By Amran Gaye
There is something about him that gives birth in other people the need to confess, to unburden their histories onto him, to tell him their stories and not stop until they have reached some form of private closure, some self-awarded badge of conscience. And he ever the attentive listener, giving them all his attention so that over the course of their stories they will arrive at a gradual and deep relaxation, the words flowing out of them unfiltered.
And then afterwards he becomes her entertaining narrator, glorifying their lives in the retelling to her, so she listens in rapt attention, and waits expectantly every day for the hour of their meeting, going as early and leaving as late as she can without raising her father’s suspicions.
He is a natural storyteller, his imagination vivid and malleable. And starting with it as his source he weaves the words of his stories about her, so that she becomes transported, no longer herself… When they begin it will be light outside and, when he is done, it always takes her a moment to come back into the waking world, the darkness that lies about them so thick surprising her, making her wonder where the time went…
This is how he reels her in, evening after evening, story by story, until she cannot take her attention off him, her daydreams springing from the fountain of his imagination, her mind filled with thoughts of him even when they are apart, the journey of the Sun across the sky mirroring the waxing and waning of her now-growing, now-frustrated anticipation, each call to prayer the next marker in her impatient wait for when she will be with him…
She trails off into silence as they approach the bridge, the Taxi Driver turning on the cabin lights and beginning to slow down.
– I hope you have your ID, he throws her way, as he maneuvers through the winding security barriers.
-Yes – for the bridge – the soldiers might ask.
-Oh don’t worry, she replies, – That won’t be a problem.
– You know one of them?
But she only smiles back, and then looks away again.
They arrive at the bridge, the taxi rolling to a complete stop just before its metal arms jut out into the light of the head lamps, situated crossed over the barrier between land and water. And out of the darkness at the sides of the road a soldier emerges, AK-47 held at the ready. Ignoring the driver he goes around to the back of the car.
– Open boot!, he cries out, hitting hard on it and producing a dull clang. Once it is open he throws the beam of his light into its dark interior, exploring its hidden corners. It is empty and finally satisfied he bangs it closed, and comes back around to the front.
– Liesins and insoarance, he says, still speaking English.
The taxi driver reaches into his glove compartment and produces both, handing them out the window to the soldier, who examines then under his light, his brow furrowing as he reads the small print, and glancing at him a couple of times measures his face against the license photo. Finally he closes the booklet, and turns once again to the driver.
– Why are you driving alone?, he demands, his face in a scowl, – You refuse to pick passenja at wasp field?
The Taxi Driver looks into the back seat. For a moment the after-glare of the soldier’s flashlight in his eyes blinds him so that all is darkness, and he cannot make her out at all. And then she resolves out of the dark where she sits leaning back, looking out of the opposite window, the suggestion of a smile on her lips. The Driver turns back to the soldier.
-I am tired, he says in Olof, his tone mild, – Been driving all day. Just going to park now.
-You drivers are very wicket now, the soldier exhorts, still speaking English, still frowning. – You liif people stranded at wasp field?! People cannot go home to his family?!
– I am only going to park and get some sleep, the Taxi Driver repeats, still speaking Olof, still calm – Been ferrying passengers up and down these roads all day.
The soldier glares at him a moment more, then takes a step back and off the road, with a flick of his flashlight waving him on.
When they are past the bridge the Taxi Driver turns to her.
-How…, he begins before she holds up a finger, silencing him.
-First you must listen – understanding only comes after. Now let me finish my story – we are almost arrived at our destination.
-Very well, the Taxi Drivers replies, turning back around to face the road. And as he cruises along, foot barely touching the pedal, she takes up her tale again.
Where was I? Yes – they meet every other evening on the beach, at a place he had scouted out and chosen for their first ever meeting, a recess of palm trees under which there is both shade and a place to stay out of sight, located near a cemetery.
He hands her each story as if it is a gem, and while she holds and admires the finished product, in the spaces between their recounting, he inserts himself, beginning with a lingering hand on her shoulder and growing increasingly bold and physical with each passing day.
