Wednesday. February 14, 2018
Pangani – Nairobi
Marty drops Tavia off on the side of the road, five-hundred meters from his house. The idea is to get Tavia a five-minute solo walk between the drop-off point to home in the evening breeze; five minutes which he can enjoy alone.
Marty: (As he parks the car) Home sweet home bud
Tavia: Yes. Home sweet…. Shit
In front of them; they see the twins buying sweets at that kiosk closest to Tavia’s house and Marty chuckles.
Tavia: Why are you laughing?
Marty: I am not.
Tavia: Yes you are
Marty: I’m chuckling. There is a difference.
The twins, Nyala and Zala are five years old. In their kindergarten school uniforms and long hair braided neatly on their heads, they look like little princesses. Nyala, is the first to see Marty’s dark blue Mitsubishi Pajero Super Exceed parked a few meters from the shop. She tugs at her sister screaming excitedly;
Nyala: ābayē! ābayē! (Daddy! Daddy!)
Tavia: (Mutters as Marty breaks into a cackle) Oh shit!
Zala turns just as the shopkeeper is handing her the sweets and her little face brightens up!
Zala: ābayē! (Daddy!)
Marty: Well, you better get out of my car before they tear it to pieces
The twins break into a run, their faces bright, their mouths open in excited laughter and perpetual calling of daddy in their Amharic mother tongue, their little legs carrying them to Tavia as fast as humanly possible.
Tavia opens the door and gets on one knee, his entire face softened into a smile and Marty takes that time to look at his friend, this man he has known for a decade. He gets immersed in Tavia’s smile as he waits for his daughters to collapse into his arms and squeezes his lips shut.
Nyala is the older twin by seven minutes. She is running just a meter ahead of Zala who is trying hard to catch up, and in her effort, she loses a footing and crashes hard on the gravel, raising a small cloud of dust in her fall. She falls so hard that her little legs lift up behind her and she slides a bit on the gravel. This is the kind of fall that peels the skin off people’s elbows and knees.
The grin on Tavia’s face disappears and Nyala notices it immediately. She looks over her shoulder, sees Zala lying on her stomach, her face suddenly twisted with oncoming tears and quickly, she turns back and starts to lift her off the ground. Zala’s lower lip twists the way it does when she is about to cry, but her sister kneels beside her and pats her on the back gently saying;
Nyala: Shh. Shh.
Tavia rises up and starts hurrying for his twins but stops when Nyala picks her little sister off the ground by her armpits and together, they beat a little bit of the dust off her dress and resume their run into daddy’s arms chattering excitedly as if the fall hadn’t happened.
Tavia: Aaaaa. (His voice rises directly from his chest as the girls collapse into his waiting arms) Ye’inē tinanishi sēti lijochi. (My little girls)
Zala’s dusty uniform, soils Tavia’s suit and Marty smiles as he starts the car. Nyala breaks away from her father’s embrace and waves at him.
Nyala: Hi Uncle Martin
Marty: Hello you
Nyala: You don’t know which one I am, do you?
Marty: Of course you’re Nyala
Nyala: You’re only saying that because you know Zala is shy and she never says hello to you
Zala, as if to prove her sister wrong, waves a tad shyly at her father’s friend.
Zala: Hello Uncle Martin
Marty: Hello Zala
Zala rests her head on Tavia’s chest as he gets back up.
Zala: (To Marty) Ke’inya gari na. Imayē shīro āderegechi (You should come with us. Mama made Shiro)
She offers, referring to Shiro, one of the more popular Ethiopian cuisines.
Marty: (To Tavia) What did she say?
Tavia: That you are the ugliest man she has ever seen. (They both laugh as Zala tucks her face shyly into his chest) You should come in man. Diarra made Shiro. And you know her Shiro is the best dude.
Marty: Wish I could man. But you know…
Tavia: (Laughs) Yeah. Tail won’t chase itself? Well, enjoy the girls
Nyala: What girls?
Marty: Wow. This conversation just got R-rated real fast.
Tavia: I’ll see you at the office. If you make it to work tomorrow.
Marty: Say hello to Diarra for me, yeah? And to Faizah too.
Marty hangs around for a minute longer to see Tavia walk home, flanked by his girls, each holding a hand and swinging it excitedly as they chatter away like little birds in Amharic.
The entire family consists of Tavia who at thirty four is bald but heavily bearded. It is like God peeled the hair off his head and planted it on his cheeks and chin. Tavia doesn’t bother shaving the beard and whenever asked why he lets it runs wild, he usually shrugs and says, “Can’t go against God’s wishes dude. Shaving my beard would be an act of blasphemy.”
Diarra is his wife. Well, temporary wife. They are both Amhara, who bumped into each other by accident. Literally. One day, Tavia was stuck in the morning traffic as he was driving to work along James Gichuru Road when suddenly a driving school lorry rammed into the back of his car.
“Are you joking?” He snapped to nobody in particular as he let loose his seat belt, jumped out of the car and hurried to inspect the damage.
