(If you want to buy my novel “The Realm of Humanity”, send me an email at email@example.com)
Kileleshwa – Nairobi
I wake up. I masturbate.
Then like everybody else who likes to think their life is heading somewhere, I go to work.
Yes, today is the first day of the rest of my life, but I don’t know that. Not yet. I have the worst sleeping pattern in the world. Last night I slept at 9 p.m., lost sleep at 11:37 p.m., read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One because I hear Steven Spielberg is making a big 3D movie adopted from the book and didn’t sleep again until 2:59 a.m.
By 5:12 a.m., I was up again. Feeling a little hangover and a lot like I feel every morning. Did that night really have to end? Why do I even bother waking up?
As I take a shower, I repeat to myself, don’t do it. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. The more I think of not doing it, the more I think of it. And this is accompanied by, what do you have to lose? It is not like you’re getting laid any time soon anyway.
The warm water shoots from the shower head above, raining warmth upon me, and my hand wanders along with my brain. I think of her, seated in a hotel room in Rome, smiling at the computer screen, white bedding under her, naked, legs parted, crack between her legs, one finger beckoning at me playfully, the other finger doing little circles around her clitoris…
Her: You like this baby?
Me: (Breathless) You know I am
Her: You want some of it?
Me: All of it. I want all of it.
Her: Can you handle it?
Me: Are you daring me?
Her: You know I am. What are you going to do about it big boy?
I sigh. I close my eyes. I moan. The water shoots. The warmth. The warmth. She is beautiful. I feel her warm breath on my neck as she works her way down, her essence engulfing me like a tight hug, I stroke, I moan, the water shoots, I moan, I think, I see her, the crack between her legs, the look on her face, her fingers, opening her pink moist world for my eyes, for my warmth, for my pleasure… I stroke…
“Why did I do that?” I think, spreading my sticky fingers wide for the hot water to wash away my guilt. My shame. “Why did I do that? I promised I wouldn’t do that.” I sink onto the floor, the hot water pouring on my back, working hard to wash away the sins that are doomed to remain glued to my soul forever. Crying in the shower is like crying in the rain. The water might wash away the tears, but pour hard as it may, the pain remains. “I am sorry.” I mutter to myself, remembering my promise to her as she lay dying. “I am sorry.”
Why did I do that?
Java, Kileleshwa – Nairobi
I park my old car at the Shell Petrol Station, pass my keys to one of the familiar attendants to wash it and hurry into Java where these two actors are waiting for me. We are having a table read for a movie script they commissioned me to write for them.
They are seated on the ground floor, at a table facing the forest. Beneath us is a river flowing towards State House. It would be a scenic place hadn’t the river been so littered with plastic bags, green foam and other slimy things which make for a very displeasing sight.
Shona sees me first. At thirty two, he is one of the most famous actors in Africa, having worked in productions from Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. The major problem in his career however is that he is largely typecast as this brokenhearted, fragile boy who’s messed up by every chic he dates in every movie he is in.
One day I asked him, “Dude, doesn’t it tire you out, playing the same role over and over again?” And he said, “What can I do? As long as the checks clears, bro I’m good.”
He is pretty in a fragile kind of way. A man isn’t supposed to be pretty like this. He is prettier than most women I know, so girls really dig him. It is a good thing to have him in your movie because he has about a quarter million followers on Instagram, same number on Twitter and about two plus million followers on Facebook.
Having him in your movie means money.
He smiles upon seeing me, stands up and heads for me greeting cheerfully;
He gives me one of those firm hugs that reminds me just how tall and broad he is. Looking at him seated, one wouldn’t think he could stand at six foot three. His hand, when he takes mine, swallows it whole as he shakes it too, and leads me back to the table, pointing to a smiling lady I haven’t met before.
Shone: Hey Cupid, this is Natasha.
He points at the lady, light skinned, or so I think, because she is covered in layer upon layer of makeup, who stands up smiling like we are best friends and hugs me so hard that she almost lifts me off the ground. She is stronger than she looks.
Natasha: Just call me Tash.
She whispers in my ear, her voice hoarse and deep, sharply contrasting with her features. She is about my height, but that is because she is in heels, white tight fitting jeans, pink crop top and a trench coat whose color I can’t name. I can’t name any colors past the famous seven. I used to get into trouble with my Chemistry teacher because I couldn’t remember lilac.
Me: Hi Tash. I am Cupid.
Actually, my name is Romeo, but everyone just calls me Cupid. Even in my movie projects, I am usually credited as Cupid.
Tash: It is so nice to finally meet you. I have heard so much about you and I am such a huge fan!
Shona sits on one side of the table while me and Tash sit beside each other on the other side. She smiles at me, beaming, like she has just bumped into Denzel Washington or something. Every actor I know wants to meet Denzel Washington. I want to meet Denzel Washington too, but if I were given a choice between Denzel and Quentin Tarantino, I would choose Quentin because he is my kind of crazy.
Once I said that and was dismissed as a black people hater. Apparently me choosing to meet a white person over a black one means I have issues.
Me: But Quentin is a writer like me.
Accuser: Oh, and Hollywood is short on black writers you would like to meet, huh?
Me: No, of course not. I would love to meet Shonda Rhimes and Tyler Perry and Nate Parker and Ava Duvernay who is my all time favorite, but Quentin and I share a style of writing you know? We are blunt and unapologetic and we don’t shy away from controversy.
Accuser: And Hollywood doesn’t have a black Tarantino?
Me: Name me one. Just one. And I will write you an Oscar worthy script free of charge.
Accuser: Spike Lee
Me: Dude, he destroyed Oldboy!
Accuser: You’re right. How about the Hughes Brothers?
