Meet Me Halfway by Wamugi Gichuri
He sits and looks below him to the dust covered drying grass. He sits on a rock, on the sidewalk somewhere in a faraway village town. He doesn’t remember the name, but it sounded something between despair and little faith.
He called in sick this morning, even though he felt so full of energy, and hopped onto the morning train, onto the first train that promised a time away from the world. He chose the rail because he yearned for a slow noisy ride.
“Where to boss..?” The ticket man had asked him at the station.
He had no answer, he had not thought past ‘I want to be away from everything’ .
“… Boss” The ticket man got restless.
“Mmmh… wait, am not even sure where.”
“Sir, I need a destination….” The ticket man insisted.
“What is your maximum fare? The train’s destination?” He asked.
“That will be 700, Mombasa terminus..” The ticket man replied, toying around with the mouse.
“Click me that…” Don (His name is Don) said with an uncalled for grin. He handed over a 1000 bob crisp note. “Keep the change.”
The elderly man grinned, played around with the mouse a little more staring into the monitor, and punched in a few digits.
“I just tipped you 300 bob and you won’t bother with a mere ‘Thank You..’” Don meant it as monologue, but it got out anyway.
“Words? Where I come from we don’t use words to thank people, we give actions” The ticket man said, pointing to an imaginary direction in the west, “I will get you the best seat on the train, cosy and easy..”
Don pressed his lips together, bit his lip in thought and lifted an arm in protest. “I want discomfort and noise.. can you give me that?”
The elderly man looked up puzzled, his old blouse like work coat had “john” inscribed on a loosely hanging name tag, above which the train company’s logo and a highly optimistic tag line.
“Mmmh…” The ticket man thinks for a moment. “Well, am not one to argue, you want discomfort? You will get it..” He punches on enter, a small thermal printer jumps to life, coughs out two ticket stabs, and one is stamped and handed out to Don.
“Thank you….. John” Don signs off and whisks away.
It had been a cold morning, so he just sat clasping his hands together, watching far away mist hover over the still sleeping national park, as the locomotive engine clicked and clicked. Three stations later, his behinds were aching already, and some close to 150 kilometers into an unknown land, he alighted, walked a few paces from the train station, and found a rock laying abandoned on a sidewalk.
He sits and lets his mind fly, its why he came here, at the middle of nowhere, for a silent moment. She comes to mind, Jane, a short slightly slender girl with a naturally flowing African hair. Her smile, well that smile had him do many unnatural things in his college days, her simple personality had been the end of him, she was closely handmade for him, or so he had believed. He always lost himself wondering how a calm and cool personality would have such a commanding demeanor. Her face, chocolate like the bars.
They had sparked, a real spark – not the Hollywood stage managed kind of plastic sparks but still a spark, the African kind of spark, the spark caused when a lonely dog finally finds a home where they bury their bones. It happened fast, everything, faster than they thought, first like a fantasy, then they realized it was a reality, a fast approaching reality. They did stuff, real stuff, movies, coffee, went places, and did things only done by those in love.
Like any other two confused college students head over heels about each other, after school they kept in touch, lengthy phone calls, visits, then short bursts of silence, unevenly scattered between each other. A random month of silence followed by a few others of active contact. It looked normal, to them, or at least to Don. He had many a times figured her in a white flowing gown, the kinds they show in wedding shows and other such unwarranted programmes, a thought he loved.
Fast forward to the start of 2017, they had met in the dying months of 2016, but then went silent on each other for the better part of four months. Then she had made contact, one early morning.
‘Hey Don, how are you..? His phone messanger had beeped.
‘Good good! Long time girl..!’ He seldom used the fancy words. Girl worked for him, and she loved it.
‘Am good, how’s work going..?’ She asked.
‘Well, as always, deadlines and silly reports..’ He typed in.
‘How are you with the contract going..?’ He followed up another text.
‘mmmmmh… I dropped out halfway last month.’ She replied, adding a sad face emoji.
‘What? Why? What happened. don’t tell me they aren’t paying up ..’ He replied hurriedly.
‘Oo.. I never told you’ …
‘Told me what ..?’ he asked.
Awkward silence. Three, five, ten minutes…
‘What were you to tell me ..?’ him.
Jane Typing ..
Thirty tense minutes later his phone beeped. It was Jane’s text.
‘I should have told you Don, am kind of three months pregnant’.
Silence. It had hit Don low and hard.
‘Woow, am so proud of you..’ He replied, but his heart was screaming how could you? We had a dream, we had dreams! We were to be big..!
