When Nina messages me, I am standing on my couch, trying to draw the curtains in my sitting room, willing the smell of paint away. It is a new house; been here for slightly over a week, so the smells of paint and newness have begun chocking me to the point I am beginning to ask myself; is it worth it? This moving thing, is it worth it?
When she messages me for the second time, I am busy closing my back door and kitchen windows because there is a church nearby. There is a small church. But the thing with small churches is they usually have the biggest sound systems, with the whackest of sounds. They have ’services’ on a daily basis, at the weirdest of times. 5 a.m. 4 p.m. 8 p.m. They shout at the top of their voices and woe unto you if you decide to pass by to see who the congregants are; empty chairs with only two people at the pulpit.
Later, when I mention to a close friend that noises from the church disturb me, he laughs his heart out and says, “You cross me like a highly religious person.”
“Why?” I ask.
“Because you are an ideal child. Hata pombe hukunywi.”
Then, it is my turn to laugh out loud.
When Nina messages for the third, fourth, then fifth time, I ignore the vibrating of my phone. I ignore mostly because she is using the messenger app, and that is one app that should be solely dedicated to creepy wababa. Always hi-ing, how are you-ing, you are beautiful-ing, can we meet-ing, and the brightest of them all are stuck at, can you send me a picture-ing.
But when I am idle, and the phone continues to vibrate, I open the app and there she is. Nina in all her beauty. I click her profile and I immediately recognize her, even though she has twisted her name to the point I cannot remember the original ones. Not the proverbial Nina yule mcuuuuuute, or bootylicious Nina, but something close to Nina Dreamgal Shining.
Her message is straight to the point. “Please WhatsApp me via ***.”
I do not tell her that I already have her number. That I have had her number for the past nine years. That we have met before, during her baby shower*. Kwani she does not remember she was the one who gave me directions to the venue via the phone?* I do not tell her that I always send links to my posts, religiously, to her, but she never opens them.
Like the ideal child I am, I launch my Whatsapp and say, “Hey, Eunniah here.”
She remains in the ‘typing’ state for close to seven minutes. My anxiety starts to build up. We haven’t talked in years, why is she typing me a long message? Have I done anything weird that reached her ears? Have I joined a cult subconsciously and she is the lead? Has she had rumors that her brother once dated a chic who use to bend over and bite her toe nails, before mixing it in groundnut soup, and that chic happens to be me?
When I get back to my phone, fifteen minutes later, the text from her reads, “I now have two babies. My youngest is four-months old.”
Before I type out my fake, ”Awwwww. I am happy for you. Congratulations”, another message comes in.
“I have something I would want us to talk about.”
Now, my anxiety speeds out of my soul and finds a resting place in my mind. The last time someone said they want to talk to me about something, it ended up in, “I do not think this is working. It is not you, it is me. You deserve better bla bla bla bottom-of-the- barrel-nothingness.”
But this is Nina. The Nina I went to high school with. The Nina with a bubble of spare energy tucked in her armpits. The Nina with a smile that resembles a smirk, but is the warmest you will ever receive. Nina who walks with a gyrate in her waste, and when you ask her why, all she says is, “Ni maumbile ya Mungu. Sio kupenda kwangu.”
I tell her Monday is not a good day. I have to work. Nairobi is too cold. No, it is raining even. Throughout the day. No, I cannot ask for a day off. It is too abrupt. That even if I manage to take a day off work, I still have to ‘hawk’ books in town. And when she asks why, I tell her that people have already paid. And buyers always expect to get the product immediately they send money. Otherwise, you risk being asked for a refund, and being told you have zero communication skills. No, they do not care that it is raining. They have PAID.
But again, this is Nina; my Nina. And even though we haven’t talked in years, I tell her, “Monday at 4 p.m., then. In town, because I do not know where the hell Gachie is.”
I walk into the restaurant twenty minutes late, because the last person I delivered books to kept on saying, “Hata hapa ulichelewa kufika, so ukichelewa huko kwingine hakuna shida.”
When Nina spots me, she hurriedly gets up and in the process, tips the sauces on the table. She does not clear the mess, but comes rushing toward me, and wraps me in the tightest of hugs. When we break off the hug, she wipes tears against her fore right arm, holds my hand and leads me towards the table.
When she starts to talk, all the voices of doubt in my head quickly die down, and the vehicle horns at the street below make no sense.
“Thank you for coming. I know you are a busy person, but I really needed this. I needed someone to talk to. Scratch that, I needed to talk to you.”
