More than anything I remember thinking, “this chick has OCD.” It was how the cups hung from the kitchen counter, coded by colour. How they gleamed in the light from the window. How spick and span her bathroom was, how great it smelled, and how I stayed in there longer than I should have in a stranger’s bathroom. She was fastidious in her hygiene, her skin had that freshness and glow of someone who took her time washing and scrubbing, a meticulous tedium of grooming. Her hair, braids, in neat rows. She wiped surfaces distractedly even while seated. There was not one slanted framed photo on the wall, they all aligned like cadets on a passing parade. All items in her house lived in harmony and order. Which is saying a lot given that she had a child, who had been sent away to the mall for my coming. Apart from a toy I saw through a slightly ajar door, there was no other sign of chaos that would mark a house with a child. No toys strewn about. No lone tiny shoe in a corner. Maybe her baby was also OCD, a case of the orange not falling too far from the tree.
Later alone, as I reflected on our meeting, I had another thought, this one more naive; that she didn’t look HIV positive. As if HIV-positive people looked a certain way; all elbows and knees and too many whites in their eyes. She was healthy and quite striking in looks. You could even describe her as gorgeous. You might remember her story, back in 2019, Mike and Micah. It was a wild story that was widely read.
Here is the link, but a little recap to jog your memory.
Rose met Mike at a seminar in Mombasa. Mike was a man’s man. Those men who take what they want. And he wanted Rose. The first date was at Tamasha where, as he saw her off, he held her and kissed her full on the mouth like it was his movie and she was an extra. She drove home breathless, confused, going around roundabouts twice. (I’m exaggerating here). She described him as having a “physicality” and a “presence.” So, an alpha male. He probably showered with cold water daily and shaved his pubes using a knife. Or the edge of a sharp stone. We know that he fancied hats. Owned tens of them and over the weekend wore them, cocked on the good side of his face, like he was some gangster in Peaky Blinders. He was electric as a person and Rose was enamoured.
A love affair ensued. Months later, while on holiday in Maasai Mara having dinner on a balcony facing the howling darkness of the wild, she found out that not only did he have another woman, but that there was a breathing baby in tow. She had sat there staring at her Merlot, napkin spread across her lap, the perfect evening going tits up. She was irked and disappointed. Later, he told her, ‘Baby, it’s just a baby, don’t let a baby and another woman get in the way of a good thing.” She stuck around but then a few months later, on a weekend while having her hair twisted, she discovered on Facebook that Mike was getting married. She thought, Impossible! As he had said he was in Dubai. But it was true, he was saying I do with the same lips he had told her, “I will be back from Dubai in a week” It crushed her, came down on her like a ton of bricks.
She then went through a whoring phase, drinking, picking strange men from bars, spiraling and spiraling until one day, while carrying a strange man in her small German contraption, she got into a terrible accident that put the man in a wheelchair and almost killed her. While fighting for her life in the hospital, guess who showed up like a bad penny? Mike. He placed a comforting hand on her, the hand with the new wedding ring. Told her he loved her. As she recuperated, he visited her frequently in the hospital, bringing her half-eaten treats – cakes, lollipops, apples – claiming that she was ‘his most important half.’
Another round of affair with Mike ensued but this time with a new participant in the mix, a gentleman called Micah, an enduring flame from her whoring days. Micah was fun and frivolous and borrowed money from her. She then discovered she had HIV but kept it away from Mike or Micah she then got pregnant with Mike’s baby, or Micah’s baby, and she wouldn’t tell me because only a woman knows who the father of her baby is.
That’s where we left the story. Four years have elapsed.
This time round we met at the lonesome Art Cafe at 14 Riverside. Generally, since that thing that happened, 14 Riverside it feels like a diseased organ. Like a town, people left in a hurry. She chose it because she wanted somewhere quiet.
“Don’t say it,” she said as soon as she sat down, “I’ve added weight but I joined a gym.”
I didn’t see any weight on her. If anything, she looked better than she did when we met four years ago. Womanhood seemed to have gathered around her in curves and bends. She ordered a fresh Moroccan mint tea (hot water and mint leaves; 290/=). As she smoothed her hair, she said, “I was reading that story again last night, my goodness, it feels like someone else’s life.”
First, the baby is no longer a baby. She’s in grade seven now. She’s a bubbly and confident girl who fancies short hair and Anime. You have to knock on her bedroom door before you walk in because she insists on privacy and respect. (She rolled her eyes as she said this.) She has always sat quietly in the living room pretending to read whenever her friends are over, sponging off their conversation and later using words and phrases a child like her isn’t accustomed to using. Like, “as a matter of fact.” Or “Fiasco.” In the middle of speaking, she will tell her mom, “I digress.”
