February 10, 2018
I haven’t seen my friends since graduating from the university almost two years ago. So when Alvin the Musician among us calls and says, “Niko na mzinga, leta wasichana,” (I have liquor, bring girls) I grab an uber faster than Superman can say Kryptonite.
Our entire campus crew is there at his place in Zimmermann. At 27, he has just moved out of his parents’ house into a one bedroom and he wants the whole world to know it. He has never been prouder of himself.
By “our entire crew”, I mean myself, Alvin and of course Kingston, the stoner among us.
Alvin was always the most chilled out among us. All he needed was a guitar in his hands and any stress he had would be washed away by the magic in his fingers. He could strum a tune that would turn the devil into a forgiving man who breaks people out of hell right onto the gates of heaven.
Kingston should never have been named Kingston but his parents, Lord forgive their stupidity, named him so. A name he used to ferry him right to the gates of habitual marijuana consumption. “I’m named after the Stoner Capital of the World baby.” He would say, smoke streaming out of his nostrils.
Me: I don’t think Kingston is the Stoner Capital of the World, but sure. Whatever rocks your boat.
Kingston: (Handing me a joint) Here. Have a spliff. You don’t have to be the guy who knows everything every time.
Ah yes. That is me. The guy who knows it all. An irritating habit, I will be the first to admit, but when you know something, of what help is it to you if you don’t use it to get the girls at the parties?
Me: (Smoking up) I think Amsterdam is the Stoner Capital of the World.
Alvin: No. Amsterdam is the Whore Capital of the World.
Me: We’ll just agree to disagree gentlemen.
That was back in campus when the three of us shared a room at the hostel.
Now we are grown men who have moved into our own places where we actually have to work to pay the rent. Doesn’t get more grown up than that.
Alvin has a guitar in hand when I enter his house and Kingston is standing beside him with a joint burning between his fingers. He is tapping his foot and his eyes are closed as he listens intimately to Alvin’s rendition of Fadhili William’s “Malaika.” Though he is closer to Miriam Makeba’s than Fadhili William’s.
Alvin: Malaika, nakupenda malaika. Ningekuoa mali we, ningekuoa dada, nashindwa na mali sina we, ningekuoa malaika. Nashindwa na mali sina we, nigekuoa malaika.
We had forgotten this feeling. The feeling of being in the room with Alvin as he let the very meaning of life engulf the room. We can almost see it. See the colors of life; purple, blue, emerald green with a hint of orange oozing from his fingers and lips and snaking their way through the air and into our bodies, filling our souls with new energy.
Alvin: Pesa, zasumbua roho yangu. Pesa, zasumbua roho yangu. Name nifanyeje, kijana mwenzio. Nashindwa na mali sina we, ningekuoa malaika.
And thus begins the evening out of which the fact that my life has changed significantly, and for worse, begins.
We cook. We eat. We drink. We catch up. We talk about our parents. Kingston’s father died of cancer a couple of years ago. We didn’t make it to the funeral because; life sometimes keeps you away from the funerals of your best friends’ parents. Alvin’s mother’s arthritis has gotten worse. My parents finally divorced. That is just about the most significant thing in my life at the moment.
Of course, we talk about girls.
The ones we loved and lost. The ones who loved us and couldn’t love back. The ones we hurt. The ones who hurt us. We propose a toast to Kingston’s first girlfriend. She was a couple of years older than him and was more of a mother than a girlfriend to him.
“She was a keeper, than one.” We tease him.
“Yep. Definitely a keeper.” He retorts. “Had a way of keeping my face buried in her bosom as she asked how my day was.”
We talk about girls some more.
Alvin: It’s a strange living we have going on today man.
He replenishes his glass of red wine. He is the only one drinking wine. Sweet red wine at that. We long ago gave up on teasing him about it. Dude never could handle a real drink.
It is going on;
Time flies when you are among friends.
Alvin: You meet a girl today and you guys have sex. The first time you will use a condom. The second time too. On about the third time, you guys are on raw terms. You know what I mean?
Kingston: Did you say the third time? The second time dude! Sometimes even the first time! Like there was this time, I collected this chick up at B-Club, right?
Me: Collected? What was she, garbage?
Kingston: As it turns out, yep! Anyway, the idea was to take her to Kiza, right? Right up to the rooftop. So we are in the elevator (Kingston has to be just about the only Kenyan who says “elevator”) and she is drunk and leaning up against me. And she is in the skimpiest skirt ever. And she is taking my hand, placing it all over her and I redirect my Kiza plans to my bedroom. First night and we have ourselves a dry fry.
We laugh again. That loud “daaaaaaaaaaamn” laugh that dudes get when they hear or see something that is not exactly funny. More like a WTF moment. We cover our mouths as we laugh.
Me: Tell me you went to the VCT the following morning.
Kingston: Nope! We had that playful “when was the last time you got tested” conversation in the morning. You know, the one that usually goes like, “By the way, when was your last visit to the VCT?” “Urm, never? You?” “About six years ago. I tested positive.” “Hahaha. Very funny.” Then it is followed up by some kissing and another dry fry trip to temporary heaven.
He lights up the third joint in one night. I am dying of thirst. That is how I know I am high. When my mouth feel dry all the time.
Alvin: I think HIV ended man. We just didn’t get the memo.
Me: Yeah. Maybe the CIA is holding onto the memo because they don’t want people procreating too much.
Kingston: Well, HIV isn’t keeping people from popping out babies so that joke is on them. Talking of babies, did you hear Carol got a kid?
Alvin: Which Carol? The one with freakishly huge feet or the one with that peripheral vision?
Me: That’s just rude Alvin.
Alvin: Kwenda huko. It’d be rude if I was lying.
Kingston: The huge feet one got a kid last year man. Which rock have you been under? I’m talking about the other one.
Me: Man! Feels like all our campus classmates are having kids and we are just here doing… what are we doing again?
Alvin: I don’t know about you guys but I am not ready for kids.
And on and on we go. Talking and listen to music. We finish two bottles of Glenfiddich because now we can afford it. It used to be our dream drink back in campus when all we could afford were cheap bottles of Hunters and Legend.
February 10, 2018
Oh, the hangover! The boys are still sleeping, or pretending to be sleeping. My head pumps at the temples and I know I will be vomiting any time now so I get into the toilet and induce it. Bad habit. Leaves me starving.
“I have to go boys,” I say after a very cold shower that leaves me with the illusion that everything will be fine. That I won’t have a headache. That I have nipped that hangover in the bud. Yeah right.
