It was the morning of the day after Sebastian had left for Italy five years ago. You pull up at the airport and wait as you watch passengers file by. Your phone vibrates, it’s Sebastian telling you he is at the arrivals terminal wearing a red shirt. Your heart beats a little faster as you step out of the car. It’s Valentine’s Day. Yes, life likes to slap you in the face, bringing you face to face with the one that got away, the man you had loved more than any other, on a day for lovers. At least he is coming home alone, so if he has a girlfriend you don’t have to feel jealous and bitter.
The wind blows in your face, biting into your skin a little. You pull your sweater closer to your body. You spot him in a red shirt with three suitcases. You help him load the bags into the car. An awkward silence follows.
‘So how was Italy?’ you ask keeping your eyes firmly on the road.
‘Italy is fine, I had missed the weather here, though.’
Another awkward silence follows as you pull out your parking ticket and pay the fee. ‘Have a good day,’ you nod at the attendant.
‘How is James?’
You cringe at the sound of that name. Your mind shuttles back to five years ago, on the morning before Sebastian left for Italy. When he called you to ask you if you were serious about leaving him and hearing the sniffles on the other end of the line, you almost faltered in your decision. You said you were leaving him for James, that you were unable to reciprocate the love he was giving you. That you suspected him of cheating.
Even your own mother thought you had lost it.
‘No way, it can’t be, he wouldn’t harm a fly,’ your mother said incredulously.
‘Well he hurt me!’ you screamed as you ran into your room.
What you didn’t say was that you were afraid you wouldn’t be able to wait that long for him.
‘He’s fine,’ you reply tersely, rolling down the window. The air feels like its thinning around you.
‘We don’t talk anymore,’ you add.
Sebastian nods and looks away.
‘Thank you for picking me up by the way and for letting me stay at your house while I get settled in.’
You are grateful for the lack of traffic and fifteen silent minutes later, you are at your apartment in Imara Daima.
You’re proud of your apartment. It’s an ode to your wandering soul, that’s what you say to everyone who comes to visit. You catch him looking at a graffiti mural of three birds on the right wall.
‘Bankslave,’ you tell him.
‘Where can I put these?’ pointing to his bags.
‘Oh right,’ and you lead him to the guest room that you had prepared for him.
You and Sebastian met in high school. You had just grown out of your boyish figure and been spared the agony of acne. He used to live in the first house after the second left turn in the estate. He noticed you first and when he approached you, you feigned coyness. Your big brother Andrew had told you that men didn’t like easy girls, ‘So don’t give it up too soon.’ After that, you often wondered if that was the reason he still lived at home when he was thirty and that your mother always asked him why he didn’t bring any women home because all the girls were easy and men, especially Andrew didn’t like easy girls.
So you feigned coyness until you were scared that he would lose interest because in all honesty you really liked him too.
You ‘gave it up’ on a Friday afternoon. Both of you sat on the roof of his house, watching people’s heads bob to and from the shops or their homes. You whispered, ‘Sebastian,’ and when he turned to look at you, you cupped his face in your hands and closed your eyes like they do in the movies and you kissed him, very lightly on the lips but the force that ran through your body felt like it could fell you to the ground if you stood up too soon.
Sebastian walks out of the room and catches you staring dreamily out the sitting room window.
‘Penny for your thoughts, my fair lady,’ he asks in a fake British accent as he props himself on the couch. You feel your face turn red and your heart starts to fluster again. He used to call you that before you broke up, all through high school and right before he left, even though you were never fair and far from being a lady.
‘I am just thinking of what to cook.’
‘Wow, I never thought I’d see the day this fair lady would slave over a hot stove.’
‘Five years is a while, this klutz grew into a graceful princess,’ you say as you do a curtsy.
‘Well fire up the stove! I can’t wait to taste chef Safiya’s cooking.’
You go into the kitchen as the TV comes on, Stromae’s song filling the room.
The day both your Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education came out, you were eating ice cream at a fast-food restaurant in town. You had agreed it would be a good idea to stay away from home while the announcements went on because you both wanted to be in the top ten nationally but didn’t want the anxiety of sitting in front of the TV waiting to find out.
None of you could taste the ice cream as it went down your throats and none of you made it to the list of the top ten nationally. Despite this, you had scored good grades and the disappointment didn’t hurt so badly.
Sebastian walks into the kitchen.
‘What is it?’
‘You can pour yourself some wine, it’s in the fridge,’
He winks at you.
‘A little early in the day for drinking but don’t mind if I do’
A few months after you got your results, he tells you that he is applied to study medicine in Italy and he will be leaving the following month. You feel the tears begin to well. You ask him if Kenyan universities aren’t good enough. You tell him, ’UoN is a great university.’
He tells you that if it were up to him, you would have stayed but his father insists that he study there, besides five years is not going to be too long. He will come to Kenya every year, maybe he can get a job and save up some money for you to go over there at least once. You tell him he is being silly that that will never happen, ‘Everyone knows they don’t allow undergrads to work,’ you say matter of factly.
He sighs heavily, ‘Okay I’ll email you every day. ‘But you refuse to listen to him and walk home alone and don’t text him for two days.
Three weeks later, on the night before he leaves for Italy for five years, you text him that its over, that you are leaving him for James, someone whom you made up while you wrote the text.
‘I never understood what happened to us’
He’s stroking your hair. The tension has dissipated after you’ve spent the afternoon trading funny stories about the good old days and your lives during the five-year separation.
You sit up and face him, the wine makes his eyes seem like they are dancing.
‘I don’t know.’
‘I missed you very much when I was away, I wrote you many poems. I often thought of your skin and how it smelt like coconut oil. I missed your voice. I missed you so much Safiya,’ his voice fading into a whisper.
‘I thought you were angry at me for leaving you the way I did. I was so scared you’d never forgive me’
‘I never stopped loving you. It hurt, what you did, but not a single day passed without me thinking about you’
You close your eyes and smell his skin as he moves closer.