I was nineteen when I began writing her as my next of kin when opening bank accounts and creating Chama Accounts. It came naturally and in a way that I cannot even explain. The registration form would ask the relationship between her and me and I would write Fiancée. The bank attendant would look at me, and then look at me some more like that was something I did not qualify for.
I did not even have a beard. I am one of those guys whose beard came late, like a guest from Nairobi in a function at Murang’a. I watched my age mates use the no shave November hashtag in silence and defeat. They could have all the beard they liked, I had Harriet.
She was eighteen when we met and I cannot tell what got me so intrigued in her. She immediately became mine and I became hers, a concept which until now I am unable to explain to my friends.
We did not waste time. We moved in together the following year, the year after we had met. We were still studying. She was majoring in Tourism, while I was cracking up the codes in the school of Computer Science. If I had been wiser I would have calculated the repercussions that come with dating a tourism major, but I could barely calculate my Calculus, leave alone four years ahead.
Last week, I saw her to the Airport. She was boarding a plane at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport from Nairobi to Frankfurt, Germany. A trip that would set us apart after four years of doing everything together. Taking a shower, studying for examinations, traveling, cooking and even gossiping. Everything imaginable. She was not only my girlfriend but also my best friend.
I remember one time, I was leaving home, mom had packed all kinds of foodstuff for me because mothers will always know what you do not have, and she put in a dish of boiled meat from her fridge, and then as she was about to put the rest back, she said…
Najua utaenda upatie Harriet kila kitu ukose kukula…
So she added more meat to the dish, enough for both of us. She too had come to the realization that at that small age, we had become inseparable. We had become one unit.
Now I stood there glued to the ground, with my eyes strategically behind sunglasses and my hands in my sweatpants at the departure lounge at JKIA, looking at her eyes well up. She had her braids tied behind her head like she always had since we met. She looked tired, and I knew she had been crying the entire night.
I will just finish school and then come…
I had tried to console her the night before when I had woken up to her heavy teary downpour. Even I did not believe fully in this promise. Frankfurt was not Kiambu or Kasarani where I could get an Uber and surprise her with a bunch of overpriced roses. I was actually more confused than I was sad. I had thought that nature always conspired to give you what you really wanted, but here was Harriet boarding a plane to fucking Frankfurt. Frankfurt my foot! I hated it before I even googled it.
Her luggage lay beside her like a loyal pet. Just a small suitcase. The rest of her clothes were back in my place. Left alone like me, to collect dust and bear memory to her scent. Just like me.
I don’t have to go.
She had said the evening before but I knew she had to go. I was not going to stand between a girl and her dreams. Part of loving someone this deeply is being able to set them free. So I had declined her offer, she had to go, she had to make all this pain count.
I just stared at her. All the words that needed to be spoken had been spoken already. Now, it was just the two of us and the unwelcoming solitude that forcefully occupied the air around us. I felt tied down to the ground. Some sort of numbness. I know she blamed me for not being expressive enough. In fact, I had not even cried at all. I had let her wet our pillows with her tears, night after night, until we had to get rid of the pillows. I had to be strong, for her, not for me.
I remember when she had told me about her moving to Germany. It was a rushed up risky text like she had been in the market shopping groceries and suddenly she remembered, ‘Oh, I have not told my boyfriend I am moving to Germany’. She texted…
Got a job finally. Problem is that it is in Frankfurt, Germany.
Just that. To be frank, that was the first time I googled Frankfurt. I googled it many more times after that. She was not a girl to text much anyway. I did not respond. That evening, I just let myself feel the change that was imminent and unstopable. When she came home, we did not even talk about it. We let the idea occupy space in our house without paying rent, but we did not offer it any recognition. It was like an opposition leader in a government function.
That night we had a few friends over and we got drunk, more than usual. As she took a break from the card games to go pee, I followed her into the bathroom and she told me all about this job at Frankfurt seated on the toilet bowl. That time no one cried. What alcohol does is numb your feelings such that you can hear and even see but you cannot feel shit. The next day, as I brought her coffee to nurse a wine hangover in the bedroom, was when her tears came for the first time and refused to leave after that like an uninvited guest.
Now she looked at me getting awfully annoyed by my sunglasses. I needed those sunglasses for two reasons: one, I was nursing a hangover and two, I was not sure I would be able to stay calm when I had the final glimpse of her. She demanded I take them off, and I did. And it was as if my eyes set a tear volcano in her eyes again.
I was used to the tears now.
A few business people walked past us as the speakers announced that the flight bound for Frankfurt was almost leaving. The best thing at the airport is that everyone minds their own business. Nobody seemed to mind us, so we stared at each other.
Did you carry your Teddy Bear?
It could not fit in my suitcase…
Good, it is the only other woman that will occupy that side of the bed.
Bring it to me when you come to Frankfurt.
It will not fit in my suitcase.
She had laughed. Was it really laughing? It did not matter. She stared down at her feet, finally away from my face, and I joined her at staring at her feet. She was in some Ngoma colored pink rubbers that she loved because, she said, they were very comfortable.
Do you think you will get another pair of Ngomas in Germany?
I enquired and she ignored me.
I have to go to Evans. It is time.
I hated that she was in a hurry to leave but it was true, she had to leave. It is time, she had said. It was that dreaded time that she had to walk away and take a seat in the next phase of her life. I saw her kiss me goodbye and hug me a long goodbye, then I watched her trail her suitcase behind her as she disappeared behind the walls. She did not look back but if she had, she would have seen my own downpour.
I felt weak and that was when I felt dizzy. I took a seat and hid my face behind my hands, as I made my own avalanche accompanied by gasping for air. It was as if someone had ripped my lungs out and left me with nothing to use. It was like being held down to the ground by the neck. A security officer came to check on me and when I could not speak he called the ER team on the radio. I was having a panic attack.
I guess that is how it feels when someone mutilates your right arm. Harriet is my right arm.
Feature Image courtesy of Mukiri Gitiri