“He’s rich and old,” I tell my friend Gina.
“You mean rich but old?” She asks from the carpet where she’s seated between my knees. I’m helping her undo her braids. She’s in this team natural group where they occasionally meet in a garden to drink rosé and talk about children and men, which they say is the same thing; talking about men and children. I was in that group but I left – keeping natural hair was putting too much pressure on my life. Now I’m rocking a wig as I decide what I’m going to do with my hair next.
“No, I mean rich and old,” I tell her. “There is no but. He’s 58 but he does boxing every week and likes climbing mountains and kayaking and such like things.”
Gina is flipping through Netflix with a remote that looks like something from a gynae’s tray.
“He’s super-smart,” I press on. Her hair smells of coconut leaves. “ The other day we were talking about if I’d get it on with another girl, then we started talking about his own sexual orientation and he said he’s a “humoursexual,” and I asked ‘What the hell is that?’ and he said he only sleeps with people he can laugh with…”.
“Is he married? He must be married,” Gina says.
“No, he says he isn’t.”
“How do you know? Is he a monk?”
Gina’s 4-year old son walks in from the kitchen. She’s a single mother. He wants to eat a cupcake. His mother tells him there are no cupcakes but she will bake some soon. Gina sometimes bakes cupcakes when she’s bored. They are mostly nutty cupcakes. Her son disappears to go back to play.
“He said he’s divorced.”
“Why is he divorced at 58? Is he divorced from wife number one or wife number three? When did he get divorced?” she asks.
“Well, we haven’t gotten there yet.”
“Faridah, come on, babe…”
We met at a polo tournament where I was a KYM for the PR company I work for. I saw his back before I saw him; he had on white brogues and he was standing by a banner for malt beer trying to light a cigarette with his back turned to the afternoon breeze. Who wears white brogues? A cocky man no doubt. His back stretched the blue polo shirt he was wearing. I caught myself thinking, “Now that’s a back on a man.” He stood there sucking on his cigarette with his eyes in a squint. I didn’t see him again until the evening event when I spotted him leaning at the mobile bar with a leggy woman, picking on groundnuts. He looked like he was flirting with her. The next time I saw him was at 10pm when I was trying to reverse my car after the guests had left and my boss had given me shit for something I didn’t do. I was exhausted, so I reversed the car into a small ditch, my tyres turning in the mud without any traction. Guess who was standing outside my car window, cigarette burning between his fingers? The light from the street lamp fell directly on his crown and he seemed to ignite. I don’t like men who smoke, but it’s the way the smoke curled towards him, like even the smoke couldn’t resist him. Who was I?
“Remember that idiot I met who told me he was divorced yet not only was he still married, he was expecting a baby? Do you remember that ass?” Gina says.
I laugh. “Oh, Levin. He was hilarious, though.”
“Just chunguza this story of divorced. Why would a 58-year old wait until then to get divorced? Did he just realise the marriage wasn’t for him?”
“We are assuming he got divorced at 58, maybe he was divorced at 45.”
“And he just happens to be single all these years until you come along?” Gina asks. “Be careful with such men, me I really shuku them.”
“Your faith in humanity is impressive.”
“I’m 32-years old, I take men with a pinch of salt. That way they taste better.” She laughed.
On our first date he held my hand in his and read my palm. We were seated on an orange couch against a brick wall at The Nest Rooftop Bar. It was a quiet night. I was worried as f**k because I had – in my brilliance – just eaten the signature spinach sushi roll as a starter and just as I was about to excuse myself to go to the ladies to see if I had a piece of spinach between my teeth he had gently reached for my hand to read my palm. I couldn’t even smile for fear of a piece of spinach falling in his palm. He was speaking softly about Chinese palmistry or something he kept calling chiromancy but sounded like chiromo to me at the time. For a man who isn’t overtly muscular he had big paws. A boxer’s hands. My small hands completely drowned in them. They were surprisingly soft, with just the right amount of underlying hardness and roughness beneath them. He used an index finger the size of a sausage to trace deep lines in my palm; pressing, drawing, stopping to look at my face as he explained my fate, which, by this time, was certain to me. He spoke softly, in a near whisper, and from a place at the bottom of his belly, like he was reading from an old religious scroll of the Corinthians. I haven’t read Corinthians but I could swear it’s supposed to be read in this man’s voice. As his deep voice droned on, vibrating under my seat, I could only think, ‘his neck smells so good.’ My sense of smell was at an all time high because I was on my periods. I could smell a deer’s sneeze two kilometers away. So I smelled his neck. It smelled moist, as if small puddles of moisture had been trapped at the base of his neck.
