On their very first date he arrived carrying a curtain rod. It was at the Java in Galleria Mall and it was about to start raining. She had sat in a booth facing the doorway so she could see him come in. He had described himself as “of average height with wide shoulders, like a steamer boat.” She’d never seen, known or been on a steamer boat. It sounded like something from a period piece novel. However, she could imagine what wide shoulders would look like. They would be as wide as O.J Simpson’s shoulders, which technically would be someone from a time period novel. She once saw a documentary about him and she was struck by how wide the man’s shoulders were in comparison to, say, his beady eyes.
It being a blind-date, she was filled with misgivings when she sat down and ordered something that would not make her look too plain like ‘regular tea.’ She tried the herbal tea which turned out to taste like ass. She hoped he’d ask what she was drinking when he arrived.
Three things struck her immediately when he showed up. One, his shoulders were not any wider than those of most men she knew. And certainly not any wider than O.J Simpson’s. Nor were his eyes any smaller than O.J Simpson’s. The second thing was how tall he was. He wasn’t of average height at all! He loomed over her herbal tea like a bolt of lightning from the sky. Feet and feet of him rising almost to the ceiling. At 5’4” all the men she had dated previously were tall, but Franklin was very, very tall. Lastly, she noticed he had brought a curtain rod with him for the date. Other people had animals as emotional support, Franklin had a curtain rod, it seemed. The image of O.J Simpson she had created in her mind suddenly changed to Moses from the bible, with his rod that he used to split the Red Sea.
“Annie?” He had asked. As if there was someone else in the restaurant who had dyed blonde hair. She was in a rebellious phase of my life. She wanted to be seen and heard because she felt like she had spent her 20s seeing and hearing people while not being seen and heard. The hair was certainly helping with being seen but she was figuring out the being heard part.
He shook her hand with the hand that wasn’t holding the curtain rod. “Can we move to another table?” He looked around wildly, like he was being chased, and suggested a corner table where he could hide from his pursuers. “I realised that he wanted a corner table so he could rest his curtain rod against the wall, where he placed it gingerly in the corner as if it was a sleeping baby he was laying in a cot. I hadn’t gotten laid in a while at this point and I shamelessly and embarrassingly imagined myself to be that curtain rod,” she noted, with concern, that perhaps these were some of the thoughts that were blocking her from being heard.
The first date was off to a bad start when, as he stared at the menu, she asked if the curtain rod was his emotional support animal. “We had been chatting for the past month and I had mentioned to him that I had a sense of humor that few people could wrap their heads around. He didn’t warn me that he didn’t have any sense of humour at all.” They must have had a back and forth about that question for five whole minutes because the waitress came and went back twice to pick his order only to find her still being interrogated. What do you mean by emotional support animal? Do I look unstable? It’s not the kind of comment many people would tell someone on a first blind date. No, no I’m not offended, I’m just, I dunno, taken aback.
Obviously he was offended and she was exhausted even before they got to know each other and she secretly hoped the curtain rod would fall over and hit him over his shoulders that he imagined were as wide as O.J Simpson’s. Suffice it to say, the first date was terrible. “I wanted to pick up my nice purse and dramatically run out crying like one would in a movie, but it was now raining outside and I had parked so far and no way was I getting my nice dress wet for this man,” Annie said. Her real name isn’t Annie, she’s called Ann (without an ‘e’), but her grandmother always called her Annie so the name stuck. Her grandmother died. So did her mother, last year. She doesn’t know who her father is. OK, she does but they are not on speaking terms. They last spoke on her graduation day, what, thirteen years ago. He had called and said he was “very proud” of her. “Why?” She had asked him, “because I made it this far without your help?” He never called her again.
She didn’t speak to Franklin either for another three weeks. She deleted his number and went on dates with two more people, neither of whom showed up with a curtain rod. Her only two regrets of the date with Franklin was that he never commented on her short blonde hair and that she never asked him what he was doing walking around with a curtain rod.
“Maybe the curtain rod was a metaphor, of sorts.” I said and because she’s a bit filthy as a human being, she got the joke and gales upon gales of laughter erupted from her stomach. “You should be ashamed of yourself, Bikozulu!” She screeched, “You can be a better person, you know.” I said I was trying daily to be a better person but I failed often.
The weekend of the third week Franklin called while she was bored at home, watching her second best TV show of all time, “The Big Bang Theory.” (I forgot to ask her about her most favourite TV show. Rather, I did, but she was in the middle of a train of thought and said, “I will tell you,” but she never told me.)
