“I was raped.”
She says flatly staring at her knees like a five-year-old.
She smoothens her long wig from the wind’s riotous arms and occasionally removes hair strands from her mouth and eyes. Sitting lightly on her thighs is her Luis Vuitton clutch with her phone half peeking into the emptiness of the beach at dusk. The fingernails are newly manicured, heavy with maroon and art, and her belly button shows beneath the pink and white striped crop top.
Instinctively, I wrap a comforting hand over her slim shoulders resting them on the satin softness of her wig. She stifles an angry sniff and doesn’t look at me when I call her name.
So that’s why.
I am tempted to ask who did it. I want to fill this painful silence with anything. When did it happen? How? And the distant echo of …. What were you wearing?… even though I know the weight of its inadvertent sting. I just don’t want to take it as it is. I want to be in the story. I want to unravel the layers of the tale. I want a story of more flesh than bone. I want her to keep talking. Where was she? How old was she? Was he a stranger?
“…by my dad…”.
She wipes an angry tear and shifts her gaze to the seagulls chuckling, the lone teenager in the evening waves, taking selfies in low light, and the two lovers dancing hand in hand, jumping in the shallow ocean waters like two little boys.
I think of fathers and daughters and the stories I hear. Stories of their smoldering loins ripping through tender unknowing flesh. Their hunger insatiable. At inception, the girls are always six or seven. The more unfortunate ones are sometimes three or four. The memory of toddlers recoiling from their Father’s touch to teenagers subdued by the memory of time. From ten-year-olds holding their silence like heartbeats to nine-year-olds saying they weren’t scared with tears in their eyes. Girls of twelve, shivering with hitched breaths as they said nothing happened to them. Daughters who had been locked up and maimed to kill the truth before it slipped from their trembling lips and fathers seeking sympathy from the same bodies they raked with sorrow.
I stare at Chela’s beige-colored toenails that stick out from her pink slip-ons. Was she also threatened with a gun? Did he do it over and over again even when she said it hurt? Was it on the bed, the couch, the little dark rooms where no light catches sin? Was there someone she could tell? Was he gentle or rough, did he say no one would believe her? Did he muffle her cries with his hands or press a knife against her throat? Did he say she liked it, at her involuntary orgasm mostly out of shock?
What did he say when she lay splayed open on the bed and he buckled his belt hurriedly, closing on his own, her sore legs and leaving the layers of her mind filling up with self-doubt and loathing? Did she find help in time?
“More than once….”
Her voice breaks and she dabs at her eyes with a folded tissue paper. She utters no other word and an impatience I never knew I possessed creeps through my being. I swallow hard. I want paragraphs tumbling into each other. Words, endless in array. I want to be drenched in a shower of revelations, not single entities of half-spoken words like letters falling from the sky one at a time.
She voluntarily blends into my arms, releasing in that taut grip the anger and frustration that she’s kept for the two weeks of no contact after our kiss. My unrest from the unanswered phone calls and the seen but unreplied messages morph into a genteel fervor and I draw her shaking frame to myself.
The white of that wait is filled with the fragrance of her hair and my prying irresolution.
Was I bad? Did she hate it when I grabbed her hair and kissed the soft moist lips I had been dying to kiss for the last six months? Did she hate it when I pressed my aching need to hers on that soft couch of green, or when I threw away the books we’d been reading to make more room for my arms on her skin; hers, which she faithfully read to me, the passion and depth rolling off her voice like sea waves…mine which I pretended to read while waiting for a chance…..the slightest chance… to tuck her hair behind her ear and taste those lips…to accidentally bump into a hug and slowly look into her eyes before reaching for her lips…to meet her side eye and have our skin warmed by the dying embers of the new year eve fire, blend into each other…to pluck the emotions off my skin and plant them in hers. To. Savor. Those. Lips.
I wanted to plunk into the expansive caramel of her skin, stretch my body over hers by the fireplace and turn her into myself. I wanted, at that hour, to feel the vibration of her legs on my shoulders until all that came off her voice was the sound of my name.
Thunder peeled her off her side of the seat and straight into my waiting arms. I felt her lips on mine and I took the chance.
When the warmth in my body slowly filled up my head and I nibbled at her neck, she pushed me off her and apologized over and over again. Then in a nervous rush, Chela put on her shoes and left. Chela didn’t wear a jacket. Chela had no umbrella. She walked into the rain, the same thunder that scared her without looking back. I ran after her barefoot, the rain washing off the warmth that I had picked from her skin. She hailed a matatu and hopped in. She left me in the rain with my heart steadily reaching out for hers as hard as my then matted clothes clung to my body in the rain waters.