Tavia: (Screaming at the lorry occupants) What the hell is the matter with you people?The instructor jumped out of the lorry apologizing furiously
Driver: It’s my student. She stepped on the fuel pedal instead of the brakes.
Tavia: Of course he did. He is a student. It’s what they do. Where were your bloody eyes?
There was a huge dent at the back of his Subaru Outback and he stood there on the road, hands akimbo, feeling a red volcanic rage rising up his chest.
“I’m so sorry.” A soft female voice said from behind him and he turned and came face to face with a smoothly dark lady with long hair that flowed down one side of her face and small eyes that resembled an Asian’s.
“Oh my God.” The lady said, covering her lips and widening her eyes as far as they could go to signify the horror she was feeling.
“Please tell me you are not the one who did this to my car.” Tavia said, a note of defeat already beginning to cloud his voice.
“I’m sorry.” She waved her hands nervously as the instructor moved away to make a call. Ahead of them, the traffic started to move and the drivers behind them started honking furiously. “I confused the fuel and the brakes and… oh my God, what am I going to?”
“I’m Tavia.” He said offering her his hand to shake. She took it reluctantly, not because she didn’t want to shake his hand, but because hers was shaking so badly.
“I’m Diarra.” She croaked as she felt his warm grip try to steady her hands. He looked her in the eyes and smiled kindly, his even teeth seemingly brightening up the entirety of his face.
Tavia: I know a good Ethiopian restaurant where we can grab some breakfast.
Tavia: You must be hungry. I get hungry when I’m terrified.
Diarra: But… I just put a huge dent in the ass of your car. (Points at the car with both hands) And, oh my God, it’s a new car. (Hands against lips) What am I going to do?
Tavia: Say yes to breakfast.
Diarra: What about your car?
Tavia: Oh, you’ll pay for that. I’ll just pay for breakfast. Say yes.
Tavia: Oh. OK. Urm, well, can’t blame a guy for trying.
Diarra: What? Oh my God (chuckles) I’m not saying no to breakfast, I am saying no to you paying for breakfast. I just messed your car up.
Tavia: Oh. OK. Fair enough. But you still get to get my car fixed, right?
Diarra: Are you in the habit of picking up girls from the highway like this?
Tavia: Only the ones who mess up my car.
Diarra: I have to finish my morning classes
Tavia: What would you rather do? Crash into people’s cars or drive off into the sunrise with handsome dudes?
At first she chuckled, then she laughed so hard that she bent double and placed her hands between her knees. She laughed till tears shot down her cheeks. Tavia and the driving school instructor stood beside her and watched, lost in her insanity. All around them, cars drove past and drivers cast hateful glances at them all.When she was done, she stuck her hand out to Tavia;
Diarra: Give me the keys. I’m driving.
Tavia: My car?
Diarra: I don’t see any other handsome dude standing close to me asking to take me out for breakfast.
Tavia: Well, it’s just you’re too good a driver to drive my messed up car.
Diarra: I already messed up the back. Might as well mess up the front while still at it. Give me the keys or breakfast is off.
Tavia: (Reluctantly handing her the keys) Wow. Our meeting is such a cliché.
She drove them off into the sunrise, or what was left of it. That was seven years ago.
Seven years and a set of twins later, they are seated in their house, trying to watch TV with three children buggering them left, right and center.
She is thirty one years old.
Faizah is ten years old and she is one of the children in Tavia’s and Diarra’s house. She calls Tavia ‘Tavia’ and Diarra ‘Mommy’.
Tavia and Diarra had intense sex on their second date. They had sex immediately after their first date though. Only that it wasn’t anything to write home about. In fact, Diarra was of the opinion that it was the most underwhelming sex session of her entire life.
On the morning they had breakfast, Diarra skipped her driving lessons for the day and Tavia called in sick at work. He said that a lunatic had crushed his car and now he had to go home because his head, elbows, knees and penis hurt. He added the last part at an attempt to sound original. His boss later told him that it only sounded like sexual harassment and that he would have complained to higher management hadn’t the boss himself been a man.
On the morning they had breakfast, they talked and talked and had to order lunch because they couldn’t stop talking and laughing. So on the morning they had breakfast, they had lunch. And on the day they had lunch, they had dinner too. Later, Tavia drove her to his apartment in Pangani where she took her clothes off for him.
Maybe it was the breasts. But they were too small for his liking so maybe it wasn’t the breasts. Maybe it was the hips, but again, they were too small for his usual tastes so maybe it wasn’t the hips. Whatever it was though, he entered her hard, spent exactly seventeen seconds in there and came out soft.
She was left on the carpet where they had landed in their fiery intensity, writhing with want, her thighs as far apart as they could be, her body rocking like waves in an angry ocean, her mouth open, her moaning guttural and her eyes closed.
“Don’t leave me like this,” she said over and over and over again and he stayed beside her muttering his apologies over and over again, wishing for a plane to fall on top of the house from the skies and crush him and him alone to smithereens. Once she had calmed down, she said;
Her: That was the lousiest sex I have ever had. It doesn’t even qualify to be called sex.
