Mercy Munyanya

When I started this journey with Kwei, I had every intention of making it work. It was a commitment I had made. And I liked his family. I liked Kwei. But I have a gallon of bleach and my husband’s Japanese knives. 

When my husband started coming home and finding the house in disarray, it did not occur to him to be worried. I watched from the bed as he came in and cleaned stuff, made food, showered and went to bed. I watched him disinterested, my tongue sticking to the roof of my mouth, my pits smelling rank. There is a saying in my country, an old saying, that when you are looking for a land without tombstones, you will find yourself in the land of cannibals. My body became a tombstone, and my brain the place where everything went to die. Still, my husband would not let me leave.

I was born in a house of three females and one male: my father, mother, sister, brother, then me. The perfect nuclear unit, the kind that went to church and where the children were stellar and talented. You never think it will change. But it does. Combing through what I remember, the briefness of my family’s history, it was hard to know what went wrong and where it went wrong. My father said it best: “When the rain started beating us.” This was not regular rain; this was a storm with hailstones the size of footballs.

Kwei loved me. Or thought he did. I thought his method could use improvement. Because I used to think I loved him, back before we were dating, when we were growing up together on an estate in Ngong. I had a crush on him, and I liked the food his mother made. I liked his father, a gentle man who did not say much and who did not have one hand. There was nothing there, just a stump that ended abruptly where his wrist and fingers should have been, his lunate and hamate and all those bones in your hands that they teach you in anatomy class. I did not know why he had no hand or why his presence was a particular frequency of quiet, like the dull throbbing that comes after the excruciating pain when something heavy falls on your toe. It is a pain that makes you want to die. You feel it as it races up your ganglia and your spine, shoots up your head and radiates through your entire body. But after a while it eases, the pain ebbs, and you are left with this throb, this smarting. You know what I’m talking about? That is what Kwei’s father’s presence felt like. Like the easing after something violently traumatic. I only learned after I was married to Kwei that he was Sierra Leonean and that someone had taken his hand, put it on a rock, and awkwardly chopped it. And because that someone had been a child, barely grown, the hand did not fall off with the first blow but the third. And that it had taken the doctor another amputation to get a stump that would heal. Kwei’s father had left Sierra Leone when he could. Because the peacekeepers who were in Magburaka at the time were Kenyan, he had headed for Kenya, with Kwei and without Kwei’s mother. He had remarried, a stunning Swahili woman who made the best food I had ever eaten. I loved Mr Sei because of how gentle his presence was, compared to what I knew at home, and because he did not mind when I examined his missing hand. He indulged me. 

Anyway, I used to think I loved Kwei. They had moved into our estate, an apartment complex that was overrun with the kids of government civil servants, professional parents of all trades. We all knew each other, played together, and would troop to one house or another when we got hungry. Kwei soon became the leader of the group, being the eldest. For a while, he only spoke precise English, until we corrupted him with our Swahili and Sheng and his English mutated into something we were comfortable with. Kwei’s family stayed on, my parents moved away, and I grew up. I met him again in my final year of high school at a Wings to Fly Scholarship conference. I was there with my mother. We had fallen on hard times, but she was determined that I finish my education. I did not get the scholarship; Kwei did. His family moved to the United States as asylum seekers. But we ended up connecting at that point, followed each other on Facebook, and talked every night via WhatsApp. He would tell me of all the girls he was falling for. I would control my slight envy and be a good friend. I applied for a student visa during my second year of physical therapy at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, and I got one. I travelled to the school that I had been accepted into, and my parents trusted the Seis to watch over me. 

My university was 10 minutes from their apartment. They picked me up from the airport and dropped me off at the school. I chose to stay in the dorms as opposed to living with them, even though it cost more. After one night with them, it was easy to tell. A mother who had to work very, very hard, the one child who now had two siblings, a country that was not home, and a father with guilt written all over him because he could not provide, baffled at this new country that would not give him a break. It hits you like a presence, bewilderment. They did not know how to navigate this new situation, and I did not want to add on to that. 

I got a social security card, got a part time job, and graduated from my course in three years. Kwei got an apartment and I got one too. We ended up living together a few years later, and he asked me to marry him because my student visa was expiring. I said yes, not because of the student visa but because I was in love. We stayed in that apartment until the day I left, when grief over my sister nearly drowned me.

