You had never seen such a stunning girl before, you thought as you watched her walk across the petrol station. She was petite and tall in fitting grey jeans and a cream top that cut shy of her belly button. Her face was something of a wonder. Eggshell smooth, oval, and brown. Like black coffee with a hint of milk. On her head were braids running from the nape of her neck to the apex of her waist.
“Do you live around?” you asked after leaving your Mazda Demio being refueled and catching up to her.
“No, I just work around,” she chirped, the voice coming out of her delicate lips like an orchestrated symphony.
“I live around. We should have a drink sometime,” you said, trying to keep up with her pace.
You fished your phone from your pocket, opened up the dialer and handed it to her, making her stop. She thumbed her number and handed you back the phone.
“I’m in a hurry, I will see you later,” she said while taking flight.
You watched her walk ahead of you. Nothing about her gave you a window into who she was. You could not tell if she was in college or if she had just cleared high school. You could not tell if she was well off or not. She did not have any airs that gave away the kind of family she came from.
The second time you saw her was from the balcony of your fifth floor apartment in Nairobi West, after stepping out to smell the morning air. She was in a white coat and even in its shapeless form she made it look good. It finally clicked that she worked in the milk shop behind your flat. She raised her eyes to meet yours and waved at you. You waved back with a mischievous grin, happy about the proximity of her to you. Happy for all the trysts to come.
It was a dull evening when you convinced her to come over to your house. She was in a short jean skirt, a turquoise, long-sleeved cotton top, and had a small bag on her back. Her name was Josephine, which you shortened to Jo. She was in college and she made pocket money by working at the shop.
You were jealous of that. When you were a student, school break was an excuse to play video games and do nothing yet here she was, living twice the life you had lived when you were her age.
After a bit of chit-chat, you held her hand and led her to your bedroom. She sat on your lap and all you remember was the smell of stale milk burning your nostrils. Your lips met—her mouth was salty. You figured it was the lipstick she was wearing. It was scarlet red and sticky. Your hand went up her thigh till it reached the border. She didn’t stop you. You pushed aside her panties and immediately you touched her wetness she got up, her face a mixture of pleasure and trepidation.
“My mom must be worried about where I am,” she said, her voice shaky.
“Do you live around? I will take you home,” you said, eager to satisfy your bawdry needs by offering convenience.
“No, I’m not sure you will be that eager after I tell you.”
It was in the sprawling slums of Kibera. You feared for your Mazda Demio and she could smell it on you.
“Its okay, I’ll be fine. People live there happily, you know.”
She didn’t come to your house again. You cajoled her but she had an excuse every time.
You caved in and decided to take her on a proper evening date. She came dressed in black boots and a fitting, black dress that cut off just past her knees. She told you she had been to her cousin’s funeral at Lang’ata Cemetery,
“What happened, illness?” you asked, trying to look concerned.
“No, he got involved with the wrong crowd and got shot.” Your face stiffened, a chill crawled down your spine and you shuddered the same way you had when she told you where she lived.
You couldn’t stop staring at her after you sat at the café. Her thin lips, her high cheekbones, her youth. She looked like a painting. You stared into her big eyes and felt as if they were swallowing you up, pulling you down a bottomless pit of mirth.
Her dress was now rolled up so that her thighs were exposed underneath the table. You held her.
“Jo, you’re so cold.”
She giggled and moved her legs, as your tea and her juice arrived.
“Tell me, Jo, what do you want in life?” She averted her eyes from your gaze shyly.
“A business of my own, kids, a husband.”
She puckered her lips and sucked on the straw that was dipped in her glass of orange juice.
“I’m a makeup artist. I already have a few clients and my base is growing.”
You stared at her and adjusted the cufflinks on your blue shirt. Here you were with dreams of quitting your job without giving your boss notice while she was already executing her ambitions. You threw the train of thought to the back of your mind: ‘She must be making pennies anyway.’
“A husband? What do you know about being a wife?”
“Being there for each other,” she said, pulling her dress down and crossing her legs.
You had several such dates where she talked extensively about her makeup business and showed no hints of getting you laid. “That’s great,” you heard yourself say every time she brought it up and you could feel yourself choking from the falseness in your voice. You stopped trying altogether after realizing she wouldn’t roll down her panties for you anytime soon. You resented her for it too. ‘How can you come from a slum and still have standards?’ you would mumble in the shower. You resented her for having something she was passionate about when you had nothing, besides a big TV and a job you despised.
You stopped contacting her altogether, she called you every so often but you figured she just wanted to spend your money and talk about her business fantasies. You ignored her and when you did she texted.
A lot of ‘Hae’ texts went unanswered. You especially despised how she spelt ‘Hi.’ It was easier to spell it correctly. It spoke to her social standing and you loved ignoring her.
It happened on the third Christmas after you met. You got to your apartment exhausted, cursing like a whore in the streets, ‘To hell with my boss, I will show him the finger, you just wait.’ You plopped onto your leather couch and adjusted your tie and felt you needed some company.
There were girls who came in and out of your house but they all had engagements tonight. You thought of calling her even though you had barely seen her in a while. She was hazy in your mind now; you were starting to forget how she looked. You scrolled to her number then exited the contact almost immediately. You did not need a rejection nor the smell of stale milk in your nostrils, you decided, and switched on the TV.
An image of what seemed like her floated on the screen. You rubbed your eyes and paid attention. Jo Cosmetics was being launched across East Africa and she stood next to a journalist, her frame fuller, prettier, like the women you saw reading the news or the ones you saw in movies. Women who were pleasing to look at but who were obviously out of your reach.
You took your phone and called the same number you had ignored.
“Jo Cosmetics reception desk, how can I help you?” a soft voice boomed on the other end.
“Can I speak to Josephine, we go way back?” you said with a feeling of anticipation.
“She’s on a business trip in Europe with her husband, can I take a message?”
“No, no,” you shrieked and threw your phone on the sofa forgetting to hang up. The name ‘Jo Cosmetics’ tasting like acid in your mouth. You sat back feeling sour, roiling at the thought of telling people you gave her the name. That you used to know her back when she was a simple milk girl at a shop outside your apartment.
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