* * * * * V for Veracity
She breathed quietly as she grappled to maintain her composure. Her inner world had been thrown into a state constant turbulence the last few months. On some days, she’d successfully mastered the art of being The Captain of her own ship, learnt to steer steady and navigate through all the negative experiences that life threw at her and no matter how hard the waves came crashing she remained afloat, stable, anchored. On other days.. well, she didn’t and she drowned helplessly in her emotions, succumbing to antagonizing thoughts and pessimistic trends.
The voices in her head grew louder and her soul grew more restless, getting hungrier.
Her gaze wandered lazily as she studied the living room, suddenly engulfed by the feeling of being in a strange place, like she was living someone else’s life. Like her life wasn’t really her own. Keith sat right next to her but she could barely feel him there. In her current state his presence had been reduced to a mere figure, a thick cloud of dark smoke hovering. He felt like a stranger and worse, she felt like a stranger in her own home.
Her reflective eyes stayed glued to the TV screen as the newscaster announced yet another mysterious and gruesome murder – the fifth unexplained inhumane killing that month alone, by her count. The victim was female, twenty-two years of age. Her body had been found – wrapped in black plastic bags and dumped near Mtitu forest. The group of cyclists had been training for the annual cycling challenge on their usual trail when they encountered her lifeless body. The autopsy report revealed that she’d been raped, tortured then hacked to death.
Mumbi exhaled a deep maddened sigh. What the hell was going on? What was he world turning into? Everything in the world seemed to be falling apart. Everything in her country was decaying, going to rack and ruin – what with the corrupt and greedy government officials, the politically instigated clashes in different parts of the country; class struggle, as the rich got richer while the poor died poor, broken and hopeless; unemployment, insecurity and crime rates on the rise; preachers turned into insatiable sexual predators (doing the rod’s horny work) and manipulative psychos preying on those beyond hope (filled by the money spirit). Parents on the other hand were too busy earning a living that they neglect the mental health and well-being of their children. Crazy world, crazy people, crazy times. Kila siku imekuwa ni scandal – it was all over the news channels, headlining the papers and blogs on every social media and even the random conversations in the mat.
What was crazier was the rate at which men were turning into bloodthirsty monsters. How love, under the wrong conditions turned into a disease; a plague. One that was spreading fast.
The news presenter proceeded to the next item on the newscast which Mumbi paid no attention to, too immersed in her own woes. She drew in a long breath and stared blankly at the screen. She wondered, is this my fate? Is this IT?
She thought about Pendo, the nice woman with an unforgettable smile, whom she’d met at one of Rosie’s house parties had shared with her a timeless piece of advice as he bonded over a bottle of red wine.
‘…I am only eleven years older than Rosie and you. Me and Maish we have been pamoja kindu seventeen years. It hasn’t been easy. We have had our ups and downs, but let me share with you one truth that I know for sure ni 100% guaranteed. Ukitaka kujua what kind of man you’re involved with, just look at how he treats his mother and the sisters generally. We angalia angalia tu, utajua kama ni mtu wa aina gani. Chances are, kama he doesn’t treat the most important women in his life with love, care and respect he won’t treat you any different.’
And it made perfect sense. For a few brief weeks, Mumbi had held onto those words for assurance, clinging onto every syllable like her life had depended on it – her love life at least, had depended on it. Or so she’d believed. She’d needed to believe Keith was a good man. For seventeen jubilant years it had worked for Pendo and her husband. Surely, if she too believed…
‘Babe are u okay? ‘
‘Mmm.. Mmh?’ She snapped out of it. But was she really out of it or was she sinking deeper into it?
She swallowed the big ball of anxiety – seasoned with frustration and extra toppings of bitterness – that had camped in her throat and as it rolled down her tight chest it left behind a chain of questions – questions that would later resurface and hang onto the roof of her mouth like the peanut butter they’d spread on the coffee cookies at brunch with Rosie and the gang – questions that would never find a voice, but instead she’d mould them into a painfully beautiful smile and a quick, ‘I am okay.’
And each time she uttered those three little words, the chain grew tighter around her neck. She died a little more, starved her soul a little more.
‘I’m okay,’ was her automatic response. ‘Just an upset tummy.’ She cleared her throat, as though to discard the lie that caught around her neck. ‘Must be all that food we ate at Rosie’s. Vile anapenda kuspice kila kitu..,’ she continued rubbing her tummy unceremoniously.
Rosina – their mutual friend – had taken a couple of culinary classes and had suddenly declared herself the master chef. And as expected, she had taken on an experimenting and hosting spree, vlogging on her new found passion and using her friends as lab…kitchen rats every other weekend. Not that any of them would ever complain. They were all always hungry, they all loved free food – free everything as a matter of fact and Rosie, really did know how to throw down.
‘Sorry baby. Feel better,’ Keith responded as he smiled, typing on his phone.
