I know, I know, I know there is someone following me. He has been following me for months. I quicken my steps and cross Moi Avenue and join throngs of people at Archives. I can feel his footsteps heavy behind me, if I focus hard enough I can see his leather shoes and smell his perfume. I wipe the sweat from my brow with the back of my hand, tighten the grip on my handbag and quicken my steps, my heart is beating faster now. What does he want with me?
I join Ronald Ngala St and begin weighing my options; I could start running but he is faster than me. I could face him, let him know that I am not a coward or I could go to the authorities. The third option is out of the question. How do I tell the police that the person who has been following me is my ex-boyfriend and my sister’s husband?
I decide to go with the second option. I slow down my pace, he is almost brushing the fabric of my clothes and his breath is misting my ear. I come to a screeching halt and turn around, “Leave me alone!” I bark. A strange man in a grey suit and two college girls; one in blue ripped jeans and the other in a purple mini-skirt look at me eerily before disappearing into the sea of people on Ronald Ngala St.
I lean on the wall opposite the entrance of Naivas supermarket and breathe out a sigh. Every single eyeball is fixated on me; screaming, ‘Look at that crazy woman.’ But I know he is around here somewhere, watching me, following me, driving me up the wall. I know, I know, I know.
I get up from my leaning position and continue walking towards Railways Bus Station. My phone rings as I approach the stage. I check the caller ID, it’s my sister. I ignore her and put it back in my handbag. I enter a Langata minibus and sit next to a lean man. I could fuck him on a bad day and today has been horrible. Another day of tarmacking with nothing to show for it.
“Pesa mkononi,” the makanga sings as he gets to our seat. My seatmate hands him a hundred bob.
“Wawili ama mmoja?” he asks.
The lean man raises one finger and the makanga gives him back fifty shillings. My jaw tightens. What happened to chivalry? I wonder as I get into my handbag and start looking for my wallet. I rummage through a makeup kit, Nana Darkoa’s novel; The Sex Lives of African Women, and a bottle of tablets that I haven’t touched in months before I find my wallet and pay my fare.
I look at the lean man after the makanga leaves our seat. His gaze is turned to the window. I tap him softly on the shoulder. “Please fungua dirisha,” I say with my most demure voice in an attempt to start a conversation.
He struggles with it for a bit before it finally opens. I wait for him to ask for my name, my number, or something but he goes back to staring outside the window as a soft breeze kisses my skin making my nipples poke my blouse. He is obviously not the most confident man in the world but I still want him to talk to me. Maybe his dick could take some of my misery away.
The distractions of my carnal needs almost made me forget about my stalker ex. What if he followed me into the matatu? I start looking around the minibus when I see his brown leather shoes peeking from the backseat. My heart starts beating faster and faster. I get up and race to the back.
“Leave me the hell alone!” I roar.
Everyone in the matatu goes quiet and stares at me as if I am crazy. My heart rate slows down and I feel lightheaded before the mist clears and I am able to see what is in front of me. A frightened schoolboy with a brown leather bag on the floor. I walk back to my seat embarrassed and my seatmate gets up slowly and moves to another seat.
I bury my face in Nana Darkoa’s novel and shut out the world. I lift up my head from the novel as the matatu comes to a stop at my stage. I realize with chagrin that no one dared to sit next to me, not even new passengers, it’s as if they could see the frightened look on the other passengers’ faces saying, ‘Don’t sit next to her, she’s got a few loose screws.’
I get off the minibus while putting my book in my handbag. I look right and left and right again before crossing the road and entering the gate to our estate. As I approach our house I hear laughter and then I see the shoes at the door. My sister and her mannerless son, Liam are visiting. I stop for a second and wonder if I should turn around and go to a nearby restaurant. I could nurse a drink and read my novel until they leave but I decide that this is my house too, suck it up, and enter the door.
“Hello Ivy, so good to see you,” I chirp after entering the house.
“Hi Sofia, it’s been so long,” she sings while getting up and hugging me. My hands stay firmly fixed to my sides as she wraps hers around me.
My mom comes from the kitchen, says hello and disappears back.
