‘No one can explain the shape of clouds,’ whispers a man sitting at the window of a moving train, ‘clouds are nothing but shifting faces; alien sea creatures and breathtaking landscapes.’
Can you believe it when I say the devil peeked out from behind a cloud and laughed at me? It sounds ridiculous, right?
My whole body shook. I wanted to thrust my hands through the white clouds to strangle the laughing face. Before I knew it, I spilled passion fruit juice on my beard and on my neck tie and the glass was rolling on the floor. Absentmindedness. Luckily, the glass didn’t break. I didn’t even know at that instance that broad neck ties were no longer in fashion. It was Namibia who pointed out this to me in a voice that was more of a lover’s song than a school Master’s. Later, she got me the latest neck ties from a tailor in some backstreet shop; thin glossy strips of cloth that didn’t look at all like neck ties. From then on I swore against positioning myself at train windows.
I was determined to save my face from further disgrace now that Namibia was holding the end of the fishing rod for me. Her patience was extraordinary.
Namibia’s kind of beauty -the obscene flawlessness of it- scared me. Her fragility made me think she would crumble into dust and blow away. It was bit long before she took notice of this fear in me.
‘Don’t need to be afraid of yourself,’ she addressed me with a smile. She fondled my shaking hands until I raised my eyes and looked into her eyes. She had the determination of a goddess. She vowed to rescue me from my tormentor, from myself.
Today, I still hold onto the memory. It is as vivid as anything can be. She pulled a perfumed white handkerchief from her handbag, asked me to stay put, and set about wiping the spilt juice from my chin and neck tie.
Later, I would protest against Namibia’s love. I felt an inexplicable surge of hostility growing inside me against her saintliness. Was she a jinni sent by her mountain goddess to sweeten me and then swallow me alive?
We grew up in the same neighbourhood. We both had jumped the fencing wall as children to our little makeshift house, hidden from view by frangipani bushes. The lonely old Asian couple who owned the compound never took notice of us. It was childish and sweet then. But now, the memory of us straddling on the sidewalks of jacaranda-lined streets in school uniform before hurriedly parting, felt artificially imposed. These dark thoughts dug a pit inside me.
Everything about her spelt beauty. My mission to find fault with her left a sour taste in my mouth. Her smiles and kissing and warmth were unwavering. She was flawless and pronounced. So, I began to hatch secret plans to destroy part of her. My mission was to reduce her from the elevated platform of impeccability to the acceptable podium of human error. I was driving to the centre of town for an important business meeting when the idea hit me.
Dr. Barasa and Anil Bhaji called from Nairobi and Dubai respectively to reiterate how important our Chinese client was to the firm. They both reminded me that I was working for one of the best law firms in the country. I purred on Skype and Anil Bhaji laughed. Dr. Barasa didn’t. He has this ugly scar on his forehead so that whenever he intends to smile, the opposite signal is registered.
I braked outside a pharmacy. It took me roughly ten minutes to purchase a box of new Mumbai-made scalpels and a 250 ml bottle of iodine tincture. I reversed the car, and drove back toward my apartment on the banks of Lake Nakuru.
I knocked at the front door just to make sure Namibia was home. I didn’t want to scare her beforehand. I had watched this scene many times in serial killer movies. I would act normal. I would entice her into thinking everything was fine. I would take her to bed and then there, I would do whatever I wanted to do. I would tie her up, lock her in the bathroom, put on the TV and drive back to work. At the office, I would act normal.
I was alarmed. I didn’t find her in the house. Normally she would be inside watching her favourite cartoon show or listening to Khadja Nin. I knocked once more and decided to go back to the car to get my keys. I checked all over the house for her, behind the couches and under the bed. There was no sign of her. Alarmed, I ran back to the car and drove back to the office.
The meeting with the Chinese client took place at the appointed time. I was nervous and absent minded but by good luck my client took no notice of my disorientation. Afterwards, I closed the office door, sat back in the chair, thinking of how to seal loopholes in my plan.
I checked the diary and found that I had a free afternoon. I was a member of an exciting book club that met thrice a month at Java. I drove from the office block with my mind orbiting about the subject of Namibia and why she wasn’t at the house. Was she a jinni? Where had she been when I returned to the house? Was she clinging against the ceiling and watching me? Had she made herself invisible? Had she read my mind? I had returned to the house with a clear intention. I wanted to make life bearable for both of us. This way, I would be able to reciprocate her love.
At the book club meeting, a blockhead suggested Theodore Frasier’s American Tragedy. As the elated member purred over the synopsis, I got uncomfortable and excused myself. I rushed to the washroom and splashed water on my face and stared at the mirror. A stranger stared back at me. What the hell was wrong with the world?
Dr. Barasa and Anil Bhaji called at 5:00 pm to ask how the meeting with the Chinese client went. I briefed them accordingly.
Still troubled by Namibia’s mysterious absence, I pulled over my car, dumped the medical package in the roadside trench, inhaled deep and reassured myself that I was safe from any suspicion or accusation that Namibia or her mother goddess might hold against me. It was my way of coming out clean and starting over again.
