Red Flags

Icons made by Kiranshastry from www.flaticon.com


I’d forgotten to silence my phone before bed. Now the loud ringing and vibration had jolted me from sleep. I was dazed, it felt as though the choir was in my bedroom humming and drumming. I wasn’t sure if I was awake or dreaming. 

“Hello”

“Hi…, I hope I didn’t wake you”

At 2am, of course not. Sarcasm, clearly wide awake “Ummm not really, Is everything ok?

“I was wondering if I could come to your place”

What? “Well…, I guess, we could plan something soon”

“How about today. Can I come now?

At this point, I really thought I was dreaming because aren’t we in the middle of a pandemic curfew?

And there’s the not so small fact that Sandra is married AND my boss? 

So I sat up, looked around, took a sip of water, attempted to pinch my skin so I can ascertain that I was not asleep, but I hate pain so all I did was a light pick and hold like you would when feeling a baby’s cheeks.

“Hi, you there?”

“Yes yes, ah, you wanna come over….now?

“yes, is that alright?

“Ummm sure, what’s going on?

“I will tell you when I get there, yes?”

Didn’t seem like I had a choice, “Yes, of course”

“ok, thank you”

she didn’t hang up, I could hear the rhythmic sounds of RnB, but on low volume, Babyface was it? I also heard choked sniffling.

“Sandra? Are you there? What’s going on?”

“I’m outside your gate…”

This creeped me out a bit. Surprised that she knew where I lived. We weren’t friends in any sense, our relationship was already strained given that I was her PA. For the year we’d shared an office, I’d observed her stoicism towards life with such amusement.

One time she was called in for early bird meeting which hindered her passing by Java for her coffee and bran muffing routine, so I ordered it in for her. She came in, glanced at the goodies, and said thank you. Her words were so indifferent that I wasn’t sure if similar gestures in the future were welcome or not. 

I often wondered if she was as cold in other areas of her life as well. Did she perk up when kissing her husband? Or did he get the same dead in the water look? 

Although we had shared intimate moments in the year (if sharing a spoon to stir tea was to be considered as intimate). I would never have imagined that she’d show up at my place, dead of the night!! 

What is going on? I’m I suspect in something? Is she alone? Has she come to rob me? Is her husband with her? Will she judge the ‘ratchety’ state my living room is in? Should I care? Will she mind the truck like snoring emanating from the bedroom? (women may have their issues but I’m so glad not to suffer this snoring curse that befell our men). 

A million and one thoughts were flooding my mind. So I grabbed my housecoat and keys and headed for the door, thought of grabbing a knife too or waking the snoring beast, but settled on a short prayer instead. All the protective arsenal I needed to welcome her, and maybe her crew of police? thieves? family? 

She was alone, thank goodness? She looked composed. Same as she would have been on any other morning. She had on jeans, a neat white tee that fit her just so and sandals, no purse, just a phone, and car keys.

30 minutes in and all she’d done was take a cursory glance at my living room, sat down on the seat nearest to the door, and not moved since. It would have been eerily silent had it not been for the snores. Which I thought had gotten worse.

I thought of attempting a quick tidy up. The living room was strewn with fallen shot glasses, half-empty wine glasses, crumpled KFC bag, and a lone chicken leg that lover boy and I failed to reach out for so that the other could have the last piece (blame the romance novels we read) but I didn’t touch anything. I was too sleepy, too tired, and too weirded out by the huge white elephant seating with us.

“Do you want___”

“Who’s the boy? She asked referencing the failing engine sounds in the bedroom.

Were they getting louder? I wondered. Was he dying? Should I go check on him?

“Aaah…some guy. You don’t know him”

“I didn’t expect to, I don’t know people in your life”

Rude much

“Is he your boyfriend?”

“Umm, not exactly, just someone I met”

“Last night?”

Was she judging? “No (lie). Soooo, how can I help you?” This was not the time for small talk.

She was quiet for a while, taking in the mess of heated Friday night. Loverboy had brought flowers, I don’t care for flowers so they lay on the console table, wilting to their death.

“Are you planning on having that chicken?”

“No, are you hungry? I have… nothing in my fridge but wine, stale bread, and 2 eggs …I could make you an omelet”

“No thank you, was just asking. You’d need to store it well if you want to eat it later.”

She seemed hesitant to tell me what brought her here and though I hadn’t minded it, the fact that she was stealing my sleep time, judging my morals, and questioning my housekeeping was scratching on my nerves.

