Let me tell you how high the stakes can get; when your life is tied to another person tightly enough they are sky-high. Friends, family, a concerned neighbor, even a stranger on the road might be quick to tell you to leave but what do they know about high stakes, about love so intoxicating it makes doing the most heinous things feel normal?
What do they know about that kind of love when their connections are flimsy? A text here, another there. Sex. Ghosting and they repeat the cycle and even the ones who have a connection time has made it threadbare. Their relationships have become functional; bills, errands, school functions, family functions. The humdrum, so much so that they sleep in the same bed like siblings—so of course their immediate advice would be for you to leave because they are on the verge of leaving whatever it is they have themselves.
Leaving has never been an option for me. Even after one person after another has told me to. I have always known I would never leave. I have worn each and every hat. I have played the jealous girlfriend, the detective who follows her boyfriend around, and now the woman with a gun pointed at my best friend ready to pull the trigger and play a murderer.
How did we get here? You see, I was like you. I too wanted something normal. A decent man. Preferably with a head on his shoulders who believed in the equality of the sexes and had a steady income. It didn’t have to be anything crazy but not underwhelming to the point where he had to excuse himself to the bathroom every time a bill showed up. That’s not too much for a 27-year-old girl to ask for, is it?
We would have a kid or two and in time our connection would fade and our coupling like that of everyone else would be about bills, errands, school functions, family functions. The humdrum. And if at any point down the road I ever discovered something about him that I couldn’t live with I could simply heed the advice of family, friends, a concerned neighbor, even the stranger on the road and leave.
I got exactly what I was looking for in Joshua. Well, somewhat. What is a well-rounded human woman if not for compromise? It started like most romances in the workplace. Noticing him in meetings. Realizing I liked how he talked, dressed, and carried himself. Stealing glances. Him giving me the, ‘What time do those panties come off,’ eyes and me returning the favor in kind and giving him the, ‘Anytime for you,’ eyes. Introductions followed. Turns out he was consulting for our company and soon enough my panties were off and he was consulting for my flora and fauna too.
I fell for him and I fell hard and soon I was leaving my job and moving to his bungalow in Loresho. A welcome change from my one-bedroom flat in Embakasi. For the first time in years, I wouldn’t have to hear quarreling neighbors nor their unwelcome, obscene loud moans at night and weekends. The loudest thing I heard in these parts were German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers barking when I was out on the pool deck sunbathing and reading my book. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed by going into the house and closing the heavy mahogany doors behind me.
In Loresho I had a different set of problems. Here I rubbed shoulders with people who used words like ‘remiss’ and crimson to mean red. They had brunch and flew out the same way I used to take matatus, that was before Joshua bought me a crimson Mazda CX-5. I’m a quick study. See how quickly I added the lingo into my vocabulary?
Anything for the great love of my life who was spoiling me rotten with affection, date nights, and all the sex I could ask for. Normal things in a romance, right? Wrong. Because with time he started using these things as a reward for my good behavior and withdrew them whenever I misbehaved. Of course, good and bad behavior was up to his discretion and soon I became a junky. Having withdrawal symptoms when I didn’t get my fix. My pulse quickened and my breath shortened when I knew I had pleased him and like a good puppy, it was time to be rewarded with a treat. This opened up a can of worms that would end up making me a murderer.
But let’s leave murder alone and go back to the girl who, like every other girl wanted ordinary things. A man who doesn’t let a day go by without checking on her. A man who takes you out every other weekend and makes you feel special. Good sex. Plans for the future with you in them. He sensed how much I was yoked to these things and he started using them little by little. I didn’t notice at first but when I did it was too late.
The first time it happened I had called him. He sounded distracted and I wanted his full attention so I told him to call me back when he was less distracted. He never did call and I was the one calling back to ask why he hadn’t gotten back to me? He told me he meant to get to it and what was the problem when I had called back anyway?
Do you see how a girl can feel gaslighted? After that, I learned to tell him what I needed to say whether he was present or distracted. He was often distracted and when he sounded engaged it was after I had done something for him, like the blowjobs that I hated giving him or the laundry and cooking that I hated doing. Every time he sounded distant I would wonder whether I had failed in one of these things.
I called my best friend, Lucy, and asked her to join me for a lunch date. Money has never been a problem for us. Joshua is an electrical engineer by profession and he is remarkable at his job. He invented an automatic thermostat for bathrooms and as long as it is in stores he cashes checks and it so happens it is in 43 countries. The same age he will be turning next year. He has set up an office as a full-time consultant in the city but he doesn’t need to be there. He has never been selfish with his money where I am concerned. God knows like that thermostat he controls me in other ways.
