Glistening, toasted-almond coloured layers of taut skin wrap her flesh from her ankles all the way up to the smooth crevices of her neck. Even the small bulge that surfaces her otherwise slender abdomen is firm, like an unripe plum. On her chest her nipples give the appearance that someone has painted two dried sultanas on a blank canvas of sand hills.
Unlike the firm skin of her body, the skin on her face bears a different quality. A softness, which makes me feel whenever I look at her, like I am watching a movie filmed in soft focus. Balmy velvety skin.
The only thing unappealing about Ayanna’s appearance is the frown of discountenance that places itself right across her forehead when she looks at me. My kindness towards her can never eliminate the silent wrath she harbours for my being, and hence, I often find myself trying to capture her in moments when she is unaware of my presence. For only then can I be the lucky witness of such incomparable resplendence.
However, on this bright afternoon worthy of worship, in a street café where she and I sip on juice under the shade, her disapproving frown is covered by long plats which reach from the centre of her head down across her serious eyes.
‘Peter’, she says, looking in my opposite direction. ‘I had this dream last night. That I was no longer around, that I was y’know, gone, and that it was just you and Amina left.’ She sucks the last sips of juice through her straw like a child. ‘And when I woke up,’ she continues as she catches her breath, ‘I thought I have to ask you.’
Ayanna never tells me anything if she isn’t convinced she has my full attention. Like now. She needs me to ask her ‘what?’ before she’ll proceed. So I do. ‘What do you have to ask me, love?’ Knowing she dislikes my amorous displays, satisfies me in a perverted way. Perverted, because it hurts and pleases me simultaneously. I want her to love me even though our union from the start was based on ownership not love.
‘See, I woke up and I wanted to ask you to be the best father you can be. If anything ever happened to me, like in the dream.’
It came as no big surprise the following morning that Ayanna’s side of the bed was empty. Nor was I surprised at the absence of a note, an indication that she had ever cohabited the bed with me. From that day on my wife’s existence became intangible, like a moment of déjà vu, a passing fragment in my memory. The only memento left of her was the scent of the musk which she rubbed her glossy skin with every evening, that scent of raw earth which now split my nostrils like paper cuts.
I was unaware that I had shouted her name until my daughter’s small soft fingers stroked my balding head.
‘Baba,’ she said, concerned but calm, ‘has Ayanna already left us?’
As always, Amina knew more about her mother than I did. I nodded my head.
‘She will be happier.’ That was all Amina said, and patted my cheek before she ran out the room, a block of Lego in her hand.
It was many years later, by the corner of Mbagathi Way that I received the sympathy I’d been searching for, for so long. There, I met a woman with black kohl around her eyes – even more than Ayanna used to wear.
‘Peter?’ her soiled fingernails dug into my skin.
‘Yes!’ I replied, startled. I did not know her.
‘Amina?’ Her eyes lit up as she looked at the young girl before her.
Amina lowered her eyelids.
‘I am Ayanna’s sister,’ she said concurrently proud and embarrassed. ‘I’ve been waiting for this day,’ she continued. ‘To explain to you why Ayanna left.’
‘I expected her to leave me, sister-in-law. You see my love for her, although prodigious, was not honourable.’ I looked in her eyes to make sure she understood that I understood.
‘She went back to our hometown,’ Ayanna’s sister said, ‘to marry the man our family initially wanted for her, before you bought her.’ Her voice was not condemning. She understood that I had bought her sister out of love.
‘Why did she leave me behind?’ Amina asked unexpectedly.
‘Because she knew that even though your father paid for her, his love for you, was unconditional.’
‘She was always correct,’ Amina said.