Me: After Menace II Society and Dead Presidents, which movies have they made that beat Tarantino’s work? I enjoyed The Book of Eli starring Denzel, but it wasn’t as good as Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards, Django Unchained or The Hateful Eight. And by the way, I don’t want to meet Tarantino because he’s white you insecure idiot, I want to meet him because he is the best writer I know. He is just that good. If he were black, I would still want to meet him.
I might win the argument, but they still go ahead and hate. Truth is, I would prefer to share a beer with Quentin Tarantino as we talk about filling our stories with violence, blood and cuss words, over any other writer in the world.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am a scriptwriter. I am one of those boring guys who walk around with weird hairstyles, confused looks on their faces, computers in their backpacks and a cup of coffee in their hands. Our lives aren’t interesting, but the lives of the characters we create for movies and TV shows are.
Shona summons the waitress with a smile and she hurries over, ignoring two other people who wanted to talk to her. Shona has that effect on ladies. He smiles at you and you will leave your husband for him. True story. It has been known to happen before.
Just earlier this year, Lady Zambezi, one of the top performing artistes in Africa was famous for her music and being in one of those power couple kind of marriages. She and her husband were the African Barrack and Michelle Obama. Or Beyonce and Jay-Z.
Then she got a part in a movie where Shona was the lead actor. The one month movie shoot took place in South Africa. Zambezi flew to Jo’burg married. Her petition for divorce from her husband flew back to Nairobi before she did. Two weeks with Shona was all it took. Two weeks! Yes, Shona is a home wrecker, but he is my friend. I don’t have many of those, so if you are my friend, I will take you as you are. Philandering home wrecking ball-sack and all.
It is a cold morning and he is in one of those sweaters that accentuate his muscles and the waitress is all over him like flies on shit. Her eyes keep dropping to his chest and he keeps waving at her like, “Hey, my eyes are up here.”
But he smiles at her throughout. One of those condescending “It is not your fault. I know I am that hot,” smiles he reserves for groupies.
We make our orders as I feel Tash’s leg brushing against mine under the table. I shift mine and smile at the waitress as I order and by the time I am done, Tash’s leg is up against mine again. That is when I start thinking that this isn’t an accident.
Tash: So Cupid, (the waiter has taken all orders and left and now Tash is smiling – she has cute little teeth and small eyes – and looking at me) I love your movies. Anything you write turns to magic. You have no idea how excited I am to be working on this project with you.
Shona: Dude’s a genius yoh! Do you see how I promote you bro?
Shona has a good heart. He is one of those guys who, if they believe in you, they will walk on live coals for you. I want to answer him but Tash brushes her leg against mine again and when I look at her, I find her staring intently at the menu as if she doesn’t know what she is doing.
Maybe I am the one who is crazy.
I have seen Tash in movies and TV shows. She might not be as popular as Shona, but she is way up there. Like Shona though, what movie producers see in her mostly are her looks. She is petite, pretty and has a smile that lights up the gloomiest of rooms and hearts.
Of course, that leads to her being typecast as the pretty girlfriend who ends up with the guy. It is damaging to a person’s acting career.
In Hollywood, people like Leonardo DiCaprio worked so hard to get over typecasting. After he played Jack in the movie Titanic in 1997, his follow-up work was as far from the pretty boy who wins the girl’s heart as possible. It doesn’t always work though because in 2017, people still see Elijah Wood and call him Frodo from the Lord of the Rings; movies he acted in well over ten years ago.
Tash and Shona came to me, asking me to write a script for them which will see them acting in roles that are far from the roles they are used to. So I went home and chucked out a psychological thriller in two weeks.
I sent it to them via email, they read it separately and sent recommendations, some of which I adopted, most of which I ignored. And now we are here to read it together out loud. Like we are acting it out without actually acting it out. It helps a bit in ‘feeling things out’.
It is an enjoyable read, a little because my story is good, a little because the two actors are mega talented (just two of the many great actors whose talent goes underutilized in this country) and a little because Tash won’t keep her leg away.
At first it is uncomfortable especially because every time I want to give her my ‘what are we doing’ look, I find her looking away. And when she looks at me, she smiles so brightly and says something funny and laughs. Her laughter is loud and throaty. Every time she laughs, a little bit of her heart is shared with the world.
An interracial couple occupies the table next to us with a little biracial boy and Tash brightens up. “Oh my God!” she exclaims, turning to the couple. “Your baby is so cute!”
The white lady places her palm featuring well manicured nails on her chest and crushes her face with what I translate as heartfelt appreciation saying, “Aww! Thank you so much! You’re so sweet!” Then she sees Shona smiling at the boy and her face brightens, completely ignoring Tash. “Oh my God! You are him!”
Shona: I am him? (He knows exactly what she means.)
White girl: Yeah! (Snaps her fingers to recall his name) You are that guy in that movie. (She looks at us, hoping we’ll help. We won’t. It is another “Pretty Shona steals the scene” moment.) What’s the name? What’s the name? (Turns to her African man.) Honey, what is the name of that movie we watched at Genny’s?
Man: Jenny with a J or Genny with a G?
White girl: (Pulls a ‘you’re not helping’ face) Honeeeey! Genny with a G. We never watch movies with Jenny with a J. Her dog pisses all over the carpets. You know that.
The man looks bored. He can’t wait for the conversation to be over.
Man: Crystal Chrissie.
White Girl: Yeah! Chrystal Chrissie! I loved that movie. (Beams at Shona) You were so brilliant in it. (Takes out her smart phone and rushes over to Shona as we all look at her man sympathetically. He must be crashing inside right now. Shona has a reputation.) Can I take a selfie with you? Please say yes.