I’m embarrassed to say that my intellect disappointed me. I didn’t make an erudite commentary on his chiromancy capabilities, instead I heard – embarrassingly – a little girl in me say in the voice of a slay queen, “I didn’t know boxers could also read palms.” He had conspiratorially leaned in towards me, so close I could smell the pores of his skin, and murmured. “There is so much I do with my hands.” It wasn’t even dirty, but he delivered it in such a dirty way I blushed like a dikdik.
“He’s a gentleman,” I tell Gina. We are now in her kitchen that overlooks a playground outside. A winding staircase leads to her kitchen door that is made from glass. “That night we went on a date, he offered to drop me home because he had asked me to Uber out. He drives a complicated car without a door handle. I remember standing at the door of his car wondering where the damn handle was.”
Gina laughs. “Ngai! Yaani, you can get a chick from Dago, but the Dago in her lives on! You embarrass me. What good is your Master’s degree if you can’t figure out where a car door handle is? And why didn’t he open the door for you if he’s such a gentleman?”
“I’m glad he didn’t. I find men who open car doors for women pretentious. It’s unsustainable,” I say. “Anyway, it’s a wonderful car, sijui Escalade or maybe it was a Maybach, I don’t know. But I remember that it felt like we were sitting in the cockpit of a Dreamliner. He said he was going to pass by his house for a second to sijui enable some security system, or whatever, I didn’t really listen to his reason, I was busy trying not to touch one of his knobs.”
Gina laughs. She’s cutting carrots. Her help is not due until later in the evening.
“He lives around Muthaiga area, this big house with a winding driveway like in Uncle Phil’s house in Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Actually it looked exactly the same except Uncle Phil’s is all white, and his is grey bricks, somewhat British. He left me in the car and ran into the house…”
“Were the lights on?”
“The lights in his house, were they on?”
I try to think. They could have been.
“Why does it matter?”
“Because if he had lights on that meant that there was someone in the house.”
“Like a butler, you mean?”
He kissed me just after my periods had ended. Of course he didn’t know it, but just before my ovulation, I feel like a goat on heat. I get so randy that I avoid going to the gym because my gym instructor, who I don’t find in the least bit attractive, suddenly sends bolts of longing into my girlie parts when he holds my waist from behind to assist me during squats. I get so randy that men who I otherwise wouldn’t look at suddenly become more interesting. In those four days before ovulation I wear bright colours like a peacock, maybe to announce to the male species that I’m open for mating. It’s madness, in those days. He probed my mouth with his tongue, like he was searching for answers to the question of where ducks go when ponds freeze in winter. I could feel his hard boxer chest squash my chest and even though my tits do nothing for me, I could feel them wail in euphoria. I was a mess.
The kiss lasted not more than a minute, outside my car at Mama Ashanti where he said he was in the mood for pepper soup. A Kisii with a West African palate. In the immortal words of Jeff Koinange, “My, oooh my!” I was in my highest heels because I was feeling sexy and powerful and sexually liberated, and now I was his height as we stood in the parking lot snogging like teenagers. He didn’t look 58-years but his skin was thick around his chin. I could see how they folded, darkened and were slightly bumpy from years of shaving and balming. He had the curious eyes of a newborn foal. He shaves everything on his chin and everything on his head to hide the balding. He always buttons his shirts all the way up to his neck whether it’s polo shirts or dress shirts. This shows the form of his shoulders more; taut and broad and ready to be offloaded to offsprings like him. The world would be much better for it, I thought in my rubbish post-menses state.
If he had asked me to come back to Uncle Phil’s house, I would have laughed and said no. If he had urged again I would have said, yes but added a warning that I had an early morning status meeting. I didn’t.
“Babe, your father is, what, five years older than this man?” Gina asks, shaking pepper into the simmering beef stew. The kitchen smells of garlic. Her son, who is back from playing outside, knees soiled, is now seated, transfixed before a cartoon playing on TV in the living room.
“It’s not like I want to introduce them to each other.” I say. “In fact, this might not go anywhere.”
“I doubt.” She says, steam from the pot rising to her face. “You have gone for many dates with him and you talk about him like he’s Tywin Lannister.”