Alvin: (Groaning) This was fun. We should do it again sometime.
It is a favorite lie among people who used to be friends but haven’t met in years. Time will do that to you. It will make you lie to your friends.
Kingston: My head’s killing me. Did we smoke up all the weed last night?
Me: What do you mean we?
The cold Sunday morning air does me some good. I have Stacy coming over to my place in a couple hours and I need to get there well ahead of her so I can at least try and make the place look presentable.
On my way to the bus station, I come across a sign written,
“Voluntary Counseling and Testing Center.
Open 24 hours, seven days a week.”
It stands there in all its purple monumental glory. A sign much like a fortune teller that spells your future to you. Best case scenario, your life stays the same after a VCT visit. Worst case scenario, your life changes. For better or worse really is up to you.
Parts of last night’s conversations cling onto my mind with the desperation of a clingy spouse. “Don’t leave us,” they say, these horrible memories.
Voices in my head whispering. “Dry fry. Dry fry. Dry fry.”
They grow louder with every passing second. They lift my body up and fly it towards the VCT center. Who opens the door of such a place on a cold Sunday morning? Must be agent of the devil himself. My feet don’t want to carry me there, but I have sprouted wings that are flying me there against my better judgment.
Don’t know why I am so scared. I have never been the reckless type. I have only had sex with two women in the last one year and I only have raw sex with them after us being together for more than three months.
So I know I am negative, but I need a confirmation. A quick in and out job.
Zimmermann VCT Center
I have never met a male VCT counselor. They are always female and older. I have never met a twenty-something-year-old counselor. I think this is a job reserved for older women.
I knock on the door, my breath and my entire body suddenly composed.
Her: Come in.
I get in.
She is exactly as I thought she would be. That is disappointing. I like being surprised every now and then and I rarely get surprised.
She is in her late thirties or early forties in a lab coat under which are “older people” clothes. Loose fitting, boring, unattractive to look at. She has a tender face that is more motherly than just womanly. Sometimes I want to look at a person and see them as just a man or a woman. Not a lowly paid government employee, or father or mother or husband, blah blah. Just a human being.
Her: Won’t you sit?
I must have been standing there too long, just staring at her. Her smile urges me to a seat facing her with a table between us.
Her: You look nervous. Relax.
Me: Oh, I’m good. A little hangover, but good.
Her: Wild night?
Me: More nostalgic than wild.
Her: Oh, I know what you mean.
Does she though? Doesn’t look like she would.
Her: What is your name?
Me: Matthew. Matthew Adipo. Most people call me Matt though. I don’t like that. It is a little boy’s name and I am grown now.
She is writing in a large book.
Her: How old are you?
Me: Twenty six.
Me: What does that have to do with anything?
Her: The people who fund us require me to collect this information. Is that OK with you?
Me: Yeah sure.
Her: Girlfriend? Wife?
I smile and want to say something cute like, “Why? You offering?” but for some reason I shelve that and roll with something more conventional.
Me: I am working on it.
Her: Working on getting a girlfriend or working on making a girlfriend a wife?
Me: Working on getting a girlfriend.
Her: Are you sexually active?
Me: More than most I believe.
Her: So that is a yes?
Me: That is a yes.
Her: Have you ever been tested before?
Me: Yeah. Once or twice.
Her: When was the last time you got tested?
Me: It’s been about a year. Maybe a year and a half.
She goes through the motions that she is well trained to make one feel like they are very personal. Like I am the first person she has ever said that to. The whole, “HIV is not the death sentence it used to be” cliché.
And I am seated there thinking, “Can we get to the testing already?”
We get to the testing. I hate this little needle. It makes a very small but highly annoying prick and we talk about a couple of things.
And then the moment of truth is here.
December 25, 2017
I have never been this close to an actual case of depression. I have spent the entire month holed up in bed trying to watch episodes of “Supernatural” and avoiding everyone’s calls.
It is Christmas and mom has been blowing up my phone the whole week. The messages get from inquiring to angry, to worried, to desperate very fast.
“When are you coming home?”
“Are you coming home?”
“Are you OK?”
“Why won’t you answer the phone?”
“Are you angry with me because of the divorce?”
At this point I want to text back and tell her I am fine and don’t care about her divorcing my dad but I don’t have the strength to send a message.
She calls once, twice, thrice, eight times, thirty two times and the more she calls, the more ignore the calls, the deeper I crawl into my shell.
She would love to come to my place but she doesn’t know where I live. After I got a new job, I moved houses and nobody in my family knows where I live. Sure they know it’s somewhere in Kahawa Wendani but they don’t know where and Wendani is too big a place to walk around with my picture asking strangers, “Hey, do you know where this guy lives?”
The other day I bought a razor. From the many movies I have watched about suicide and depression, I know I am supposed to take a hot shower because I don’t have a bathtub. I am supposed to sit in the shower, let the hot water thin out my blood and then slash my wrists open. “Cut along, not across,” is the advice I have received from movies.
People who slash across their wrists don’t really mean business. Those who cut across, well, those are the ones you have to watch out for.
I place the razor on my left wrist and dig in.
Outside, parents are taking their children to church. When I was a child, that would be my mother and me. She always bought me new clothes for Christmas.
She loved to buy me the most colorful sweaters ever worn by boys. I loved those sweaters. They used to have animals or stars or roads or trees embroidered into them with the best mom to son messages woven therein.
“Mothers have sons. I have an angel.” The message on the 1999 Christmas sweater read.
“He’s a little bastard. And he’s all mine.” The 2001 one read.
My favorite though was the last one. It was in 2007 and I was about fifteen years old. I felt like I had grown too old for these sweaters so I told her not to make another one for me. She requested me to allow her to make one last one and it was the simplest and the most honest as far as I could tell.
“I love you. Mom.” It read.
I guess that is what she had been trying to tell me every Christmas morning since I was one year old and I never really got it until then. Sure I knew they were sweaters from my mother with the messages on them, but I never interpreted as love until 2007 when she came out and said it.
After that, our relationship changed. It felt more mature, more vulnerable and definitely, more honest.
The next time my absentee father came home and shoved her against the wall, I asked her why she stayed. “You bought this land, you built this house, you furnished it, you pay the workers, you pay my fees every month, I… i… mom I don’t get it. Why do you put up with him? You don’t need him.”
And she said, “He is your father. That is all you need to know.”
I went to him with a machete in hand and by God I meant to use it. He saw it in my eyes. “Put that thing down boy,” he said; his voice calm as usual.
