Long distance relationship
“I miss you baby.”
“I miss you more.”
The phone rung and Akoth grabbed it. It was her boyfriend Mutiso calling from America. Loud music blared from a system in the corner of the room, a party was in progress. Akoth ran over to one of the boys. “Hey Juma, can I use your guest room to receive an international call?”
“Sure,” Juma replied. “Over there.”
She ran into the room, locked the door and answered the call.
“Hi Akoth, how are you doing?” the voice on the other end greeted.
“Hi baby. I’m fine. I miss you.”
“I miss you too. What’s that noise in the background?” Mutiso sounded concerned. The time was 9pm in Kenya.
“Oh,” she replied. “I’m at Juma’s house. Remember him?”
“Yes. What are you doing in his house at night?” He sounded suspicious.
“It’s a party. He graduated from Nairobi University.”
“Oh.” Was all he could say. Silence. And then. “Do I need to be worried Akoth?”
“What? No.” She sounded appalled by his implications. “For goodness sake, he’s so goofy, I wouldn’t even consider it. Gosh!” Silence. “Do you want me to go home?” She added.
“No!” he replied feeling guilty. “I trust you Akoth. I want you to have fun.”
He wanted her to have fun but he couldn’t bear the thought of her surrounded by a bunch of drunken boys. He knew how pretty and irresistible she was. It was how he had fallen for her in the first place.
“So did you go?” he asked as he struggled to put life back into his voice.
“What?” Static on the line. He repeated the question. “Yes. I went,” she said as she sat on the bed. “But I couldn’t go inside.”
“Oh come on Akoth. I told you to go inside. There’s nothing to be afraid of.” She liked it when he pushed her. It felt good to know that someone cared. He continued. “I’m sending the money tomorrow through western union.”
“You don’t have to Mutiso. You have done so much for me already.” She mildly protested although they both knew that she needed the money.
“I want to. It’s been two years since I last saw you. I feel guilty for leaving you behind. America is very pretty but I miss you.”
“I miss you too honey.” She didn’t know it but she was sprawled on the bed hugging the phone tightly to her ear. She felt close to him.
“So will you go tomorrow?” He pushed.
“I promise.” Pause.
“I love you Mutiso,” she said with tears in her eyes.
“I love you too Akoth.”
On Monday and after passing through western union, Akoth walked into Strathmore College of Accounting, filled the application forms and paid the required tuition fees for one year. The director, a white British man born in Africa shook her hand pleasantly and requested one of the students to show her around.
“Call me Christopher,” the young student said.
Christopher was impeccably dressed in a blue shirt and white khaki pants. His hair was a shiny black and he was the perfect definition of what a student should look like.
“No speaking your native language here and no sports wear allowed,” Christopher rattled out the rules in perfect English as they walked down the ornate college halls. Along the corridors, they met other African students and some stopped to welcome her into the institution.
“What was your high school grade?” they asked.
“B plus average,” Akoth replied.
“My name is Tom, I was an A student,” one student said.
“Mathius here, Alliance High School. Also an A student,” another boy added.
She couldn’t help noticing that all the African boys were using English names, a common postcolonial trend by the young generation. Akoth also realized that half the students had ‘A’ grades and were from the best high schools in the country. B students sat in the back of the classes and were looked down upon in this college. But she had something going on for her too … she had charm and beauty and the boys hovered and tried to make a first impression on her… by using big English words like obnoxious and perplexed. And they kept saying ‘absolutely’ after every sentence.
“Where do you live?” Christopher asked as he pointed out the various classrooms.
“I live in Westlands,” she lied. She was from the Eastlands, a not so rich neighborhood in Nairobi.
“That’s awesome!” Christopher sounded excited. “I’m from Lovington, my dad works for the United Nation. We should hang out some time.”
Absolutely, she thought and smiled at her own joke.
All in all, Akoth was impressed. The air in the corridors was thick with the smell of education. Young boys wore ties and strutted around with hands in their pockets like they owned the world. The girls wore short skirt suits and looked more like lawyers than students.
That night, she got on the phone and called her boyfriend in America.
“Thank you so much Mutiso. It was awesome! I was so afraid to speak out. My English is terrible.”
He laughed. “Give it a month Akoth and you will be talking like them.”
The rest of the week was uneventful. Akoth would be starting college in a month but meanwhile, she had time to kill and she didn’t know what to do with herself. At the age of twenty-one, she had moved out of her parents’ house to live with her boyfriend. But Mutiso had abruptly left for America to pursue his studies and the realities of a solitude life had hit her for the first time.
Every morning, she woke up and cleaned the house and then cooked. And when morning burned into afternoon, she visited her parents and then came back and watched some TV. In the evenings, she read herself to sleep.