Kip said my mouth smelt like lemon and maple syrup. Not something that would have a woman flee from me. I thought that maybe it was my body odor because I hadn’t showered in two days. I had done something wrong. I just didn’t know what.
Today she’s here to tell me why, except I don’t know how long this story will be.
Her phone buzzes with new messages but she ignores them. Chela said with me, she doesn’t have to overly ruminate on her words to make them palatable. She speaks her blunt and her crude and she need not be agreeable with everything I say to massage my ego. She said she knew I was settling with her because I could no longer win over Koko with mere words and inaction like I did when we were teenagers. That that first love of mine is already married with two sets of twins and I feel the need to settle too, to prove to Mona that I too have something to my name. Chela said that that’s why I rush relationships. That I’m afraid of being the one that was at fault, the one that was left behind.
There was never an end, just a beginning and a long wait. There was a foot ahead of another and knees bruised by the stones of soil. There was a love wilting at the absence of hope. Hands waving, hidden behind the brown of soil. I lament subtleties, the ignorance of youth and the sound of truth coming to light. For there’s no mortal ground for light, no hollow deep enough to hide its laughter.
“Kiboi, he did it more than… once and I… my father got… I got pregnant for him…”
I feel breath rush out of my lungs and I tighten my hold on her.
“How old were you…?”
This is not the best scene to say sorry.
Chelang’at is too calm and I wonder how many times she has told this story even though it feels to me like the first time because of how the story comes out as a broken chain of words, as if, if it came out as a compound rather than single components, she would stumble from the weight. It comes out like the hazy recollection of a stubborn dream. The second and third times may be intense but not as the unprecedented first fear of letting someone into your backyard and trusting they won’t find something that will have them fleeing into a safety of their own.
“…and your mother?”
She breaks into a fresh sob and constantly blows her nose. I feel sorry for asking that question. She’s 25 now. Someday nature will absolve her of the afflictive memory, then her story will be seamless. Maybe right now all she needs is a listening ear.
“I’m sorry Chela, for asking that, perhaps I shouldn’t…”
“My mother believed me. She didn’t confront my father. She had just lost her job after the Kawere fire accident turned the store she built from her lifetime savings into rubble. At the time she could knit and sew, but the offices whose doors she tapped for jobs had cash flow statements to be read, proposals and audits to be prepared and reports to be delivered. They might have had the patience of enduring an inept intern, but they sure had no patience to teach a middle-aged woman how to read. She retreated to the safety of home and depended wholly on my father for survival. He’d already split her elbow and hip. She was afraid he’d rip her head off upon confrontation and leave me an orphan, so she took me to her friend who knew how to get rid of babies before their feet started exploring the depths of their mother’s bellies. Before they knew the voices of their mothers. Before they’d learnt the sorrows of existence. But it didn’t turn out great. In the end, hemorrhaging with my mother crying beside me, I had to be rushed to hospital where my womb was scratched off from my bosom… for being too damaged… it could no longer hold life…”
Again, I tell her I am sorry for what she went through. The air is thick with unspoken words. She opens her mouth to speak and sighs instead. I brush away the strands of hair that now hide her face from mine. I catch her falling tears. Her body still quaking with her grief yet I feel the premonition of a different death. That what she wants to say next might shatter my solid. Perhaps an end to the little love we share or the 2 years of friendship that we’ve had.
The waves are lightly knocking at the two rocks on the beach as if seeking for permission to come back in steady vigor. It sounds like a tap. A tap to the rocks, a constant tap at my own conscience. I should be ready. It reminds me of the final cracks in my relationship with Koko before the distance spread into an infinite gap. How her face lacked color when I took her to her favorite restaurant. The sweatpants that she wore instead of her habitual short dresses and heels, her face devoid of make-up. The cold that stung me on that October night when I watched Koko eat her food without wanting to eat what I ordered instead. Or how her phone, constantly rang and two times she had to excuse herself to talk. The third time she just picked the phone right next to me and coyly I heard her whisper I love you to another. How she found me ‘unserious’ and our inside jokes ‘bland’. I did nothing wrong, that’s what she said, she just found someone better for her than me.
I feel the uncertain humidity of that hotel room creep up to me this very hour and the echoes of the laughter of happy lovers and the soft trail of Koko as she left me on the table, her food half eaten. She didn’t even drink her Martini. She left me, an outcast, in the heat of dancing bodies screaming at the newest Amapiano mix by DJ Pumice.
When I went to work the next day, Ochi asked if I had survived a kidnapping since I was wearing the exact same clothes from the day before.
