The first time you fall in love, it feels like a storm, it whirls you around, wind billowing through the sails, carrying you off to lands far away you never want to leave. It’s dramatic and intense. The second time you fall in love, it’s more nuanced. It doesn’t come rushing in. You notice the little changes, like how you look forward to his text at the end of the day. Or an accidental graze of his palm on your thigh that makes you want to still time.
I am wearing a yellow dress. We’re both waiting in line at the bus stop. I am trying to listen to Alicia Keys but I can hardly hear her through the cacophony of car horns, yelling hawkers, shouting conductors, voices through PA’s announcing in loop, ‘kiatu na bei’. This is Tom Mboya street at rush hour. You can barely make out the music coming through your earphones let alone the murmur of your own thoughts.
The line slugs forward. An empty matatu has arrived. We start to board. I found a seat near the window and he sat next to me. I don’t notice him. I am too engrossed thinking about work, my ex, and the rent and slightly irritated that I cannot even listen to my favourite song because of all the noise. The vehicle begins to crawl out of town and in the process, the driver almost hits an oncoming bus that is trying to speed past the traffic lights before they turn red. “I always wonder what the rush is for,” this is the first time he speaks. I ignore him. I am too tired to engage in small talk with a stranger on a bus.
I scroll through my phone and try to find another song, one that is louder and more upbeat. I consider turning up the volume to full but I decided against it on account of the pounding headache I might get afterwards.
He keeps on talking. He is looking at me this time and pointing at my phone. I remove the earphones and he is saying, “Be careful with your phone,” and he points to a group of three young men who are moving through the lines of traffic, ‘you can never know what their agenda is, they might be trying to steal your phone.’ I smile and say thank you.
“My name is Steve by the way.”
“Ella,” I say with a nod and turn to face the window.
“You have very nice hair Ella.”
“I like it that African women are embracing their hair in its natural state. It’s a very political statement.”
I decided to engage him, my intention is to poke and prod his statement. We talk about the entire length of the journey. I am delighted that he is quite smart. I get off at my stop but not before giving him my number.
Three months later, we start dating. I am so happy. I no longer think about my ex, my first love. My body learns how to pleasure another again. Night after night, the lovemaking is intense. The conversations flow freely, it feels like he knows me and I wouldn’t want things any other way.
We had been dating for 8 months and things were good. One night, he comes home and on my tiny balcony overlooking the concrete jungle of flats ahead, he kneels, next to the washing area and asks me to marry him.
Why does your heart fill with dread?
If you’ve lost him then you’ve lost him
I know it’s scary because you still don’t know where home is
You will certainly not find it in his arms
So, stop furnishing rooms that do not belong to you,
Painting walls in colours that do not match your soul
Breaking and breaking
Until you finally set that very room on fire
You must realize that you will find a home when you start looking for it within yourself.
I am sitting in my one-bedroom apartment. Some of his clothes are still in the closet. His towel was thrown carelessly at the foot of the bed. A pair of his shoes are still on the shoe rack and his house slippers have been kicked under the chair.
I am trying to steady myself. My whole body feels numb.
Outside, the incessant cries of a child and its nanny’s desperate attempts at placation. Electricity meters beep in a never-ending reminder that it is that time of the month. A low-flying aircraft buzzes in the distance. The slow hum of machinery and humans deep in conversation pervades the mid-morning air. Inside, silence cloaks the living room.
I open my laptop and stare at the screen. I read his email again.
Ella, I am sorry that you had to find out this way. Before you, there was someone else. She was my fiancé before I met you. Things hit a rough patch and we broke up. That’s when I met you. I met her a couple of weeks ago and we have been trying to put things back together. What we have was good, I love you but I love her more. I came to my senses and realize I can’t lose her. Sadly, this is goodbye. I will come by and pick up the things that are still at your house.
My life was coming apart. How could he go back to his ex when he promised that he would love me forever? All this time I had been duped into believing that he was real when it was all smoke and mirrors. A familiar dread came over me. The same one that I had felt when I’d broken up with Julius, my first love. That feeling of a loss of identity because you had invested all that you were into that relationship.
I lay back on the couch and let the tears flow.
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***Single lady in Nairobi is a collection of real-life stories and opinions from different women. It looks at the current world of dating in Kenya and experiences that ladies have gone through. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Potentash.com.
Featured image via ClassyRatchet.com.