Shona: How can I say no?
She seats beside him and leans so close to him that their faces touch.
White Girl: Say cheeeeeese!
Snap snap… she looks at her screen and likes the pictures therein. Then she brightens up with another idea and turns to the husband, left alone at his table, smiling, trying hard not to look offended.
White girl: Honey, could you take a picture of us please?
A huge vein shoots down honey’s forehead and his eyes go a little red. White girl doesn’t notice, but I suddenly get the urge to burst out laughing. Tash must have noticed the ‘I’m going to fart if I don’t laugh soon’ look on my face and touches my leg with her hand this time. She gives my thigh a little squeeze and looks me straight in the eye.
Tash: (Whispers) Don’t laugh.
Me: I am trying.
Tash: I will kiss you if you don’t laugh.
Her lips are full and pink. She doesn’t have as much lipstick as I would imagine she would wear. I want to kiss them bad. So I don’t laugh. Yet.
Honey takes the wife’s phone and clicks away as she leans close to the smiling Shona who is absolutely having fun right now, knowing very well that he’ll be the reason why this couple will have their next fight. He puts his arm around her shoulder and pulls her close.
Husband snaps away.
She stands behind Shona and puts her arms around his chest, her chin resting on her head and they both smile for the camera. I am going to laugh. I can’t help it. I can feel tears stinging my eyes. Tash, who is covering her mouth with one hand and squeezing my thigh with the other, is struggling to stay serious too. Her eyes are shining with unshed tears.
The husband keeps asking;
Man: Aren’t those enough?
White Girl: (Standing on the other side of Shona, hand squeezing his shoulder) Just one more honey.
Just one more honey
Ten pictures after the original ‘just one more honey’ she has had enough. She goes to her husband who is about to explode, takes the phone and smiles at the screen.
White girl: Oh, honey, these are so good. (She pecks him on the cheek and beams at Shona) Hey, mind giving me your number so I can send them to you via WhatsApp or something?
An involuntary giggle escapes my lips and Tash squeezes my thigh so hard I think she’ll break a nail.
Me: (Standing up) I am going to the bathroom
Tash: Sit down; we have work to do
White girl: (To us) Oh, you guys were working? So sorry. (Passes the phone to Shona) Just key in your number right there honey and I’ll be on my way.
I turn to ‘honey’ to see his reaction on his wife just finding another ‘honey’ and I notice his Adam’s apple bobbing furiously up and down his throat. He picks up the cute baby and storms out of the place. His wife sees him leave and smiles at us.
Shona saves his number and hands the phone back.
White girl: You are so sweet.
Shona: I try
White girl: So good to meet you. (Pecks him on the cheek and waves a curt goodbye to us) Sorry guys about the interruption
Tash: Don’t sweat it. That was very um… (pauses to look for the word)
White girl: (To Tash and me) You two are so cute. How long have you been together?
Me: Fifteen minutes
Tash: (Looks into my eyes pretending to be very serious and nodding) More like nineteen, right honey?
Me: Yeah. Yeah. Nineteen sounds about right.
White girl: (With hand on chest again) Aww. So cuuuuute. And you’re already finishing each other’s sentences? Awww.
When she turns to say goodbye to Shona, again, her eyes are all over him. On his chest, on his face, her hands keep flying around as if she wants them all over him. I know she wants them all over him.
White girl: I will send you the pictures, yeah?
Shona: (Flashing his groupie smile) Can’t wait
White girl: You’re so sweet. Oh, I’m Yvette by the way. Yvette Cannonson. I’m from Quebec, Canada.
I hear Tash mumbling;
Tash: As opposed to what? Quebec, Tanzania?
Shona: Shona. Shona Malanda.
He says that deliberately, using a calm bass, trying to sound cool, like an action hero or something. It is what he does when he knows he is making a girl wet her panties.
Long story short, her goodbye lasts another ten minutes. Another ten minutes I spend trying not to fart, imagining how furious her husband must be getting, just seated in the car, waiting for his wife who has just developed a crush on a dude she just met in a restaurant.
Once she is gone, we finally let go. Shona included. We even get under the table, just cracking the hell up and imitating her.
Tash: (Hand against chest) Awwww. That’s so cuuuuuuute….
Me: Honeeeeeey, just one more, Okaaaaaay?
Shona: Awww, you’re so sweeeeet….
By the end of the laughter, no eye remains white and dry, no rib remains uncracked, no nose remains unsniffled and no tear remains unshed.
Me: The Family Division at the Milimani High Court is about to deal with another divorce matter thanks to Shona here.
Shona: Yeah. To test your woman’s love for you, you should leave her alone with me for ten minutes. If she leaves without touching me, nothing will ever come between the two of you. You are a match made in heaven on a good day.
Me: If I ever get married again, I will swing by your house and put two in your back as you sleep.
He chuckles but Tash doesn’t join in. She gasps. The sound you make when cold water hit your back on a cold morning, and looks at me.
Tash: You’ve been married before?
Me: (Looking to Shona for help) Um,
Shona: This is a very good script bro.
Me: Glad you like it. So, what are the production plans? And what timelines are we looking at?
Two Days Later
Kileleshwa – Nairobi
I wake up. I masturbate.
There is a voicemail in my phone from Tash which I play;
Tash: Hey Romeo, (she hasn’t called me Cupid in a while now) sorry for calling so late. I just really needed to talk to you, you know. See how you are doing and everything. We are about to start shooting your movie and I am loving “Kasina” my character a little more every day. She is so broken and so sweet if you care to peel her back, and I feel like it is the best role I have ever played. Like it is going to put me on the world map. Anyway, I just wanted to know if you’d be available for coffee tomorrow. Think of it as me thanking you for being so awesome. I have to go now, but call me back as soon as you hear this, OK?