“I’m going to get you a blanket so you can catch some snooze and perhaps we can talk in the morning if you wish” 

Or better yet, leave really. My voice may have had some irritation because she softened and asked me to seat with her. She said please, so I obliged.

“Was the sex good?”

“Excuse me?”

“With him,” she said, jutting her nose towards the oddly quiet bedroom

Shit, is he dead? 

“So?”

“Oh, ah. it was ok”

“Scale it.”

Sandra loved scaling issues from 1-10. Anytime anyone in the office needed her involvement, she’d ask them to scale it so she knows how much of herself she was going to give. 

“What would a 10 be?”

“So mind-blowing you’d take a loan for him”

That startled me, “I don’t think there’s sex that that’s good…”

“There is. I took a loan on his behalf a week after we met.”

Say what!!! She had taken a loan for a man she barely knew? How much was it? Was “him” the husband? How good was he in bed? Did she spend all her vigor for life in bed and that’s why she had none to give outside it?

I was curious but dared not to ask. 

“Wow. I don’t think I’ve gotten to that kind yet. Perhaps then a 7?” 

She shrugged at that. Like I could have done better. But this is Nairobi, a decent upstanding man giving you a 10 had also had to have the cure to what cursed 2020. Right?

As I was reaching for the blanket that had fallen over the couch to give her. I thought she looked cold. I scoured my brain with questions and wondered which one would open her up and get to the meat of the issue without making me sound invasive. 

“I’m amazed. Are there men daring enough to borrow money from a woman?”

“Yes.”

Dammit, closed. I wondered if I should bite the bullet and be blunt. 

“Perhaps to pay for drinks when Mpesa is down. I mean, it can’t have been thaaaat much. Right?” 

I settled for kissing the bullet instead.

“300k.”

Yikes!! Who takes a loan close to half a million for a man she barely knew? Again, how good was the sex?

“I’m sure he refunded now that you guys got married.

Pfft!

That did not sound like a happy wife. 

Matter of fact, her presence in my house in the small hours was not a sign of a happy marriage. Was there trouble in the 300k bed? What happened? Where was he now? Where did he think his wife was? 

This was beginning to feel like a badly scripted movie where I would end up murdered. Plus the rate in which she was revealing her reasons for coming was like pulling teeth and I was getting bored.

“Are you having marital problems?”

I swallowed the damn bullet.

I don’t know what stunned her most, that I was blatant or that I bunched her problems and blamed marriage. So she just gawked at me but quickly went back to blankly staring at the TV. It was off. I wasn’t sure if she’d speak again and I’d run out of ideas to get her to. 

“Can I get you something to drink?”

She fiddled with her keys, stroking the metal with her manicured nail. They looked fresh like she had had a spa day not too long ago. 

“Marriage is hard” she later whispered, as if embarrassed.

Somewhere down the line, the committee of married folks came up with this three worded statement as a summary of the life across the fence. No explanation usually follows so single folks are forced to guess and nod with fake acceptance. 

There was also no way of asking for specifics without sounding unsympathetic, cruel, and gossipy. But, it was fifteen to 3 and politeness had moved out.

“I hear that a lot but struggle to understand what that means”

“you single people cannot get it”

That sounds spiteful. “Enlighten me”

She glanced at the lone chicken for the umpteenth time and I was convinced if I excused myself, she’d devour that cold leg in seconds. 

I really wanted to excuse myself, straight to bed, to sleep. The roaring truck had to leave when curfew lifted so perhaps get one more round in. A 7 or not, it was damn good. though I wouldn’t price it at 300k.

“What drink do you have?”

“I could get you some water__”

“Something stronger?”

“Gin?”

Did she roll her eyes?

“Something brown”

Well, damn, I’m sorry to even think it, “I have a little Jack Daniels left that I use for cooking… “

This time I caught her rolling her eyes before her half nod. 

I don’t get paid enough for this drama, but I fetched the brown she wanted and watched her down three shots then put her feet up. Get comfy, why don’t you.

“Do you ever want to get married?” She finally asked

“Ahh, why do you ask?”

“If you do, don’t”

“What? Why?”

“I mean, nobody tells you that one day while being married, you’ll open your eyes and find yourself next to a pot-bellied, ass scratching man who grunts three times on top of you then rolls over and proceeds to fart and snore like trailers through the night.” 

Was that a jab at me? At least I hadn’t taken a loan. Plus 7 on the scale of things was really good, so F her.

“Nobody tells you that the title wife comes burdened with mother, nurse, barmaid, teacher, shrink, cheerleader, his banker, and loanshark, his pornstar and priest, you know?”