Buildings collapse all the time in Kenya. Look it up. Apartment buildings come crashing down like a botched game of Jenga, crumpling into themselves with an almost nonchalant ease. We see it all the time. I saw it all the time. I commiserated over the situation and cursed our education systems that churned out half-baked workers, from engineers to doctors. Fail, fail, fail. All those who think they are good enough, who have an inclination that they might be just slightly above average, abandon ship and look for greener pastures, haunted by the ghosts of 19-plus family members dependent on them. So we talk about it, the lack of actual professionals – of skills – which leads to the most insane catastrophes. It happens. We all acknowledged it. Houses collapse. But you never think that it will be one of your own trapped in that house.

By the time my sister moved into this apartment, she had not been speaking to my father for a year. She had gotten married to a man 10 years older than her, who adored her but who wanted nothing but total control over her. So she left. As she should have. My father stopped talking to her after she left the marriage; for the first time in my sister’s life, he did not take her side. “But what will people say? This man loves you. Why can you not settle down and be a good wife? You have a son together; he needs his father. You leave the house without telling him, and you’re partying all night as if you do not have responsibilities, yet this man paid the full bride price.” My mother was forbidden from visiting my sister, yet she still did. She sold sweet potatoes in the market and helped my sister get the initial deposit and rent. My father still did not talk to my sister, and I stayed out of it. The morning I saw the building fall on the news, I had just gotten off the phone with her. So when my father called me about 15 minutes later, the death of my sister didn’t cross my mind as a possible event. 

I was sent to America because I had the best grades and I was my mother’s last hope. She died a year and a half after I got here. My sister died a year and seven months after that. I got married, I had a child, and she died an hour after I pushed her out. I walked around the house, my breasts weeping and my mind numb. The only thing alive in me was my heart. And it hurt. It hurt and only stopped when I considered the bleach, the knives. I saw a therapist when I was still in school, after my mother died but before everything else. I was living with my aunt, who also said, you cannot leave. “Look, it is during COVID, and you come from a developing country, on a student visa. How do you know they will let you back in? Your mother is already gone, and this is your life now. Stay. Make it work. Do you know how many times your brother has tried to leave but his applications kept on getting rejected? Yours was only by the grace of God.” I told her I was leaving. I wanted to attend my mother’s funeral. My aunt called my father. She called my brother, my father, the pastor, asking them to tell me not to leave. I was the golden goose. The security of my family, the one who made it out and would have endless money because she was in America. They all sided with her. Eat your grief, child, swallow it, and keep on moving. Keep on making money, overseas is an opportunity, and you are lucky to have it.

I could never fully own my narrative, the things that are happening to me. If I got my visa, it was by the grace of God. Nothing I did, mind you. Just in case I get haughty. The other day, a pastor, my husband’s pastor, called my phone and told me he had a word for me. He said that which the enemy meant for evil, God will turn it for good. Then he proceeded to pray this over me, seal it with the blood, etc, etc. The word, instead of being a comfort to me, unnerved me deeply. What am I, that he, the pastor, was thinking of me? Why was he thinking of me and how did this word get to him? Why is there not only an enemy lurking, waiting to do evil to me unprovoked, but also a God, watching, waiting to overturn the enemy’s plan? What weight do I hold in the enemy’s mind, and what weight do I hold in God’s mind? If they do not like each other so much that they spend their days sabotaging each other’s plans, why can they not take their battle somewhere else? What would it take for God to turn me over to the enemy, for God to be overcome by the enemy? Me praying and begging every day? I concluded that I would rather have a life where both of them were not using me as a pawn, making me walk on eggshells around my own life. I used to believe in God once. In my life, God died when my mother was buried, his presence a fragrance she forever took with her. 

It seemed wasteful to be alive when the only thing inhabiting you was death and hate. Hate and death. Anger, sadness, I would take. But not this. Not this decay. The coldness, the waters of my spirit inhabited by aspic vipers. My therapist, when I was in school and I could afford to go because the school paid for it, told me to write it down, to put up pictures, to process my anger, to set boundaries. To call out things. I did. I tried. I was getting better. Then my sister got sick, kept on getting sick, my bank account depleted, my work became a burden, and the calls to the hospital would not end. I got angry. At all of them. At my brother for ferrying her to and from the hospital. At my dead mother. My sick sister. So when she died, I felt sadness. I was broken. But I mostly felt relieved.

