By Kirabo Nora, Uganda:
“I'm good at forgetting,” I said, my voice shaking, pleading for him. I finally had him. My mind was racing, but sense and reason were losing out to my feelings for James.
“This is too good to be true. It will come crushing down… on you!” my inner voice screamed, but I buried the thought with the memory of all my failed romances.
He was here but not really here. I reached out to caress his beard. I hated his beard, but I had long suffered in silence for the sake of those stolen kisses. He pulled my hand deliberately away from his face, ever the self conscious one.
“Well I'm not. How can I forget her?” he said. Her? I wondered why I could not rid myself of love triangles in my relationships: there was always me, him and a “her”. Why should this be different? It was the equivalent of an intro to a bad porno, and indeed it evoked disgust.
I snatched my hand from his. “Before, we were wrong because she was in the way, so to speak,” I took two steps away from him, now letting my voice rise without restraint. I was retreating, like a wounded lioness, a thing I had failed to be for too long. I wanted to lunge at him, fangs out, rip his neck from his shoulders… But I loved that head. “Now…” I paused, when I realised I was screaming like the old woman that sold avocadoes at the corner of my apartment. I took a deep breath to calm myself. “Now it's because she's not in the way?” My voice trailed to a whisper to understand this cruel twist of fate.
“Who are you?” the plump receptionist asked me. Her voice broke me out of the trance, the memory still fresh from three weeks ago. I had stomped out of the room. Now I was here. I altered my gaze to meet hers.
So, who am I?
I dread this question. Am I just a name, a gender, or a representative of an age group? By providing these statistics, would this secretary really know who I was?
Before I could answer her invasive question, her phone rang. It was a wonder how fast she was distracted from her exploratory mission. Now she completely forgot about me as she spoke in hushed tones with an occasional giggle. Maybe it was her lover. I used to giggle like that when James called. I drowned her out to sink into the deep waters of my mind.
Every time I had thought of him with her, I had been overcome with jealousy. I mused at how she must have felt when she suspected that there was another woman. How she must have laid her head on the pillow awaiting his calls, unaware that his hands were busy. And the next day he would rob her of her fears with deceit, claiming he was overcome with sleep. Perhaps what he meant to say was he was overcome with lust.
I always imagined him holding her body in a protective yet hungry way. He never held me like that. Still, the way he held me had made my heart skip once too often. Even after she was gone, she was still his and he was still hers. This was my mantra. When his hand caressed my thigh, it was her hand on him that he thought of. I had to come to terms with the fact that although it seemed like I could have him, I would never really have him. I had distanced myself from those soul-sucking pleasures. And yet, here I was, again! I must finally exorcise that demon. Only then can I find normalcy in being away from him. Only then will I crave others like I did before him.
I always wondered how he could sleep amidst my loud snores. Why wasn't he repulsed by that side to me? But then I remembered that human beings could go unimaginable lengths for love and even greater ones to satisfy the flesh's hunger. It was the latter. I know he rode the waves of sleep unaware of the snores. At dawn I would let him have his way with me. He would immerse himself into this trifling encounter and after he had tired himself out, he would escape my wondering gaze. He knew that within my eyes lay my desire to be wanted, to be loved. He would flee these cries. And I was left with myself. I would stare at myself in the mirror and fail to recognise her in me. I was to spend eternity with a woman I did not know.
“Excuse me, nyabo?” she said after putting down her phone. Her voice seemed to claw through my thoughts to forcefully wrench me from the depths of my memory. I turned back to face her but her eyes were stuck on the scar above my eyebrow. The scar I had received when I was 13 years old, from going up a tree with my brother. I had always been a follower, but somewhere down the road I always forgot the rules that came with that title. I forgot to look out for myself. The reminder was this scar; the sole etch on my brown face. The same scar that James would stroke gently as he held me, saying “it is a reminder that you are the stronger one; how else could you put up with a bastard like me?” He would say it as joke, but we both knew it was true.
I followed her gaze that now took in my small frame, as she rolled her eyes. Was that jealousy I detected? As if by determining whether my hair was real she would have somehow solved the mystery at hand.
“My name?” I blurted out, trying to remember my purpose. The realization that I was here to find freedom only served to unnerve me. “It's Evelyn. Evelyn Kobusingye,” I said, summoning my inner James Bond in an attempt to hide the fear in my voice.
“Do you have an appointment madam?” the secretary asked. I could almost taste the irritation seeping from her venomous mouth, a mouth that had undoubtedly invoked fear in others like me. “No, I do not have one. But Mr. Mabugo James must be expecting me.” She responded with a knowing look.
Maybe there really were others, I thought to myself as I took the seat. But it didn't matter because every bit of my being knew that this was the end. James was predictable. If memory served me right, then our next conversation would go like the rest. “I am sorry for hurting you, I will change.” He would say this after dinner. He wouldn't take any calls. He would look me in my eyes and kiss me softly. Then he would be James again.
I was once again brought back to reality by the sound of the secretary. “Nyabo?” she called out, like she had spent the past hour hounding me for my name for nothing. “Mr. Mabugo will see you now,” she said, while rolling her eyes. I insisted on my defiant smile as I slowly stood up. The last time I had seen him I had stormed off, the typical scene for our “break ups.” This time it felt different. There would be no more James.
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