My father never raised his voice. Not even when he was tearing mother’s panties down her legs and pinning her against the wall, his hand squeezing her throat so hard that veins popped on her forehead. He would only whisper, “Shh. Calm down Martha. I know you like it like this.”
“Put it down,” he said again, “Or I will take it from you and do horrible horrible things to you with it.”
I couldn’t go through with it. I could raise it against him so I put it down. It broke me, putting that machete down.
It pained me more than his fist on my face ever could. He smacked me so hard that I flew, but even that pain had nothing on the pain I got from putting that machete down.
I felt I deserved the punishment he gave me for putting it down. I deserved worse for not being able to protect my mother from him.
When she saw me, all bruised up, eyes swollen shut, she attacked him and he let her. She slapped him around screaming her hatred for him and he took every kick, every slap, every punch and every scratch in silence.
She kicked him out and without a word, he packed a very small bag and left.
After I went back to boarding school where I was wrapping up with my final high school year, he went back and begged and cried and she took him back.
When I went home and found him there, strolling around the house, his six-pack showing him the way, towel wrapped around his waist, his muscles declaring him to be the man of the house, I knew then. I knew he would never leave. Not really.
She had chosen him over me. He had come near to killing me and she had let him back in.
And so the relationship she had cultivated over the course of sixteen years, the honesty, the vulnerability, it was all gone.
She had chosen him over me.
She spent the next six years wondering why I wasn’t coming home.
Me: (Over the phone) Engineering is tough mother. I can’t afford to come study at home.
Her: But I studied engineering too Matt. And I don’t remember never going home to see my parents because of it.
What was I supposed to say? “If you want me home you will need to kick him out?” I didn’t think so.
It was easier when I was in university though because she could come visit me there. After graduation though, I moved to a new place and that was it.
The alienation never got more severe.
As I press the razor into my wrist on the 2017 Christmas morning, I think of the good old days of innocence.
She would put me in a sweater, put me in the car and drive me to church. She would have hidden the bruises with carefully applied makeup she would have smiled and asked, “How do I look Matt?”
And I would have said, “You look great mom.”
She would have smiled, she would have rubbed my head, she would have said, “Come on. Let’s get to church before Mary pops that baby out.”
We would spend Christmas together. We would grab a burger and eat it in the car. We would drive to a random place in the country and have nyamachoma. She would drink a couple of glasses of wine. She would say,
“One day when you get a woman of your own Matt, be decent with her and she will change your world.”
The razor blade digs into my wrist and a bright red stream of blood pops out. It immediately stains the water at my feet as it races towards the drainage.
I can hear my phone ringing from the bedroom. Over and over again as my mother calls. I wish the divorce would pull us closer again but it didn’t. It is too late for me. I have had an entire life without her and I can’t go back to what she wants me to be.
I am no longer and can’t be her little boy again. I wish I wasn’t an only child because then maybe she would turn her attention to somebody else.
I start cutting across, ignoring the pain and the sheer sight of blood. I mean to block out the deep deep darkness out of which I can’t find a way. I am drowning; I am a man trapped in the water under the ice and I can’t find a way out.
There is no light in this dark and cold abyss. And all I need is a way out.
Then comes the loud knock on the door. “Open this door damn it! I know you are in there! I can hear the shower running and I can see the steam!”
She is supposed to be my girlfriend.
I know she won’t go away and she won’t stop knocking. I can’t commit like this. Not with her at the door driving me crazy.
I step out. With the water dripping from every inch of my body and drops of blood dripping from my wrist, I cross the living room and open the door.
Me: This really isn’t a good time Stacy.
Her: You weren’t answering the phone Matthew. What was I supposed to do? I was worri….
She stops. She is staring at my wrist; her attention grabbed by the blood.
I don’t bother tucking the hand behind me and maybe hiding from her the fact that I wasn’t planning on seeing Boxing Day.
Her: (Groaning) Oh Matt….
I am standing in front of her naked. Not just literally but figuratively. I stretch my hands out as if to say, “This is me. This is who I am.”
Her: Oh Matt….
She enters the house. She hugs me. A wholehearted firm hug. She takes me to the bedroom. She rubs me dry as she mumbles…
Her: What are you doing? What are you doing?
She goes to the bathroom, turns off the water. She sees the razor blade on the floor and throws it away.
Her: I am here now. It’s OK. I am here now.
She looks ready for church. Maybe that was the plan. Swing by my place; take me to church with her. Plans change.
I feel like I am not in my body. Like I am swallowed in the walls, screaming for freedom as my body lies in bed with her. I watch as she holds me close, mumbles something I can’t here. I see her lips on my body, on my lips, I feel the warmth radiating from me and I respond.
I kiss her back. Her soft lips the very essence of life against my cold ones. Her warm skin igniting a fire dead inside of me.
“I love you,” she says. She says it over and over, maybe hoping that I will somehow believe her even though we have known each other for two months.
As the neighbor plays some Christmas Carols, we make love. She cups my cheeks, holds my head, runs her warms palms down the length of my spine and doesn’t take her eyes away from me once. Maybe she is afraid that if she does, she will find me gone when she looks back at me.
I have heard people talking of women who cry when they make love. I have never seen it myself. But there is a first time for everything.
February 10, 2018
Zimmermann VCT Center, Nairobi.
Six weeks ago I almost killed myself in the shower as people were going to church. And today as people again are going to church, the VCT Counselor shows me the slip.
I have never met a HIV positive person before. Not knowingly. But there is a first time for everything. Just so happens that that person, is me.
I don’t hear much of what she says after that.
I am walking. Or running. Or flying. I really can’t tell which, but I am not willing to sit there and listen to her lies. “HIV isn’t the death sentence it used to be.”
Give me a break. A big one.
Me and Stacy have been doing it raw since Christmas. And she will be coming to see me at around noon and by God I am going to kill her.
I don’t notice much between the VCT and home. The counselor has slipped something in my hand and I have stashed it somewhere, I don’t know where.
I can hear her voice softly sinking into my soul, “Come back….”
I have never met anyone who keeps time like Stacy does it. She is in a little floral dress that doesn’t quite lick the knees and she has thighs to die for. If I was a girl and I had thighs like hers, I would never wear anything that touches my knees my entire life.
She knocks gently.
Ever since she caught me with a hand in the “I want to die” cookie jar, she has been trending around me like I am made of very thin ice and if she applies the least bit of pressure, I will break and she will sink.
She has time and again asked me very subtly to talk to a professional but I have made it very clear I am not going to sit on a couch and pay somebody to listen to me. I would rather sit on thorns and watch cows chew curd.
