Chapter 6

 

            How does it feel? Sex.

 

            The next market day was Tuesday and that gave the men a few days to rest and do their shoppings. They would be staying in the staff houses at Mr. Ferguson's ranch and would therefore need cooking and day to day supplies.

            Nderitu was happy to return to his apartment in Amka Town, and prayed for a chance to see Claire his beautiful neighbour again. And so started the game of cat and mouse. Every time the blue gate opened, Nderitu would jumped up and ran over to the window hoping to catch a glimpse of Claire. Most times it was the neighbours' kids playing, but once in a while it was her. She would open the gate and close it slowly behind her. Then she would pause, raise her eyes and look straight in the direction of Nderitu's house, and for that brief moment, he would feel a connection to her. And then she would look away and the connection would be lost. Five seconds later, her apartment door would open and close and the silence that followed would make him yearn for her.

            Claire lived with her mother and father, with no other siblings. The apartment just like Nderitu's was one bedroom, and he sadly pictured her sleeping on a couch in the living room. Nderitu felt like a stalker watching out for her through the window, but he also knew that time was of essence because he only had a little time to get to know her before leaving for the ranch.

            At exactly 5.30pm on Sunday, the gate shook open and Claire stepped into the compound. This was Nderitu's second last day in town thus one of the few opportunities left to meet with her. Nderitu ran into the living room and watched her through the window. She wore a beautiful black dress with a touch of pink lipstick. Her black hair was styled to one side of her face and she looked stunning. It was the first time she had changed clothes, made her hair and applied make-up. She must have attended church. Nderitu wanted to open the door and say hello but he didn't have the nerve. And so the moment passed and once again Claire disappeared into her parents' apartment.                 

He felt dejected after that, and the thought of going back to the ranch without talking to her haunted him. He paced the living room and berated himself for lack of courage. Other than the men, Claire was the only person he knew and could talk to in Amka Town, and he felt lonely.

            On Monday night, the lights in the whole neighbourhood went out at exactly 8pm. The sun had set at around 6pm and without the lights, the whole neighbourhood sat in complete darkness. Cursing under his breath, Nderitu grabbed a flashlight and opened his front door. He noticed the pale lights in the other people's homes and knew they originated from candles. Lights went out frequently in the whole country for different reasons and people were always prepared. Sometimes when it rained a lot, the main transformer would explode, or sometimes the government just switched off the power to ration it amongst a surging population.

            The meter box was mounted high on the wall near the gate. Nderitu pushed laundry on the line out of the way and pulled out a flathead screw driver. He opened the red box and studied the wires inside with a frown. Someone had done a terrible job, and one wire was hanging loose. The breakers were turned on and nothing looked tripped. He was about to touch the live wire with his screw driver when suddenly he heard a metal door open. Nderitu tensed and waited as a shadow stepped into the compound holding a hurricane lamp. It was Claire, wearing pajama pants and a white sweater.

            "Hi Nderitu," she greeted in a calm voice.

            "H…hi Claire, no lights again ha?" He lightened his voice so as not to sound frustrated by the current predicament.

            "Are you trying to fix it?" Claire asked, bringing the hurricane lamp closer to the meter box. Her eyes were narrowed, studying the wires and trying to make sense of what she was seeing.

            Nderitu turned his full attention on her. Gosh, he had missed her. Her long hair was still styled to one side of her face making her look beautiful and relaxed.

            "I was just checking to see whether we have power in the line," Nderitu said. He raised the screw driver and touched the live wire hanging out.

            "Is that an electrician's screw driver?" Claire asked.

            "Yes. It's insulated. See here? It's supposed to light up if there's a voltage. It's not. The transformer down the street is probably blown."

            Claire lowered the lamp. "Is this what you do? Are you an electrician?" she asked.

            Nderitu laughed nervously and hesitated. He had not lied to her yet and didn't want to. There was something about her that made him want to be honest. "I used to have dreams of attending college but they died a long time ago. I studied electricity under an apprentice in Nairobi," he said truthfully. "I have a few tricks up my sleeve."

            Claire placed the lamp down and leaned against the wall with a sigh. Nderitu sensed a hesitation in the way she talked and moved.

            "Your parents are not home," he said, sensing her need for companionship.

            "How do you know?" she asked in a surprised voice.

            "You wouldn't come out of the house if they were home. I think it has a lot to do with the way you have been brought up. Your parents are very strict."

            "You are very observant," Claire said, "And yes, my parents went to Nairobi and won't be back till tomorrow."

            Nderitu nodded and closed the red box. "There's a storm coming," he said looking up at the dark sky. "Does it rain a lot here?"

