I had finally made it!
I fell back onto my bed spread eagled, in the single room I had moved into only hours before. If I stretched out as far as I could, my fingers and toes could almost touch two of the walls that were barely holding in my excitement.
I stared straight ahead and imagined it to be a mansion stretching out into open lawns and magical horizons.
There were layers to the silence. At first, I felt alone. But as I listened closely, I heard the sound of vehicles in the distant speeding down the highway, the howling dog angry at the moon, and the soft rhumba tunes that floated in the slight night wind from the bar tucked away in the neighbourhood corner.
But I had my four walls to keep the rest of the world at bay. And I was happy.
Sleep came over me slowly, luring me back to the day this exciting adventure had begun.
“Your own house?” my mother had frowned as smoke billowed around us from the charcoal burner. “This is your first job away from home... you need to ease into city life. Don’t they have any good hostels where you can first make some friends?” she pushed earnestly.
I firmly held onto my resolve, watching her slowly warm up to the idea that her only daughter would soon be facing the cruel world alone.
“Yes,” I smiled, “my own house.”
This conversation repeated itself several times.
“Your own house? You build a house with a husband at your side,” she insisted.
“Like you did?” I retorted, a cruel jibe at her life. I knew I had hurt her when she turned her back on me and busied herself scrubbing a cooking pan.
“You know what I mean,” she continued, like she hadn’t heard me. She did not sound like she believed what she was saying. It hit me then that she knew she hadn’t found happiness in her marriage, but didn’t know where to look for it.
The evening passed on quietly. And so did many days after that.
When I finally said goodbye to my nervous mother, sullen father and absent brothers, I felt a wave of relief wash over me. I waited for the sadness to come, but it never did.
A distant howl brought me back to the present.
I had made it. I savoured my small victory as I finally drifted off to sleep.
My eyes flittered open, the stillness of the world around me told me that the darkness was just about to give in to daybreak. A light rain petered against my single window and the cold, dark Monday morning let itself into my room. My mansion had folded back into a single room.
But I was happy.
Within an hour I had bathed, had breakfast, dressed and headed towards the bus stop to get a matatu to work.
The only thing on my mind was that I had made it, and soon, I thought, I would be thinking of buying a car.
A few early risers were already at the bus stop, a motley group of ordinary people with dreams of their own. An elderly nurse, with her uniform peeping from underneath her raincoat, had swathed herself in two scarves.
A tiny, geometric man who was fighting to light up a half-smoked cigarette in the face of the morning drizzle, and a sleepy school girl dressed in a checked red and white dress holding the hand of her little brother whose knees knocked visibly in the cold.
We stood faces turned towards oncoming traffic, willing a matatu to appear as quickly as possible. Soon, the blinding headlights and blaring music appeared from round the corner and through the morning gloom.
“Mbao tao!” (Ksh20 to town). The conductor yelled at us as if we were at war.
As we scrambled to get into the minivan, I noticed him. A young man who had barely made it for the early commute, and who gracefully swung himself onto the mini van before easing into the seat next to mine. The scent of his cologne jolted me into a state of awareness.
I tried to focus on the day ahead, but could not help looking at him from the corner of my eye. I could barely make out his form, but his cologne wrapped itself tightly around me.
As soon as we reached the city centre, he jumped off the van before it had barely come to a stop, leaving me to look after his solid frame. He weaved through the growing throng of people, finally disappearing into the ever moving mass. My first day lay ahead of me and I quickly forgot about him.
Sometimes, he would find me waiting at the bus stop, sometimes I would find him there, impatiently glancing at his digital watch. And yet sometimes, our mornings would be so perfectly synced, that we would meet before we got to the bus stop, and talk all the way.
His name was Timothy. We both had big dreams. We were both the eldest of our siblings, starting out on our first jobs, and wanted it all. When he laughed at my aspirations of owning a house in Runda, an exclusive estate in the outskirts of the city, I deliberately tripped him.
When I smirked at his ambitions of being a manufacturer, he wouldn’t let me sit next to him. When we talked and made these jokes, neither of us realised that we had fallen in love with our future selves, hardly seeing what was before us.
Soon, we graduated from the brisk morning walks, to evenings huddled together in coffee houses, as we waited for the peak hour traffic to ease. Our coffees grew into hand holding and lingering kisses over the weekend.
I had made it, and now I was in love.
Timothy was ambitious. I was slightly uncomfortable when he said that he would do anything to make it in life.
“You would look very beautiful in this hair,” he suggested once when we flipped through a glossy magazine and stared at the perfect models.
“I think I prefer red on you,” he said when I proudly walked out in my yellow, floral blouse. I was never good enough for him, but I didn’t see it.
The distance between us started before he moved across town. The calls became less, the exchanges lighter, and the warmth seeped out of our sporadic coffee dates.
BEEP! I glanced at my phone as the message came in. It was 1:00am. It was a photograph of a flashy car, with Timothy seated behind the wheel.
“Ride with me some day,” a message followed, almost as an afterthought.
That night, I lay in bed angry. There had been no goodbyes, no tomorrows and no explanations. And one month later all I get is a half thought-out message.
A few weeks later, I was walking in town to honour a lunch invitation from a colleague. I strolled leisurely taking in my new surrounds.
Here I was, I thought, in the heart of the capital city, working for a prominent law firm — a far cry from my mother’s smoky kitchen a few months a go. But even with the many small wins I had already accrued, I wasn’t so sure that I had actually made it any more.
I ignored the car that had taken an illegal U-turn and was now crawling alongside me.
I quickened my pace. The tranquillity I felt a few moments ago transformed into a mix of ire and alarm.
I turned and looked at the driver. It was Timothy I locked eyes with.
Next to Timothy sat a sulking, willowy girl, who barely glanced at me.
“Claire, where are you off to?” he asked all excited. “Hop in!”
But before I could even open my mouth the sulking girl adjusted her large sunglasses and turned to Timothy. “We need to GO!” she said sternly.
And just like that, she had taken away my right and chance to respond.
I could see it. Embarrassment, confusion and fear. Once a slave to a grand dream, Timothy was now a slave to an image.
“I’ll call you,” he offered, pursing his lips and getting back onto the road.
I realised that I hadn’t made it, but clearly, Timothy hadn’t either.
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