“I was just telling mom that Ken and I are thinking of moving houses. You are in Real Estate, maybe you could help us?” Ivy continues before pausing and giving her son a piercing look after realizing he hasn’t bothered to say hello to me.
“Hi Sofia,” he says eventually before sticking his face back to SpongeBob. I suppose the expensive private school he attends hasn’t bothered teaching him that your sister’s mother is your aunt.
“You’re moving again,” I try to feign interest. While looking away from her and straight at SpongeBob. I am surprised that my mom allowed the TV to be switched from Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes on Family TV to cartoons on Nickelodeon.
“Driving to the shops is exhausting, I need a house that is within walking distance to the mall. Preferably one with a playroom for Liam.”
Liam glances away from SpongeBob and looks at us—eavesdropping little bastard. I wonder silently why a five-year-old needs a playroom when he can’t tell the difference between his auntie and his agemates.
“Will you help us?” Ivy asks after sensing my hesitation as my mom reappears from the kitchen to pick the potatoes she had been peeling in the living room.
“Your husband was following me again,” I want to tell my sister. “I…I…I will see what I can do,” I say instead after remembering how the last conversation went. Knowing her, she has already found a house and this is her way of rubbing it in. This is her way of telling me, look at how I’m moving up in life while you’re still at the same place I left you.
“Sofia I need help in the kitchen,” my mom says after sensing I’m on the verge of opening a can of worms. “I don’t want your sister to have to cook tonight,” she adds.
“Include Ken too,” Ivy says. “He’s coming to pick us up later,” she adds. My skin crawls at the mention of that name and the tension in the room intensifies. Ivy gets up from beside me and goes to her son and distracts herself with his thick beautiful afro. It is the one thing we have in common. Good hair.
“Ouch, you’re hurting me,” the boy complains. She will need to buy him the entire Disney World for him to allow her to touch his hair. I think and grin while getting up and joining my mom in the kitchen.
You would think she is cooking for an army. There is rice on one burner, steamed spinach on another, ribs on the third, and she’s frying chips for Liam on the fourth. She is doing all these while kneading dough to make chapatis.
“Fry the beans with coconut milk like you usually do and make fruit salad,” she demands.
“Ken was following me today,” I start to tell her but I stop myself and grab a clean sufuria instead. I remove the rice which is already done from the burner and start making my bean stew.
“I haven’t seen you in church in a while?” my mom mumbles into her dough.
I start frying onions with garlic, green pepper, and tomatoes before adding salt and seasoning and stirring the mixture with half a cup of coconut milk. I pour the already cooked beans into the sufuria, stir the mixture again and cover it with a lid for the stew to cook as my mom begins rolling chapatis and placing them on a pan that has replaced the pot of steamed spinach.
“You could join your sister in praise and worship, you know she was made the lead singer?” she starts talking again after realizing I was not planning on responding to her question. “You never know, you might find a man too. A God-fearing man is the best kind of man,” she says while adding another chapati on top of the previous ones.
I have tried church and it did not do it for me but because religion gives her peace, happiness, or a sense of doing something, my mom thinks it will do the same for me so she pushes it down my throat every chance she gets. It’s selfish.
“I will come one of these days,” I say to kill the conversation while picking a fresh tray and beginning to dice the pawpaw, pineapple, watermelon, and bananas before adding three teaspoons of honey and stirring the mixture together.
“You could start this Sunday. There is a boys brigade event and Liam will be performing,” she says while applying oil to her chapatis as I lift up the lid on my beans and add coriander leaves.
I mutter mmh, okay, or eh. I am not sure. My heart is beating faster again and I feel lightheaded after hearing the voice of the man who has been following me all day in the living room.
I met Ken immediately after I started working. He came to our real estate agency looking for a house and my boss assigned him to me. Men can sometimes be touchy and obnoxious in private so I always insisted on bringing a colleague when showing houses. My colleague was busy on this particular day so I asked my sister who we are just one year apart to tag along. There was no rift between us then, in fact, we were best friends who used to share everything with each other.
I remember Ivy saying Ken was nerdy and indecisive. “I wouldn’t last thirty minutes with such a man,” she said when he had gone to look at the pool. “But someone is going to live with him for a lifetime, can you imagine?”
