I stood awkwardly at the waiting lounge, and soon, was pacing the room impatiently. She was coming home. Her plane was to touch down at 8 pm. She would be here in a few minutes which now seemed like a century. The time was dragging like an old hag. My stomach had an uncomfortable churn and my bowels rumbled as the time fell 8 on dead. I went to the washroom and stared at the reflection of my havocked self. Skyping, calls, emails, texting was what glued us together as she stayed in Paris. It was a long time, but it did not matter. She was here now- would be here now- and that is all that mattered. The distance made us ache for each other.
She was afraid, she had said over the call, her voice so lacy and reverberating on the other end. It will be okay, I assured her. Although to be honest, I wasn’t really sure about this distance thingy, which we had swept under the carpet for far long. Did Timothy still matter? She wanted to know. The last time she was around, Tim was a shadow, casting a lot of possibilities away. It had been rocky, all right, but her heart was safe. I assured her, trembling over the phone and whispering. I wonder why she had asked about Tim, when she knew she was all that mattered. I thought it was obvious.
The blaring sound of the approaching bird fractured my thoughts in the washroom as I dashed out. The announcement confirmed her plane was here, from Charles De Gaulle, touching down at 2010 hours. The other anxious people waiting for their loved ones were jerked to life, rubbing their palms together excitedly, others getting their cameras ready to record the exact moments and reactions. The cherished, priceless moments. Others had beautiful flower arrangements; bouquet of roses and others daffodils and tulips. There was an elderly couple, holding hands and looking out through the window in the lounge. The man was balding and the lady’s hair had greyed. They must been waiting for their child or grandchild. Kids, who seemed hyper-activated from chocolates or caffeine, were chasing each other as their mother tried to control them in vain. They were shouting, “Ashley is here!” repeatedly, it was sickening. I definitely do not want children. I hope she too, doesn’t want kids.
The plane engine finally died and the passengers on board disembarked excitedly. One, two, three, eight, ten, seventeen, twenty eight- oh there! There she was; the brazen woman! She was strikingly beautiful, lean and breathtaking, with magnetic good looks. If she had added some pounds as she claimed, it was for the better. She descended, so delicately, her shades perched atop her shoulder-length, thick, glossy hair. She raised her head as soon as her gorgeous feet touched the ground and scanned around. She wore blue jeans, a white, collared blouse and a pullover.
I watched her move towards the lounge as my heart drummed heavily on my chest. I exploded with excitement as soon as she passed the gate and headed to her, holding roses. What? You thought I could wait for her empty handed? She saw me and screamed excitedly, running towards me, hands spread, like she was about to fly. I took her in my arms, my breath so rapid and hers so soft, and held the flowers behind her back. We stayed that way, uttering no word, letting the silence speak of the longing. We disentangled when her phone buzzed. I handed her the bouquet as she laughed softly,
‘Oh, thank you! You shouldn’t have!’
Her voice was even more enchanting than it was over the phone, when she was million miles away. Her skin was smooth like a baby’s butt. This beauty was bewitching. She was wearing “For you only” perfume, of course, clearly having heeded to my insinuations.
‘It’s fine, really.’
I found my tongue at last.
‘And you are so beautiful.’ I added, touching her cold cheeks.
Was she blushing? I held her hand and took her carry-on bag and we were heading to the luggage front to take her other stuff. She was speaking excitedly, quickly, of how happy she was to be back. That the flight took long. Of how much she missed me and I gazed at her, feeling grateful she had come.
‘I loooove being here!’
She was rejoicing as I opened the front door for her to get in. Minutes later, we were trundling through Mombasa Road to Eka Hotel, where we’d have dinner. That was 3 years ago.
Before this, we attended a seminar in Egypt. She had invited me to the summit on Education For Prosperity and badgered me on the same. It was exciting that I’d see her, but I felt I would be out of place. Fashion designing and academia matters are extremes.
‘We are going to be hundreds of us; nobody will be focused on you. Except me’ she said intoxicatingly over the phone. ‘You’ll feel fine. And you have me,’ she added
She sent me notes, essays that the presenters would talk about. It would give me insight. Some were really well thought out presentations with informed conclusions. One Professor Jakandra Pradip’s essay argued about systems of educations across the world and their direct impact on economies. He gave a very interesting conclusion. Reading through what many other academicians and philanthropists would offer started unlocking my world of possibilities. She had been one of the organizers and felt the need for me to tag along. Sometimes you have to take these trains and ride along. I went.
And it turned out to be one of the best decisions I had ever made. It had all the memories that mattered. I watched her join some dancers during the Moulidn an-Nabi festival and they tossed her on air. I panicked when she was midair, but she was received and planted on the ground, gently. Everyone cheered and I gazed at her with admiration. She melted from the crowd and was soon holding my hand.