Him: I know. I feel horrible.
Her: Well, you should. Should we try that again?
Him: (Eagerly) Yes please.
Her: Good (She gathered her stuff and headed for the door) Call me tomorrow.
He barely slept that night. Images of her naked and clothed kept swimming through his busy brain and at dawn, he called.
Her: Why did you call so early?
Him: It’s tomorrow, isn’t it?
Her: You’re dying for that rematch, aren’t you?
Him: It’s the most important match of my life.
Her: You sure you’ll last ninety minutes this time? Or will you die before the beginning whistle even goes off?
Him: I’ll make the entire ninety minutes plus extra time.
Her: Penalties too?
Him: Only if you can last that long.
Her: Oh boy, I’m not the one with lasting issues.
When they met again several hours later, it was like he was trying to prove something not only to her, but to himself and the entire world too. And he reclaimed his lost glory and then some. After it was all done, they lay next to each other, panting and grinning sheepishly at the ceiling and sweating like pigs.
Her: We are sweating like pigs
Him: I have never seen a pig sweat
Me neither. But let’s not make that a thing.
Him: OK. We’re sweating like pigs.
Her: Hey, did I tell you I have a daughter?
Her: Did I tell you I have a daughter?
As she asked this, her hand flew to her inner thighs which she stroked gently, her small eyes glued to the ceiling as if she was lost deep in thought.
Him: I’m sure if you’d mentioned it, you’d remember it too.
Her: Oh. Well, I have a daughter.
Him: I see
Her: Does that mean we’re done?
Him: With what?
Her: Don’t be daft
Him: I like having sex with you.
Her: The daughter thing notwithstanding?
Him: You don’t leave your vagina with her when you come to see me, so I think we’re good.
Her: Do chicks dig this bluntness thing you’ve got going for you?
Him: Nope. But you do. What is her name?
Two months later, Tavia met Faizah. She was a skinny little thing with bones jutting everywhere. When they got introduced to each other they ended up fighting.
Diarra: Faizah, this is Tavia. Tavia, Faizah, my daughter.
Faizah: He has big eyes
Tavia: She is skinny.
Faizah: I don’t like his lips. They look like bathroom slippers.
Tavia: I don’t like her elbows. They look like doorknobs.
This time, Faizah’s eyes widened and she addressed Tavia directly.
Faizah: I don’t like you!
Tavia: Well, I don’t like you either!
Diarra: Well, I like you both so sit down and stop acting like lunatics! Both of you!
And it has been like that between Diarra, Faizah and Tavia ever since.
Either Nyala or Zala was an accident. Mostly, Zala was the accident because she arrived seven minutes late. Three months after they had that breakfast that turned to lunch that turned to dinner that turned to the most underwhelming sex session of Diarra’s life, they met at Choma Zome along Thika Road for a beer, banter about cigarretes, a kilo of meat and a good general chat.
Tavia: I like that you drink your beer straight from the bottle
Diarra: Just that?
Tavia: And the fact that you like girls who smoke even though you don’t smoke yourself.
Diarra: Come on Tavia. I know you can do better than that.
Tavia: I am going to stop talking right now.
Diarra: I want us to have a kid
Tavia: I want us to have a kid too.
Diarra: I am being serious.
Tavia: I am being seri… wait, what?
Her: Were you even listening to me or were you checking out the waitress?
Him: I was checking out the waitress.
Her: I want another kid.
Him: You need my help with that?
Her: If I could self pollinate like a flower, I could get this show on the road my damn self.
Him: I want a kid too. Just not its mother.
Her: Good. Coz I want a kid too. Just not its father.
Him: Should we draft a contract? A parental responsibility contract that dictates how we raise the child without us being together?
Her: You are good at that kind of thing. Draft the contract, I will forward my copy to my lawyer and if he says that it is OK, we will make a baby.
Him: I will forward a copy to my lawyer too and if the terms are good to go, we’ll make a baby.
Her: Should we shake on it?
They shook on it, drunk beers from the bottle, talked about girls who smoke even though they didn’t smoke themselves, ate a kilo of meat and laughed about how full they were and checked out the hot waitress together.
Twelve hours later, a very hangover Tavia sent a draft of the contract that would bind them together as parents and when both parties’ lawyers decided that the papers were in order, they went home and had it raw.
When they were done, Diarra agreed with Tavia that even though it wasn’t the best they have ever had, it certainly wasn’t the worst. The worst would always be their first. She kept her feet up to apparently reduce the sperm flow out of her.
They repeated this procedure for a couple of months and one day, Diarra went to the bathroom. It was in the middle of conducting her business that she yelled from the toilet;
Her: Hey dude, did I tell you that we’re pregnant?
Him: (Shouting back from the balcony where he is busy checking out a girl on the balcony of the adjacent apartment, who is half naked on her balcony, on a seat, enjoying a bottle of wine and a book) No. Are we?
Her: We have been for three weeks now.
Her: You are not listening to me Tavia, are you?
