(The graphic violence described with great detail herein might shock some, so, reader’s discretion is advised.)
He grabs her by the hair, yanks her head back then shoves her head through the glass. She yells as her forehead drives through the glass door, then throws her hands up as his foot connects with the small of her back, sending the rest of her body through the glass door and out onto the balcony.
She falls on the floor, now carpeted by little glass shards that cut into her hands, knees, face and arms, then she turns around, crawling on her back, facing her assailant. “No more,” she cries, lifting up a surrendering blood covered arm, but the grimace on his face tells her all she needs to know.
Tonight is the night that he finally kills her. But will that be before or after she kills their baby?
“You are still doing it.” He hisses between clenched teeth, hate splattered all over his bloodshot eyes. “You are still telling me what I can and cannot do.”
His hands are fumbling with his belt buckle, working it. He unsnaps it and pulls the belt free from his pants. His shoes crunching against the glass shards on the floor, he hits her again and again with the metal buckle, each hit leaving a mark on her skin.
She puts her hands up and the buckle eats into her flesh. She turns her back to him and yelps, then moans, pain cutting into the deepest corners of her very soul and for a moment, the belt stops coming down on her.
She feels his hands grabbing her waist as her body is getting pulled up. She feels one of his hands smashing her face against the banister rail as the other hand vanishes into her skirt and yanks her panties off. She knows this part, but this is the first time it is happening at the balcony, in full view of whichever neighbor might be watching.
She has a happy place where she likes to visit when her current existence darkens to this magnitude. There is an ocean in front of her, blue as the cloudless sky. She is at the very edge of the calm ocean, the sand between her toes, arms stuck out beside her, eyes closed, lips slightly parted… she is at peace.
He breaths into the nape of her neck as he gets deeper and deeper into her, each thrust more powerful than the last. She forces her eyes shut, trying to shut out the pain emanating from between her thighs, she squeezes them shut so hard that she thinks her eyeballs will implode with the effort. Tears form at the corners of the eyes and work their way down her bloodied cheeks, her entire body on fire as he gasps behind her, his nails tearing into her flesh, his pants collected around his ankles.
In her happy place, a gentle breeze blows and nearby palm trees whistle as they dances graciously to the sound of music in the wind. “Home is peace,” they whisper. “Home is love, home is warmth of a love fuelled kiss and tears of joy. Home is you, home is me, home is…us.”
Her baby is under one of the tall trees, chuckling with a handful of sand in his small palm, a palm that is now headed to his small pouty mouth. She shrieks and laughs as she runs, the small cloth around her waist fluttering behind her as she goes to save the baby from eating the sand.
Before she can reach the baby, a groan of satisfaction yanks her from her happy place to a world where her insides are being torn out of her. He grabs her even harder, cutting her breath short as he reaches his toe curling climax, one only enjoyed by himself – one only enjoyed by himself for as long as she can remember.
A part of her thinks, “That didn’t last long, but then it never does,” but when it is against her will, even a minute feels like a decade.
“Now look what you made me do.” She hears him accuse, breathless, as he pulls his pants back up, and she shrinks deeper into herself.
He puts a calming hand on her shoulder and she shudders, his sweaty palms sending every fathomable chill down her spine. His fingers feel like a thousand spiders, crawling down her back and his now softer voice feels like a snake, wrapping itself around her body.
“I’m sorry baby,” he soothes. “You know I have a temper. You shouldn’t have come at me like that.” He offers her a hand of peace saying, “Come on, let’s go have a shower. And I will fix us a hot chocolate. How does that sound?”
Hugging her body, she shivers, pain shooting from a thousand places, the soles of her feet still being eaten into by the little pieces of broken glass on the balcony floor, blood still running down her face where she was pushed, head first, against the glass door.
“I love you.” He says. “You believe me, right?”
She nods affirmatively. “Here,” he says, wrapping his arms around her shivering body. “Give me a hug.”
Like a magnet, she is pulled into his embrace and she feels his resting chin on her shoulder. She is facing the broken glass door, facing the house inside which she has been abused for years. She is looking at the couch where her naked skin has been scrapped against, time after time. It is against the arm of this chair that her head has hit as he shoves her and pushes himself into her, over and over.
This couch that is covered with his sperm, his sweat, her blood and her vomit as he exercises the authority he thinks he has, over what ceased to be her mouth, years ago. Plagued by a myriad of memories, bad memories, all that has happened to her over the course of years, she starts humming a soft tune.
Tears shoot down her face as she thinks of the baby sleeping in the bedroom. She is crying, not from all the pain, physical and emotional, inflicted upon her by a man she thought she loved ages ago, but from the first thought that comes to her when she think of her little boy.
She and her man, the man now hugging her tighter, trying to make amends somehow, were having another argument in the living room she is looking at right now. She said something to him, something that irked him.
“No,” she admonishes herself. “You have to stop thinking that way. Whatever you said to him, he shouldn’t have hit you.”
But he slapped her hard across the face with the back of his hand and she felt herself flying for a second, before slamming against the wall, hitting the back of her head against it. He didn’t stop there. He grabbed her arm and yanked her so hard that she felt a sharp pain and a pop sound came from her shoulder, where he dislocated it.
And even as she screamed, she thought to herself, “Don’t scream so much, or you’re going to wake the baby.”
Her baby, her sweet little boy, in his little pram, just a few feet away from where his mum was now getting the beating of a lifetime.
The man, her husband, the love of her life, she man she walked down the aisle to and swore before God and man that she would love and cherish and all those other sweet… oh God, what did I get myself into?
