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“Wakhaba will marry. Anaya, are you listening to me? Wakhaba will marry and if it is not you, then it will be somebody else. He is past the age of marriage. In fact, he should have married a long time ago. We have all been anticipating his marriage.”
Wakhaba spent a lonely Christmas Day in the office. He was on shift this holiday, with only a short break from the twenty-sixth of December to give him a chance to travel home and vote on the twenty-seventh. However, he would not stay home for long. At first, he had planned to return after the new year holiday but when Perpetua invited him to what she called an ‘Election Watch Party’ from the twenty-ninth of December, he had decided to travel back and participate. The Electoral Commission had accepted Perpetua’s application to be an election observer and she was very excited about the oncoming tsunami of change.
At around three o’clock that afternoon, Oscar came into his office. He had returned from a two-week leave to take over from Wakhaba. Oscar was registered to vote in Nairobi and was to hold the fort when most of the staff in the northern sector travelled to vote.
Wakhaba immediately started taking Oscar through his handover notes because he wanted to leave the office early and prepare for his trip to Matungu the following day. As they were poring over the documents, the intercom buzzed, and he wondered who it could be. The university and the university farm were deserted.
Wakhaba took the phone off the hook. “Hello?”
“Hello,” the voice of the gateman came over the phone. “You have two visitors here. Should I let them in?”
“Okay,” Wakhaba said, still wondering who the visitors were
After a few minutes, he heard a knock on the door. He opened it to Maya and Zalika.
“Surprise!” they shouted in unison.
“Oh my!” Wakhaba exclaimed. “This is a wonderful surprise.”
“When you told us that you had to work on Christmas Day, we decided to come and cheer you up,” Maya said.
He noticed that Zalika was carrying a small travelling bag. There were three possibilities here. The first was that she had just gotten off the bus from Mombasa and passed by to say hi to him before going to Maya’s place. The second was that she had spent time with Maya and was on her way to take the night bus back to Mombasa but decided to stop by and see him first. The third, and most exciting for him, was that she had planned to come and stay with him. The third meant that she still loved him and wanted to patch things up.
“And I am pleasantly surprised,” Wakhaba said. “I was just signing out. We can go to my cottage for tea or something.”
“Tea!” Maya exclaimed, rolling her eyes dramatically.
“I prefer the ‘or something’,” Zalika laughed.
Wakhaba suddenly remembered that introductions were pending. He turned to Oscar and said, “This is my friend Maya and, uh, my girlfriend Zalika.”
He hesitated because, the past few months had been very rocky. For most of December, Zalika had completely refused to talk to him after the news that he would have to work over Christmas. He had wondered why she was so concerned about his Christmas break.
Zalika and Maya noticed the hesitation and exchanged knowing glances. Wakhaba ignored them and continued going through the files, quickly signing off documents and handing them over to Oscar.
Finally, he stood up and said, “Ready to go.”
“At last!” Maya said.
They walked across the beautifully manicured lawns, in the opposite direction from where Maya and Zalika had come. The lawns gave way to a narrow road, hedged by expertly trimmed lantana shrubs. Neat whitewashed cottages peeped at them beyond the hedges. Wakhaba led them to a cottage at the end of the road and unlocked the door. He invited them to have a seat and then went to the kitchen to find some refreshments.
“We should go out and party,” Maya proposed. “After all, it is Christmas Day.”
“I have an early bus tomorrow,” Wakhaba excused himself. “I’ve been given some time off to go home and vote.”
“Then I have a surprise for you,” Zalika said smiling. “I am coming with you!”
“Oh.” Wakhaba was at a loss for words. “Aren’t you going to vote?”
“No,” Zalika said, exchanging another look with Maya. “They rig the vote anyway. Whomever the deep state wants to win becomes the leader.”
Wakhaba remained silent for a moment. Perpetua had really changed his perspective on politics and his role in the entire electoral process. The first time he voted was in 1997 when he was only twenty years old and a first-year at the university. Back then, voting was a matter of prestige, a sign that he was now an adult and had an identity card. He had voted for president, member of parliament and area councillor without thinking about the candidates or their development agendas and, least of all, how his decision would impact him as a voter.
Now, his outlook was completely overturned. He had considered carefully about why he wanted certain candidates over others. He had followed politics in his home district very closely, read the manifestos of all the candidates and discussed with his peers back home on their choices. He felt compelled to tell Zalika and Maya about this critical civic duty, but it was obviously too late. Maybe Zalika was not even a registered voter.
“I will be spending less than two days at home,” Wakhaba explained. “I will arrive tomorrow evening, vote on twenty-seventh during the day, spend the day with my family on twenty-eighth and then take the overnight bus back. You can stay with Maya and I will come and pick you up when I return.”
