Winding Patterns by Joshua Wera
The main highway heading out of Nairobi gently climbed up the hill and disappeared on a sudden descent on the opposite side. White lines of matching modern flats gazed at the ever busy traffic from opposite sides of the highway. On the far right stood residence number 222. A path cut through its iron gate, a lawn with several running sprinklers, and ended in a small concrete compound in front of the house. Dripping clothes were suspended from a clothesline at one end. Closer to the door, Amina ran a towel over the windshield of Paul’s car. As she bent to the bonnet area, she heard a call from the house and went inside.
Paul pointed at her. “Hey. A trail of water followed me to work yesterday. I hope you dried the car well today.”
“Sorry. It won’t happen again. I prom—”
“Save it. Ever since you came here, nothing seems to be working.” He kept pointing at her. “You’re lucky I’m in a hurry.”
She followed him to the car, gave him a kiss—which he paid little attention to—and watched him drive away. Moments later, she walked back to the house. In a distant corner stood a table with a chair neatly tucked under it. A computer rested on it, playing a screen saver that read, “For Better!…For Worse!” Beside it was a framed photograph she had taken years back with Paul on a school closing day. Paul had picked her up at the gate and suggested dropping by a nearby studio. She sat on a bar stool while he stood behind her and placed an arm around her shoulder. The deceptive allure of the picture now made her eyes sag with tears whose continual accumulation soon let out a bitter stream down her cheeks. She slammed the picture on the floor. “Piece of shit,” she said.
“You’re my wife, right?” Paul had fumed after returning home late the night before. “But it’s been ages ever since you’ve been one to me.”
“You’re drunk, Paul.” She tried to get away from the bed.
“That’s not the point. Come here.”
Her stay with him was a result of force. And remembering it now made her break down on the sofa. In her mind, the current situation reflected what her late mother had prophesied. On her way from school she had met her seated on the verandah seeming pre-occupied with her sewing. She thought not to disturb but before opening the door, but her mother said, “Dear, your father’s very furious.”
“Mmhmm. I’m listening.”
“Your teacher called about this boy who’s always visiting you.”
“Not you too, Mom. Dad already humiliated me enough over the phone.”
“That boy is nothing but trouble. The sooner you realize that the better.”
“First, he’s not ‘that boy.’ His name’s Paul and we love each other a lot.”
“Please sit down,” she implored. “You still don’t understand that thing you call love. Believe me. How you feel about that…that Paul is the same way I felt about your father when I was about your age. Loving, caring, and everything good. But tell me…how many times has your father slapped me in your presence?”
Amina had no immediate answer and looked down, saddened by the question. She kept her silence.
“You’re still very young. You can end up better than me if only you play your cards right.”
Now she was angered. She got up and pushed the door open. “Me and Paul will never have those occasional problems you and Dad have.” She disappeared behind the curtain.
Away from home, Paul reported safely to work. After parking in the basement, he walked past a small queue of customers waiting for the bank to open. Two guards were standing in front of the closed entrance. One of them verified his Identification Card and opened the door saying, “Welka mboss.” He gave him a casual smile and his footsteps tapped across the banking hall. He had thought he was the first one to arrive. However, next to counter #001, his station, sat his friend Jerry perusing a newspaper. They saw each other almost at the same time. But it was Jerry who abandoned his area for Paul’s. They shook hands.
“So early today, buddy?” Paul said.
“It’s Friday,” said Jerry. “Things must start and end early, you know.”
Paul gave it a light thought and nodded in agreement.
“So the plan is on. Isn’t it?” Jerry continued.
“Big time, buddy. Big time. We’ll eat at my place and leave for the gig.”
“As usual, ah? But let the good cook come with us today.”
“Amina?” Paul was surprised. “Come on, get real.”
“Hey, don’t you miss the old times?”
Paul gave a long sigh and appeared to be reliving some memories.
“So what really happened between you guys?”
Jerry was puzzled and he expressed it by exhibiting an ugly frown.
“Let’s just say I wasn’t ready for this stay-together stuff. Besides, she won’t let me touch her anymore. She keeps having this episode every time I try to.”
“No. Never mind.”
“Maybe you should let her go.”
“Maybe I should, buddy,” he said, thinking. “But who’ll take care of my house? And where will she go?”
Jerry did not get to answer his questions. The loudspeaker had just announced the opening of the main entrance. Besides, a considerable number of co-workers were streaming in.
It had been two years since Amina lost both her parents in a car crash. She had been sixteen, still in high school. A day before the accident she had returned to Nairobi with her parents from a three-week holiday in Mombasa. Her father had insisted on taking a break after a fight with Anko, his brother. While away, she had asked her mother why her father and Anko had had an argument. “The family lawyer dropped by weeks ago,” her mother said.
“Why? Is Dad suing him for something?”
“Not really, dear. He only came to present your late grandpa’s will.”
