Lyra is in Massachusetts
I open a fifth bottle and pour half a glass. They make these things so light nowadays. I don’t feel it yet and I swear I can still dance on one leg for an hour. The girl at the next table is determined to get my attention with her stupid smile. I don’t like her forehead. I don’t like the space between her eyes. Her ears are just plain unremarkable and her red lip-sticked mouth is suspect. She is definitely up to something. She is not pretty. I put on a square face and take a long swig. She goes on smiling at me and she is still not pretty. I put on a square wooden face and look at her unflinchingly. She still goes on smiling and she is still not pretty, so I put on my wooden square face and add to it a twist and that eventually drives the point home. She must really think I am an ugly human being now. Her smile vanishes and she does not bother me again for the rest of the evening.
I pour my glass to half again and light my cigarette. Supermatch. The kind only losers smoke. No. Losers smoke Rocket and other filter-less likes. Careless human beings. I am a great man.
They are playing Musa Juma on the big speakers. They are showing a past la liga game on Supersport. Some fool is playing mugithi on his phone sans earphones as I pour another half glass and puff some more on my Supermatch. He is causing such a racket and I just don’t get why he won’t stop singing along to his stupid Chinese phone. Lyra wrote me an email. She arrived safely in Massachusetts. MIT is a great place. Not just because of the facilities but the people. She has found some two or three other Kenyans. One is from Murang’a and another from Kakamega. I don’t remember the third one. She mentioned their names but I don’t remember any. Architecture is still boring here and in the office, Mr. Boatman still barks like a dog. The Musa Juma song stops and there is a sudden silence.
A pretty girl with a long nose walks to my table and pulls a chair, then looks at me. I am about to ask her what the hell is wrong with my face but the telly is switched to news and this disrupts my train of thought. I look at my glass and puff harder. I will probably have to quit this smoking thing soon. Well, maybe after tonight.
“You here all alone?” she asks.
“I am here all alone,” I reply as I keep my hands busy with the glass to distract myself. She needs to see that I have chosen to be alone. I don’t want company. I don’t need company. She makes as if to look at me in the eyes but I puff hard on my cigarette and my attempts to blow rings in the air are completely ruined. I can’t survive this attention. I make an attempt to stand up and leave but her look rivets me back to my chair. She seems to be so amused by this discomfort.
“You are the lonely type, aren’t you?” She asks. I look into her eyes for the first time and am surprised when I find myself smiling. Something about her makes me start thawing away. There’s a familiarity there. Something I’ve seen before. Some form of warmth.
“What do you think? Am I the lonely type?” I answer right back, more surprised by the gentleness in my voice than the tenderness in hers. Deep in her eyes there’s an understanding I’ve not experienced for quite some time. I push my glass towards her and she looks at me with her eyebrows raised. I smile for an answer and start feeling at home in her presence. Slowly, I feel some inexplicable gears in my system clicking into action. She smiles back and calls the waiter to order her own beer. Then she raises her hand and touches her ear and I am thinking, My God. This must be Lyra. This is Lyra. Lyra has just ordered a beer.
We start talking about how our day has been. There is no daughter called Miriam. She has not been born yet. There are also no American scholarships for her mother either. Lyra has not dropped out of that mechatronic engineering class yet and that fool Edwin is still being a pesky bastard with her. She has not left him completely for me. Not yet. She is not even pregnant yet.
“You look beautiful tonight,” I say and move to pour her a drink after a moment of drinking in silence. She just smiles in that shy manner of hers and asks me how long I have been waiting for her.
“We agreed to meet at five but it’s okay; I figured you would probably be held up.”
She holds my hands and moves closer,
“I am here baby.”
I raise my brows when she calls me baby, but my brows shoot higher when she moves close enough for a kiss. There’s a taste of mint in her breath, some sweet menthol that makes me want to move closer, but I stop. This is not what we normally do. This is not what Lyra normally does. I am aware of the time and place we are at.
“You’re becoming a bad girl, aren’t you?” I ask winking.
“You want to do this in a bar?”
She stops, looks at me in the eyes and laughs. I don’t know why she is laughing but I also start laughing and soon tears start rolling down my cheeks. She is very funny with the faces she’s making tonight. I don’t know when the last time was that I doubled up in a guttural laughter like this. I don’t laugh very much. I have a friend who says I have been keeping to myself for a while now. I think he is wrong, and if right, he is the one who’s been looking at the wrong aspects of me. Right now, there are fewer people than there were when I walked into the Massachusetts bar. The chap whose corner is always reserved is exactly at his spot. Today he is with the same girl he was with yesterday. It is quite unusual. Something quite new. Maybe we should drink to that, Lyra and I. But I feel like I have to walk somewhere.
I stand up and pull up my belt. My tummy still overhangs the belt despite all the sit-ups I’ve been doing every week. Lyra has never been one to mind that though. She knows better than to look at a man’s paunch. She never says get up, hit the road, even though she wakes up at six and puts on her sneakers then tiptoes out of the room every morning. Mostly I pretend to be asleep after going to bed at one or two in the morning. Side hustles keep us supplied. They keep us comfortable.
