”I wonder how it will be when the waters finally meet.” Amani gushes. Her face is flushed with excitement. Tom turns to his beautiful girlfriend. He considers her statement briefly.
“It will be like a reunion of long-separated soulmates.” He says.
“I wonder if the waves will roar as they rush toward each other.”
“And the fish? Do you think they’ll realize what’s happening?”
“What about the lake itself? Will it change when the waters meet?”
“It will be wonderful to watch.”
“Yes it will.” Their guide jumps in. “Stones were used to connect the island to the mainland.” The guide pauses for effect. “But the waters were parted and the lake suffered.”
“Wow!” Amani whispers. “This is quite something.”
They thank their guide, and drive back to the mainland.
Amani sighs happily. She has never felt closer to Tom, than she does right now. It is right here on this island that their souls met. Theirs would never need excavation or bridging. Nature was their glue.
Wanja stares at the clock. Under different circumstances, she would have loved it. The simplicity of the carving; the ingenuity of the image. But the inscription. The inscription was the ultimate give away. This was not ‘just a gift’. It was the symbol of her husband’s infidelity. How could he bring it here? How could he hang it in their bedroom? How could he desecrate the one place she deemed him completely hers?
Well, today was the day. She took it from its place of honor and hurled it to the floor. Then she took a knife to it. Then she set the pieces on fire. No more, would its presence taunt her. No more would its ticking threaten her. It was as if it had never existed. Except in her mind where the inscription was permanently etched.
“I love you, but I cannot be with you.”
“So this is it?”
“Yes. This is it.”
Amani looks at the man who had called her his soulmate. She sees no trace of the loving man she thought was there.
“When did you decide this?” she asks.
“Why?” she persists. This meeting was supposed to be a reconciliation. Not a break-up.
“I had to make a difficult decision.”
She sheds the first of many tears. Right there in front of him. She hates herself for being so weak. For giving him the satisfaction of her tears. Her body feels like it’s coming apart. So she wraps her arms tightly around her knees to keep it together. The pain is like nothing she has felt in a long time. There is no morphine for this. She struggles. Really struggles. But the sobs wrack her body.
He just sits there sipping a cold coke.
“You cannot just leave.” Hami declares.
Not this again! Amani groans inwardly.
It was the one reprimand they all seemed to have for her. The all-seeing, perfect lot of them. Strangers and family, alike. Except in her case, they are all strangers. A pretentious lot of goody-two-shoes with a penchant for nosiness. Nosing only where they ought not to, and otherwise, keeping their noses primly pointed upward. Totally unconcerned about the happenings around them. Unless of course, they had something to lose.
“Where would you go?” He demands
“Anywhere.” She retorts.
“Survival is tough out there.”
She looks at her brother with an expression of utter disbelief.
“What do you know about survival?” she scoffs. “You are spoilt and you are selfish!” The words sink like iron to the bottom of the massive pool in their backyard. For his next pronouncement, Hama rises to his full 6’7”
“Amani, as your big brother I must –“
“Big brother?” Amani interrupts. She too rises to her full 5’4”. “You are big. And you are my brother. But you’ve never been my big brother! Don’t pretend to start now.”
“Well then, go!” He thunders. “But know this, “I control the money. That means you get nothing until you turn 25.”
Aha! The other shoe drops. Amani thinks to herself. “And how different is that from what I’ve been getting?”
“Amani please!” a matronly voice joins the foray. “Why are you being like this?”
Amani turns to Aunt Banou. Her eyes flare with the disgust she feels. She remembers this very woman, a thinner version of her anyway, beating her chest in grief at the funeral. “I will be your second mother.” She declared, that somber day. A declaration that granted her unrestricted access to the wealth her brother had left behind. That and the fact that she was his only surviving sibling.
“My child, pl-”
“Your child?” Amani’s voice is eerily calm “Was I your child when you raided my trust fund? Was I perhaps your child when you were too busy to visit me in hospital? What about when your thug of a husband broke my wrist and you did nothing; was I your child then?”
“What’s all the ruckus?” A forth voice joins in. It is full of food, as always. “Is it too much to ask for peace in this house?”
“For scavengers like you,” Amani addresses her aunt’s thug of a husband “it is too much to ask for anything.”
With this, she slams the door on her past.
Six weeks in, and she is no closer to ‘settling in’. She is still angry. But she has found something new to be angry with. The sun has become her arch-nemesis. It just sits arrogantly at the crown of the sky, casting unforgiving rays every which way. It rages and it burns. Stubbornly unapologetic for the trees, bare of leaves and the riverbeds, bare of water. She is just another toy for this mighty torch. It trails her footsteps. It burns right through the shoes she dorns.
“Live or leave.” The sun taunts silently. But in this, most uneven of playing fields, the sun’s victory is delayed.
