City food is either shitty or expensive. For this reason, I will climb the stairs of Ujamaa Building in CBD to the rooftop. Stairs always, never the lift, this is my ritual. Then I will pull out my carefully packed lunch gazing at the city life below disinterestedly. Occasionally she will be there, awfully close to edge, like she is about to jump, splash her brains down thirty six floors to the hard pavement below. She always looks ready to jump but never actually does. She does not have the guts to jump but one of these fine days she will jump, I am almost certain about that.
She also works in Ujamaa Building too, somewhere around floor six. I have no clue what she does or who she works for. I have never bothered to ask. This is Nairobi, you do not bring your village antics here. You only speak when you are spoken to, smile when you are smiled at and hug when arms are spread towards you. In Nairobi you mind your own business, always.
So, I just watch her. It is my own private movie, a distraction from my screaming thoughts. A nice accompaniment to go with my packed lunch before I drift back to piles and piles of papers on my work desk. A job I loathe more than this unfeeling city. A full time engaging job with a mediocre pay compensation and a moody disenchanted boss to deliver deadlines and targets to.
I always find myself speculating what her problems are, not my boss, the girl on the roof. It consumes my peace like weevils do on maize in a granary. Does she have bills that amount to more than her salary like me? Would that be reason enough to want to jump off the ledge? What is wrong with her?
Other times it is just dark and I imagine her boss sexually assaults her every day in the office. Tells her to get down on her knees behind his desk and do ungodly things to his genitals or he will fire her and refuse to write her a recommendation. Other times he insists on the whole action and asks her to scream his name as he gets off because the walls of his office are sound proof. That is too dark.
Or maybe it is her boyfriend at home. A functional alcoholic who once stood a chance to rule the world but now is embittered and desperate drinking himself crazy every day before raising his hand to strike her over and over and over until they both fall asleep on top of each other, sweaty and exhausted from screaming. Also too dark.
Both unlikely. Then it has to be that she recently had a little girl pulled from her belly, a little beautiful girl she would have named Daisy like a delicate flower. A baby she never had a chance to name because four days into her life she succumbs to a whizzing sound from her lungs and perishes. Now she cannot see her life beyond this grief. But she comes to work anyway, a better distraction than lying in bed all day. But every lunch she thinks about joining Daisy in the afterlife. This last one breaks my heart to pieces.
The world is dark. The world is even darker for those who take a chance on love, on a career or on a family.
Today she smiles at me as I walk to the rooftop. Something looks different about her, she is glowing like a pregnant satisfied woman. Still an uneasy feeling settles on my stomach. She never smiles, she never glows but today she does.
She is there, her usual spot. I ravenously tear my lunch package and start munching on Ugali and Sukumawiki from last night. Then I realise that she is facing my side instead of her usual stare at the thirty six floor drop. Again she smiles at me before, without a single warning, she slowly lets herself fall. She does it so smoothly like she is about to float in the wind. She finally got the guts to let go. She finally discovered that it is not that important to stay alive when everything around you is a wreck.
She lets go with a stare fixed at me and an almost mischievous grin that had been carefully manufactured to conceal the fear in her eyes. She just lets go.
I jump and gasp from my sitting position like I had not expected this all while long. My lunch crumbles to the floor. I make as if to run after her but then fright and logic stops me. This would be a crime scene, I had to stay away. I stand there stunned waiting to hear the thud that would make her free from life. The thud never comes. It is thirty six floors, how stupid I would be, to expect to hear her face kiss concrete at 100km/hr from the ground. She is gone. She is free now.
I am certain of it.
Her smiles never fades from my memory. I guess there is joy in decisiveness and misery in conflict. When she could not jump, she was always sullen, always crying but the day she finally decides that life is worth nothing, she found happiness. Genuine happiness.
I find out her name was Eva from the obituary later. Her death does not even make the headlines. I held on to city standards the governor should reward me, I never asked for her name or whether she was fine. I stuck firmly to city standards like a mother does to her child. I minded my own business.
I will never know what was wrong with her or whether with my own two hands, I could have saved the remaining bits of her soul.
Her blood will forever be on my conscience.
Still, in the dead of the night, when a black blanket covers the sky and I am alone in my small apartment, I will find myself envious. Jealous at the happiness she found at the end of her journey. I will lay wide awake with my eyes fixed on the ceiling wondering which is happier, to be alive or to be free from life. I tend to obsess over things so this will bother me for a while. I will compare her final happiness and my current misery and a tear will slowly fall from left eye. My left eye always tears up first. It is like a well in the rainy season, too quick to brag off its huge supply.
I will wipe it before it reaches the sheets and dry my eyes as fast as possible because men are not allowed to cry. A tinge of a painful hollow space will hang around my chest like an unpaid conductor in a matatu. It will refuse to go away and at work the next day I will get memories like flashes on my mind of her free fall, how she let go. How she beat life in its own callousness games. That day during lunch, as is my ritual, I will walk to the rooftop. I will place my lunch at my usual place but I will not bother to eat it.
Instead, I will walk to her spot. It will have grills now, the landlord will have put measures to avoid a repeat of Eva’s incident. I will climb up and over the mediocre grills and stand so close to the edge looking at the thirty six floors drop and I will see it, I will see what Eva always saw. Freedom.
There are no more bills in death. No more worker exploitation, unreachable deadlines or impossible targets. There is just peace. I will stay there all lunch break staring at freedom right in the eye. Freedom within grasp. I will ponder a little on whether she felt any pain when her face painted the pavement below the colour of resistance.
Nothing comes easy, especially not liberty. History is full of references to support this.
That day, I will go back home with my lunch as it left in the morning. It will be almost spoilt but I will eat it for supper anyway and then I will take a lot of water to help my body with the digestion in case the bad food becomes a problem to my food pipes.
That night I will concoct a plan. An executable way forward, and then I will fall asleep like a small baby. The next morning I will walk to work feeling excited. I will not bother to carry packed lunch. I will be grinning like a green gecko and smiling all day like I had won the lottery and met Rihanna on the same day. I will be patiently waiting for lunch time with a mischievous grin on my face that will have been carefully manufactured to hide the fear in my eyes.
Feature Image by Mukiri Gitiri