Love and Other Traffic Updates: by Duncan Mwangi

1999

Kuso’s tongue likes it here. High up, parked on the roof of Allawaah’s mouth. It’s his favourite spot on Allawaah’s body, if he has to be exclusive. The cliff of her nose too, if he doesn’t. It proposes to him every time she drives it up or down expressively, asking him to screw his lips on it. She’s saving up to get a nose ring for her birthday. He has no idea how he feels about that. Will it taste any different? Saltier, maybe, from a tear track or two? Hot from when she exhales with engine fury?

In many ways, Kuso is enamoured by Allawaah. In many ways. Allawaah, rightfully so, seems equally as enamoured.

Allawaah, meanwhile, with Kuso’s mouth heating up hers, is weighing her move into Kuso’s hostel room on the scale of impact it will have on the rest of her life. She’s already done the math and mapped out her spectrum of uncertainties. However, there’s an aftertaste of concern here, like a cloud of hot humid breath on cold air. Is this what she wanted? Did she get ahead of herself? Is he hiding any expectations of acts of service beneath the cloak of his expressed desire for her closeness? Is he willing to offer any in exchange?

She absent-mindedly slithers her finger on the expanse of his cookie-hard stomach, feeling his muscles rise and fall.

2007

“Kus?”

“Al? Hey!”

“Hey yourself! It’s been what – a cool six years? How are things?”

“I don’t know. Depends on what you mean by things. Some are working out, some aren’t.”

“I meant you? How are you?”

“I’m fine then. Never been better.”

Kuso lied. Allawaah remembers this pocket of time when she had crossed paths with him for the first time since graduation. She remembers how violent her nostalgia brewed at that moment, despite having gone for years without it hanging over her head. She had sifted in and out of strangers’ beds, broken off two engagements and had assembled quite the tidy collection of bedroom arsenal for herself. Plugging in and out of intimacy had never been out of the ordinary for her.

Kuso, on the other hand, has stayed mute about his version of the six years. She never presses him about it. As she sits, her head parked on his chest, Kenyatta Market braids trailing the overturned bowl of his stomach, she thinks about what Julian, Kuso’s former hostel neighbour and her new co-worker, who is completely unaware of their mended relationship, said to her this morning while they were discussing his gait.

“It’s like a part of that leg died, you know?… He’s been walking that way since the night they slept in Central Police Station… Haiya, sincerely you didn’t know?… Ebu let me tell you then…”

It seems that Kuso dated someone during those six years – a boy called Sid – for an undetermined amount of time. Sid and Kuso were frottaging in the Deja Vu club washrooms one Friday night when an angry suspicious drunk broke the door to their stall down. Next thing they knew, they were spinning tops in the centre of a night crowd, orbiting by the force of a series of punches from strangers. They slept in Central Police Station, and lost their phones to the villainous absence of the desk corporal’s memory.

Allawaah does not wish to desecrate this space, to run her tyres in old mud when it’s almost dry enough to drive on and forget. He has had his moments in hell and she has had hers.

2011

Kuso has proposed, and Allawaah has said yes, so now, there will be a wedding. A big rich white one, Kuso’s mother is adamant. Many guests, Kuso’s father chips in.

Allawaah’s parents, however, have already bowed out. Their two elder daughters have already walked the tightrope of their bridal expectations, and they have no need for Allawaah to do the same. Allawaah could download a marriage certificate and sign it in a cyber cafe to a man on the other end of a Skype account and their blood pressure levels would stay at low tide.

Kuso and Allawaah’s party open a lot of champagne bottles and open the lid on a lot of food to drink and eat themselves hoarse. Kuso, watching the hours circle around them like vultures above carrion, wishes it was different. He wishes that him and Allawaah could have just snuck off to a staycation and stayed in bed so he could drive around the track that is her body.

Everyone clears out at around half past midnight. Kuso does the dishes while Allawaah wipes them off. They talk about the particulars of the engagement party: who did what drunk antics, how good the pork wraps were, speculations on how their fathers crashing into each other in traffic months before they officially met must have unfolded.

“I am willing to bet that my dad told yours he works for a Russian NGO,” Allawaah says.

“He told me the same thing today.”

“I hope you picked up on the fact that he was threatening you.”

“I did—Listen Al, I have something important I would like to tell you. At least I think it’s important. Lots of people already know about this and I don’t want them to run to tell you before I do. I hope it doesn’t change anything between us.”

“Shoot,” Allawaah offers, without blinking.

“I’m bisexual.”

Allawaah shrugs in acknowledgement of the fact that this is not news to her.

“Wait…you know?”

“I do. Si you know Nairobi ni dot. I also have something to tell you.”

She exhales, the underside of her nose tasting her wine breath.

“I’m also kind of bi.”

“I did not know that.”

“Are you sure? Remember back in campus when you thought all chicks were bi?”

“Don’t remind me. I wasn’t the smartest guy in the world back then.”

“And you are now?”

Kuso laughs, soaking in relief, still reeling from the adrenaline that had grabbed him back when he was still deciding whether he should say anything.

“Fuck you.”

“I’ve agreed to marry you so it’s a shared liability.”

“My intelligence or the fuck you comment?”

She winks at him, a gesture that lets him know that he has shown his cards too early in this small quipping duel.

“Whatever’s bigger.”

2012

April weddings. Green. Crisp. Earth and heaven are both moisturised and they both smell like sour apple. Standing in front of a full-length mirror in the bachelor party room in his two piece, Kuso pats his combed hair down. His entire body feels like it’s covered in tape. At any moment, he muses, the fabric will stop breathing and the buttons will fly loose. He sticks a few pins on the inside sleeve of his jacket just in case.

He opens the bonnet to his insides and examines his feelings. He is happy, in an electrically-charged sort of way. His mind is on its toes, willing every piece of today to fall nicely into place. He’s thinking of what Allawaah’s dress will look like. As the designated flower girl who used to walk behind her mother’s many soon-to-be-wed friends back when she was a little girl, she’s always hated trains, so he imagines it will be something knee-length.

When the bride walks in, everyone starts gasping, and it sounds like they turned on the sprinklers under the tents.

Allawaah is in the same black suit that Kuso is in, except that she looks like she can breathe in hers. Her braids are falling over her face – a last-minute improvisation on the veil maybe? When their eyes meet, she winks at him, then she tips her head slightly and laughs.

She also looks happy in that electrically-charged sort of way.

 


Duncan Mwangi took a gap year from undergrad to think about his place in life and ended up applying for and winning a merit scholarship to the Nairobi Fiction Writing Class (NF2W4) ran by NYU Graduate and 2018 Caine Prize For African Writing Winner, Makena Onjerika.

Related country: Kenya

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