Her mother then told her that her late grandpa had left all his earthly possessions in the hands of her father.
Anko had smelled mischief in the will reading and when the lawyer left he confronted Amina’s father about it.
“You bribed the attorney, didn’t you?”
Amina’s father tried to clarify issues, but apparently every word that came out of his mouth knocked his brother the wrong way. “You’ve always been reckless. Father simply did what he had to do.”
The argument soon developed into a full-blown fistfight which only ended when Amina’s mother grabbed a pistol from the drawer and shot repeatedly in the air while ordering a truce.
Anko walked out, swearing he would get even with Amina’s father.
Two days after Amina and her parents returned home Anko came visiting. He drove into the compound in a brand new Hurst Camaro Series 5. Amina’s parents were resting in a distant garden in a deck chair. He walked over and offered an apology for the squabble: “Ndugu. Nimeona nije niombe radhi. Namna nilivyokuingilia hukuwa la busara.”
Amina’s father turned to his wife and said, “Now what do we do?”
“No matter what,” said Amina’s mother, “You’re still brothers. Forgive and reconcile with him.”
He nodded. Anko told them to wait and walked back to the car for a couple of minutes. Amina’s parents could only see his bowed head through the windshield moving about. He appeared to be trying to fix something on the floor of the car. He got out and headed back to them with car keys jingling in his right hand.
“A token of my appreciation. Catch,” he said and threw the keys to Amina’s father
“The car is for the two of you. Please take it for a spin.”
Amina’s father caught the thrown keys and turned to his wife with a suggestive look. She agreed and they both got up and went on a test drive of the new machine. They turned toward the city at a staggering speed. Since it was Sunday, the highway was less busy and sometimes Amina’s mother even got her head out through the sunroof to enjoy the thrill. They had to slow down at a certain zebra-crossing. Traffic lights had stopped a considerable number of vehicles in front of which passengers crossed almost leisurely. Amina’s father slowly lifted his right feet off the accelerator and onto the brake while telling his wife to get back to her seat. Suddenly:
“What?” he said. “The thing isn’t working.”
“What do you mean it isn’t working? Try the brake.”
The lights had just signaled continuation of traffic. The oil trailer in front of them had its engine slowly heating up. It appeared it would take a few more seconds to resume its move. Amina’s father hit the brake pedal several times while looking down to confirm he was getting it. However each attempt only felt like a mere kick through the air.
“Oh no!” cried Amina’s mother. The car was moving closer to the trailer. When Amina’s father looked up, it was too late. He took his wife in his arms as the car rammed into the trailer. A loud explosion followed shortly and reduced everything to ash.
For about a year after her parent’s death Amina lived with Anko in her late parent’s home. One evening when she had just walked upstairs into her room from school, she heard the main door open and foot steps enter and make rounds in the sitting room.
“Aisha, Mweni and Linda. Come here.” Anko’s voice called the three house helps.
The tone was unusual and sent her peeping through her slightly opened door. She saw him standing in the middle of the room and was later joined by the three ladies. He removed three sets of brown envelops from his coat and presented each to them.
“Those are your expenses. I want you to pack your bags and leave this home this very minute. We no longer need your services.”
“But sir. It’s late. Where do we—” Aisha tried complaining but was interrupted by a hard slap which sent her to the ground.
He kicked her several times. “Who are you to talk back when I’m talking? Ah?” He turned around to Mweni and Linda and begged to know whether they too had something to say. They shook their heads in denial. After he had left the room, they helped Aisha get up and out they went, never to return.
Amina locked the door of her room and lay in bed while her mind kept reliving what she had just seen. Her eyes remained frozen on a distant wall clock. With each tick, the sound got louder and louder. The clock had synchronized with the footsteps on the staircase. She only realized it when a loud bang hit repeatedly on her door.
“It’s me, Amina. Open up,” came Anko’s words in a cruel tone.
“Just a minute. I’ll be right there.” She got up and opened the door. “What is it, uncle?” she asked, standing at the entrance.
He did not say a word. He looked at her from head to toe and then toe to head and then slightly tilted his view downwards and concentrated on her chest. His eyes were a red ball of fire.
“You’re scaring me,” she said now in a trembling voice. “Is anything wro—”
Before she had completed her statement, the light went off, the door slammed and a great force thrust her all the way to the bed. She heard his buckle loosen and clothes drop on the floor. She breathed heavily getting from the bed and guessing her way to the door. She stumbled on his bare chest. He threw her back to the bed and followed her.
“Let me go…let me go…” she sent out a painful moan which was suddenly extinguished by a heavy blow to her left ear. She passed out.
Many days passed after the ordeal and Amina was still very depressed. She spent most of the time in her room crying. However, one Sunday she decided to confront Anko.
“I’m suing you,” she said “You must pay for what you did to me.”
He was seated on the sofa with eyes glued on the newspaper on the table. He did not look at her.