We sat with Lucy at Art Caffe and had linguine carbonara—something else I picked from my affluent neighbors, and I told her the concerns I had with the great love of my life. Her advice was that I should leave. Leave and go where? I had wanted to ask her. My mistake for seeking advice from someone who was ever on Tinder.
You could go mad with all that sexual selection. Running through people not sure if you left the right one behind or if they were ahead or in the middle. As we went through her prospects I was feeling dizzy. Sometimes I think Tinder was a way to bring excitement into her life with the mundane melodrama of different sexual partners and not necessarily to get into something serious. All those prospects? Pick one already. I mean, come on Lucy.
This further served to reinforce my commitment to Joshua. I got used to the blowjobs and the cooking and the laundry but he wanted it done a certain way and he started using other methods to control me. Like saying thank you after I was done taking him in my mouth, then getting up, having a shower, and going to bed when my whole body was aching to have him inside me. I would ask him what was wrong and he would say nothing and I would be the one going through my mind trying to figure out if I had done something that had displeased him. If I had used teeth, or if the food had too much salt or his clothes were not well pressed?
You might be thinking that doing all those chores was not worth being ignored. But for a speck of his attention, it was. Because when he was present I was in heaven. The conversations flowed. We talked for hours about everything, from our childhood to our teenage years to adulthood. We did chores together which oftentimes turned to steamy sex and it was for those very moments that I labored so hard for. But now the icy days were here and they did not seem to be leaving.
I was looking to bring them to a brisk end. I bought new lingerie, and I changed my hairstyle. I could have gone to the gym if I was not born with this hourglass figure that never changes regardless of what I eat. He remained stoic, coming from work having his meal, a shower, and sitting in bed with a book. “Put the book away,” I said one evening while biting on a strawberry. You guessed it, I had brought fruits to the bedroom, what are the chances that I was Eve and like Adam, he would bite?
“I am tired, some other time,” he said without removing his gaze from the book. He was reading The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. I had picked up the book and I couldn’t get past the third page. I preferred electric novels; like Sidney Sheldon, Gillian Flynn, and Danielle Steel. Novels that actually went somewhere. Left in the cold for a dull book. I felt the punch in my gut as I put the strawberry away and picked Sheldon. He glanced at me momentarily, “It’s funny how all books have a spine when most stories are spineless,” he said before getting back to Monte Cristo, and in a strange way, I felt as if the jab was directed to me and my choices.
You would think all these things would make me ambivalent to him but my attraction was swollen to bursting and my resolve was full to overflowing. I got more devious and creative. I called Lucy and managed to convince her to share our bed. They say every girl has fantasies of being with another girl and it happened that Lucy was having an experimental phase. Joshua welcomed it with open arms. Not even Dumas could make him turn down this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I mean, it’s every guy’s dream. A threesome with his girlfriend’s friend. It didn’t hurt that Lucy was a looker. And it worked. For the next month, I was given queen treatment. That was before he wanted to do it again but Lucy was no longer up to it because he had gotten a steady boyfriend. I suppose Tinder does work after all.
I think that was when things started going downhill. Everything was rationed. The calls, my time with him, and the sex faded altogether. Now a sane person would tell me to look elsewhere, and that was what everybody said. Family, a concerned neighbor, the stranger on the road, even good old Lucy and her Tinder partner. But how could I look elsewhere when every man I looked at had Joshua’s face. His DNA was imprinted on me. I would either have him or go mad.
I decided to do some detective work after realizing that the coldness might be brought by the warmth from another woman. And I might as well put Sidney Sheldon’s detective chapters to good use. I found myself in Gikomba buying a black coat, a cap, and glasses. Gikomba felt like a good bet because there are no paper trails. I later found myself leaving my Mazda CX-5 behind and commuting to a second-hand car lot to hire a car. There was a paper trail in that. Sidney Sheldon didn’t cover this part and as you are realizing I was an amateur in this, clutching at straws.
I trailed him, behind the windshield of a beat-up Toyota Belta. Joshua was all work, then drinks with a few friends, then back home to me. It warmed my heart and convinced me that truly there was something I wasn’t doing. The chapos got softer. The clothes were so sharply ironed they could cut tomatoes but he was still distant.
I found myself opening a Tinder account and using an alias to try and get us another threesome. I quickly realized he wouldn’t like any of the girls that matched with me. They were made up. With acres of tattoos, caked faces, and fluttering eyelashes. It was strange that they were looking for something real when they appeared so fake. I deleted my account realizing that inviting one over might make him even more distant.