He turned her around, screaming into her ears, “You are going to pay for that!” and as he shoved her face first into the cushions of the couch she is now staring at, she thought, “Don’t scream so loudly or the baby’s going to wake up and see.”
The four-month old baby, whose sleep she didn’t want disturbed.
She felt his hands grope under her dress and she thought, “Maybe, just maybe, if I hadn’t worn a dress today, if I had worn that pair of Jeans my sister Zambezi bought me last week, he wouldn’t be doing this right now. Maybe he finds the dress a little too much…”
The couch moved with the weight of his deep and powerful rams into her and this time, she took it with her eyes open and her palms squeezed against her lips to stop her from crying out. For what if, even for a second, what if she let out her pain into a loud scream and the baby woke up and saw? No. she has to stay quiet. Shh. Shh. We don’t want to scar our little boy now, do we?
And now, beaten again, her soul tortured as it has always been, she responds to his embrace on the balcony and ignores the pain shooting from the soles of her feet where the glass continues to eat into her.
She leaves patches of blood with every step she takes and hugs her husband firmer. She caresses the back of his head as she hums a song and slowly, her body starts swaying with a small dance, gracious as the wind, cuddly as a mother’s bosom. And with her voice struggling to break the chains of eternal grief choking her, she sings.
Am I not pretty enough
Is my heart too broken
Do I cry too much
Am I too outspoken
Don’t I make you laugh
Should I try it harder
Why do you see right through me
Slowly, she starts making a circle, and his body follows suit, dancing with her. He closes his eyes and she feels the warm tears that have cascaded down his cheeks, land on her shoulder and stream down her back. She caresses the back of his head and whispers gently in his ear, “Shh. It’s OK. I’m here.” She cuddles. “I’ll always be here.”
“I’m sorry.” He cries and holds her tighter. “I’m so sorry.”
“I know baby.”
“I love you.” He professes and even though she doesn’t believe him anymore, she believes that he believes it.
“I love you too.” She lies, for the last time.
She shuts off the pain from the bleeding soles of her feet, she is numb to the pain from the big gushes on her face, numb to the pain of the bruises from her arms and back where the belt buckle got her… and she sings to him and dances with him.
I live, I breathe, I let it rain on me
I sleep, I wake, I try hard not to break
I crave, I love, I’ve waited long enough
I try as hard as I can
Am I not pretty enough
Is my heart too broken
Do I cry too much
Am I too outspoken
Don’t I make you laugh
Should I try it harder
Why do you see right through me
She has gone round during the dance, such that she is facing the balcony now and he is facing the living room. Slowly, she gently leads him to the edge of the balcony, singing and shutting everything else out. And when she gets to the very edge, she gently breaks the embrace and looks him right in his tear filled eyes.
“Can I kiss you?” she asks and a small smile breaks around the corners of his lips.
“Yes,” he says, his voice barely above an emotion driven croak. “Yes please.”
She places her hand on his chest and slowly eases closer to him for the kiss. He closes his eyes, his lips quavering with anticipation, his heart thudding against his chest with the excitement of a possible future where everything will be OK. She always was a forgiver.
When she is sure that he is not thinking of anything else but the kiss, she pushes him back with all the strength, aiming to shove him off the balcony and send him to his death, with a fall five storeys below.
His arms frail as he flies backwards. His back hits the banister rail and he feels his feet starting to fly from under him. He is less scared of falling to his death and more scared of the fact that she could, that she would do this to him.
He feels his body do a flip as he goes over the banister rail but before he can start falling, his hands manage to grab the rail as his feet dangle in the air under him. One of his shoes leave his foot and flies down all the way to the top of the car parked in the lot. The car his body will be landing on, should he let go.
As he pulls himself up, he comes face to face with the set face of his wife. She looks so cold, so determined to end him. There isn’t a flicker of emotion on that face. She might as well be wearing a mask.
“Why?” he asks.
“Why not?” she replies and picks a piece of glass from the floor. With the glass in hand, she edges closer to her dangling husband, whose forehead is displaying a series of veins. It is not the fear in his eyes that she sees. It is that look of betrayal. Like he trusted her and she has abused that. It is the fact that he can now see just how dead their relationship is and how it will never be revived and that she has fed him false hope so she can kill him.
As drives the piece of glass into the back of his hand and he lets go, leaving him hanging only by the other hand. He looks down one more time, then looks up at his wife.
“You better do this right.” The coldness in his voice is only matched by that in his eyes. The look of betrayal and pain is replaced by a cold rage.
As she drives the glass into his other hand so he can let go completely and fly away, he pulls himself up so forcefully and grabs her hand with his free hand. She gasps, surprised with his burst of energy, and their eyes lock.
It is his cold stare, the void in those snake eyes, that give her peace in these last seconds. She knows that at the very least, the pain is over. But before she can regret leaving her son behind, he pulls her over the balcony and she doesn’t even get to close her eyes before the car can stop her fall and break her bones.
She is lying on top of the dented car whose alarm is furiously going off. She is facing the evening sky starched by sparse clouds. It really is a good evening to finally let go off the pain. She cannot feel her body, meaning she cannot feel any pain. She always thought dying was painful. If she thought it could be this painless, she would have done it a long time ago.
All she knows is that she cannot breathe.
Her sight is getting blurry, but she can hear from a distance, screams and the sound of approaching feet. Neighbors, finally deciding to stop pretending like she doesn’t get beating and raped almost every day. Finally, they are going to do something.
The last thing she sees before darkness engulfs her, is her husband, pulling himself off the ledge and balcony onto the safety of the balcony. The last thing she hears is the angry voice of a man screaming at somebody, “Hii mbwa naua leo. Aki ya Mungu!” and his footfalls fading off as he runs up the stairs, hoping to kill her husband and rescue her son.