“What is that they say about one man’s poison,” I said and giggled.
“Don’t tell me you’re eyeing his meat,” Ivy added and we giggled some more.
Ken was in his second job as a software engineer. He had a nervousness about him so he kept re-asking questions that you had already answered. “Just double-checking, you can never be too sure,” he kept saying. Despite that, he was good-looking and tall. I am short so every guy might seem tall. Let’s say he was of average height. Someone you could lose in a crowd. His fashion sense was off. He wore a cheked shirt with jeans and leather shoes but that was something I could fix.
“So you said the pool is heated,” he asked again while joining us inside the house.
“It is and you can switch off the heater anytime to save electricity,” I repeated myself.
“Just double-checking, you can never be too sure.”
A month after he purchased the house we were together in that pool getting to know each other better and in no time he asked me to be his girlfriend and I accepted.
I would spend most of my weekends in his house, oftentimes with my sister. Sometimes she would get there before me while I was finishing up work and I would find she had made dinner and they were on the couch chatting and laughing with Ken. I never made anything of it until that day I got to the office and was summoned to the Human Resources office.
The HR lady told me they had gotten evidence that I was seducing clients and sleeping with them for favors. Ken’s name came up a couple of times, followed by other names and a dismissal letter.
I kept asking myself who could have done this to me and I fell into a depression for months and stopped visiting Ken’s place altogether. At this time I had noticed with curiosity that my sister was growing rounder and rounder with every waking day and wearing baggy clothes to cover it up.
I came back from tarmacking one day and found her sitting next to Ken in our living room—fingers intertwined; across from my mother, announcing that they were pregnant and planning to get married and I lost it. I screamed and kicked and screamed some more.
Before I knew it I was strapped on a stretcher speeding to the hospital in an ambulance. When I got there I was sedated and given a cocktail of pills after a diagnosis of a severe case of denial, bordering on anosognosia. As if that was not enough, Ken started following me everywhere.
“Sofia are you listening to me, I said turn off the burner, the beans are burning.” I hear my mom saying after my heart rate slows down and the mist clears.
“Take this to Liam,” she says while turning off the burner herself and handing me a bowl full of fries.
I take the bowl and start walking toward the living room. Ken gets up immediately he sees me.
“Hi Sofia,” he says while extending his hand to greet me.
I want to hold him by his collar and shout, “Stop stalking me you son-of-a-bitch!” But instead, I mumble a hello back and shake his hand.
“Glad to see you,” he says and flashes a nervous smile.
“Let me help mom serve the food,” my sister says while getting up and sprinting to the kitchen.
“There is no ketchup on these fries,” Liam complains and pushes the bowl away.
I walk back to the kitchen to get the ketchup but I stop before entering after I hear my sister and mother talking in hushed tones. “Be patient with her, she hasn’t been the same since giving birth to Liam. She has convinced herself that you’re the one who did all the things she did to you. Ken left long ago but she still thinks he is your husband and he has been following her around.”
“Is she still taking her medication?”
“She insists she has never needed them.”
I push the door and enter the kitchen and they go silent. “Hello gossip girls,” I murmur, pick the ketchup and go back to the living room.
Ivy follows with the tray of fruit salad, immediately she places it on the table Liam jumps and grabs a big piece of pineapple and starts sucking the honey off of it. It seems that etiquette is also not on the agenda of these private schools. My mom comes holding a plate of food for me and for herself as Ivy shoots back into the kitchen to fix herself and her husband a plate as I pick mine and go to eat in my bedroom.
I turn the lock on my room to take my plate to the kitchen after they have left. I find my mom finishing up washing the dishes. “Liam was looking for you to say goodbye,” she says as I place my dirty plate on the sink and disappear back to my bedroom. I read a chapter of my novel before wearing my nightdress and calling it a day.
I wake up early in the morning ready to tarmac again. I have a good feeling about today. I look at my bottle of medication. I haven’t touched it in months and I am not planning to. I take a shower, change my clothes, have breakfast, and brush my teeth. I get fare and lunch money from my mom and step out to try my luck again. As I walk to the stage I look around, tighten the grip on my handbag and quicken my steps; I know, I know, I know he is out there somewhere following me.
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