I open my eyes that morning and see Dan’s head. It is raised higher than mine, because he is lying on a pillow. I do not use pillows. Ever. I slept with my sister until I was five years old, and because she was older, she had a right to the pillow. By the time I had my own bed and my own pillow, my head would not allow itself to lie on anything but the mattress.
It is a little over a year since I was with Conrad Whom I Don’t Care About. Not that Conrad Whom I Don’t Care About was my first, or my last until now. Kissing Dan felt different from kissing Conrad Whom I Don’t Care About. At first it felt offbeat—the way it feels every time you kiss someone new after you have been with one lover for a long time. It felt like we each had earphones in our ears and were moving to different music. But soon he got my rhythm, or I did his. I don’t know. And there we were. I felt him. I felt everything we did — with his fingers, with my nipples, with his pelvis, with my backside…
He felt different from Conrad Whom I Don’t Care About. Conrad Whom I Don’t Care About’s fingers would touch my face and I would feel him already. It was like he touched my soul before he touched my body. Maybe even it was love. But screw love. I was raised Catholic. Dinner conversations on hell’s suffering are a staple for me, but only the love I had for Conrad Whom I Don’t Care About has ever come close to explaining to me unbearable suffering. And so here I am with Dan.
This is the third or fourth time I am here in Dan’s house. Third. He studies medicine at the University of Nairobi. I like his jokes. Not many people would—he told me last night that he was “Rikase,” as in the enzyme that digests me (Rika). I laughed. He said, “I like that you get my jokes.” I like how he laughs when I tell him things. His biceps enlarge and he makes a fist and he looks like he is about to do something that only men with big biceps do and he uses the fist to cover his mouth as he flashes his teeth and giggles a giggle men with big biceps do not have. He makes me feel like I am funny. I don’t know that I will be able to understand his jokes when he starts his second year at school next week and they become more complex. It does not matter. This is the last time I am meeting him — at least in a bed.
“Dan,” I tap him.
“Rika,” he wakes up, presses his eyelids together as he yawns, looks down at his crotch and smiles saying, “Look what you did to him.”
I kiss him. And squeeze my body against his until he is wide-awake, kissing me back, everywhere. I let him. I think it is kind of selfish that I am the only one aware that I am enjoying this for the last time.
“I have to go,” I tell him.
“No, stay,” Dan says. “Where are you going?”
“I told you I have to go to Kitengela in the morning, to the children’s home, remember?” I know I did, because Conrad Whom I Don’t Care About used to get angry when I had to go places. He said it was because he loved me and wanted to be with me always.
“Stay a little,” he says, pushing himself against me, and I push myself against him too, and he feels good. I consider inviting him to Kitengela. He is good with children — tells them stories about hares and cheetahs, waving his hands around and bellowing so loud you would think he believed the stories himself. The last time we went I was glad he did not touch me in public. But I kind of wanted it to be his idea — coming with me. My friends already think that I like him. I like them — my friends with whom we visit children’s homes. They are a group of university students called Wapenzi. Most Saturday mornings when I meet them I bring a new boy, so I have scared them enough that they expect it of me. My schoolmates know that I sleep around, but they think I am a slut for it, whisper “Malaya” as I walk down the hallways in the short dresses I love to wear. They whisper Malaya the way men with big biceps whisper, the way Dan whispers, and everybody around him hears what he is saying. It means prostitute, but in the way that although “prostitute” could mean a man, it is barely ever used to mean that. Unlike my school friends, Wapenzi people do not think I am a slut. They just never volunteer me when they need someone to pray before beginning our sessions. And I don’t close my eyes when they pray. Someone needs to look at the children and make sure they are safe. When they sing hymns, I join in, because I know the lyrics and I like music and I like to dance. But I don’t know how much of what I sing I believe any more.
I am not one of those deep genius atheists who has thought about Creation and shit and “figured out” that God does not exist. No. I was just chilling at Conrad Whom I Don’t Care About’s one day, and then we started making out, and then I said I had to go help my cousin cook nyama choma, because it is a lot of work, and because I had promised. But Conrad Whom I Don’t Care About said to please stay. And I said I could not. And he slipped his hands under my blouse and he started to kiss me. And I said stop. And he continued to unbutton my blouse. And my head shut down. And I froze the way you freeze when a man touches you after you have said no. And he kissed my neck. And his hands wandered. And I said, “Please…” And I think he heard “yes” because he pushed me so my nipples stuck to his chest muscles, perked, to me in protest, to him in arousal. But I was still. And my hands, held in a fist, did not move from my thighs. And Conrad Whom I Don’t Care About stopped in the middle of peeling my pants off. And I just stared back. And he kissed me again. And my lips stayed limp, unable to feign interest. And he said, “Leave my house, now.” And I thought he was not serious. But he buckled his belt, and took the remote control and switched on the TV and said, “Leave my house now.” And all the butterflies in my stomach settled into something solid and I wanted to cry. But my pride kept my tear gates closed. And I took my coat and walked out of the house. And I remembered all the ways Conrad Whom I Don’t Care About had been mean to me, and I cried and hoped I would not meet any of his neighbors as I walked away. I wondered how it had gotten to this — a boy humiliating me in a house his father was paying for. And then I told myself, “I prayed to God, and I ended up like this.” And then for the next few months, I replayed all the moments Conrad Whom I Don’t Care About had been mean to me, and I doubted this God that is all knowing had been watching.
My mother’s sister, who lives in my parents’ house, would be so sad if she heard that I doubted God because of my experience with Conrad Whom I Don’t Care About. I can already hear her in my head saying, “Rika, never make a life decision because of a man.” She knows. She has a child. Not the kind of children from pregnancies that are greeted with ululations and thanksgiving prayers. No. She has the kind of children who are talked about behind closed doors. The ones who appear as a ball in front of their mothers’ stomachs before their mothers tell you the news of their coming. People talk about my mother’s sister. They judge her for being pregnant. They judge me for buying condoms. They believe sex is dirty and immoral. My mother’s sister has the kind of children who are taught that God alone is their father. She looks up from her homework for her master’s degree when I go home from school during the weekends, and says, “Rika, put your education first, whatever any man tells you.”
But I am not being deep or empowered here. I just cannot trust this God that taught me forgiveness. This — to forgive seventy times seven times a day– is what allowed Conrad Whom I Don’t Care About to trample on me. He knew I would forgive him each time.
I am done showering and use Dan’s pink towel to dry myself up. I wonder who else has used it. I know Stacy likes him. But Stacy likes Dan the way I liked Conrad Whom I Don’t Care About — like being into the taste of poison. I also know she hates me. Last week when I saw Dan in the hallway at school, I walked out of the classroom, skipped on the brown cement slabs, reached Dan, hugged him, and kissed him on the lips. Everyone noticed because his friends started whistling and making noise. Stacy looked out of the classroom window. People looked at her, waiting for her to respond. I know Stacy thinks I am being mean to her. But I am not. I just want her to stop waiting for Dan to want her.