“Rama,” she thinks to herself as she lets herself get embraced by the welcoming warmth of the darkness around her. “Rama, my beautiful boy.”
He has never meant to hurt her, it’s just that sometimes she makes him so damn mad. But he has always apologized afterwards. He has always bought her something nice to make up for every time his fist walks into her nose.
But today, he meant it. When he took her arm, pulled her over the balcony’s banister rail and threw her down to her death, he wanted to more than hurt her. He wanted, needed, her dead.
As he hangs from the balcony, his legs dangling under him, he looks down to where she lies. She is looking back up at him, trails of blood streaming from her ears and mouth and her body is placed at an awkward angle. It doesn’t look like she’ll be walking this one away.
He sees neighbors running to her, and someone is already screaming something into the phone, calling for help. He sees one of the neighbors, a burly man with whom he has never exchanged a word even though they have been sharing a parking lot for years, look up at him and say, “Hii mbwa naua leo. Aki ya Mungu!” (I swear to God I’m killing this dog today.)
The neighbor runs off sight, presumably to climb the flight of stairs leading to his house and he scales back up and climbs onto the balcony. One thing he knows for sure is that somebody is dying today and it won’t be him.
He winces as he crosses the balcony to enter his house. The broken glasses on the floor have cut into his foot through the sock and he hisses. He collects his belt from the ground and hurriedly enters the house, taking care not to step on the glass.
In the house, he runs to the bedroom where he finds Rama, the nine-month boy whose mother he just killed. He is in his cot, sound asleep.
He grabs him roughly waking him up. Rama is at first stunned to silence, confused and still struggling with the last webs of sleep getting dusted off.
The man holds the baby on his chest, squeezing him against his body, and then he heads out to the balcony again, after hurriedly putting on a slipper on his bare foot. Such that he is in one shoe and one slipper.
There are people banging against his door yelling, “Open this door! Open this fucking door, goddamn it!” They bang and bang, but it is locked from the inside and the more they try to bang it ope and fail, the more frustrated and angry their voices get.
“Don’t come into my house!” he screams back.
“Fuck you!” somebody screams back and a shoulder rams into the door but it doesn’t bulge. People breaking down with their shoulders works only in movies and maybe slums where doors are made of paper thin bits of wood and hurriedly screwed in hinges.
But the noise is enough to agitate Rama even further and he empties his frustrations out with an eardrum shattering yell. The man presses his son against his chest soothingly. “Shh,” he says, “Shh. It’s OK. I’m here.” He is parroting his wife, even without knowing he’s doing it. “I’m always going to be here.”
Rama isn’t having it. Not with the noise from the door. “Naendea gun!” (I’m going to fetch a gun!) A neighbor screams.
This is how angry they all are. Nobody is yelling for the police or an ambulance. This is not a search and rescue mission. This is a “take no prisoners” mission and the neighbors are not messing around.
The man runs into the kitchen, his screaming son in his arms. He opens the fridge door and takes out some milk in a baby bottle, which without thinking, he opens and pushes the plastic nipple into the angry baby’s mouth.
Rama’s face is crunched with anger as he kicks out with his tiny feet and hands. Tears are falling down the sides of his face.
“You have to warm the milk a little, you dummy.” He hears the voice of his wife in his head instructing him. “You wouldn’t drink it cold either, would you?”
He looks to the microwave but the noise at his door is highly distracting. They are still trying to bang down the door to no avail. The number of voices out there is increasing with each passing second and the way it looks, he won’t have time to warm the milk and feed the baby before that door comes down. And he is sure he is not dying at the hands of those animals out there.
“Shh.” He rocks the baby in his arms as he crosses back into the living room, looking ‘around for solutions to this problem. He considers jumping from his balcony and onto the neighbor’s but the distance between the two balconies isn’t something he wants to mess with right now.
And Rama keeps crying and kicking out. He hugs his son and rocks him and starts singing a horribly off key lullaby to him to no avail. What to do? What. To. Do?
“Take off your shirt,” he hears his wife’s voice instructing him. “Then place him against your naked chest. Let him hear your heartbeat.”
Quickly, the man takes off his shirt and vest, taking frightened looks at the door with is beginning to creak with each shove. Soon, this thing will give in. He takes off Rama’s t-shirt too, leaving the baby half naked.
Rama reduces his screaming to a soft coo, the moment his skin makes contact with his father’s warm skin. He digs his nails into his skin the man winces thinking, “I should probably clip his nails the second we get out of this mess.”
He looks down at his son’s face and they lock eyes. Rama has the brownest eyes he has ever seen. Actually that is not true. His wife had the same brown eyes. They are one of the reasons why he asked her out in the first place.
You have the most beautiful brown eyes I have ever seen. Hey um, you think you would have an evening to spare? I would really love to take you out to dinner.
But he could only look into those eyes for so long without her doing something stupid that prompted him to drive his knees into her belly. One of the times he kicked her in the belly, she reeled back, her big brown eyes opened wide with terror, her hands wrapped around her stomach so protectively that she didn’t stop her own fall, and then she looked up at him and hissed, “I’m pregnant!”
He got on his knees and kissed her feet. He cried all over her feet, he said a trillion sorries, he made her dinner and called her his queen all evening. At one point, on his knees, face tear drenched, he put his hands together in prayer position and said, “Thank you for making me so happy. I will love you long after my heart withers with age but between now and then, would you please be my wife?”
