Today, I remembered your body.
I shut my eyes, and your face came floating in the dark. The silhouette wasn’t shaped like a heart. It was small. Small, not as in tiny and shiny, but small because it fit in my palms perfectly when I held it to kiss it. I remember how I could kiss that face the whole Sunday afternoon; and your earlobes, and your cheeks that would flush crimson. Giggles that escaped your mouth like crystal bubbles as I traced the bridge of your tiny nose. The lips were tiny too. Like white women’s. But they tasted of promise and a moment. And I would unzip them with the tip of my tongue. My tongue would dive deep looking for home. I would floss your teeth with the waters of my mouth. You would raise your body as an ocean wave meeting the moon. And then you would shudder. Like a small hurricane.
Like a waterfall, I would proceed down to the heaving mounds of your small breasts. Cascade on the nipples. Torture them. Torture myself with your existence. I would keep flowing. Smudging your flat tummy with mouth strokes. I would paint you down to your oasis. The wetness. The warm wetness. I wanted to be wet like you. So I pushed in. And you gasped. We gasped. Faster. Faster. I slid my arms beneath your shoulders. You held tight. We wanted to melt into one candle. Burn off together.
Today I remembered you saying you were leaving. People always leave. Half the human race struts around the earth with sad faces because people left. Lovers, parents, friends. They always leave. Ultimately, existence is all about leaving. But you were just visiting your mom in Nakuru for two weeks. Just across town. Just a few hours’ drive from Eldy. And that evening I cried on your shoulder. That was cowardly, I told myself afterwards. But what else could I do when a part of me was leaving for fourteen days? Do you know how long that is for a heart that depends on another body to keep beating? Do you know that when you are 21 all you want is to love, to fuck, to love, to be fucking happy? And fourteen days is fourteen lifetimes?
Three days after you left, Wangeci showed up. She was a neighbour next door. I know you remember her. She and her husband were teenagers trying to start a marriage, a pitiable scene because Roba was a broke liquor-head; a class seven dropout selling second-hand clothes in West Indies market. Wangeci had missed her period when in Form Three at Moi Girls, and had quit school. She had miscarried so she spent days and days in bed. Occasionally, she came out in her shorts to sun herself. Her thick, brown legs and that Kikuyu ass so flawless you wouldn’t believe she’d just had a miscarriage. And you guys got close. Got to talk things. Got to invite her in for tea. Got to go to the salon together. Meanwhile, Roba and I went out for drinks together and talked about the two of you; how juicy your young chochas were.
Wangeci came over three days after you left. Roba was out to hustling, as usual. When Wangeci came, I was watching an episode of House of Cards.
Niko poa tu.
Kuna chai kwa flask.
Thanks, but niko poa.
We didn’t talk much. It has been always like that. Brother code: you don’t get too chatty with your neighbour’s wife. Wangeci was in her shorts, her beautiful legs on the couch. She propped her head on the couch pillows as she watched the movie, chewing gum all along. I joined her on the couch. When I touched her face, she didn’t resist. She just kept staring at the screen. I touched her neck, then her shoulders. She turned to look at me. I stared into her. She was a swimming pool and I was looking for my own reflection. She slouched down on the couch into which her body seemed to sink. I kept my hands going. Her breathing quickened. I then carried her off to bed and lay her down delicately. She reached down and slid her own panties off and left them hanging on one leg—just in case someone knocked the door while we were at it. We fucked. God, we came long and hard and fucked again. Sex at 10 in the morning is saccharine.
She went back to her house like nothing had happened.
Today I remembered that too. That I cheated on you and you never found out. Or maybe you did but didn’t care. What you don’t know can’t hurt you. How could you not have found out when you came back from Nakuru?
Wangeci’s body was on my mind. I hated and blamed you and said that maybe your little tour to Naks had been to see some boyfriend. I blamed you because something was different about you. Fights started over the smallest shit. When I said I didn’t want you walking around with Wangeci, you looked at me and shook your head.