Chela has no womb. That’s what replays in my mind. She won’t be able to carry our babies. We could explore other options since I want to be with her, but what if like Koko, she also found someone better for her than me. Is that why she ran away? Sometimes steady rejection forces your confidence into an early death of its own.
“I’m sorry Kiboi…”
I hold my breath, waiting for the impact of the next words.
“That evening I ran away because I was scared… of opening myself to another… of how far we could go and how disappointed you would be… when you would find out the truth. Sometimes when people are too good to me I fear that they’re leveraging me for destruction, another bullet in the heart. I don’t want to be intimate yet and you’re a man with his needs. I don’t think you just want me around; you have platonic female friends and work colleagues for that sort of dead-end friendships…”
“Chela, I’ve been patient with you for six months. I have known you for over 24. What makes you think, I wouldn’t last longer…? We could work through this hurt… It doesn’t matter to me if you don’t have…”
“No! It matters.” She’s no longer crying. “It does. I will never feel the thrill of growing life inside of me.” She unwraps herself from my embrace. “I will have to pick my baby from the arms of another woman who perhaps might be attached to the child. Perhaps she might develop post-partum complications or even lose her life and I won’t forgive myself for that. I will pay her for that which my body has been robbed of…”
“Can we worry about that when we get there? You know what they say, take it a day at a time?”
“There’s no getting there, Kiboi, this is what there is. This is all there is. I will not magically grow another uterus. This is who I am. Empty. We will still look for other options, whether now or in twenty years to come… this… this is all I can give.”
“Chela, if the tables turned… and you had your womb… yet I couldn’t sire a child, would you still stay with me?”
“I don’t know…”
“So is this about you or me? Us?”
“It’s about me”.
I withdraw my hands from hers and absentmindedly watch the two men on the beach. The taller one now carrying the shorter one as they spin in quick circles unfalling in the unsteady whirl.
Chela says we should stop what we do. She might need longer to heal. That my life must not stall because of her. She looks me dead in the eye as she says that I’ll find someone better for me, someone less baggaged. That she had 4 sore years that will need more than 10 years to be bearable. She is still aggrieved. Vengeful. Angry.
Someone better for me
“I would have felt lighter if that man was in prison instead of my mother. My mother serves a life imprisonment for attempted murder for that one time 3 years ago when she blocked my father’s blow and he stumbled backwards and hit his head on the glass table… He had better lawyers and mama had no money to buy her freedom.”
I think that prison, just like death, is a bad reaper too. Unlike death which never picks the ripest fruit and sometimes plucks a flower before it has birthed seed, I think prison is always in a hurry, to fill its walls, to move on to the next case. It hastily picks what first appears as truth without seeking depth; declares storm at the first nimbus cloud not knowing the omnipotence of the wind and how easily the wind can scatter even the darkest clouds heavy with rain. I think prisons have more saints than sinners.
“I came to say goodbye Kiboi, I’m going to turn myself in. Thank you for loving my brokenness. I don’t…”
“Turn yourself in?”
“Yes. I’m an outlaw.”
“An outlaw? What are you talking about?”
“I… I killed my father.”
I gasp. My words frozen on my tongue. The cold evening air biting my skin. She pushes her hair back with her left hand and for a moment I am convinced that she’s digging for a clip from her clutch to secure her hair into a ponytail so it stays off her face. She takes a lip balm and rolls it over her lips and yanks off the wig from her head instead.
“I killed him this time.”
She iterates as if I didn’t hear her the first time. As if murder is an achievement no lesser than those google certifications or college degrees.
“I was making pilau and chicken for mama’s prison visitation when he walked into the kitchen. Without a word, he crossed over to my side and grabbed me from behind. I heard the clink of his belt. He wanted to do it. Again. This time I didn’t let him. This time when he pushed me to the wall and parted my legs, his trouser falling to the floor while his impatient hands grazed my thighs, I grabbed the knife I had been chopping onions with and I sank it with all might in his skin… I took it out and sank it again to every part I could access. Felt his whimper and his cold hands leaving my skin. I saw the shock in his eyes when I told him that my mama might have attempted to murder him, but I would complete what she started. This time when he stumbled backwards, he fell to the floor limp… his manhood still heavy with need in his boxers. I called Lota police without stating what had happened, but they said they couldn’t come because it was still raining. I called Kilu station and an officer with a voice full of phlegm, said that their police van had a puncture and they would only come when it had been fixed by Omosh. That’s why I’ll be turning myself in. I know our criminal system. My father is the victim.”
“You are the victim. That was out of self-defense…”
“Just like my mother’s case… and where is she again?”
“But the CCTV footage has a better record.”