Saturday turned out to be a restless day for Akoth. Just to get out of the house, she went to the library and browsed through the many books on the shelf. She stopped at the grocery store and idled in the aisles, and on her way back home stopped to chat up the old man at the gas station. In the evening, she was sitting on the couch wondering what to do with herself when the phone rung. It was too early for her boyfriend to be calling.
“Hi Akoth, its Juma. How are you doing?”
“Oh hi Juma!” She was surprised that he was calling her but happy to have someone to talk to. “Have you recovered from all the graduation parties?” she joked. She wanted him to stay on the line a little longer.
“That’s why am calling,” Juma said hesitantly. “My friends are here from America and they want to give me a graduation treat at the Carnivore tonight. Please come, it will be fun.”
He sounded anxious and she wanted to get out of the house and do something different: go out, have fun and feel young again. But then she remembered that her boyfriend would be calling later on that night, and so she declined.
“Sorry Juma, I can’t. I’m a little tired tonight.”
“Oh man, that sucks.” He sounded disappointed and a minute later, they hanged up. Akoth settled herself on the couch, turned on the TV and then turned it off. She grabbed a book and stretched herself out on the couch to read. A few seconds later, she let the book slide down and stared at the ceiling. A cricket chirped in a dark corner. The house was deathly quiet and lonely. She was going to go crazy if she didn’t break away from routine.
The phone rung again and she answered it on the second ring after glancing at the caller ID. It was Juma again.
“Akoth, am not taking no for an answer. I told my American friends about you and they want to meet you. We are driving over to pick you up.”
“You have a car!” she exclaimed as she quickly sat up. It was not a question. Owning or driving a car was a huge deal in Africa.
“They rented one. I’m driving it.”
She panicked. “No. Don’t come here. I will meet you at Kenya Cinema.” She looked at the cracked wall and stained carpet and the thought of tourists coming to her house appalled her. She quickly picked out a sexy red dress and jumped into the shower. And as the warm water trickled down the small of her back, the first tinge of excitement hit her and the prospect of her decision scared her. But somewhere within her body, she knew that it was time for her to get out of the rabbit’s hole. The road ahead was slippery but irresistible.
They met at Kenya cinema at 7pm just as the African sun dove deeper under the dark clouds. The American tourists turned out to be a young engaged couple in their early twenties. Their faces were a glow of excitement and they joked about checking Africa off their bucket list.
“My name is Paige and this is my boyfriend Smith.” They spoke through their noses and Akoth kept asking them to repeat what they had just said. “You are very beautiful!” they said and Akoth looked startled by the boldness of their compliment. “Juma is a lucky man.”
“Oh no,” she laughed. “We are just friends.” She took Juma’s hand into hers and added. “Very good friends from high school.”
Carnivore Restaurant was located 3 miles away from Nairobi city. It was listed by UK-based Restaurant Magazine under the World’s best 50 restaurants due to its all-you-can-eat meat buffet amongst other delicacies. The open-air wooden structure was designed to create an African ambience and a perfect stop over for tourists craving for a taste of Africa. The group walked into the restaurant to the pulsating beats of African songs and managed to have a pick at their table. The inside was warm and fuzzy and the smell of roast meat filled the air. They ordered crocodile and ostrich meat, side dishes and an array of sauces. Waiters dressed as Maasai natives and carrying Maasai swords carved the meat at the table.
“The meat is really good!” Smith said as he bit into a chunk.
“Charcoal. They use charcoal to roast,” Juma explained.
While Akoth and Paige drank wine, Juma and Smith ordered Tusker, the Kenyan beer at the recommendation of the African lad.
“African beer?” Smith asked.
“No,” Juma jested, “nectar of the gods.”
Smith took a sip and distorted his face. He then slammed his right palm on the table and exclaimed out loudly, “whoaa, what the heck is this?”
“Is it bitter?” Juma asked with a laugh. “Take another sip.”
The white lad did. “Not bad,” he said. “I will take another. This is the real deal.”
“Don’t drink too much honey,” Paige cautioned. “We are flying to Maasai Mara tomorrow. I want to see the lions without worrying about your hangover.” Her eyes lit up at the mention of wildlife.
“Look out for the big five,” Akoth advised and then continued to rattle them out, “the lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard.”
“How come the giraffe is not there?” Smith asked intelligently. “He’s a big animal too.”
“You funny,” Akoth said as she finished her first glass of wine. “They were named ‘The Big Five’ because they were hard to hunt. I guess nobody hunted giraffes back then.”
They devoured the meat and engaged in comfortable conversation: politics, sport … the margin of divide between Africa and America. Time flew by quickly and Simba Saloon gradually turned into a nightclub. Some where along the way, the music had paced up, and when the clock struck midnight, groups of half drunk party people flocked into the building.