Franklin basically talked to her like they hadn’t gone three weeks without speaking, like he wasn’t the man who had come to a first date carrying a curtain rod and caught major feelings because he couldn’t take a joke. “But I was in a good mood, so I didn’t give him any hell. He asked if we could catch a drink later that evening and I was like, ‘it’s already as evening as it can get,’ seeing as it was coming to 7pm. He wanted to meet up at 9pm and I thought what are we, 25, coming out at 10pm to go to the club? I was 32, I was over that life of wearing a dress and leaving the house at 10pm. So I told him I couldn’t and he caught feelings. Again,” she cackles.
Anyway, they met up the next week. “Begrudgingly,” she said, “because I give people second chances.”
“Seeing as you got off on the wrong rod,” I said.
I read somewhere that it doesn’t make a story any better to deceive the subjects unless the physical description is vital for the character development. The article explains that all this is to give readers the “creative freedom” to build up their own physical attributes of the characters. Yeah, I disagreed with that. So I will describe Annie because I feel like if I leave it entirely to you, you might come up with your own things.
She is half petite and “round-ish” [That’s how she describes herself]. She’s light in complexion with a more roundish than oblong face and wears this expression that looks like someone who has just sneezed. You know the sweet relief that comes after you have let out a beautiful sneeze? Yeah, that’s her expression. You can tell by her skin routine that she spends a lot of time on her face and that she is the type that is never ready on time so you have to sit zapping through TV channels as she keeps shouting from the bathroom, “I’m almost done!”
Yes, she’s beautiful, if you are wondering, but in a very cliché way because she doesn’t have, like, unevenly spaced teeth or a slightly crooked chin or a nose that is too stubby or struggling eyebrows. You know, things that add character to a beautiful woman. Her face is almost suspiciously perfect. Her hair isn’t blonde anymore, she wore those thick braids that can pass for dreadlocks. There, now you can add your own things.
They met for after-work drinks at Sierra Bar. He came in a suit with a bulge in his pocket that could have been a tie or an extension cable. “He was the type of serious lawyer who went to court and faced judges,” she said. “He was different this second date, attentive and more relaxed,” she added.
“Did he speak like he was addressing the court and his learned friends?”
“Ha-ha. He spoke good English. He used words like ‘beleaguered’.”
“An irresponsible word to use on a date.”
In another month they were dating. In six months they were pregnant. “My mom is a single parent who believes in the church and God and doing the right thing by Him. And being pregnant out of wedlock isn’t the right thing, so I was ready to tell my mom that I had failed her, me, her only daughter, because I don’t believe in getting married just because you are pregnant. But Franklin proposed.”
“How?” I asked, “how did he propose?”
“He didn’t get down on one knee, of course, it was more romantic than that,” she said. “He stood at the bathroom doorway with a towel around his waist, two nights after I had peed on the stick and he said, ‘Don’t tell her. I will make an honest woman of you’. That’s what I thought he said because he was speaking with a toothbrush in his mouth.”
“Yeah, I told you he was a lawyer, sometimes he spoke to me like I was opposing counsel. But yeah, he said I will make an honest woman of you and he went back to brush his teeth. I have a problem with that expression, by the way, making an honest woman of me. So archaic, because walking around with a pregnancy if I don’t have a husband is the very height of dishonesty because I dared have sex. To whom? I told him this was not some wrong he should feel compelled to correct.”
“Did you want to marry him?”
“Not at that time, no. Had I thought about it? No, I hadn’t. I enjoyed dating him. I wanted to enjoy him as a boyfriend, not skip that whole part. Who also said I couldn’t be a mother with a boyfriend? Did I have to be a wife because I had become a mother? These two things can run independently, you know.”
Anyway, he wasn’t a bad fellow despite starting off on shaky ground with his beloved curtain rod. They soon started planning for a wedding, which normally is a boring part for me to write about, so I will just skip this part and go to the evening where he told her that he wanted to climb mount Kenya as a commemoration of being a father. “But you aren’t a father yet,” she pointed out to him. “I am a father by virtue of the fact that I have sowed a good seed in you,” he had said.
“There was no way in hell I was going to climb Mt Kenya in my state, of course, but he convinced me to accompany him to Nanyuki where he would check me in at Mt Kenya Safari Club and wait for him as he did his thing,” she said. “I had never been to Mt Kenya Safari Club and I thought I’d take some beautiful pregnancy photos there as well for my Instagram and all. It would also be my birthday treat.”
“Oh, it was your birthday?”
“No, my birthday had passed but I am a woman, I can have as many birthdays as I can.”
They drove to Nanyuki on a bright sunny day in March 2017 and checked into the Junior Suite of the hotel. “It was exciting. I love hotels. I hear people who say they get bored of hotels and hotel food after three nights and think, how? I could live in a nice hotel my whole life.” They spent the night together. They walked the maze. She wanted to get on a horse but he refused. She begged and he was adamant. “I can’t mitigate or qualify that risk,” he said in his lawyerly fashion. At dawn the following morning he kissed her cheeks goodbye and said, “I will call you when I find network,” and he carried his big camping bag out of the room and into the cold darkness outside.
