August 27th, 2018.
Githunguri – Kiambu
He has made all the calls he needed to make. Earlier he called his mother and the conversation went as well as expected. Meaning, it was a normal conversation.
Him: Hello Mum
Her: Hello David.
Him: How are you? How are those old bones of yours?
Her: They still hurt. But I got more medicine.
Him: Does that make them bearable?
Her: Yeah. I have to tell you though; old age is a bitch.
Him: You are preaching to the choir.
Her: Yeah? You making fun of me now?
Him: I feel old most times too.
Her: Let’s talk about that pretty wife of yours before I lose my temper.
Him: Still at the hospital. Still in a coma.
Her: How are you? When can I come see you?
Him: Soon. I will let you know when.
Her: Did you finish that thing you were writing?
Him: The movie? Yes. I told you I finished it a week ago.
Her: I am worried about you.
Him: Don’t be. I am going to be OK. You I will.
Her: I used to believe you when you said this. But now it’s been a year. Come home. Let me take a look at you.
Him: Just take care of yourself mum, OK? I will come see you. Soon.
Against his better judgment and with a stone on his chest, he added;
Him: I promise.
His last call to his mother was a lie and it broke his heart; but at least it was a lie that went well. He always was a coward and goddamn if he isn’t going to clock out the way he lived. Cowardly.
On the wall in his living room is a large framed black and white picture of a guitar, his favorite instrument, faded by design, because on the guitar are the lyrics to Jackson C. Frank’s, Blues Run The Game.
Outside, it is as chilly as it has been throughout the year. His wife Jane would have loved this kind of weather. It would have given her a chance to wear those knee high boots she loved so much and her large collection of trench coats. She would have spent every moment with him indoors cuddled up on the couch, just talking their hearts out as they drunk hot chocolate, watched old movies and listened to old music from the 1950s and 1960s. Their favorite being, Blues Run the Game. And on other days, Tom Waits’s I Hope I Don’t Fall In Love.
She would have spent these chilly evenings in his arms; every now and then she would have clasped his cheeks in her warm hands and said, “This thing we have, I hate to call it love because ‘love’ has lost meaning. It is something else. It is purity in its very essence.”
He looks at another part of the wall where an intricately curved piece of wood, is hang, bearing the words, “Living is a gamble baby; Loving’s much the same.” The line from the song Blues Run the Game, a line that has brought wells of tears to his eyes this past year.
He finds his feet dragging him to the guitar, well placed in its holder at the corner of the large living room. He really does not want to spend the last evening of his life playing this song again because it will break yet another piece of him and he does not want that. He is broken enough and if there is any justice in the world, could he just die the way he is?
Nonetheless, his hands hold the guitar delicately and his fingers start strumming the strings; with his eyes closed, remembering himself in a small and hot cheap motel room with noisy neighbors, his Jane naked on bed listening to him play, with a smile on her face and her lip bitten.
“Catch a boat to England, baby
Maybe to Spain
Wherever I have gone
Wherever I’ve been and gone
Wherever I have gone
The blues are all the same
Send out for whisky, baby
Send out for gin
Me and room service, honey
Me and room service, babe
Me and room service
Well, we’re living a life of sin
When I’m not drinking, baby
You are on my mind
When I’m not sleeping, honey
When I ain’t sleeping, mama
When I’m not sleeping
You know you’ll find me crying”
He remembers the first time he played that song for her and how that went.
Twelve years ago.
October 10th, 2006
River Road – Downtown Nairobi
The guitar lies on his laps and he looks expectantly at this girl he met the other day and they are now naked together on a bed, in a cheap lodging in downtown Nairobi, where there are people making loud loving making moans in the next rooms and banging bed boards against the wall with effort. He has just finished playing Blues Run the Game for her. The reason they are camped in this dingy place, well, they realized earlier on that they both prefer being indoors alone to outdoors. And since none of the have their own place, they combined forced with their meager finances and booked this room for a while. Plus, they were just dying to make out.
Him: What do you think?
Her: About what?
Him: (Chuckles) What do you mean, about what? About the song. Come on. Tell me. Do I suck?
