Wanja walked quickly, the stones on the road poking her through her thin-soled shoes. The air was merely cool but because of the pace at which she walked it became cold against her skin, nipping at her nose and cheeks. Despite this, Wanja was sweating. Her armpits were moist and itchy, this was due to something else.
It was the time of the evening just after sunset.
The light left the most of the world but not all of it, enough for people to start turning on the lights in their houses. There were no streetlights on this road, but there were kiosks on one side and taxis on the other. There were houses behind the kiosks, towering over them like mountains. A mix of the luminescence from these structures offered enough light. There were a lot of people on the road as well, that’s the thing about these kinds of areas, so many people. The people on the road, were of no interest to Wanja, her eyes were set ahead, to the little curve in the road. Once she got there she would know.
Wanja got closer to the bend and began to slow down. The change in pace was out of fear and necessity, she was approaching ‘mama mboga’ and she knew she had to get spinach for tonight. She knew what they were having for dinner every night.
There was order. There had to be order. It was the order that gave her comfort.
That meal timetable, and the chore wheel were the things that were constant. Wanja stopped at the shop and flashed her smile. That winning smile that few could resist. The smile that hid all the secrets and made everything else irrelevant. ‘Naweza pata spinach ya twenty, tafadhali?’, she asked, already rummaging through her bag for her coin purse. ‘nikukatie?’ the young lady asked, picking out spinach leaves that amounted to thirty shillings. The question was more rhetorical than anything, people who came to buy vegetables at this time of the day were not interested in cutting their own vegetables.
Wanja was not paying attention to the woman anyway. She was looking down the street at the windows in her flat. Their flat. The windows were dark, the fluttering in her heart settled, somewhat. She looked at the woman cutting her vegetables briefly, and then fixed her eyes back at the windows. She was sure the lights would go on at any moment, and her fluttering begun again. The sound of the knife cutting through the vegetables was like a metronome, counting time, counting down to the minute she would see that white fluorescent light go on.
Wanja began the last leg of her trip, her eyes fixed on the windows, waiting for the indicator. The stairwell was not very well lit, every house had the switch to their hallway light and not everyone was willing to pay to have other people see where they were going. Wanja almost passed Kiserian in the stairwell. It was the quiet ‘you’re late’ that alerted her to her girlfriend’s presence. Wanja stopped in her tracks, and a scream settled in her throat. ‘Am I?’ Wanja asked, trying to feign nonchalance. Kiserian stood up slowly, quietly, and walked to the door and stood there, waiting for Wanja to open the door. Kiserian definitely had a key but everything she did was calculated.
The duo walked into the house in silence. Wanja knew the drill now, there would be silence until Kiserian talked. It was not always like this, but, Wanja could not remember a time when it was not. Now, Kiserian was always angry or sulking or distant. It was always something and Wanja was always on eggshells. The thought of leaving had crossed her mind, why not? What was keeping her here? Was there enough love left between the two of them to justify staying? The silence in the house was deafening. Wanja went into the kitchen to prepare dinner. Procedure was calming, it always was.
As she moved around the kitchen, Wanja was aware of Kiserian moving around the house doing things, things unknown. Kiserian was a shadow in in the background silent but ever present. Wanja wondered how long this episode would last. Most importantly, what had she done wrong this time? As she cut the onions, she let the tears come, it was part of the ritual, use the onions to hide the tears.
Wanja had learned to hide her pain in so many ways.
Kiserian plopped herself in front of the television and waited for food to be ready. Silently flipping through the channels. She was not watching the television, she was using the television as another weapon. Everything was a tool, if you were calculating enough. That night as they lay on opposite sides of the bed, their phones illuminating the dark, Kiserian finally broke the silence. ‘I want this to be over’, she said in the direction of her girlfriend. This was not new, Kiserian broke up with Wanja at least twice a week. She knew Wanja could not leave, Wanja knew she could not leave. This was part of a play, Wanja was meant to wail and beg. And as her tears flowed down her cheeks, Kiserian would use that opportunity to tell her everything that was wrong with her. Kiserian would list off, from the top of her head, the reasons why she could not possibly stay together and then finally, as Wanja heaved and dried her tears she would ‘give in’
In the dark, Kiserian waited for the water works to start, waiting for the drama to start. And then the response came. ‘Okay’, Wanja said. She said it not in a small timid voice, it was not shaking with emotion. The voice was firm and resolute. Kiserian was taken aback, ‘I mean, you can’t even get home before me, you cannot take care of me,’ she said to the mound that was Wanja. Wanja got up, put on the light, looked her girlfriend in the eye and said, ‘I am not good for you, so I am leaving’. She then took down her suitcases and began to pack. For the first time in a long while, her hand was steady and her heart was settled.
This piece forms part of the #QueeringTheCloak series which is part of a larger project exploring sexual, emotional and physical violence in queer women spaces on the continent. The project seeks to essentially ‘pull back the cloak’ on shame and silence around this violence.
For all the articles and pieces on #QueeringTheCloak click here.