When she was 6 years old she started asking about who her father was. It started subtly; how come we don’t have a father? (We?) Then it progressed to, when can I meet my father? Then, I want to meet my father. She thought it would go away, this curiosity, but it kept up. So she talked to the father and said, look, maybe it’s time you introduced yourself to your daughter, she won’t let up. First, she told her about her father; said he worked in a different city (lies!) and that they had split up because they couldn’t agree about certain things (was it about me? She had inquired, eyes wide with hurt) and that her father loved her and that he would explain himself when they finally met.
So they met at the gardens in Tamarind Brasserie in Karen on a slightly cold Saturday morning. She had insisted on wearing her annoying bright pink jacket with metal studs on it. Quite a grunge. She’s mighty proud of that jacket. She wore sneakers and blue jeans and carried a purse (the contents of which remain a mystery, dear reader) like a lady. “She wanted to look grown up, I guess.” She told me. “She wanted her father to see her as a lady, not a child.”
They found him waiting, sitting with his back to the hedge. If he was nervous he didn’t give anything away. He stood up as they approached the table. “He held his hands before him like you would when waiting in line to greet the president. He looked so small in her presence, so unsure of himself, a man who has always known what to do and what to say in any situation..”
“Hi,” Ms. Badass Pinkjacket said, taking the first stab at a voice she thought was grown and confident.
“Hi,” he said, shaking her hand gently. “Nice jacket.”
“I like the studs on it.”
“And it fits you very well.”
The meeting went better than she thought it would. He was charming, he made her laugh. She ordered hot chocolate and “a piece of cake” (that’s how she placed her order, hot chocolate and a piece of cake, please). He eventually cleared his throat many times and told her that there had been difficulties between himself and her mom that had now been sorted and he wanted to be a part of her life going forward. Make up for missed time. “He talked to her like she was an adult, which is how you win her over.” She said. She didn’t say much during the meeting.
So, the baby is happy. Her father has managed to honour his end of the bargain. She has also met her step-siblings, and she feels complete.
Micah stuck around for a while like all fun times kind of guys do. He was unhinged, boyish, and never took anything seriously. He was spontaneous and gung-ho. When he had money he had money and he blew it on random trips and good times. He had two baby mommas at that time and seemed to always be on the phone saying things like, “I said I will sort it.” But she liked him because he “offered good companionship without any danger of it being serious.” She liked safaris and would have rather gone with Mike because with Mike she had great conversations, he teased and challenged her intellect. But Mike wasn’t into sitting in vans in a park pointing at warthogs. The idea of gazing at wildlife insulted his imagination and exhausted him. The infinite flatness of the Maasai Mara did nothing for his curiosity. He preferred to sit in the hotel listen to music and smoke cigars from the balcony while wearing one of his hats. So she went on out-of-town safaris with Micah – whenever he had money.
Micah became too unstable for her, too erratic. His life seemed to remain stuck in one season, never moving. His novelty started wearing off, and on top of this, she got tired of always bailing him out with soft loans. There was always a deal he was constantly sealing. He talked big and walked small. Eventually, she walked away. “He was a 44-year-old man living like a 27-year-old boy.” She said. Last she ran into Micah he was in a bar “looking like he didn’t want to go back home.”
But before all this transpired, Mike found out about Micah. “Not that I was hiding him or anything,” She told me. “I just didn’t declare him because we had no such arrangements of exclusivity. He was married, we were casual.”
He saw them seated at Cedars Bar, which Micah loves. They were seated at the corner and Micah had his hands on her thigh because he’s a touchy fellow and touch is her love language. “He walked up to us because that’s the kind of thing he would do, not ignore like I thought he would and call me later.” He was angry. “When he was angry his eyebrows twitched. He stood at the bar, ignored Micah after shaking his hand without looking at him, and started interrogating me. So we stepped outside to the parking lot.”
“It’s called taking it outside,” I said.
“Ha-ha. Yes. I admitted that I was seeing him casually and he was pissed off, “him? That guy in there? You are dating him??! As if I had insulted him.”
They fought right in the parking lot. He said he thought she was ‘better than that.’ “Better than what?” she retorted, “You want me to stay at home while you are with your family? Building a life? You are mad.” She told him. He must have called her a wench.