I call her back and her sleepy voice answers;
Tash: What time is it?
Tash: Oh. Sorry. I was on set until three o’clock. How are you?
Me: I am good. You?
Tash: Yeah I am good too, I guess. You listen to my message?
Me: Uh huh
Tash: Yeah. Your phone was off and I prefer dropping a voicemail as opposed to texting. I hope that’s OK
Me: I would rather listen than read
Tash: (Chuckles) You are funny. When can I buy you that coffee? Today? I won’t be going on set today
Me: I am writing something.
Tash: Shona said you keep to yourself most times. Is this you doing that?
Me: This is me saying I have work.
Tash: OK Romeo. But if you get an hour for coffee, just let me know, yeah?
Me: Sure thing Tash.
Tash: OK, take care
Me: Bye Tash.
I am about to hang up when she calls out;
Tash: Hey Romeo, hello?
Me: Hey, I’m here
Tash: I hope you change your mind.
Art Caffe – Oval
Westlands – Nairobi
Tash and I are here because I changed my mind. Not without help from her anyhow. She called again, telling me about this really cool book she had just finished reading and how if I had read it, she was dying to talk to me about it.
Me: Which book?
Tash: Gerald’s Game by Stephen King
Me: I haven’t read it yet. I made the mistake of watching the movie and since it demystified everything for me, I am not looking forward to reading the book.
Tash: Oh. What are you reading then?
Me: Ready Player One
Tash: Is it good?
Me: I find that whether a book is good or not is largely dependent on the reader
Tash: Are you going to start going all Aristotle on me now? You don’t have to philosophize everything. Is the book good or not?
Me: I like it. It is good enough for Steven Spielberg to make a movie out of it
Tash: Can I have it once you’re done?
Me: Sure thing.
We hang up, but she called an hour later;
Tash: Have you watched Detroit? It is the best movie of 2017 if you ask me.
Me: Yeah I have watched it. Racism is real, huh?
Tash: That was 1967
Me: And when was Trayvon Martin gunned down again?
Tash: You are right. Well, let’s have that coffee. Talk about movies and history and shit.
Me: And shit, huh?
Tash: Uh huh
Me: You are not taking no for an answer, are you?
Tash: I am. But then I’ll just call again in thirty minutes with some more bullshit until my no turns into a yes
And here we are. The no having turned into a yes. But instead of coffee, we’re doing cocktails. She has really short hair, cropped close to her head and she is in faded blue jeans, black heels, white crop top and a tiny leather jacket.
When she sees me, she flashes one of her bright smiles, her cute tiny teeth showing and her small eyes reducing to slits. She stands up and sticks her hands out to me, collecting me in a tight hug.
Tash: You look amazing
Me: I look like a writer
Tash: Well you look amazing to me
A waitress brings over cocktails;
Tash: (As we sit down) I ordered dawa for you. I saw it in one of your stories and I figured you probably won’t mind it.
Me: I don’t. Just didn’t think we were doing cocktails
Tash: Coffee is a nice beginning for people who haven’t met before. Friends graduate to the main course. Alcohol.
Me: (Raising my glass) To friendship
We clink glasses
Tash: The basis of everything
Three glasses later
Me: You are dangerously pretty, you know that?
Tash: (Laughs hoarsely and looks at me through her glass) Only a writer could use words like ‘dangerous’ and pretty’ in one sentence and have them make sense
Me: You don’t even have to thank me for that
Tash: I won’t. (After a few seconds she gets really serious) hey Romeo?
Tash: Can I see you again?
I laugh. I don’t know why but her question, posed so seriously and so innocently, throws me off balance.
Me: Yeah sure. I am sure we’ll work on other projects together, right? (I am deliberately missing her point here)
Tash: (A little disappointed) Yeah.
Five glasses later
It is dark now and the place is dimly lit with scattered lights. There are all kinds of people here, Africans, whites, Indians, all talking and laughing and drinking and smoking. There is soft music playing from speakers placed somewhere where I can’t see them and we’re seated out on the balcony.
Tash: I like you
Me: I like you too
Tash: You don’t have to say it just because I said it
Me: That is not what I was doing
Tash: Look, I am twenty nine years old. At my age, the last thing I have time for is bullshit
Me: I am a thirty three year old childless widower. Do I look like I have time for games?
Tash: You don’t like me. You are just saying that to make me feel good.
Me: If I was just saying it, it wouldn’t be to make you feel good. It would be to get into your pants.
Tash: Well, you ain’t getting into my pants unless you make me feel good.
Me: Fair enough.
Tash: You know how I know you don’t like me?
Me: Why don’t you enlighten me?
Tash: Because you made me labor to get you out here with me
Me: Do you know how I know I like you?
Me: Because I called you back.
Tash: Do you know how I know you don’t like me?
Tash: Because you don’t look at me the way I look at you
Me: Do you know how I know I like you?
Me: Because I am writing a story about you
Tash: Do you know how I know you don’t like me?
Tash: Because you are lying to me right now.
Me: Do you know how I know I like you?
Me: Because I am going to look you in the eye and tell you to fuck off
Tash: Do you know how I know you don’t like me?
Tash: Because you just looked me in the eye and told me to fuck off
Me: Do you know how I know I like you?
Me: Because I felt hurt when I told you the truth and you doubted it.
She sighs and finishes her fifth glass.
Tash: What is the story about?
Me: What could happen if you and I went ahead with this
Tash: With what?
Me: This thing between us
Tash: There is a thing between us?
Me: I thought you are too old for bullshit.