‘You scared me, you know’
‘You shouldn’t be so uptight,’ she was laughing
I kissed her forehead, then upped her chin and reached for her lips. I couldn’t help loving her so desperately. Her enchanting beauty and resolute chained me like a slave. And her carefree nature.
The first time I first saw her, I was intimidated by her everything.
The rain was pelting hard when I ran to the bank. I needed to do some transactions, but wanted shelter more. To my chagrin, the security guard said it was past time. He was blocking the way, typical of mean underpaid workers ready to vent out. I was haggling with him when a red car pulled over to the curb. Minutes later, a woman, in her early thirties or late 20s, stepped out with an umbrella and was at the door. She commanded the guard to open the door, her tone unfaltering. That HVC attitude. You’re wasting my time. She was speaking angrily and the man opened the door, letting her in. She turned and said, ‘She too is coming with me.’
I followed her stupidly and heavily collapsed on the hard seat in the banking hall. She went to the door labelled ‘Corporate’ and her thudding high heeled shoes disappeared as she ascended the flight of stairs. I looked at my feet and was ashamed of myself. What did she think of me? Does she think I’m poor? I was feeling inadequate suddenly as I stared at the stairs that had carried her. I was praying she doesn’t come down soon. I hoped that she would take longer. I hoped the rain would subside soonest so that I rush out and never seen her. She was so beautiful and intimidating. She seemed to be my age mate or slightly older, but she was authoritative, demanding and assertive. Maybe proud really, not assertive. I hated that she was a stranger, a woman, and had defended me. She made me get through to the bank even though it was past time. I wanted to thank her, but she had walked away briskly, never looking back and went upstairs. She is just proud. I sighed. And bossy. And belittling. I will just leave and run in the rain. After all, this wasn’t the only building I could shelter. I felt uneasy and conscious of her. And I brushed this feeling away.
I stood, facing the revolving door, assessing the torrents. I can run across to the mall, actually. I rejoiced. It doesn’t matter if I’m drenched. I won’t erode after all. My neck was now long as I checked out. I should just go. I failed to register her approaching thudding high heels because of my preoccupation. There was a tap on my shoulder. I turned round and she was standing right in front of me. Lean, her hair held in a French twist, her lips red and a smile staring at me in half amusement.
‘Want to run in the rain?’
‘Um- er- well-’
She crossed her arms on her chest, her maroon handbag pushed to the elbow. She smiled easily, sensing my stupidity. Best if she changed subject.
‘Did you get help?’
‘Yes. Ah. No…um. I was just coming to shelter.’ I surrendered.
She laughed so addictively and I joined her. Her eyes- oh boy!
Hours later when she had insisted I join her at Alliance Francois Auditorium for a boring opera, I knew it would never be the same. We were never going to be strangers from the bank. It would be something more.
Somedays we talked about the future. Food, music, places. She loved children and I had this fear that she would want one in the near future. Everyone else was having kids. One evening, while watching the movie, Yours, Mine And Ours, I asked her if she wanted any kids, someday.
‘Please don’t tell me you want us to be parents!’ she exclaimed
‘You love kids so much and-’
‘What do you want yourself?’
‘I don’t feel the umph’.
‘Me neither. These ones I care about are enough.’
It was a heavy burden off my shoulders. However one more thing ate me up day and night. Would she decide to move back to Paris? Settle there? She had undertaken her undergrad and Masters there and had a chain of restaurants of African cuisine. By the time we became an item; she was already living in France, but was here for “one or two things”, as she said. She had been planning to focus on settling there, but things got complicated. New girl, new love. She decided on retaining her apartment, her car, her insurances- well everything. I felt a bit safe.
She went to France frequently, given she worked/volunteered with an organization for social work. Often, she would be called upon to do this and that, but loved it when given tasks in Africa.
I didn’t ask, but she knew it was a nag on my mind so she avoided talking about it. She had lived in Paris long enough, but still hovered around here several months in a year.
Her organization, Lieu de l’organization de l’espoir supported pastoralist girls in Samburu, autistic children at various centers and supported other centers in Africa.
When she wasn’t thinking about her work or her businesses, she was travelling and she loved photography. She took a lot of pictures- hundreds of them as a matter of fact- in a day. One time, we were standing outside the gate of The Parliament of Kenya. She was snapping photographs on her camera, taking too long to focus to get the right shot. She stayed still as I held her backpack and other stuff.
‘I can’t seem to get the lighting correct,’ she whined.
‘Isn’t the sun bright enough?’
‘That’s the whole point. It is darkening the shots.’
‘I don’t even think this is a good place to capture- ’
‘It is! It is magical.’
