BY FLORENCE BETT-KINYATTI
You tell me that your toddler is old enough to reach the door handle and let herself into your bedroom every morning.
I find that amusing. I imagine her clambering off her cot, easing herself between the little space of the snugly fitting mosquito net and the sideboards, soundlessly, like some ninja easing himself through the infra red sensors in an art museum to steal the Mona Lisa or some old painting by Van Gogh. Then I imagine her walking down the corridor in a half-awake half-asleep trance, her socks padding softly on the ground – soft like a pussy cat’s paws – and when she reaches your bedroom door, she gets on her tippy toes and swings the handle down to let herself in.
Oh yeah, it is amusing. I chuckle wryly.
I look at you across the table and my heart softens. I still can’t believe you’re married! Gosh. I don’t know what married folk look like but you have the look of married folk – mature and annoying, pompous, unfettered by the rules, a self-assuredness that borders on hubris, a solemnity that suggests demure. I know you but at the same time I feel that I don’t. It’s strange. It’s a strange cacophony of familiarity and a first meet.
You just got married. You had your wedding a few moons ago – a few moons after you got your promo to sales manager and graduate post-grad, a few more before you get pregnant with baby number two, a few before you make another new friend.
I have been through it all with you, all these life events that alter who are we are as girls. You let me hold your hand when you had your baby and when you were at the altar and when you lost your Pops, God rest his soul. I don’t have a baby – yet. Neither am I married. My parents are both still alive. But you held my hand either way, you held it when I needed you to. My events weren’t as momentous as yours, but that didn’t get in the way you being there for me. I’ll never forget that.
We’re those type of chic pals, you and I, the type that are always holding each other’s hands and shit. Figuratively, mostly. Literally, rarely. You have warm soft hands that remind me of Lanolin hand cream. I like how your hands feel. I don’t know what my hands feel like in yours. Wait, is it odd that I’m gushing about your hands? Hahha.
You tell me that you and your man are now suspended in that difficult-to-define interlude between living like honeymooners and shaking yourself back into the reality of the grind. You’re happy but broke, giddy but knackered, more focused at your hustle, more determined to make this new life together work but you’re also less randy, less open to trying new tricks in bed, less upset that the honeymoon lied to you when it suggested you’d be shtupping at home daily.
“Ala,” I ask between pockets of giggles, “kwani you guys were on that storo daily on your honeymoon?”
You laugh out aloud. You’ve always been the type of girl that laughed out aloud. That’s one of the things I love most about you. Your sense of humour, the levity you give to everything, mostly to the things that don’t deserve it. You look gorgeous when you laugh. Laughing makes you more gorgeous. It make us more gorgeous girls. (Selfie! Hehee.)
Suddenly serious, you tell me, “Look, Adam the elephant is cool, and I love rhinos, including Sudan the late, but c’mon, there’s no way I’m getting up at 6a.m to go watch lions tear into a gazelle or whatever herbivore they’d hunted down the night before.”
We snicker. I sip Jack Daniels from my tumbler.
You asked me to meet you here at Viva, the bar on Kandara Road. You asked to meet after-work hours, at 6.30p.m, the hour when the guilty of the city find a den to drink away their day’s sins. But you know me, you know I’m not good at keeping time. You got there at 6 and got down to reading from your Kindle, never mind the bad mix of old school and neosoul DJ WaxxC was flipping on his decks. You didn’t bother to call me or ask me how far I was or threaten to leave if I wasn’t there in 15 minutes from the time we agreed. You’re better than that. You know how to use your waiting time.
I showed at 7.15ish – apologetic, dazed, my rheumy weary eyes the colour of the fleshy part of a guava. My lips were tinged with traces of lipstick. I looked like I’d just returned from exchanging a sloppy kiss in parking with some strange dude.
You don’t give me a dress down on my timekeeping. You put away your Kindle, stood up and gave me a warm hug. Our boobies squash against each other, hahha, the way a real hug is supposed to be. We hang on a bit longer than we realize. Which means that we’d missed each other.
“What’s that you’re reading?”
“Some book from a surgeon that died of lung cancer. Paul Kalinithi. Do you know him?”
I hang my purse on the hook underneath the table and hopped on to the high chair. “Yeah, I think I know him. He wrote a piece in the New Yorker, My Last Day As A Surgeon. I don’t know, he seemed to romance-fy death and cancer. Is that how his book is?”
I ordered my double and tonic. You’re having a beer. I never understand how a lady like you can enjoy having beers. It’s a colourful contradiction, this, your beery personality.
You checked your phone then silenced it, face down, on the table. You say about the book, “Actually, no. It’s mostly about how to add meaning to your life.”
“If it’s about that then I won’t read it.” I took out my pocket mirror from my purse for a look-see at the state of my face. The weariness was etched into the little lines around my lips and eyes. If a sketch artist were to draw me right now, he’d spend hours giving these lines the texture and weight that tell the story of their truth. I told you, “I don’t like such books, books that tell me do this, don’t do that. I want to read a book and take away from it what I want to, when I need to. And I want to be entertained and made to laugh. Does that make me shallow? Or sound shallow?”
You offered me a thin smile. You understand that that’s one of those questions that don’t warrant a response.
Behind me, in the kitchen, the sizzle of steak on a hot skillet transmuted into a sheer of aroma that got thinner the farther it wafted from the kitchen. I only caught a whiff then it was gone. I was suddenly hungry.
