The two of you sat on the fluffy carpet in the living room on that Saturday afternoon in your pajamas, holding hands like two blind men in the middle of a busy road. The fan spinning in crooked circles on the ceiling hummed in an aggressive sound that reverberated all over the room. In the background, on a local TV station, a familiar voice was giving updates on the COVID 19 pandemic. Something about the curve not flattening any time soon. But none of you cared about curves flattening or not. Two HIV self-test kits and a pregnancy test kit lay haphazardly on the mahogany coffee table at the Centre of the expansive room. The typical story of one woman, one man, and three test kits in one room on a humid Saturday afternoon. The pregnancy test kit turned out negative, obviously because you recently carried out an abortion. But one HIV test kit was positive.
Many days before this day, you were like any random campus lass, obsessed with older men who shave their heads bald, match their belts with their shoes, and ate ugali and mboga kienyeji at restaurants. Men who owned German or British locomotive machines and, if worse came to worse, a high-end Japanese machine. Otherwise, they would not be any different from the broke boys on campus. You have always loved the feel of leather car seats on your butts. And the breeze from the sunroof on those weekends you head out of town with a jaduong’ clad in a pair of shorts, sandals, an ugly hat, and arrogance tied around his waist. You were just twenty-three. You wouldn’t want to miss a lecture for a small boy who would flip you around his bedsitter on an empty stomach, demolish your derriere and send you back to your house on a rickety okada. Life had leather car seats and sunroofs to offer. You could never settle for less.
On the day you met him in a restaurant on Kenyatta avenue, you had earlier on gone on a late lunch date with three other men of his age. A common friend tagged you and your best friend to meet up with these men in town after lectures—the same old men who shaved their heads bald like a baby’s bum and ate mboga kienyeji. Okay, to be fair to the old folks, they were not so old. The eldest did not look a day older than thirty-five.
It rained that day. A light shower sandwiched with a series of muffled thunders. The six of you shared a table at a restaurant at the city center and munched on whatever your plates were decorated with. You ate fries and a twisted chicken wing.
At that age, you always found conversations with these kinds of men boring. It was always boring. They often talked about multi-million projects on the slopes of Ngong’ hills and on the highlands of Kisii, and you had to occasionally throw in a fake “Wow, is it that lucrative? “or a fake compliment about their crooked smiles. You had to do it to soothe their egos. It is just how it worked. This caliber of men did not want to be posted on WhatsApp statuses or Instagram. They just wanted to be told that their bellies sat gracefully on their loins when they drove around town with a toothpick peeking from the side of the mouth and an arm resting on the car window. They would have considered being posted on WhatsApp, but they have wives. And these wives breathe fire and brimstone. So they settled for the complements.
After the meeting, your best friend has to meet this guy she has been seeing, but her phone battery is dead. So you lend her yours without a second thought because that is what friends do—lend each other phones. She insists that you should come along and say hello to her man lest he thinks that she delayed meeting him deliberately. So you did what friends do—tagged along.
He was about five feet, five inches; the size of a flowering maize plant. He hugged your best friend and then proceeded to extend the same gesture to you. He smelled expensive. His deep-set eyes danced restlessly when your friend introduced you. His mouth twitched at the corners momentarily when you told him your name. There was something about him that you couldn’t place. Was it how he had matched his jeans pants and neatly pressed shirt? Was it the patchy beard that appeared like it needed fertilizer to grow? You would have labeled him mysterious, but he was dating your best friend, and you were not about to call his man mysterious. The girl code did not allow it. After the somewhat awkward pleasantries, you excused yourself, whispered a careless “bye” to your friend, and walked out.
The next day, your lunch break was interrupted by a call—a new number. You never pick calls from new numbers because con artists have stripped you naked one too many times. You didn’t want to pick this one, but you did. You don’t know why, but you just did. You swiped the screen with your stew-stained thumb, placed the phone on your ear, and waited. At first, all you could hear was a car honk in the background and then a superbike buzzing by with the speed of the wind. Then he spoke. The voice sounded familiar. You had heard it somewhere before. No, it couldn’t be him. Could it? It was him-the mysterious man. He wanted to meet.