Nini mbaya na wewe siku hizi?
Sijui. Maybe we need a break, I replied, eyes on my phone.
And you said, Fine.
That was it. No tears, no goodbyes. Just ‘Fine.’ I found that weird. My ego went flat. That you couldn’t put up a fight to defend what we had built for four years and half. No. Fine. You just packed.
You just walked out.
Now, there are a million ways of dealing with a breakup.
One, you could spend hours believing it never happened. That she’s just bluffing. She will bring her ass back after two hours. So don’t bother to call or text. Be a fucking man, man. Pour yourself a drink and breathe.
Two, you can lock yourself in your bedroom for two days, crying. Delete all texts and photos while in there. Delete the past. Change your WhatsApp profile to something that suggests desolation. Add any Nietzsche quote as the status.
Three, you can go out and drink and party and yell all night then cry quietly at the back of the taxi back to an empty house. Spend the following day with a pounding headache listening to a sad slow song on repeat.
Four, you can attempt suicide. She might bring you flowers at the hospital, kiss your hand, cry, sympathize and say,
Baby I’m sorry, let’s start over.
But you can’t because you have too much pride. You don’t want to die either. Because even in your death you will imagine her happy and sucking off another man and washing dishes for him. You know, all the things she did for you. Death is not enough.
Five, you can call Wangeci over after her husband has gone to work. You fuck Wangeci, imagining it is Clara’s body. You flip Wangeci over like the pancakes Clara used to cook. You viciously nail her as you cry internally. The tears come out only through your penis, into Wangeci’s. You poison her with your pain. You are punishing her. Punishing all women. Punishing Clara’s body. But her body was your body. So this sex with Wangeci doesn’t heal you. Nobody can sex you the way Clara used to. You could get lost in the memory of how sweaty and sweet the sex—or, love-making as she used to call it—used to be. And masturbate once or twice for old times’ sake.
Six, you can go berserk and write her stupid messages if she hasn’t already changed her number or blocked you. You can tell her how fucking glad you are that it is over. How her pussy was too big anyway. How terrible a cook she was. How too skinny her thighs were. Ass so small it only fit a palm of your hand. How you never loved her anyway. How you wanted to end the whole thing ages ago but you were bidding time. How you’re relieved it is over. You text all this crap. You wait for five minutes, thirty minutes, eight hours, two days, she writes nothing back. You feel like a moist piece of dog turd. Every time the phone beeps your heart pounds like, Ah I knew this bitch would text back. Only to find it is your landlord.
Your phone is a weapon of torture. You switch it off. Switch it back on after two minutes expecting six hundred missed calls and texts. Nothing. Not even your boys are texting you today. Nature is conspiring against you. God wants you to die.
Seven, you can start stalking her social media. See if she has moved on. She has. Because there’s no teary post about you. About men. Or how stupid men are. Or about how men are skunks. None. Only some selfies with some friends. She was in Club 411 after the break up. She went to swimming the following afternoon. She frets over school work. She is doing her masters at Baraton. She looks happy, and that kills you more. You ceased to exist the moment she said Fine through her teeth and left. You expected her to deactivate her account and cry herself to sleep for two weeks just like the other broken-hearted girls you had dated before her. You expected her to text you back begging, saying, ‘Please let’s start over. Life is stuck without you.’ None of that happens. This is not the Clara you know.
Eight, you can call up Sammy and tell him about the breakup. But your boy Sammy has been single for years. He sees no sense in relationships. Sometimes you suspect he is a homo. You know he will laugh it off. Tell you, Fuck bitches, get money, bro. That’s the motto. But he has no bitch or money so you don’t know what the fuck he’s talking about.