Her: Is that bitch out there half naked again?
Him: Yeah. You want to come check her out with me again?
Her: Dude, I’m pregnant!
Him: I know. You said that already!
Her: It’s just not the reaction I was hoping for, you know?
Him: Sorry babe. You want to try that again?
Her: Can we?
Him: Yeah. Start
Him: (Over his shoulder) What!
Her: I’m pregnant!
Him: Are you sure?
Her: Yep! As sure as one who has missed her period and whose stick reads positive can be.
Him: Is it mine?
Her: Fuck you!
Him: What? You wanted me to have a normal reaction.
Her: Well, I was hoping for more excitement or cuteness overload.
Him: Oh. OK. Awwwwww. We’re pregnant.
Her: The moment has passed. I can’t believe you took that away from me.
She forced out another load, cleaned herself up, flashed the toilet and joined him out on the balcony where together they checked out the half naked girl on the balcony in the adjacent apartments.
Her: Do you think we should call her over one day for a threesome?
Him: She your type?
Her: I could do her
Him: Then maybe we should
Her: Well, ask her over one of these days. Before my stomach becomes grotesquely huge.
Him: You’re the best future baby mama I have ever met, you know that?
Her: That was just my pregnancy hormones talking.
Him: This is going to happen a lot these next nine months, isn’t it?
Her: You are contractually obliged to stick around with me and take care of me throughout my pregnancy.
Him: I can’t believe your lawyer got me to add that clause into the contract. What was I thinking?
Her: (Pats him on the shoulder) You were just horny darling.
Four months later, it was revealed to them that they would be having twins and not the one kid they had contractually bound each other to.
Him: We only planned for one kid
Her: Oh my God
Him: You are freaking out now.
Her: What am I going to do? Oh my God, oh my God.
Him: This is a huge breach of contract, you know that, right?
Her: Are you going to sue me now?
Him: I should.
Her: You can’t run away though. You could just take care of me throughout my pregnancy then when the twins are out, you could choose which one to act daddy to and I’ll handle the rest.
Him: You’re still the best future baby mama in the whole wide world.
Her: I’m sorry Tavia. I’m serious
Him: Well, why don’t you take your sorries and shove them up your ass. I have a new idea for a new contract.
Her: A new contract? Hell no!
Him: Hey bitch, you are in breach of the old contract. I want a new one.
Her: OK. What?
Him: Let’s enter into a contract of marriage for the time it takes you to deliver the twins.
Her: Is that a proposal?
Him: Nope. Just a question. Will you marry me or not?
Her: What happened to good old romance?
Him: Didn’t you hear? It’s dead. Along with our previous contract which you are riotously in breach of.
Her: Well, I’ll be your wife. But then just until the twins are out. After that the contract expires.
Him: We might have to want to think about what happens after.
Her: I’m pregnant with twins dude. I’m allowed to think only six months into the future at a time.
A week later, Tavia got a marriage certificate from the office of the attorney general which they both signed. They asked their respective best friends to witness this contract and even though they all thought that this was a crazy couple, they appended their signatures to the certificate and went to the nearest bar to get stupidly drunk.
While these friends went to get drunk, Tavia and Diarra went home for coitus.
Diarra: When I was giving birth to Faizah, my birth canal was small so I had to be cut. I decided that during my second pregnancy, I would continue having sex way into the third trimester to keep things ready for birth down there.
Tavia: Very well Dr. Diarra. I will never say no to more sex.
That was a little more than five years ago.
“ābayē,” Nyala calls, “What happened to the games on your phone?”
He is on the couch with his feet on the table, trying to watch something on TV. Nyala climbs on the couch with him and climbs over his shoulder where she grabs both his ears and starts riding him like a horse.
Nyala: Mommy! Mommy! Daddy is a horse
She makes some neighing sounds and accompanies them with galloping sounds with her lips. Then she jerks his ears as if they are reins and neighs some more. Tavia sits there and takes it, feeling his ears grow hot.
Diarra: Leave your father alone Nyala. And get off him.
Diarra: Why not?
Nyala: He is my father.
Diarra: Well, he is my man and it is my job to get your little paws away from him. Now get off him before I lose my mind.
Slowly, Nyala climbs off her father who rubs his ears while she goes over to another seat where Zala is seated quietly going through the pictures and videos in another phone. Exactly twenty-four seconds after Nyala joins Zala, the younger sister opens her mouth and lets out a stunning howl.
Tavia: What happened?
Zala’s face collapses as she bawls her eyes out and tears run down her face followed shortly thereafter by mucus. She wipes her nose with the back of her hand and smears her cheek with a large mucus tick.
Zala: It’s Nyaaaalaaaaaa….
Tavia: What has she done?
Zala: Sh-sh-she took my phooooooooone…
Faizah, who was seated quietly on another seat hurries to Zala and hugs her tight saying in Amharic;
Faizah: Shh, shh, ye’inē tininyi meli’āki (my little Angel.) Shh. Dehina newi (It’s going to be OK.)