Chela doesn’t tarry. Her mind is made up. She presses herself into me in a long solid hug. I hear a sniff and I think its hers until her hand reaches out to wipe the tears in my eyes, her long nails gently brushing my skin. I don’t know if I’m crying for her sorrow, departure or for my very own self. She says she’ll keep her mother company in jail. Every time she visited her mother looked paler and said the only time people talked to her was when they were giving orders or calling her sloppy.
Night slowly falls and the full moon is directly in our line of view. I let her hold me, not knowing what else to do or say. I want her as much as she wants to be with her mother or carry babies of her own in her belly. She rubs a reassuring hand over my back before I feel her lips on mine. I melt into this kiss knowing it could be the last one. She lets my hands wander on her skin. Over her boobs and down her navel. She doesn’t stop me and I kiss her till my lips burn and she whispers my name. But there isn’t much we can do here with hotel cameras and people strolling around.
I barely catch my breath when she gets up to leave.
“I didn’t remove the last knife in his body just in case the officers don’t believe me and have to check for fingerprints.”
“No, Chela, we can get a lawyer. I know one who…”
“I love you Kiboi”.
She gently brushes my hands off her and picks up her wig and clutch which fell down in our sudden kiss. She shakes the sand out of her wig, turns around and walks away. Not looking back. My heart still racing from our kiss. As I watch her silhouette, I think of better questions and more thoughtful responses I should have given instead. Even at this age, I haven’t outgrown that.
As a man of 32, I have witnessed endless chains of rejections. From job applications, proposals and women rejecting me on face value. The ugly sitting in the middle part of emails laced with kind words and things like… our rejection is not a direct reflection of your capabilities as an individual…
Rejections from agencies, relationships, NGOs and rejection for having a name that gives fellow citizens a hard time in categorizing me. A hard time in deciding what to do with me. What makes it harder is that I speak both languages fluently. Kiboi Otieno. My political ideologies always taken by a pinch of salt in Luo and Kalenjin communities. When with Luos, I have learnt to blend in with them and of Kalenjins too. I have learnt to not fall into the depths when the boat I sit in is buffeted in the wind.
But at 32 I still do have a heart of flesh. My ego aches in insufficiency and I shed I few tears when the lights go off. This is no different. I thought I had caught my light. I thought I had found a twenty something year old. I found beauty and depth. I found kindness and empathy. I found myself in another. I found affluence of character. Yet now I watch all that depart, an object of affectation slowly peeling itself from its makeshift home. As I watch her walk away, I realize that I have so much I want her to know. That I’m going to lose blood in shedding off these months we had on my skin.
I want to tell her that I have been doing so many things at once and failing at the ones that matter. I want to tell her that I just lost my main job and I don’t like any of my four side-hustles. That I’ve been a house cat and even Football doesn’t cheer me up anymore. Matter of fact, the teams that I was supporting were eliminated before the World Cup semis. I want to tell her to marry me. I want to tell her that she has been the most wholesome relationship. I want to tell her I’ve been in a slump lately and I’ve been fumbling with everything. That as per the last hospital test, my father’s Leukemia might have found a better home in my marrow. I want to tell her that I was so certain this would work, I no longer know what to do with my hands.
I want to tell Chela about mama. How I know she cried when she had me and that she pushed so hard she had a 4th degree tear. That she held me on her tender breasts full of milk and when the stone hard nurse hands sank into her womb to scrap off the placenta, the doctor took me from her cold hands and added her name to the list of the dead. He asked nature to be a better mother to me.
Yet all nature did, was to fill my chest with spite. All nature did was watch the what ifs outnumbering my will. My sister Hawi, became the little girl who held the door rails, waiting for her mother to return from the hospital days and months after her burial. That same nature turned Hawi into a woman who didn’t want babies and men. I want to tell Chela that my mother deserved a better death.
I will let the light in to the other side of me. I will watch my shadow wilt into the white and I will seek absolution for my father’s sins. Sorry on his behalf for all the graves that I used as a ladder to the top. For all the blood that cried out in the veins of little boys. For all the times I stood fending for his sin, unfalling to the weight of his cross.
I watch her back disappearing between the corridors of the beach Hotel. A group of teenagers are building a bonfire by the beach. This time I don’t run after her. This time I stay sat. This time I know, that she won’t ever come back again.
Image: Ryunosuke Kikuno via Unsplash
This moved me to tears. What a beautiful read.
A moving creation of words. ‘I want to tell chela that my mother deserved a better death’. It’s beautiful how easily you translate thought into emotion. The plot twist caught me off-guard. The story brightened my day. Keep at it!
Nice one girl, keep it up