Twenty times now, in poorly timed intervals, the heart has stopped, but it has not stopped the body from living. This boy grows magnets at the very moment of parting. His chest muscle elongates and the limbs grow bolder. His breathing becomes the synchrony of a rhapsody, and no one has quite described the care in him saying, “The full moon is showing and I should leave.”
Your mother has warned you about boys who bring heavens down with just the words from their mouths. While others surely live up to this analogy, this one surpasses it.
The few minutes after his leaving are as heavy as the nostalgia hovering in. Your mother has not noticed the sudden blush on the cheekbones. Your father is, however – as has always been the case – observant and not one to point out things instantly. The day you came home panting as if the body had decided to detach the heart from the rib cage, you confessed to a boy chasing you uphill. Your mother threw a tantrum at your father’s feet and swore to follow the footprints of the boy to his home. She almost plucked words from your father’s mouth because he remained seated, rocking in his chair back and forth. A leftover meat strand in his teeth must have been bugging him with the way he swayed his jaw, more than the news of his daughter catching the attention of a boy. Your father knew that this was more than just a chase; adrenaline was surely involved. The next day, shortly after your mother had left for the escapade (which bore no fruit) your father had looked at you slyly, and the girl he was looking at was one he was starting to lose to the hungry arms of the teenage realm.
You knew he knew there was a boy.
The days that follow are full of summoning. Your mother tells you to always sit up straight. To put on a straight face when you meet a boy. “At the slightest chance, you will have to run for your life.”
You are 14. She is telling you that boys will always have fangs, and if one comes too close, he will bite. You ask where the fangs are located, because there is this boy. You have touched his mouth and wanted to rummage through the inside. You have searched his body from where the nape of his neck begins to where his back meets the waist and you have done that again, once more, one more time. His hair, however tufty, doesn’t give an indication of his head needing to harbour horns.
You do not tell her about this boy. Instead, you ask where in the body of a boy a fang sprouts. She tells you that it never hurts to never know where exactly.
You are with your father on the morning of the day he is supposed to take that two-day hospital emergency in the neighbouring state. He is a neurologist, which makes him prone to leaving home and coming back unexpectedly. He asks for the name of the boy and you act confused. You sit with him in fearful silence.
“Your mother won’t be home for a while; you know women and market days,” he reassures you. She has left to pick your father’s dust coat from the local tailor. She will not be home for a couple of hours.
You are 16 when he asks for his name again. This time, you open your mouth to say it and a cough escapes instead. If you are to mention the name of a boy before your father, you have to swear by whatever god you know that he has not touched you, not harmed you. In fact, please say that he does not know you.
“Is he a rogue that you cannot put his name on your mouth or does he not shower—”
“Akuya,” you say. “He tells me he was born at night, when no one was home. It was during the festival, and all the girls left to feed his mother had sneaked to attend the dance. She brought him out of the womb herself. Someone she does not remember may have rushed them to the hospital for proper assistance, but she laboured on her own…”
You stop and look up. Your father has not moved an inch. He stares deep into the ground. He always does when confronted with something heavy. You kneel before him and kiss his feet, and tell him how he is a sweet talker, how he is responsible for your laugh lines, how he belts out hunter tales, and how he grows magnets at the very moment of parting.
“Boys bite but this one doesn’t.” You conclude and sit up. Your father seems to agree. He only asks to meet him. You wonder why and when but as soon as you want to ask, your mother walks in. And when your mother walks in, some things are better left unsaid.
The three nights after your father’s departure, your mother’s eyes have not left you. Your last attempt to sneak out was met with a thorough punishment. You are tempted to quote the words of Selena Gomez in her song ‘The Heart Wants What It Wants’. You think it would be even more appropriate if you could quote Emily Dickinson, “The heart wants what it wants – or else it does not care.” The less pop-ish, the merrier. But remember, she doesn’t know there is a boy. Or so you want to think.
It’s 6:22pm when a call comes in for you.
“Your father wants to have a word,” your mother says, handing you the phone.
You fret and hope that even from all those miles away, he does not stretch his teeth through the wireless device and bite. He greets you with that calm but cheeky tone and asks that you listen to whatever your mother has to tell you after the call. You ask what is happening and he says that is a question better answered by your mother.
You fret. You walk to your mother, your heartbeat sounding through your ribcage, and sit. She takes your hands in hers and stares at you. You fret.
“Why didn’t you tell me there is a boy?” your mother asks hurtfully.
You do not know what to say. Mothers have a tendency not to want to listen to the word “boy” coming out of a teenager’s mouth. In fact, didn’t she say that boys bite? You, among other things, ought to have listened.
“Didn’t he tell you?”
You shake your head indicating a “no” even when you do not know what you are answering.
“He is one of dad’s patients,” she continues.
“Is he sick?” you ask for the first time.
“Cancer,” she says with a heavy, heaved finality.
Your little heart skips a beat. Don’t you remember sticking your hands into his hair, and a few strands fell off? Don’t you remember him laughing sadly and saying the barber must have used too much shampoo? Who takes that for a reason, I mean! Haven’t you noticed his voice growing thinner and tired of late? His body getting leaner? His chest muscles no longer elongate at the very moment of parting.
You fall into your mother’s lap because at 18, the body knows to lean on another body more than it knows to lean on itself.
“Is he dead?” you ask frailly.
Your mother shakes her head.
“Will he?” you ask again.
“That’s what your father went to find out,” she answers.
That night, you huddle your body into your sheets and his image appears. In this dream, he is keeping his beautiful hands to himself and he is asking that you let him go. “But I am not holding you back?” you say.
When your mother told you that boys will bite, she must have surely meant this bite now preying on your body parts, right through the flesh and bones. You shut your eyes and see him breathe pain in and breathe weariness out. You watch him fumble over words, and in the listening, another bite leaves the brain muscle to lodge in your body parts.
The ability to preserve touch, and feeling, the patterns, the exact words of people we have met and especially those we no longer have access to.
You are at his bedside, and life is leisurely running out of his body. Didn’t he once acknowledge finding life unfair? When he blushed and called you beautiful, didn’t you listen to the fear beneath this utterance? You want to ask, does what only felt beautiful because he said so cease to be beautiful when he leaves? What happens to the girl he would study the moon pattern for? You want to ask this, but you digress.
Of the many things you can be to a cancer patient, the last is selfish.
He dies on the eve of your father’s birthday because when he does, your father texts you and adds hug emojis next to a birthday emoji. You cry because it feels like the only sad and sane thing to do.
You are 22. This other boy squeezes his body against yours and seizes it. Something strange and familiar has visited again. He calls you by a flower name and asks, “What is your greatest fear?”
“Cancer.” You do not hesitate.
Since you left your hometown, your mother calls. Your father visits. He says it is neither wrong nor right to want to move on. The body wants what it wants at the very moment it wants it, and it may not pass a request.
You are 32. This other man shoves warmth in the form of confetti on your slowly decluttering body. He whispers in the darkness and asks, “How do you describe your body now, and all the seasons it has had to contend with?”
“A sanctum.” You do not hesitate.
And he cries with you as you sleep.
Naomi Waweru (she/her) is inspired by love, vulnerability, the yearning of bodies to be free in their connection, and she has an eye for tradition and culture. She has work in and forthcoming in Merak Magazine, A Voice From Far Away E-zine, Ghost Heart Literary Journal and Kalahari Review among others.
*Image by Mayur Gala on Unsplash