I almost don’t want to wake up. You sleep like a child does, curled up in a tight ‘S’ to fit into the school bed, the blanket up to your chin like a mask. I watch the rise and fall of your body and allow my mind to wander before I shake you awake. You do not smile. You blink, sit up, stretch your arms out, yawn and say, in the early-morning voice capable of getting me pregnant, “Hi.”
Five minutes later we’re sitting in the lonely dining hall eating bread and tea the colour of dirty pond water. I chatter away as you spread Nutella over your slices, a half-smile on your face while I talk about how hard it was packing my blankets into my box and the twenty-minute saga of choosing what books to carry for the midterm.
“Me I’m leaving all my books here,” you say and, when I raise my eyebrows, “Be serious. Do you think you’re going to read anything in five days?” You crush the slices into rolls and shove them into your mouth. White crumbs stick to your lips like snowflakes.
When we leave school, the sun is hanging calmly in the middle of a clear sky. Nairobi is alive with sound and colour. You whisper, “Kibaki,” in my ear as the security guard with an unfortunate hairline clears us, and I have to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. I slow my pace so that I can watch our shadows stretch out in front of us and imagine them crossing.
You’re talking to me about a true-crime docuseries, your voice clear and resonant over all the noise. You are golden and beautiful and, being surrounded by all these people – all these girls, fresh from school, hair slick and jet-black under the heat – makes me want to mark you as mine in big, red letters right across your forehead.
“Sawa bro,” you say. “We’re here.” So, we are. I had been hoping that the bus stop would be empty, but no, a shiny Kenya Mpya swallows passengers smugly in my face, the name of your hometown painted on its side. I wish it would go up in flames. Or get sucked into a sudden landslide, or dissipate or something, so that I can have more time with you.
The breeze is coloured with the smell of the roadside chapati and the shouts of advertisers across from us. A pair of birds settle on top of the bus and fly away in a flash of white. You tell me goodbye in a handshake, fingers cool and smooth against my palm, and promise to text me at home. I say, “Laterrrr loserrrr,” to make you laugh, and when you do I add it to the list of my things to memorise, next to the exact brown of your eyes.
You elbow your way through the crowd and are just about to board when a girl in a purple uniform, her schoolbag the size of a small pig, gets her skirt caught in the door. You ease it free for her, and she turns back to smile at you. The city holds its breath at this: dust settles, cars slow down, the clouds arrange themselves so that only the two of you are touched by the sun. You smile back.
Acid spills hot and fast into my stomach. My chest flares open like a cobra about to strike. I bite my lip and press my fingernails into both my palms, small crescents of pain.
You find your seat and wave at me through the open window, then when she sits next to you, your mouth stretches into a grin so wide it looks painful. You wiggle your eyebrows at me as if this is all a hidden-camera show. The conductor announces that the bus is full just as the girl taps on your shoulder saying, “Hi.”
The bus is playing the type of smooth ‘90s RnB I’m a fan of, and as it rolls away Brandy reminds me that The Boy is Hers.
Maybe I should listen.