If he was not getting any elsewhere that was okay. I decided to buy a dildo and play with myself instead while I waited for time, they do say that it is the best healer and the best teacher. Time was a lot of things but it was not the best at pleasure. With my new dildo in my right hand and my phone in my left with Joshua’s picture, the sensation felt nothing to what he felt like in those days when he saw me.
Time slowly but surely helped. I had fallen to a routine now and we were slowly starting to become one of those couples with flimsy connections. Making his breakfast in the morning. Making the bed. Tidying up the house. Cooking his meals and having a shower before sitting down with a novel to wait for him and when he came having conversations that were mostly made up of the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
I think he sensed that I was drifting off because he checked in out of the blues at lunchtime. “Dress up, Debra. I want to take you somewhere,” he said and we were at the movies. Seated at the back giggling like high school kids while I struggled to watch the movie because he was busy finger fucking me and God knows I needed it. We left the theatre halfway and he was taking me in his Mercedes and finishing me off in the house.
“Aren’t you going back to work?” I asked him. “I took the afternoon off. Today is all about you Debs,” he responded. Sometimes he used the nickname to make me feel nice and sometimes when he used it, it made me remember my Geography teacher saying, ‘Empty debes make the worst noise.’ I didn’t care for the reference, I was happy for his presence. We held each other on the couch drinking each other in. Talking. Laughing. Gossiping. Laughing some more. Making future plans. I got up to go and prepare supper and he stopped me and dialed-a-delivery instead and we continued basking in the magic of us.
The next morning I threw away my dildo and got into my CX-5 to go to the supermarket to buy fresh supplies for the house. I saw them when I was entering the mall. Lucy and Joshua climbing up the escalator and disappearing into the horizon. This is where I was meant to leave but instead, I found myself on the internet looking for a black market gun.
I met the seller in an Airbnb in South B. He didn’t look like a gun seller but then again I also didn’t look like a murderer. We both looked like people who life had served a bad hand and were doing what they needed to do to survive. “This is a Smith & Wesson .38 revolver, it holds five bullets,” he said. “You’ll need to fire a couple of rounds before you can use it,” he added after seeing the inexperience in my eyes. After showing me how to use it I gave him the money and took the Wesson together with ten bullets in a box. It felt heavy on my hands. The entire time I wondered why they didn’t make it lighter.
I tried it out at Ngong Hills. Ngong Hills is usually deserted but lovers sometimes come here for picnics. I fired the first round. It was louder than I expected. I waited to see if someone would show but no one did. The lovers must have thought it was fireworks; the soundtrack to their undying love. And with the July cold, they must have been perched close-knit and tightly together to care for my antics.
The shot had made my arm vibrate to the point where I had missed my mark which was the center of a big circle that I had drawn with my red lipstick on a tree. The second shot still missed the mark, so was the third and fourth but the fifth one was right in the circle and the sixth one was spot on. I decided to fire a seventh for good measure. Besides, I only needed one bullet to get the job done.
It was like most Sundays. Joshua was seated by the fireplace distant as usual. I think he was reading Desperate Characters by Paula Fox. Another tedious book. If he had been consistent with his affections I might have let the affair slide. But how could I let it slide now when I knew he wasn’t all there and it was because he was giving himself to someone else who turned out to be my best friend? ‘Kikulacho ni ukweli, ki nguoni mwako.’ I thought, painfully.
“Guess who is visiting for lunch?” I said knowingly.
“Who?” he asked with irritation for being removed from his book and a boredom to his tone because that’s all I had become to him, a bore.
“Lucy,” I said.
“Oh, is that right?” he said trying to maintain the boredom in his voice but I could feel the glee and excitement underneath it.
When Lucy came she couldn’t shut up about how her Tinder relationship was blossoming and how love comes from the most unexpected places. I felt the .38 revolver in my waistband press against my hip bone every time she put the word love, Tinder and blossom in the same sentence and I couldn’t take it anymore and I removed the Wesson. My hand was shaking. I should have practiced in front of people instead of trees I was realizing.
“The nerve on you to go behind my back and still pretend to be my friend.” My voice trembled, ignoring Joshua’s remarks of him telling me to calm down using his signature ‘Debs.’
“What are you talking about?” Lucy was standing up and looking at me with a look of fear and confusion.
“I saw you at the mall with him. Don’t tell me he has a Tinder twin?”
“It isn’t what you think. He called me. He told me you were going through a tough time and he wanted us to do what we did but I told him I couldn’t.”