I sensed it was rhetoric. Someone once said that when one is on a rant, don’t interrupt, inject silence instead. The air was pregnant with her impending monologue.

She took a shot and poured another. At her drinking rate, I itched to tell her to ditch the glass and just get it all in.

“When you marry a man, remember that on top of that,” she said pointing towards the wood sawing sounds in my bedroom. “He’ll come with his own set of virtues and vices. The vices? At first, they’ll endear you, but sooner rather than later, they’ll piss the shit out of you that you may end up murdering him in his sleep”

Shit!!! Is that what had happened? I’m an accomplice? I can’t survive in Kenyan prisons!! 

“I can’t be specific with my marriage, I don’t know you like that.”

I rolled my eyes back so fast I feared they’d get stuck

“Look.” She downed another shot. “Imagine living a large chunk of your life believing that the toothpaste tube should be squeezed from the bottom. But you fall in love with a man whose smallest fault at the time is that he squeezes the tube from anywhere. At first, you think, what’s the big deal? At least he answers when you call, remembers your birthday, checks up on your mum, plans for date nights, etc. So it shouldn’t be a bother that he fails at grasping the simplest law of common sense, right?”

Her eyes were on me, they had a red hue and they were looking slightly swollen. Had she been crying? 

“Right.”

“But you know, these things don’t last. As time passes, he’ll rarely remember to return your calls, he’ll forget your birthday…and anniversaries…and your kids birthdays…and date nights. But…”

She reached for the bottle and I wondered if she would drink from it. 

“…he’s still nice when your Chama comes over, he’ll occasionally come home early slightly sober. He’ll clean after himself or help you make the bed and he may even fuck you on it..so, you let all that go…”

Clumsily, she poured the remainder of the content into the glass. Took a sip, and set it down. 

Classy while drunk. Respect! 

“…however, no matter how much time passes, you don’t forget. So you don’t realize when it happens. But suddenly, that small toothpaste fault is all that fills your mind. You get fixated on it. You mention it, once, twice, three times. He gets defensive. He starts to complain about your supposed nagging. You feel attacked. You are not the nagging type. All you’re asking for is if he could change the toothpaste habit. He says that that is how he’s been, why is it a big thing now? You claim that it isn’t. You lie that is. You know it is. It’s been eating at you every morning. The irritation it’s causing seeps into your life. You remember it when he cracks jokes at parties. Or when your friends compliment on your supposedly well-behaved husband…”

She looked disappointedly at the bottle of JD, as though she expected it to have magically filled up.

“…To make things worse, he doesn’t care where he puts the carelessly pressed tube after he’s done. One night before bedtime, you go to pee and you step on it. It enrages you. More than it should have. You scream, a bit louder than you should. You do it intentionally so he wakes. You expect him to come to your rescue, you could be getting attacked. But several minutes later, and with a pressed bladder, you realize that you’re on your own. So you pee. Loudly. Fuck his sleep…”

She reached for my gin and downed it. Take whatever fuel you need, ma’am!

“Now you’re pissed! You get on the bed and roughly grab all the covers and turn away from him. 

He notices, what’s wrong? he asks. 

Yaani, you’re just on your phone when I could have been getting attacked in the bathroom. 

But you weren’t? 

You don’t know that! 

You call him names. Accuse him of not being caring enough. All the anger you’ve bottled up comes up. Things get heated and the night goes south. You want him to feel the pain of his limitations, so you shout and scream and hurl anything at him. The frustrations you’ve felt come in loud streaming tears…”

She stops. Suddenly as if wind took her out. 

So that’s how your night was…damn! We sit in silence, with the snore as our background track.

“I didn’t think toothpaste could cause so much trouble”

That annoyed her. “it’s a metaphor! … For when you think a problem isn’t one when it was from the start.”

“Huh”

“When you meet a man, and you notice he’s faulted in something that eats at you…”

She looked at me, trying to see if I was following. “uh-huh”

“Know that it will never change. That, whatever it is, will not change rather it’ll chew on you minute by minute till one day you have nothing left, you’ll be skin and bones.”

Aren’t those chewable? “I see..”

“Like that boy’s snoring. I can tell it’s been bugging you since I came. You get agitated every time it gets loud. Like he’s insisting on invading your space, not just with his presence but with his limitations. It won’t change.”

Definitely jab at me

“So I take it he’s not paid that loan you took for him?” I jabbed back.

To be continued….