sex. Sex is about power.” Isn’t that what Francis Underwood said?
Her: Actually it’s “Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” And Oscar Wilde said it even before Francis Underwood was born.
She might be pretty, but she is certainly not dumb. I lean back in my seat, cross one leg over the other and take a long drag. I let the smoke drift smoothly out through my nose and lips as I watch the chic twerking solo on the floor.
A dude makes as if to join her but she dances away shaking her hands at him. She obviously wants to fly solo tonight but some idiots can’t take a hint. So he follows her. She again dances away from him and this time, he grabs her ass and she slaps him. I smile. She sits. He wants to start something but a couple of bouncers show up and he leaves the club.
But the chic remains seated. I really hate people who can’t take hints even when those hints slap them in the face. Idiot
Shanti pours a generous amount of Vodka in our glasses and dilutes it with the soda. Then she lifts up her glass with the hand that’s holding her cigarette between two slim fingers and proposes a toast.
Her: To all the writers. Dead or living. They are so lonely in their work, but they bless the world with such beauty. May God be with you poor bastards.
Me: Me God be with us poor bastards. Hear hear
We clink glasses and as I sip, I figure she can understand me. The loneliness of it all. Because Wi-Fi and coffee can only keep you company so long.
I enter the joint as I entered two months ago. I sit at the bar. The barman asks what I want. The Ethiopian ladies are still seated at their booth smoking Sheesha and going on about something in Amharic. I like their long, thick dreadlocks. If I ever grow up, I want locks like those.
Here is how Shanti got me to come to this club tonight even though I really didn’t want to.
My phone rings. I ignore the call. She sends a text.
“Please pick up.”
I blue tick her.
She calls again. I ignore. She sends another text.
“Please Nickie, I need you.”
I put the phone on silent and make the screen face the table so I don’t see it light up when she calls again. But then I remember I’m expecting an important call from a colleague at the office, so I get the phone off silent mode.
She calls again. This time I answer using my indoors voice.
Her voice is a bit slurry. She is very drunk.
Me: Hi Shanti. I’m at a meeting right now. Can I call you back?
I am not at a meeting. I am in bed watching “Atomic Blonde.” It is a good movie. I would never leave it for Shanti.
Her: Bail Nickie. I’m at our club. I need you.
Me: I can’t make it tonight. I’m sorry.
Her: But I sent you an email on Tuesday telling you that I’d be here waiting on you. Please come.
Me: But I’m at a meeting Shanti. I can’t bail because I have been bailing on it for a while now.
Her: Please come Nickie.
Me: I can’t. Why can’t we do this tomorrow?
Her: Just come, OK?
Me: Just because you sent me an email doesn’t mean I agreed to meet you. (I have just slipped off the gloves) Why are you forcing me to meet you? This meeting is important. You think I wouldn’t bail on it for drinks if I could?
Her: Screw you Nickie! I wasn’t calling you for drinks!
She hangs up on me and I relax. At least now she’ll be mad enough to leave me alone and go home or something. She doesn’t. She texts saying,
“I’m sorry Nickie. I didn’t mean to snap at you. Please come. Something bad happened.”
I unleash a whole slew of curse words as I pause the movie and call an Uber to the club.
Now I’m here in a t-shirt I sleep in, jeans torn at the knees and flip-flops. I didn’t want to be here. My raggedness is my only way to rebel against this forced meeting.
I sit at the bar and I’m about to order a soda because I’m hell bent on not drinking tonight, when a hand gives my shoulder a gentle squeeze. A hoarse voice whispers in my ear;
Her: You’re really handsome. Even when you’re being a jerk.
I turn around. She is in a figure hugging red dress, black heels and a necklace around her long slim neck that would pay six months of my rent.
I don’t speak. She pecks me on both cheeks and takes my hand in her firm, rough ones. And that’s when I see how puffy her eyes are. She has been crying.
Me: (As I follow her to the table where she’s leading me) You called, I came. What is it?