Tash: I am sorry. I am just a little mad that you made me practically beg you to grab a drink with me.
Me: Ask me
Tash: Ask you what?
Me: “Romeo, what could happen if you and I went ahead with this?”
Tash: Romeo, what could happen if you and I went ahead with this?
Me: I would keep running and you would keep chasing me. In the very end, frustrated and hurt, you would walk away from me and anything we had would have been ruined.
Tash: You like me. Why would you make me chase you all the time?
Me: Why do you think?
Tash: Aren’t you over her yet?
Me: How much has Shona told you?
Tash: That you got married when you were twenty-four years old and five years later, your wife died of cancer.
Me: Did he also tell you that I haven’t been in a relationship to date? Four years after her death?
Me: She was everything to me. I know she is dead now but I don’t know if I am ready for something else, you know.
Tash: Why don’t you and I go back to yours and you can tell me about her.
Tash: I am going to keep asking until you say yes. Then I am going to be angry with you for making me have to ask so much
Me: Then don’t ask
Tash: I can’t help it
Tash: Look Romeo, in my spirit of not dwelling on bullshit, I am going to tell you the truth. If you don’t let me in no matter how hard I try, I will walk away mad at you. I am sure you like me. And if what we could have doesn’t happen because you weren’t willing to try, we will both at one time in the future feel really stupid and angry that we didn’t give it a shot. I’d rather we tried and failed than not tried at all. And quite honestly if we don’t try because of you, I will be very angry with you for a very long time.
Me: My turn. If we try this, I will keep comparing you to her. Nothing you do will ever be good enough. If you don’t like the movies she liked, you are the one who’ll be at fault. If you don’t cook the way she used to, you will be at fault. If you don’t sleep the way she used to…
Tash: At least then, we’ll have tried and failed. I am not asking for your hand in marriage. Just that we go home together tonight and talk a little more. Share a bed and wake up together in the morning.
Me: And then?
Tash: See how it goes. Day by day. Can you do that? Or are you too scared?
When we get home
I have these straw chairs out at my balcony that Cassandra – Cassie, my dear departed wife, used to love. Before the cancer really put her down, we used to hang out on this balcony and drink whiskey until one of us passed out. Sometimes she passed out before me. Most times actually. But sometimes she underfed me just so she could be the one to carry me to bed.
From this balcony, we would watch the sun go down behind apartment buildings taller than our own and soon, the sky would change to bright orange that would fade with the incoming darkness which would transform the sky into a dull gray and then a really dark shade of blue. I used to find it abhorring. Cassie loved it. How the sky would transform so dramatically, so fast.
She was a poet. The really artsy kind of women who rock dreadlocks, wear baggy jeans and paint on the side. Her spoken word performances were to die for. The art scene really lost a hero when she died.
Two years after her demise, I figured it was time to move on. I wasn’t ready, but I was reading many ‘life after the loss of a loved one’ books and they all agreed that time comes in every survivor’s life to leave the house and meet people.
Helen was the people I met. I thought I liked her. So much so that I took her back home for a drink at the balcony where Cassie and I used to hang out. And as the sun when down between the buildings and the sky transformed, Helen said;
Helen: You know Cupid, I have been following your work for years now
Helen: Yeah. And I have to say, your writing has gotten better since your wife died.
That remark, the bluntness of it hit me smack in the face. It took my breath away for a second, during which I hid behind my whiskey glass for composure. Boiling inside but maintaining a calm façade, I proceeded with the conversation;
Me: Oh yeah?
Helen: Uh huh. Your work now feels raw. Emotive. Questioning. Daring. That is what sets you apart from the rest of the writers.
Me: Maybe their spouses should die too.
Though my voice was calm, something in the way I said that froze her. I could tell by the way her hand tightened over her whiskey glass and how her eyelashes twitched.
Helen: I didn’t mean it like that
Me: It’s OK. (It was not OK) Sometimes the best writing comes from a pit of darkness as opposed to a ray of sunshine.
Helen: Sadness is more interesting than happiness
Me: But happiness sells more
Helen: You think?
Me: Yeah. Isn’t that why the Kenyan comedy scene, if it can be called that, is overflowing with comedy films and TV shows?
Helen: You mean like Papa Shirandula or something like that?
Me: Yeah. I have realized that whenever anyone wants to talk about a bad show, they cite Papa Shirandula
Helen: Well it is a piece of shit. I don’t know who watches it anymore.
Me: But isn’t that what our TV stations want? Something that is shallow and apparently family friendly?
Helen: What are we talking about here Cupid? That we both agree that you are a great writer but that’s not enough?
Me: Exactly. I am supplying greatness in a market that demands less
Helen: You can’t quit, you know.
Me: I know. How are you enjoying your drink?
Helen: Cupid I am sorry. I shouldn’t have made that remark about your wife
Me: It is OK. Just finish the drink and I will call you a cab
Helen: You want me to go?
Helen: I am sorry, OK?
Helen: Have I blown this?
Me: No. You have only reminded me just how unprepared I am for something new
She sipped her drink slowly, taking her time. I could tell in her silence that she didn’t want to go; that she was sieving through every option in her mind, ticking off which wouldn’t work and which was worth a shot.
Helen: Can we start over?
Me: Not at the moment
Then her face cleared up, having convinced herself that this egg had smashed the floor and couldn’t be salvaged. When her drink was done, she rose up and I followed.
Helen: (Resting her hand on my shoulder) It’s OK sweetie. I will see myself out
She pushed me back gently on my chair, looked into my eyes and slowly bent close. Her kiss was warm, soft and cool as the same time. Then she walked away, the hem of her tiny sundress swaying from side to side. At the parking lot below, she looked up and waved. I wanted to wave back. But instead I stepped back into the house.