“Step back!” a voice, sharp as a whip cries right outside his door, yanking him from the memory of better days, back to the present where neighbors are gunning for his life. He hears the unmistakable sound of a pistol’s hammer being pulled back and he rushes out onto the balcony as gunshots ring out around the door lock, sending it flying open.
Out on the balcony, the man quickly slips the belt around his son’s throat and pulls it into a knot. And this is what the neighbors see when they spot him standing out on the balcony covered with blood. They find a scared shirtless man, holding a shirtless little child with a knot slipped around the child’s throat. Rama has now fallen silent again and he smiles at his father.
The man looks over his shoulder at the neighbors and slowly, he holds the baby over the balcony and says to them, “Take a step closer and this child fails at his first flying lesson.”
There are people congregated down at the parking lot, surrounding the dead woman, whose eyes are still open, but thank God she cannot see a thing.
If she could, she would see the little feet of her child, dangling in the air.
The people down there see this and they start screaming, but one scream is louder than others. It is the sound of a woman, so determined that she says, “Angusha mtoto tutamshika! Na wewe unakufa!” (Drop the baby, we’ll grab him and you’ll still die!)
The neighbors who are in the house facing off with the man hear what the woman downstairs has said. Everybody down there agrees that they will grab the baby should the father drop him.
The man looks at the neighbors who, now encouraged, take step closer. The one holding the gun aims it at his forehead and his finger curls around the trigger.
The man looks right into their faces, unflinching. He holds the end of the belt in one hand and lets go off the baby, choking him. Rama wants to scream but the belt bites into his and his feet kick out even more and his hands, his untrained hands, instinctively reach for his burning throat, but he cannot do much there.
“In five seconds this baby will be dead.” The man’s voice is calm. “The way his feet are kicking out, he is going to break his own neck way before he can die of suffocation.” Even before he can order them around, the gun wielding neighbor shoot s his hands up with surrender. “Step back! You have three seconds!”
They are already backing away and the man pulls his child back to safety and relaxes the choke around the baby’s throat. Rama takes the opportunity to scream his lungs out and the man comforts him again. He sees the neighbor with the gun starting to lift the weapon again, to take advantage of the fact that the baby is relatively safe now.
“I can throw this baby away from this balcony way before you can squeeze that trigger.” He is already holding the baby like it is a rock, ready to be thrown far far far away, should anybody try anything. “Not drop. Throw. And we’ll see if your friends downstairs can save him then. Get out of my house.”
The neighbors don’t obey fast enough and so the man leans over the balcony, ready to throw the screaming baby away. He is so busy dealing with this whole situation to see me down there, pointing my own gun at him. When he leans over the balcony, I get a shot…
…and I take it.
My first bullet hits him in the arm and he lets go off the baby who comes hurtling down the five storeys, his legs kicking out, his screaming filling the entire neighborhood. My second and third shots hit him in the head, killing him faster than he can draw breath. His body sags over the banister rail and he too comes crashing down after his screaming baby.
I have watched when he brought other women home, had sex with them in the car downstairs, sent them home, then climbed the stairs home, where his wife is fixing dinner. These women’s fluids have not even dried off his penis and he is already kissing her on the lips and asking how her day was before he can strut on to the bedroom where he kisses Rama on the forehead an whispers, “Daddy is home.”
From the safety of my bedroom window which faces their balcony and a healthy dose of their living room, I have watched him break her nose against the wall as he takes her from behind. Whenever he is forcing himself into her, he always takes her from behind, maybe because he cannot look her in the eyes as he does it.
Afterwards, he cries and apologizes. He is a crier this one. Maybe that is why she stays. Because she likes a bird with a broken wing and keeps hoping she can fix him, save him from the demons that eat his soul and leave a blank monster behind.
One day he went all Mike Tyson on her. He didn’t just beat her this time. He full on boxed her like she was a bag of sand, hanging from the roof, specifically for his boxing pleasure. He danced around on the balls of his feet as he landed a well aimed punch to the side of her body, followed by another of the other side and when the wind was knocked out of her, he finished her off with an uppercut that sent her flying and crashing onto the floor in an unconscious heap.
I thought then that he had finally done it. That he had finally killed her. But he went ahead and conducted CPR on her. He was good at that kind of thing. Slowly squeezing the life out of something and the bringing it back just so he could squeeze it again.
Many a night I dreamt of him and these were some of my most violent dreams. I dreamt I was inside a boxing ring with him. No. Screw that. Inside a cage in a fight to the death kind of match. There were people surrounding the cage, all of them cheering because there is nothing more adrenaline inducing than the sight of two men punching the life out of each other inside a cage that none of them can leave until one of them is dead.
And I happily entertained them. I was like Russell Crowe’s Maximus in the movie The Gladiator, raising my sword and screaming at the masses, “”Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?”
In my dreams, I never even let him have a shot at beating me. Not even landing a punch. I would fix him into a corner and strategically destroy him. I would dodge his right aimed at my face and kick in his knee. As he leaned forward, I would break his nose against my own knee, smash any wind left in him with my fist and when he fell, I would follow him to the floor, sit on his chest and landed blow after blow on his face. And this would continue even long after there was just blood, shattered bones and soiled brain where his head used to be.
But I was no Maximus Decimus Meridius. I was no father to a murdered child, I was no husband to a murdered wife and I was not trying to have my vengeance in this life or the next. So what was I going to his into his face as I killed him? My name is Diogenes Dhambi Amadi, neighbor to a battered wife? I don’t think so.
I never thought that if I finally got a chance to kill him, it would be with a bullet, or three. I always thought I would have time and I would take it slow. I would skin him slowly with a rusty knife that hadn’t been sharpened in twelve years and then I would pour hot water on his skinless body sending him into shock. And then I would leave him out in the sun at some very lonely wilderness and the ant would eat any life left out of him.