I first considered the bleach one day when I came home from class. I once had a cousin who used bleach to try and whiten her teeth. She told me about the experience, how unpleasant it was. She told me it felt like her mouth was folding in on itself. We laughed about it, and I remember being worried about the long-term side effects that would have on her. That day, when I came home from class, that was what I was thinking about. What would happen if my gut folded in on itself? How quickly and how painful? A whole gallon. An escape. I put it to my mouth, but I could not tilt it. It dropped from my hand, spilling on the carpet we bought for $20 at Walmart. It had been on sale. As it bleached the carpet white, sobs exploded from me, anger at my cowardice, at my mother for getting pregnant with me, for dying – for dying! I realised there is a fracturing that happened when your reality shifted. My sister had been the most stable thing in my life, and my mind could not grapple with her loss. So it found other things. I knew there was a gallon of bleach in the bathroom underneath the sink. I knew that getting pills pumped out of your belly was the worst thing and it did not always work, but that alcohol made it more of a guarantee. I knew the knives my husband had been gifted were sharp Japanese knives that sliced effortlessly through anything. I had always found slitting of wrists to be dramatic and wholly ineffective, too much blood over too long a time. I knew where I would push in the tip of the knife, just a few inches inside my jawbone toward my neck, where the external carotid was most exposed. 

I had told my husband that I needed to go home when my sister started getting sick. That was how the apartment fell on her. She had not been able to go to work that day, that week. I have come to know that when I feel that urge, uncontrollable, to leave, to be there and hold someone tight in my arms, that is when they begin to leave. It happened with my mother. I could not leave. Then it happened with my sister. And I told him, “I have to go.” He lost his mind. Because he had this picture of what his future would be like, and I was paramount to it. We were married, we would stay where we were. I would wait for my papers to come through. Then we would travel. And build houses. And have children and raise them and live happily ever after. He dreamed of this, incorporating my life effortlessly into his as if it belonged to him. As if my sick sister did not matter, as if my grieving family had no place. As if the way we, my family and I, are loved and love each other was of little consequence. As if to love and have it flourish was a privilege, an expense that I could not afford. I wanted to love my family. I wanted to be with my family, as broken as it was. But he lost his mind. He made it so difficult. He gave me all these things we would have to work through that were so complicated, but really, were his insecurities. He started pulling his hair out. Pulling it out from the roots, leaving painful-looking patches behind. He said I wanted to leave because all my friends were back home. I did not care about the papers. I did not care to stay in that cursed place. I did not care for anything, other than holding my sister and maybe convincing her that this world was worth staying in. But in that moment, I saw the depth of the selfishness of the man I had married. And I took my life back.

My mother had given her life to her marriage, her husband, her children. Yet she died prematurely, losing hair, and stressed into a sickness. My sister gave her life to pleasing my parents, my father, who was as unforgiving and despotic as a dictator, as unyielding as granite, as venomous as a brown recluse, and as abusive as only he could be. My father was insulting my sister three days before she died, reminding her how she was a disappointment and how much he had spent on her to be a good-for-nothing bag of sickness. Always sick, always sick, always needy. That he had to give back her bride price. Could not keep a husband. I say all this to say, I had to take my life back or watch myself lose it. I lost the only two women in this world I shared DNA with and everything changed, nothing could be the same. 

I washed the dishes, moving things from the cabinets to the table to the sink to the dishwasher to the cabinets to the table to the dishwasher. A life of moving things around endlessly while your life slipped away from you. A life of becoming a good wife, and having people exclaim over what a good man I have. Oh, he takes you places and he works so hard and he does this, he does that. While I battle a vicious need to leave this earth. It disappeared sometimes, but when it came back, its vehemence had tripled. I watched my husband grieve our child. Grief took him and buried him. It visited again, unburied him, and before he could breathe, buried him deeper. I watched him cry. He had never been one of those men who believe in macho-ness. He cried and tears turned his eyes red and snot ran. He cried like his world was splitting apart, and I watched from the blankets that I had not left in seven days. I watched and I felt chaos and disorder move in with us. Chaos took over the dresser, the clothes growing mildew in the washer, and disorder camped in the bathroom and kitchen, the wet towels, the dishes in the sink, the grime on wall-to-wall carpeting. Outside the sun shone on a perfect October day. The sprinklers came to life, a perfect suburban life.

For a long time, I harboured a fear that I carry unhealthy spaces inside me, unhealthy things that seep out and tint everything the colour of leprosy. I am the last in my line, the last left standing, the last, and the things that have raced through my bloodline, I feel them catching up. I wasn’t born sprinting, but before I was born I had an awareness that the life I was stepping into would call for running, running, running. Before I was born, I told myself I had no desire for it. My mother had unease in her belly when I was within her. I was number four of the nails that held her in place, her dreams took flight, they couldn’t wait, and she couldn’t chase them anymore, she was five times as heavy. The place she ran to, the freedom she thought she saw became a steel trap, a place that left her swollen, bloated, and sick from having to swallow, swallow, swallow. Years later, she would confess to me, “If someone had told me, if I had the foresight to see, I would run and run and never look back.” This conversation happened as she equipped me to run, taking the last of her broken, failing wings and sewing, sewing them onto mine. “Fly, fly, and even when your father says to come home, don’t turn back. There is nothing here. Whatever happens, you don’t come back, you hear me?” What she didn’t say was that there was death in our house.