Her: It’s a sad song.
Him: I know. I am sorry. I will play something more upbeat.
Her: Oh no! I didn’t mean it like that. I like it. Just wondering why you played that particular song.
Him: I don’t know. It’s what’s stuck in my heart for years.
Her: Are you sad?
Him: Sad? No. But I don’t play anything with as much feeling as I play this song.
Her: When you close your eyes and sing it, what do you see?
Him: My dad.
Her: Yeah? Tell me about him?
He places the guitar on the bed and stands up.
Him: Is it OK if I didn’t?
Her: Oh, yeah sure. I take it that your dad is a sore topic?
Him: Yeah. I’m sorry.
Her: It’s OK. Next time?
As it turned out, ‘Next Time’ was only six minutes later because he just couldn’t not tell her. Even a few days after meeting her, he knew he would tell her everything about his life and that would be OK with him.
Him: He used to play me this song as a kid.
Her: Why did he stop? You grew up?
Him: Well, I am twenty now and I don’t think he would see me as a grownup if he was around.
Her: What happened?
Him: Well, one morning when I was eight years old, he knocked on my bedroom door and said, ‘Hey buddy, I am going to grab some breakfast before your mother gets up, OK?” And I think I waved or smiled or mumbled something. I don’t remember. You know how that early morning sleep is like, especially as a kid. You want to savor as much of it as possible before your mother knocks on the door and asks if people have become kings in her house to sleep all they want.
He took a deep breath and squeezed her hand.
Him: He is still out there getting breakfast.
Her: Oh. I’m sorry. I did not see that coming.
Him: Yeah, me neither.
That was the first time they did it. No, not have sex. That did not happen for years. That was the first time she made him lie down as she held his head on her laps and ran her fingers through his hair. Something which over a decade later, he was finding it hard to live without.
Her: You know, that song Blues Run The Game, it is not a love song. You know that, right?
Him: Wait, what?
Her: That guy who sang it, Jackson C. Frank, he was an alcoholic and he was singing about his relationship with alcohol and how depressed it made him feel.
He looked up at the starched ceiling blankly then chuckled. Then laughed.
Him: Oh my God! I really need to look for a new love song, don’t I?
Him: Wait, you know the song?
Her: Yeah. My dad and I used to listen to it all the time.
Him: He didn’t also go out for breakfast and twelve years later he is still out there looking for it, did he?
Her: Oh no. My dad stuck around. He is the gentlest, kindest, loveliest man I have ever met.
Then she added without even knowing she was doing it.
Her: I hope you get to meet him someday.
They kissed. It was a hungry kiss, shared only among people that young. Curious, sloppy, but oh so tender and honest. The kind of kiss that says, “I might not know what I am doing right now, but there is nowhere I would rather be right now, than here. With you.”
Him: You know, it is my birthday today.
Her: You’re kidding.
Him: Not about this.
Her: Why didn’t you say something before?
Him: Because I was already having the best birthday of my life.
Her: I didn’t even buy you anything!
Him: Well, you are here, in a stuffy motel room, naked with me. What else could a guy ask for?
That was when she took the guitar from him and played what has grown to become one of their most favorite songs of all time. Her playing was tenderer and whilst he played with his eyes closed most of the time, she played with a smile on her face and looked him in the eyes throughout the song.
She sang him, I Hope I Don’t Fall In Love With You. And he especially loved the last line. And as she sang the last lines, he knew he would forever love this song, and her for singing it, among other things.
“Now it’s closing time, the music’s fading out, Last call for drinks, I’ll have another stout, Well I turn around to look at you, You’re nowhere to be found, I search the place for your lost face, Guess I’ll have another round. And I think that I just fell in love with you.”
An hour later, Jane had to run home, or her mother would kill her. She, unlike her husband, was not the gentlest, kindest, loveliest person in the house. But hey, a home’s got to have a disciplinarian, right? She was after all, only seventeen.
August 27th, 2018.
Githunguri – Kiambu
The walls are full of pictures that depict the life they have had together. There is one taken on a beach in Malindi; that other time they were walking in town and they had a fight and she said right in the middle of it;
Her: Let’s get into a photo studio and have pictures of us taken.
