I’m getting ready for a late afternoon run. I need to make a decision on a contract that is sitting in my inbox, waiting for my signature and I need a clear head. I change into my tracksuit and my sneakers, pick up my iPhone and create a running playlist. I put Zuchu in there, Mbosso, Diamond. I might as well be living in Dar Es Salaam. I need soothing music, music that can actually make me think. Zuchu singing Sukari and Mbosso, Sonona might give me the clarity I need.
I pick up my Pace headphones and my mask and hit the tarmac with Diamond’s Iyena in my ear. The contract is a good piece of change, I think as I put one foot in front of the other. I could live in a better apartment, in a few months’ time I could put a car on the road and people could know the type of person they are dealing with when I put my keys on the table.
I finish the first three kilometers and stop at this roundabout with plush greenery. Mbosso is now in my ear with Hodari. Bongo musicians either sound as if they are in love or crying and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I stretch my legs and my hands then get in the planking position and do twenty push-ups. I get on my back and do fifty sit-ups. After I am done, I’m drenched in sweat.
I wipe my forehead with the back of my hand, take off my glasses, wipe them with my undershirt and get back on the tarmac for the three-kilometer run back. If I sign the contract there’s a good chance I will cement my position among the middle class of this country. There’s also a good chance that I will be writing my books less and less and coming here to hang out with you even less and that doesn’t sit well with me.
I get to the house, take a screenshot of my playlist, post it on my Instagram and Facebook stories and jump in the shower. I’m heading out for a date. A reader wants to meet me for drinks but first I need to see my mom. If a week passes without her seeing me she gets sick and might put up ‘Missing Person’ posters on electric posts or send in the Recce squad and the last thing we would want is for them to burst in while we’re eating Frusion yogurt, isn’t it?
The sun is going down when I walk through the door. I find her seated alone in the living room, with none of my sisters around to keep her company. This is me claiming ‘child of the month’. She’s seated with her receipts. She’s been building these flats along Waiyaki Way for two years now and she’s been busy as a bee. She should probably change her WhatsApp status to, ‘No DM’s.’ or be replying to texts after seven working days so people know what kind of woman they are dealing with.
“Kae urete atia?” That’s Kikuyu for, ‘Kwani umepotea aje?’ she asks. I saw this woman last week. Can you believe it? “Hena irio thaburia.” ‘There’s food in the sufuria,’ she says, sinking her face back into her receipts.
I go to the kitchen and turn on the burners to warm the food. How does that saying go? ‘You always think your mom’s cooking is the best until you eat somewhere else?’ I think they have it backward, the saying should go, ‘Regardless of where you eat, nothing matches your mother’s cooking.’
I open the big, white fridge while the food warms up. I close it and open the smaller, green one. My sisters are always hiding trinkets in these fridges, it’s just a question of looking harder. I open the white fridge again and find a Delamere yogurt tucked away in the far corner behind boiled ndumas. Tough luck to whoever it belongs to. I spoon it while scrolling my phone. I have an inbox on my Facebook. I thumb it.
‘Oooh no this is where i drop out of your class… Not to be downer but ur playlist is whack’ The inbox goes, followed by three of what I think are cringe emojis.
‘Goodbye,’ I respond. Then click her profile.
“Mom,” I shout from the kitchen.
“I just lost one in Kasarani.”
I don’t know if it’s the sheer size of the house or if her ears are not what they used to be, or if she just doesn’t care that I am losing readers, left, right, and centre.
“Never mind,” I say and throw the now empty can of Delamere in the bin. I turn off the burners and fill my plate. I squeeze some BBQ sauce on my meat and join her in the living room.
She updates me about the construction. She’s doing the finishing now. I have been there a couple of times and she’s done remarkable work. We talk about family. Things that the code of omerta would not allow me to divulge to you. I think about telling her about the contract sitting in my inbox and decide against it. I don’t need to worry her about a decision that is solely mine to make.
I clear my plate and have a glass of water. I take the dishes to the kitchen sink, wash them, rinse them, and put them back on the rack.
My mom does this thing, just when I’m about to leave, that’s when her stories peak. I’m at the door and she’s telling me something about a cousin or is it a family friend and I literally have to open the door and run from her words or I will be late for my date and you know how much tardiness annoys me.
I sit on the first floor of Java Junction on one of those big brown chairs that look like a throne and make you feel like royalty. Opposite me is a European man. He looks like a proper tourist. We’re probably both waiting for our dates. We all get it the same, they are late for both white and black men.
The European man orders soup—the story of Esau and his bowl of soup swims in my head as I order Masala tea with no milk and cuddle it in my hands while I muse over the contract seated in my inbox. If I sign it, I could start going on vacations. I close my eyes and feel the sand on my feet and the breeze in my face. But I also need the ability to dream. People work all their lives so they can be free, to dream, to bathe in the sun, and do what they love. I have that now and I cannot put a price on it.
The European man opposite my table has been joined by a slender girl in a little black dress and she is narrating the movie Salt to him. I’m guessing he’s Russian.
I look at my watch, my date is thirty minutes late. My anxiety is starting to build up. This girl I’m meeting, I know nothing about her while she reads me, and knows everything about me. I have seen pictures of her but I never put faith in pictures until I see the person. While we were texting she asked whether she gets to choose if Frusion yogurt is smeared on her lips or not and I had told her my yogurt-lip-smearing days were over. Now, sitting here, I’m wondering If I will even want to spend two minutes with her.
My phone buzzes, she’s here. I see her climbing the stairs from the corner of my eye. I get up and hug her in delight.
“You’re late, how are you going to make it up?” I say playfully.
“I didn’t think you were this young, I thought you would be forty. So you actually write the truth?” She says while sitting down and playing with her hair.
I smile. She’s got this gorgeous face, and these marvelous breasts and I can’t stop looking at her. “What?” She keeps asking. “Nothing,” I keep saying.
She doesn’t want to eat. I tell her to try Java’s Classic Lemonade. She lifts her eyebrows in agreement. The whole date she’s dancing in her chair to the soft music in the background. She has music in her soul. I find that enchanting.
I ask her if she sings, in the shower, or while doing chores. She lifts her eyebrows again. It’s another thing about her that I find enchanting. I tell her people who sing and hum around the house are good people. Nobody who hums can truly hurt another human being. She looks at me unconvinced.
“You know, I wanted to know the face behind Kisauti and at the same time, I was afraid of meeting you. What if I didn’t like you and I was forced to stop reading you all together?” Losing two readers in a day? Harsh.
“I lost another one on Ngong road.”
We have been here for over two hours. The European couple left a long time ago and we also want to leave. I ask her if she wants to go to the bathroom. She hesitates then gets up and goes. How many men here like the sight of a woman walking away? Because I can’t get enough of it. She comes back and I leave to go to the bathroom too. I come back to find she has settled the bill.
“You have paid?” She lifts her eyebrows. “For being late,” she says.
I look at her, impressed. “You pay another bill and you might as well tell me to dress nicely for you for the next date,” I say jokingly as I take her to her stage. Look at you thinking we were going to have Frusion yogurt. I told you, my yogurt-lip-smearing days are over.
I get to the house after Primetime News. I change into bedtime clothes and as I do, I look into the mirror and realize I can’t sign that contract. I need this. The ability to be free, the ability to dream, the ability of possibility. Besides, a contract might make me put a car on the road but it is these words that make me fly.
I wake up the following morning and write that regret email then sit and wonder if I have made the right decision when I’m losing readers left, right and centre.
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