Then she turns to Tavia pouting and says;
Faizah: Tavia, your daughter is a terrible person!
Tavia: So are you! She is just a little kid. What’s your excuse?
He gets up and goes to where Nyala is seated, watching her twin sister cry helplessly. She has her little fingers in her mouth and a sorry look on her face.
Nyala: (To Zala who is being cradled in Faizah’s skinny arms) Yik’irita. (I’m sorry)
Zala sticks her hands out to Tavia and he picks her up and swings her around. He tickles her and blows his cheeks into her armpits until she is rocking in pearls of laughter.
The twins are back to the phone, arguing over what pictures to see and what videos to watch – Faizah, who is perched on a small couch at the corner says suddenly;
Faizah: Tavia, your daughter was in trouble again at school today.
Tavia: Which one?
Faizah: You know which one.
Tavia: What did she do this time?
Faizah: Ask her.
Tavia: I’m asking you.
Diarra pipes in from the kitchen where she is wrapping up on the Shiro.
Diarra: You’re the one snitching on your sister. So snitch.
Faizah: (Gets up and places her hands akimbo) I’m not snitching!
Tavia: Yeah, you kinda are.
Just then, Nyala comes running to Tavia, wearing the saddest face in the world.
Nyala: Daddy, Zala is taking too much time with the phone and I want to see the beautiful pictures you and mommy took the other day.
Tavia: But you stay too long with the phone all the time.
Nyala: But she won’t even let me touch it and when I take it you say I am a horrible person.
Tavia: You are not a horrible person.
Faizah: Yes she is!
Diarra: Shut up, āsik’īnyi (snitch)
Faizah: (Screaming) Inē mesak’īya āyidelehumi (I am not a snitch!)
Tavia: Don’t shout at your mother! You know what, time out. Every child in this house to sit down. Now.
Every child sits and Tavia leans back on the couch and blows his cheeks loudly. Then he gets a thought.
Tavia: Nyala, fetch my work phone from the coat I was wearing today. There are videos there you can watch. Faizah, keep your skinny behind on that couch and don’t make a move or I will explode in your face. Tereditwali? (Understood?)
They all nod. Nyala rushes to the bedroom and comes back holding a phone that seems too big for her hands.
Tavia: Nyala, what happened at school?
Zala: She ran to class after assembly and locked everyone else out.
Tavia looks at Nyala, but she has her nose stuck to the phone, where she is busy scrolling for videos.
Zala: So everyone was stuck at the door until the teacher came and asked, “Who is in there?” And everyone said… Nyala speaks at this juncture, together with Zala
Nyala and Zala: It is Nyala!! AGAIN!
Tavia: You know what I will do now Nyala? I will come to your school and tell the teachers to be whooping you.
Nyala shakes her head vigorously.
Nyala: No! No! No!
Tavia: Yes! Yes! Yes!
She dumps the phone on the couch and comes running to Tavia screaming “no, no, no, no…” over and over again and buries her face into his lap. He picks her up, turns her upside down, carries her on his shoulder then finally places her on his lap. All the while, she has been laughing her heart out.
Tavia: You can’t be a bad person at school, OK?
Nyala: OK dad
Tavia: You have to set a good example for your little sister.
Nyala: I am sorry.
Tavia: Tomorrow when you go to school, you will apologize to the teacher and to the whole class. (To Faizah) Make sure she does that, OK?
Faizah: Sure thing Tavia.
Zala, feeling left out, comes running and climbs onto Tavia’s other lap. Tavia is in a grey t-shirt with blue stripes. Zala points out the colors singing;
Zala: (Points at the grey part) Red color, (points at the blue) Green color. Red color, green color.
Nyala: (Gently takes Zala’s finger away from the colors and points at the grey part.) No! White color (points at the blue) black color.
Tavia rolls his eyes as Faizah comes and kneels on the carpet in front of them all.
Faizah: No. (Points at the grey) This is grey (points at the blue) And this is blue. OK?The twins hesitate and look at their father to see if he’ll concur with Faizah’s wisdom.
Tavia: She is right.
Faizah, still kneeling there, fidgets with her fingers the way she does when she is a little nervous or shy. Then with her eyes on the carpet, she says softly;
Faizah: I made a new friend at school today Tavia.
Just then, Nyala twists his nipple and he lets out a yelp.
Tavia: Hey! Don’t do that!
Nyala gives him her cutest baby smile and he smiles back at her, completely unable to get mad. Feeling rejected, Faizah slowly gets up on her feet and glides back over to her couch where she sits and continues to watch the soap opera playing on the screen.
When Diarra enters enters the room carrying a tray of Shiro, the children bounce from their respective seats and rush to her, chattering excitedly.“Imayē! Imayē! Imayē!” (Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!) They scream, tugging around her. She stops right in the middle of the room, blocking the TV screen from Faizah’s line of sight.
Angry, the little girl spreads her hands out and yells louder than everybody;
Faizah: Get away from there! Fuck!
