”Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.”- Carl Gustav Jung.
There’s a young man in a hoodie at a grocery kiosk by the side of a road looking at some vegetables.
*Wearing a hoodie has become second nature to me.
"Mama Maureen, how’s work today?” asks the young man.
“It’s the same as always, nothing to complain about. Getting something for lunch?” the business lady retorts.
*I hide my face because I’m afraid.
“Yeah, how many tomatoes can I get for twenty bob?” he inspects the red fruits.
*Afraid of being rejected because of something I never chose.
“Pick three from there.”
He packs the vegetables into a paper bag and turns around to cross the road that was behind him. A woman on the other side looks curiously at him but he doesn’t notice.
*But someone saw my face… and welcomed me with open arms.
He crosses the road. She screws her eyes at him.
She has seen a ghost. The ghost of someone she once knew. It is standing right next to her. But ghosts don’t walk. Ghosts are intangible! She moves closer to it. It’s warm. It breathes. It’s alive! He’s alive. He’s alive? What do you do when someone you once loved comes back to life, comes back to a life that has moved on without him? Do you run away scared and hope it wasn’t him, or do you hug him and give him a chance to live again?
“...Matt?” the lady’s voice calls.
He almost doesn’t turn to look who is calling, Matthew is a common name after all, but it’s probably one of his classmates who wants to say hi and not wanting to seem rude he turns, but why would one of his classmates not be sure of what his name is? His predisposition almost makes him not recognise her, and then he does...
...and he never wants to ignore someone calling his name ever again.
“Matthew?” she pushes the hood away from his head revealing his face. “Oh my god, it’s really you!” her arms coil around his neck in a hug.
“Oh my god, Matthew…” She puts her hands at his cheeks after pulling away from him and studies his face. “It’s been like eight years,” she looks at him from head to toe as a long met relative would. “Look at how much you’ve grown!”
“Look who’s talking,” He mumbles, dazzled to the point of disbelief.
*She is beautiful. Wow. Has she always been this beautiful? I remember her perfectly but something’s different. I still remember her rich supple skin, glowing and brown, a chocolate more delicious than mine, that small rounded nose, like three nested bubbles, just as delicate. I remember those purple-brown lips, the upper rising in a smooth shallow arc against the lower, that possess the most sincere smile ever seen, a smile that is the valve that relieves her of her unbounded joy lest she explodes because of it. I remember those cheeks that make her look like a fluffy plump kitten that get punctuated by dimples like wells collecting and filling with gaiety when she smiles or laughs. I still remember her brows that could never disguise an expression to save her life, and those eyes, eyes as black as the void of space that gleam and sparkle with stars when she is happy or anxious or squints a bit, like she does when she’s being coquettish. Is she squinting right now? It must be the sun. Maybe it’s the thin black braids weaving over her head, maybe it’s her fuller feminine figure or maybe it’s something else that’s making her seem more beautiful than I remember. Maybe it’s something that my memory can’t even compete with, something that even when every eyelash, pore and curve of her face is accounted for is still lost. Maybe it’s her being here, right in front of me, living, breathing, laughing. Maybe it’s just being with her. Oh god, how I’ve missed being with her.
“How are you? How have you been?”
She wishes there was a better way to convey how much she wished they had never been separated.
“Just getting along.” an honest answer buoyed out of him by her sincerity, his life had been a blur ever since he last saw her, she was his last happy memory.
“Why did you decide to completely disappear? I thought you could’ve hocus pocused back once in a while to say hi.”
*Does she know?
“Oh sorry, I just remembered what the town did because of their superstitions. Sorry if I offended you.”
*She was joking. She doesn’t know. I wish she did.
“I don’t mind, the same superstitions also put food on the table, so…”
Loud indistinct chatter. Cars honking.
“If only Brayo could see you now, you know he had a crush on you,” he teases, easing up from his initial shock.
*So, did I.
“If you had grown a beard like Brian’s, I swear I would have passed you by without recognising you,” she says.
“Brian has a beard? Wait, how do you…” his expression changes. “Is he here too?”
“For real? Where is he? Can I meet him?”
“Calm down,” she chuckles, ”He’s in class right now,” She pulls out her phone. “Let’s see how much he misses you,” She reads out loud as she texts, “I met a stranger in a hoodie, it turns out it’s Matt. Yes, The Matthew. Heading to my place right now.”
Matthew smiles, “It seems like you two are still close.”
“Close would be an understatement,” she replies.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean…,” she slowly lifts her eyes to his, “he’s my boyfriend.”
Matthew’s eyebrows arc. His face freezes for a moment, then he starts nodding his head almost unconsciously. His mind seems to catch up with his instincts and he backs the nod up with a bit of extra vigour.
“Well that’s, that’s great,” he finally says.
“Yeah, I mean, why wouldn’t it be?”
“I don’t know. You tell me.”
“What is there to tell?” his heart stabs his chest. “I’m happy for him, for both of you, actually.”
She looks at him with expectant eyes. He looks away and pulls his hoodie back over his head.
Her eyes fall to the ground.
“We should get going,” she says.
They walk over cracked public pavements sprinkled with potholes. They walk over neat mall pavements whose patterns stretch into the horizon. They walk on grey, acrid smelling earth, with streams and puddles of similarly scented and coloured liquid. They walk on beautiful red earth in a garden with green lush bushes trimmed into the letters of a company’s name. They walk past fidgety young men adjusting their shirts to cover the guns hidden underneath. They walk past middle-aged men standing beside their cars in suits whose buttons strain to hold their coats closed over their bellies. They walk around sickly empitying beggars. They walk around grand monumental statues. They walk through the streets of the capital city. They walk through the streets of the mighty and glorious Nairobi.
