He typed away on his computer, the lines across the screen a welcome distraction that saved from him drowning in too many of his own thoughts.
“Dame!” a voice called.
“Yes, sweetheart,” he responded to his workmate, Brian.
“How’s the report coming along?”
“Bored me. Doing some coding to get my mind off it.”
“Let’s see,” Brian said, walking to his computer and inspecting the lines of colorful code in the black backdrop.
“Ah, as usual” he calmly said, nodding slowly.
“Your shirt isn’t properly ironed. Look at yourself!” He said, inspecting Damian’s collar.
“Hey, you need a break, man. Let’s get some lunch,” he said. Damian stood, all too eager to leave, and followed him out of the open plan office, onto the lush green courtyard, where they sat on the benches underneath the old acacia tree.
“So, how’ve you been Damian?”
“I’m alright,” he answered, a crooked smile on his face.
“You don’t look alright.”
“Yeah. I’m serious about the shirt. In the two years you’ve been here, I’ve never seen you come to work with so much as a stain on you.”
“Are you checking me out?”
“Don’t hate, man. I’m sexy and I know it. Do you?”
“Don’t ask me that. We don’t do that here,” Brian said firmly, Damian chuckling slightly.
“You seem out of it. What’s up?”
“I – I got home a bit later than usual, so I didn’t get the time to prepare for work.”
“Where were you?” Brian asked him. Damian looked around at his numerous colleagues dotting the massive courtyard, then back at his friend, lowering his voice as he said.
“I went to Boulevard.”
“Yeah. It was completely unplanned. I met these guys doing acrobatics and they took me to this club. It was surreal, man,” he explained, smiling broadly as he did.
“Okay. I’m glad you had fun, but try and keep it on Fridays. At least you won’t have work the next day,” Brian advised, watching the smile on his friend’s face grow bigger, almost as if there was more to the story.
“How long did you stay there?” he asked Damian, eyes fixed on him now.
“I don’t know,” Damian said. Brian kept staring at him, waiting for him to say it. Instead, he kept smiling foolishly, so he just plainly asked him.
“You went to Bliss Street, didn’t you?”
Startled, Damian looked around if anyone heard him, then back at Brian, who wore the same look, unperturbed as ever.
“How did you know?”
“It was the only logical conclusion. So, did you…”
“Nope. Too much for my liking. But…”
“Okay. Before I tell you, I need to know that you can keep a secret.”
“Hmm,” Brian went, laughing as he nodded.
“I can, I can. What is it?”
“Just as I was about to leave, I saw Mr…” he began, before a loud voice calling his name interrupted them.
Patricia trotted towards them, a brown bag clutched in her hands and an ear to ear smile on her face.
“Where is my beloved?”
“He’s right here,” Brian said, standing to leave Patricia there with Damian, but not before he whispered:
‘Don’t go back there, man.’
Brian hugged Patricia and walked briskly into the office, leaving her there with him. She put the bag down and placed her hands on her waist, a stern look on her face.
“Oh, right,” he said, standing up to hug her. She tightly embraced him, humming in glee.
“Mmm, that’s good,” she said.
“Hi,” he greeted.
“You didn’t call yesterday,” she spoke in his ear.
“Oh, sorry. I forgot. Please don’t be mad at me.”
“I was worried. You always tell me when you get home.”
“I know, I – I forgot, that’s it,” he said, facing her. To his surprise, she looked genuinely concerned.
“Damian,” she said as she sat with him, “what is it?”
“What do you mean?”
“Ever since you met with Emma yesterday, you’ve been acting, well, weird.”
“Well, you asked me about someone who left class after a few weeks in college, that’s why.”
“It was just a question…”
“Mmm, I don’t think it was. Out of the blue like that?”
“A boy can’t ask a simple question?”
“Damian, what did Emma say to you yesterday?” she asked, seeing him try to size her up.
“What do you mean?”
“She said something that must have either upset or intrigued you enough to ask me about a guy I saw very few times each year…”
“I thought he left in the first year,” he interrupted, wearing a serious look, his suspicions now being confirmed.