Her: Because we are angry with each other right now. Let’s get our angry pictures taken. We will not even smile. We will hang them in our house and they will be a constant reminder of how dumb we look when we are frowning at each other.
And now there it is, on the wall; a constant reminder of how they need to figure out a way to go through their issues, together, as what she called, a team. But he didn’t see her as a teammate. More like an extension of himself.
“You have become emotionally dependent on that woman,” his mother would say. “That is how toxic relationships are made.”
He did not care.
And oh, just how right she was. Well, the relationship was not toxic because the emotional dependence was mutual and they found a way to live with it. They were like each other’s heroine. They were highly functioning addicts; all they needed was a hit of each other and they would be good to go.
And now here he sits, all these years and good memories later, the guitar in hand, but without her. All he sees now when he opens his eyes, is a portrait of her. Her smile hidden behind a frame, her lips frozen in time. He cannot kiss them now, or he would and he would never stop.
Everything is ready. The house is as clean as it’s ever been. Jane was always a very clean, a very tidy person and she would have loved it if he left the house clean. He has sold all the livestock. And her dog, this dog she loved so much, he’s given to her younger sister, to ‘watch for a couple of days as I figure some things out.’
He sets the guitar back in its holder and gives it a gentle pat. A goodbye pat, like it is a friend he has been with all these years. In a way, it is.
He enters the bedroom, walks over to the small safe in the wall, punches in the code, opens it and takes out the gun. He loads it with a single .9mm bullet and carries it into the bathroom. Slowly, he closes the door and looks himself in the mirror.
If he had known that this was the way his life was going to end, he knows, he is sure, that he wouldn’t have changed a thing. He would gladly be stuck inside this tragic time loop, if only to experience the happy memories, the blocks that built his life so full of happiness.
He enters the bathtub, gun in hand and mumbles a prayer. He also mumbles an apology to whoever will find his body. He knows he will leave behind a messy corpse, but he always was a coward and a bullet to the head feels like the least painful and the quickest way out. Blow to the head and fup! Darkness.
He places the gun to his temple, his finger trembling over the trigger. The last thought is, “I will be seeing you again Janey. I am coming home to you and the…”
His phone vibrates in his pocket. He should have put the damn thing on airplane mode. He curses, the phone having made him jump so hard that he almost pulled the trigger seconds before he was actually ready.
Heart racing, hands shaking uncontrollably, he sets the gun down between his legs, fishes the still vibrating phone out of his pocket and sees it is Tony calling. Tony the director who will be directing the movie he just wrote.
Tony: Hey dude. How are you doing?
He looks at the gun between his legs and tries to control his breathing.
Him: Oh you know, just watching some movie here.
Tony: Oh yeah? Did I interrupt?
Him: A little.
Tony: What’s it called? This movie?
Him: Uhm, Bathtub Suicide.
Tony: (Laughs) Bathtub Suicide? It sounds like a lousy Nigerian movie. What is it about?
Him: Some dude who tries to kill himself in the bathtub.
Tony: Yep. Definitely sounds like a lousy Nigerian movie. No wonder I have never heard of it.
Him: What’s up Tony?
Tony: You know how you suggested casting Vee to play Akuna in the movie?
Him: Yeah. Has she backed out? She would fit the role perfectly.
Tony: No. no. She hasn’t backed out. She is having issues understanding the character and she was asking if you could call her. Maybe you guy could meet up, have a drink and talk about it.
Him: Uhm, I don’t know dude.
He looks at the gun again, resting on the whiteness under him.
Him: I am about to travel.
Tony: Oh yeah? Where to?
Him: I don’t know. Just travel, you know.
Tony: Yeah. (Deep sigh) I hear you. Look, I am sorry about Jane. I know you called the hospital, asking for her to be taken off life support.
Him: look, I have to go. Vee is a brilliant actress. And you are a hell of a visionary director. You guys will figure it out.
Tony: When were you planning on travelling?
Him: (Eyes on the gun) Shortly after this call is done actually.