When I was 10, I thought I saw a demon on our roof. Big, flat, spreading, curved around the corner. I looked away. Of course, of course, demons don’t exist, but at the same time, I knew that it would not leave until it got what it wanted. I remember feeling shaken to my core the next day when my mother found a drunk, snow-white owl stuffed in the kitchen cabinets under the sink. We had just come home from church. It was the owl’s frantic movements, scraping against the walls and the doors of the cabinets that had alerted my mother that something bigger than mice was in there. She had opened it to find the bird, scared and terrible. There was something about owls. No matter how you looked at it, they were nature’s most eerie creation. And they troubled me, made me very nervous, with their cat/bird hybrid thing going on. Everyone knew they portended death. So she had burned it. My mother had called her sister, and they had prayed and burned in it a sack. It was the death of the bird that bothered me; it seemed more sinister than the presence of the bird. Owls seemed to be the kinds of vengeful things that hung around after being killed. We came to find out later that my uncle, my father’s brother, was responsible for trying to hex us. After that, my mother would not have me or my sister visit his place ever again.

In leaving, I did not tell anyone. I put in my resignation at my job, a terrible office job where I worked on an Employment Authorisation Document, in an office lit by harsh fluorescent lighting that ruined my eyesight almost instantly. I worked eight, ten hours a day while my husband stayed home and tried to build designer antique labels out of wax paper. Every fucking day. My job was paying for everything regardless of the fact that he was a citizen and if he went out to work, he would be paid triple what I got. Notwithstanding the fact that I had a degree and he did not. I was angry, fed up, and getting debilitating headaches that started between my eyes. Resentment was eating me alive. I came home early that day, having bought a ticket from my other savings account that I had squirrelled away when I was a student. I packed a little bag, nothing that he thought to ask me about. I had told him I was spending the weekend with friends at my alma mater. I touched his face with my lips briefly, irritation with him swarming my head like buzzing flies. I left, called an Uber, and had it drive me to the airport. I got on the plane, sat down for the 23 hour flight back to Kenya, knowing there would be no one there to greet me, knowing that where there were none before, there would be places that marked loss next to the house where I grew up. 

I looked at it as I walked toward it. The same house, a lot more tired, a lot more faded, smaller. My father, his hair grey, his cheeks sunken in from where there were no teeth. The skin pulled taut over his bones, his skull. This man, who would fall sick if he had no money. Who would call on the phone, his voice like violence. Asking me to perform the same tricks my mother did, to do the work, borrow from church people to “support” him. The woman he replaced my mother with came behind him, tugged at my bag, but I didn’t let go. Two graves, plastered over with cement, cracked with weedy plants pushing out. I thought of the skeletons that lay under the earth and the slabs, one older than the other by 24 years. The decaying flesh. Mother and daughter. Mother and sister. Dead, as it was, for years. I walked through the house and nothing, nothing reminded me of the place I once called home. The fragments I left, the things I came for, did not exist anymore, have not existed for a long time. There was nothing here. My brother had a child, a boy, five years old. He had thickened, his neck like a tree trunk. This boy/man/brother who would call me and text me while I was in the States and blithely swindle me out of 100, 200 dollars. That was the difference between me paying rent, getting gas, or developing an eating disorder from sleeping hungry too many times. Money left my bank with every call that came until I could not anymore, until my sister, before she died, told me he was living with my aunt while asking me for rent. Until I could not talk to him anymore, the blistering insults and hurt on my tongue restrained by a hair trigger. My god, how I was hurt. My blood stole from me. I slept hungry so he could get drunk and impregnate random girls. My eyes cannot rest on him for too long. I loathe the sight of him, him and his thickened neck and head that resemble all the men of this godforsaken village. A human parasite. He did not attend our sister’s funeral. 