She loved the fountains and the monument and described them as healing. If you asked me, I didn’t understand anything in her photographic world. I was standing behind her as I looked at her slaved dedication to take a good picture of the parliament. Later, she would show me the pictures and send them to her Photography club in France. She described her club as a collection of hungry eyes for pictures. She took amazing pictures for sure, but my favorites were her own, that I took. My best was the one I took when she stood behind a cactus on the semi-arid expanse fields in northern Kenya. She looked like a nature goddess.
She was sobbing softly on the pastel-toned sofas in her apartment. I was sitting on an ottoman, opposite her, holding the hot cup of coffee.
‘When were you planning to tell me anyway?’
‘What should I have done?’
‘You should have told me-’
‘That I’ll be moving back to Paris?’
‘Whatever! I’d be cool with it’
‘You wouldn’t! You haven’t been supportive of that-’
‘So Mrs. Simayo would have? The driver would?’
‘Don’t you even start going maudlin on me!’ She yelled
‘This going and coming. You know I can’t keep worrying about you leaving. Just go if you wanna-’
Her chest rose and collapsed heavily. She pushed her fuzzed hair aside.
She roared and I shot up.
‘Leave my house! Leave! Je te deteste!’ She shook angrily, pointing at the door.
My anger was rising, but I had schooled myself so many times about handling her irrational ass. Her cry-baby character when confronted about the truth. I was taking deep breaths and releasing them slowly. I needed this. I swept the car keys on the coffee table and made for the door, yanking it open and was slapped by the cold 10 pm air. I was out in seconds, running down the winding stairs. I was swearing this was over.
This argument ensued because of what had happened during the day. We had gone to one of the girls’ school her organization sponsored, in the depths of Samburu. The chauffeur had earlier on been uttering some platitude of what noble job the NGO was doing, but when she asked him if he truly thought it was noble, he confessed that the government should do more. Schools here couldn’t continually rely on aids or funding from foreigners. She felt stubbed. And said she wasn’t a foreigner per se. He glanced back.
‘You aren’t a foreigner?’
‘No. I live here’
‘But my boss gave me tight instructions-’
‘Is that so?’
‘That I’m driving a diplomat. That I shouldn’t talk too much. Talk only when talked to- those sorts of things.’
‘I’ve lived here a great deal, but occasionally leave’
‘Why would you choose to live here when you have a job there?’
She slipped her fingers into mine.
‘I will go back.’
‘Oh. Will you?’ I intruded their talk, pretending to be totally cool.
We were soon at the gate of Sinalel Secondary School, a secluded school without any fencing or gate. Dry, dead and depressing. Since her little talk with the chauffeur, I was left taciturn and dispirited. She had said so casually that she was leaving. It was the truth. She couldn’t stay here forever, and I was being childish, imagining I will keep her in my pocket.
The teachers and students received us warmly and quickly assembled in the assembly ground. The dust rose and it took a while before everything settled. The principal made a lengthy introduction. It wasn’t necessary. They knew her. She said that they were happy to have her around. That she had been very instrumental. That many girls now had a future.
When asked to speak, she greeted the rapt audience cheerfully. I stood at the veranda, in front of the assembly ground, with the teachers. I have never seen her at peace, like that moment she stood, talking to the young girls. She spoke passionately.
‘You are the light of this country,’ she said vehemently.
They clapped and she nodded.
‘Education will help you transform your communities. You will overcome all obstacles, because this organization will support you in ways we can.’
They clapped again. She told them of stories about girls across the world, who have beaten all odds to get an education. She mentioned Indonesia and how some swim across rivers, about the sad congestion in India, about Haiti’s poverty. That amidst all obstacles, many girls have come out and created a future through schooling.
The teachers murmured, confirming how kind and selfless she was. I was standing next to a female teacher, on the veranda. She was their mother Theresa, the woman, whom I later gathered was the deputy, said worshipfully. How soon would she be leaving? The deputy, Mrs. Simayo was asking me quietly. I said I wasn’t sure. The deputy then mentioned that it must be in a month’s time or two. She had apparently called the administration, saying she will pass by since she was moving back to Paris soon. We wished she could stay longer. She said to me. But she has a job to attend to, she added ruefully. I nodded, my mind scattered all over. She had told this administration a lot of things. They must matter to her more.
I held her hand. She was unsettled. And teary. We were standing at the lounge, separated by the last gate, where those not boarding wouldn’t be allowed past. She was wearing the white blouse, the blue jeans and the long grey drape front cashmere cardigan. She walked away and passed the door, then, as if pulled like a marionette, ran back and hugged me.
‘I’ll be back. I promise you.’ Her voice, feathery but defeated.
She was leaving for Paris. Yet again.