When I arrived at the house that evening, the house was as dark as a medieval hideout. My first impulse was to call out for Namibia. No one answered. I drew out my keys, opened the front door and groped my hand through the darkness. When I put on the lights, I nearly passed out from fright. Namibia sat in the sofa in the middle of the house, staring at me, like a light-emitting goddess. I put my hand to my chest and tried to stifle perspiration by mumbling pointless self-assurances.
‘This is a special night for us,’ she uttered.
I kept mum. With a frightened expression on my face, I tried to gather my lips to a rhythm.
‘That is so romantic of you,’ I muttered with false conviction.
Namibia stood up from her goddess position and walked over to me. Before I said my last prayer, she was all over me, kissing and unbuttoning my shirt. She held me by the neck tie and in the master-dog fashion led me to the kitchen. The whole thing was confounding to me.
I went down on my knees. She closed her eyes and drew in a gush of air.
I wanted to confess my sins – about a box of Mumbai-made scalpels and a 250 ml bottle of iodine tincture – but I thought better of it. I didn’t want to spoil the moment, the pleasure.
We drank beer, made love and slept in each other’s arms. Namibia woke up earlier than me the next day. My tongue felt dry and brittle, like a cow’s. I couldn’t look her in the eye. As she was busy fixing breakfast, I walked to the window to watch the lake. It danced in grey and the view was gobbled up in artistic amorphousness. In the distant, I could see a swarm of pelicans, dipping their giant beaks into the water.
Despite making love to Namibia, the darkness in me didn’t die. It fed on itself and grew. The second time an idea struck me was two months down the line. I was standing behind her in the kitchen. The impeccable smoothness and shape of her neck was enticing. Looking at her, I felt like Dracula. I felt the urge to pounce on her and suck her dry. But since I am no Dracula, I thought about smashing her forehead on the surface of the kitchen sink. That would level things, I postulated. Just then my cellphone rung. I rushed to the sitting room to answer it. Namibia’s older cousin, Muthoni, a police officer attached to the Airwing Department in Nairobi was visiting. We would have dinner together.
During her first day, Muthoni studied us like an adult. ‘Go out and run,’ she counselled, ‘it’s good for your hearts.’ Namibia was yoga faithful. I tagged along like seaweed. I didn’t want her to call me a slug. Well, my parents didn’t raise a slug. They would literally chock to death if they heard someone call me a slug. I wore my sweat suit and sneakers and went after her. After yoga, we meditated for a while facing the lake.
Leaning against the railings on the balcony reminded me of my university days when I slipped out of my room to catch a smoke. I am glad I quit. I don’t really know if my lungs would have survived the abuse.
We joined Muthoni for breakfast. She is a weetabix-milk-apple faithful. Namibia and I stuck to brown bread, fried eggs and white coffee.
A week was left of Nambia’s annual leave. I drove her and Muthoni to town and left the car in their care. Muthoni was desperate to visit Menengai crater. The lake, she said, held a magic spell. The documentaries on National Geographic Channel only intensified her belief. I wished them well, hoped into a matatu and crossed the streets on foot to the office.
I had no effing idea how a portrait depicting a young white woman shooting down a rhino found its way to the wall of my office. I had never taken notice of the portrait except on that day. It sat directly in front of me, on the wall where nothing else stood, screaming for my attention. I thought about the young white woman and suddenly a curiosity to establish the relationship between the young white woman and Namibia led me to the front office to see Rehma Abdalla, the office receptionist. She is not the cliché type of receptionist with a snobbish twist of the lips and a repulsive attitude that is commonplace here in Nakuru. Rehma graduated with a degree in Economics from University of Nairobi. She is an excellent reader of faces.
Rehma’s husband, Dr. Abdalla, is a great friend too. We watch football together over the weekends at African Eagle Club. Dr. Abdalla and Rehma are blessed with two beautiful kids. Fadhili is eight and Mahmoud is four. Both are cricket players.
‘What is it with your face?’ Rehma asked. Her fingers were moving fast on the computer keyboard.
‘It’s about the portrait in my office.’
‘Mandela’s or the rhino girl’s.’
‘What is it? You want it removed or something?’
‘I am kinda rattled.’
‘Nonsense,’ Rehma pronounced, ‘there is nothing wrong with the portrait. It is your perception of it that has altered. Namibia loves you. I know the woman. And by the way, does she still do yoga?’
‘She says she will do it on the morning of her wedding day.’
Rehma’s counsel granted me temporary reprieve. For when I got back to the office, the young white woman shooting down a rhino was just plain work of an amateurish painter.
After work hours, I drove to industrial area to see my mechanic friend, Njoroge. He is street-smart guy. I rehearsed my words.
‘This is not Uganda or DR Congo. This is Kenya,’ Njoroge said, eyeing me suspiciously.
‘I can tell a young boy who knows a boy who knows an old boy to take care of your problem. Are bad people after your life, mate?’
‘Yes,’ I lied.