“Are you sure it’s okay for me to go to your place while he’s not around? You know, because he’s your boyfriend.”
“Him? Be angry at you?” She bumps him with her shoulder. “You should hear how he talks about you, it’s like you are incapable of evil, like how you talk about a dead person as if they had never done anything wrong in their life. Yes, it’s that creepy.”
“Wow, I hope the real me isn’t too disappointing.”
“I know it’s been a while but nothing’s really changed… ” she says.
“... he’s still the generous rich kid who let us play with his toys and I hope you’re still the honest and just boy who would never let his friends come to harm.”
She opens the gate of the tenant block and leads him up the stairs to her apartment.
“Me tiny bedsitter es su tiny bedsitter.”
Matthew chuckles. He takes off his shoes and puts them in the space underneath her wardrobe right next to the door. She goes beyond it to the sink in the kitchen area with his groceries.
“It goes without saying that you’re having lunch here today,” she orders.
“You’re going to give me food? You’re terrible.”
He approaches the bed that’s a few steps away.
*I can clearly feel what the people in the next room are doing.
“What’s this? You have a roommate?” He jests.
“Yeah, under the bed.”
Her eyes squint in suspicion, “Yeah, I have a cat, how’d you know? You hadn’t even looked.”
“I can hear her purring, can’t you?”
She listens to the silence,” …No?”
*Neither can I.
“But be careful she doesn’t like strangers,” She warns absentmindedly as she starts preparing ingredients.
Matthew peers under the bed and a jet-black kitten jumps out at him. It gazes at his face as if wanting to ask a question. Does it want to ask what the white glowing on his face is? Does it want to ask why it feels as if they are communicating despite being completely unable to understand each other? Does it want to ask why it feels as if they have known each other forever despite this being the first time they are meeting? He scratches it behind the ears in reply and it starts playing with his hand.
Julia looks at the two loves at first sight and smiles, “She has never been that friendly to anyone on the first meeting before.”
“Animals love me, it’s one of my many talents.”
“Okay, Disney princess,” she says as she sits next to him on the bed.
They pet the kitten together. It purrs and twists and meows in delight.
“What’s her name?”
“You named your cat, Fish?”
“She really likes fish, like someone else I know.”
With his spirit perception, he 'sees' someone approaching the door.
“How did you- ?”
“I have very good hearing.”
*Or I can ‘sense’ every living thing within a certain distance of me.
She looks back at him as she goes to the door, “I had almost forgotten how strange you are sometimes.”
She opens the door. A bearded young man with a well-built body steps through it.
“Hey babe,” she greets.
Julia and the young man kiss.
“You are not going to call me mpenzi (lover)like you usu…” he cuts off the sentence midway when he sees the young man in the hoodie who is still seated on the bed playing with the cat.
“Who is that?”
Matthew looks up, “Brian, long time man,” to Julia, “You weren’t kidding about the beard.”
The bearded young man cranes his head forward, “Matt?”
“That’s what she said,” the man on the bed says sarcastically.
“Yeah, coz it’s your name stupid,” she retorts.
“I thought she was joking.”
The young man with the beard looks at the young man in a hoodie, his eyebrows scrunched together with a question in his eyes. Does he also want a scratch behind the ears? His gaze then falls, his eyes water, his mouth forms a grimace. Is this really him? Is this really Matthew? If he is, then why doesn’t he hate me?
“What’s wrong? I thought you’d be happy to see him,” she asks, noticing the conflicted expression on his face.
Brian drops his bag and walks past Julia. Matthew gets alarmed and stands up, not knowing what to expect.
Brian then suddenly hugs Matthew. Ah yes, a scratch behind the ears, but of a different kind.
“I’m sorry bro… I’m so sorry,” he says, his voice shaking.
He is not happy. He is sad. He is relieved.
Matthew is a bit startled but he hugs him back.
“There’s nothing to apologize for man. It wasn’t your fault,” Matthew says trying to comfort him.
“It was and you know that.”
Brian breaks the hug and sits on the bed, Matthew sits on the other side.
“I’m the one who told my mum about your dad and then she and the rest of the people came after you guys,” Brian looks at the floor ashamed at his confession.
*Fire. Rocks. Crucifixes. Blame. Curses. Ash. Spirits. Dust. Blood- No! no. That’s all in the past. It can’t hurt you anymore. Forget all of it. You are here, you are safe, with your friends.
Matthew holds his breath in an attempt to control his breathing.
“I thought you ended up on the streets, I couldn’t believe I had done such a thing to my best friend,” Brian continues.
*Good thing witchcraft pays.
“We were children. Maybe you thought she would think my dad was amazing or something.”
“But they killed him,” he glances at Matthew for a moment but quickly looks away.
“No, he’s still alive.”
“He’s alive?” He asks, his relief naked in his words. “But everyone thought he died.”
“I can assure you that he is alive and kicking. Look man, it really wasn’t anyone’s fault, people were just doing what they thought was right. I’m okay, really.”
*I am angry, but not at you, not even at your mother, nor at the people who killed my father. I’m angry at… I’m angry. I’m just angry.
“Are you sure?”
*I’d give anything to get back what I lost that day.
“But there’s something you need to tell me.”
Brian becomes worried. This is it, let’s get it over with.
Matthew points at Julia, “How did you convince that woman to become your girlfriend?”
Brian lets out a nervous laugh, Julia pouts and puts her hands on her hips.
“It’s a long story,” he answers and the words reverberate in his head resonating strangely with what had happened in Matthew’s absence.
*I guess the band is back together again.