Happy Birthday indeed! I hope Penny is proud of me. She ought to be proud of me. Where is she anyway?
This state I am in must be the much talked about limbo. This must be how it feels to be neither here nor there.
Penny should be here by now. To embrace me, pull me…do whatever it takes, to steer me to her side. Isn’t that what she promised; to wait for me with open arms?
Then again, Penny was never that wife. She was never one to stick to a plan, let alone keep her end of the (wife) bargain. She and I had become strangers. We talked more in her death than we did when she was alive.
A typical evening for us included not saying a word to each other. Okay, maybe one or two words. I would come home after work to find her watching a movie. Her feet curled under her body often times, her head supported by a cushion sometimes, she would throw a glance my way and once I caught it she would look away and ignore me as if I did not exist.
Not that I expected her to rush to my arms and give me a tight hug with a wet kiss to boot, no. But would I mind if she did that? Absolutely not! She was my wife for crying out loud! We should have been able to do such things. But ours was not that kind of marriage. She never embraced me then, so I should have known not to read much into her ‘with open arms’ talk.
“Hey” I would say once I walked in through the door
“Hey” She would say back.
I was not bothered that she cared less whether my day at the office had been good or bad – she never tried to find out, and I never offered. What bothered me instead was the look she had given me one day. It was the look of a woman who knows something that you don’t.
What bothered me even more was the feeling of guilt that threatened to paralyze me as soon as my eyes met hers. Her look pierced my conscience. It stung.
She continued watching TV. I went to the kitchen, found the food – rice and meat stew it was – in a serving bowl on the kitchen counter. I made sure I ate that day.
I would serve myself and heat the food in the microwave. With a plate full of steaming food, I would sit down next to Penny. A heavy silence would come and make itself comfortable between us on the couch, taking so much space in the process, and creating a rift to push us further away from each other.
I was afraid of saying anything lest I be caught in a lie. I tried not to sit too close to Penny; I had contemplated sitting on a separate couch but decided against it. Even though I wanted to sit as far away from her as was humanly possible at that moment, I sat next to her. Even though eating was the last thing I wanted at the time, I still ate. When you bring yourself to really think about it, isn’t that what marriage is about? Doing stuff you don’t like for the person you are supposed to not just like, but love?
Penny stayed quiet through my chowing. I could never bring myself to ask her why she never talked to me anymore because I was not ready for the answer to that question.
We allowed the television to fill the silence that we were unable to fill with our words.
Any other night, I would be pining for a warm, naked woman’s body to press against mine before sleep took over my thoughts. Any warm, naked woman’s body. But not that night.
The reason I was not pining for nudity with a woman that night was because she had come into my life. One lucky Monday morning she had strode into my office and, unbeknownst to her at the time, into my life. I was in my office when the manager walked in with her in tow.
“Mike, let me introduce you to Claire Mimosa, our new employee who just joined the IT department”
“Claire, this is Michael Kinoti, our chief accountant”
“Call me Mike” I extended my hand for a handshake.
Beautiful eyes, smooth skin, slender, curvaceous body in a red dress. A flower indeed.
Warm soft hands had returned my handshake. Exquisite.
I had held her eyes with mine. I had smiled.
Claire had smiled back.
I had let go of her hand long before I let go of her eyes.
In the days that followed, she would continue to return my smiles and my hellos. She would thank me when I held the office door open for her to pass through. She would answer my calls when I dialed her extension for a chat.
Claire neither slapped my hand away when I pulled her towards me, nor turned to face the other side when we lay in bed and I reached out to cup her breasts. She always kissed me back. She felt my burning desire and straddled me to quell it. She never let go. Not until we were both sated.
Penny had shut me out, while Claire had let me in. Claire had made Penny’s silences bearable. She had numbed my conscience in a way that only she could.
Was that what Penny was doing now? Shutting me out? Again? Even now? After everything that we’d been through?
Shouting. Screaming. Screeching brakes. More running. Heavy breathing. Lifting. Lowering. Strapping…
I am lying on my back. I feel no more pain. Only numbness. Weightlessness? Delirium? I try to raise my body off the bed but I am pinned down. I try to call out for Penny but my voice will have none of it. I try to open my eyes; they disappoint me as well.
Steady beeping sound.
“Mike. Can you hear me?”
I part my lips. My mouth is dry.
No sound comes out.
“Talk to me Mikey”
Only one person calls me Mikey.
I open my eyes.
I can barely make out the many faces that surround me.
A hand touches my shoulder.
One face appears inches above mine.
“You will be ok Mikey. Get some rest. You will be ok”
I hold her eyes with mine.
With tears in her eyes, Claire smiles back.
llustration by Elsardt Kigen. Elsardt is a talented artist and a senior student of The Arts and Design at The University of Nairobi. He has won several Art Competitions including ‘Experiencing Kenyan Heritage Through Art’ (2013) where he was accorded a visit to the UK.