BY MIKE MUTHAKA
“I thought you’d stay and have some cake,” she says.
My mind starts opening up in all sorts of unexpected directions. Her parents are off to work and we’re alone in the house.
“Which cake?” I ask with a grin.
And her face returns to its settled lines. Her gaze steadies on my face and I suspect I might have made her angry. She has a black hair-net and I’m having a tough time reading her today. Her feet are tucked into grey fluffy socks and the weather outside has turned iffy and I’m supposed to be in school.
I don’t want to go to school. I want to sit on this couch and find out exactly what she meant by cake.
She doesn’t tell me which cake, though. She stands up and heads to the kitchen, and I’m left in the living room with a glass of cold Sprite and some French toast. Blades of morning sunlight have thrust between the curtains and the TV is turned off.
I can see the girl’s silhouetted reflection on the blank TV screen. I can see her bending over the oven to check on the cake. She felt like baking a cake today, she tells me.
Usually I’m not the kind of guy that gets his panties wet over the color of frosting but when a girl says she’d like me stay to have some cake I don’t refuse. Besides, would I rather be in school instead? Fat chance.
A muted staircase lies to my right. The balustrade looks like oak and the bottom of the stairs dabbles as a closet. The walls of the house are rugged, giving off a self-sufficient impression. There’s a family portrait hung on the wall ahead of me, and our girl is standing behind her mom – with a different smile than the one I’m used to.
There’s an oval shaped mirror next to the front door. In a few minutes I would be standing in front of this mirror – wondering how I could have let this happen. How I could have just sat there and watched as another man charmed and snatched her away from me.
There’s a portrait of her dad on the wall beside the TV. He’s bespectacled. His eyes give off nothing and they take away nothing. Like he didn’t really care that his picture was being taken. I wondered what he might have been thinking at that moment –when the camera flash was in his face.
I take another sip of Sprite and I feel its cold snaky fingers wriggling through my chest as I swallow. And then I hear a happy squeal coming from the kitchen. The cake is ready.
“My cakes never turn out the way I want them to,” she says. Her voice curls itself on the doorway but I’m still looking at her dad’s picture. I wonder how he’d react if he found out I was about to taste his daughter’s cake.
For a brief moment I don’t catch what she’s saying. I’m still stuck on the portrait. And then she says, “Or are you afraid of the kitchen?”
I’m not sure whether it’s an invitation to go into the kitchen or a mockery of my cooking capabilities. I go into the kitchen and find her getting the cake out of the oven.
The thing glows with golden yellow and it smells like a toasty piece of heaven. It’s a yellow cuboid with an arched roof and she looks at it as though she’s stumbled on hidden treasure. I want her to look at me like that.
Then we’re back on the couch. The cake has been left to cool on a tray on the kitchen table. She’s sitting with her legs folded and her back straight like a yogi.
She wears an oversize jumper. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her without a jumper. (“I don’t like my breasts. They’re too big, ugh.”) We talk about things. She reminds me to bring the book I borrowed. I tell her I will, soon. She says she’s been watching ‘Grey’s Anatomy’. I tell her about my favorite lecturer. She tells me she doesn’t like Trace Mziki. I say Trap Music will be the end of our generation. She laughs. I smile. We talk.
And then, as the minutes crawl by, her face takes on a different sheen. She’s more animated now. Her eyes have eased up and they’re no longer poking into my being. I get lost in the shape of her lips and the maddening fluidity of her movements. How would she look without the jumper?
Her gaze steadies on me again. It’s a look that scares me, to tell you the truth. Like she had already read my thoughts and now she was just waiting to see what I’d do next. The French toast in my belly has turned to a warm ball.
I make to lean in but some kind of revulsion causes me to withdraw. Instead I say, “Did you read Bikozulu today by the way?”
“I haven’t. How is it?”
“It’s just okay.”
“Can I read it now?”
“Go ahead,” I say.
She picks up her phone and starts reading. I’m left alone in the room again. I stand and walk around the room, moving towards the mirror by the door. Only then do I notice bread crumbs all over my shirt. Maybe that’s why she didn’t want to kiss me, because I was proving to be sloppy. Probably not a very good kisser, ata.
As I’m flicking the last of the crumbs away I hear her laugh behind me. It’s more of a helpless paroxysm, and I turn just in time to see her head thrown back and her hand over her mouth. Her eyes are shut and her upper teeth are showing.
I couldn’t have made her laugh like that, not even if I buried my face in cake. Not in a million years. I wanted to make her laugh like that.
I watched as she read on – her nicely curved lips parting in spasms of pleasure. And I couldn’t help but think that this other writer was taking her away from me. It was some sort of twisted telepathy, that this guy could waltz into the room with his words and make her forget about the cake.
I was about to kiss her, man. And this cellular bandit was taking her away from me.
I turned to her dad’s portrait and looked at him for a moment. Your little girl is being taken away by an old man, old man. She’s like 20 for chrissakes. Are you just going to sit and watch?
And in another moment I’m back on the couch. I imagine her parents are on the couch across and they’re looking at me – sizing me up, trying to see if I’d be a good fit for their daughter. They’re boring into my family history.
And what do you do for a living? You write? Haha, nice one. So what else do you do?
And then some more doubts would flood into my mind: Will her parents see my big hair and rule me out as some kind of riff-raff? How can I have the confidence to ask for their daughter’s hand if I can’t even tell the girl what I really think? That I’d like to kiss her? That I’d like to eat her cake?
What if I just walked up to her and kissed her now? Will she hate me a little for interrupting this moment with the bandit? And hadn’t the cake cooled already?
Her eyes were still glued to the screen. She didn’t see me staring hopelessly at her. I moved closer but she still didn’t look up. I wanted to be there in case the bandit became sloppy and let her go. I would be right there to catch her.
She didn’t look like she’d come back, though. The bandit had swept her clean. No crumbs. The portrait on the wall had turned a blind eye and the boy in the mirror was still waiting for a piece of cake. Kiss me before you go, he says.
I think that’s a song. Not Trap Music, thankfully.
Florence Bett is away. Follow Mike on Instagram: Mike Muthaka