I smile, shyly, trying to hide my surprise at the scratch marks on her forehead. I slip out of my now wet jacket and hang it over the chair. Quickly, she throws a heavy white scarf to me. Same old Nina. Always caring. Always looking out for others. Always asking, ‘does this make you uneasy?’, ‘does it hurt?’, ‘are you happy?’
When she resumes talking, her voice trails off to a distant place. As if she is talking to herself. As if she is talking to someone who is not there. As if she is talking to a god she does not believe in. As if she is tired, and the words are the last thing she wants to leave on earth.
“When I met him, I loved his silence. He seldom said anything in the house, apart from words of affirmation. He laughed, occasionally, asking me whether I like babies, because they would bring laughter to the house. They would mask his silence. They would make me busy to a point I would forget about him and his silence. I laughed, then, said I could never forget him no matter what. That he is the one I had chosen for life.”
She reaches for a packet of pocket tissues when the waiter stops over to take our orders, wipes her eyes, then continues.
“When we had our first baby, he was thrilled. He spent hours on end next to him. Watching him sleep. Watching him feed. Cry. He bought him the first toys. Played with him. Quit his job when we couldn’t find a stable nanny. He became our son’s best friend to a point I couldn’t carry my own son. He would scream whenever I took him, but remain calm whenever with his dad. Until one day when he was one-year-old, I came back to a silent house.”
The tears now flow freely, and I am not sure what to do next. I am itching to take my phone and scroll through, to distract myself from the moment. But she cries, then heaves, heavily, before sniffing and reaching out for another piece of tissue. I terribly wish for someone to call me.
No one does.
“I found him crying in the corner; my husband. He said the baby collapsed. How? He just collapsed. Did you administer first aid? Yes. And then? Silence. Did you take him to hospital? Yes. And then? They pronounced him dead on arrival.”
More tears. More sniffs. More nose-blowing. More stares toward our table. More waiters coming over to ask whether we need anything.
I do not say sorry. I do not say I understand. I don’t. I do not ask anything. I look straight at her, as if it is just dawning one me that I am not reading a fictitious book; this is Nina from high school.
“He died, just like that. That was two years ago. You remember, right?”
I don’t. But I don’t tell her so. I nod my head in affirmation and she goes on.
“I didn’t get to see his body, up to the time he was buried. He said it was a bad thing; me seeing the body of my dead child. That it could bring an eternal curse, so all my babies would always die mysteriously.”
Even though that sounds ridiculous to me, I do not say it. I keep my thoughts to myself. Love is a complicated thing. People trust others, fully. They believe them, even when they say the most obnoxious things. Like I was out with the boys. I slept for 48 hours. Nizalie please. I don’t have money right now, but in the future, I will have it. I am living with my sister and her two kids. Believe me, I will divorce her and marry you. Si unaona niko na wewe sai, sio yeye.”
“The house went back to silence after the burial. I did not know how to grieve. I did not know who to talk to because my husband kept saying, “I’m not ready to talk about that. Perhaps we should try having another baby.”
Finally, my phone rings. She asks whether I need to be somewhere else. I say ‘Yes’ in my head, but my mouth says, ‘No, that can wait.’
“Yesterday, I decided to rearrange the clothes in my wardrobe. The baby is only four months old but they are already inseparable. He, my husband, is the only one who can handle her. So I spend most of the time doing things I wouldn’t do on normal days. So I take all the clothes out and guess what I found…”
I don’t guess anything. She goes on.
“There is a cardboard against the wall. So I drag it aside because I am creating space, and I cannot remember putting it there…”
She stops, suddenly, and asks if she could hold my hand. I agree. She presses it so hard I want to scream. Still, she doesn’t talk. I want to remind her that someone has not yet put a ring on it, so I still need it beautiful. She releases my hand and shifts in her seat.
“It was too cold when I found it. And hard. Like stone. The hole was not too big, so I crouched and pulled at it until I couldn’t anymore. When I pulled it one last time, it came tumbling onto the floor; my late baby’s body, wrapped in my husband’s favorite shirt. The one he said he burnt because it gave him memories of our dead child. In the backdrop of the silence, I hear him chuckling with my four-month-old baby.”
She does not give me time to ask questions. She does not explain the marks on her forehead. She does not explain the blood stain on the chest area of her while shirt. She just picks up her ringing phone and says, “I will be there in a minute”, then walks out.
When I get back to the house, later, I allow myself to soak in the newness. I allow the smell of paint to fill my nostrils. I let the noises from the church slip in through the back door. It does not irritate me anymore, because I understand it won’t be here for long; just like Nina’s existence.