There is an unopened bottle of Vodka and another of Krest on the table. There are two packs of cigarettes and a lighter whose artistic side reads, “God must think we’re lousy parents. From mommy to Shanti. With Love.”
Me: Do your parents really send you these lighters or do you write them yourself?
She sits silently and taps the chair next to hers gently. I obey. She opens the vodka bottle and takes a swig of the dry liquor. She pours a generous amount in my glass, dilutes it for me and pushes it my way.
There are no toasts this time and she seems a little sad. Nothing compared to the vibrant lady I met two months ago.
Me: You called, I came.
Her: Relax. Drink.
I relax. I drink. I light up my own cigarette this time and try hard not to watch a dude who’s simply atrocious at dancing. It’s like he’s having a bout of epilepsy. His dancing is very very disturbing.
I drink. I smoke. I relax. Shanti grabs my chin, makes me face her and she kisses me hard. Violently. Even bites my lower lip. I hiss, but don’t turn away. I decide to take it. This is the price I pay to walk away. Her hand grabs my throat and she squeezes.
Her: I could kill you right now.
I want to speak, but I can’t. She’s choking me. And yeah in the short time she and I have been having coitus; I know she can get a little kinky. Well, a little bit more than a little.
She lets go my throat and I gasp. Then she pulls me in close in a firm hug as she whispers in my ear;
Her: I’m sorry! I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.
I can breathe now. I take the opportunity to inflate my lungs with a little oxygen and a little more nicotine. This is what Shanti does. She gets very mean, then very sweet in the span of two seconds. Like “Screw you, screw your mama, screw your unborn babies you motherf*****er!!!” Then she folds literally a second later and goes like, “Oh baby I’m so sorry!”
There are no middle grounds with her. Just highs and lows. I’m like that too, but at a lower key. Like six levels down her intensity.
Her takes my cigarette and kisses me again. Her hand rests on my groin under the table and she gives my penis a little squeeze. She takes my hand and places it on her lap. She parts her legs and starts pushing it up. To softer, warmer areas. I roll with it. This is a game to her. A power game. I wish Oscar Wilde was still alive. He and Shanti might have been friends.
She leaves my hand lying in her inner thighs. She has no panties on. Convenient. Then she smokes my cigarette, blows smoke in the air and says dreamily;
Her: My mother has ovarian cancer.
Me: (Slipping my hand off her thighs) What?
Her: It’s why I called you here. But you were too busy ignoring me to care.
Me: Is she alright?
I want to slap myself as soon as those words leave my mouth but her words do the required slapping instead.
Her: Yes Nickie. She has cancer. She has never felt better her whole life. She woke up this morning and hit the gym with the vigor of an adolescent.
Me: Yeah. That was me being an idiot.
Her: You should have loved me Nickie. I would have been such a good woman to you. What did I do wrong?
The atrociously dancing dude trips on a table and falls. He is also a little drunk. Or maybe he really is epileptic and I was just thinking he’s a terrible dancer. But he stands up, rubs the back of his jeans and continues doing that thing he calls dancing.
My head is swirling. Vodka and cigarettes will do that to you. And here I was thinking I wouldn’t get drunk tonight. I am thinking about that time Shanti and I transferred the party to my bed.
I am remembering her nails on my back as she threatened to claw off a pound of flesh. I am remembering her thighs, straddling me as she pushed me deeper and deeper inside her. I am remembering her on me. Her hands on my chest riding me like a rodeo.
I am feeling her hands all over my body. I can see the prints of her fingers on every inch of my skin. I can see her looking up at the ceiling, intensity on her face as she screams, “Nickie! I’m coming!”
I look at her; she is eyeing me, with a lazy smile on her face. She crashes out her cigarette, my cigarette, in the ashtray on the table and lights up another one. She takes a long drag, blows the smoke away and tucks her hair behind her ear.
Her: You’re thinking about it, aren’t you?
Me: Thinking what?
Her: About me coming.
A Willy Paul song hits the speakers. It sounds like Jigi. Or Digrii. I’m drunk. So all his songs now kind of sound the same.
