Angela snapped wide awake. For a few seconds she just lay there with her eyes open, staring at the dirty ceiling.
Everything was wrong.
It was a strange room, with strange, sweaty smells; strange, dirty walls with tiny bloody pockmarks where mosquitoes had been squished. Beneath her was a strange, wafer-thin mattress through which she could feel the bed’s boards; and covering her were strange, coarse sheets and a strange, smelly blanket.
She lay there as though paralyzed, trying to get her head together.
Where am I? How did I get here?
She tried to remember something, anything…it must be morning, she could hear morning noises streaming through the window at the head of the bed. What happened last night?
The memories came in incoherent, vague tranches – a bar…the clarion, repetitive throb of the music…Jägerbomb upon Jägerbomb…a dark corner; a kiss…someone leading her by the hand through a throng of dancing silhouettes…a cab…
Just then, somebody – something – stirred beside her.
She jumped nearly out of her skin with fright. She jerked up into a sitting position, and just then the pressure of a thousand universes rushed to her head, almost blacking her out, and she crashed back onto the bed with a groan.
It took her a few seconds to recover.
OK Angie, let’s try again, slower this time.
She did, and this time it wasn’t so bad. The room was spinning a little bit, and her head felt like a pressure chamber. Pressing her hands to her face, she took several deep breaths and rubbed her temples to gain a semblance of clarity. Then she began to look around her.
The room was tiny. There was barely enough room for the bed and the little paper-strewn desk beside it. The morning streamed in through the window: sunlight, jiko-smoke, the sounds of children playing, the buzzing of flies and the little dull thuds of their bodies crashing against the windowpane.
She had never seen this room before in her life.
She felt horrible. Her head was pounding, and her body was sore and aching.
On her left was the wall, filthy with slipper outlines and mosquito carcasses. She turned her head with great effort and looked at the person sleeping next to her, on her right.
He was facing away from her. The rise and fall of the beddings that covered him, coupled with the sonorousness of his snoring, spoke of someone of substantial mass.
OK Angie, keep it together. OK. OK. Fuck. You’re OK. First things first, let’s get out of here.
Slowly, cautiously, she lifted the blanket, then the sheet, and begun to peel them off herself, slowly…
He stirred and turned heavily, and began to grind his teeth.
No no no no no no!!!!
She knew that face. That round, brown face, all four chins working furiously beneath a fuzz of stubble.
Njoro was Shirley’s ex. Shirley was Angie’s best friend.
How did this happen?? How could I let this happen?
It’s not like Shirley ever loved Njoro, no. He was just one of those guys she had hanging around, who liked to buy her stuff. He always used to tag along whenever Shirley, Angie and their friends would go out. He was only good for buying drinks, sorting transport, bribing bouncers –generally paying for shit. He would always try making passes at Shirley’s friends, and she would pretend to be mad and make him buy her something to make up for it. The girls would ruthlessly make fun of him on their WhatsApp group, calling him ‘the blesser’ and ‘the man-child’.
Privately, Angie used to wonder at Shirley’s materialism – how could you sleep with that? She used to think that no matter what he offered her, she would never have let him anywhere near her. He must have been like forty, almost twice their age. He was crass, lewd, and ugly, and frankly, he made her skin crawl. Her disgust would deepen when Shirley would talk about how he was in bed, how sloppy and flabby and tiny he was, how he liked to put it…
Oh God, no. No no no no.
With an almighty effort she got up off the bed. My clothes. I need to find my clothes.
Njoro woke up with a start.
“Hey baby,” he said huskily. “Morning! Where are you going?”
She didn’t answer. She just rolled off the foot of the bed. He was eyeing her hungrily, his beady eyes running over her naked body. With a cry of rage she dragged the blanket off the bed and covered herself. In doing so she uncovered him, and almost went blind.
His legs were spindly little things, covered in tiny black hairs that stood out against his light brown skin like troops of ants. The legs disappeared into an amorphous mass of flab…there was the tiniest hint of pubic hair and a pinprick of a penis tucked beneath his third or fourth layer of flab, and beyond this, acre upon acre of belly ad infinitum! She could not see his face until he sat up, with some difficulty, and with some assistance from the bedside desk.
“Nooooo!” she shrieked, and jumped for the door.
It was locked.
“Open this door, RIGHT NOW!” she screamed at him. “Open it!!!!”
“Relax, baby, chill out!” Njoro said, sitting up. “Why are you screaming like this? The neighbors will think something is up. They might already be suspicious; you were screaming pretty loudly last night, too….hehehe.”