I answer the door, just as I did on Christmas. She pecks me on the cheek then kisses me lightly on the lips.
Her: Were you drinking?
Me: Yeah. Had a couple with the boys.
Her: Which boys?
Me: Some or friends from campus.
Her: Have you eaten? I brought you something.
She enters the kitchen, a brown bag in hand. She pulls out the plates yammering on and on about this song she heard on the radio this morning.
Her: It had this rock feel to it, you know.
Me: Which song is that again baby?
My voice is very calm. Sort of like my dad’s when he is feeling murderous.
Her: (Singing from the kitchen) I have been waiting, for a long time almost a lifetime; and since you are here now, baby I am going to take a vow.
From the sitting room where I am on the couch, feet tucked under me watching my hands to see if anything has changed about them (Do I have sores? Are my veins darker? When am I going to die? Will they say AIDS killed me? What a shame!), I hear plates and cutlery clattering as she serves whatever was in the brown bag.
Her: (Singing) Ningwendete muno, nakupenda sana, I love you, yes I do…
She enters the living room, happily carrying two plates of something that steams and smells great –
Her: I swung by Java and bought some chicken curry and rice. I had some last night with Jenny and I couldn’t have enough.
She places the plates on the table, crashes on the couch and rests her head on my shoulder.
Her: I love spending Sundays with you.
Me: Can I ask you something?
Her: Yeah sure baby. Anything.
Me: Why are you so nice to me?
Me: You bring me food, you serve me, you love me right, you take care of me, why?
Her: I love you. You know that.
Me: Yeah. But why?
Her: Why what?
Me: Why do you do any of it?
Her: Are you OK?
Me: Other than the fact that the AIDS you gave me will kill me, I am pretty great actually. Even my hangover is gone. Nothing kills a hangover quicker than being told that you are HIV positive.
She chuckles. It is a sharp chuckle that raises her shoulder. Then she takes a bite of her food and chew delicately, her soft lips moving almost seductively.
Her: (Holds her empty spoon in hand, closes her eyes, looks up and smiles) Oh, this chicken curry is to die for baby! (Fetches some with her spoon and brings to my lips.) Here, have a taste.
When I open my mouth, it is because I want to say something but I instead take a bite. Yes. It is a tasty meal.
Her: How is it?
Me: Not bad.
Her: Not bad? It is almost better than sex. Before I met you, I would have said it is actually better than sex. (She winks. And kisses me.)
Me: You love you some good sex, don’t you?
Her: You say that like I am the only one in this room who loves good sex.
Me: Did you know?
Her: Did I know what? Eat before the food gets cold. (She takes my plate and places it on my lap.)
Me: That you have HIV?
Her: (Another sharp chuckle.) You are funny.
Me: Believe me, I am not. And I would appreciate it if you stopped laughing about it.
She isn’t laughing but she is smiling. She has always has the brightest smile in the room. She has these small, almost childlike teeth and the pinkest gums in the world. And when she smiles, her face curls up into a sunny beam of innocence and happiness.
Her: How are you?
Me: What do you mean, how am I?
Her: Well, you have been drinking again and you seem sort of blue. I just worry about you sometimes.
Me: I am HIV positive, thanks for asking. How are you?
Her: Why do you keep saying that?
Me: Saying what?
Her: That you are HIV positive? It is not funny.
Me: Thank you! That is what I have been trying to say to you.
Her: What do you mean you are HIV positive?
She is not smiling now. In fact, she has the small folds she gets around her eyes when she is very scared.
Her: (Shrieks) What do you mean? What do you mean?
Me: What do you mean what do I mean? You infected me. Me! You told me you loved me and infected me with the fucking AIDS. That is what I mean.
Her: You… Oh my God… You…
She can act. I will give her that. She looks like she wants to cry and laugh at the same time and she is waving her hands as if they are in pain.
She springs out of the couch and stands in front of me –
Her: Are… (chuckles) Are you…. Are you HIV positive?
Her: Answer my goddamn question Matthew. Are you HIV positive?
Me: Yes and I wasn’t positive until you and I had sex.
Her: You… (hands on lips) Oh God… (whimpers) Oh my God…
Me: Why are you doing this?
Her: Why am I doing what?
Me: Why didn’t you just tell me that you’re positive? I would have stayed with you. I would have loved you anyway.
Her: Stop talking! (Yells) SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT THE HELL UP! (Breaks down) Oh my God, shut up.
Me: Stop acting! Stop it!
She nods, tears streaming down her face with the aggressiveness of a waterfall, squeezes her lips together and places her hands over them. Then transfers them to her chest…
Her: Act… (chokes) …acting?
She squeezes her chest like it’s on fire, waves her hands again and starts blowing air from her mouth. She takes deep in breaths and out… in and out…
Her breath is shaky, her entire body is trembling. She is deep in thought.
Her: How long have you known?
Me: This morning.
Her: How did you know? Did you start experiencing symptoms?
Me: What? What are you talking about?
Her: Shut up! Shut up! Answer my question.
It is costing her everything to remain sane. I can see it in her eyes.
Me: I… I was coming from Alvin’s when I saw a VCT so I decided to pop in. See what’s up.
Her: OK. OK. (Deep breaths) How many days has it been since Christmas?
Her: How many days, goddamn it? You are a numbers guy. Think.
Me: Forty seven.
Her face crushes as she nods again, fresh tears beginning to trickle down her face.
Her: No. No Matt, no.
She can’t be acting. She can’t possibly be this good.
Her: You didn’t know, did you? Please tell me you didn’t know.
The tables have turned and I am now the one in the chair nobody wants to be in.
Her: It’s not why you… is this why you wanted to kill yourself Matt? Did you know?
Me: No! I didn’t! Did you?
Her: How can you even ask me that when I have been nothing but good to you?
She backpedals to the wall, leans against it and sinks into the floor, hugging her knees, a vacant look in her eyes.
Me: You should get tested too.
Her: I will.
Me: It’d probably be best if you did it right away. Time is of the essence.
Her: I know.
Me: I will take you.
Her: Matthew, I just want to sit here and feel bad about my life for a minute, OK? I just want to sit here and silently hate God and ask Him, WHY THE FUCK I HAVE SUCH A LOUSY TASTE IN MEN! (Deep breaths, eyes red, chest heaving) Can I do that in silence please?
Me: Yeah. Sure.
