Celebrating East African Writing!
Her mother died on Monday, or Tuesday, you are not sure. Diabetes. For some reason they thought you would be the best person to break the news, never mind that it has been two years since you last saw her. So you call her and arrange to meet. At first she does not know who she is talking to, then a few awkward words later she recognizes your voice, and you listen to the excitement, and the Oh My Gods, and agree to meet on Thursday next week. She picks the venue.
She seems smaller. You hug her and feel it. She pulls away quickly, and then reaches for her chair. You follow, slowly and cautiously. She asks many questions about home, and you try to answer all of them. She doesn’t ask about her mother. After a short while you both go quiet. “I should have told you I was leaving.” Her eyes are fixed on yours, she caught you unaware and now you have to think of something to say, something that will throw her off the scent of your emotions. “It’s okay, I understood that you had to leave.” You manage, and then you reach out for your iced mocha, because suddenly your throat feels like you swallowed a thousand coins. Silence.
“How is the city treating you?” You ask, trying to change the topic, trying to pull her away from where she stands, a place where she sees your vulnerability. She doesn’t barge. “I thought about you every single day that first year.” You didn’t see that coming. You reach out for your glass, it’s almost empty. You swallow the last of your drink, and then the words gargle out of your mouth, “Let’s not talk about that, please.”
She reaches for her mug, and buries her nose in it, then places it gently on the table. “The first few months were the hardest. I got a job at some restaurant, it didn’t pay well, but I met some people who helped me settle.” “After two months I got a job at a movie place, then started my own MPesa shop. After a short while I decided to draft my CV, and got a job as a blogger for some company. Now I write fulltime, I like it a lot.” You watch her as she speaks, you take in each word, and feel the loneliness, the strength, the resolve, and then you feel it in your gut, hard like a punch, the realization that she did it all without you, that she did not need you. “You should have called me, I could have helped.” The words fight hard to come out. She doesn’t say anything.
It’s been two hours. You need to tell her about her mother but you do not know where or how to start. “Do you plan on going back home?” You ask. “Not really, there is nothing to go back to.” Her words plough at you, you feel the way you did two years ago when she left; hurt, betrayed and abandoned. “What about me?” You ask, then immediately regret it. “What about you Biko?” She asks, her voice breaking slightly, “but I explained to you why I had to leave.” She adds.
You aren’t sure if you are angry but something in you has changed. “All you did was leave me a badly written letter telling me things that didn’t make sense.” Badly written letter the words float about your mind, they were unnecessary, and you know it. She lets it pass, she knows you too well. She knows how you get when you are angry. “You were my best friend Biko, but our friendship was laced with attraction, with a desire to become your lover one day, I wasn’t ready for that.” She says this leaning forward, her back hunched as if trying to get as close to you as possible. “Biko I needed to be alone.”
A lean yellow hand reaches for your empty glass and places a leather bound wallet on the table. You stare at it, then at the white mug with her long fingers wrapped around it. Her nail polish is chipped. You look at the cracks and think of your own, and you watch as your emotions sip through the cracks, through the walls you had built the last several months.
“So, do you ever miss home? Me?” You ask.
“Not really,” she says, her eyes staring out of the window next to us, “I’m so glad I came.”
“Why is that?” You ask, staring at her face, taking in all that the light throws at you.
Her eyes start to water, and then she looks at you. You see those eyes, familiar eyes, eyes that carry you back to your childhood, back to when things made sense, when your whole world was just about you two.
“Because I am so in love with a girl right now.”
You don’t know what to say. You want to throw up. Everything moves at super speed then nothing moves at all.
“Your mother died.” You say, and then you swallow the hate that has been dancing all the while, in your mouth.
© Ras Mengesha 2013
The first word that came to mind was a name, Shiko, one of the girls. The story came to me after I thought of who Shiko would be when she grew up, a girl who leaves her home and her childhood sweetheart (Biko) for the city. I thought I’d tell the story from a different angle though, how it would be and feel to be Biko, the man after Shiko’s heart.