I slept in my old bed, and I could not fall asleep. I waited for morning to come. I got up from the bed and started looking around at what survived the overhaul. The children of the woman living with my father had been living in my bedroom, and it showed. I shared this room with my sister, and when we fought, when we were too angry to talk to each other, we wrote letters and left them for each other inside the ceiling of our closet, which had a board loose. Next to where the rafters met. I wandered over to the spot, looking, seeing if there was anything in there. My hand landed on something, and despite myself, I got excited. My heartbeat skipped, and excitement settled in my belly and made me fart a little fart. I pulled the thing out, and it was an old carton box, the one that had the shoes that we wore for our cousin’s wedding when we were bridesmaids. My name was scrawled on the top. For Sande. I looked at it, the handwriting distinctly my sister’s, and I felt my world heave, a tilt on its axis. The person who wrote this was my sister. The person who wrote this was dead. We shared a bed, and she was just… gone. I blinked and open the box. There was my old diary, leather-bound and bordered with cowrie shells, given to me by the first girl who made my heart race. There was another bundle, a bunch of letters from my high school friends. A few books of the terrible stories I once wrote. The letters my sister wrote to me. And at the bottom, her journal. 

At her best, my sister had been vivacious, the life of the party, the life of our family. She had been the child my parents had been proud of, the one who would leave them shaking their heads in fond exasperation. My sister was the first-born girl child. By the time she was hitting puberty, my parents realised that female adolescence was a reedy marsh that they did not have the navigation skills for, and as they plunged in after my sister, they made everything worse, holding her to an impossible standard, asking her to live the life of a pantomime, to be the perfect daughter. Of course, people were watching. She could not polish her nails or wear trousers, or be seen walking with that boy or that friend. She was a fire, and the more she rebelled, the more her school friends liked it, the more my parents got strict with her. At first, my father was indulgent, then seeing how this was becoming an embarrassment, he broke my sister’s spirit. He just ignored her. She would talk to him, and he acted as if nothing had happened. He would not answer, not acknowledge her, and if she kept on asking for attention, he would explode at her, berating her for hours while she cowered like a beaten dog. At a time when she was finding herself, this devastated my sister. She would spend the rest of her life making up for upsetting my father, apologising for things she did that she did not know she should not do. Everything she did he found an issue with, yet his approval was the one thing she wanted the most. My father turned his sun of approval on me, and seeing what that had done to my sister, I spent the rest of my days acting as if it did not mean a thing to me, slightly terrified of becoming the favourite as I had seen the aftermath of being the favourite and taking one wrong step. 

My mother dehisced from my father and started stitching the rips and lacerations my father left on my sister’s psyche. Have you heard of psychosomatic sickness? It is not a byword, I promise you. The last 10 years of my sister’s life were spent in and out of hospitals, my mother bailing her out of the jaws of death a couple of times and my father staying out of it, complaining about the money it all cost, and doing his best to run my sister out of the house. The more he rode her, the sicker she became, the more unable to leave, the more abuse she received. A cycle that left you deeply horrified. I looked away, for my own sanity’s sake and because I thought there was nothing I could do. The whole thing depleted my mother, in addition to church abuse and a general desperation to try and make things work. It wasn’t all bleak, but it was definitely dark. We took our moments when we could, and when I left, there was no looking back for me. It is a brutal thing to say that your father killed your sister. Yet my father killed my sister, without ever once laying hands on her. A feat indeed. 

It took my sister dying for me to take ownership of my life, and this is what freedom looks like. Silence has never served a woman like me. Instead, it has robbed me, and it continues to live, and move determinedly and with precision because of the voices that were snatched out of the voice boxes of my sister, my mother, my grandmother. I cannot forget where I come from, the blood of the women who were pulverised sings in my veins. A beat. Those who kept me alive lost their lives while at it, and the guilt sings in my veins too. 


Trevor, when he came into my life, had been almost accidental. One day, while shopping around Junction Mall in Nairobi and feeling uncomfortable, I noticed him. He was in line, right in front of me, and I liked the shape of the back of his head. I observed it, thinking how it would fit in the palm of my hand, and soon, I was fantasising about what his face looked like, how different and similar it was from the face of the man I had been married to. When he reached for his wallet to pay for his groceries, I intercepted him, asking the cashier to take my card instead. He turned around, surprised and a little wary. I paid for his stuff, paid for mine, and he was by the door waiting for me. His face was even more beautiful than I anticipated. His eyes, almond-shaped and ringed with impossibly long eyelashes. 

“Thank you for paying for my groceries.”

“Absolutely. It was the only way I could get you to look at me.”

“You could just have talked to me.”

“Bets are off that you would have been as nice as you are right now.”

“And why exactly are you buying my pleasantness?”

I chose to be candid.

“I liked the shape of the back of your head.”