“Don’t waste your energy,” he said with a smile. “It’s been days. The proof’s gone.”
As he turned over the page and started laughing, Amina got furious. She ran outside swearing never to return. She went to Paul’s and found him drying his car in front of the house. After a long hug, they both walked inside where she told him everything. He then kissed her on the head and said: “I guess you’ll just have to stay here now that you have nowhere else to go.”
The long-awaited Friday evening had come. When Amina was almost through cooking, she heard a car drive into the compound. It was Paul and his friends, three guys and four ladies. She went over to hug and maybe kiss him, but he grabbed her hand instead and led her to the kitchen after telling his friends to feel at home.
“Is the meal ready?” he yelled, opening a pot and looking inside. “Oh, I see. You just stay in here. I’ll serve it.”
“But why? I thought we were going to—”
She recoiled and sat on a mat stretched on the floor. Paul moved to two other pots, opened each and sniffed the steam. “I wish they smelled as good as they look,” he said. She kept her silence and picked up a kitchen magazine lying next to her.
Later, through the thick walls, she could hear clatters of spoons and plates. Then the music started playing. The song was a popular one and they sang along, with the ladies singing the loudest. At some peaks they danced violently, causing a little tremor in the kitchen that made light utensils make their own music and dance. She was remembering a conversation she had once had with Paul. For the first time he had picked her up from school on foot. He wanted to talk.
“Hey!” said Paul “Do you believe in karma?”
Amina had no idea what he meant. She looked up while scratching her head. And as she engaged her thoughts, her pace slowed and she fell a few steps behind.
“The what-goes-around-comes-around thing,” he finally clarified.
“Mmmm! I guess, to some extent. Why?” She caught up with his pace.
“Well…lately I’ve been thinking about Lisa.”
She had not expected that topic. She hurried past him and then stood still, looking back at him. “She’s history. Forget her.”
“How can I? If you never showed up in my life maybe I’d still have her.”
“Hey, are you trying to make me feel bad?”
“It’s actually me I’m blaming.”
“Yes, she loved you, but I loved you too. You chose me over her, remember?”
“I broke up with her for no reason at all. And my conscience has never been at peace.”
“Can’t we talk about something else, please?” she said, now walking again.
“Come on.” Paul caught up with her. “How would you feel if another woman made me leave you?”
“That will never happen. I know how to keep what’s mine.”
Her thoughts were interrupted by an opening door. Paul walked in, bare chest covered in dripping sweat. She got up and reached for the towel behind the door and tried wiping his face. He said: “No thank you!”
“And water? Can I get you a cold glass?” she insisted in a trembling voice.
For a moment, he remained silent and she realized that she had in fact irrationally hugged him tight. She could feel his heart beat and the warmth of his sweat whose mixture with beer now treated her nostrils with the smell of a rotting carcass.
“I’m not a baby, you know.” He pushied her away.
“It’s like I don’t know you anymore.”
“What? Go ahead. Repeat what you just said. Repeat it.”
“Never mind, Paul,” she said in a clear attempt to avoid the drama.
“We’re leaving. There’s a lot of food left on the table. So don’t let me hear that you later made your own.” He slammed the door behind him.
When the music stopped and the car started and sped off, she cleared the table and begun cleaning the utensils. She had hoped to eat after the errands, but her appetite let her down.
That evening she fell asleep on the coach. She had stayed there hoping that Paul would return soon. But he came back in the morning when the sun was already out. He told her to wash and dry his car while he took shower and later breakfast. She cleaned the car like a robot programmed to run and evaluate its duties – correcting even the tiniest of mistakes again and again. Once done, she opened the door to get inside the house but the hurrying Paul walked out first.
“See you when I get back.” said Paul.
“No, you won’t.”
“What do you mean?” he continued while moving closer to her. His rage was boiling and just when one box he had been holding dropped on the ground, his hands found a new surface to clamp. He grabbed her shoulders.
“What are you talking about, Amina?” He said while shaking her.
“Sorry, Paul. But I’ll be gone when you get back” she sobbed out in a low tone. But her voice was loud enough to command his attention.
“You have no one but me. Stop fooling yourself. If you try leaving you’ll be back in a flash. Don’t you get it? I’m all you have now. Always remember that.” His words were a great cause of pain. She broke down and found her arms seeking comfort on his shoulders. He gave in, but only temporarily. He realized that her tears had started wetting his well-pressed shirt and he pushed her away. “Move, I have to rush…”
She fell on the ground and as she watched him drive away, his last words replayed in her mind again and again. “I’m all you have now. Always remember that.” She thought about it and nodded as though in agreement.
Joshua Wera was part of the editing team of the bi-monthly school magazine in high school. He is now a college student and has a collection of poems undergoing evaluation with Phoenix Publishers (K). He also runs a personal blog and is part of the administration team of sitecampo.com – a Kenyan website for college and university students. email@example.com