She spent the following day in bed, watching a series from her laptop and ordering burgers and steak in her bathrobe. Franklin called and said they had set off and he was going to turn off his phone and check in whenever he could. In the evening she took a walk around the grounds and later had dinner alone in a corner of the restaurant while trying to read a book. A candle burnt before her. On the second day she was tired and restless. She didn’t have any appetite to speak of. She spent the whole day sleeping and eating and watching her series. Later in the evening she did her walk again before eating alone. No candle this time.
On the morning of the third day she came out of the shower to find four missed calls. When she returned the call, a man picked up. It sounded windy, like he was hanging from a cliff with one hand. He said he was one of the guides and that Franklin was unwell. “I asked him what was wrong but he couldn’t tell me, the network was so sketchy I kept losing him. I was worried sick.”
After three hours of sitting by the phone, worried sick, another number called her. It was an “an older sounding gentleman, he was very calm. He asked how I was related to Franklin, I said I was his wife.” He said there had been an accident.
“Is Franklin okay? Can I speak to him?”
“At this point I thought he’d broken his leg or sprained his wrist. But then this man just said that something horrible had happened to Franklin and that he was being stabilised. I said, what does that mean he was being stabilised. From what?”
She was screaming at the man, and the man was not saying much, he kept saying that he would call back, that they were taking him down to some base camp. “Where is that? I’m coming there.” She was already wearing her shoes as the man kept telling her, “no, you can’t come here, let me call you when I have more information.”
“Tell me, please tell me, ” she pleaded,” is he okay. Is Franklin OK?”
“No,” the man sounded defeated.
She digested this information knowing that she had to ask the next question.
“Is he alive?”
The man didn’t answer, so she repeated the question.
“No, I’m sorry,” he said and then the man started crying.
She was standing at the window, looking outside towards the mountain now covered by clouds and mist. Out there, she thought, my soon-to-be husband was dead. The phone slipped from her hand and dropped on the floor. She slid on the carpet and lay down and she stayed there for what felt like ten weeks.
She doesn’t remember much.
“I don’t remember how the bill was paid at the hotel. I don’t remember packing and leaving. I don’t know who drove me. I remember seeing him on a stretcher of sorts in the hospital.”
He still had his hiking boots on. They were grey with light blue laces. The soles were caked with mud with small blades of grass on the soles. The bottom of his pants were damp. He had what looked like vomit on the front of his wet jacket. “His fingers were cold, frozen, and stiff,” she said, “I held them and told him, let’s go back to the hotel. You haven’t enjoyed the room. The shower is very hot. Get up, we go wash this vomit off you. Where are your things? Where is your camping gear? Where is your phone, Franklin?”
But she also remembers things; the last few moments with him. “When we got to Nanyuki we sat in the garden at Barneys and had eggs and sausages and we watched the small cute planes land and take off with tourists wearing cargo pants and linen,” she said. “He liked to eat with his hands, like a neanderthal, which would irritate me when we were out eating.”
She remembers him throwing a piece of toast to a bird.
He was in great shape, physically. “For the past four months he had prepared for the climb by running, doing cardio, climbing Ngong Hills and Mt Longonot and trekking on trails every weekend. He was ready and excited.”
She remembers him seated at the check-in desk of the hotel, signing in. “He was left handed and he always held his pen in a weird way.”
She remembers their last supper at the hotel as just a normal supper. He had stretched one long leg that ran past her chair. It was dark outside when they went to the Zeba Bar where he toasted her with a double brandy he was drinking. She was worried about how much they would spend at the hotel. “Men will leave you with a bill in a hotel,” she joked and then she started crying. And she wouldn’t stop.
“He asked the waiter to take a photo of us seated at that very lovely bar. It’s a photo I will never see again because it’s on his locked phone now.”
She wishes that she got up and seen him off when he was leaving for the hotel that dawn. “I wish I had sat up. Hugged him one last time,” she said, “I thought about it but I was too sleepy and it was too cold. Now I would gladly stand in the middle of that golf course at 5am in my underwear if you told me he was waiting for me to give him a last hug.”
Their daughter is four years old now. She asks what happened to her daddy and “I tell her that her daddy went hiking up Mt Kenya and collapsed and died.”
“What is cap-las?”
“Your heart does something and you fall down.”
“Did an animal eat him?”
“No, he collapsed and died.”
“Did his friends also cap-side and died?”
“No, his friends are alive.”
Then she starts crying. Ann cries for her, that she will never know what a complicated but the sweetest man her father was.
“Will you one day tell her about the curtain rod,” I asked her, “when she’s old enough. I’m sure she would love that. The story of the first date.”
“Yes,” she said and started crying.
I can’t remember someone who cried a lot in an interview.
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