            "Oh yes," Claire said. "It rains a lot. Mountain climate you know? The water rises ankle deep making it very muddy."

            The first few drops hit Claire's forehead and she squealed with excitement. "We better get inside," she said.

            Nderitu wanted to spend more time with her but couldn't argue with the rain. He wanted to tell her that he would be leaving in the morning and would be gone for a long time. He wanted her to know that he would miss her.

"Good night Claire," he said sadly. "It's always nice talking to you." I will miss you when I go back to the ranch.

            "Nice talking to you too Nderitu!" she said over her shoulders as she walked over to her door. Suddenly, a moan escaped her lips and Nderitu saw her struggling to open her door.

            "What is it?" he asked. "You need help opening the door?"

            Instead of answering, she slumped down and sat on the cemented step, her head dangling to one side. Nderitu rushed over and squatted in front of her. She looked like someone about to faint.

            "You are scaring me Claire," he said. "Are you okay?"

            She blinked and looked like she wanted to cry. The words that followed were full of pain. "I think I locked myself out."

            Nderitu's brows furrowed and he didn't know what to say. He tried the door but it didn't open. He studied the kitchen window and noticed the metal grids on the inside. Even if he broke the window, there was no way of getting past the grids.

            "Come on Claire," he said, touching her arm lightly. "It's about to rain. Come inside my apartment while we figure this out."

            She shook her head as though in shock. "I ... I can't ... its not appropriate." Tears fell down her face.

            "If you stay out here you will get soaked and get sick. I won't take no for an answer. You have to trust me."

            The rain came down fast. Nderitu took her hand and pulled her into his living room. He closed the door against an abrasive wind and rushed to light the hurricane lamp in the kitchen. Using the light, he dashed into his bedroom and grabbed a towel for her. When he came back, she was standing awkwardly in the same spot he had left her by the entrance. Her face looked scared under the glow of the lamp. Nderitu gave her the towel and placed the lamp on the coffee table. He checked to make sure the windows were closed, while she wiped her face and hair.

            "Please sit down," he invited, and guided her to the bigger couch. Claire sat down and looked like a rabbit in a bush, scared and ready to bolt. He sat down on the adjacent couch and adapted a serious tone. "Listen to me Claire. We are both adults here and we both know it’s not appropriate for you to be in a man's apartment. But am your neighnour and you are in trouble, and neighbours are supposed to help each other. It's either this or you sleep outside. Please trust me. You can sleep here on the couch and I will lock myself in the bedroom."

            She nodded slowly, finally accepting her lack of options. "Thank you," she said.

            He had cooked ugali and sukuma wiki earlier on. He served two plates and handed her one. The fact that she did not refuse meant she had not had dinner. She said thank you again but did not praise the food and Nderitu understood why. Growing up with sisters had left him an average cook.

            They ate in silence and Nderitu's mind drifted between Claire and the new job at the ranch. What lay ahead of him was a long journey through the darkness. Kamandu's plan was bold, and taking over a new town was not going to be easy. He could hear the chariots coming for him, the war horns blowing in the heavens, and he didn't want to go. He wanted to stay home and be with Claire. He wanted to feel the way he felt when he was with her ... to dream of a world that did not exist.

            The rain came down hard and even Nderitu was startled. There was lightning and thunder that shook the walls. He cringed and peered through the living room window.

            "You were right Claire," he said over his shoulder. "The water outside is already ankle deep."

            Claire joined him at the window. "It will rain all night," she said in a small voice.

            They sat down again and finished their food. Claire suddenly stood up and took both plates into the kitchen and Nderitu smiled. She was beginning to relax. The kitchen did not have a door and light from the living room filtered halfway inside. The sound of running water confirmed she was washing the dishes. Not even darkness, a storm, or being in a stranger's home could suppress her great upbringing.

            "I have never lived with a woman," he said when she came back. "I'm used to doing everything for myself. Thank you for washing the dishes."

            "I can tell," she said with a sly grin. "Your apartment has no feminine touch." Her face lit up a little as she studied the room. "A flower pot would look good in that corner near the window within reach of sunlight. A few pictures on the wall could brighten up the room and some nice curtains could warm up the place."

            "What's wrong with my curtains?"

            "They are just plain."

            Nderitu laughed. "I just moved here Claire. Give a brother a chance." He knew he was going to do all the things she was suggesting.

            "Let me know if you need my help. I'm good with my hands," she said. "Other girls make fun of me because I like to knit."

            "My sister ... she likes to knit too," Nderitu said. "She's a teacher."

            "You have a sister?" She looked surprised.