‘In your line of work, it is expected, isn’t it?’ Njoroge theorized, ‘we all play dirty. The only problem is public perception. You are clean and everyone else is dirty, yeah?’
‘Can you deliver on something?’
‘Hold it right there. We have a big problem,’ he said, ‘I quit, you know, shortly after you saved my ass from landing in prison. I am living straight now, like a priest or even like God himself. Bring your car and I will repair it but what you are asking me to do is no longer my line. I don’t want to sling mud at my own face. I am too old for prison now. I am a father to a high school son. A future rugby star. Plus, a few days ago two boys from DCI haven’t a visit over the Asian hardware incident. They asked a few uncomfortable questions, unasikia? Guys like us just disappear puuuuh like dust and we’re never seen again.’
Njoroge fell into a pensive mood. Then he lifted his face with a frightening suddenness. His greasy hands were large and clumsy. He was cradling a huge spanner. He bit his lower lip and put on a different face. I was about to apologize and zoom off when he gestured to me to follow him inside. I sighed, thanked the heavens. Inside his shop, he placed his thick index finger on my breast and addressed me like a stray child.
‘I am doing it to save a life,’ he spoke, ‘nothing less. If anything comes back, it is squarely on your ass. I will deny it. Understood?’
‘Good. See me after two days.’
‘I will be here in two days.’
‘Does your car need anything?’
‘Ok, next time it is.’
After my meeting with Njoroge, I drove to African Eagle club. I winked at Jefferson who gestured to me to go upstairs. I met Tito and we shook hands. He is the smartest peddler I know.
I want to say here that I was first hooked to hard drugs during my university days in Nairobi. My roommate John introduced me to ‘cool kids’ and soon we were cruising out of town to the Coast for beach parties. We peddled it around campus and ended up with a lot of cash to spend. We had a cut of twenty five percent on all dealings. It was hazardous business too. We had to cajole Onyango outside the campus and stick the end of gun in his butt before he promised to seal his lips.
One day, while returning home from a pool party, John hit his bike on a pole and broke his neck. We were riding behind him, high as always. He died on the spot, before the ambulance arrived. His death shocked us and our group broke up. I grieved over the death of John for months. I struggled with addiction afterwards until I met Namibia, opened up my heart to her. I don’t know how it happened, but I confided everything in her, just like that. Maybe it was her eyes or the movement of her lips or her voice, I honestly don’t know. I began taking withdrawal pills.
Lately, Namibia has lost her old cheer. You can’t believe what she wants me to do. She wants me to confess to my family. My father intends to leave his estates in my name. A cancer has eaten him up so bad. He’s turned into a sack of bones.
The perfect moment came a month after I drove to Njoroge’s automobile repair shop. We went down to the lake, treaded into the acacia trees. Namibia wore trouser jeans with lacerations at the knees, a vest and sunglasses over her hair. I was dressed in sneakers, khaki pants, a hakuna matata t-shirt and safari hat. Inside my bag, I carried Njoroge’s gift.
Feverishly, I pinned Namibia to the bark of a yellow-barked acacia tree. The guide pulled out his cell phone and walked off. I heard him mumble something about the park not being a safe place to make someone pregnant. There were rhinos, lions and all kinds of dangerous animals. A few paces away, a male baboon was mounting a female one. The pair squeaked in pleasure. Namibia cast one glance at the creatures and pulled me to her. Why not? I unzipped my trousers, pulled down her trousers and groped through the warm fluids of her body.
Then it hit me. It was the perfect moment. There was no one around except a squirrel standing on its hind limbs gnawing at some nut. The baboons had tired of their act and gone separate ways. I asked Namibia to open my bag and take out whatever was in it.
‘Are you kidding?’ she asked, ‘what is in there?’
She opened the bag and took out two bottles of water, a Maasai shawl and a camera.
‘There is more,’ I suggested.
Then she reached for it, a cold piece of L-shaped metal. She took it out and stared at it for a long time with shocked eyes. She shook her head sadly. There were tears in her eyes.
‘For how long have you been keeping it?’ she asked.
But before I could respond, she threw the pistol on the ground and began to walk away. I knew I had wronged her in more ways than I could atorn for. I had screwed up, I knew. Watching her walk away was like watching the moon disappear behind clouds. My world was suddenly unlit. I looked up at the sky through the leafless branches of the yellow-barked acacias and caught the image of a smiling face. The devil was peeking at me from behind a cloud, again. I lowered my eyes to Namibia, her back turned against me. She was flawless and pronounced. The distance made her look smaller. I looked up at the sky again and saw that the devil hadn’t even bothered to hide its big head. I picked up the pistol and aimed it at the edge of the cloud. When I released the trigger, it felt ecstatic. Somewhere far away, I heard the alarming scream of a woman. I chuckled. The cloud devil was dead. I sunk to the ground in blissful sway.
About the author:
Wanjala Njalale is a Nairobi-Based writer and poet. His work has appeared in The EastAfrican Magazine, Brittle Paper (UK), Aerodrome & Enkare Review, among others.