I moved the pointed end of the Wesson to Joshua. My hands still shaking. I tried to stop the trembling by holding the gun with both hands but it didn’t help.
“She came onto me,” Joshua said while putting Paula Fox down. “She said I was the best she’s had in a while,” he added.
The pointed end of the Wesson was moving back to Lucy who was now crying.
“We can go back to how things were Debs. You know how we do it,” Joshua was saying while standing up and Lucy seemed to be crying louder. I pulled the trigger and missed by a mile. I should have practiced in front of people instead of trees, I thought again as our living room pooled with blood.
Lucy was hiccuping loudly with tributaries of snot going down her face and I had grown bolder and every inch of me was alert. I held her by her arms. “Listen to me Lucy,” I said sternly. “When the police ask you what happened here you are going to say you visited; we started quarreling, he slapped me and you left.”
“O…okay,” she stammered while picking her handbag and leaving.
I would be remiss at this point if I didn’t review the .38 revolver. Say what you will about Smith & Wesson but they did a perfect job with the gun. The bullet went clean through Joshua’s right ventricle and he was probably dead before I was done squeezing the trigger. Which meant hospitals were out of the question and I was looking at manslaughter. I love Joshua but there was no way I was serving time for his murder so I needed to get creative yet again.
After calling the police I plugged in the iron and started burning my thighs and parts of my arm. But I knew that wouldn’t cut it. It took some guts but I finally managed to convince myself to run full tilt towards the wall with a smile on my face and there they were—two of my incisors on the floor and a black eye on my left eye. You guessed it. I was going to blame this all on Joshua. The bad man who made me do bad things.
You might be thinking by now that I am a terrible woman. That I deserved all the things that happened to me and I wouldn’t blame you. But remember just like you, I wanted ordinary things and I was making the best of a bad situation. Joshua was already dead and I had my whole life ahead of me. Besides, he wouldn’t be the one walking around with two missing teeth, now would he?
The police found me crying next to the body with my mouth and nose full of red. “I…I didn’t mean to do it. It…it was self-defense,” I stammered. My dress hiked all the way up my thighs so that my scars were visible. “Pole kwa msiba wako, usijali, kila kitu itakuwa sawa,” one of them said. Thank heavens for the damsel in distress. I thought while he lifted me from the floor. And he was soon helping me climb into their landrover as we headed towards Loresho police station where I would record my statement.
I found Joshua’s lawyers there. Turns out he had put me down on his will and every time a thermostat was sold I would be cashing checks too. Good old Joshua. I’m happy I never left. I thought while putting down Lucy as my alibi and almost grinned before remembering my missing teeth and deciding happiness didn’t exactly fit into the damsel in distress puzzle.
I called Lucy after leaving the station. She was unsure about testifying but she quickly changed her mind after I made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. Okay, Okay, I wrote her a fat check. You will be surprised at the things money fixes. I would know, with my Colgate smile.
I moved to the coast and bought a private villa along the shoreline of Kilifi. Joshua’s bungalow pales in comparison. It is set upon a hill overlooking the Indian ocean. It is modernly styled with large glass windows and doors that let in the sun. When you open the doors the breathtaking flora and fauna of the breeze from the trees, and the songs from the birds hug you like a loving mother.
I have been here for six months and the January sun is high in the sky. Which I keep from entering the house with black heavy curtains. I am such a contrast from this place. I haven’t had a shower nor a change of clothes in over three months. Whenever I have an appetite—which is rare, I order fast food and insist that the rider should leave it outside.
It’s Sunday. I move slowly and see my reflection in one of the glass doors. My hair is unkempt and my clothes hang loosely on my skin which is mostly bones. I look like the fabled witches in ladybird books. I tried to forget him. Tried to move on and date other men but like a bad nightmare, he visits me every night.
Lucy called earlier. She keeps insisting on visiting. We have planned for her to come next month. She asked why my voice was hoarse. I told her I have a slight cold but it will pass. She got married but she is afraid her husband might be using Tinder again. I told her to leave him but she said leaving was not an option. I suppose she too is understanding that sometimes the stakes are too high to leave.
I walk slowly to my bedroom and remove the Smith & Wesson .38 revolver from my drawer and spin it on my bedside table. It has one bullet in the chamber and I have been placing it on my temples and pulling the trigger every evening since Friday. I place it on my temples, hopefully for one last time. I can already hear the loud bang and the singing birds fluttering away from the trees. I can see Lucy’s hysteria when she visits and finds my body. I wait for a heartbeat longer before pulling the trigger and wonder—is today the day I finally join Joshua for eternity?
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