They went on and on, how she was excited about the whole experience, how she wished the kid was his.. How he wished the same too, but he never mentioned the hole the revelation left. How could he? Men don’t do such kind of things, men sit back and take it on the shin, and let it eat its way up to their skull till they drop dead since they are that – men.
Then they went silent. He walked away from their life, greatly dejected, kicking pebbles, into the dark abyss, head covered in a black hoodie and hands in the pocket. He went into a short lived drunken state.
Months past, he forgot about her and the baby, even forgot about the baby daddy who he had once sworn to have a talk with, the trophy had to belong to another, and him the runners up. On a Sunday afternoon as he watched the sunset chew through the clouds at a far horizon, he did some mental calculations, and realized Jane was due in a month, picked up his phone and dialed her number (yes, some men keep numbers in their head).
A few rings later the sweet voice came through, he hated that pregnancy had not taken that voice away.
“Hey girl, how’s the going?..” He asked.
“We are good, waiting, any minute from now..” She said with her usual happy tone. He hated how it never bothered her.
“Wooow, hows the baby bum..” He forced himself to act cool.
“It’s awesome, and not as heavy as I expected..” She laughs, that naughty tiny giggly laugh he loved, he hates it now. “You should see me, or maybe I can give you the task of taking the photo shoot now that am in town..”
“woow, you are in town, we should surely link up, coffee.. Maybe our favorite porridge joint..?” He asks.
“I’d really love that, I hope that day I will have the craving for porridge.. – haha -“ He almost freaks out, she was seemingly rubbing it in his nose.
“Jane, you do realize this thing is not really my cup of tea….” He decided to face the situation. He was tired of the face rubbing.
“But Don, I thought you were happy for me.” She insisted, with the sassy voice he had known for years.
“Of course I had to be, what choice do I have?” He asked. “Anyway, when are you due?”
“Mmhhh… the doctor said in two weeks, the Monday after the second week.” She said.
‘That freaking close!!’ He said to himself.
“Woow, that’s good. All will be well.” He told her.
“And Don, let’s have the coffee before then, I’d really love it, for all time sake.” She said in a calm voice, a tone that calmed his nerves.
“We will.” He said, but promised himself they wouldn’t, as long as the sun shines and the moon is not blue. He didn’t have the guts to face her in that condition, not jealousy but his ego would kill him.
He hangs up.
He now sits here, two weeks later, on the first Monday after the two weeks. He looks up as a herd of ugly zebu cows pass by, he counts 15 of them then gives up. Something about their horns and how they stand above the thin cows like the long spears of the Zulu takes away his mind, he wonders how they let a small boy with only a weak stick move them around like headless chicken. They match away leaving a thick cloud of dust which looks golden as it’s struck through by the midday sun. He doesn’t regret coming here even for a second.
As he watches the cows fade into nowhere, his phone which he had placed on the same rock he sat on beeps.
“Heey there…” He answers as he smashes a fly that had found a seat on his laps, and wipes away the filth on the same rock he sat on.
“Hey…” She answered. He reads an ounce of fear in her voice, like all the confidence she carried had flown away. “Am scared Don, I hate to admit this, but today is those kind of days I really miss your hug, you know, the warm and reassuring one.”
“Are you okay?” He asks, ignoring her last line. “You are supposed to be due today, how is everything?”
“I just need your hug Don, nothing more.” She says, as a matter of fact. He knows something is wrong, but he also knows she is not ready to talk about it. “And, one more thing Don…”
“What Jane?” He asks, in the most soothing voice.
“Well, I’ve wished for a boy for so long you know that…” She starts, pauses for a moment like she is sobbing. He let her take her time. “Well, I still hope for a boy but for one reason, that the boy will named Don.”
It’s his turn to remain silent.
He thinks and rethinks, Jim’s cover of Adele’s ‘Hello’ comes to mind, and he momentarily realizes that his life is not the worst thing happening on earth.
“And you will be his Godfather in baptism.” She concludes and hangs up.
He stares at his phone for a moment, squeezes it in his hands, and silently wishes for a girl. He doesn’t know why, but he does, and prays to the gods of his fore fathers and the goddesses of fate to let it be a girl.
His WhatsApp pops up.
“Hi Don, don’t forget our coffee today…” It’s Janet. The lady who sold him an insurance last week and he promised her coffee.
A train hoots from a distance, he gets up, dusts himself and heads for the train station. All is not lost.
(Thank you Jane for letting me use your name on this, and letting me write about this.. Don, well, you are a coward for hiding behind the name Don, what does Don even stand for? But for the plot, thank you)
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