“I came all the way from Mombasa to see you and you tell me to spend time with somebody else?” Zalika asked angrily.
“I don’t mind hosting you for a few days,” Maya said.
“Stay out of this Maya,” Zalika said. “Wakhaba, you have been avoiding me, faking work during major holidays so that you don’t come to see me, refusing to buy a phone so that I don’t reach you at night and now, pretending to go home and vote so that you can run away from me. What exactly are you hiding?”
Wakhaba was surprised by this outburst but did not want to get into an argument. He simply said, “Okay, we can travel together if that is what you really want. You will be exhausted with your trip from Mombasa and then on the road to Matungu and back.”
“Did I say that I was exhausted?” Zalika snapped.
She was clearly spoiling for a fight and Wakhaba kept silent. That was how they ended up spending their night and the bus trip to Matungu the next day. In utter silence. They had truly grown apart and Zalika obviously did not trust him. What he had done to earn this treatment was beyond him.
The day after they arrived in Matungu, he woke up very early to vote as he wanted to avoid the long queues. As he was leaving the polling station, he came across Anaya in the company of Maloba and some other friends also going in to vote. She looked up, surprised to see him, and then smiled and waved. Anaya was just as she had been two years ago during his graduation party. Resplendent, with her full figure and the shy, dimpled smile that could stop any man in his tracks. And he did stop in his tracks. He wanted to stay and talk to her, but he saw that the queue was growing longer by the minute. It would be unfair to delay her from going in to vote. He would seek her out later.
He spent a busy day with his parents and siblings and although Anaya remained foremost on his mind, he did not make any effort to go and visit her. Zalika was still sulking and he did not want to aggravate her further.
That night was no different from the last. Zalika refused to speak to him and escaped any intimacy. This was the third night they were spending in the same bed without so much as an accidental touch. If she continued with her childish behaviour, he would be forced to end their relationship for his sanity.
He was half asleep the next morning when he heard voices through his window.
“She did not come here,” his mother was insisting.
“Where could she be?” Mama Anaya asked. “She has never spent a night away from home and I thought that maybe she had come to see Wakhaba.”
“Wakhaba came with his girlfriend,” his mother said quietly.
“I think Anaya must be at Maloba’s place,” he heard his sister Andache say. “Nandira and I left her and her friends there. They said they would wait out the election results, but we were too tired to wait and came back home.”
At the mention of Maloba’s name, Wakhaba became fully alert. He did not wait another minute, jumping out of bed, as if possessed, and hastily pulling on his trousers. He dashed out, throwing on his shirt and omitting to button it up.
His sudden movement awakened Zalika and she sat up in bed alarmed as he banged the door behind him.
“Wakhaba, what is wrong?” his mother asked him immediately he stepped outside.
“What happened?” Mama Anaya asked him. “Where are you going?”
By this time, Zalika was at the front door and heard Wakhaba shouting angrily, “That snake Maloba will know his place!”
Wakhaba ran all the way to Maloba’s place with his sister Andache, hot on his heels, shouting at him to stop his madness and go back home. Maloba’s mother, who was outside doing the washing, straightened up, shocked at the sight of an angry, dishevelled Wakhaba storming into her compound with Andache screaming behind him.
He ignored the stunned mother and went straight to Maloba’s simba shouting, “Anaya! Anaya! Come out.”
There was no response from within and Andache pleaded, breathless. “Wakhaba, please come back home. You are scaring everybody. What has gotten into you?”
“Shut up and keep out of adult business,” Wakhaba snapped at her.
He turned back to the door and banged on it shouting, “Anaya! I know that you are in there. Come out.”
There was still no response and Wakhaba took a few steps back and gave the door a violent kick, knocking it clean off its hinges. Screams rose from within as Maloba came outside, puffing his chest out. He was ready to defend his house and its occupants.
“Wakhaba, are you drunk?” Maloba asked, feigning concern. “You have knocked down my door!”
“Where is Anaya?” Wakhaba demanded.
“What?” Maloba pretended not to understand.
Suddenly and without warning, Maloba felt Wakhaba’s fist connect with his face. He dropped to the ground swearing in pain.
There were more screams from within the house as Anaya and several of her friends ran outside. Ignoring all the rest, Wakhaba grabbed Anaya by the upper arm and led her out of the compound as Andache ran home to inform her mother and Mama Anaya.
Wakhaba maintained his grip on Anaya’s upper arm despite her protests. He took long, heavy strides, saying nothing as they marched past the homesteads and down to the river. He threw her roughly against one of the tall rock outcrops at the riverbank, rested his hands on his hips, his chest heaving up and down in anger.