“More like a well-matured Jaime Lannister with the cheek and brights of Tyrion.”
“Well, this guy may well turn out to be just your Ilyn Payne and have your head on a chopping board.”
She opens the fridge and peeks inside. White light floods her face. She’s wearing African print dungaree shorts – long beautiful dark and well toned legs jut out from the shorts. “Faridah, I don’t know. I think this guy is fishy as hell, what does he do anyway?”
I didn’t hear from him for a week after pepper soup. Maybe he was still digesting it. The kiss, that is. When he surfaced he pinged me on Whatsapp when I was just about to start thinking that perhaps I’m not such a great kisser after all.
Hey, stranger. Did you disappear to rehab? 🙂
Ha-ha. How have you been?
I’m fantastic. You?
Not bad. Just work and things. How is your day looking today?
You disappeared for a week, where d….
I deleted that. It would sound needy and overbearing. I’m neither of those two things. I’m a strong and well-balanced woman. On most days.
I tried again…
I just realised that you never quite told me what you do for a living last time I asked. You aren’t a fugitive, a gunrunner or a sorcerer, are you?
He was offline. So I sat at my desk and waited, holding my cup of herbal tea against my chest for warmth. Across the room the massive photo copier spewed paper incessantly. Someone was printing out the Bible.
Phil is online.
For years I dealt in glass production, I still do to some extent. Now I’m involved heavily in research, mostly studies in glass surfaces in optical contact….boring stuff. 🙂 So can I buy you dinner tomorrow?
Study in what-now?
After writing that I didn’t know what else to say, so I wrote.
Will you tell me things about glass that I didn’t know? [I was flirting]
Sure, if you come with a pillow. Talk later, Brown-skin.
But then he was already offline and my “later” would remain grey tick for 18 hours. That was the thing with this guy, he’d simply go under the radar and I’d not know if he’s surfaced in Sao Paulo or if he is just across in Muyenga, Kampala. He was like a mystery, a shadow. But then I thought; he’s 58-years old, and if he’s anything like my father, he must struggle with modern communication apps. In fact in his house I could almost see a vintage rotary telephone, something straight out of MadMen.
“ You can’t be sure he doesn’t have a wife or wives or many children,” Gina says. “And now most married men lose their wedding bands accidentally a week after the wedding.”
“Well, I don’t know. But if he has a wife, she doesn’t live here,” I say. We are waiting for the rice to come to a boil. She’s on her phone, going through her IG.
“Is he on Facebook?” She laughs.
“Nope. But I haven’t checked Snapchat.”
“Anyway, you are a big girl you know what you have to do, so do you, babe,” she says. “But I think this guy has things he hasn’t told you, that’s all.”
Dinner turned out to be in his house. Uncle Phil’s. There wasn’t any vintage rotary telephone, but there was a massive chandelier made from what looked like glass or crystal. It hung over the massive marble foyer and a stairway with a heavy wooden banister, curving its way up to the upper floors, now darkened. It seemed excessive, this decor. Everything was elaborate. Dinner was at the terrace in a different section of the house overlooking a fountain and a garden lit by what looked like floodlights. You could play rugby there at night. An old woman in uniform served us. I avoided her eyes. I don’t remember dinner very well, but I remember that after my third glass of wine we ended up in his bedroom which wasn’t a bedroom but this massive suite with a working area and windows that ran from one end of the wall to the other. The sheers were drawn. No curtains.
I was in my black small dress. No knickers, because I’m a risque kinda lady, but which was a very bad idea because four rosés later when we started making out on the sofa he placed his hand on my inner thigh and accidentally brushed my lady part (thankfully waxed to within an inch of her life). I was afraid he would think that I was too anticipatory or presumptuous of the evening. But I knew we had crossed the Rubicon. His big hand was either cupping my small breasts or running down my back, searching for my ass and even though I have a fairly ample ass, when he finally slipped his hand under me and grabbed them, his hand threatened to envelope my one cheek.Big and eager boxer hands. I felt dizzy. Jazz, I remember, played somewhere. Piped music. I also remember his hardened torso when his shirt came off, a torso with a hard paunch that had a streak of hair running down to his navel, as if pointing at his groin area in case I didn’t know where to find that. I don’t remember my bra coming off, but I remember in a trance the sound of my zipper running down on my back and a snappy click of plastic giving way and voila my bra was loose in a tick. He had used one hand. It was like magic. No man has ever removed my bra in that quick motion; a good number fumble with it, especially this particular bra with a complicated hook. I looked at him and said, “You are so good at that, you must do this a lot to unsuspecting girls.” And with his nose in my neck, taking lungfuls of me, he had growled in that crook of my neck, “I don’t do girls.” I shivered.
