She pants a step ahead. You follow closely behind as a dog does to a master. Her pace is slow, too slow and you secretly hope she was faster. You cannot outdo her speed for two reasons; one, you do not want to be an overly competitive moron and two, you like how her ass bubbles up and down before you as she jogs. She is exhausted. She signals you for a break, and you oblige. She places her palms heavily on her knees and breathes fast and heavily. You are scared she could pass out. You stop a distance away from her and observes her with eyes full of pity, like a sympathiser in a slaughterhouse. Unsaid, you quietly envy her determination.
Running three kilometres has never been a problem to you but today is her first day. She is not accustomed to such kind of resilience. You want to be helpful; you do not want to look like a self-gratified arrogant buffoon. You do not want to be the guy who sneers at her effort. You ask her to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. She squints at you from the corner of her eyes as if what you are saying is Calculus. Regardless, you persist, breathe in using your nose and then breathe out using your mouth. Nice and easy. The look she gives you makes you sure that that gibberish is not going to cut it.
You let go, give her a couple of minutes to make her breathing comfortable. When she finally let’s go off her knees and lifts her eyes to yours, you can tell she is ready to keep going. You ask whether she is okay and she ignores you and makes to start running again. She prefers not to speak when she is running, maybe, it is scientific as one of the way to conserve energy during a morning jog.
That last look she gave you before she started running settles a little longer in your mind. It is as if she is angry and the jog is some punching bag for the angry emotions. For a moment you think it is a look you have never seen, not once, in the last three years, you have dated her. Strange. What could it be? Is it something you said, something you did not do, something you did? That last one shreds your serenity like an electric guillotine. It is always about something you did.
Unknown, you start replaying your activities the past few days in your head vividly. It has been a while since you brought her flowers, red roses. She loves those. You make a mental note to correct that as soon as you can. There is no record of foul play in your head the last six or seven days, so you move on to the past two weeks. Still, nothing. You give up. Truth be told you do not, you just get distracted again by her bubbly ass. You reach and smack it playfully, but she does not even turn to look at you. You are disappointed.
You put your mind back to the jog. You like the vapour your breath causes to the air in front of you in the early morning breeze. You try to make some fun shapes with it like an expert smoker. She glances at you a little and then back to her front path. You can almost swear she gave a little fuck about what you are doing. One small little fuck.
Just past the river when you are about to make a turn to start the uphill track, is when you first see him. He is cold, he has been crying, and you can tell he looks very unsettled. He is a small boy. Barely eight years old. You turn to the lady who by now has also already discovered the boy. She slowly comes to a halt very close to the boy. She loves kids. She could leave you to play ball with the neighbours’ kids. And from the window, you can hear them chatting and counting goals like they are age mates. Kids dig her. Kids do not dig you.
This one time, you had an argument, and she stormed out of the house, and went outside for ‘fresh air.’ Moments later, through the window, you could see her seated with one of the neighbour’s small kid by the stairs as she poured her heavy heart to him. The boy was only five years old, but from the expression he had while listening to the conversation, you could tell he understood everything. To this date, whenever you meet the small boy, he tells you not to beat Esther again, or he would tell his father who is a policeman. Once or twice, you have tried to explain to the small boy that you did not actually ‘beat’ Esther, but your defence is always treated with absolute contempt. So you walk around knowing that you are a branded enemy of the neighbourhood’s five-year-olds because you ‘beat’ one of them. The other day he had a new water toy gun, and as you walked home from the grocery market, he pointed it at you with the gun and sprayed water to your face. From his look, if it were a real gun he would have shot you. You know better than to cross Esther now as she has a battalion of five-year-old guards with guns.
Today, however, is a different story altogether. She squats next to the boy by the roadside and begins an interrogation in a calm and concerned voice. The boy’s name is Kaniaru. He had been roaming the streets for the past three days. His mother woke up one day and left – no goodbyes, no nothing. She just vanished into thin air like the NYS funds. Since then, Kaniaru has been looking for his mother. He inquires on whether you have seen his mother, a woman in long blue dress and a PCEA women council headband. Of course, you have not seen his mother, but you somehow wish you had better news for him. Your heart melts down like a toffee candy in the mouth. You could swear by your good eyesight there are tears in Esther’s eyes.