Shanti throws a whoop in the air and pulls me up. She grabs me by the collar of my t-shirt and literally shoves me against the wall. She follows me with a deep kiss, turns around and twerks up against me. She is assaulting my groin with her butt. Side to side. Up, down. That circular motion she does when she’s on me in bed. Why do they play gospel in clubs?
The song ends, I sit and she sits on my lap. We are way past PDA right now. Besides, there are other couples in various parts of the club whose tongues are busy lashing around in each other’s mouths. It’d be a lousy night if one went here alone.
The barman swings by and asks, “What else do you want?” I figure he means, “You guys good?”
It is an Ethiopian joint so I order Anjeera. There is a new Tarrus Riley song booming away. I am calling it new because I haven’t heard it before. So I consult Shazam and I learn that the song’s name is “Just The Way You Are”. I like it. I download it. Tomorrow is Sunday. I will wake up a little hangover if this night continues in this fashion. I like listening to new great music I have never heard before when I am hangover.
“I love you just the way you are girl, wake up with no makeup we nah break up…”
Her: Why didn’t you love me back Nickie?
Me: I couldn’t.
Her: Why not?
Me: I just didn’t have the feelings, OK?
The first night we had sex, we agreed.
The first night we had sex
Me: Was that all you hoped it’d be?
Her: Well, kissing you feels like I’m kissing another woman, but other than that, I feel like seven more rounds.
Me: I think I only have three left in me. Tops.
Her: I’ll take what I can get.
Me: Forget it
Her: You wanted to say that this won’t grow into something, didn’t you?
Me: Like I said, I screw better than I love.
Her: And where you’re concerned, it’s raining hoes, right?
Me: I just enjoy my own company, you know? Writing might be lonely as hell, but I’m used to it.
Her: And in your loneliness, you create words and worlds that pull people to you. Ironic.
Me: Like moths around light.
Her: They burn, no?
Me: And they keep going back.
Her: Don’t worry. I’m a smart girl. I know what this is.
Me: What is this? Just to be clear.
Her: You’re getting laid. I’m demystifying you.
Me: Can’t say I have many layers for you to peel.
Her: In your loneliness Nickie, you have forgotten the need for emotional contact.
Me: It wouldn’t be much of a need if I could forget it.
Her: So you stifle it? That must require energy
Me: Nope. Just a constant supply of naked women in bed with me.
Her: You are cold, you know? You have walls so thick a heart would smash just trying to scale them.
Me: Then that heart should just remain tucked safely in the owner’s chest. Right where it belongs.
Her: Hearts aren’t meant to stay in the owners’ chests. They tend to rot away that way. I mean, look at yours. Look at what you’ve become.
Me: Getting judgmental, are we?
Her: Don’t worry. I won’t fall. I never fall. Pass me another cigarette?
Her: I fell. And I’m sorry. I love you
Me: I’m sorry to hear that.
Me: We had a deal!
She punches me hard on the shoulder crying;
Her: You’re so selfish!
Me: How Shanti? How?
Her: I’m sorry, OK? Oh God I’m so screwed up!
Later that night, we stagger out of the club
Her: I want to go home. Call me an uber
I take out my phone. They are two now. I must have drunk too much. What am I even saying? I have more than half a liter of concentrated Vodka in my stomach. I can feel the fumes drifting out of my nose.
With a little trouble, I locate the uber app on my phone and start the process of calling a cab for her.
Her: What are you doing?
Me: Calling you an uber like you asked.
She pushes me with both hands right on the highway and I come close to falling. It is a beautiful quiet night. The highway is deserted, only lit beautifully by orange streetlights.
She runs to me alarmed
Her: Are you OK? Oh my God, are you OK?
Me: Yeah I am fine.
She tucks her hand under mine and pulls me gently out of the road.
Her: Come on, Let’s go home. You’re so selfish, but I love you so much.
In the house, she heats some water and I’m sure she wants to burn me with it. But I’m too high to care.
Her: Maybe you should call me that uber now.