As you would expect, I found myself stark naked in his four poster bed, with him leaning over me, still in his trousers, his 58-year old manhood pressing against me like he had a Nokia 5110 stuffed in his pants. Oh, the story I will have for Gina tomorrow. I held him back gently and said, “You have a condom, right?” And when he said, “I’m allergic to latex.” I reflexively tried to close my legs. “I…I can’t…we can’t do this without protection.” I said.
“Oh, don’t worry, Brown-skin, I’m safe.” He nibbled the tip of my nose with his small teeth. I didn’t know my nose was ticklish. “I renewed my health insurance only two months ago. I’m as clean as a whistle.”
Clean as a whistle. Last time I heard that simile was in primo. Well, as much as I liked my nose to be nibbled, I was too keen to proceed with this without protection.
“I can’t,” I stammered, wishing I could sound more decisive. “Besides, I’m ovulating.”
He laughed. “I will withdraw.”
I rolled my eyes and pushed him off me and covered my nudity with my dress because deep down I’m still a Catholic girl like that character in Jackson Biko’s novella Drunk. He sat at the edge of the bed wearing a long pleading face, his big hand holding my leg as if I might escape through the window.
We had a small, intense back and forth about protection and I held my own; nothing was going to happen tonight unless one of three things happened; either he did a test, showed me test results of his HIV test or he used a condom.
“Faridah, let’s be reasonable.” He said evenly. Now I had stopped being brown-skin, now I was just plain Faridah. He looked ridiculous sitting there shirtless, his pants looking like a small strawberry plant was growing from his groin area. I like strawberries, especially in my mojito, but I want to know how my strawberries are handled first.
“I am being reasonable.” I said impressed at how firm I sounded even though my nipples betrayed my newfound firmness. They were not working with me. I was starting to get cold lying there covering myself with my small dress. “I’m sorry, maybe we can do this when we are both ready.” I made as if to stand up and he jumped up quickly and said, “No, no, whoa, be easy. Stay the night then, we can cuddle!”
I laughed. God, men are all the same even at 58. Cuddle? What a laugh. Then, what, in the middle of the night he will tell me that he just wants to place the head in? Just the head?
“Tonight is not the night for cuddling,” I said, sitting up. “I don’t cuddle on Sundays,” I smiled at him, “Sundays I want to sleep alone so that I wake up on Mondays hungry to take over the corporate world. If I cuddle I will wake up soft and someone will just move my cheese.”
He laughed. “ Or eat it….so, what can I do? What can we do to rescue this situation…I mean I can’t do a test now at 9:23pm….”
“Well, you can,” I said.
“How?” He asked with a smile, “Do you walk around with a kit in your clutch purse?”
“No, but I know of a website that sells these HIV Self Test Kits.” I reached for my phone and logged onto www.besure.co.ke and looked for the nearest pharmacy open at that hour that sells the kit. He stood at the foot of the bed, looking defeated. Amazing how men all become boys when they are in a situation like this. It doesn’t matter if he’s 25 or 58, before the nakedness of a woman, they are all stripped off their age and they remain boys.
“Goodlife Pharmacy at Junction is open until 10pm.” I told him. He looked up at the clock over the bed, cursed under his breath, wore his shirt, slipped into rubber sandals and ran out the door. “Are you going to drive all the way to Junction? It’s 30mins to closing time, you won’t make it!” I find it amusing and ridiculous the heights men will go to, to get laid.
“Maybe I won’t make it, but I can try,” he said, standing at the door. “There is more wine in the mini fridge over there. Please don’t put on your clothes.”
He winked. Then the door shut and I could hear his footsteps furiously clopping down the wooden staircase, a banging front door and the screeching of the tyres of his weird car going round the circular driveway. And he was gone.
I sat there in the big silent house, holding my dress against my boobs. Maybe today is the day someone at Goodlife pharmacy will close 12 minutes later than usual.
Friday December 1st is World Aids Day. Get tested. Or test yourself with a self-test kit. For support see details here www.besure.co.ke