After our condom-less session we didn’t have the “what’s your status” talk. She was too engrossed with my attempted suicide episode to talk about it. We had lots of sex, lots of times after that. But she didn’t mention once that she had never had unprotected sex before.
Eventually, Stacy gets up and leaves the house like an apparition. Wordless, soundless, breathless – just, gone. She doesn’t even take her handbag.
I want to stop her but something tells me not to.
June 10, 2017
Florida 2000 Nightclub
There is something about a nightclub whose verandah faces the Indian Ocean. My friend Chep is back inside the club tipping strippers. She is more into strippers than I am. I guess that is why she is my friend. She doesn’t nag and when I told her I have to go to Mombasa from Nairobi to see a client about a building and asked if she could come with me, she dropped everything and said, “If I leave Mombasa without seeing some strippers, I will skin you alive.”
I believed her.
I have recently started drinking Summit Lager because I hear it doesn’t have sugar, like the Tusker Lager I am used to.
Chep drinks Guinness. You can always trust a girl who drinks Guinness straight from the bottle. And loves strippers.
I decide to grab some air out at the verandah and on my way there, pass this Indian couple dancing seductively with each other. The part that has the strippers is playing different music from the part with the Indian couple.
It is a big club so such a thing is possible.
I take two beers with me and sit at an empty table, trying to make out the figures made by the waves. The tide is in, so the water is licking the walls on the outside of the club. I could stand on top of the wall and jump into the water.
I think of taking my clothes off and jumping in for a swim but then wonder how I will come back. Besides, what if the water isn’t deep enough on the other side?
Her: Can I join you?
She has startled me. I didn’t hear her coming. Her voice is deep and before I look at her, I assume she is a middle aged woman and think that I am about to be hit on.
But then I turn to her and see that she is young. Very young.
Me: Sure. If I was into clichés, I would say that, “it is a free country” but I am not.
Her: Thank God.
I smile and she laughs. She extends her free hand for shaking. She has a firm handshake. I like that. In the other hand, she has a full bottle of wine and a glass.
Her: I am Rukia.
Her: You left your girlfriend alone with the strippers.
It is more of a statement that a question. If it was a question, I might have run off. I am allergic to questions whose answers I would be offended to have to provide.
Me: She is not my girlfriend.
A small smile plays on her lips. It is mysterious and as if to hide it from me, she pours herself a glass of wine and takes a generous sip.
Her: I love the taste of wine and the salty smell of the night ocean.
She puts her nose up and half closes her eyes, takes a deep sniff and smiles.
Her: Beautiful. Just, beautiful.
Me: I can’t smell a thing.
Her: You are not from around here.
Me: No ma’am.
Her: Where are you from? Nairobi?
Me: Kisumu originally. But I live in Nairobi now.
Her: How is it there?
Me: I don’t know. Cold?
Her: (Chuckles) Forgive me. That was not a very bright question. I get nervous in the face of good looking men.
I am suddenly self conscious. I notice that she is watching me above the brim of the wine glass in her hands. She is very light skinned, her hair is long and smooth, overflowing over her shoulders and her small hands have small tattoos with black nail polish.
She is in a simple top and jeans.
Me: From your accent, you are from Mombasa?
Her: Yes. I am a Mtwapa girl myself.
Me: What brings you to this part of town?
Her: I hear it is a tourist attraction site.
Me: Seen anything interesting? Something you can recommend?
Her: How long are you here for?
Me: Should be on the train back to Nairobi in three days.
Her: Ah. Three days is a long time. A lot can happen in three days.
Me: A lot will happen if we let it.
Her: If we let it?
Me: (I chuckle) I am sorry. I am drunk. Speaking out of my ass like that.
Her: Don’t be shy. I like it when you speak out of your ass.
Me: What is your story?
Her: What is yours?
Me: Well, I came here to see some guy about some building, I will be seeing other guys about other buildings tomorrow and then…
Her: No. I meant, what is your story? Yours. Not what you do but who you are.
Me: Aren’t we what we do?
Her: Maybe. But tonight I am interested in those things you think you are when you close your eyes to sleep at night.
Me: I am scared of breaking out of routine, I am scared of cheating and getting caught and I am scared that I will die alone.
Her: We are all scared of dying alone.
Me: I doubt you’ll die alone.
Her: Why? ‘Cause I’m beautiful?
Me: Conceited much?
Her: Just when it counts.
Me: Have you always known it? That you are beautiful? Some guys must make you hate that part of yourself.
Her: When I can’t walk past a place without them catcalling and whistling at me? Sure. You know, one day someone will catcall at me and I will walk right up to them and ask, “Alright. I am here. What now?”
Me: Maybe he’ll sweep you off your feet.
Her: When a guy is alone, he will never catcall you and whistle at your ass as you pass by. He only does that when he is in a pack. That means he is a coward and when he is alone he will either cower away or assault you. He is incapable of sweeping a girl off her feet. That is a fact.
Me: I will not argue with you there.
Her: But no. I wouldn’t give them the pleasure of hating the fact that I am beautiful. That’d be letting them win.
Me: Win? It’s not a war, is it?
Her: Yes it is. It is a power game. Power games are war. He wants to feel powerful by stepping on your shoulders by objectifying you. If you start letting his antics make you hate or feel unsafe about your beauty, then he is winning.
Me: I have never looked at it from that perspective.
Her: Why would you? Girls don’t line up and catcall at guys.
We talk and talk. She sips my beer. I drink her wine. She leaves her red lipstick on my beer glass and asks me to drink from that stained part. I do. She laughs. Hers laugh is rich. Infectious.
Chep joins us when the strippers take a break.
It is past five in the morning when we leave the nightclub. Outside, we hail a cab and Chep whispers in my ear, “If you go back to the hotel room without that girl, you and I are done.”
So I say to Rukia;
Me: Come with me.
Me: We won’t have sex or anything. I just want us to hang out some more.
Her: That is a lie.
Me: What part?
Her: The part about us not having sex.
Me: I hope so. But I won’t die if it ain’t. Nothing will happen unless you want it to happen.
Back in the hotel room as the fan cools the room, her body and mine glisten with the sweat of our effort.
I feel like I am a part of a constellation in the night sky, watching humanity far down below. I feel like I am zooming in on my body and hers, pulled so close together they might be one.
I see the hunger in her eyes, the want in her pink lips; I feel the aggressiveness in her palpitating heart and when her body stiffens and jerks with ecstasy, I feel a cloud of darkness engulf the very essence of my being.
Something cold and looming, a subtle mist of monstrosity looms above my head but I have just met a beautiful young woman in a city that is not my own and she has shown me a time I haven’t had in a while. I should be feeling free not trapped.