He threw his head back and laughed, loud and unrestrained. 

He put out his hand. “Trevor. A pleasure to meet you.”

“Sande. The pleasure, trust me, is all mine.”

We started spending a copious amount of time together. He was a few years younger than me and worked as a writer of some sort on his laptop. I didn’t invite him to my place, and I knew he could not invite me to his as he lived with his brother, a structural engineer. We went on long walks, and suddenly, there was sunshine. I could feel the people next to me, recognise them as human. I was no longer tunnelled in. He was a welcome change of pace from what my life had been like. It felt like I had been curled up at the bottom of a dark well, then Trevor was there, letting light in. He did not offer me a lifeline. He did not pull me out of the well. He was there and I was back on level ground. On the low, he was a poet, an aspiring writer who did not have the guts to be just that. I felt sadness for his lack of self-belief; his poems were heartbreakingly tender and beautiful. I told him so, my eyes locked on his. I watched them warm up, watched the pleasure my words caused him, the smile that spanned his face. I slipped my hand into his, and it felt like there was a nerve running from my palm to my lower belly. I felt pleasure flood, a feeling I had all but forgotten. 

“Write your poems, Trevor. Write them, write the world beautiful. For many people, tomorrow is not guaranteed. This life, you get to live it now. So write. You have important things to say. And I promise you, we are listening.”

“Alright, Sensei,” he said, mocking my attempt at being philosophical.

I laughed, reached out, and smacked the back of his head. From then on, I saved him on my phone as Seito. I thought it fitting. 


A few weeks later, I invited Trevor for dinner. He came at around 7pm, and I rushed to go grab more rice from the neighbourhood supermarket. I came home and Trevor told me there was someone who had come looking for me. 

“He said he was your brother.”


“Sande.” He sounded troubled. “We have gotten so close these past few weeks. And I feel like I have known you all my life. But then, today…” 

His brows knitted. 

“Today I realised I don’t know you. You hardly have any friends. I just learned you have a brother, and you will not talk about him. You do not talk about your family. I…I care about you. But I would like to know you better.”

“There is nothing to know.”

“But there is. Where does your family live? How many siblings do you have? Are you planning on going back abroad? Who even are your actual friends?” 

I felt myself baulk. “Everything you have told me about yourself has been voluntary. I did not bug you. Don’t do that to me.”

“Sande, I want to know you better. Be with you. I need to know.”

“You don’t need to know anything.”

Head tilted back, he exhaled forcefully. “Do you even care about what we have here? What we have been building?”

“Building? We have not been building anything.”

“Sande, are we dating?” 

I moved to him and cupped his face in my hands. 

“No,” I said softly. “We are not.”

“Then why? Why pay for my things? Why text me, why ask me to stay, dance with me, make food with me?”

“Because we have today. And I want to spend today with you.” 

“That is not enough for me. I want tomorrow. And yesterday too.”

“I only have today,” I said.

“Call me when that changes.” He left.

The next two days, it rained incessantly, and loneliness stalked me like a puma. I moved from room to room, braided my hair, undid it, painted my nails, absently watched a show, and tried reading a book. But I was waiting for my phone to ping and it stayed steadfastly silent. I got out of the house, walked through the dark mud, and got on a Citi Hoppa to town. I walked the almost deserted streets. The rain was cold, slanting, and driven by an insistent wind. I walked into a Java house and ordered a hot cup of tea. While I was drinking, someone I knew from high school walked in. She was twice the size she was when I saw her last, her nose disappearing between her cheeks. 

“Sande!” She called happily and started walking towards me. 

I instantly felt trapped. I picked up my cup of tea and started walking hurriedly toward the exit. 

“Sande, wait!” 

She caught me at the door, pulling on my sleeve.

I turned around, the fake smile on my face making my cheeks hurt. 

“Sande, It’s been so long! You remember me, right? We sat together in high school.”

She turned to the man who had now caught up to us. “Babe, this is one of my high school friends.”

“We were not friends,” I said and felt juvenile as it came out of my mouth.

She laughed graciously, her eyes shocked. “We sat together for four years.”

“Kati,” I said. That was her name. “You broke into my locker and read my journal. You read the letters my friends would send to me. In fact, you gave them to the whole class and told them I was a lesbian. You brought a phone to school, which was illegal, and when you were caught with it, you put it in my books so I could be blamed. I was the School Captain. I got suspended for something you did. You never washed your underwear, and I had to put up with that smell for four years.”

I looked at the man.

“Does she wash her underwear now?”

He looked flustered, and a little amused. 