Tony: Look, I know I am asking too much. I know. But come on David. Just have a sit-down with her for a day. Or a couple of hours. Talk to her about Akuna. She can do a great job playing her right now, but after a sit-down with you, she will do a perfect job. What do you say?
He takes a deep sigh, pulleys and gears rolling all over his brain and finally, he says;
Him: OK cool. A couple of hours. And it has to be tonight so I can travel in the morning.
Tony: You are the best.
August 27th, 2018.
Garden City Mall – Thika Road
He finds her waiting for him at a coffee shop at the mall, a cup of latte seated in front of her, waiting for him. She sees him and stands up; flashing him that jovial smile he only sees her flashing for the cameras in her music videos and movies.
Vee: Hey Dave!
She stands beside the table, sticks her arms out smiling and squeezes him against her in one of her surprisingly firm hugs. A hug he is not in a mood to reciprocate. At least not with such zeal.
Him: Hello Vee.
At thirty years old, she is one of the most accomplished African singers, deejays and actors. Everything about her spells class. Her hair, her nails, her clothes, her makeup and when she smiles, her heart.
Her: I am so sorry I coerced you into this meeting Dave. Is it OK if I call you Dave?
Him: Yeah sure.
Her: I ordered a latte for you. Tony said it’s your favorite.
Him: Tony is right. Look Vee, there isn’t much I can tell you about Akuna that isn’t spelt out in the script.
Her: Wow. You want to get right into it, huh?
Him: I am sorry. Is that OK?
Her: Yeah sure. Tony said you are about to travel?
Him: Uhm, yeah.
Her: Do you know where yet?
Him: No. I guess I will just get into the car and drive.
Her: Dave, with you traveling so hastily, and with that dead look in your eyes right now, I would say we don’t have a lot of time and also, the last thing you want is to be here with me.
Him: You are right on both fronts.
Her: Good. So we shall both cut past the niceties and the usual human crap and delve right into the sticky muck. It will save time, which we don’t have. Cool?
Him: Wouldn’t have it any other way.
Her: Good. I hear your wife died earlier today.
Him: That is none of your business.
Her: She was in an accident and has been in a coma for the last one year.
Him: Mention my wife one more time, and I’m gone.
Her: I am going to strike a deal with you.
Her: Give me five minutes to talk to you and then you can leave. Whatever you do after you leave is up to you.
Her: My dad committed suicide.
Him: I am sorry to hear that.
Her: Shut up. He was a singer. Like me. Only he didn’t get too far. He felt like he was not making any progress. You know how as a young creative, you are caught up between pursuing your passion, your dreams and getting a job? He followed his heart into music; it didn’t pay off so he clocked out.
Him: Is there a reason why you are telling me all these?
Her: Yeah. Months leading to his death, he had that same look you have in your eyes right now. See, that script you wrote, you wrote about a man who is going through something as a final as a divorce. His wife lost something he can’t live without, and now he is divorcing her. And she, having lost that vital part of herself, is not fighting the divorce much. Am I playing your wife David?
Him: What makes you think you are?
Her: I didn’t say I am. I just asked if I am.
Him: I thought we don’t have time for crap.
Her: Fair enough. I think I am. And I think this because you specifically asked the director to have me play Akuna. The man’s wife. I think the divorce you wrote down in the script is your life. Your own marriage. The thing your wife lost were your children.
Him: Shut up!
Her: I am not done.
Him: I said shut up!
He pushes back the chair and gets on his feet, jabbing a finger into her face.
Him: Shut up.
She stays seated, calm. She crosses her legs and leans back, watching him intently.
Her: She lost the kids and her own life in that car crash and now you cannot live without them, so you are on the verge of killing yourself.
Him: Goodbye Vee.
He sees himself back in the house, taking all the pictures of the kids and smashing them against walls. He sees the frames shattering into bits as the glass flies. He sees himself carrying all these pictures and hurling them into a fire, hoping that the memories will go up in flames too, though knowing for sure that this is not only impossible, it is also unbearably stupid. But they are dead and he is allowed to act stupid.
He turns to walk away but she calls after him –
Her: How badly do you want to see me in this movie? Because if you walk out or die at any point before it is out, I will quit.