“Come on, let’s dance!” Smith said after polishing six beers. He stood up too quickly and dropped his chair to the floor in the process. The others laughed and they all moved to the dance floor.
They danced as a group and bumped into other folks on the crowded floor. Nobody seemed to care. No apologies were offered. This was Africa and the rules of the game were different here. The society was polite and yet in a populated city, people understood that space was a luxury only found in the countryside. The small group did the cupid shuffle, the chicken dance, and even the gangnam style. Akoth laughed at the Americans.
“You guys dance weird,” she yelled into Smith’s ears.
“I’m used to techno,” Smith replied. “I can’t believe that am dancing to hip hop in Africa!”
“What did you expect?” Juma asked. “African drums?” He made a 360-degree spin and then did a split. He came up breathless with a feel good grin on his face. “Welcome to the new Africa!” he yelled with raised hands.
They all laughed and danced some more as the frenzy of music drifted through the air. At 1am, the DJ slowed down the pace and the sound of R&B music cut through the warm African club. Smith and Paige paired off and cuddled into each other’s arms while Juma respectively took Akoth’s hands and placed them around his waist. They danced slowly to the sound of Johnny Gill…let’s get the mood right.
Juma’s hands were surprisingly soft as they guided her shoulders around the dance floor in perfect accord. He was a great dancer and he moved well. Not a word was spoken. She could smell his expensive perfume. Giorgio Armani. And when he pulled her closer, she felt his chest muscles on her face and heard the strong beat of his heart. A muffled sigh escaped her lips and she sunk deeper into his embrace. They swayed around the dance floor and under a red neon sign; he lowered his head and kissed her on her lips. She closed her eyes and let him. And then suddenly, she kissed him back.
Two years was along time. Two years she had forgotten … she had forgotten the whiff of a man, the touch of muscles … to be held … to feel wanted. A wave of emotions coursed through her body and she dug deep into her conscious and pulled away from him. Hand in hand, they walked through the Carnivore Club back door and into the huge back yard. A couple of bonfires flickered under the dark African night and half drunken folks sat on the grass around the flames. They picked out a spot occupied by mature couples and sat down to listen to their stories. Up ahead on a beautiful stage, traditional firefighters danced to the sound of constant drumbeats.
“Thanks for agreeing to come, I had fun,” Juma whispered into her ear.
She didn’t reply and instead lay her giddy head against his shoulder and stared into the shimmering flames of the fire. For the first time in two years, she had missed her boyfriend’s phone call.
On Sunday night, Akoth was a wreck as she paced the room. She hadn’t cleaned the house, hadn’t read a book or watched the TV. All day long she had been staring at her phone, wondering what she was going to say when he called. And then he did and she let it ring for a minute before answering it.
“Hi baby,” she said. “I missed you.”
“Hi,” he replied cautiously. “I called three times last night and you didn’t answer. Is something wrong?” He cut down to the chase.
“Nothings wrong honey.” Her hands shook. I took some pain killers and fell asleep.
“Why didn’t you answer my call then?” His voice was accusing.
She had rehearsed all day what to say but now that the moment had arrived, she found herself stuttering. “Mutiso?” she begun, “remember how we promised to always tell each other the truth?”
“Oh no! What did you do Akoth?” he sounded tearful already.
“Nothing baby! Please don’t be mad at me, please!” She started crying and he pulled himself together for her sake.
“Okay. I promise not to be mad if you tell me the truth.” His voice shook with anxiety as he imagined the worst-case scenario.
Silence. She bit her nails for a long time and searched for strength. As tempting as it was, she didn’t want to tip the scale with a lie that would only lead to another. “Juma and I kissed last night,” she blurted out with a shaky voice. Boom! And there it was, out there… silence across the Atlantic Ocean… betrayal in the city. She didn’t even know if he was still on the line.
“You kissed goofy Juma?” He sounded shocked. But gradually, the shock turned into anger and he blew a gasket.
“How could you Akoth? After all that we have been through? What did I do wrong?”
“Nothing baby! You didn’t do anything wrong. It was all my fault. I was bored and lonely yesterday and he had some guests from abroad that he wanted to take to the Carnivore and so I agreed to go and one thing led to another. Please don’t be mad at me baby, it was all a mistake!”
“How could you pick him over me?” he sounded bewildered. “How could you? I have to go Akoth. I thought you were different. I thought you loved me?”
She panicked. “I didn’t pick anybody over you! I love you Mutiso. I want to be your wife someday. Please… it was a mistake!”
He took in a deep breath and then exhaled. She could tell that he was crying. She felt bad that she was the course of that.
“It’s over Akoth. Its…”
She cut him off. “No Mutiso! Please don’t say that!”