I turned my gaze back to her. “We were not friends. We are not friends now. You are a terrible person who made my life hell. Please let go of my sleeve.”

“Sande, I have been wanting to apologise…”

I pulled my body hard away from her and walked out, slamming the door in her face. I have always been the type to forgive. But forgetting has never been my forte. 

I went home and ran a bath. I soaked in the jasmine-scented water, but my phone was still silent. Rwethi, my best friend, called and invited me to dinner. I sloshed from the tub, wore the first thing I came across, and called an Uber. I texted Trevor on my way to pick him up. 

Monday to Monday, my text read. 

When the Uber pulled up outside his brother’s house, he was standing on the veranda, a packed bag by his side. 

Back at my house, we fell into each other, freefalling, like a river off a cliff. I thought of us, when I could finally think, as beautiful, as cooling rain on a hot day. His hands on my body, needing more and more. I was pliant now, ferocious the next second, giving in to that taut line that had been holding me back, that had finally snapped. I cupped the back of his head and it fit perfectly, lovingly in my palm. I scraped my hands down his chest, his back. He looked at me, and I smiled. His lips cool on my neck, his breath hot and pulsing. Our palms interlocked above my head. His hand, parting, dipping, finding. Everything in me shivered. My back arched and my teeth sunk into his trapezius muscle. His tongue found my heated centre and the brush of it had me spinning into sweet oblivion. I grabbed and arched and whipped as pleasure suffused, as he brought me back, and gratefully, I took him in as he slowly pushed inside me. Something in me wound as something else eased. I pushed him in and he groaned. The sound filled me with a joy that radiated from my chest. We moved together, then he was moving, rocking, seeking, and finding. His back was slick with sweat, and as he finished, my mind caught up to the fact that he had been whispering “I love you” the whole time. 

“While you are here, what do you do for work?”

“I am my sister’s agent. She was a painter.”



“I’m so sorry.”

“It’s not your fault.”

He pulled me to his chest and I moved my ear away from the sound of his heartbeat; that sound had always disconcerted me. 

“What do you do with the money from her sales?”

“Save it. She had a son.”

“Where is he now?”

“With his father.”

“I’m here if you ever need to talk about it.”

I squeezed him tighter but I didn’t say anything back. There wasn’t anything to say. That night, I showed him my sister’s journal. We read it together, and he held me tight every time grief hit my solar plexus like a tidal wave. I cried myself to sleep and when I woke up the next morning, he had both his arms and legs wrapped around me, like a freaking octopus. The visual made me laugh, and for the first time in years, I felt sadness slip off my skin like a wet towel. For the first time in years, breathing came easy. 


I agreed to go to dinner at his brother’s house. I texted Rwethi back, asking for a rain check for tonight. I asked her if we could do it tomorrow instead.

Will be out of town tomorrow.

Friday? My treat.

She texted back a thumbs-up emoji.

Trevor was excited about me meeting his brother’s family.

“It is a chance for them to meet you, get to know you.”

As soon as I walked through the door, I was hit with a wave of resentment so thick it felt like a wall. I looked around, trying to figure what it was that I had done wrong, or if there was Trevor’s ex in the room. The source was his brother, who launched into a veiled attack as soon as we sat for dinner. 

Where are you from? No, really, where are your people from? What is your last name? Where did you meet my baby brother? What are your plans? How old are you? Any children?

He was worried about Trevor, but he was being obnoxious. I systematically shut down, until no one could pull a word out of me, and the dinner went from an FBI interrogation room to awkwardness. I asked for directions to the bathroom and Trevor’s sister-in-law followed me there. 

“Kevin means well.”

“I hate that name, Kevin.”

That was the name of my best friend’s first boyfriend. He was terrible, I explained, even as it felt unnecessary. 

She laughed a little uncomfortably.

“He means well, he just cares a lot for his brother. He is his guardian here in Nairobi.”

“I get it. I would be the same way were I in his shoes.” 

She handed me a towel for my hands as I went into the toilet. 

“The one in there needs replacing. It is a little wet.”

“Thank you, Keziah.”

I peed, listening to the tinkle of my urine on the ceramic. What am I doing here? What am I doing to this beautiful young soul? I should leave. Take my hundred and one problems and stay out of his life for good. I lifted my knees to my face and buried my head in my hands. He was the only life I had experienced in over 10 years. My rude awakening, to live in the here and now. 

He told me he loved me. 

