Paul walks quickly while looking at his thin watch. He stops a lady on the road. “Can you tell me where Kencom is? I’m late for a date with my wife.” The lady looks at his uncombed hair and unkempt look and walks away hurriedly. “After that, I need to pick up my daughter from school.”He mumbles under his breath and increases his pace. He is panting now. The dark suit he is wearing which is coated with dust now has sweat patches around his armpits.
He stops a gentleman in brown khakis and a blue polo shirt. “Can you tell me where Kencom is? I’m late for a date with my wife.” The gentleman looks at him confused. Paul extends his thin watch to the gentleman. “The date was at 8 am. I’m an hour late.” His English is impeccable and it is the only reason the polo-shirt gentleman stopped. He looks at Paul with a raised brow and points at the big sign written ‘KENCOM HOUSE’ that is right opposite Paul, then walks away hurriedly past the city clock whose hour hand is at noon. Paul is stopping another lady. “Can you tell me where Kencom is? I’m late for a date with my wife.”
Maureen watches him from her office on the third floor of Kenya Commercial Bank. She moves from the window and sits on her desk and tries to focus on the monitor in front of her but she can’t. She gets up again and straightens her grey pencil skirt and goes to the window again. She watches him pace up and down while mumbling to himself and stopping random people. He sees him lift his head to the sky and she closes the sheer curtains on her office window quickly and grips her mahogany desk.
Maureen is sweating now but it’s not from the midday sun. The beads of sweat on her forehead come when life overwhelms her. Which has been happening often lately. She gets up from her mahogany desk, locks the door to her office and starts heaving. A lone tear creates a tributary down her cheek and hits the white A4 paper on her desk creating a dark patch. After that, a torrent follows, creating grooves in her foundation and concealer.
She gets a handkerchief from her desk drawer and covers her face. The crying is muffled but the heaving makes her whole body convulse. The darkness is ebbing and she’s quieting. She goes to the small bathroom in her office and comes out looking brand new. She unlocks the door to her office and opens the sheer curtains on the window. Paul is still pacing up and down while mumbling and stopping random people in his path. She looks at her watch, looks at him, and remembers their first date.
Paul was starting out as an accountant at Housing Finance and she was interning as a banker at Kenya Commercial Bank. They had decided on Java Kimathi as the venue for their first date because it was central to both of their workplaces. She remembers trying out different outfits the previous night. She had picked out a trouser suit then looked in the mirror and decided it was too uptight. She picked a blue dress with a plunging neckline but then realized she wanted him to look at her during the date, not her chest. She had finally settled on a cream blouse that revealed her arms and a grey dress whose hem stopped just before her knees. An outfit that said she was into banking but she could also be into fun.
Sitting across from him she was realizing that she had never gotten a chance to look at him properly. They had met in the office briefly while he was doing their auditing but that was not enough to really drink him in. She was now noticing things she had never noticed before. Like how bushy his hair was, how big and crass the watch he wore looked. If they started dating seriously that hair and that watch had to go. ‘There is no way I’m going to walk arm in arm with an ape,’ she had thought.
The waiter brought their food. She remembered sending her plate back because it was not hot enough and when it came back with the steam rising she had gotten into her handbag and pulled out a bottle of homemade tomato sauce. “It’s healthier than the Heinz provided by the restaurant,” she was telling Paul. Most men found her controlling, but Paul thought she was meticulous and it was in that way that their Java dates continued and their fling began.
Maureen glances out the window again. Paul is no longer where her last gaze left him. He is walking towards the reception area of Kenya Commercial Bank. “Can you tell me where Kencom is? I’m late for a date with my wife.” He is asking a guard.“After that, I need to pick up my daughter from school.” He is mumbling under his breath. He is a common fixture here. The guards look at him and exchange knowing looks. They have very stern directions of what they should do when he shows up, they are to ignore him until he leaves. “Can you tell me where Kencom is? I’m late for a date with my wife.” Paul is now at the foyer talking to the receptionist.