Hot tears streamed silently down Anaya’s cheeks.
“How can you stoop so low?” Wakhaba spoke at last. “Prostituting yourself to that lowlife, Maloba! Have you gone mad?”
“What are you talking about?” Anaya’s voice cracked.
“You are sleeping with Maloba,” Wakhaba accused. “Do you want to throw your future away with that loser?”
“I have never slept with Maloba,” Anaya protested.
“So, what were you doing in his house the whole night?” Wakhaba asked sarcastically. “Planning a coup d’état?”
“We were listening to the election results over the radio!” Anaya was crying. “You saw us leaving the house. I was not the only one there.”
Wakhaba shook his head and looked at his feet. “You are better than this, Anaya. You know that Maloba is a womanizer and will not waste one minute in corrupting you. Why would you make such a stupid decision as to follow him to his house and spend the whole night there?”
It was now Anaya’s turn to be angry, “He is my friend! You embarrassed me before all my friends and now you call me a prostitute?”
“If you had been rational and slept in your bed like you are supposed to, that would not have happened,” Wakhaba shouted.
“I am a grown woman, in case you haven’t noticed,” Anaya said. “I am twenty-one years old, with a job, supporting my family and paying school fees for my siblings. I can make friends with whomever I choose without your approval, thank you.”
“So, this is how you want your life to pan out? Married to a womanizing loser and spending your days in this village, giving birth to baby after baby with no future for you or them?”
“Do you think that is what I want? I worked so hard to be the first girl from this village to get accepted to university. Unfortunately, I did not pass well enough to get a scholarship. In the meantime, my sister made it to a good secondary school. Did you want me to shatter her dreams like mine were? I stepped up and paid her fees. My brother sat his KCPE a year after my sister and was the best student in the district. Should I also destroy his dream of going to a provincial school?”
She wiped the tears off her face with the back of her hand and continued passionately, “I know how it feels to have unfulfilled dreams and I couldn’t mope about and give my siblings the same bleak future. As their elder sister, I am trying give them a chance at a better life.”
“Anaya,” Wakhaba said, deflated.
She cut him off. “Unlike you, Wakhaba, I am a woman. Our people do not think that education is important for us. After all, I can get married to a rich man and, voila, my future is sorted! I am not the eldest son of my parents and nobody is banking on my success. Sadly, I did not land a scholarship, and nobody is going to break their back educating a woman. Why should they? She will take all that education and all the money she earns in her good white-collar job to some man’s compound. Why waste your cards on her?”
“Anaya, please,” Wakhaba tried to speak again.
“This is why my future is in this village,” Anaya said, ignoring him. “I don’t know anybody or any place beyond this village. University was my path to a broader world but that is never going to be. I am going to work hard for my siblings to see that broader world. I will inevitably get married in this village and if Maloba is the man for me, then so be it.”
Wakhaba and Anaya were so engrossed in their conversation that they did not notice Zalika and Andache approaching. Zalika had been concerned by Wakhaba’s anger and persuaded Andache to take her to him so that she could calm him down. They reached the river but stopped at a distance on seeing Wakhaba and Anaya deep in the throes of an angry and animated conversation. Zalika decided to give them some space but watched closely. The intensity seemed to be waning.
Wakhaba was shocked by Anaya’s speech. His arms hung limply at his side in defeat and he turned away, paced a little and then returned and looked into her eyes. He wondered when she had grown up so much. She sounded more adult than him, even though he was the one living in a big city and fending for himself. Where was he when Anaya had done all this growing up?
“Why didn’t you tell me all this, Anaya?” Wakhaba asked sadly.
“I wrote to you,” Anaya said, wiping away fresh tears. “I wrote to you almost every month and you did not bother to respond.”
“I am so sorry, Anaya,” he said very quietly. “I am sorry that I let all this happen to you.”
“Wakhaba, I am not your burden!” Anaya cried, exasperated. Anger was rising within her once more. “You are not my relative and are not obliged to do anything for me. I am working hard and saving hard. I will get myself through beauty college in Mumias and open my own hair salon at the shopping centre. I don’t need to go to university and get a white-collar job when God gave me two hands and a talent that earns me more than most graduates.”
Wakhaba felt a sudden longing for her. She was hard-working and level-headed. Why had he thought Anaya would throw her life away by sleeping with any man that tried to seduce her? She clearly had her future mapped out, even though it was not the future she had dreamed of.