It’s a Thursday. A loose Thursday in this loose city. You and I are here to bitch about our oh-so-complex existence as urban girls. A catch up, if you may, although I hate using that term with myself or anyone. Catch up is such an ambiguous agenda for a meet, don’t you think? Ours is bigger than that, it’s a healthy and necessary kind of feminine frivolity.
Our convo drifts to your sex life. Naturally. These are always fun convos because you share unreservedly and with the pious mask off. I learn plenty from you.
Truth is, you tell me, your sex drive has become as predictable as your sex timetable and sex positions: Your man used to like it in the morning but parenting – and life, basically – has forced him to like it before you go to sleep at night.
You’ve always liked it before going to sleep at night, you still do. You liked it because your skin was still tingly from the shower, and the little droplets of water stuck in your ear tickled. Your breath was minty fresh and a battery of dirty words waited to tumble out in squeaky order.
“Dirty words from a clean mouth, aye?”
You nod. We high five but it’s really an unnecessary high five.
Back then, you jumped into bed wearing nothing but the scent of seduction, and you rode him as if he were a wild bull, “like I was a rodeo.”
“Like Ciara, eh, in that video for Ride. Haha.”
We laugh like hyenas. I order another round of drinks. It’s dark out, the gazebos beyond the patio are partially illuminated by the security lamps that hang from the single-storey squat of the washrooms. The silhouette looks like something Steve Jobs would’ve gushed over for it’s simplicity. The music is getting louder, we have to sit nose-to-nose so we can hear each other.
You tell me you were an unpredictable temptress and always put in some sizzling extra-mile efforts, you both did, you and he. All those positions you read about in Cosmo magazine – the ‘Booty pop’, ‘Give a dog a bone’, ‘Ta-ta tease’, ‘The Golden Globes’ – weren’t just phrases from some song by Chris Brown or Trey Songz. Those positions defined your sex life.
You kept the lights on, and you did it before bed then again in the middle of the night and in the morning.
You especially loved middle-of-the-night sex because it felt like you’d been visited by a wild spirit, some incubus or something. And the chill of the 3a.m. air charged your sweaty skin like a bolt of electricity. Middle-of-the-night sex was always hot sex. Always. It panned out like a sweet dream in slow motion – you don’t quite remember how it started or ended but you remember how satisfied it left you feeling.
But now, all the fun ends when you get into bed from the shower and turn the lights out. You are parents after all, married, and you’ve both had a long day chasing paper. So you get into the height of the business with minimal effort – squeeze this, nibble that, kiss here, rub there, in and out, bang bang, and you’re both sleeping soundly in under 30 minutes.
“It’s…nice,” you say in flat voice. “Nice sex for nice married parents working hard for a nice life for their nice daughter.”
You sigh heavily and look out the window, to the deserted patio.
You can’t do it in the morning anymore, you tell me. Morning sex is a bad idea – it’s a rumour, a distant tale from your distant past. It’s a story you read from a magazine while getting your toenails buffed. Yet it’s also your truth.
But on a loose Saturday morning, your man sometimes fights this truth and spoons behind you to breathe sleazy into your ear (your voice takes on a bassy cartoonish lilt), “Baby, can we do it?” His horrible morning breath is countered by his morning wood. It feels awfully good pressed up against you, that you have to admit.
You check your phone, it’s 6.30a.m. You exhale and tell him those infamous words every man gets from his woman every so often, “Sawa, but finish quickly.”
You take your positions; you’re on your back with your eyes shut. And as he works you with the speed and intensity of a man working the jackhammer, your mind drifts to some useless thoughts.
I chuckle. “What kind of thoughts?”
You sip from your beer glass then say, “Thoughts like, ‘Is the baby ready to move to size six diapers? I’ve seen how those size fives get stuck in-between her little bum like a thong, poor thing. I think she’s read. Why does Uhuru rock that weird-length haircut, why can’t he just go bald like Ruto or go big like Kalonzo? Will those shoes I bought for 500 bob from Odeon bus stage cheapen my outfit? What’s the correct way to pronounce ‘amuse bouche’? Wizkid versus Davido – who’s the better artist, who will win this battle? I’m due for a bikini wax, aren’t I?’”
So as he’s working it, you open your eyes and let out a fake moan so he can get there faster. You look into his face and realize he’s really putting his back into it. That face, though – kinda looks funny, kinda makes you want to giggle. You also notice his nose, that nose that swells in the morning like a mandazi that’s been dipped into a sufuria of hot oil. ‘My goodness,’ you ask yourself, ‘why didn’t I notice that nose when we were dating?’
We laugh again. You carry on with this storo.
As he’s there doing his thing, you let out another moan and continue thinking. ‘What about me, does my face look like chapo dough now that I’m not wearing foundation or my eyebrows? Have I aged sexily in the years I’ve been lying on my back like this? Should I do more with my hands? What is he thinking?’
We laugh louder, you and I.
He’s still hard on that business, you let out a softer moan and roll your eyes back into your head with excessive drama. You even twist your face up because you’re feeling it now – he had a head start but you’ve caught up with him.
Just as you are about to both ride to the top of the wave, you hear the door squeak open and your toddler gasp, “Mummy?”
An edited version of this story first run in the April 2018 issue of True Love Magazine