            "Three actually. I'm the first born." He chuckled easily and liked the surprise on her face.

            "Are they in..." She wanted to say rural area and he nodded.

            "Wairimu is the teacher. She's the oldest. And then there's Wangechi and Wanjiru. Wangechi is nice, you would like her. Wanjiru the youngest is very beautiful and my favourite. She was born of a great love ... our mother died giving birth to her and so we all have a special place for her in our hearts." Nderitu smiled and looked distant. "You should see the way Wanjiru used to follow me around. I miss that a lot. Our father died when we were young and Wanjiru had no other male figure to turn to but me. You have siblings?"

            "No," Claire said with a shrug. "I love the attention."

            They both laughed at this and Nderitu felt warm. She had an easy laugh that lit up her eyes.

            "You think the lights will come back tonight?" she asked, her eyes shifting towards the closed curtains.

            "No," Nderitu said. "People are very soft here. I was told that other parts of Nairobi like Dandora, people don't play nice with the power people. If the lights go off and they don't show up on time to fix it, people threaten to burn the workers."

            Claire laughed hard. "You are funny."

            "I have a lot of silly stories," Nderitu said with a shrug. "We should hang out more."

            "We should," she said sinking deeper into the couch. "It's getting cold. I can feel goose bumps."

            "Let me get you a blanket." He ran out of the room and came back with two blankets. It was the same every night in the mountains. The cement walls got cold and turned the house into a refregerator. She stretched out on the long sofa while Nderitu sighed into the love couch.They covered themselves with the blankets and Nderitu couldn't imagine a more perfect night in his life. Yellow light flickered from the hurricane lamp and danced on the walls. Claire looked at home and was completely covered but for her face.

            "Surrounded by mountains, the nights here can get very cold," Claire said. "But the summers are beautiful with bright flowers and green grass carpeting the hills."

            "How long have you lived in Amka Town?" Nderitu asked.

            "All my life. I love it here. I'm the girl who never leaves home."

            "Really? You’ve never thought about leaving?"

            "Well, I wouldn't mind seeing the magical place of many waters as my father used to call it; but I would never leave my home for another."

            "The Indian Ocean?"

            "Yes. I would love to see it."

            "I would love to see it too. They say it’s beautiful and majestic."

            A long silence followed in which Nderitu thought about her words. He knew exactly what she meant for there was a time he had felt the same way about his father's land. It was different now. He had stayed away for too long. 

            "Are you a Christian Nderitu?" she suddenly asked.

            Nderitu thought about it for a second. "I was brought up catholic, and yes, I am a Christian."

            She raised her eyes and met his. "I'm a saved Christian. That means I can only be with someone who is saved."

            The message was clear and Nderitu swallowed hard. He didn't know what to say.

            "You know Jesus Christ died to save your sins," Claire said in the same soft caressing voice. "Imagine someone who loves you so much, such that He is willing to die for you. It's a love beyond imagination. Jesus died so you may live and have everlasting life. Would you like to go to Heaven Nderitu?"

            "Y...yes," he said feeling cornered.

            "The world is sick and dying. All you have to do is accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal saviour and Heaven's doors will open for you."

            "Getting saved is not easy," Nderitu said, choosing his words very carefully. "A lot of Christians pretend to be saved and yet behind the curtains they are big sinners. I don't want to be like that."

            "That's a very honest answer," Claire said. "And I respect you for that. But you must remember that getting saved doesn't happen overnight. It’s a spiritual war inside you … a journey full of doubts and failures. You become concious of your sins before and after you commit them. You fight to over-come them and ask the Holy Spirit for help."

            "That must be a huge challenge."

            "It is," Claire said. "The devil knows you are slipping away and he will do everything to hold you back. You must declare your prayers to God, and then ... believe."

            “I must say, your passion for religion is liberation. A good Christian is like a diamond in the rough.” Claire had a strong confidence that God was completely in control. She had given herself completely to God and for her it was the only kind of life. Nderitu admired it, and liked that about her. He would never match it. He would never be saved that intimately. But he had to try if he wanted to be with her. He decided to take over the conversation.

            "Have you ever had a boyfriend Claire?" he asked.

            "Yes," she replied without hesitating. "We were together for three years before he left me."

            "What? What do you mean left you? How can someone leave you?" He looked surprised.

            Claire smiled. "He was saved too, and sometimes I used to visit him in his apartment. We became very close and he wanted to sleep with me. The devil was tempting us. We started kissing and then... after a while, he wanted more. I told him I would only sleep with him if he visited my parents."

            "And did he?"

