The city in the evening was a nightmare. Especially to him. He did not quite like being touched. By anyone. His skin would freeze up against his bones and he felt almost assaulted. Then here were people, albeit with ignorant intention, shoving into him and pushing him around as he cleared the streets and headed towards his bus terminal. They seemed to be an awful lot of them today. A Friday evening. He felt himself die a little every time he walked into a rough, uninvited shoulder bump. Ten minutes after he had left the office, he heard the sound of his phone ringing in the breast pocket of his leather jacket. He was just turning into the paved walks outside The Kenya National Archives. He thought about ignoring the call, heading to the caution that comes naturally after you’ve had one or two phones snatched out of your hands in places as crowded as this. But he also felt like it could be important. After all nobody ever called him just to say hi. So he looked around and saw a somewhat safe spot outside a fashion store where a bunch of students in all their attention seeking attires had decided to cluster. He only took out the phone and answered it when his back was safely against the walls of the building. The people traffic continued like a haze in front of his eyes.
“Hey grandma, are you okay.”
“Come home now, Andrew. I’m dying!”
Her voice was a rash and urgent whisper that should have at least shocked him. And it would have, were it not the fourth time he was hearing her say that in as many months. She was dying, of course. Slowly. All of us are just slowly dying, he thought, but in her case they knew what was killing her. She had been living with the disease for about fifteen years. But she was not dying today, he told himself. Just calm her down and it will be alright.
“It’s okay grandma, I’m on my way home right now. You’ll be okay,”
She hung up.
He stood there feeling mildly irritated and for a second, he considered delaying on purpose. He could not allow himself to be manipulated like that but he also knew that she was a 72 year old woman and her delusions inevitably overlapped into her sense of the real world. He had also promised his mother that he would take care of her. So he put back his phone and started to walk again, his paces now in perfect sync with the rest of the world. He did not seem to notice any shoulders that pushed him around anymore. Probably because none did anymore for he only had but a hint of concern in his mind. Thirty minutes later, the matatu he was in was just turning the roundabout at Nyayo stadium and into Lang’ata road. He checked the time on his phone and found himself hoping of there would be little or no traffic. But it was just after six p.m and he knew only the best of luck had him in Kiserian before eight.
He sat by the window on the right side of the vehicle and leaned his head lightly against it. He felt exhausted. The traffic turned out to be a little bit bearable and in the stillness that he had found, he felt a little pinch of anxiety start to creep in. And with it, came a restlessness that would not allow him to sleep. He turned in his seat to pull out a pair of entangled earphones from the back pocket of his black pants, brushing against the naked arm of the breastfeeding woman next to him. He started to murmur an apology but her eyes were closed and she looked even more tired than he felt. The baby in her arms was sleeping silently too. Undoubtedly coxed by the nipple in her mouth. He felt a little envious of their rest as he plugged the earphones into his phone and ears then settled to watch the evening yellow lights slowly pass by outside.
He tried not to think about his grandmother and failed. There was that little voice inside his head that kept shaking around, whispering, what if this was it? What if the time had finally come for her and he was going to be left all alone, once again? The low and heavy growls of Paradise Lost in his ears seemed to add to the sense of impending doom that suddenly overcame him. He closed his eyes tightly and tried to will his mind into submission. But calm had long since deserted him.
When he checked his phone for the time again, it was twenty minutes to nine p.m and he was sitting in a skillfully crafted wooden armchair in their home verandah. It was a delightfully warm January night and there was an occasional draught that raised the hairs on his skin and tasted a little like dust. His grandmother was propped up against the arm of a low sofa next to him, covered to her waist in a beautiful African leso. She did not look frail or weak. She just seemed so small with her legs stretched out briefly in front of her. The scarf on her head was pushed back a little, exposing the few strands of grey hair that looked like her eyes. There was a sort of unsettling feeling in her chi He had found her there and she’d said that the house suffocated her. They lived alone on about an acre of family land. The overhead light bulb stuck out in the darkness and shone upon them almost affectionately. She looked into the night and began to speak, slowly
“You have to leave this place Andrew. The minute I am gone you should too. Really, you should have left four years ago when your mother died but I know I kept you here and for that I am sorry. I was weak and I dreaded losing you to the world the way I had lost her. But this place is dangerous now. Your home has turned into hunting ground for its children and I’m afraid for you. There is so much hatred and resentment in this place Andrew.”
She lingered on that last sentence for a little bit and then sighed and turned her face to his. He saw that she bore in her eyes the strain that she kept from her voice. Something terribly sad had passed behind them and lingered, swallowing him too. But nevertheless, she continued.
“Your uncles and cousins are poisoned. They are bitter and they will not stop until they get this land. I have held them off for as long as I could but I’m dying my son. And they know that. They’ll come after you and they will take everything.”
A small pause. Then another sigh. Then her voice was low and hollow and broke his heart.
“I have failed terribly. I alienated them. I made them feel worthless and now you will be the one to suffer. I should have let them have a little bit of it.” She seemed to be talking to herself more than she was to him as her gaze once again left his face and fell on her covered feet.
“But none of that matters now. There’s nothing left for you here anyway. Quit that job and go. I know you hate it. We both know it. Quit it tomorrow and get your camera and some clothes and all that money in my bedroom and go. Go see the world. I have a friend in Mombasa. I already told him to expect you so don’t even think about saying no. Go and never come back. I don’t want you to get consumed with that fleeting feeling of home that once in a while blinds you. This is not your home anymore. This is just a house with a lot of painful memories.”
She stopped and took in a long breath. He had not interrupted once. She closed her eyes and leaned back against the pillow then sunk deep into the sofa. He couldn’t speak for a moment as all the things she said and all the things he had known sailed through his mind. He felt her hand touch his on his right knee and looked at her face. With her eyes closed, he could feel the energy seep out of her body. He knew in his heart that she did not have long and a tear dropped on his cheek. He whispered to himself and to her cold hand that he lifted and pressed on his lips. Stay, stay, stay. Over and over again.
He did not hear the front gate open and he did not see the spot lights that approached the verandah in the night. He only looked up when he heard a voice over him.
“Time’s up, son”