Me: Are you sure?
So I grab my phone(s) again and start the process. She stands in front of me glaring down at me. I’m seated. I ignore that nails like stare and continue with the process.
But she slaps my phone hard from my hands and it crashes hard on the floor. And I am thinking that that phone went for twenty something thousand bob. And I’m thinking that it has died with over a thousand e-books in it which I haven’t read.
And I cast her that, “I’m going to kill you” look but she goes down on all fours, collects the phone which miraculously doesn’t even have a crack on it and hands it to me with both hands.
Her: See? Your phone is fine. (She cups my cheeks with both hands) Your phone is fine baby. It is all fine. I’m sorry! F**k! I’m so f****ing sorry I’m like this, OK?
She plants petite kisses on my lips and face, then she tears my t-shirt from my body. She literally rips it apart and my jaw hangs.
Her: What are you going to do about it?
I let her have it. I lift her off the ground and lay her on her back on the cold floor and she is writhing like;
Her: Give it to me you selfish c**t!
These are new waters for me. Virgin waters. Never navigated. Not by me. Her kisses leave wounds on my lips, her hugs leave scratches on my back, and her stare leaves holes on my face. She pulls me out, pushes me aside and goes to the now boiling water. She puts it in a glass and adds cold water to it. She tastes it and I’m lying hanging on the ground like,
Her: Patience is a virtue Nickie.
She adds a little hot water to the mix and tastes it again. She likes the temperature now. She takes a huge gulp and kneels between my legs.
Me: What are you doing?
She takes me in her mouth and she is extra warm. She is no longer aggressive, neither high nor low. This is a new side to her I hadn’t noticed before. Her moderation.
Then she starts crying –
Her: Love me. Just love me.
In the morning
In the morning I play the songs I downloaded at the club last night. I’m still a little drunk but my head feels fine. No hangover. I heard that if you drink lots of water, you can handle liquor like an Irishman. I guess my source was right.
She rolls over naked and rests her head on my chest.
Her: I’m sorry about last night.
Me: What part?
Her: Thing about unrequited love is that it leaves you feeling useless and exposed and stupid. Like, “What the hell was I thinking?” kind of stupid. But thing is Nickie, you have always been so good to me. So gentle with me. I know I can be a little dramatic, but you have been so patient with me even if you don’t love me. The weeks we have met, the few times we have made love, if it can be called that, have been the best moments of my life. I wish you could love me back. I would love you so much Nicholas. (She supports her head on her shoulder, her hair falling to one side of her face, and looks me right in the eyes) So much.
Me: We would be toxic you and I.
Her: I know I can be a little intense but you’re just so damn cold, you know? Like there is no getting through to you.
Me: You know we can’t do this again, right?
Her: Yeah. But this is the best goodbye ever.
Me: Good or bad, the essence and permanence of goodbyes like this makes them quintessentially bad.
Her: I know. But still, some guys just kick you out in the middle of the night.
At around noon, I escort her to the bus stop and she says;
Her: I’ll have to demonize you in my head. You’ll be a villain. A monster. Something that came into my life and used me and abused me and threw me out like a cheap handkerchief. I’ll hate you for all this Nickie. Do you understand?
Me: If that’s what it takes for you to get over this.
Her: Thing about hitting and running Nickie is that you get to hit and run from so many good people. You lose so many people with whom you could have had great friendships. And every person you hit and run from, is another person who has a reason to hate you. You kill so many good things in the womb and it tends to leave you so lonely.
Me: Shanti, I’m a writer. I was born to be lonely.
She takes my hand and squeezes it.
Her: You don’t have to be. I know many writers who aren’t.
Me: Those writers aren’t me.
Her: Just let me be the last person who’ll ever hate you Nickie.
She boards a bus that will take her to the hospital where her mother lays sick. I stroll slowly with music streaming into my ears and think to myself, the last person who’ll ever hate me. Sounds like a good title to a story which may or may not be so good.
At the very least, this whole episode might just be another story. So I go home and write it.