Mumbi knew she should have confronted Keith for ditching her at the party and ignoring her the entire time but it was nothing new. In the recent months, he’d gradually grown into someone she could barely recognise. He’d started acting strange after the road trip to Nanyuki with the rest of the gang. She’d been forced to bail at the last minute after her boss called – Kimani’s expectant wife had gone into early labour and she was the only one who could cover his shift.
She knew she should have spat out all of what she’d been holding back for way too long – all of what now settled and rumbled inside her like an erupting volcano. Instead she kept pushing it down with warm ginger water and massaging it back in.
Why do you do this to yourself…to us? Vera was her alter ego. Her voice rang in Mumbi’s head and slowly, her beautiful, hypnagogic face emerged and formed, dancing in a wavy blur in the half full mug. Mumbi kept staring, getting drawn to Vera’s sparkly eyes and hypnotizing voice, forgetting the world around her.
Vera spoke. ‘You keep wondering what you ever did wrong to experience a love that hurts and degrades you…’ Vera was short for Veracity. She was the brutally honest voice and Ris, concurring with her in the background, was the voice of reason.
She blinked back the tears and looked away from her mug. How did I get here? What did I ever do wrong?
‘It’s right in front of you Emm. He is where you went wrong.’ Vera slowed Mumbi’s heart beat causing her breathing to relax – allowing her to listen and own to her truth. She shut out every other voice and for once, she listened to her own, to the voices from within.
Between the pulsations of her heart, Mumbi perceived in a clear wave, ‘Open your eyes Emm, can’t you see? A man is defined by how he takes care of himself, how he carries himself. If he doesn’t love and respect himself how can he ever love or respect you?’
* * * * * Best Friends
‘Couldn’t sleep either, huh?’
Keith turned towards the voice, startled. ‘Um..nope. I thought I was alone out here. It’s not the same bila Mumbi. I don’t know if im mad she left me or proud that she has her own thing going on…. so I took a walk around to clear my mind – with my beer,’ he smiled sheepishly as he raised his bottle as proof, as though it wasn’t obvious enough , ‘and we ended up here.’
‘Mind if I join you?’ Brenda smiled in her sheer night dress as she leaned by the entrance of the gazebo.
Keith had never really paid attention to Brenda or to any of Mumbi’s friends before. Not really. But as she stood there, he suddenly couldn’t help himself.
Maybe it was his fourth beer that night that impaired his judgement, maybe it was the way her hair brushed across her face as it caught of the night breeze or the way her nightie fluttered against her dark thighs – skin so smooth it shone like dark polished river stones – lifting against her as though they were begging to be ripped off her, but he’d known as soon as his eyes glazed her full lips, that they were going to do more than just talk.
‘Ye- I mean, no,’ Keith stammered, suddenly aware that he was lingering, studying, discovering Brenda’s ethereal nudity. All of his senses were alert, awake to her feminine energy. She had eyes white as milk, thick arched brows that gave her gracious face a touch of edginess. Her long flowing hair fell down her face, down her long, enticing neck and over her full breasts. In a quick flash, what had seemed like a dream, she’d been caught in the security light as she stood in the doorway and the images of her tall, slender, figure 8 body blessed his vision, swamping his mind. He’d seen her on Tv so many times before but up close and semi-nude, she was a real star, gravitating in subtle motions that set off his sirens.
‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to…umm,’ he moved the cushions from the lounge chair and gestured, ‘of course I don’t mind at all. Please.’ He swiftly redeemed himself, half expecting her to decline his invitation, but she hadn’t seemed to mind his intrusion.
‘Do you always imbibe this late in the night or just when you’re lonely?’ She goaded him. As she sat in the empty space beside him, a warm,bold, intoxicating and sultry scent wafted across his nostrils, sending warm shivers through him.She sat so close to him, their bodies almost touched and as the minutes trickled by an energy seemed to formed between them. Sexiness radiated off her, stirring a powerful urge that caused the hairs on his skin to stand erect – as though they were tiny little hands reaching out to touch her.
‘I thought you’re best friends with Emm. Hasn’t she told you like, all of my bad habits?’ Keith sipped his cold beer hoping it would help cool his rising temperature and quell the building thirst.
‘One of her best friends,’ Brenda pointed out. Rosina was her oldest friend. Tamara was her closest. She had sponsored their trip, all expenses paid, thanks to the raffle competition organised by the Mothers Unite chama – a forum that aimed at empowering young and innovative single mothers. She’d suddenly gone from selling mitumba at Toi to being able to buy the entire market. Gina was the crazy one. She was a part-time lecturer at a local uni, the other part an accountant-cum-business-woman set on swimming with the sharks and establishing a niche in the shylocking industry. She was also another part cougar engaged in a three-way affair with two of her male students.
‘But I do know some of your habits,’ she winked.