“It’s over Akoth. People told me that long distance relationships never work and I told them that ours was different, that you were different. Now, look at us. Look at us Akoth!”
“No. It’s not over Mutiso. I made a mistake, that’s all. I’m human, aren’t I? I will never let go Mutiso. We were meant to be together. I will never let go!” Her tone was delirious.
Pause. “Goodbye Akoth.” His tone was solemn.The line went dead.
The month of April turned out to be the worst in Akoth’s life and the harsh realities of love came knocking. Mutiso never called for the whole month and when she tried to call him, it went straight to his voice mail. She must have wounded him deeply and she felt terrible about it. Meanwhile, she ignored all calls from Juma and tried to shut him off her mind. Juma was however relentless and left her dozens of messages. “Hi Akoth, we haven’t talked in a while. Call me. I hope you are not mad at me.”
Thirty days later, Akoth reported to Strathmore College to begin her accounting career. The classes were tough but the professors were very good at their job. “When you open the classified page in the newspaper, what is the first job listed under jobs’ page?” one professor asked.
“Accounting,” a student replied.
“Yes,” the professor confirmed. “The world needs us. The world can’t do without us.”
Akoth was excited and the first day of college gave purpose to her life and rejuvenated her broken spirit. She called Mutiso in America during her lunch break and left him a message, thanking him for enabling her to attend such an expensive college. She told him that she loved him and couldn’t wait to hear from him. She told him that she was sorry.
Something happened that night and her phone rung. It was her boyfriend Mutiso calling from America. She stared at the phone in disbelief.
“I got your message about college today and I just wanted to tell you that am proud of you,” he said somberly.
She could tell that he was still mad but the fact that he had called spoke volumes to her heart. She had missed his voice. She told him about the professors and the rigid dress codes; she told him about the ornate hallways and English-speaking students, and finally he laughed at her excitement. His laughter was music to her ears and she felt the joy well up in her heart. Things were looking up again.
“I will be coming home in December,” he dropped the bomb. “I will be visiting for a month.”
She couldn’t believe her ears. “For real?”
“Yes. For real. I can’t wait to see you Akoth.” His normal voice was back and it was like they had never fought.
She started pacing the room. “This is awesome Mutiso. I’m already freaking out!”
“Don’t honey. I love you. I will always love you!”
She heard the walls of divide shuttering… and two hearts were united again.
“I love you too honey,” she said. “I can’t wait to see you in December.”
That night and with a glowing heart, she crawled under the sheets and pictured him next to her. She cuddled around the pillow and groaned as her feminine desires took over. She wanted him bad… and she wanted him now. She couldn’t wait for December.
They talked for the next two weeks and she told him about her college life. He told her about his summer plans and how he couldn’t wait for the sun to come out. Winter in America was hell for an African boy who had grown up in a hot continent. She laughed at him.
Three weeks later, at 4pm Kenyan time, the phone rung and it was Mutiso calling. He sounded tense.
“What’s wrong honey?” Akoth asked. She had just finished her classes and was on her way home.
“Bad news,” he said. “I didn’t get the traveling visa. There were some complications.”
She didn’t understand. “You still have time to fix it, right?”
He sighed. “The immigration system doesn’t work like that. They don’t have an open door policy. I called them and they gave me an appointment for March next year.”
“But that means that…” she couldn’t finish the sentence. She didn’t need to. Her face turned pale and she looked thunderstruck.
“I’m sorry Akoth.” He sounded forlorn and scared.
The implications were out there and needed not to be said. Their hearts were broken…the road ahead looked bleak. Some things in life were better left unsaid… real life was not a book. She did not recognize the calmness inside her.
It was 5pm in Nairobi when Akoth hanged up the phone and strolled down the crowded streets. It was rush hour and traffic was back to back. Folks rushed the streets and tried to catch their rides home in a timely manner. She didn’t want to go home. There was nothing waiting for her there but an empty house and a white ceiling to stare at.
Her phone rung and without looking she knew exactly who it was.
“Hi,” she said and suddenly a tear fell down her face. It was Juma the local boy she had kissed. They had never talked since that eventful night.
“Hi Akoth.’ He sounded surprised that she had answered. “Can you talk? It’s been a while.”
“Where are you?” she asked.
“I’m on Harambee Avenue.”
“Meet me at Wimpy’s restaurant.”
“Okay, I‘ll be there.”
Akoth walked down the streets and didn’t bother to wipe the tears strolling down her face. Something was happening to her body … she stopped and leaned against a wall… she listened. It sounded like glass shuttering inside her body… and she knew that her protective walls had crumbled. She was tired of being strong.
Ocean deep…life… you wake up one day and look around only to realize that you are in the wrong place… and the only thing that can save you is the depth of your love.
Off to AFRICA
My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.
The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen
Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...