Anyway, while they were busy locking horns in the parking lot, a girl showed up. Her breasts filled her top, the buttons on her blouse doing the most in that arrangement. She was light and short and had dressed up for a date who had disappeared from their main course for over thirty minutes and she had gone looking for him only to find him arguing with another woman in the parking lot. “Just go back inside, please” he barked at her. The poor girl stood there, bewildered, thinking to herself, “This has changed the dessert.”
“And that girl wasn’t even his wife.” She chuckled at the irony. “ He had no legs left to stand on. He was a man on a stump.
After that things were just never the same. He lost his job and got into some tricky financial times. Things haven’t gone back to what they were for him.
She, on the other hand, went back to dating and got “close to marrying a man,” a doctor, an orthopedic surgeon. A slim, kindly man, with owlish spectacles and a medical practice that he spent many hours in to keep afloat. Not “the typical man” she would have been with, she admits. He was in his early forties, never married, a quiet teetotaler who worked most of the time, and was fascinated with butterflies. “They are called Lepidopterists, I learned.” She told me, a word I can assure you I will never remember after writing this. “They are people who are collectors of butterflies and moths.”
“What a strange cat,” I mumbled.
“He was nice, though. Just boring.” She said but then quickly added. “Maybe boring is a harsh and unfair word because he was kind, just different in how he saw the world.” He was ready to settle down, he told her. Maybe raise a family. “He also didn’t believe in sex before marriage, which is where we differed because I believe people should have sex before marriage to ascertain physical compatibility.” She said. “Anyway, I told him about my HIV status and although taken aback he said it wasn’t a big deal. He was happy with my viral load and how I was taking care of myself, diet, and exercise. We eventually started having sex, of course, and things were going so well, even started planning a wedding, and then he just started acting differently, withdrawing until he finally broke it off early last year, saying he couldn’t go through with it.” (He swore it wasn’t because of her status).
She felt rejected. “Breakups get different as you grow older, they sink in differently,” she said. “I guess it’s because it’s so hard to find someone you even half like as you grow older. You aren’t willing to experiment as much as when younger. You have less time to go on many dates that don’t serve you just for the sake. Also, the pool of men is much smaller as you grow older. This town is full of psychopaths and liars and lazy men who don’t do anything with their lives. So when you meet someone who has his shit going on, someone who doesn’t have two wives, three side-chicks, and ten children you want to hang in there and compromise. So when it all ends you feel like you have been thrown back in a long pit you had been trying to climb out for years.”
In our last interview, she said, I will lift a whole paragraph of what I wrote four years ago.
“I thought my baby would fill me with happiness, and they do. But there is another type of unhappiness that a baby can’t fill.” She says. “It’s of knowing that I will never marry, which is something I wanted to do. To have a wedding, a white one. To say I do, to someone who is mine, not someone who leaves. I feel that I wasted all my best life on Mike and I have nothing to show for it. Nothing. Just my baby, yes, but what else? I’m HIV positive, headed to my 40s, I’m technically single with no shot at love or lasting companionship. I think about growing old alone and it fills me with dread. But I also think about dying before my baby is old enough, dying thin and wasted and bitter and leaving my baby behind and that’s even worse.”
I asked her if she still felt the same way, that perhaps she would grow old as a single woman, living in an apartment with a cat. She sighed. “It’s not altogether a frightening idea anymore, even though I might want to grow old with someone.” A silence settled after her statement.
“Come on, don’t talk like you are 65,” I said lightly. “You are only still in your forties. Plus, your knees are still strong. You might meet the love of your life in the randomest of places. You won’t even believe the happenstance. Like you will accidentally run your trolley into him in a supermarket, removing his toenail in the process.”
She chuckled. “And then we will fall madly in love as his toe bleeds in the supermarket?”
“No, of course not,” I said. “He will sue you first.”
She no longer thinks of dying of AIDS and leaving her baby. “Something else will kill me, not AIDS.” She no longer wants a white wedding, or any wedding for that matter. It’s not a do-or-die. “Old age, or the idea of it, has also changed significantly since we last spoke. It’s no longer sitting in a rocking chair in a quiet house, looking outside the window as the world passes by. I think increasingly single people are growing old better than they did years ago. Of course, I would wish for someone to grow old with but I also realize that I don’t want to waste a lot of energy thinking about things I can’t control. Some people will grow old alone, others will grow old with other old people. Some will die before they grow old. If I die before I grow old, it won’t be so bad, will it?”
I don’t know. Will it?
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