I helped Keziah with the dishes, putting the food away and cleaning the kitchen. I brought Trevor a cup of tea and mahamri. Here and now, be pleasant, here and now. Make it easy for Trevor. Even if it does not last, it is in my power to make the here and now pleasant, if not beautiful. I sat next to him and listened to his brother talk. They started catching up on what has been going on in each other’s lives. They talked about the news, the upcoming elections, the COVID funds that never saw the light of day, Kimwarer and Arror dam projects, a failed infrastructure thing that was eaten alive by graft. Billions of shillings. Billions of dollars disappearing into thin air. I brought up the baobab trees that were being pirated from Kenya, and that set them off. “What else is being sold from under our noses that we do not know about? Hoodia cactus, brazzein.” They spoke of the lifted GMO ban, of the hustler fund, and they laughed because both of them ended up drinking the 450/= in bars. They talked about the fact that the new government wanted to take away the ability for students to get loans in college, and that the president wanted every M-Pesa user to have a KRA pin. A selfish self centred government making an already difficult life even more difficult for millions of people. I thought about the said people, trying to survive. My father. Brothers. My friends. I felt that familiar feeling, of odds being stacked up too high against the ones that I am compelled to love. How that ended up being a painful, tragic thing. Yet here I was again, looking into Trevor’s eyes and watching his smile light up his face and the whole world. The human heart is impossibly optimistic, even as the deep gullies that love had left on my psyche were trying to heal, here I was creating the potential for more. Suddenly I felt bone-deep tired. I wanted to go home. As I was about to get up, Kevin started talking about the building that collapsed. I slowly sat back down. 

“I feel so bad about it,” Kevin said.

“We all do, man,” Trevor concurred.

“No, this, this could have been different.”

Out of the blue, I felt like I had locked myself on an electric chair that was about to be turned on. 

“I had the tender for that building. I had my people working on it. But the landlord started pushing for people to move in before it was complete. I left the project then. I was tired of wrangling with him. He thought I was too excessive, using too many materials. All I had to give was the green light for people to move in. I thought, what is the worst that could happen? I didn’t even do a site visit. The new VW Keziah is driving now? That is the permit money.” He cursed. “The one time I thought about bending the rules. The one time, Trev.”

Trevor had gone still.

“You didn’t tell me about this.”

“I did not tell anyone.”

“Jesus, Kevin, why? You took a bribe? After all the things we have been talking about, how the country is going to hell on wheels because of graft, and you took a bribe? Did you even need it?” 

“I didn’t know how structurally unsound the building was.”

“That was your only job! People died, Kevin!” He said, standing up and knocking the chair over.

“I know! I know. It has been haunting me.”

“Does Keziah know?”

“No. And you will not tell her.”

Trevor flopped back down on his seat.

“What are you going to do about it?”

“What can I do? You know this country. Even if I do anything, I will be implicating myself. I have a family to take care of, Trev. I have you.”

“I have always looked up to—”

“I am human, Trevor,” Kevin broke in irritably. “Manage your expectations.”

“But people died. I saw the pictures.” 

Kevin took his wine glass and stalked out of the room. “Much good talking to you does.”

I felt numbness crawling up my legs, frozen in place. It was like they had forgotten I was there, and in that, I hoped I had been rendered invisible. 

Trevor now looked over at me.

“Isn’t that crazy? I mean, am I wrong in being shocked?”

He was looking to me for comfort, and I could not give it to him. My sister died because his brother gave the go-ahead on a house that was poorly done. 

My sister, dead. And here by chance, I had found the reason why.

I laughed. I laughed and laughed, thinking, what are the chances, I mean really, what are the chances?

Trevor looked at me, a question in his eyes. I kept on laughing, tears now streaming down my face. 

“What is so funny? There’s nothing funny about this, Sande. My own brother…” He tapered off, looking like a dog that had been scolded. 

Fancy me for believing in love, thinking it was something to be had just like that. 

“I’m married.”


“Married. I have a husband that I’m in the process of leaving, and we had a child who died.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“You wanted tomorrow. Monday to Monday, remember?”

“But now? Why?”

“My sister.”

“What about her?” 

“She was in the building that collapsed. She died.”

I watched the horror dawn on his face and felt pity. I took my purse, wiping tears of laughter from my face, as a bizarre sadness took over my throat. I scrambled for my shoes and left through the French doors, climbing through the shrubbery to get to the road. I looked back when I heard him call my name. My beautiful man, my dream with the perfectly shaped eyes, was sitting where I had left him, his silhouette backlit by the chandelier in his brother’s living room.

Mercy Munyanya is a part-time teacher, part-time writer, and part-time international student from Kenya currently residing in South Carolina.

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