Amani knows she’ll lose eventually. Not just yet though. There is more in this bare, bare village, than there ever was in her world of superficial plenty.
“You cannot just give up every time things get difficult!” The old lady mutters.
“I’m not giving up!” Amani protests.
“Yes you are.” The wise eyes drill deep into hers. She looks hastily away.
Around them, the village continues unperturbed. The children play their basic games. The women scamper about in a flurry of activity. Peeling. Cleaning. Cooking. The men sit in a circle, discussing the matter of so-and-so encroaching on the garden of so-and-so. The complainant is a woman. A widow with no sons. Her two daughters shriek gleefully with the other children, blissfully unaware of the fate that hangs so precariously over them. The defendant is a man. The younger, alcoholic brother of the late man. His speech is slurred, incoherent. Her speech is clear, logical.
Amani looks at the faces of the men. She sees in their hardened expressions, the verdict they’ve already reached. Then she turns her eyes to the widow. The lone tree in the storm. For a split second, their eyes lock. In each others eyes, they see the cinders of dying fires. They both look away. The only thing sadder than a bleak reality, is a bleak mirror image.
“You have the demeanor of a wounded deer.” The kind voice drags her back. “Your instinct is to hide. But hiding is no guarantee that you won’t bleed out.”
Next to them, a woman scrapes the slimy film off the freshly peeled cassava.
For the first time in a very long time, Amani gets the feeling that someone is scraping the layer of mystery she has worked so hard to cultivate.
“I’m not hiding. I’m not bleeding.” She pauses. “But if for arguments sake, I am hiding and bleeding, does it really matter to anyone?”
The old lady says nothing. She has scraped off a huge chunk.
You can’t be serious!” The woman in the circle shouts. “Thomas was your brother. How can you do this?”
“The decision is fair!” The defendant proclaims.
“Fair? Is it fair to grab from me? Is it fair that you sell me a portion of my land? Is it fair that you make squatters of my children? Your nieces?”
The men squirm uncomfortably around the circle. The soft spoken woman had shocked them with her voice. She was supposed to take the verdict with the same meek demeanor she had so far portrayed.
“You should thank them for their consideration.” Her brother in-law admonishes. “Do you think they have nothing better to do than to listen to your whining?” His voice booms around the homestead.
Amani looks around her. The children have stopped playing. The women have stopped their flurry of activities. Even the cassava peeler sits still, with her knife in mid-strike.
The men rise and leave. Their work here is done. Beer will flow today.
The woman casts a desolate figure, surrounded by a circle of empty chairs. For a split second, she remains there, eyes downcast. Unable to look at her children. Then one by one, the women walk to her. None of them is surprised by the turn of events.
“It will be OK.” The old voice speaks, once again. The women grunt their agreement. Amani slinks off into the scorching heat. She has no interest in this charade. She has travelled through many barefaced lies.
“I saw you at the gathering.”
Amani looks up from her stone at the little spring. It’s not a question, but she feels obliged to answer.
“Yes.” She mumbles. “Sorry, it didn’t go your way.”
“Which is my way exactly?” The widow asks.
“Getting custody of the land?”
The widow laughs. It is a mirthless laugh.
“The land is nothing.” She mutters. “Having him here, alive. That would be my way.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you.” The widow smiles.
The ensuing silence is awkward. Almost. Amani sighs inaudibly.
“I like to come here and listen to my radio.” She holds up a tiny radio. “It reminds me just a little, of the life I left behind.”
“Was it a good life?” The widow asks.
“The best.” Amani jokes. “It was so good, I couldn’t stand it.”
The widow smiles. It is so refreshing to meet someone who laughs at herself. She thinks.
The news starts, and Amani turns up the volume.
“His Excellency the President today launched the Rusinga bridge….” Amani does not hear the rest of that sentence.
“Wow!” she gushes excitedly “The waters met.”
“What did you say?” The widow asks.
“Oh…there’s this island called Rusinga, it was joined to the mainland by a cause-”
“Yes, I know.” The widow responds. “But what did you say?”
“I said the waters met.”
“Interesting choice of words.”
It is not a question. Yet again, Amani feels obliged to explain. “It’s just something I used to say.”
“I was just taking flowers to my husband’s grave. Would you like to come?”
“Sure.” Amani replies. It’s a strange invitation. But who can explain the actions of the grieving?
At the grave, she nearly passes out.
Her words stare back at her.
“When the waters meet, we will be together.
We will look back for eternity, at the moment the waters met.”
The widow helps her to sit down.
“We haven’t been formally introduced,” she says “I am Wanja. I know now that my Thomas was your Tom.”
“I’m so sor-” Amani begins.
“Don’t be.” Wanja interrupts. “It was destined, that we meet so I could finally forgive him.”