But today, I know watching and fantasizing time is over, when he slips that knot around the baby’s throat and hangs him. Am I disappointed that I killed him with a bullet that he didn’t even see coming? Yes. But at that moment, all I was thinking was, “Oh crap. It would be lousy to see that baby’s head bend at an unnatural angle once the neck broke, wouldn’t it?”
And as the baby comes flying down, hands stick out to save it, not even thinking that there is a heavier body close behind and if these people don’t step back quickly enough, somebody else is dying.
A hefty woman grabs the baby and they all manage to bounce away just in time to get away from his father’s body – but not all of them. There is a young man, late teens or early twenties and when that body lands on him, we all know he will not be walking away from this, judging by the loud sounds of him breaking bones.
Two bodies lie on the ground, three if you count the woman’s and I ask myself why I didn’t kill him earlier. And now that I have, it is time for me to run. Because unlike everybody in this mind-your-own-business-until-somebody-dies neighborhood, I am the only one who isn’t who he says he is. I know because I have conducted a background search on everybody here.
So as soon as the blood starts forming a stream on the pavement, I tuck my gun into my pants and start walking away. Amidst screams and moans and cries and vomiting, I slowly ease my way out of the hullabaloo and back to my apartment.
I quickly park only the bare necessities. A laptop, passports, cash, my gun, an extra box on 9mm bullets and an old mug, given to me by an old girlfriend, sixteen years ago. I put all these inside a small backpack. I put on a jacket over the clothes I wore on my way to commit a murder and wear a hat to cover my face. As I lock up the apartment I know I will never come back to, I make a call.
“Who carries the bag of ouch?” the voice on the other side asks.
“The lady on the throne of thorns.” I reply, hurrying down the stairs. I have half a mind to take my car, but I want everything to appear prima facie normal.
“You were to call only if compromised.” The voice, which though human, sounds suspiciously automated continues. “Are you compromised?”
“I wouldn’t be calling otherwise.” I am back out to where a large group of people has converged. I face down and pull the brim of the hat closer to my face. If any of these people sees me, I might not be able to go anywhere after all.
Voice: “What is your location?”
Me: Are we going to play this game? I know you have already tracked this phone.
Voice: My apologies. Proceed to Safe House Z. You will be supplied with a fresh coat of paint by the day’s end.
Me: Thank you.
Voice: Care to explain how you managed to fuck this one up?
Me: I suppose I will be debriefed at the safe house.
Voice: Affirmative. But I need something to run up the chain of command with.
Me: I killed some asshole, OK?
Voice: I am going to need more than that.
Me: In that case, run up to the commander and say, “Sir, Agent Dhambi killed some asshole and is now compromised.” That should work until my debriefing.
Voice: If Agent Dhambi was into killing assholes, I wonder why he didn’t put a bullet in his own head twelve years ago.
Me: (Into the phone.) Over and out. (I hang up and curse.) Bitch.
Safe House Z
Everybody knows that the word “safe” in safe house is an illusion. But considering I have not been active in a little over a decade, I guess I forgot that little fact. Or I would not have dozed off.
Sure I slept beside the window, facing the door with my gun in hand, sure I scanned everything I could for any suspicious activity, but I have grown old and lazy and I dozed off. Besides, I may have played with myself in the morning and Lord knows I sleep a lot when I do that. I played with myself because I had no idea this day would unfold the way it has.
When I wake up, there is a very cold muzzle of a gun touching my forehead. I have not “woken with a start” in a long time, but today I do and I reach out to where my gun was when I dozed off. It is not there anymore.
Her: I guess I could say, ‘don’t make any sudden moves’ but it is too late for that now.
The woman pointing the gun to me is more than familiar. She is now standing at a safe distance, making sure to keep the gun trained on me in case…
Me: Why are you pointing the gun at me again?
Her: Old habit. It has kept me alive this long so it doesn’t sound like it’s a bad habit to have.
Me: They sent you?
Her: They thought a familiar face would do you some good.
Me: I thought you were dead.
Her: You sound disappointed.
Me: I am. I was hoping you were dead.
I stand up and she plants her feet on the carpet, gun firmly held in both hands.
Her: Sit down.
I put my hands up slowly and sink back into the chair.
Me: I am thirsty. Can I grab a bottle of water from the fridge without you peeing your pants?
Her: There is no water in the fridge.
Me: I am thirsty.
Her: So you say.
Me: Have I ever given you a reason to not trust me?
Me: Then why are you treating me like this?
Her: I haven’t seen you in twelve years. People change.
Me: It’s been twelve years? (I hiss) Sss, no wonder you look so fat.
Her: Are you trying to piss me off?
Me: Is it working?
Me: What are you going to do about it?
Her: Shoot you in the knee.
Me: In that case, I am not trying to piss you off. Would you, could you please not point that thing at me?
Slowly, she lowers the gun and sits on the edge of the bed, making sure to keep her stance and gun ready in case I act strange.
Her: What the hell happened back there?
Me: I killed some asshole.
Her: So you keep saying. You had an easy task. Stay in your neighborhood, keep a low profile and enjoy your retirement. Was that so hard?
Me: As a matter of fact, yes it was.
Her: What could be so hard about keeping your nose out of trouble Diogenes?
She is the only one who ever called me Diogenes. Even my mother called me Dhambi. It sounds like a very strange name to be called, considering it means, “sin” but I got used to it and rather liked it. It made me think I was born out of a very unholy union.
Me: I had to intervene or a baby would have died.
Her: So you had to go be a big hero, huh?