Him: Quit. See if I care.
Her: I am here because you specifically asked for me. You see your wife in me. You want to leave this story in good hands. Stick around for a while longer. You started this. Might as well see it through.
August 27th, 2017.
Jane is rushing around the house, brighter now, collecting toys left by their two children on the floor and calling out;
Her: David come on! We’re going to be late for church!
He is still in the bedroom, still in bed, seriously considering backing out of church today.
Their eight year-old daughter Teresa “Tee” runs into the kitchen and places a glass too close to the edge of the table. It falls on the floor and shatters.
Jane: (Calling from the living room) Tee, what’s going on?
Tee quickly goes fetches a broom and starts sweeping the shards into the bin.
Tee: Nothing mum.
Jane: What did we say about lying?
Tee: I broke a glass mum!
Jane: Are you OK?
Tee: I am sorry!
Jane: Just clean up. And be careful! Where is your brother?
The brother, six-year-old James, has just entered his parents’ bedroom where his dad, David, is still in bed, deliberating over this whole going-to-church-this-early thing. Sure he has this conversation with himself every Sunday morning, but today it is worse.
Jane: JAMES! Where are you do? (Mumbles to herself) Jesus, it’s like I am the only sane human being in this house.
James sees his dad in bed and hears his mother calling him from the living room. He places his tiny finger over his lips telling his dad not to snitch.
David: What’s going on?
James is in one shoe and one sock. His other foot is completely bare.
David: We agreed buddy. You wear sock-sock, then shoe-shoe. Not sock-shoe, sock-shoe. OK?
James: Why not?
David: Because that’s just how people do it.
David swings his feet off the bed and beckons at the kid to come closer.
David: Come here. Give your old man a hug.
James collapses into his chest and he rubs his back.
David: How did you sleep?
James: I had bad dreams.
David: Yeah? What about?
James: I dreamed that it was Sunday and mum was making us run to church.
In spite of himself, David catches himself smiling but quickly wipes it off his face.
David: Well, buddy, you have to listen to your mother on such things, alright? She knows what’s best.
James: But you don’t always come to church with us.
David: That is because I am an idiot. Do you want to be an idiot like your old man?
James: You are not old.
David: Yes I am.
James: Grandma is old. She has white hair. You don’t.
David: Oh kiddo. If parents were allowed to have favorites, you’d be mine.
He stands up, takes James’s hand and starts walking out of the bedroom.
James: Come on. Let’s get you into your other sock and shoe.
As they leave, Jane shows up at the door and stands with her hands on her hips, something she does when she is fuming.
Jane: It appears the men in this house are deaf!
David looks down at his son who is looking up at him with that look that says, “Uh oh. We are in so much trouble now daddy. What do we do?”
He smiles at Jane and says;
David: Well, these deaf men love you very much. Don’t they, James?
He looks at his son again, who smiles and nods at his mother vigorously.
James: Yes they do!
Jane stops the smile from showing, takes James’s hand and says;
Jane: You, come with me. (To her husband) You, be in the car in ten minutes.
David: But I haven’t had breakfast.
Jane: If you wanted breakfast, you would have woken up earlier.
David: Yes ma’am.
She smiles at this.
Jane: Love it when you say that.
She kisses him lightly on the lips. The kind of kiss that people who have been together for years share. The kind that says, “Remember, I love you.” And she is off with their son.
As he jumps out of the shower three minutes later, hurriedly cleaned and hardly dry, he finds his phone ringing, with the caller being Tony, the film director who has directed most of the movies he has written.
Him: Hey Ton – Ton! What’s up buddy!
Tony: (Laughs) Have I ever told you I hate that name?
Him: What Ton –Ton? It’s a beautiful name.
Tony: Would you call Tony Soprano Ton –Ton?
Him: Tony is in the Mafia. If I want to mess with Tony, I will screw his side chic and hope he doesn’t whip me with a belt. If I want to mess with you, I will just call you Ton –Ton.
Tony: How’s the family man?
Him: It’s chaos over here! Listen, Jane is making me go to church.