            "No. He got scared and bailed out. I don't think he was ready for marraige."

            "I see," Nderitu said looking pensive. "Are you telling me you have never been with a man?"

            Claire smiled with pride. "Never. Twenty six years old and still a virgin. Girls look at me like am crazy."

            Nderitu shook his head at her unflinching honesty. "You are probably the last virgin left on earth. Girl's can't wait to give it up in high school."

            "I'm saving myself for my husband."

            He turned down the wick on the lamp until it was very dark. Then he lowered himself on the floor and covered himself with his blanket. He heard her turning and twisting on the couch trying to get comfortable.

            "Are you okay?" he asked.

            She laughed. "I should be asking you that question. You are the one sleeping on the floor."

            He laughed too. "Old habits die hard. Are you okay with me sleeping here?"

            "Actually I like it. Tell me something Nderitu. Do you have any regrets about joining the Mau Mau and fighting for your country?" She sounded serious.

            Nderitu was silent for a long time. "There are a few regrets on individual incidents," he said. "Sometimes I wish I could do things all over again."

            "What would you change?"

            "I ... there are people who died, who should never have died." He thought about Alex's dad and immediately felt sad. "War changes you and wipes out the illusion of a perfect world. It makes you discover knew things about yourself."

            "It's because of what you guys did that we are free now," she said. "Brave men died and killed so we could have our freedom."

            Nderitu pursed his lips in the darkness. "The days in the forest were dark and the fear of death made us numb. Going to war made coming home difficult. The sun was too bright and people looked happy in a sureal kind of way. Simple things like sitting on the couch and watching TV got me confused. There were times when life lost its meaning, a sense of purpose ... a man dies when he looses purpose you know." He sighed. "There was doubt about the freedom we had fought for and whether it had been worth it. It’s just that… we were soldiers out there and lived under commands and guidelines. We fought for freedom and when it was handed over, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. The walls around me came up and I stayed away from people. I learned the hard way that people will only hurt and betray you."

            Claire sensed pain in his voice and didn't know how to respond. Nderitu's words were deep and powerful, and couldn't be answered in one sentence. "There was this old man," she said.

            Nderitu felt her words drawing him in.

            "His wife was dead and he had no job, friends or children, but every day he left the house and went out."

            "Where did he go?" Nderitu's voice was a whisper.

            "It didn't matter," Claire said. "A coffee shop for example. He would buy a cup of coffe and sit on a round table; listen to random conversations and hi-five strangers. Sometimes he would talk to the girl selling coffee or the young man wiping the tables. In the afternoon he would go to the park and feed the birds; watch the children running after each other in play, and pick up the soccer ball for them when it went astray. In the evening he would stop by the guy roasting maize and get caught up on the gossip. At the end of the day, he would go home smiling, feeling like he had accomplished something."

            "And yet he had done nothing," Nderitu said.

            "Exactly. He took something from the world and made it his."

            "That's a beautiful story Claire. I like it." He felt like he could see better around her. With Kamandu, he had crossed the line so many times that the line had disappeared.

            "I like the story too," Claire said. "Just like the old man, we all have a reason why we are here on earth; now we must find a reason to stay. God took you to the forest for a reason. God does not make mistakes. He is preparing you for something big."

            They lay in silence in the darkness but neither of them was asleep. Outside, rain drops splattered on the veranda and slapped against the windows. Sleep would only rob them off these precious moments and Nderitu didn't want it to end.

            Ten minutes of silence later, he was beginning to fall asleep when a strange question came from Claire's mouth. "Nderitu? Can I ask you something?"

            "Sure." He rolled over and wished he could see her face.

            "Mmmm... how does it feel to be with someone?"

            Nderitu knew what she was asking but was very surprised she was asking it. "Are you talking about sex Claire?"

            "Y...yes," she said in a whisper. "I sometimes think about it, and ... I wonder what it would feel like when I finally do it."

            There were many ways to answer the question and Nderitu knew all of them. He remembered himself in Claire's position and smiled. He did not dare ruin her fantasy and perfectly functioning world. "It feels very good," he said. "One's body is transported to a place where nothing is real anymore; where every inch of your body feels...happy."

            She sighed. "It sounds wonderful."

            "It is good when you do it with the right person," he said not knowing what else to add.

            "You are talking about love."

            "Yes. Love is a treasure. It’s really hard to find. But when you find it, it’s like magic. You must keep it. You should never let it go."

            When she didn't say anything else, Nderitu closed his eyes and started drifting off. That night, he dreamt about her, and in that dream he told her he didn't like the man he had become, and didn't know how to fix it.

 

 

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