Your first instinct was to tell your best friend about it. That her man had called you over lunch period, and that you had swiped the phone with a stew-stained thumb, received the call, listened to a car honk and a superbike buzz by in the background. That he had asked you to meet him over the weekend and that you had accepted. You wanted to tell her that it was not right and that you would cancel the plans. You wanted to tell her to confront him and ask why he would call you and ask you to meet him without notifying her. You wanted to block his number and forget about him. But you didn’t. You saved his number, dropped the phone into your handbag, and went back to eating your soup. The archetypical tale of the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.
The next few days leading to the weekend were coupled with “good morning” texts and random “hey you” texts that later graduated to “I can’t wait to see you.” One of you had to say it. Otherwise, you would have simply held a zoom meeting and talked about whatever was supposed to be talked about. “I can’t wait to see you” ignited a fire none of you could extinguish. It meant something. At least that is what you thought. So you showed up that Saturday and many other Saturdays after that. During one of those Saturdays, he took your virginity. You let him deflower you because you felt something for him. Something almost incomprehensible. You did all these behind your friends back without feeling a tinge of guilt. None at all. Was it because he told you how perfect you were for him? That he would take you to meet his parents. That he had plans to go down on one knee and ask you to marry him before any other man does. That you were like a ripe mango on a tree next to a school playground; he had to pluck you and keep you for himself before other people started throwing sticks at you or shaking the tree and waiting for you to drop. He told you all this, and your eardrums were pleased. But you wanted more proof. A proof of love. So he broke up with your best friend.
Were you a backstabber? No. You were just a girl who found love where she least expected. And in a city where love is sold to the highest bidder, you were not ready to let go of one that came at no cost.
When the red lights started showing, you thought it was what every couple goes through and that everything would be just fine. That the storm would pass, and the sun would shine again. First, it started with the lies. Going out of town for non-existent business trips when he said he would spend the weekend with you. You became suspicious but did not want to think the worst of it. You did not want to poke him in the ribs with questions about his whereabouts because you did not want to create the impression that you did not trust him. That is the last thing men want —a nagging lover.
Then came the silent treatment. He would disappear and only appear when he needed to get into your pants. And you would let him have you whichever way he wanted. You loved him. So much that these occasional meetups that always ended with you naked under the sheets became a source of hope. You would sit in bed naked after sex and watch him fast asleep on the other side of the bed and hope that he would change. That he will still want to take you to his parents like he said he would. But he did not. He would wake up the next day and disappear. You did not try reaching out. He would come to you when and if he wanted to.
But one day, you could no longer wait for him to show up. You needed to talk to him. You were pregnant. Seven weeks pregnant.
When you finally got a hold of him, he told you to do whatever you wanted with the pregnancy. Yes, whatever you wanted. And you did just that. You met some shady guy in the backstreets of Nairobi town and bought an abortion pill. It was the easiest thing you ever did. It was much easier than raising a fatherless child.
And yes, this story ended as you would expect. You broke up. For good this time. You put your shit together and said love was trash. That you did not belong to the streets. That you wanted to concentrate on your career and make your parents proud. But the streets get sneaky sometimes. They had plans for you-another man. A more responsible man with a bigger car….and a bigger job, just the way you liked them.
He was ready to take care of the wreckage you had become. He was ready to drive to the slopes of Mt. Kenya and tell the elders that he had found his lost rib. That he was a complete man. But before that, he had one condition. Yes, just one condition. You could dip yourself in a tank of makeup for all he cared. You could dress in an outfit that started at the waist and ended slightly below the butt if you wanted to. But before that, there was one thing you had to do. You had to do a pregnancy and HIV test. That was the deal. Take it or leave it. Was it too much to ask for? Probably. But could you blame him? In a city where the devil puts on expensive suits and designer moccasins and lives on the posh side of town or sometimes masquerades as a woman with the most desirable ass, you could not throw caution to the wind.
And now, one of the HIV tests was positive. It had to be one of you.
He owned up and said that it must be him. He thought you were too good to be positive. It had to be him. You were heartbroken, again. Just when you thought you had found the one meant for you. The one God created specifically for you. It could not be. You had to be sure. Self-test kits are man-made, and they could be faulty sometimes.
So you jumped into the car the next day with your man on the driver’s seat and only stopped at a VCT. You hoped that what the test showed the previous day was a mistake. And it was. He wasn’t positive. You were.
PS: This is based on a true story.
And as Dr. Seuss once said, “We are all a little weird and life is a little weird. So when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness; and then we call it love.”
Person X’s new man didn’t vanish. He stayed and loved her. They sought medication on how to deal with the monster that threatened their love and vowed never to let the condition break them.