I have just told Tash about Helen and now she is laughing that throaty laughter that drives the darkness out of demons’ pits.
Tash: That was one no-nonsense girl if you ask me
Me: I know. Sometimes I think about her
Tash: Oh yeah? Regrets?
Me: Nope. I just hope that the man she ended up with can handle brutal honesty
Tash: Nothing pokes at a person’s security than brutal honesty, right?
Tash: Hit me with one brutal truth
Me: I would rather not
Tash: Now that I know you have a brutal truth for me, I want to hear it
Me: I don’t have one
Me: OK. I think you are pretty enough without hiding behind layers of makeup
Seconds before I say that, I fly through every possible outcome of that remark. Mostly I settle on ‘She’ll leave’ and find myself hoping, ‘I hope she does. So I don’t frustrate her.’
She stays silent for a couple of minutes, leaving my statement hanging in the air for full effect. There is a cold wind breezing at the balcony, but the whiskey has a warming effect on us. Her lips are pulled tightly in a pout and her brow is squeezed in concentration. I don’t know what she is thinking about but I keep thinking she will put her glass down and walk out without a word.
She puts her glass down and walks out without a word.
I hear her opening and closing doors in my house and I sit still, gently sipping my drink but my hand is shaking a little. This brutal honesty thing isn’t as simple as they make it sound in those how to be a better human being books.
Finally, she finds the room she was looking for and I hear the door close and it doesn’t open for a while. I hear water running and the toilet gets flushed. The door opens, closes and she is standing in front of me a minute later, her makeup completely washed off.
Her eyebrows look fewer, her lips still look pink and she looks a little darker. But she is still very pretty.
Me: You shouldn’t have.
Tash: (Sits) Asshole
Me: You have a brutal truth for me?
Me: Can we hear it?
Tash: You are a coward
Me: Because you think I keep trying to push you away?
Tash: I know that before you said that about my makeup, you thought about it. You considered the possibility of me leaving. And you went ahead and said it anyway. Maybe you even hoped that it would make me leave.
Me: You a mind reader now?
Tash: Not really. But I’m afraid your mind isn’t too complicated that it’d require a mind reader to figure you out.
Me: Is this brutal honesty or are you just being mean now?
Me: Are you done?
Tash: Tell me about your wife
Tash: Cassie. Tell me about her. What was she like? What music did she listen to? Did she want kids? How many?
Me: Is this an interview?
Tash: Does it matter? Just tell me about her.
I want to refuse. To turn to her and point her to the door. But when my mouth opens, nothing along the lines of ‘get the hell out’ comes out.
Me: She was um…
I see her in my head. Painting. Smiling.
Me: She was beautiful. She had this gap between her teeth when she smiled, she used to worry that I would leave her for someone more light skinned – that was weird – she was a great painter and a greater poet, she never cared much about fashion and she used to say, “Romeo, I know I am the ugliest woman alive, but you can’t help loving me.”
Tash: She sounds real
Me: She loved really old music. The Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder kind.
I chuckle and Tash chuckles too.
Me: There is this song by Dean Martin. It is called “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head”
Tash: I know it. (She starts singing; Since Dean Martin has a bass and she wants to mimic that, her lips twirl up and she sings with a smile) How lucky can one guy be, I kissed her and she kissed me, like the fella once said, ain’t that a kick in the head.
I am just looking at her, jaw dropping
Tash: What are you looking at me like that for?
Me: How do you even know that song?
Tash: My grandpa loved those songs.
Me: (I laugh) My grandpa didn’t even know those songs.
Tash: Maybe we ain’t so different – Cassie and I.
Me: You are different. And I don’t want you to be like Cassie.
Tash: But you said you’ll compare us
Me: I was being an idiot.
Tash: No. You are just a man whose wife passed on and I am the girl trying to replace her. Unless of course, you want to spend your life alone
Me: Can we not have any more brutally honest conversations tonight?
Tash: OK. If you have any Dean Martin songs, we can go inside and dance.
We go inside and dance to Dean Martin’s Amore.
She has this way of swaying from side to side and balleting like Natalie Portman in the movie Black Swan.
Tash: (Singing and balleting from one side of the room to the other)
In Napoli, where love is King,
When boy meets girl,
Here’s what they say…
When the moon hits your eye
Like a big pizza pie, that’s amore
When the world, seems to shine,
Like you’ve had, too much wine, that’s amore
Bells will ring ting-a-ling-a-ling
Ting-a-ling-a-ling and you’ll sing, “Vita bella”
Hearts will play tippy tippy tay
Tippy tippy tay, like a gay tarantella…
And we karaoke Frank Sinatra’s “Killing Me Softly” and Buddy Holly’s “Everyday.”
We get in bed laughing and singing old songs. I carry her down the corridor to the bedroom and the moment we crash on the mattress, we kiss without even having that ‘look into my eyes as I look into yours’ creepy moment before a kiss. It is so natural like we have been kissing for a decade.
Twenty two minutes later
I haven’t been with a woman in a long time. But I remember from my early twenties before I met Cassie, there was a point where when you make out with a woman you have never made out with before, you both know that you should have gotten naked and should now be making each other scream.
That point with Tash has come and gone.
I am shirtless, she is topless, the bra lying somewhere in another room. I don’t know where. We have kissed, I have worked on those breasts with my lips and she has closed her eyes, dug into my hair with her nails and asked me to bite them gently. Gently… yeah like that.
She has tried to get my pants off but I have continuously wiggled my way out of that one. Now her jeans are on the floor, and her panties are hanging, surrendering around one ankle.
