Friends, sometimes you see people out there and their faces refuse to leave you. Sometimes they don’t even have to talk to you. It could be brief eye contact, but they continue to flicker in your mind long after. They drop out of nowhere and plaster a print in your head. At least that’s how it was today with this lady I spotted in traffic.
First let me tell you another story. I’m telling it to you now because it fits. But if we’re ever going back to it just so you can have a good laugh, buy me a drink first.
Once when the excitement of finally getting my driving license hadn’t sieved off, when I was in good shape and the belly hadn’t appeared, when getting myself a tattoo was still debatable and the monsters in my loins were raging, when I was still into riddims and puberty was showing its hand all over my face, I had to live through the longest awkward moment.
I’m coming down Nairobi West to take the Nyayo roundabout to Mombasa Road on the left lane when I pulled up to some Merc with the passenger window rolled down. I poke my eyes inside and I see a middle-aged woman with an easy looking face on the wheel, a face you can say hello to.
And I was going to say hello. Maybe talk about the frustrating traffic. But instead what does Mr. Loins do when the nice lady turns to look at him? He winks, ladies and gentlemen. He winks.
Oh how desperate of you, Michael.
Then just as I was about to follow up the wink with a smile, she slowly looks away and her heavily tinted passenger window starts to climb. Completely cuts me out. Leaves me sitting there like a bewildered cat. That window sliced off every bit of ego I had. Shame hung in the air like a threat.
I was sure she was giggling from behind that window. I had half the mind to roll up my window. But went against it when I realized that would only confirm her victory for her.
Traffic was stuck there for almost ten minutes. Apparently not all lone ladies want a chat up. You don’t say Michael.
So this lady I’m telling you about. The one I saw today. Let’s call her Jess. She’s stuck in traffic around Belle-Vue, Mombasa Road. She’s alone in a dented white Nissan Note. There’s a black tape running down the side, and the front bumper has been clawed to ugly black streaks. The gloomy weather has somehow slowed everything on the tarmac. Even the newspaper vendors look like they’d rather be home sawing logs.
Her car has no tinting. She has one hand on the wheel, and the other one is hooked onto nothing in front of her face. She’s staring at her nails, probably thinking it’s been long since they were manicured. Jess’ face grows on you, the kind that becomes prettier the longer you look at it. She’s bespectacled, no ring on her finger. She’s wearing a suit and a tired stare.
The traffic is no longer moving, and she hasn’t seen me yet. I watch her for a good minute and I get lost in her obliviousness of me. By gum do I stare! The moment swallows me so much I take a while to notice she’s turned to look at me, like she’s felt me make a hole to peek into her life. I half expect her to brush it off and look away but you know what she does? Or rather what I think she does? She smiles. That smile was so small I could have missed it; she had one of those smiles that sit on the eyes.
That smile talked. If it would have stayed there for a bit longer it would have sung.
And that smile warmed me.
I have this thing where I try to come up with people’s stories, random people that happen to catch my eye. Like how they ended up there, why they do what they do, what their dressing says about them, what kind of music they’re into etc. I find that it forces me to see the other angles, tasks me to think. You put people on a canvas like that and it pushes the boundaries of imagination, shows you the world is full of possibilities.
So this is how I painted Jess.
She’s in marketing. Got the job through a connected uncle five years ago and has a boss who’s a sexual harassment case waiting to happen. She would like to do something with the arts but work has her up a wall. She has been mustering the courage to just up and leave but there are bills to pay.
She grew up with a certain hatred for men because her dad was a deadbeat; her mom filled her with skewed ideas about men.
Anyway, when that moment ended and we all turned to look away, she seemed to drift away immediately. She looked sad, almost. Thoughtful. Conflicted. She looked like she had dreams and beasts inside that wanted to come out.
Like how she had always thought it beautiful to smoke, how the cigarette dangles between the lips, the dragging and blowing; just the right amount of untamed satisfaction. She had never had it in her to put a cig in her mouth though. But she wants to, that and a bunch of other things.
She wants to live dangerously. Have the license to thrill.
That’s what she told Mato –her best friend. He’s the only one who could understand, heck, Mato was her only friend. What with how she spent most of her days climbing up the corporate ladder that she never made any real friends. Maybe she’ll pitia by Mato’s when she gets off work, and then he would see the dent,
“Jess, kwani you gongeshad again? Somebody needs to check into AA.”
Jess will laugh it off but she’ll see the truth. She has a drinking problem. But with how she feels life has boiled down to, she’ll step as close to the edge as she can. Maybe Mato could have made a good boyfriend but they don’t like each other like that.
Maybe they’ll go out for drinks later tonight. And then when the whisky starts to drink her she’ll start to take off her layers and tell Mato how she’s longing for something to make her come alive.
She’d tell him how she wants to own a superbike, maybe zip through the highways every end of the week. She’d tell him she wants a lair to satisfy her selfish indulgence. Some place away from home, a place she could escape to. She’d tell him how she’d have a boy over on most nights, and they would go at each other on the floor, or, if she cared about him enough they’d have it on the bed.
Then she’d let them finish three minutes later, like they always do (Mato wouldn’t like this joke). After he rolls over panting like an angry bull she’d light a cigarette.
When she’s alone, probably on the kind of night that her spite for men is shooting up her gut, she’d pour herself a glass of wine. She’d write brutal poetry about those boys who were drawn to her like the moon to water. She’d describe how their pants came off and the rhythm of their thrusts.
Then she’d shuffle to bed with her third glass of wine. She’d read a book. Not much of it, just a few pages so she’d have something to wake up to in the morning. She would switch off the light and strip. She would lie there and masturbate. Then she’d go to sleep, leaving her unfinished wine by the bedside, so she’d have something to wake up to in the morning.
The boundaries of imagination have been pushed.