It started with a toothbrush. It’s always the toothbrush that announces the arrival of another. Hers was red, mine was blue. And when back then they stood facing each other in the tiny cylindrical basket, they looked like enemies sizing each other.
She had arrived in my house the previous night for supper. Of course by “supper” we both knew she meant she was coming to stay for the night. Yet, at around 9.45PM she stood from the couch, politely pushing her empty plate away like a bribe.
“I have to go now. Thanks for the supper. .you cook well.” She added the last part as if it was a debt she had almost forgotten to pay.
“Go where? It’s too late for you to go anywhere at this time” I said as I unlocked my phone to check the time.
“I really have to go. I have a class tomorrow at 8.” She said this as she went for the door throwing her eyes on the floor as she tried to remember where she had left her shoes.
“You know things…bad things happen to girls at night” I pressed a depression into my ugali mound and scooped some sukuma wiki then introduced the beef stew to the combo.
She stood there at the door with her right hand resting on her protruding thighs as if making a mental checklist of all the bad things that can happen and if she could outrun or outdo them.
“Sawa basi, I’ll sleep on the couch and leave in the morning”
It was all a charade, a rejection game all females in the animal kingdom played. I still never understood why.
She did not sleep on the couch and she left in the afternoon.
The following day, after eating the pancakes I had made, I was going to brush my teeth ready for my afternoon class when I noticed her red toothbrush; already wet in my basket, facing mine. I thought about asking her about it, but I understood it was a statement of intent. “Marking territory” as they say. She would take a shower later and leave her dripping black knickers hanging from a wall hook. I was sure she had left her demons in my bedsitter as well.
In the next week, she came for “supper” every two days. And not long after that, it became every other day.
About 6 months ago, in August, Linda moved into my house. We were revising for the final paper of the end of semester exams. Linda was on the couch with her scientific calculator crunching engineering numbers, while I was on the bed revising for my Academic Writing paper.
I must have been too deep into my cramming because I did not notice her staring at me. When I raised my head to see if I could recall the 3 types of academic referencing, I met Linda’s committed stare. Her large bush baby eyes could be quite startling the first time you meet Linda, but with time they had become my favorite feature about her. I used to tease her that with enough concentration, she could take a peek into the future.
“What is it you creepy little monster?”
“It’s your turn to cook”
“Is that why you were staring at me?”
“No…I was actually thinking up word that rhyme with green”
“Clean, glean, lean…mean…wean…and others”
She had been writing poetry for 3 days now. It all started when she found my long lost “Poems From East Africa” under the bed while cleaning the house. She always cleaned the house when she couldn’t crack an equation. Afterwards, she would revisit her engineering book and find the calculation had “softened” like her cleaning rag. The day she found the book, I found her coiled on my couch and the first thing she said even before enquiring about my day was ask how one pronounced “p’Bitek”. She said it as “P Bitek”. She’d been into poetry ever since, only taking breaks to revise for exams. I was worried she would become another engineering dropout. They dropped out faster than jacaranda flowers fell from their branches.
I wanted to tell her that forceful rhyming in poetry was juvenile and annoying. That rhyming was the easiest way to hide bad poetry. That rhyming degraded poetry to a pop song refrain. But I did not want to kill her dreams or dim that brightness in her eyes whenever she read me a love poem she wrote. I knew poetry would bore her in a few days. If anything, she wasn’t “poet material.” Studying engineering meant she would get a great job with a great salary once she graduated. Poets are made of crushed souls. Despondent beings. Linda was anything but.
“Are you reading ama unajenga tu? You haven’t turned that page in 3 minutes”
“And you are you reading or still staring at me?”
“I’m calculating the probable volume of your brain to prove my hypothesis that you’re inherently an idiot!”
“Why do I feel like I’m stuck with a psychopath in my life?”
“Maybe because you’re stuck with yourself?”
“Hmm, fair point” I went back into my book and I assumed she had done the same. And then…
“I was thinking…since I literally live in your house…can’t I just move in with you during my attachment?”
“I..” I didn’t know what to say. That was the last thing I expected to hear from her. She caught me off guard and now I was visibly confused. Girls have the worst timing for everything.
I looked at her and imagined her staying in my bedsitter permanently, or at least for 3 uninterrupted months. All the things we would do unrestrictedly; no matter the time of the day. But then I was essentially trading my freedom for her presence. I have never liked roommates, they always end up playing music too loudly or taking your earphones or never cooking or walking while dragging their feet or just snoring too loudly. I wished she had given me time to think about this, because now when I needed my brain most it had decided not to think.
“You know what, never mind. I shouldn’t be imposing myself like this”
“No babe, you’re not imposing anything. I think it makes sense. I mean, that money you pay rent with can buy a truckload of KFC yes?”
And with that answer, I immediately knew I had been tricked. The same trick all female folk have used to moved into man caves, man huts, maisonettes and now my bedsitter.
The following day, after her last paper, we lugged in two large suitcases from her place to mine. And Linda moved into my bedsitter, without occasion or ceremony.