There is a look a woman gives you the first time you take her panties off. After the second and the third time, this look disappears. Heck, she kicks her panties off by throwing her legs around until they go flying across the room like torpedoes. But the first time is special. At least that is what I remember from my pre-Cassie days.
She gets this look in her eyes where you see a mixture of emotions. She knows she is surrendering to you, melting away completely, like, ‘this is me; all of me’ and there is a little something in her eyes that seems to say, ‘please don’t hurt me.’ I think this is my favorite moment in the whole making out process. If I don’t see this look in a woman’s eyes the first time those panties are coming off, I know this thing we are about to start won’t last.
This is the look that lets you feel like all the work you have put in to get here has paid off. Sure you might just be sliding a piece of fabric down those smooth legs, but it really feels like you are holding her heart in your hands to do with as you please. If she denies you that, then what’s the point? And the best thing is, she doesn’t even know she has that look. And it really melts you too but right there and then, you are a man with a responsibility to not do bad things with that heart. Sure you can do ‘bad’ things with her if you know what I mean, but terms and condition regarding leaving that heart as you found it or better apply.
Tash has given me that look already. And it is not even going away. She is there, hugging me close, her chest pressing against mine, her palms cupping my face, and we are kissing and changing positions. I get lost in it for a second and when I come to; my jeans are on the floor beside hers.
I try to lose yourself in the moment again, but all my mind keeps flying to is Cassie on her back in hotel rooms all over the world, getting naked for me during Skype calls and us masturbating for each other. I can see Tash under me, but I am not there with her. Not really.
Tash: This is probably all in my head, but I have a feeling like you don’t want this to happen.
I roll away from her, my erection running away so fast around the corner, I barely catch its disappearing back. I hug my head in my arms and sigh loudly.
Tash: I know the problem isn’t me.
Me: No it ain’t
She slowly takes my hands off my face and climbs on top of me, straddling me. Her hands rest on my chest as she smiles kindly
Tash: It is OK. We have all the time, right?
I mean that. I want her to stick around. I haven’t wanted anyone to stick around for years.
Tash: I used to know this painter. His wife was his muse. They were married twelve years but when the robbers shot her in the face while stealing her car, they didn’t have children. The painter told me later that he was in the middle of painting something when she died. He didn’t even know she was dead. But something in him died immediately. He couldn’t even finish the painting because he could no longer see it in his head. So he called his wife to tell her that this painting he had been so excited about for months had kind of vanished from his head. He didn’t know what he wanted to do with it anymore. But the call went unanswered. Hours later of course, someone called him, telling him they found the phone’s owner lying on the side of the road with her face missing. The man couldn’t paint again for six years and not for lack of trying. He tried to shift his pain into his work but that wasn’t working. All he could think of was the love of his life and the bullet that grabbed her away from him. I am twenty nine years old and I have never loved anyone who later died. Everyone I care about is alive. I can’t say I really know what you went through, but I am here now. For you.
She rolls off of me and rests her head on my chest. I run my fingers through her hair. My one hand is tucked under my head and I am staring at the ceiling.
Me: Did he paint again?
Tash: Yeah. But he had to meet someone and fall in love first before his muse could awaken
Me: He finished the painting?
Tash: After seven years, yeah. It is a beautiful painting. He sold it for three hundred and fifty thousand shillings
Tash: I know, right?
Me: Helen was wrong then
Me: The best of art coming from a place of sadness. Your painter’s art came from a place of happiness
Tash: I think it is relative. Yours might come from a place of sadness, his from a place of happiness. We are all different, you know?
Me: Yeah. Does that mean that my writing is about to suck?
Tash: Happiness doesn’t exist in a vacuum Romeo. It takes work. If you let yourself go and allow yourself to be happy, make others happy and let other people make you happy too, then I am sure your writing will never suck.
Me: You are the only one who calls me Romeo
Tash: Everyone else calls you Cupid. I don’t want to be everyone else
We fall asleep in each other’s arms.
I wake up to find her head on my chest and her arms curled around me like she is afraid of letting me go. I hate having to leave the bed right now, but my erection is killing me. It is what wakes me up. There are a few things more irritating to a man who is trying to sleep than a boner that won’t go away. It is almost as irritating as a mosquito dancing around your ears all night.
Slowly, I peel myself away from her. I get her knee off my thigh, I get her head off my chest and her arms away from me, then slide as quietly as possible out of bed. She moans softly but doesn’t open her eyes. With my erection leading the way, I leave the bedroom and head off to the living room with a tube of lotion and a box of Kleenex.
Cassie and I used to share nudes all the time. By the time cancer really put her down, she had become successful in her art. She was traveling all over the world to perform and her paintings were also starting to get attention.
Our relationship became long distance and we started having what we liked referring to as e-sex. We would get off to each other via video calls and send each other all these crazy nudes and erotic stories that we would create for each other.
Since these were fiction, we tried to get as crazy as possible. Fantasies that would never happen in real life. These included threesomes and gangbangs; there was this one she sent me once where it was me and her in an elevator going all the way up to the twentieth floor. On the third floor, a man in a trench coat and nothing else joined us and struck a conversation with the two of us. One thing led to another and by the time we were hitting the twentieth floor, the steamiest ménage à trios was going down.
I texted her;
Me: Are you trying to make me jealous?
Cassie: Small price to pay for the way I know I have turned you on with that story
That’s true. It really did turn me on.
Me: No it didn’t
Cassie: Oh baby, didn’t you see me smashed against the elevator walls by another hunk who is taking me from behind as you watch?
Me: Shut up
Cassie: Then he turned me around, made me straddle his strong thighs as he made my voice die in my throat?
Me: How do you know me so well?
Cassie: I married you, didn’t I?