Everyone freezes. Even the twins fall silent and turn slowly like zombies to look at their older sister. Then they look at their parents to see what their reaction will be. Diarra looks at Tavia to see what he will do about this.
Faizah, feeling the sudden tension in the room, and fully cognizant of the mess she has just created, stiffens, covers her mouth with her lips and waits. Tavia moves slowly. He reaches for the remote and switches off the TV. Diarra places the tray on the dining table and the twins sit on the carpet.
Tavia: (Calmly) You can’t speak to people like that.
Maybe it is the way he says it. His deep voice comes out with these torrents of pain that reach Faizah’s ears with the echoes of the screams that rise from the valley of death.
Faizah: I’m sorry.
Tavia: That is not good enough. That cannot be good enough.
Faizah: I’m sorry mommy.
Tavia: That woman (points at Diarra) is my best friend, and I won’t have you talking to my best friend like that Faizah. I thought you and I were friends too. Is that what friends do to each other? Disrespect each other like that?
She has her eyes on the floor, tears beginning to soak her eyes.
Tavia: Look at me.
She doesn’t look up.
Tavia: I said, look at me Faizah! And don’t make me ask again.
Slowly, she raises her eyes.
Tavia: Now go and apologize to your mother.
Faizah: What about me?
Faizah: What about me daddy? I never have anyone’s attention in this house, not even once. I take care of the girls at school and at home and nobody ever asks how my day was. And I understand that you are both so busy finding ways to pay all the bills, but I am your daughter too. Both of you. And I come home from school, sit on that couch over there (points at the couch) and wait, wait, wait for when someone will turn to me and ask, ‘hey Faizah, what’s your best friend’s name?’ so that I can say, I don’t have a best friend. I don’t have a best friend because I spend all the time with the twins and it is not that I am complaining, it is just that nobody sees me. Everyone’s attention is on the twins. You hug them, you tell them you love them, you read them stories and everybody just assumes that I am all grown and have everything under control. Well guess what, I don’t! I’m sorry imayē for being so disrespectful. It’s just, I feel like that screen is the only thing in this house that sees me and when you blocked my view there after I had tried to tell daddy about my day and he ignored me, I just lost it and I am sorry.
She breathes hard, her bony chest rising and falling with each breath she takes. Unmitigated waterfalls cascade down her cheeks and she doesn’t bother wiping them away. The house has never been so silent in the many years that they have lived in it. Slowly, she walks out of the room and they all hear her softly shut the bedroom door. The bedroom she shares with the always excited and quarrelsome twins. As soon as she is gone, they all release a collective sigh and breathe again.
Tavia: (Breathless) Did she urm, (Scratches head) did she just call me daddy?
Diarra: Yep. Twice. And she called herself your daughter for good measure too.
Tavia: Yeah. I think I caught that. Think I should go talk to her?
Diarra: I’d give it a minute if I were you.
Tavia: I think I’ll give it an hour
Diarra: She’ll think you’re ignoring her
Tavia: Ten minutes?
Diarra: Too soon.
Tavia: Oh girls. God sure could’ve given us all a break if he’d sent them our way with an instructions manual.
Dairra: What can I say? The Man has a sense of humor.
Tavia: Yep. (Adopts a bigger boom imagining that’s how God speaks) “I give unto thee a woman, made from a rib I stole from you while you slept after I drugged you. Mwahahahahahahaha! Well, she’s a little complicated, but you are a smart dude. You’ll figure it out. Mwahahahahahaha!!!”
Seventeen Minutes, Twelve Seconds Later
Tavia knocks on the door and Faizah, whose eyes are red from crying, asks;
Faizah: What do you want?
Tavia: To talk
Faizah: About what?
Tavia: Just talk. You know, about stuff. Can I come in?
She doesn’t answer, so he walks further into the room and sits at the edge of the bed.
Tavia: Phew! Things got a little intense over there, huh?
Faizah: I didn’t mean to yell.
Tavia: That’s OK. I yell all the time too. (pause) Can I ask you something?
Tavia: How many times do you say ‘fuck’ in a day?
Faizah: I don’t say it.
Tavia: Then how come you said it tonight?
Faizah: I heard it from someone. That friend I was trying to tell you about.
Tavia: Tell me more about your friend.
She tells him about the new friend. This new kid, just transferred from another school and how he cusses and how cool he is.
Tavia: What would you rather be? Cool or honest?
Tavia: It’s OK to be cool, but cool people like to show how they don’t need anybody. Like they have everything figured out. They dress nice, walk with swag, cuss, you know, show everyone how in control they are. You can’t trust people who like to show you they have everything figured out because they are lying to you. Honest people, say what they mean, mean what they say and can hence be trusted. So what would you rather be? Cool or honest?
Faizah: Can’t I be a little bit of both?
Tavia: (Chuckles) You’re all skinny and pretty so I guess you are a little cool by modeling standards.
Faizah: I don’t want to be a model.
Tavia: What do you want to be?
Faizah: A mechanic. I want to fix motorcycles and cars and maybe a plane someday. I hear those things, if not properly looked after, can kill.