When Chep talks about this episode, she says, “Matt went to Mombasa single, he came back to Nairobi married, four days later.”
Yes, I put Rukia on the train to Nairobi with me. She has just finished her nursing course and is looking for a job.
Why not look for it in Nairobi?
She doesn’t need much coaxing.
“Before I met you, I was like a feather caught in the wind, getting myself blown this way and that, unable to rest, unable to hold onto a twig to keep from flying any further; but when I met you, I felt grounded. You saved me Matthew.”
My one bedroom in Kahawa began to feel more like a home. And Rukia could cook. She with her brown eyes walks around the house in her dera and nothing underneath. She who is a mountain of passion, let me sink into her valleys of seduction.
August 10, 2017
Kahawa Wendani, Nairobi
I have just gotten home with a big burger from Steers. She loves the burgers from Steers. She isn’t home. I call, she doesn’t pick up. I text, she doesn’t reply.
Then I see it. A note beside the TV.
Thanks for everything. You have been a good man to me. I wish I could have done better. There is so much you don’t know about me, I have so many regrets and one of them is meeting you. My life ended the night I met you.
Forget you ever met me. And when the day dawns that you must hate me, I pray that you forgive me. In case you doubt that I ever loved you, just know that it was because of what I feel for you that I had to leave.
Don’t look for me. There will only be pain in finding me.
Please forgive me Matthew. Trust me; hate is a burden no human is strong enough to carry.
There is a song by Avicii called “Broken Arrows.”
“You stripped your love down to the wire
Fire shining cold alone outside
You stripped it right down to the wire
But I see you behind those tired eyes
Now as you wade through the shadows that live in your heart
You’ll find the light that leads on
‘Cause I see you for you and your beautiful scars
So take my hand, don’t let go
‘Cause it’s not too late, it’s not too late
I, I see the hope in your heart
And sometimes you lose it, sometimes you’re shooting
Broken arrows in the dark
But I, I see the hope in your heart
Typical Avicii instrumentals play at this part. I have my first bottle drunk half. The song is on a loop, at the loudest volume possible and thus begins the journey that leads me to that floor on Christmas morning, with the hot water beating down on me and the razor in hand.
I see myself going round and round, the drums playing in my head and they bring me a mixture of feeling of anger, disillusionment, pain and desertion.
I call Rukia but she doesn’t answer. I send texts and WhatsApp voice notes. Each more desperate than the last.
I’ve seen the darkness in the light
The kind of blue that leaves you lost and blind
The only thing that’s black and white
Is that you don’t have to walk alone this time
We have to tear down walls that live in your heart
To find someone you call home
Now you see me for me and my beautiful scars
So take my hand, don’t let go.
I call my mother in the middle of the night, my tongue heavy with drink, my eyes red with unshed tears and bottled up blame;
Me: She’s gone.
Me: She is gone. She is gone. She is gone.
Me: Rukia. She is gone.
Mom: Who is Rukia? What time is it? Are you OK? Where are you?
Me: What is wrong with you women? You are always leaving.
Mom: Matt, calm down. What is going on?
Me: You chose him. Even after he did what he did to me, you chose him.
Mom: Matthew please, calm down. Tell me where you are and I will come to you.
Me: It’s too late now.
Me: You let him take you away from me. I fought for you!
Mom: And I lefty him, OK? Come home.
Me: I don’t have a home there anymore.
Mom: Yes. You do. How can you even say that?
Me: Goodbye mother.
Mom: Matt! Ma…
I am gone.
Cause it’s not too late, it’s not too late
I, I see the hope in your heart
And sometimes you lose it, sometimes you’re shooting
Broken arrows in the dark
But I, I see the hope in your heart
It’s not too late, it’s not too late
I see the hope in your heart
Sometimes you’re losing, sometimes shooting
Broken arrows in the dark
I put the phone on silent and drink. One bottle down. I can barely see straight. A bottle of Johnny Walker will do that to you. I have socks wrapped around my hands and I start punching the wall. Left, left, right. left, right, left, left, move your legs Matthew, that is it, that’s it…. You have to pin your foot in the ground and take a swing from the hip….
That’s right. Punch. Punch. Punch Matthew, you are not punching goddamn it!
I punch. I swing my hips as I punch the wall for that extra steam. Sweat is pouring down my brow. I open the second bottle. Take a swig straight from the bottle and stagger.
Ground your feet. Ground your feet. Plant your feet firm in the ground and punch and dodge. Yeah, that’s it. Move your head, move your head and keep those hands up! That’s it! That’s it!
I don’t stop punching. I start leaving bloodstains on the wall but I don’t stop punching. Sweat pours into my eyes but I keep punching. But the pain isn’t leaving. The darkness isn’t alleviating. I ram my head into the wall; once, twice, thrice,…
Hot fluid is pouring down my face
I have Avicii on a loop.
Neighbors will be waking up soon to go to work.
Someone is knocking on my door and I yell at them to go away. I think that is what I yell. I am leaning against the wall, blood pouring down my face, my hand numb, the second half full bottle of Whiskey lying on its stomach beside me…
Avicii’s instrumentals blaring away in the night, the words, “’Cause it’s not too late, it’s not too late, I see the hope in your heart…”
Me: WHAT HOPE? WHAT HOPE? WHAT HOPE BITCH?!
I let out a scream that rises above the loud music and probably wakes somebody up because soon enough, I have two or three people knocking on my door.
I stagger across the room, the bottle hanging lifelessly from my bleeding hand. I am the reverse King Midas. Everything I touch turns to blood.
I feel hands on me. I see worried eyes open wide, hands squeezed against lips. I am being carried shoulder high downstairs and I am mumbling;
Me: Drink, drink, drink…. ‘Cause it’s not too late it’s not too late… I see the death in your eyes…
August 11, 2017
Kahawa Wendani Hospital, Nairobi
The first thing I see when I open my eyes I my mother reading Khaled Hosseini’s “And the Mountains Echoed” on a chair beside my bed.
Me: You must be really bored if that’s what you are reading.
She smiles, closes the book and leans closer –
Her: Oh, hey. Yeah, it is not such an easy read, is it?
Me: It does test once patience.
Her: Whoever said that “patience is like a well, no matter how deep it runs, one day it will run out” has never met a mother.
Me: We are going right into it, aren’t we?
Her: When did we become this thing Matthew? Huh?
Me: Right about the time you let a man who damn near killed me back into your house. Into the house where I read my books, spent my nights, ate my food…
Her: He was your father.
