ALWAYScome back, especially when you’ve moved on.
I perch myself atop a high seat stool in Scotchies and plonk my purse purposefully on the counter, glad to take my weight off my silver heels after a long day.
I quickly look at my legs to see whether my black stockings have run and when I confirm that they are as intact as they were when I wore them in the morning, while getting ready for work, I heave a sigh of relief. I need something to take off the edge and numb my nerves before I can meet him.
Why the fuck am I even nervous?
Its been 9 years since I last saw him, 10 in February. That’s why I am as jittery as a hen about to roost. I immediately crave for a smoke and I’m not even a smoking chic. Neither am I shisha one, but on this particular evening I long to take in a deep drag of something or sip on something that will give me some semblance of courage.
I pull my phone out of my red woolly trench coat, and contemplate whether to take the coat off altogether. Perhaps I don’t need to take it off. This won’t take too long I tell myself but I shrug it off my shoulders decidedly and hang it at the back of my seat. I look up and look for the bartender. I spot him down the counter looking at me smiling and he approaches. I smile back at Kevo the friendly bartender who would really have made a killing strutting his caramel self up and down runways modeling.
He has a killer smile and I know females love him for his biceps which always bulge from his well fitted short-sleeved work shirts. I imagine he has abs that you could wash clothes on; perfectly sculptured abs. I intentionally avoid looking at his arms and really force myself to look into his eyes and steal glances towards the fridge behind him. I cannot afford to look thirsty. I however know that I am thirsty! Definitely not for drinks though.
‘Tusker cider?’ he questions?
I quickly take stock of my emotions. They are playing some Mariah. Don’t forget about us.
How appropriate. I need something hard to match the sad familiar music.
‘4 shots of Ciroc please Kevo na Delmonte orange but kama hamna, Pineapple itakuwa sawa.’ He smiles and nods perhaps to indicate that he understands as he dashes off to execute my request.
I suppose a woman sitted by a bar on a Wednesday afternoon at 3pm is either a lady of the night buying time before she opens shop, or a woman about to drown her misery with some booze.
I am the latter.
I then take in my surroundings.
I love Scotchies.
It has plenty of memories made here with my friends chugging rounds after rounds of shots and dancing until 3am. Its also quite convenient and five minutes away from where I live. How can I not love it when the wait staff knows me by name? I am not a perennial drinker, more of an occasional one. I particularly love their meat platter with several type cuts of meat enough to feed a small village. My stomach growls when I think of the meat platter but I cannot be hungry since I had a heavy late lunch.
The bar is pretty empty save for a middle aged couple sitted outside imbibing; the lady on Snap, the man on Pilsner. Mr. man has on the signature checked shirt associated with Kikuyu men who have made it in life. Landlords. Heavily tinted Harrier driving ones. The lady looks like the wife. I can swear on my life that it’s the wife because she obviously does not have 12 cans of guarana on their table and neither is his hand heavily placed on the small of her back or on her knee edging upwards and he is not leaning in whispering with his Pilsner laden breath ‘njoe rumu’. He is casually perusing through a newspaper and nodding appropriately to wife who is talking animatedly. Maybe about their kids studying in Australia or the kamweretho that she needs to attend over the weekend.
My reverie is interrupted by Kevo placing my vodka shots on the counter, every shot glass with a coaster. This is why I keep coming back to this place. I smile appreciatively and take two shots one after the other. I feel the colorless liquid warm both my throat and my soul. After mixing the two remaining shots with some orange juice I lean back on the stool and look at my wrist watch. 3.20pm.
He’s 20 minutes late. I try not to fuss.
I sip my poorly mixed screw driver in deep thought as I wonder what to say to him when he finally comes.
Whenever I think of him I remember the first time I heard Hello by Adele playing in the car on my way home. How I had to stop the car in the rain and cry for a good 30 minutes.
Every single lyric reminded me of him and as coincidence would have it, he quoted the exact words via a WhatsApp text to ask for this meet ‘hello, its me, I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet, to go over everything. They say that time’s supposed to heal ya but I ain’t done much healing’. I remember thinking that this was a prank from one of my friends to revive the hello challenge where you would text your ex that opener and see how he would respond. Just for kicks. I open the sender’s WhatsApp profile picture and its one of a kid riding a red bike with the cutest smile (an oddly familiar smile).
The number is not on my contact list so I really scrutinize the digits.
I knew this number. Then it hit me! It could not be!
So I responded with one word.
Yes its me sweet cheeks (referring to the pet name he gave me back then)
How is you? I see after all these years you still know my number off head (How is you??? TF! I choose to not reply with ‘I think you meant how ARE you?’ at the risk of being called petty)
Some things cannot be forgotten. Sema?