Nausea washed over her like a horrible flood. The sight of him, guffawing as he did, was beyond repulsive.
“I want to leave.” She said, slowly and clearly. “Open the door, I want to leave, now.”
Njoro got up with a sigh.
“Well, if that’s what you want. And you’re welcome, by the way. Last night you were screaming how I was the best you’ve ever had; now you want to leave. If feel so used.” He snickered.
Angie stared at him in disbelief.
Njoro’s clothes were scattered on the floor. He slowly bent and picked up a T-shirt.
“Your clothes are out in the sitting room. You started tearing them off as soon as you got in the house.” He said, reaching for his trousers. “Lakini last night! Wewe! Thitimaaa!”
He felt in his pockets. Out of his right pocket he pulled out a wad of thousand-shilling notes. He peeled them off one by one and began to count them.
“Heh! Last night was something else. You are a wild girl eh? Yes…I always suspected. Hehehe…” he licked his lips, shaking his head at the memory. “Ah but you liked it when I showed you my special move eh? You are a special girl. Not many girls can take it.”
Angela was dying. “What are you doing?!” she yelled. “You can count your money later, just open this fucking door, I want to leave!”
“Ah, na kana kadomo chafu!” he said, unperturbed. “Last night, too, you were cursing. At the top of your lungs. Eeeni. You really gave me a run for my money. Nobody has ever kept up with me like that. Wewe ni mkamba?”
He finished counting his money.
“Sorry sweetheart, but I had to make sure it’s all there. I have been burnt too many times.”
He laughed at Angie’s shocked expression.
“That’s also why I locked the door. One day after a night like jana, I woke up and found my house had been fagiliwad. Clean. The watchie told me a pick-up had come and made off with all my stuff, ati ‘dame yako alisema mnahama.’” He shook his head. “Never again.”
Angie lost it. She flew at him, clawing at his face, his chest, any part of him that she could reach –
“Let me out, let me out, LET ME OUT!!”
Surprised, he tried to fend her off.
“OK!” he yelled. “OK! I’m getting the key! – I – said – I’m – getting – will you control yourself!”
He pushed her back, and she staggered against the door. A sharp pain shot up her spine.
“The key is in my pillowcase!” Njoro yelled, before Angie could continue her onslaught. “I’m going to get it out so I can open the door for you, so you can leave, OK? Jeez!”
His hand darted into the pillow case and fished out the key. He held it out for her to see, and advanced toward the door. Angie shrunk at his approach, holding the blanket tighter against her, pressing as far away from him as she could.
Njoro opened the door. Angie darted through the gap, and once again that sharp pain tearing up her.
“You should probably pass by a chemist,” Njoro called after her, holding out some money.
Angie stumbled into a little corridor. On the floor were a pair of black panties that must have been hers. She snatched them up, and opened the door at the end of the corridor.
Everyone was there. Everyone.
All of them looking at her, laughing at her, leering at her…
“How does it feel?” Shirley said, stepping out of the crowd. “Did you get the special move? You won’t be wearing heels for a while after that…”
“NOOOOO!” Angie screamed, looking for the door. But the room was so full of people that she couldn’t see it. She tore away from Shirley and began to worm her way through. They were all looking at her. They could all see her. She felt their eyes crawling on her skin, under it…
She bumped into her mother.
“Angela. This is the kesha you told me you were going to?”
Angela screamed and began to fight through the opposite direction, swimming in a mass of people, drowning…
“Babe yaani you let him do that and you won’t even let me –” she elbowed her boyfriend out of the way –
“Angela,” Father Nick said, “how long has it been since your last confession?”
She tore on, everywhere she turned she saw a familiar face contorted in an expression of contempt, of disgust.
A cameraman burst through the crowd and shone his light on her face. A reporter thrust a microphone at her –
“So, Angela, how does it feel to be a boyfriend-stealing whore?”
The crowd parted and a path opened up before her, like a corridor of familiar faces. Her teachers, her aunts and uncles, her grandparents…then suddenly the blanket was pulled from her and she stood there before them all, naked. She stood there, sobbing, trying to cover herself with her hands. Their lips were moving. The chant began to swell up…
And a hundred hands pushed her forward through the gauntlet, and every hand left an imprint of these insults until she was covered in them from head to toe…
The alarm rang shrilly, and Angela sat bolt upright in her bed. She was breathing hard, and covered in sweat. She looked around, and the familiar sights of her room, and the familiar scent of her sheets reassured her.
Oh god, what a dream.
Somebody – something – stirred heavily beside her –