Me: Yes. What happens now?
Her: Now we move you to a new neighborhood. Do you know how risky this was? You could’ve been caught. How do you know there weren’t other agents watching you, huh? We are a secret organization for a reason and you are lucky they even retired you. Other agents in your shoes just die under strange circumstances. But you, the organization was kind to you, they gave you a house and…
Me: At which point of this monologue am I allowed to yawn and stop pretending like I am not bored?
Her: (Shakes her head sadly) You think this is some kind of game, don’t you?
Me: What do you want me to say? That I am sorry? I am not.
Her: No. You never were.
Me: What is that supposed to mean?
Me: (Standing up) What the hell is that supposed to mean Niombi?
Oh, her name is Niombi.
She stands up, gun in both hands, veins sprouting up her arms.
Her: (Hissing) Sit down.
I take a step closer to her, my breathing starting to get labored, my eyes locked on hers, my arms stuck beside me.
Me: No. I won’t sit down. I have waited years to see you again and now that you are here, I need to know what the fuck by I was never sorry.
Her: OK man, you need to calm down.
Me: I am very calm. But I won’t be for long so if you want to shoot me, I suggest you do it right now.
As I talk, I make a slow bee line for her and she starts stepping back, keeping the gun pointed at me. There is a chance she won’t shoot me, but if she will, I am ready for that.
Her: Stop moving Diogenes! I am serious!
Me: (My arms still stuck beside me) Do it. Shoot me, bitch. God knows you already killed me twelve years ago.
Her back reaches the wall and she cannot step back anymore. I keep stepping towards her.
Me: What do you mean I was never sorry?
Her: I said, “nothing.”
Me: I did everything for you. (I stop moving now because the muzzle of her gun is now touching my forehead.) I sacrificed everything I had, my career, my future, I damn near died for you and you are going to point your little toy at me and say you don’t trust me?
She is holding the gun with one hand and I don’t notice her other hand retract a taser gun from her waist and tase me. All I know is my body jerks up and I fall forward onto her and my knees give out under me. Then darkness.
Inside a boat, on a lake in the middle of nowhere
When I come to, I am inside a boat, my feet bound with plastic cuffs and my hands tied behind me. My entire body hurts, my head especially is on fire and I am not in the same clothes I was in earlier.
Me: Why am I tied up?
It is a small fishing boat; I am at the back of it and she is at the front, slowly rowing.
Her: Because I don’t trust you.
Me: Where are my clothes?
Her: You pissed in them and so I had to change you. Your penis didn’t look as big as I remember.
Me: It was cold in that room.
Her: (Chuckles) You always had a comeback.
I look around, groaning because my head is killing me and I cannot see anything but water. There is nobody else around and that is when it hits me.
Me: They sent you to kill me, didn’t they?
Her: Yeah. You really shouldn’t have intervened. You were a ghost and that is how you were supposed to remain. The organization doesn’t have any resources left to clean up after you.
I nod. I understand. I really do. Only thing that pains me is that I didn’t kill that man slowly. I gave him the honor of a bullet.
She stops rowing and turns around to face me, her gun in hand.
Me: Can you tell me something at least before you kill me?
Her: I know exactly what you need me to say. I am just not sure you will believe me.
Me: Then say it anyway.
Her: (Takes a deep breath then looks me right in the eyes; for effect I think) I am sorry.
Me: For what?
Me: You really do look fat.
Her: You look good yourself. A little heavy at the mid section, a few white hairs on your head, a smaller dick than I remember and a few more creases at the edge of your eyes, but other than that, you look like you did, twelve years ago.
Me: Did you find yourself another man?
Her: (Chuckles) A man, nope.
Me: A woman?
Her: Yeah. (She chuckles again.)
Me: You really love her, don’t you?
Her: With my whole heart. (Then she breaks eye contact with me and looks away, as if she is on the verge of tears. She nods again and takes another deep breath) More than I ever loved anyone or anything before.
Me: I never took you for a lesbian.
Her: What I am now, is none of your business Diogenes.
Me: Hey um, hey remember those days, we would come off a mission together, lock ourselves away for an evening, fix ourselves a candlelit dinner, a bottle of wine, slow dancing to our favorite music?
Her: Yeah I remember.
Me: Did it mean anything? Any of it?
Her: Does it matter?
Me: Just answer me Niombi, because I am lying on the shitty little boat, my hands and legs tied, surrounded by the water that will be home to my dead body for I don’t know how long, and I say it matters!
Her: Yes. It meant something.
I shake my head softly, trying to feel a satisfaction I thought I would, but no, I don’t get it.
Me: You are right. It doesn’t matter.
My bag is at her feet. The one with the laptop, the money, the passports and the old mug. She unzips it and takes off the mug.
Her: I gave you this money for your twenty eighth birthday.
Me: Yeah I know. I was there.
Her: (She looks at it lovingly, running her veined fingers over it like it is made of gold and sniffles.) You kept it.
It sounds like a statement, but something tells me it is a question.
Her: Through all these years, you kept it.
Me: It is just a mug. Don’t make a big deal out of it.
Her: (She continues as if I haven’t spoken) You have survived gun wounds, bomb blasts, escaped death a million times and you kept this. (Waves the mug in the air.) Why?
Me: I like drinking tea, so I might as well carry a mug around with me.
Her: (She looks disappointed but she smiles through it.) Yeah, I guess I deserve that.
Me: You remember our last mission? We went to Malindi to get rid of this Italian guy and he bumped up his security at the last minute?
Her: I am sorry.
Me: You knew, didn’t you? You knew that mission was fucked and you let me go in there alone.