The first time he kisses her it is more out of curiosity than desire that she lets it continue – his breath is harsh and the lips on which he places his mouth feel external to her, as if they belong to another person she is watching being kissed.
After that evening, after every story he will insert a kiss, framing it as a recurring joke at first but growing increasingly serious and direct in his intentions. And then more: holding her close to him, making sounds she has never heard him or another man make before.
But after each episode of fumbling he is content, and when he is content he will tell her another story. And so while it goes on, she bears it patiently and afterwards, when he asks her eagerly whether it was good for her, pretending he doesn’t care (though she can see he cares deeply, perhaps more than he knows), she will nod and smile coquettishly, look away and change the topic as if shy now of him, after their exertions.
And it is there under the palm trees one evening, a few days after she has let finally him slide his hands up and beneath the blouse she wears, pulling her bra down so he can feel her breasts beneath it, a triumphant smile on his face as he cups one in each hand, that he first broaches the possibility of sex. She laughs and asks him to talk to her some more of the people he met that day, and he obliges and drops it, though she has the feeling this won’t be the last time he asks…
She lets him convince her, in the end, as she has always known she would, though some deep instinct makes her make his path difficult still – though he will pretend disappointment she can tell that he relishes the weakening rejections, sees them as proof of his persuasiveness, his way with women, far more than if she had merely let him in as soon as he asked.
But she gives in to him. It seems everything to him, and nothing to her. Or rather it is something different than what it is to him, or even what it is to the Merr who has warned her against its loss.
She woke up one day and found her body changed. It wasn’t something she saw reflected in a mirror – instead it was reflected in the eyes of men now when she spoke to them, a want there that had been absent before, or that perhaps she had failed to notice, still a child…
The first time she bled her Grandmother had sat her down, and with many metaphors and allusions attempted to explain to her all she stood to lose, and all she stood to gain in the other direction, if only she was disciplined and patient, staying chaste until a man came bearing guru… But the old woman spoke with a gravity and urgency that she just could not bring herself to feel…
And so she gives her assent, and he becomes warmer than he has been in weeks, planning and scheming where and the manner in which it will happen, his eyes lit with excitement as he makes promises of what he can do and the pleasures that lie in store for her beneath his experienced hands…
Of all the nights of the year the night of the Gamo was the favorite night of young lovers… All the adults at the jumaa, digging into bowls of chereh while the preachers told their stories involving wet nurses and signs from Heaven, and a child just born who would change the World even as he carved his path through time, laying the foundations for a return to a single deity, the God of Ibrahim, the God of Musa…
And even as the minti bu nyuul is passed around and the dayira singers supplement the telling of the Oustass’s tale with song and finger snapping, the young find convenient spots within the now-empty compounds, newly bold and exhilarated at this temporary snatch of freedom, the air charged with the excitement of discovery…
It is on such a night that it happens.
She stops, looks out the window, her breathing audible, slow and controlled, as if she needs to catch her breath or master herself. They are coasting past the Mile 2 prisons now, the road underneath them much smoother, so that the car’s movement is less jittery. Occasionally a crab will skitter desperately out of the way of the heavy vehicle bearing down on it, for a moment spotlit under the headlamps.
-She gave it to him?, the Taxi Driver prompts.
-Hmm?, she comes back to the moment, – Yes she did. But it felt more like a divesting than a gift….
Though she had been warned about the shamefulness of sex before she was married, all the advice she had been given had been based on the assumption of abstinence, legs closed and men turned away until they sent kola nuts to the house and announced their intentions. And so no one told her about birth control, and though she knew about condoms and had even seen one once, limp and spent, lying by the side of the gutter, they were the last thing on her mind on that night…
And so, as these things happen, a month after the Gamo, a month that he has spent attempting to convince her to a second time, her period, which has always been regular – even boring – in its punctuality, fails to come…