She felt the wind on her face as the vehicle made its way past small towns. How peculiar that each town had a new mosque, she thought. The force of her crime pulled her back as she imagined the vehicle getting trapped in a tangled mesh of mangrove roots. Wisps of cinnamon from the white man’s loud chewing were caught in her nostrils. It was the old Peugeot 504 that first drew her to the man she was leaving behind. Of course there were the stories about his past that she heard among her friends but it was the way he looked inside the old vehicle which made him her centurion.
He took care of her the way a man ought to. He was not handsome; his countenance had been borrowed from an old wooden mask. He made her abandon her obsession with wine bottles. While her friends read books about the mau mau and collected stamps sent from Rhodesia she was out in expensive restaurants slipping wine bottles into her purse. Her specialty was South African wine bottles. Somehow this had found its way into her incomplete dissertation on aesthetics and abstract form. It was not her fault that her professor was so narrow minded.
Perhaps the man she was leaving had made her abandon her obsessions because there was no room for both their delusions in the relationship. It was about him mostly and when she became skin and flesh she stayed seasoned to fulfilled desires. Existing when he decided, she woke up at night to find herself bathed in the air of far away vineyards, transposed.
She was smoking besides the Swedish man when he first made a pass at her. The Swedish, a film-maker called Hans, had hair that reminded her of the thickness of paint brush in her arts and craft classes. Hans made attempts at giving her midnight revivals among red bed sheets but it was his hair that she touched and smelt. He wore a vermilion shirt so that the veins on his arms seemed to rise from the fabric of the shirt.
“Good evening. Tours and Travels Taxi Services would like to offer you a compliment drive to whichever destination you prefer.”
Obviously he had observed them for weeks. The couple only used that one taxi service but never before had they been approached by one of the drivers. It seemed a plausible thing in Nairobi. Hans welcomed the idea.
“Jambo rafiki, park around Wabera Street and we will be with you in no time.”
Rafiki made an imperceptible bow and left. She never knew how it is that he was so sure Hans would let her go to the taxi alone. When Hans stepped onto the pavement that leads to Wabera Street there was no taxi around. She had left. He went back to the restaurant to see if she ha left her purse. Nothing. Even the half full bottle of wine was gone.
Kinetics drew her to him the more. On Kenyatta Avenue she made him sip the Arabella Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 from the bottle. She kissed the rim when he was done. It seemed they had known each other for a long time. The KAR soldiers blinked at her as they drove past Westminster House. He offered her a cigarette which she gladly accepted but instead of smoking it she watched it slowly waste away in the night air of Nairobi.
He drove her to a single room in Pangani. By no means was he a poor moon. He lived like a man who has only half settled, aware that one day he might have to leave in a hurry.
He commented on the coral color of her thighs, the cold feel of her skin, the number of beads around her waist and the abundance of tastes in her mouth. He was so patient it felt as if the theories about the expansion of the universe and black holes concerned her body’s trusted rising and falling under a guttural moonlight.
In the late hours of the morning she considered the journey of night she had taken. He played Louis Armstrong’s Cabaret all through the night. His face was the kindest she had seen and yet he had robbed a white man. Knowing Hans she did not expect that he will ever call. This gave her some consolation. Although the new man’s benign indifference made it feel like it was not a robbery. Robbery is when she went to Luna Park only to be confronted by the inflated balloon of a clown. Clowns must walk and chase after kids. This one only waved at the sky above her.
The other robberies in her life are not important.
“What do I call you?”
The question seemed like the proper thing to ask after the night they had shared. He did not reply. A wild fear passed through her. What if he had kidnapped her? No. it can’t be. Captors cannot become so engrossed with their victims as to serve them dry wine in the morning.
He said after observing her tongue on the rim of the paper cup. She was always drinking.
“Nice to meet you, Mbatia,” was her reply. They talked very little after that. By lunch time they were both in the old Peugeot driving to her place.
“No one else ever drives this car,” he said. She looked at him and pressed her feet harder on the acceleration. At her place she introduced him to the collection and was amazed that he knew most of the labels.
“I did not take you for a wine lover,” she confessed.
He stayed silent for a while and offered her a cigarette.
It began to bother her, that he stayed so silent when she was always willing to reveal so much. Men always talked too much around her. They worked hard to impress her. He only looked at her and gave her a reassuring smile. What was he always smiling about? She began to fear that he knew something about her that was not meant to be known. Mbatia! The only intimate knowledge of him that she had. Even his house said very little about him.
“If I were to collect anything it would be stolen ashtrays,” he said, his eyes transfixed on the cigarette buts on the Formica of his table. “To remind me of my victory over the addiction.”
She did not know whether this was his way of reaching out or it was simply an invitation to a conversation. Perhaps the cigarettes she had been smoking and had warranted the statement.
“Why don’t you start?”
Another long silence.
She imagined him at night cutting strands of hair from her scalp, tucking them in a jacket. Then she realized how silly she was to imagine such. He offered her a cigarette and then explained to her how he had gotten over his smoking addition. There was a TV ad for Embassy Lights where they played Dave Brubeck in the background. So every time the song played in his head he just had to smoke. He tried staying without TV for a while but the song only became louder in his sleep. So he decided he would play it until it didn’t make him want to smoke. It worked.
She felt comfortable in the new revelation. They shared a mutual need to steal and collect. He walked out and came back into the sitting room with an atlas, smiled at her, and got to searching for towns in the map.
“We are leaving for Voi tomorrow.”
She hated the power he had over her. She knew what would happen next. She would object to his rash way of picking up and leaving. He would give her that reassuring smile. She would throw fists and swear. He would touch her, reminding her of the underbelly of lust, pour Rhebokskloof The Secret Corner Semillon in her navel. The next day they would be in a Peugeot headed to Voi.
This had to stop somehow. She was only half aware of her body rising to go to the kitchen; her autonomic system became a slave to something outside her. No longer an odalisque he had turned her into, she walked back in the room with a broken Arabella Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 bottle and stabbed him in the back, in the narrow place between his scapulas. He didn’t stir. He was dead. She turned him over to see that smile on his face.
She picked up all her bottles, packed them in boxes of Styrofoam and fitted them into the Peugeot. She called Hans.
“How about I take you to Voi?”
She would use him until the recurrent dream about Cabaret stopped.
©Clifton Gashagua 2011. See More of Clifton’s Writing.
This short story was submitted into the Storymoja Urban Narratives : Peugeot 504 Short story Contest. Please comment on the short story for the author’s benefit and then vote on the story. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being weak and 10 being excellent, please indicate where you rank this story. Points will be tallied on the 22nd of May, and the winner announced on the 23rd of May 2009.