Her: I was asked to abort at the last minute and…
Me: You could have told me!
Her: It was too late! You already entered the villa and the C.O said that if I got in there we would be on our own.
Me: I would have come in for you.
Her: I know.
Me: You know, I fought in there, alone, for about half an hour. And as those bullets flew, orders got issued in Italian; I kept thinking you would show up. I got shot and I dragged my bleeding body across Persian carpets still thinking my girl, my partner would burst in through those doors and take me away. And I ran out of ammo still thinking my knight in shining armor was having a problem with her horse but she was working on it and very soon, she would come in screaming my name.
Her: Would you stop being so fucking dramatic! You are the one who went in there alone because that is what you do, isn’t it? You make up your mind about something and you expect the whole world will drop what it’s doing and line up behind you because you are right and everyone else is wrong.
Me: My knight never arrived. At least not before somebody put a bullet in my chest and I blacked out thinking you were dead.
Her: But you didn’t die. The organization took care of you.
Me: No thanks to you. And let’s not even act like they dragged me out of that dumpster from the goodness of their hearts. I had information they needed. You, Niombi, left me to die alone. And I will never forgive you for that.
She is not looking at me. I am thinking right now, she cannot, so I add, just to piss her off…
Me: And I am not kidding. You look really fat.
She chuckles, standing, strides across the boat to where I am and the look on her face tells me I am in trouble.
Me: Whoa, whoa, what are you doing?
Her: (She kicks me on the stomach) Shut up!
Having kicked the air out of me, she heads back to the oars and starts rowing and once I get some wind back, I start singing…
Me: Row row row your boat, gently down the sea, merrily merrily, merrily merrily, please just kill me now.
She looks over her shoulder –
Her: Not that it’s going to mean anything now, but I loved you.
Me: You are right. It doesn’t mean anything now.
She rows on for a while and there isn’t a single gull in the sky. It is like we are in the middle of an ocean in some movie where only one person survives a storm and is stuck on the ocean for months. Then she comes back to me, knife in hand and cuts away the plastic binds, freeing my hands and legs.
Me: What are you doing?
Her: What does it look like I am doing?
Me: You should kill me, or you will be in trouble.
Her: I already killed you once. Please behave. I want to take you somewhere.
Twenty Four Hours Later
We are in a packed hall in the outskirts of Kigali. I am in a tuxedo, same as almost every man inside this hall and Niombi is in a dress, same as almost every woman here. Yes, we do fit in.
Seated somewhere in the middle of the hall, I ask her for the millionth and first time what we are doing here and she smiles and says, “You will see.” And so I wait, and I see.
It starts with a song that takes me from a packed hall, full of sophisticated looking people in Kigali, and all the down to a dilapidated motel room in Harare where we have to stay until things cool down, because we have just killed some government official whose interests ran against our organization’s in the southern region of Africa. I am twenty six years old and Niombi is seated beside me, eating spaghetti from a small box.
The room is hot and I say, “You know how we can distract ourselves from the heat and the crankiness?”
“By going home?” she asks nonchalantly.
“Yeah. But first, we dance.”
“But there is no music.”
“We have loads of music loaded into our brain. We could imagine we’re listening to one song and dance to it.”
So I pull her to her feet, and at first, she doesn’t want to dance so I lift her on my shoulder and carry her around the room. She is laughing and punching me on the back playfully, saying, “OK, OK, I’ll dance.”
Now here we are, fourteen years later in Rwanda and I don’t know what about this hall that reminds me of that dreary motel room in Zimbabwe.
A little girl in a small top and a pair of jeans and heels is on stage, with a little boy in a tuxedo. They are both very early into their teens from what I can see of their faces and bodies. They are in masks.
A group of youngsters seated at the front cheers and clap, people record the younglings on the stage on their phones and tablets and all the lights in the hall go off. A floodlight comes on and rests on the young couple on the stage as a song starts playing and they start dancing. It is Wizboyy’s and Teeyah’s “Lovinjitis.”
It is a sensual kind of dance, like Salsa, only a little more sensual. Kizomba.
“Aren’t they a little young for this kind of dancing?” I ask.
“They are in a hall full of adults.” Niombi replies. She is among those recording them with her phone. “They will watch themselves I am sure.”
Soon enough, I vanish into their small world of music and dance. They lace their hands together and circles around as she sways her small waist and they move their feet in musical unison that pulls me back to the days of my youth when all that mattered was my job and the life I was trying to build with Niombi.
As I sink into this world of music and dance, I see myself and Niombi, our guns held out, our muzzles flashing, me running out of ammo and her tossing me an extra magazine. I see us back in a motel room, in the shower, water hitting our backs as we make intense love and try to wash off some bloodstains on our bodies.
I gasp as I remember the feeling of being inside her and I find her holding my hand, her eyes trained on me.
“What are you thinking about?”
“You are lying,” she counters and she is right.
“I am thinking about that which cannot be.”
“You and me.”
As the song hits climax, the girl takes off her mask, her eyes never leaving the boy’s and his never leaving hers. They are caught in a game where she is the gazelle, daring the lioness to catch her and he knows, no matter how fast he runs, she will always be one step ahead of him. They both know it, and yet, none of them changes pace.
Maybe it is the way she moves, maybe it is the look in her eyes as she lets him hold her waist and pull her close, maybe it is the way her foot drag across the floor in a dancing circle, but there is something painfully familiar about this little girl.
“Who is she?”
Niombi glances at her small wristwatch and chuckles. “Took you all of ninety eight seconds to ask. I never doubted your intelligence once.”
I squeeze her hand, for some reason I am running out of breath. “Who the fuck is she, Niombi?”