Nine, you can buy flowers and chocolate. Show up at her apartment in Elgon View uninvited. There are two possible outcomes: she will slam the door shut in your face or invite you in. An awkward silence will follow if she invites you in. She will be in her nightdress. The one you bought her a year ago. The one that traces the curves of her small ass. The one that reaches mid-thigh. And you will look at those thighs and lust will set your body ablaze and block your fucked-up mind. You can’t afford to lose all this. All this hair, this intimidating silence, these drowsy eyes, this hand on her waist, this woman. No way, so you will want to say something. You will clear your throat. You will stutter. How have you been? Before she responds, her new guy will walk in from the bathroom, a towel wrapped round his waist.
When you left, I remember sitting at the edge of the bed thinking, with a cigarette between my lips, Now what? All seemed so empty. The house, the bed, the future, the furniture, and the pair of panties you left in the bathroom on purpose. I sniffed them trying to rekindle a memory. Nothing. I still felt empty. Your absence sucked life out of everything. My heart felt like a pricked balloon, slowly deflating. Slowly becoming a dried up tendril in my ribcage.
This is how loneliness feels like.
I remember us arguing about the nature of things. Why people fall in love. Why we start wars. And I said it was all about food.
Food? Get the fuck out of here, you laughed and mock-punched my stomach.
I said, Yeah. We are food to the universe. We eat to replicate. We are drawn to other people who can either offer means to acquire food or replicate or both. We fight those who threaten our means to get food or replication. We fight them emotionally and physically.
So am I food to you?
I said Yeah. Love and sex are forces that propel humans to replicate. Provide more fodder for the universe. And death. And time. Otherwise, the romanticization of sex and love is a silly idea. Man tends to revere things he doesn’t understand. So loneliness is the only true essence of being.
To which you would respond, You mean to say you don’t love me or you’re with me because you can’t be alone?
Then I would ask, What do you think?
I think you’re crazy.
Which I was because I am the one who introduced you to Uncle Paul. We visited him in Kahoya. In his sixties, he had a bad eye that teared all the time. His napkins were all soiled yellow. His being in Kahoya meant that someone else was managing his law firm at Barung’etunyi Plaza. I told you Uncle Paul had paid my way through college. He was my father when my father walked out one night. And I told you I had never told anyone this before. I told Uncle we would marry someday.
We had planned a future together: Children, getting rich, touring—all lovers want to travel; Silly dreams of young lovers—flying to Zanzibar for a vacation, having sex on any beach in East Africa… All that sounded empty. My days were empty, Clara.
That evening, at around seven, I dragged my sad ass to Sanjeel for a beer. It was empty, save for a waiter mopping the counter behind a muted giant TV screen. An empty soccer match was on. The stadium, somewhere in England, littered with empty fans waving red and white flags. I ordered a cold beer, sipped to fill up my emptiness and it burned down my throat, like battery acid, to an empty stomach. The pub started filling up. One by one, men in empty suits from empty jobs occupied the tall stools at the bar. We shared empty stares or raised a glass and nodded at each other in quiet acquaintance.
By 12 a.m. I had club-hopped from Sanjeel to Caesar’s Palace then back to Sanjeel like a restless school boy. I was dead drunk by then.
I staggered across the roundabout to Who’s? Pub. We used to come around here for movies at Sosiani Cinema; just a floor below the pub
Before I hit the stairs, a woman crept from the shadows.
Sasa, utatoa ngapi?
Vitu gani hii tena? I cursed and climbed the stairs to a warm temperature of rhumba music, thick women, and a smell of beer. I ordered one and then swept my eyes across the room. In one corner, an overweight baldhead had his stubby fingers up a twenty-something year-old’s skirt. At the next table, two heavy brown skins flanked some guy who seemed to enjoy all the happiness I was looking for. One of the brownies had her jeans so low her butt glistened with a trillion stretch marks. In the small dance floor, empty brainless people swayed to empty noise from the speakers. Beer in hard, I joined the emptiness on the dance floor. Every time I swayed my waist close to a girl, she would take one look at me and move away. Were I sober, that would have fucked up my self-esteem. But here I was, not giving a fuck because the only person I cared about was gone. And Fine is all she had said.
