A week earlier, everything was business as usual between him and I. It would be wrong to say that everything was fine because things were never truly fine. I had met him at my best friend’s birthday dinner where he sat in his blue coat and khaki pants and told loud stories that I could hear from across the table.
Our first encounter was at the parking ticketing machine. He had lost his ticket and I took the opportunity to make fun of the situation. He intrigued me instantly. His charisma was enchanting. It wasn’t how he spoke or what he had dressed, but his ability to banter about losing a parking ticket charmingly. We didn’t exchange more than light jabs and peaceful night wishes before we left the parking lot.
On our next ‘chance’ encounter, at the ArtCaffe at Galleria Mall on a sunny Saturday afternoon, he was casual. He had come to visit a relative of his and decided to stop by. My best friend had asked me if I’d wanted to go for coffee and I’d agreed with no hesitation. I later learnt it was a ploy to get me there with minimal suspicion.
He sat at the restaurant as if he owned it – he occupied space, with his presence, voice, gestures – and for him, this ‘date’ was for ‘closing an important deal’ that had gone on for too long, it seemed. It was a bit awkward as first dates are usually expected to be. I laughed and he paid the bill. It was a simple transaction and I was happy to laugh at his jokes. I don’t remember if they were funny but I was hungry. That date marked the beginning of a romance like I hadn’t had before.
Visiting Nairobi restaurants became an activity that both of us enjoyed indulging in, retrospectively a little too much. I liked our friendship and the conversation was never boring because our similarities were almost glaring, but surface level. We were both into books and I was at the time, obsessed with African short stories. We both had a problematic relationship with rhumba music (sorry, guys). We loved it (the us, not the rhumba).
After some time, I was ready to dive into the new, exhilarating interaction with both feet. I wanted a new title other than ‘someone I’m seeing’. So when we decided to meet for brunch that Sunday morning, I was ready to have the ‘What are we’ conversation.
I arrived at his house dressed to the nines, carrying along questions and answers to the conversation I had already calibrated in my mind. He informed me of an impromptu meeting he needed to attend and left me in his house. In my attempts to be the promising girlfriend, I decided to clean up his bedroom workstation, which had piles of books, both fiction and non-fiction.
One of the reasons I fancied this man was how much he was reading and how much more he wanted to. I still am in awe of that part of him. As I opened the drawer to put back some of the items on his desk, I decided to take everything out and arrange them back neatly, for him to access all his things easily. A simple act of kindness led to the revelation that made my knees water, giving me a mental breakdown and forcing me to move back to my parent’s house – there was another girl, the glaring evidence – not forensic (I didn’t need to go that deep) – showed.
After waking up from my momentary loss of consciousness in his house, I stood up and sat on his bed, still in disbelief at the reality of my ‘almost’ relationship. Was there more from where this came from? Before I knew it, tears began to fall. The door opened and that forced me to gather myself. I couldn’t explain what made me cry because the conclusion would be that I was snooping. I wiped my tears and faced him best as I could. In case it isn’t obvious, we didn’t go for brunch.
The next couple of days were chaotic for everybody in the world. COVID-19 was officially a pandemic and Kenya had to shut down. To be honest, the pandemic was a perfect excuse for me to ball into tears every time I remembered him, his house or the photos I had seen in his desk drawer. I hardly spoke to anyone in my sister’s house and didn’t participate in any house chores. All my sister heard was the sound of me wailing through the bathroom door. To date, she says I wail like a wounded cat begging for rescuing. At the time, my sister was pregnant and feared that I was suicidal. She was forced to call my parents to come pick me up before anything detrimental happened.
My relocating back to my parent’s house revealed my vulnerability. Something they had never seen before. At the time, my father was battling diabetes so sitting in the sun was part of his healing regimen. On an exceptionally warm day after he heard me cry through the corridors to his bedroom, he invited me to carry a chair and sit next to him in the sun. I was reluctant at first but gave in because my father is relentless.
“What is making you so sad?” he asked.
Pops was soft in a way I had never seen him in all my life. My father’s nickname amongst my friends was ‘Simba Marara’ because of how he ran our home. We were raised in a pseudo-military household that taught us emotions came secondary to logic always. Hence my hesitance to answer his question. He had eased his gaze at me and was stretching his amputated leg. I knew if I verbalised what I was feeling or even mentioned the man-who’s-making-me-cry’s name, my heart would break and I would cry in front of him. I wasn’t prepared for that. In my attempt to salvage the conversation, I ranted about my workplace. The conversation was light. The rustling green leaves and the whistling wind became the soundtrack of that conversation on the front porch.
For the next couple of months, my father and I became porch-buddies. He never asked me who broke my heart, or why I was ever sad but in his own way, he knew I was healing from it. We enjoyed the sun and he told me more about himself as a young, unmarried man with dreams to conquer Nairobi as a boy from Bukhakhala village in Busia. He never thought he’d leave the village because of the poverty that was in the home at the time, despite his father being the village’s chief. I felt proud of all his accomplishments and acknowledged how difficult it must have been to raise five children and provide for a few cousins who were not as fortunate as we were. I began to see him as just a man who tried his best to live an honourable life that his children could emulate.
The more I learnt about my father’s life, the more I healed from my broken heart. Then, one day in our sunny sessions, my father asked again, “What was making you so sad, my daughter?”
“A boy broke my heart,” I finally said it.
He looked straight at me for a split second and looked away. He didn’t say much after that but I knew the silence between us was his way of saying, I’m sorry. That alone was comforting to me.
Staying home for six months during the COVID-19 pandemic felt like a choking predicament in the beginning. I was too far away to confront the-man-who’d-broken-my-heart’s lies but, that gave me an opportunity to recover from my anguish. It gave me a chance to reconnect with my father as a man and know him as a friend, a relationship I had wanted to work on but the strains of everyday life made it more difficult than anyone expected.
I still think of the-man-who-broke-my-heart sometimes, especially around Valentine’s Day, for obvious reasons. The distaste in my mouth is less now because I am mostly grateful that my broken heart mended a relationship that will last forever, with Papa.