“You are hurting me.” I let go off her hand and look at the girl as she twirls and twirls on the floor, her heels accentuating her every move, her long hair tied at the back of her head in a bun.
“She,” Niombi says, shaking her head gently. “She is the reason why everything happened like it did. The reason I didn’t come after you that evening in Malindi. I was pregnant. I had to choose between you and her. I chose our daughter.”
Yeah, I stopped listening to her two sentences ago. There is a magnet pulling me to the stage and I am on my feet, heading there. Niombi grabs my arm and pulls me back don.
“Where do you think you are going?”
“To hello to my daughter!” I retort as if it is the most obvious thing in the world. “If that is OK with you.”
“You don’t even know her name.”
She is right. “What is her name? Most importantly, why did you keep her away from me?”
She is squeezing my arm, looking me right in the face silently as she does it. This is how she tells me to calm down, to not be reckless.
“Think Diogenes.” She murmurs. “You are not thinking.”
“How did they let you raise a baby?” I ask because the organization has a long standing, thou shalt not get pregnant policy.
“I sacrificed you.” She explains. “I promised not to look for you and tell you about her and they had me put her up for adoption in exchange for my life. That little girl is being raised by another family. She doesn’t even know me.”
Even though she says that in the calmest voice possible, I can tell by the vein shooting down her forehead that she is exercising utmost restraint. “Same as you, I lost everything.”
I watch the rest of the dance in silence. I hold Niombi’s hand and it is like we are in our twenties again, holding hands in the train, her shoulder on mine.
Me: Are you going to kill me? I won’t stop you.
Me: You should kill me right here. You have a blade in your bag, just slice my neck a little, cut my carotid then walk away. It will take me thirty minutes to drip to death and I will die right here, in silence, watching our daughter dance. And nobody will even notice because there will be a scarf around my throat.
Her: I said no.
Me: They will kill you if you don’t kill me.
Her: Just keep quiet and enjoy the show.
After the show, the little girl is standing backstage with a group of young people taking photos with her. She has fans.
Niombi is trailing behind me, asking what I think I am doing and I don’t answer because even I have no idea what I am doing.
When I get to her, I can feel Niombi’s stiff body beside me and I know she didn’t try too hard to stop me because even she wants to talk to her daughter. I lock my eyes with the little dancer’s and smile.
Little Dancer: Hi. You want a photograph?
No. I think. I want to take you home and be your father.
Me: Um, no. not really. Can I shake your hand?
She smiles, maybe thinking I am some weird old man. She has Niombi’s smile, but those eyes, those are my eyes. I know because whenever I look in the mirror, those eyes look back at me. She sticks out her hand and as I take it, I say…
Me: I am Dhambi. (I bring Niombi closer.) And this is my lovely wife Niombi. Do you love dancing?
Niombi: Of course she loves dancing. You can see how great she is at it darling.
The little girl shakes her head affirmatively with a big grin on her face.
Little Girl: On my worst days, dancing is the only thing that keeps me from drowning.
It is not what she says. It is how she says it. With her eyes circle from excitement, her fists clenched, her teeth hissing… yes. She loves dancing. So I lean closer so that our eyelines are at par, and I say to her as sincerely as I can…
Me: Then pursue with singular attention. And when things get hard, when you feel like giving up, know that there are people out here who will always root for you. OK?
She has her face set, like she has no idea what the hell I am rumbling on about.
“Sarah!” a female voice calls out behind us and the little dancer’s face lightens up. “Oh, there you are darling! You were just brilliant! That was simply, stupendous!”
Sarah, if I had raised her, her name wouldn’t be Sarah, offers us one last smile then runs into the arms of an elderly couple screaming, “Mommy, daddy, how was I?”
They collect her in their arms, in a big embrace and repeat how “simply stupendous” she was. Niombi grabs my hand and digs her nails into it. She used to do that when we were in extremely tensed conditions.
“She is OK.” I whisper into her ear, bringing her close into a hug. “Our baby’s OK.”
“Yes,” Niombi cries on my shoulder. “She is OK without us and it is all my fault.”
Sometimes someone just wants to cry. She knows it is not her fault, she knows none of this could’ve been avoided, but she needs to say it is her fault so that she can be able to live through another day because sometimes, your guilt is what keeps you alive and reminds you that you are only human, long after you have killed your thousandth man.
In the car
An hour later
I am driving from Kigali, heading towards the Ugandan border. All along I have been asking Niombi, “what now?” and she keeps saying, “I don’t know. Give me a minute to think, damn it.”
Now she says;
Her: That kid you saved, who do you think will raise him?
Me: Who Rama? His parents’ relatives are horrible. His father’s people are abusive like him, his mother’s family is very disjointed. So I should say, he is going into a lousy home, whichever side ‘does him a favor’ and takes him in.
Her: Since we can’t have our daughter back because it wouldn’t be in her best interests, think we could grab Rama on our way to the airport?
Me: You say that like he is a snack.
Her: We would be good parents to him.
Me: We would always have the organization after us.
Her: The last time I did what the organization wanted, I ended up losing my man and my baby, who by the way, is the woman I was telling you has my heart.
Me: Yeah. I figured. I’ve always been smart, remember?
Her: Hey, you think we’re going to be great parents?
Me: The fact that we are already worrying about not being good enough, means we probably won’t do a very bad job.
So we drive off into the sunset, towards where Rama lies in his cot, ignored and hungry, towards where we will take him and try to have a happily ever after in a new home and hoping we are hidden well enough to not die of the organization’s bullet.
(If you haven’t already, feel free to grab a copy of my novel ZOO.
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