I push my chair further back and am surprised at how unsteady I am as I head towards the urinal. I pass a group of boys dressed in ridiculously bright trousers that hug and hug their things. They keep staring at me as if I am drunk. They seem to be telling me something, but I hate their funny looking faces. Boys are not supposed to look that eager. Life is not that pretty. I stop as if to say something to them. But I change my mind and keep on walking. I am not going to bother anyone. It is a Friday anyway. Nobody deserves to be bothered. Not even ridiculously dressed stupidly smiling teenage boys in a grown folk bar.
I am assaulted by an ammonic stench as I enter the urinal. A man is retching into the sink and some bright bastard just thought it was proper to misuse the place. I stand there undecided, looking at the misuse with my head tilted to the left, calculating its mass and weight. Some Indian engineer will probably one day figure out how to make paper out of it. Maybe one has done that already. Those masters of recycling. I don’t print my drawings on paper from India. But we are all just paper anyway and maybe there’s no need to be choosy about paper, recycled or not. The fella by the sink is paper. Actually, he’s lighter than paper. Before Miriam, Lyra used to be paper, too. I loved how she would joke that one day a wind would carry her away from my arms. I loved how she would run faster than my clumsy self whenever we would decide to do it. She changed a little after Miriam though. Not so much but she did change a little. I tune my mind back to the task here. I don’t know whether to do what brought me here or not. I decide I won’t. Not with that ugly mound seated there staring at me.
There is a mountain of a man blocking the exit from the urinal. This one is definitely not paper. I walk around him almost on tiptoes and I am ready to spring just in case he decides I am of a certain type that I am not. Cases of these assumptions have been rampant of late and now, even men have to be very careful around these places. You don’t even have to be of the type. You just have to be found and that’s it, your goose is cooked. I might just have been found. When I have passed him and put a safe distance between us, I breathe out with relief, but I would have knocked the hell out of that mountain anyway. I was not scared of him. Not at all. He looked clumsy and dumb. I might have pulled a Brer Rabbit and the Briar Field and he would’ve fallen straight for it. He looked dumb like that.
Lyra is still seated by her place sipping on her beer like it is coffee when I come back. I walk over to her and I’m about to invite her to the dance floor if she may, but I stumble on the chair right in front of me and it is really embarrassing. We laugh it off and I take my seat again. We haven’t talked much. She is economic with her consumption tonight. I ask if she is alright and she just smiles at me and excuses herself for a minute. I resume to clear my glass and pour some more. What is wrong with her tonight? She has refused to engage in any meaningful talk. Maybe she has had a rough day. Maybe it is those college exams on her mind. Maybe she will get over it when she finally sits for those extra papers she pushed forward.
I suddenly remember that I was supposed to pick up Miriam from her aunt’s this evening. I look at my wrist and I suddenly realize I don’t have my watch on. I probably forgot it at home, maybe left it by Lyra’s dressing table, but I remember holding it as I left the house. Or maybe that was yesterday. My memory is not so good of late. Miriam is going to hate me for forgetting. She has grown a lot since her mother left. She reasons with me over every decision I make about her, about us. She spends more time with her auntie and enjoys it that way. A girl needs to be brought up in the presence of women. I don’t know if I am doing the right thing with her. I hope I am doing the right thing with her. But right or wrong, I should have remembered today.
The pretty girl with the long nose pulls her chair and drags it on the floor. I stand up and glare at her. I don’t like her brazen look.
“Baby, are you going to have another drink?” she asks.
I have no idea whom she is referring to. I look over my shoulder then realize that she is talking to me. “No, thanks, and don’t call me baby again,” I say. She goes on smiling and I just don’t like her face. I push my chair backwards and we all stumble, the chair and I. But I get a hold of myself, unlike the unfortunate chair, then walk to the counter. These girls are too bold these days. They won’t even let a man breathe in and exhale. They won’t let a man have his beer in peace.
These waiters too are never on time nowadays. I’ll have to change my bar soon, I think as I head towards the counter. I reach into my pocket for my wallet when I reach the counter but there is only empty space there. I check the other pocket but there is only empty space there too. My back pockets have nothing at all and I have a bill of nine beers to clear up. I stand there doing mental additions and subtractions but it all makes no sense.
“Screw it,” I say and walk back to my place by the table. The pretty girl with the long nose is nowhere in sight. That is a pretty good thing. I light up another smoke from the packet on the table and order another couple of beers. This time round I am sure I’ll have my peace. The smoke from my cigarette rises and forms a cloud over my head and I watch it slowly move back and forth, back and forth, as if undecided on the direction it will take. Then the smoke materializes and becomes solid. The smoke is two faces looking at me. Lyra and Miriam look down at me and their eyes look so beautiful. My wife and daughter look so beautiful tears start rolling down my eyes.
Sanya Noel is a technology enthusiast living in Nairobi where he works. He writes poems, fiction, and essays. He spends a big chunk of his free time reading and the rest of it either writing or just studying art. He’s been published in a few spaces here and there, the most recent being in Kwani? 08. He is finishing up working on his first poetry collection.