Tony: Smart woman.
Him: Shut up. I have to go before she comes over and drag me there by the ears.
Tony: Look dude, I hate to do this to you right now but something has come up.
Tony: I need you to send me episode three of “Wanted” by four o’clock today.
Him: Dude! You said you didn’t want it until Thursday.
Tony: It’s the studio. The execs need to look at it ASAP so that they can feel important. You know how douche-y these money people are.
Him: Damn it Tony. I was going to spend today with Jane and the kids!
Tony: I am sorry man.
So with the towel wrapped around his waist, he found Jane in the kids’ bedroom and told her that the deadline for the drama TV show he was working on called Wanted had been moved up and he would spend the day writing instead.
Later when he is called to identify James’s and Tee’s bodies at the morgue, he doesn’t even know if he said goodbye to them. He doesn’t even remember his last memory of them. When he went to tell Jane that he wouldn’t make it to church after all, did he see his son? Did he smile at him? Did he wink? Did they exchange a secret code with their eyebrows without Jane seeing? They do that a lot. Or did he just walk in there and say, “hey babe, look I have to work today. I am sorry.”
He is pretty sure he didn’t see his daughter and now here she lies on the cold table, her mangled body, little under the white sheet, facing the ceiling.
He has never fainted before. But there is a first time for everything.
August 27th, 2018.
Garden City Mall – Thika Road
Vee gets on her feet and stands slightly behind the writer.
Vee: I read the script and thought, ‘this is an Oscar worthy material right here’. But in all honesty, I won’t touch with you dead; no matter how badly I want to.
David: I knew about your dad’s suicide. It’s one of the things that made me recommend you for the role.
Her: how did you know?
Him: I am a fan of your work. Well, I do think some of your music blows balls, but you’re a hell of an actress. And when I am that interested in somebody, I do my research on them.
Her: Then you know I am not kidding.
Him: Look, it’s all lost meaning now. Everything I did got its color from my life with my family. Without them, without Jane, it’s all just nothing.
Her: This movie, me being in it, I know it means something to you. Or maybe I just want it to mean something so badly because I can’t have you clocking out like my dad. This whole tortured artist thing, I don’t think it’s cute. Give me one year.
Him: To do what?
Her: That is how long it will take this movie to hit theaters. If by then everything will still be meaningless to you, I will let you go. But right now, you are thirty two years old and I just want you to give me a chance to help you. Please.
Him: You are blackmailing me into staying alive.
Her: If that’s how you choose to see it.
He thinks about it, thinking about life without everything he knows and holds dear.
Him: I can’t Ja… I mean, Vee. I can’t do this.
Her: Give me a chance. I want to know this character, but more importantly, I want to know you David.
He has flashes of their car rolling off the road after the puncture. He sees his children’s small bodies being smashed from side to side of the car as it rolls, the shattered glass burrowing into their soft skins. He can see the terror in Jane’s eyes as she thinks… wait. What would she think? “Oh crap, I forgot the seat belts again?” or “How can this happen when it’s only two kilometers from the house to the church?” Or, “What’s going to become of Dave now?”
Chances are, that last thought is the one that comes to her mind as their car turns into the monster that kills them all.
Gasping, he snaps his eyes open and finds Vee holding his hand, squeezing it, saying;
Her: It’s OK. Shh, calm down.
He finds himself on his knees, sobbing softly, without even knowing how he got down there.
Him: I can’t do it. Please don’t make me do it. I should have been there with them.
When his tears are done and his shoulders don’t shake too much anymore, she says;
Her: I can’t force you. But think about giving me a chance. The movie starts shooting in a couple of days. If I see you on set with me, I will know you have decided to stay. If I don’t, I will understand.
She sees him to the car, this amazing writer, more importantly, this amazing human being she has wanted to work with for years now and who finally requested for her by name. She hopes he calls.
As she watches him drive away, she knows that if he calls, she is willing to lay down her life for him if that is what it takes, even though she is sure it will hurt. But still she hopes he calls. And a tear falls from her eye as she sees her father dangling from the end of a rope, his swollen tongue sticking out of his mouth.
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