In situations like these, she always comes up with a plan. She asks Kaniaru whether he has other relatives and he says he has a grandmother in Murang’a. From Nyeri to Murang’a is a comfortable one hundred kilometres. She turns to you, and a single look confirms her decisiveness. You have to get him to his grandmother. She says, and you agree. You both terminate your morning jog with hearts heavier than the sins of hell.
Esther and Kaniaru walk a little ahead, and they go on chatting about where he studied. The subjects he loved and all that. They become fast friends, and before you can say Usain Bolt, you become a third wheel. She brings him to the house and tells him to take a shower as she excavates for clothes that could fit him. All this time you make pancakes. That is all you can do; she has the rest figured out. She makes calls, to the police, to the chief (you never even knew you had a chief). At last, she tells you that the both of you have to get Kaniaru to his grandmother personally. You do not agree with this because you had other fun plans for a Sunday but you do not want to be the Satan in this whole situation.
Kaniaru eats breakfast like it is the first meal he has had in days and both of you watch him. None of you touches the pancakes. You just sip coffee a little and off you leave the house to Murang’a. None of you has been to Murang’a, but Kaniaru says he can remember the way to his grandmother’s home. The matatu ride to Murang’a is a silent one. Kaniaru places his head on her lap, and she puts her head on your shoulder, and they are both fast asleep. You stay wide awake thinking about the activities in the past few hours.
There are moments that your problems must cease to matter and put other people ahead of your needs because that will not only be a kind action but evidence that humanity has not lost all its goodness. You become an advocate for the 7.5 billion people on this planet.
Two hours later find the three of you in a small dusty Probox headed to Kandara town in Murang’a, then Kigumo village where Kaniaru’s grandmother lives. His memory turns out to be a perfect compass, and you find the grandmother just as she is about to leave for church. She is overjoyed. She tells you that Kaniaru’s mother has a mental problem and she has been praying God to have her grandson back. She welcomes you and spits on her chest severally, a custom of blessings among the Agikuyu. She gives you tales and tells you that she had to go to church and thank God for bringing her grandson to him.
All this time, you try to explain to Esther what is happening. She is Meru. She only knows greetings in Kikuyu. After tea, Kaniaru and grandmother are headed to church and you are headed back to town. It is late afternoon when you get to town, and you dive into Unity Café for lunch. Mukimo and fry meat makes the long journey ahead manageable.
Again, you travel in silence. An uncomfortable silence. You can tell that there is a lot in her mind. You can never dig for information from her. The only way this works is to make her comfortable to want to open up to you. Do you want to lie on my shoulder? You ask, extremely determined to lift off the weight of her troubled thoughts. She does not respond she just places her head on your shoulder, and you consequently place your head over her hair. No one sleeps, you just cuddle like that in silence occasionally adjusting your position to get more comfortable. The scent of her shampoo fills your nostrils, and you fall a little deeper in love with her.
Eventually, you get back home. She stops momentarily for a small chat with her kid friends by the stairs and then joins you as you get the door. She walks in, and you follow closely. She loves to kick off all her clothes away after a long day, but she does not even remove her shoes this time. You walk to the bedroom throw away your trousers and shirt such that you are only in your vest and boxers. You let the cold house air of to bring back sanity to your mind. After a while, you decide to join her in the living room.
The moment you walk in, she just races into the kitchen and disappears behind the kitchen door. You do not understand what is happening. All over sudden, she breaks down unexpectedly as you try to convince her to open the kitchen door for you so that you can speak. She sobs uncontrollably, and you approach the situation like an alien lab dissection. You had felt this was coming all along. You had only hoped it did not have to be this heavy.
Ultimately, she opens the door slowly and lets you in and after a long hug and hot chocolate; you are both seated on the floor of the kitchen opposite each other observing each other cautiously trying to pick cues from each other’s expression. At this point, there is not much to do, but to sit and watch her tears flow quietly from her face. She looks like she has some serious weight holding her down but to avoid saying the wrong thing; you just hold on to dear silence.
She finally opens up abruptly, like an unpredicted hail storm with a short statement, I am pregnant.
Feature Image by Mukiri Gitiri.