When we were younger, we used to visit nightclubs in Westlands that played reggae music. Not riddims but roots. The I-Jahman Levi, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Mighty Slaves, Jimmy Cliff kind of old school reggae. Music made long before the types of Chris Martin and Alaine were born.
She would stand on the dance floor, a beer in hand and a joint in the other and she would rock her dreadlocks gently from side to side.
In one of the fantasy stories I sent her on her trip to Madrid one time, we were in one of those clubs and we were on a leather couch, butt naked, right in the middle of a huge Old Rome orgy. I went into the deepest details too.
If we had continued doing that, I might have made it huge as an erotica writer.
Now I am in the living room, stroking away as I read a story she sent me once. I close my eyes, but the details of her body are faded. I don’t remember the finer details no matter how hard I try. Was that birthmark on the right or on the left cheek on her ass?
How about that beauty spot on her shoulder? Was it above or on the breast? Sure I can confirm these details from one of the many nude pictures I still have of her, but the idea is to see them alive. I want a live memory of them; not a memory of them plastered in a picture, forever immobile.
I want to see the birth mark moving, and not in a video she sent me. I want life.
Frustrated and guilty because the pictures and the videos and the stories aren’t doing what they used to do for me, I visit the internet. Hitting XVideos and Porn Hub with a vengeance.
I search for women who look like Cassie. Artsy. With dreadlocks. Ebony. And I am stroking away to one that is really engrossing; so engrossing that I am on the verge of blowing my load, eyes rolling back, toes curled and everything when someone snaps behind me;
Tash: What are you doing?
Ah shit. There is nothing more embarrassing than being caught jerking off. She is standing behind me and there I am, seated on the couch, porno playing full screen on my computer, oiled hand on my oiled junk and I am expecting her to blow up.
Tash: Romeo? Are you jerking off?
I want to say no, but I literally have my dick in my hand.
Me: It is not what it looks like
I roll my eyes at the stupidity of that sentence.
Tash: This is not you jerking off in the dark?
Tash: Come on Romeo. Why would you do that?
She sounds so disappointed. I was expecting her to fly off the handle with rage, but instead, she only sounds, hurt. She switches on the lights and stands stark naked in front of me.
Tash: Am I not enough?
She is looking right into my eyes, searching for answers.
Tash: Don’t I turn you on?
What can I say?
Tash: Alright. If you don’t talk to me in the next one minute, I am leaving.
Tash: Look, don’t even start bullshitting me, OK? If you’d rather hang out with those internet whores, it is up to you. If you are going to humiliate me like this, at least tell me why.
Why would a man leave a perfectly beautiful and willing woman in bed to jerk off to pornsters?
Tash: I know you have a reason.
Me: None that will leave you happy
Tash: I am asking for the reason why you would rather have sex with your hand as you stare at naked strangers fucking as opposed to having sex with me. Do you think I don’t know that?
Me: Can I at least wipe my hands clean?
My boner died a long time ago in my hands and now I am feeling a little cold.
Me: Before Cassie died, she travelled a lot. That means we masturbated all the time. It was our thing when she wasn’t in town. And when she was around, we would have sex as much as we would masturbate. Then cancer came and when we couldn’t have sex anymore, she asked me to start seeing other people. I refused. She felt bad because she was sure that I was still, you know, (I do that back and forth jerking off thing with my hand)
Me: So she started offering me what she called a helping hand.
Tash: No way
Me: Yes way. She would roll over and I would feel her hand on me. I would tell her to stop. That she didn’t have to and she would say that it was the only thing in the world she wanted to do. That I shouldn’t keep that away from her. Just before she died, she made me promise her that I wouldn’t spend the rest of my life alone, jerking off and never letting anybody else in. I think she died a very guilty woman; feeling like she abandoned me, you know.
Tash: I am sorry
Me: No Tash. I am the one who should be sorry. Most times I just find myself doing it, you know. It is like me hanging out with Cassie. Sometimes it gives me the feeling like she isn’t dead. Like she is just on another trip to the other side of the world and pretty soon, I will be driving to the airport to pick her up with a bouquet of flowers. It feels like the only thing connecting me and her now is you know… (I point at the frozen porn video on my computer)… this.
She turns around and heads back to the bedroom. I take a shower, delete my recent history on the computer and go to the bedroom, half expecting her to have dressed up and left. Instead, I find her in bed, waiting.
Tash: I can’t force you to let me in Romeo. It is either you want me or you don’t.
Me: I do
I mean it
Tash: Do you?
Tash: Please don’t waste my time.
Me: If this doesn’t work, it won’t be because I didn’t try
I climb in bed beside her.
Me: I am sorry
Tash: Don’t jerk off alone again, OK? If you have to do it, I want to be there
Me: That will be weird
Tash: That’s the point. Maybe I will give you a helping hand myself.
Her hand slowly goes down low and I gasp. It feels warm on me. She strokes me slowly, up and down, up and down. This time, I see only her. Her parted lips as she gasps, lips more pink than I have ever seen them before.
She is under me, maintaining eye contact, brow folded, as I disappear inch by inch into her moist, warm and welcoming pink tunnel of pleasure. Tunnel that is way better than an oiled palm. She is on me, grinding slowly, hands on my chest. Back and forth back and forth she rocks. She is on her stomach, the lower back raised with a pillow and I am taking her hard and deep; she is emitting this guttural sound; it is a noisy morning for my neighbors. We are lying side by side, our legs laced to each other, looking into each other’s eyes as we bring all walls down, one bump at a time, until all reservations come crumbling down in huge and electrifying orgasms.
Kileleshwa – Nairobi
I wake up. I don’t masturbate.