‘Ha ha,’ Keith snorted. ‘Touché.’
‘Do you want to touch mine?’ From out of the blue, she had a cigarette planted between her moist lips and a blue lighter in her hand.
‘Touch what? Wait…you smoke? And..wh-where were you hiding those?’
The confusion apparent on his face was amusing. ‘I have my ways,’ she muttered with the cig still on her lips. ‘I hope you don’t mind?’
He took the lighter off her hands and she immediately blocked the breeze with her hand as he lit her up. ‘Si mind. You do your thing.’ She inhaled deeply as the butt burnt up and muttered a quick thanks as she exhaled a white minty cloud. They sat in silence for a few brief minutes as both of them stared into the warm brisk night. From the corner of his eye he observed her as she repeatedly tucked away the stray strands of hair that kept sweeping across her contemplative face.
‘I have been an unfailing smoker for the last two years. No one knows. Certainly not the girls – not even my mother who’s been living with me for two months.’
Brenda was a covert investigative journalist and all he knew about her was, Mumbi watched her show every Wednesday through Friday at 10 p.m. and, that she’d gotten a notch interesting. No doubt she’d piqued his interest. A woman like her had to have many secrets bagged, he reckoned. She had ‘keep off’ marked all over her and yet he found himself particularly eager, itching to open her up and explore the intricacies of her Pandora’s box. Brenda’s box.
Keith started to hand her the lighter then hesitated before releasing it to her grip. ‘So, you’re sly, secretive and obviously resourceful, profound, with a cloak-and-dagger-ish, 3 a.m-ish kind of vibe literally dripping off you and…smoking hot,’ intentionally pronouncing that last part in a low hum. ‘I see why you’re an award-winning personality. Waah, two years is a long time to fool people.’
‘I’m surprised you didn’t start off with a lecture on cancer and the imminent effects of the soot clamping my lungs.’ She smiled, gulping in one long puff. Then two. She licked her lips, pondering. ‘And I don’t see it as fooling anyone. It’s my personal life, no one should have to deal with it but me. I like to keep it that way.’ She held the cigarette between her thumb and middle finger and tapped lightly with her index finger to flick the ash away. ‘So do you want to touch it?’ Brenda purred before he could respond.
‘Huh?!’ Keith paused, holding his beer mid-air as he turned towards her, perplexion befalling his hard facial features. ‘I don’t get -‘
‘Tushie,’ she cut in. Nimble as a shadow, she was already on her feet, bending over and clapping her black juicy cheeks, filling the airy night with the fuck-me scent of her arousal. ‘Get it?’ She raised her right brow suggestively.
They simultaneously burst into an easy laughter.
‘Do you want me to?’ Keith asked, considering for a moment that it could all be a sick prank suggested to Mumbi and she was setting him up, albeit he knew it wasn’t Mumbi’s style. But with ballsy friends like Brenda, he couldn’t be so sure.
Sensing his hesitation, Brenda brushed against him, tapping his thigh gently as she fell over him in laughter. The half smoked cigarette was still in her hand when she straddled him, popping her ass against his strong thighs. She nestled her crotch against his manhood and brought the cigarette to her mouth. She inhaled then breathed against his neck, licking and kissing him as she ran her nails on his back.
Funny, unpredictable, daring and fucking sexy. Fuck it! He did not want to stop. He tensed in his seat, charged with an intense ripple of passion.
‘You’re not going to tell Emm about my smoking habits, are you?’ She whispered in his ear as the smoke dissipated in the air. ‘Do you want to smoke with me..’ She trailed off, crushing the cigarette on the edge of the lounge as she mumbled his name against his skin. She lifted his vest to his shoulders with her free hand, kissing her way down his tight abs.
As she inched closer to his bulge, Brenda confirmed that Emm was a vicious, cunning cheat who’d plainly led them to believe Keith had an average body, when in fact, he was a fucking melanin demigod; strong as Zeus. He was a rugby player for a local club – Simba Imara – and during his free time he trained kids under seventeen at a local children’s home. As a result, his body gained an amorous steel-hard, athletic pose. Every time he’d raised his beer to his mouth, flexing, she’d dripped like a broken tap awaiting to be screwed and manoeuvred by those able muscular arms of his. She couldn’t wait to rave his name like it was holy, master the veins on his dick one at a time like the sacred Hail Marys, worship him in unrestrained moans and laudation as he led her to her divine cleansing. She was a sinner ready to be baptized and be filled with his goodness.
Keith had never smoked before. Never even considered it, for obvious reasons. She was his first puff; a drug that he had never encountered before and steadily, she was getting into his system, rushing into his head…his head. She’d ignited his primal urges and he didn’t even try to deny his flaming need. His body tightened and the profuse network of veins on his body vasodilated, with blood flowing to all the wrong parts….
‘There is always a first time for everything.’