Me: I was your son.
Her: And I am sorry. It was the worst mistake I ever made and I am sorry, OK? Have you never made a mistake in your life?
Me: I have. But I don’t have children.
Her: I was stupid. I knew I was being stupid but I kept being stupid; but I never meant for any of this to happen.
Me: By “this” you mean?
Her: You. Here in bed with broken knuckles and a broken nose. Why did you do this to yourself? I had doctors calling me at five in the morning telling me that I was the last person you called and could I come see you in the hospital?
Me: Well, you have seen me.
Her: It’s not fair you putting this bullshit on me.
Me: I am not putting anything on you that you aren’t putting on yourself a hundred times over.
Her: This is not my fault.
Me: Who are you trying to convince? You or me?
Her: Were… (shudder) were you… (choke) were… (Sigh) Matthew, your father had bouts of depression too, OK?
Me: I am not depressed.
Her: Were you trying to harm yourself last night?
Me: No. I drunk. It got out of hand. Won’t happen again. Relax.
Her: Who is she? This Rukia woman.
Me: Oh shoot. Did I mention her?
Her: Do you remember calling me?
Me: No. oh God, please don’t tell me I called you.
Her: Do you serious not recall or are you pretending?
Me: I don’t remember calling you. Scouts honor.
Her: Who is Rukia?
Me: Someone who left. Just like someone else I know.
Her: I did NOT leave you.
Me: Not physically. And it’s all water under the bridge now. I want to go home.
Her: The doctors wanted you to stick around for a psych eval.
Me: A psych eval? Wow.
Her: You should talk to…
Me: I am going home.
Her: At least let me drive you there.
Me: So you can know where I live? No thanks.
Her: At least let someone in Matthew. It doesn’t have to be me, but talk to somebody.
Me: I do. They end up leaving. Sound familiar?
Her: Oh right. Blame everybody for the mess you’re in. Everybody but yourself.
Me: Yep. Sounds good to me. Bye mother.
September 10, 2017
I have spent the last month going through the motions. Going to work, coming home, drinking, going to work, coming home, drinking…
Until on this Sunday afternoon she knocks on my door with a bag of fries and a packet of juice.
Her: I’m Stacy. I leave on the floor above you. I figured I should check up on you. You hungry?
She enters my house. She enters my life. Happy, bubbly, generous with everything to give.
February 10, 2018
She leaves my house. She leaves my life. Sad, deflated and with nothing left to give.
And it only took me all of five months to destroy her completely.
March 10, 2018
I don’t have much of it left. The walls have closed in on me so much that fresh air no longer has any space in here.
I put my hand to the right and touch the face of the ghost of innocence, long departed from my soul and now etched into the walls along with any joy and hope I ever had.
I take a breath of recycled air and force myself out of bed. These days, the very act of leaving the bed is a win in itself.
Walking down the stairs for a packet of milk outside is worthy of five ululations like a traditional birth of a baby boy.
I only take showers when I can’t stand the stink of my own stink and brush my teeth when I can’t stand to swallow the bitterness of my dirty saliva anymore.
I have blue scum caked under my nails and a week old oil stuck in my hair.
But I have left the bed today and that in itself deserves a slow clap.
I have even switched on my phone. These days, the phone is mostly off because I can’t have my mother calling and shining a light into the mess that is my life. She doesn’t know where I live and that actually is a relief.
Someone is knocking on the door. “Who is it?” I call out from the bathroom.
“It’s the caretaker. Could I talk to you for a second?”
Me: I have already paid the rent.
Him: I know.
Me: And the water bill too.
Him: I know.
Me: So what do you want?
Him: I just want to talk to you for a second.
I finish up and flash the toilet, then answer the door, squinting my eyes against the light outside.
Me: What do you want?
And my mother steps from beside the caretaker and into my view.
Him: (To mom) Is this him?
Her voice has never been so broken. Even when dad was choking her up against the wall and pushing himself against and into her, her voice was never so broken as she said, “Go to your room Matthew. I placed a nice book on your bed.”
It is barely a whisper.
Mom: Matthew? Oh my God…
I stand there, rooted on the spot in a vest and a pair of boxers; I have never seen so much pain in one pair of eyes.
Me: How did you find me?
She did it. She showed a picture of me on her phone to strangers until she found me. “Have you seen him?” “Do you know where he lives?” “He is my son.”
Went to Kahawa Sukari Police Post asking them to help her find me but they wouldn’t.
Them: Is he missing?
Her: I don’t know. His phone has been off for weeks and I am afraid something bad has happened to him.
Them: Is he missing?
Her: I don’t know.
Them: Then go find out. Wacha kutusumbua. (Stop bothering us.)
She touches everything. The blood stained walls, the hundreds of whiskey bottles in the kitchen and the living room, the dirty dishes, the dirty pile of clothes, papers strewn everywhere…
Her: Do you know how I know you are in trouble?
Me: Can I take my pick?
Her: Your speakers. They are dusty. When was the last time you played any music?
Me: I don’t have anything I want to listen to at the moment.
Her: That is what I am afraid of. A soul that doesn’t listen to music is a dead soul. I should have tried harder. Letting you slip between my fingers is the worst mistake of my life Matthew and if you can please find it in your heart to forgive me…I promise, I promise you I will never put anything above you.
Me: This, my life, it is mine now mom. It has nothing to do with you. I messed up. And I don’t know how to collect the pieces and move on.
Her: Talk to me. Tell me everything.
I spill. About Rukia. About Stacy. About the HIV test results. About me quitting my job and how I’m now living off my savings which by the way are dwindling fast, not that I care.
And the more I talk, the harder I see her fighting the urge to break down.
Her: You… you have been handling all that on your own.
Me: There was no other way.
Her: We should go to Mombasa. Find her or her family. Confront this head on. We should find closure there.
For the first time in a long time I smile.
She just said, “We.”
Jumba La Mtwana
March 17, 2018
Slaves were traded from the port of Mombasa way back when and Jumba la Mtwana (Big House of Slaves) is supposedly a slave port. All that is left now are ruins of what must have been glorious and proud structures.
Not far from Jumba la Mtwana is a graveyard with the inscription, “كل نفس ذائقة الموت.”
Mom: It means, “Every Soul Shall Taste Death. (She says it importantly, with an easily discernable note of pride in her voice.)
Me: You can read Arabic now?
Mom: Did my research on this place last night.
Yesterday we found Rukia’s home. We found her mother on her way from the Mosque where she had gone for the Salat al-‘asr; the late afternoon prayer.
