He did not like coming to your house because the much you guys did was sit and talk. Talk, talk, and talk till your mouths ran dry. You could not relate with each other because, while your form of entertainment was throwing a stone at well-arranged used batteries, his was video games. While you went to a government school where the richest teacher came in with a boda boda, he went to a private one with the name preparatory in it, where kids were driven to school in long dark cars with tinted windows.
You loved visiting their house because it had a TV and you could watch wrestling and eat bread. Bread that wasn’t bread at all because it had slices of meat in it and it was roasted into a golden brown colour by this rectangular thingamajig he called a toaster. You also loved frequenting the house because he had a sister who was two years younger than you. His sister who smiled from the inside out while her brother gave you that rough smile, that smile that said, “You don’t belong here, you’re not one of us.”
Your parents forced the friendship because you were age mates who went to the same church. Secretly they saw it as an opportunity to climb the social ladder but you could have never been friends because you would finish primary school and wishfully go to a good high school — hopefully get good grades, go to campus, get a job and chase the Kenyan Tenderpreneur dream. On the other hand, he would finish primary school and fly out to the United States, Britain or Germany. Some country overseas where the air is clean and the system works. Somewhere that would make sure that money went back to where it came from.
You were only friends to an eye from the outside looking in but you knew acquaintances had a stronger bond compared to your friendship. Yours was a master servant relationship. When you visited he made sure you looked for his lost socks and polished his school shoes before he switched on the TV. You knew what it was and you never fought it. You would try and execute his orders quickly, get back to the sitting room, sink in one of the plush leather sofas and watch Stone Cold crash what looked like a bottle of Dasani on his bald head before charging at The Rock.
Most times his sister was nowhere to be seen but when she was around, she always met you with a smile. You always stretched your arm for a handshake and she would swat it off and call you silly then go in for a hug, her coconut scent, which used to walk in the room before she did, staining your nose. She used to give you a rocket launch feeling. She would sit down next to you and sometimes you would talk, giggle and laugh: And she would tell you she was reading a book. She was always reading books and sometimes she would tell you the stories in them. One of which went something like this,
Once upon a time there was a king with three beautiful daughters, when they were ready to be married a dragon laid siege to the kingdom. Heroes and warriors came riding brave, bearing swords and arrows but one by one they were all slaughtered. The king reasoned that a maiden might melt the dragon’s heart and succeed where warriors had failed. He sent his eldest daughter to beg the dragon for mercy but it swallowed her whole. He sent his second daughter but the dragon did the same. The king then sent her last daughter who was so clever and lovely that he knew she would succeed but the dragon simply ate her. Now let me ask you this: who killed the girls, the dragon or their father?
The only books you read were KIE, so you would laugh and say the dragon killed the girls and she would playfully hit your arm and say no and you would melt from solid to liquid mass and feel as if time had warped. But most times, her brother would interrupt you and give her a look that sent her scattering to one of the many rooms in their house.
Soon the air became dark: You would go to their house and after doing his chores, he would tell you, “Don’t sit there, you are dirty. That’s an expensive sofa!” and he would disappear and come back with a plastic Kenpoly chair. You would watch a bit of TV and he would switch it off and say something like, “Mom and dad are complaining about the high electricity bill.” And sometimes his sister would look at you from the edge of the door and just before you got out of the gate, she would run after you and tell you sorry and you would tell her it’s ok.
You stopped visiting them altogether and when your mom asked why you didn’t visit your friend anymore, you shrugged and changed topics.
Time flew as it does. You heard they got out of the country. You tried to erase them from your mind even though sometimes you wondered what became of him and his sister.
You went on living your life. You got to high school. Your hard work paid off into a bachelor of science degree in the university and you’re now seated in your office at an NGO behind horn-rimmed glasses. It’s a slow day, you’re scrolling your Facebook feed lazily when a message pops in. It’s from him,
“Can we catch up? Is this evening okay?”
“I thought you flew out.”
“Long story, I’ll update you.”
You want to ask if his sister is back as well but you keep it for later.
You meet him in an uptown restaurant because you can now pull your weight and afford dishes you only saw in magazines, dishes like Creme brulee. You can’t recognize him at first. The big bulky guy made of truck parts has been replaced by a thin withering stick. He no longer has the aggressive glint he used to have, he looks beaten and weary. His eyes are crimson red and his aura pungent with the acrid smell of alcohol. You shake his hand and look him dead in the eye but he drops his eyelids as if the glare burns him.
“Last summer in Austria. She drove her car straight off the cliff a year ago, dying on impact. She was always sad and had just gotten engaged to one of my friends who I had forced her on. Told her he was one of us, somebody who deserved to be in our circle. It was all my fault. I can’t tell you how many times I have wanted to get on my motorbike and smash full speed into a brick wall.”
The sun goes out in your eyes. Your mind zings like a bee in a closed bottle. You feel as if someone has crushed your skull with a boulder. You wonder how God takes away someone with a soul made of rubies and leaves a person with a soul like a plate of maggots. You want to lunge at him and punch him into a pulp.
“You want to punch me?” He goes on, his voice cold and trembling. “Go right ahead. I deserve it. Nowadays I can’t even sleep without snorting an arm long line of coke to kill the anxiety. I had to snort two lines today just to get the confidence to come here and talk to you.”
“You know she loved you.” He sighs, “I should have never treated you the way I did. I should have never told her the two of you couldn’t be because we were from two different social classes.”
You look at him. He looks like someone who has been sleeping on the streets while begging strangers for loose change. You know that you will always look at him and see his sister, her sweet aura, what would have been, but you decide to be a decent human being.
You stretch out your hand.
“That was a long time ago, water under the bridge.”
QUOTE: Where there is great love, there are always miracles – Willa Cather
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