I want to see you. Kesho. I need to (I sense some urgency)
Are you well? How is your family?
They are fine and in good health.
So whats this about?
Still the stubborn queen you were I see. (Nkt! I choose to ignore this dig)
Pick a place of your choice. I will come.
Scotchies, Ridgeways mall, Kiambu road, 3pm
Ditto! See you kesho. (since when did he start using ditto in a text?)
I sip on my drink wondering what an ex from 9 years could possibly want from me. So its true that they always come back no matter how long it takes. I can’t believe am doing this knowing all too well that it took me years to get over him. I feel an urge to suddenly go home.
Another long sip. I feel mellow enough, my drink is half way empty. I put the cap back on the juice box and seal it tightly then wave to Kevo who is stock taking. I give him my card to swipe and unlock my phone to request for an Uber.
No missed calls or unread messages.
I won’t call him.
My ego won’t let me call.
I take the last sip from my glass and key in my code on the POS and hand it back to Kevo as I type in my current location on the Uber app in my phone.
Come over by Sean Paul and Estelle is playing and I resist the urge to stand and wine to the song. I instead opt to sing along ‘won’t you come over love so I can show you love promise I got enough to give what you need…’
I immediately freeze when I feel a firm hand on my waist and another on the nape of my neck complete with a neck kiss from behind.
‘Hi baby’ he growls in my ear.
‘Hey? I reply with a frown. He lost all rights to call me baby when he cheated on me with Chris -his best friend’s -girlfriend and married her to top it off.
I stand and turn to hug him. I acknowledge his presence with a peck on his cheek. A smile curves on my face unrestrained. He looks quite good. Better than I remember. It seems marriage life agrees with him as he’s spotting a small paunch (an attractive one at that). He has on a blue and white checked shirt, and a navy blue corduroy jacket with dark brown patches on the elbow. The Kikuyu men who have made it in life starter pack.
‘You look good sweet cheeks’ he says firmly gripping my ass while we embrace in the hug. I am not upset and refuse to cause a ruckuss but I gently pat him on the back and release myself from the hug with a ‘So do you Maina. So do you.’
We sit down facing each other.
He draws his high stool too close to mine and rests his foot on my stool’s foot rest. I hold my glass ready to take another swig and realize its empty. The nerves are back, my hands clammy.
Kevo is there on time to save the day. ‘Two or three shots he asks?
I raise three fingers.
He orders for a Tusker Malt. Two chilled ones. Men are only loyal to two things – their team and their drink. I read that somewhere online. It must have been on Kilimani Mums & Dads. 9 years have not changed his loyalty to his drink.
Kevo rushes back with the drinks and I take both of my shots and chug them one after the other. He – Maina not Kevo – realizes the effect that he has on me and I hate that. I wanted the complete opposite. I wanted steely courage. He pours his drink and while it foams he looks up at me.
I make a mental note to let him do all the talking. He reaches in his coat pocket and takes out a single key and his phone and places it on the counter. I roll my eyes. The Mercedes must be new. He looks at me and then at the car key, his look daring me to say something. I do not indulge his boyish tendencies to floss with his new toys.
I look at the key like it’s a roach.
I don’t care.
He’s disappointed, but masks it really well.
I hear myself ask, ‘so how is Zippy? And does she know you are meeting me?’
He appears stung by my question.
‘You were never one to cut corners huh? Going straight for my jugular’ he retorts.
I look at my watch.
I don’t have time for this bull. I grab my purse and remove my card.
He realizes I am about to pull a fast one and leave him there. Being the quick thinker that he’s always been, he takes both of my hands into his, kisses the back of the right one and looks in my eyes.
‘She is well, the kids too. But that’s not why am here’ he tells me.
‘I am not happy P. I have tried. For years now but I cannot pretend anymore. I want to leave her. I have been stalking you on Facebook. Your posts are so self aware.’ I detect a hint of admiration in his voice.
‘Huh? You and I are not friends on Facebook!’
He touches his chest in mock hurt.
‘I know, but I created a fake account so I could keep tabs on you from afar.’
I smirk and remain un-bothered.
‘So how can I help you?’
‘I know you are not seeing someone. I saw that quote you shared… The one about loving just a person once in a lifetime and spending the rest of your life looking for something similar’
‘And you naturally assumed I was referring to you?’
‘Yes baby! It has to be. I know I really hurt you but am here now.’
I laugh. A dark, hollow and bitter laugh.
He looks confused.
I grab my purse, stash my card inside, take my phone, stand and put on my coat and walk out without a second glance my heels clicking on the tiled floor.