March 16th, 2018.
She recognized me immediately.
Her: I have been waiting for you.
Me: You have?
Her: Rukia said you would come one day. In search of answers.
Me: Where is she?
Her: I will answer that later. For now, please come into my house. Have supper with my family. Please.
So my mother and I had supper with Mama Rukia, her husband Musa and their two sons; the twin Ali and Salim.
We were seated in the living room, the children having been sent to bed early – it was clear that there was a big elephant in the room. Something terrible had happened to this family and they were yet to recover.
There was a portrait of Rukia hanging from the wall. She seemed happy as she smiled at the one who took the picture.
Musa hovered from another room in a Khanga and a cap and a Quran held in hand.
Musa: She was a very beautiful young lady, was she not?
I stay silent. I don’t know the protocol for when a father asks you if his daughter was beautiful. Was… wait a minute.
Me: What do you mean, was?
Rukia’s mother enters the living room and sits beside her husband, the both of them looking like they are the guests here and we are the owners.
Mom: Where is she? Where is Rukia?
Musa: When she came back from Nairobi, she told us what she had done to you and to several others. Our daughter Rukia, Inna lillaahi wa inna ilayhi Raaji’oon, did you a grave injustice. (Looks at her portrait on the wall and says sadly) She was a beautiful woman, but she lost her way. She held onto hate for so long and her soul died and rotted inside of her.
Leyla (Rukia’s mother): (Calls softly) Baba Rukia… (To us) One day on her way from school, three men attacked her.
Mom: Oh God.
Musa: We prayed to Allah to forgive them but Rukia would not. They got away and the police did not do a great job in trying to find them. In her shame, she took too long to disclose to anyone what had happened to her and by the time we found out, it was too late. She was infected.
Leyla squeezes her lips together and looks away, images of her daughter’s anger and pain attacking her mind.
Leyla: She tried. She tried to forgive but every night I heard her in the room crying. One night I walked in on her tearing out the pages of her Quran. She wouldn’t listen to me or her father or the Sheikh and one evening she didn’t come home.
Musa: She stayed away for one year then came back. She told us about you. It wasn’t until she met you that she realized just how twisted her actions were.
Mom: I’m sorry. Where is she? (She sounds upset) She should be here, telling us this herself.
Me: She is dead mom.
Mom: What? How do you know?
Me: “Inna lillaahi wa inna ilayhi Raaji’oon.” People say it when someone dies to mean ‘To Allah we belong and to Him is our return.’ She is dead.
She turns to Rukia’s parents for confirmation and the looks on their faces is all she needs.
Mom: Well that’s just great!
Mom: What now? We came all this way and we can’t even look her in the eyes and ask why she did it! (To her parents) What is this?
Me: Mom stop it.
Mom: No! She was raped. I get it! It is not fair, it is not right, but it happened. She had no right… (Finger in the air) And I know I am the ass in the room for saying this but… (shudders) I am sorry but your daughter… (on the verge of tears) Your daughter had no right to do what she did…
Me: (To them) I am sorry. She is just…
Musa: It is OK. We understand and… (To mom) You have every right to feel what you are feeling. She had no right to knowingly infect those young people, your son included, but she did. And she is not here today but we are. The least we can do is seek forgiveness for her actions.
Leyla: We are so sorry, she was sad and bitter and vengeful and after all that she took her own life. She took a rope from the store; she tied it to a baobab tree and took her own life.
Musa: We are here to seek forgiveness on her behalf (puts the Quran in the air) just as required of us by the Quran. Please, find it in your heart to forgive our daughter and us as her parents. We are as much to blame for what she did as she is.
Mom: That is just great!
Me: Mom, would you please go wait in the car?
Mom: No I am not waiting in some goddamn car while… (Shrugs and throws her hands carelessly in the air) Whose face shall I punch now?
Me: I am the one who’s supposed to be reacting the way you are.
Mom: Vengeance is wrong but it sure is satisfying that moment when your punch lands on a bitch’s nose, isn’t it? (To Rukia’s parents) I’m sorry.
Leyla: It is a big ask we know. And as a parent, I feel your pain. But where does the cycle end?
Me: Where is she now? Where is the body?
Jumba La Mtwana
March 17, 2018
It is just me, mother and Leyla. We are standing in the graveyard where she is buried, the strong wind blowing Leyla’s buibui to and fro.
Leyla: She tried fighting her attackers. But she lost. And with that loss came the loss of everything else including her soul. I like to think she fought very hard.
Mom: I am sorry for my behavior last night.
Leyla: It’s OK.
As I looked at her tombstone, I think of how responsibility works. Of how when someone wrongs you, what you choose to do about it is not on them but on you.
Me: The letter she left me, it makes so much more sense now.
Leyla: What will you do?
Me: Start afresh.
Leyla: You are so much stronger than her.
Me: I almost ended up like her.
Leyla: The “almost” in that sentence makes all the difference.
June 10, 2018
Kahawa Wendani, Nairobi
I knock on Stacy’s door. She answers.
Her: What are you doing here?
Me: I just want to talk.
Her: About what?
Me: I didn’t know Stacy. I swear, I didn’t.
Her: What do you want Matthew?
Me: I am sorry. And I know how inadequate that sounds, but I am standing here in front you, without a hint of pride or ego, without bitterness or anger, I have nothing but remorse for what I did to you, knowingly or unknowingly and I am sorry. The fact that I infected you, I have to live with that. Every day of my life, I will spend it knowing that I did that. I am only here to ask that you don’t spend your life hating me for it. Hate is a burden too big for one person to carry.
Her: Are you taking care of yourself?
Me: Yeah. Counseling, therapy, ARVs, nutrition, the whole nine.
Me: We broke up. I hate that part.
Her: Yeah. Me too.
Me: How about you? Are you taking care of yourself?
Her: Yeah. But Matt, I am not ready. I am not ready for this. For you to show up at my door like this.
Me: I understand.
Her door closes, but that brings a ray of light into the ice I was trapped. Some sort of hope I didn’t have before and didn’t even realize I don’t have it. A burden is lifted.
As I walk away, her door opens and she calls after me;
Her: Hey Matt?
Me: (Turning around a little too hopefully.) Yeah?
Her: I left my handbag at your place, right?
Her: Is it OK if I come for it? (Adds quickly) Not today. When I’m ready?
Me: When you are ready.
Her: Bye Matt.
Me: Bye Stacy.
I walk away with a smile.
She just said “Matt.”