Tavia: You little girl, are the queen of understatements. I have a suggestion.
Faizah: Uh-oh. That’s never good.
Tavia: Hey, be nice! (He smiles and she leans closer) You want a hug?
Faizah: Only if it remains our little secret. I am too cool to appear weak.
Tavia: Fair enough.
Faizah: One more thing.
Faizah: Next time you and mommy do it, try and keep twins off the picture. I don’t think any of us can live through raising another set of twins.
Tavia: Well Bone Bags, that’s up to the humorous Man in the Sky. You might say you don’t want twins next time, then he gives you triplets.
Faizah: What the hell! Then use protection or something!
Tavia: Sure thing mom. Am I getting that hug tonight or do I have to sprout grey hair waiting first?
As they hug;
Tavia: I was hoping you could tell us all about your day over dinner.
Faizah: Yeah right. As if you all haven’t eaten already.
When they get back to the dinner table, they find Diarra and the twins seated and the Shiro untouched on the table.
Tavia: The bomb has been diffused
Faizah: And all we have to do now is eat cold Shiro.
Tavia: So Faizah, tell us about your day. And please, feel free to bore us to death with every intricate detail.
Pumwani Stadium – Pangani
The kids are asleep and Diarra and Tavia have driven to the stadium to catch a glimpse of the stars and listen to the crickets. They are both seated at the front seats, sharing a bottle of wine between them. No glasses.
Tavia: She has never called me daddy before.
Diarra: Does that scare you?
Tavia: A little
Diarra: Is it a deal breaker?
Tavia: What was the deal again?
Diarra: That we would raise her and the twins together. Remember?
Tavia: Oh. That deal. Jesus! Can you imagine me raising that skinny little bag of arrogance?
Diarra: (Laughs) Hey! She’s not that bad.
Tavia: Yeah I know. Sometimes I wonder if our parenting would have sucked even more without her around.
Diarra: She does so much. She’s so mature, I wonder if we stole her childhood.
Tavia: We did. And I am as much her father as the twins’.
Diarra: You know, most people our age are celebrating their Valentine’s Day with roses, wine and truckloads of sex and here we are, two tired parents, just trying to keep our eyes open as midnight approaches.
Tavia: And therein lies the magic baby.
Diarra: Are you kidding? (She chuckles) Have you seen my stomach lately? I am a thirty-one year old mother of three. Those twins left stretch marks that look like gully erosion and heaps of manure on my tummy and they totally flattened my boobs. And you are going to sit here and tell me that my body is sexy? Pshh. Therein lies the magic my stretch mark-covered ass. Can I have the bottle please?
He passes her the wine bottle and she takes a large swig straight from the bottle.
Tavia: Did I ever tell you I have a fetish for stretch marks?
Diarra: Did I ever tell you you’re weird?
Tavia: You know what I want to do right now?
Diarra: Go get married to a nineteen year old virgin with a tight ass and boobs that don’t collapse onto your face when they leave the bra?
She casts him her most grievous stink eyes before punching him continuously on the shoulder. They are both laughing.
Diarra: You can’t joke about that, you idiot!
Tavia: (Leaning away from her) What? You started it you self deprecating asshole. And don’t pour the wine as you laugh.
Diarra: What do you want to do?
Tavia: You know nineteen-year-old virgin girls are extinct, right?
Diarra: With hyenas like you roaming the streets, I wouldn’t be shocked.
Tavia: And because the streets are all out of nineteen-year-old virgins, right now I just want to sit here, watch “Dirty Dancing” with my thirty-one year old temporary wife who is the mother of my three beautiful daughters, whose saggy-ass boobs I love and who is the best friend I have ever had in my whole life. Can I get that for Valentine’s please?
Diarra: Dirty Dancing? Really?
Tavia: It’s the best romantic movie of the eighties. And we watch it every Valentine’s Day. Don’t mess with tradition.
And they sit in the car as midnight approaches. And she rests on his chest as Patrick Swayze’s Dirty Dancing plays on the tablet in front of them. And when Johnny (Swayze’s character) storms into the hall for the last dance and approaches his love interest’s (her name is Baby) parents’ table and says “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” right before he snatches her up and takes her to the floor for the best dance of her life with “I’ve Had The Time of My Life” playing, Tavia and Diarra say it with him and both laugh.She lays her head on his lap and he holds a handful her thick flowing hair.
Diarra: Yeah baby?
Tavia: I think Faizah will fall in love with a bad boy very soon. And then she’ll come to you crying
Diarra: What makes you say that?
Tavia: She met this boy who cusses. Of course I warned her to stay away from him, but I could see she won’t.
Diarra: I will talk to her.
Tavia: I doubt she’ll listen to you either. When do we just let her be? And learn from experience?
Diarra: Not at ten.
Tavia: You’re the boss.
He rolls her hair around his finger as she lays on his lap and stares out at the stars through the car’s sunroof.
Tavia: Some people fall in love so deeply and get hurt so badly, but after a while, they immerse themselves into another deep romance and get hurt again. And then they do it all over again like they have never been hurt before.