Fed up, the pub puked me out to the cold Eldoret wind of 1.00 a.m. The same prostitute was still posted there. Thighs so fine you wouldn’t believe a thousand dicks have been through them. I was horny as a rabbit. Combine beer and loneliness, some vulnerability is born.
Sasa uliamuaje? She asked, wriggling like a worm towards me.
I said, One finje.
Sawa. Na ya lodging?
That’s how they trap you. Bargain pussy to 50 bob, they always get you by the lodging trick. All I needed was a bang-bang behind the alley between Ndupawa and Shah Hardware Store. But she insisted we get a room. Mid-month is recession time for most prostitutes in Eldy. Kalenjin farmers had not yet made a kill from selling wheat to come and spoil these them. Some would be famed to spend 50k a night on pussy when the money came but mid-month, horny hustlers would rule the streets again.
I grabbed her hand and walked with her towards the main stage. We passed street kids rubbing their palms next to a fire lit from cartons and dry garbage. I stooped to light a cigarette and they said, “Mzee, nipe puff hata mimi.”
I handed them the whole Dunhill pack and walked on.
Behind Sam’s Club, there’s a shortcut to Merita Lodging where people got mugged a lot. We walked on. I felt like getting mugged that night. Somebody snatch my heart out and throw it on the street. Let it be run over by a car at full speed. I felt like a wall ready to be crashed into by a wrecking ball.
The fat lady at the entrance of the lodge asked for 200 bob. I paid an extra 50 for the condoms. She had probably witnessed men walk in with the same prostitute 10 times that night.
I slammed the door shut and threw up the whore’s skirt.
Eish, lipa kwanza.
I gave her the 150 then went wild. I was rummaging her up against the wall. I didn’t even know what her name was. Nobody ever really knows a prostitute’s name. But I remember yelling out, Clara I’m sorry as I plunged into the whore’s moneymaker. At last, she pulled me off saying,
So we took to the rickety bed with a thinning mattress. My jeans down to my ankles, she pushed me down the small bed, got on top and worked me. My thing kept slipping in and out but we kept going. I kept mumbling, Sorry Clara. And the whore got belligerent:
Wacha kelele! Hebu mwaga haraka!
To which I exploded so hard the condom could have burst, but who cared? This was Clara expunging out of my system. She pulled down her skirt and left me cursing, picking up my things: socks—whatever—dressing up.
I walked out of Merita Lodging feeling sober. A little bit lighter on my feet like I just walked out of a yoga class. I wanted a smoke. I reached to my pockets and there was nothing there. No wallet. No phone. I checked in all of my jeans pockets and there was nothing.
Oh, that goddamn pickpocketing bitch!
I ran back to the lodge to ask the fat lady if she saw the direction the whore had gone.
I don’t know, she replied, chewing gum.
I went back to the room, checked under the bed, pillow, anywhere. Nothing.
Fuck, fuck! Fuuuck.
That’s when the tears came. I just put my face on my palms and my body started convulsing. 21 and lonely and looking for love in the wrong places. My body just shook. This body that had cost me you. I let it move. I let it flood. I let it soak my T-shirt wet.
And I remember that night. The streets just looked on, unmoved, as you, Clara, slipped through my tear-soaked fingers.
About the Writer:
Michael Ochoki is a Kenyan poet and memoirist currently working as a journalist and educator in in Sudan. His poems and stories have appeared or shortlisted in BN Poetry, StoryMoja, Praxis Magazine, The Lake, Kalahari Review and African Writer. He was first-runners up in the NALIF Award, 2017. Some of his poems are featured in the anthology, “Best New African Poets 2016.” His muse is art, mysticism, the human condition, and philosophy. He likes to experiment with beat-sampling to fill the void of existence.