Anaya stood before him, still leaning against the rock outcrop. Tears were flowing freely down her face and she flicked them away. Her swollen lips trembled with the pain and the passion within her. Wakhaba could never erase their first kiss from his mind. That kiss, five years ago, had bewitched him. All this time, he had justified that impulsive act as the result of his fear that they would grow apart. And here they were now. So distant that he barely recognised the beautiful, tear-stained woman fuming in front of him.
Wakhaba felt the urgent need to reconnect with her and become part of her life again. He would start by stilling her trembling lips. He folded her in his arms and brought his lips to hers. He kissed her fervently, impatient to renew that five-year-old memory before it faded. To reignite his desire for her after that first kiss. But this time, the kiss was different; Anaya returned his embrace. Shyly at first, and then more confidently as she wrapped her arms around his neck.
His kiss became sensual and passionate. He closed his eyes and drank in her delicate feminine scent. The feel of her soft bosom against his chest was intoxicating. She felt good. So good. He pulled her in closer as his arms moved lower around her hips to explore her generous backside.
“Wakhaba!” a voice screamed at him, drawing him back to reality. Away from this beautiful fantasy. This dream that had been haunting him, lingering at the back of his head for so long now.
He looked up to see Zalika, stamping her foot in consternation and jumped back from Anaya, as if she was suddenly poisonous. He stood away, confused at the sight of his girlfriend and his sister witnessing his intimate exchange with Anaya.
“This is what you were coming to the village to do?” Zalika screamed in tears. “You wanted to leave me alone in Nairobi to come here and satisfy yourself with your village whore?”
“Calm down,” Wakhaba said going towards Zalika.
Zalika turned away from him and broke into a run. He followed her, passing by a shocked Andache.
“Zalika, please wait,” he called to her.
She did not slow down but ran into his simba and banged the door behind her. Wakhaba followed her inside and found her throwing her things into her bag.
“Zalika,” he said. “What are you doing?”
“What does it look like?” she shouted, continuing to pack.
“Calm down and let us talk. Don’t make a rash decision before you understand what happened back there.”
“Understand?” she yelled back. “What is there to understand when I saw you and your whore, getting it on right there in broad daylight in front of me and your sister?”
“Stop calling Anaya a whore,” Wakhaba said, dangerously calm.
“Or what?” Zalika turned to him with arms akimbo. “I told Maya that I suspected you have been cheating on me all this time. Pretending to be busy and not making time for me. Refusing to buy a mobile phone so that I am not able to call you at night when you are with one of your whores. It didn’t take me long to catch you red-handed, did it?”
“Zalika, what are you talking about?” Wakhaba asked. “I have never cheated on you.”
“You are nothing but dirt,” Zalika said. “I closed my ears to all those stories of you and our lecturer Kamila but now I believe that they might have been true. It is over between us Wakhaba. Don’t even try to call me or talk to me ever again.”
She took her bag and walked toward the door, but Wakhaba jumped in front of her, blocking her exit.
“Zalika, please,” he begged. “Don’t rush. There is no need to leave now and with such anger. Where will you go? Why not wait until evening when we had planned to leave anyway?”
She slapped him across the face, taking him by surprise.
“Get out of my way,” she said. “You forget that I studied in Kakamega and travelled back and forth from Mombasa by myself. I am not some delicate flower that needs your company in order to have a safe trip.”
Wakhaba stepped away from the door, rubbing his cheek. He watched her open the door and walk away. No need to go after her and cause another scene in the village, he thought. Their relationship had been dead for months. She had killed it with her unjustified distrust and now, his lack of restraint with Anaya had buried it.
His parents and siblings were smart enough not to come to him or ask any questions. Andache would fill them in anyway, if she had not already done so. He felt emotionally exhausted and spent the rest of the day holed up in his simba, contemplating his double loss.
The first was the loss of Zalika’s love. He did not regret that one much. It was a long time coming. The second, and most hurting, was the loss of Anaya’s faith in their friendship. All those things she had told him today. Where had he been when all this was happening to her? How was she making these grown-up decisions without anybody to support her? He had betrayed her, and for what? For spoilt, flighty women like Zalika? He had been so engrossed in his affair with Kamila and then his tumultuous time with Zalika, forgetting the relationships that truly mattered.
He could not wrap his mind around his crazy attraction to Anaya and their heated moment at the riverbank. Was she not supposed to be like a sister to him? What if Zalika had not interfered? Would he have been able to stop himself? How far had Anaya been ready to go? She had willingly responded to his touch and his kisses, he noted. Was she telling the truth? Had she truly never been with Maloba or with any other man?
He shook his head vigorously to clear it and then rose to pack his bags. It was time to leave this madness and travel back to Nairobi. He did not seek out Anaya for another goodbye as he left. It would only lead to more trouble.