Diarra: Are you getting soft on me Tavia?
Tavia: Well, it is Valentine’s and the world is out of nineteen-year old virgins. One has to be soft on who they can find, right?
Diarra: (Chuckles) One of these days I’ll smack you real good.
Tavia: Will I be naked as you do it?
Diarra: Oh Tavia darling. Ever the optimist.
Tavia: Can’t blame a guy for dreaming.
Diarra: As long as we’re being soft, I went to this art gallery earlier, right? And there was this painting hanging there, featuring this hugging couple. They were naked and their legs crossed each other’s bodies like they were right in the middle of making love. The kind of vulnerable love making where you look into each other’s eyes and feel emotions ooze out of you. As I looked at that painting, really looked, I didn’t know whose head was whose. Not for sure at least. And I stood there, lost in their space, and I understood them. I felt like they were tied so close together emotionally, that it was hard to tell who begins and ends where. It’s like in their connection, they have become one. I understood that. I understood what they were feeling and the reason I got that was because that’s how I feel about you Tavia. About us.
Tavia: Can I have the wine please?
Diarra: We’re almost out.
Tavia: We’ll be driving back home soon anyway. (Takes a swig from the bottle and passes it back to Diarra to finish) Hey Mrs. Tavia?
Tavia: I’ve been thinking.
Diarra: Uh-oh. This doesn’t sound good.
Tavia: Oh, come on.
Diarra: What? You get a headache every time you think. And then you come up with the crappiest thoughts ever!
Tavia: Well, I have a crappy thought.
Diarra: (Takes the last of the wine in one large gulp and tosses the empty bottle in the backseat) I’m ready now.
Tavia: Our current contract of marriage will be expiring in a couple of weeks, right?
Diarra: Two weeks, one day and seven hours to be precise.
Tavia: Wow, you’re really looking forward to the end of this marriage, aren’t you?
Diarra: The streets might be out of nineteen-year-old virgin girls, but it sure as hell ain’t out of nineteen-year-old virgin boys.
Tavia: Hey! Be nice!
Diarra: I’m a mood to deflower somebody. (Chuckles at him) Think they would be into an imayē with saggy t’utochi? (breasts) (She cups her breasts in her hands)
Tavia: They are virgin boys. They probably haven’t seen firm ones so they have nothing to compare your atrocious ones with.
She bursts out laughing so hard and so suddenly that Tavia is startled. Then she gets up and punches him on the chest.
Diarra: I swear to God, one of these days I’m going to kill you.
Tavia: And raise the twins on your own? Bitch please.
Diarra: You know what? You have a tongue sharper than a woman’s.
Tavia: A man’s got to stay in touch with his feminine side, you know? But I’m being serious.
Diarra: About the boobs you just called atrocious?
Tavia: Well, that and also, I want a longer contract of marriage.
Diarra: The last one we signed was to expire after three years. You want longer than that? And also, who said I want to renew a marriage contract with you?
Tavia: Don’t you?
Diarra: I do.
Tavia: Then let’s get ballsier this time.
Diarra: How much ballsier?
Tavia: Till death doth us part?
Diarra: Why? Are you dying?
Tavia: We’re all dying
Diarra: Do you have like ass cancer that’ll kill you in two years after you have driven me mad with taking care of you?
Tavia: Not yet. Why? Do you?
Diarra: Not really. I do have kids though and I would love for them to have parents who are together permanently. Not temporarily in fear of the future.
Tavia: OK. I will call the lawyer in the morning with new instructions.
Diarra: Hey Tavia?
Diarra: Just like that woman in the painting, I don’t know where I begin or end when I’m with you.
Tavia: I love you too poetess.
Diarra starts the car and as they drive back home, she says;
Her: How come I get to drive all the time?
Him: You asked for the keys, remember?
Her: That was seven years ago.
Him: You stole my car. Least you can do is drive me around in it.
Her: I hit it, I fixed it. That was the deal.
Him: I think you’re omitting the bit where you never exactly gave it back. You said you needed it more than I did.
Her: Yeah, coz I had to drive Faizah to school and the twins to the clinic.
Him: And that future permanent wife, is what they call an own goal.
Her: (laughs) I like that. Future permanent wife.
Him: Why? It doesn’t even have a nice ring to it.
Her: It doesn’t even make sense.
Him: And we’ll get into it anyway.
Her: Exactly. That’s why I’m so into it.
When they get home, they tiptoe to bed, making pubescent inside jokes and chuckling like children. In bed, they have coitus that is over a little too quickly for Diarra’s liking, but she is too jazzed about the future permanence of their relationship that she doesn’t mind.
And they do not use protection, something that Faizah, in her phobia for twins founded in the headache of the hustle that comes with raising them, would frown upon.
“In the morning he’ll last longer,” she thinks to herself, making a conclusion based on experience. As she watches him fall asleep, she smiles and climbs deeper into the bubble that has become their home; a bubble that has become their shelter, a bubble in which they are so attached to each other that they’ve become one.