Maureen is opening the door for her secretary who is asking how they should deal with the nuisance at the reception desk. She asks her to give her a minute. She sits at her desk and puts both of her palms on her face. She will have to redo her makeup again, she thinks with irritation. She removes her hands from her face and the first thing she sees is a passport size photo of her daughter, Hope. She did not want the memory to surface. It had been by happenstance. When she got the handkerchief from her drawer the photo had fallen and she had picked it up and put it on her desk without looking at it. Now staring at it, she is forced to come to terms with the full gravity of the situation.
She goes to the window and tries to push the memory out of her mind by remembering the dates that followed. How she had enjoyed frolicking and being taken like a slutty college girl in mall washrooms, lifts and changing rooms. She could not understand why she loved it so much. It was the one thing that wasn’t proper about her. Paul often teased that she loved it because she was too uptight in college, forever buried in her big banking books. She tries to remember which mall, or lift, or store they conceived their daughter, Hope, in but her head is heavy now. Heavy with that night that plunged her into darkness and Paul into madness.
Their marriage had become less about love and more about appearances. There were counselling sessions that didn’t work, and weekly mandatory dates to rekindle their romance, that fell flat. Paul started finding comfort in the bottle and he seemed to be sinking deeper in it every day. Maureen started toying with the idea of taking their daughter, Hope to a boarding school because as she put it, it was unhealthy for a child to be around a drunkard.
By now Paul had found the bottom of the bottle and he was coming home in the wee hours of the night. He would turn the lock on the door and fall on the couch and wake up in the morning, have a shower, a change of clothes and leave for work. They lived like roommates, less than roommates, enemies. They had not spoken to each other in over six months. Communication between them was done through their daughter.
“Go and tell Maureen….”
“Go and tell Paul….”
“Mom said to tell you…”
“Dad said to tell you…”
Paul started disappearing, for weeks at a time and when he resurfaced he was irritable. He would get up without warning and start ironing Maureen’s clothes, with the iron turned all the way up so that it burnt holes into her favorite clothes. When he wasn’t burning her clothes he was in the kitchen breaking her fine china.
He was seated on the couch, the alcohol draining from his head, when Hope approached him and tapped him on the shoulder. “Dad, mom said to tell you that if you continue like this, we are going to leave and never come back.”
That fateful night Hope was playing with her dolls in the living room. The television was switched to Disney Channel and Maureen was in the bedroom folding clothes. Paul came home early and sober. He sat next to Hope, and put a finger on her lips, “Shhh, we’re going to Disney world.” He said while picking her up and tiptoeing to the door. He had not touched the handle before Maureen showed up with a kitchen knife. One quick slash and the floor was stained with red, only, the blood wasn’t Paul’s. Paul went mad after that and disappeared into the streets. When the police showed up they assumed he had done it and she did not bother pointing them in the right direction.
Maureen steadies herself on her mahogany desk. Her knees are very weak now. She can’t let go of the desk, if she does she will fall into a pile on the floor. She holds onto the desk but her strength and her grip are waning and she’s falling into a pile on the floor. She stares at the passport size photo of Hope and a lone tear flows down her cheek and hits the carpet with a plop. After that, a torrent follows. She is heaving now and convulsing and crying out loudly and everyone in the office is looking at her in disbelief, not knowing what to do because it is the first time they are seeing their boss out of grip.
She gets up while heaving and takes the stairs instead of the lifts. One step at a time. Each step heavier than the last. She finally gets to the reception area and she is face to face with the father of her daughter. Paul looks at her inquiringly, then opens his mouth to speak. “Can you tell me where Kencom is? I’m late for a date with my wife.” Maureen takes his hand and they walk out of the building and cross City Hall Way towards Kimathi Street.
They are seated at Java having a meal. “I can’t stay long, I’m late for a date with my wife. Do you know where Kencom is?” Paul says while looking at his thin watch. She bought him that watch for their one month anniversary. That watch that stopped working for over a year now. “After that, I need to pick up my daughter from school.” Paul is continuing and Maureen is on her phone. She places the first call to a mental hospital and the second one to the police. ‘It’s high time they knew the truth,’ she thinks and a smile almost touches her face before darkness engulfs her again.
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