“This isn’t about that,” she said, a hint of frustration in her voice as she held his hand, “I just wanted to know how you were. You didn’t confirm when you got home, so I just wanted to check up on you.”
Damian sighed and decided to just tell her.
“She talked about how you two used to party together. How you’d go from club to club, eat ice cream and stuff.”
“Does that bother you?”
“Well, I wish she’d have told me what flavor of ice cream it was…”
“About me, Damian. does it bother you that I used to be like that?” she asked him, her voice crackling.
“Like what? An ice cream addict?”
“Damian, I’m being serious here,” she spoke gently, shaking a bit.
“I know you are, Patricia,” he began, “I’ve never even thought about that. Why would you think that?”
“I think about that every time we hang out.”
“No,” he sighed, “why would you do that to yourself?”
“I sometimes wonder, that’s all. Like, I know we weren’t exactly close back in the day, and we might have even crossed paths, but I think we’re good now. Although, a thought always crosses my mind every time: does he still see me as that girl?”
“Come on,” he said, hugging her from the side, “I don’t think of you that way. Sure, when you asked to buy me a hot dog that day, I was a bit suspicious, but it turned out to be one of the best meals I ever had.”
“Really?” she asked, bright eyed.
“Yeah. I didn’t have to pay for it, that’s why,” he joked, a sharp jab landing on his shoulder.
“Silly boy,” she quipped as they shared a laugh. She then hugged him tightly, sniffling as she said.
“You know I’m here for you, right?”
“I’m serious. I mean you no harm, okay?”
“Yes, madam,” he said. Just then, his phone rang. Just as he reached into his pocket, she said.
“Don’t you dare. We’re having a moment here.”
“Woi, yes madam,” he said, barely concealing his laughter.
“You’re laughing at me?” she asked, pulling back with a sad face. He couldn’t tell whether she was being serious or just pulling his leg. He opted for the former and immediately stopped.
“I’ve stopped. See?”
“Good. I have to get back to the office. Walk me out?” she asked. they stood and walked across the courtyard, past the open plan office and to the parking, where her bright red Honda Fit stared at her.
“This is me,” she started, staring at him.
“Yes it is. Thanks for checking up on me,” he said, reaching for a hug before she raised her hands to stop him.
“Damian, are you sure you’re okay?”
“Couldn’t be better.”
“Are you sure? You know you can talk to me, right? About anything.”
“Now are you sure there’s nothing else you want to talk about?” she asked, coming closer to him.
“Hmm, no. not at the moment,” he said. I’ll tell her some other time, he thought.
“Okay. I’ll take your word for it. Lemme go. Bye sweetie,” she said, pecking him on the cheek before she got in the car and drove away, leaving him there waving at her.
“You’ve got a good one there,” Brian said, having watched them the whole time from the door.
“We’re just friends.”
“You sure? She drove here to check on you after you failed to tell her that you got home safe. Sounds like something more than a friend would do.”
“She – she said she was worried, that’s all,” Damian said, his defensive nature amusing Brian.
“Boss, you’re in a relationship and you don’t even know it? or are you still chasing that other one – what was her name?”
“Emma? I don’t even want to speak to her.”
“Wow. What happened?”
“She offered to give me a lift, then left me halfway through the journey to take off somewhere in the name of a ‘family emergency’.”
“Maybe she was telling the truth?”
“Maybe, but she said the same thing when we were having coffee yesterday. I don’t want to speculate, but I think I’ll just let her deal with her family emergency for now, otherwise I’ll find myself stranded in the middle of the sea.”
“Besides, there’s something I wanted to tell you.”
“Last night, I saw…”
“Damian, I know – I know what you’re going to say,” Brian interrupted, placing his hand on Damian’s shoulder.
“What do you mean?” he asked. Brian’s hand trembled slightly on his shoulder and his face was furrowed.
“Just let it go. You went once, never again.”
“Brian, what is it? Earlier you told me not to go back there. What did you mean by that?”
“It isn’t a place you want to be associated with.”
“The way you said it sounded more like a warning. Meaning, you’re either looking out for me as a bro, which I highly appreciate, or…”
“Or there’s something else about that place. Something not so safe, and highly nefarious by the looks of it.”
Brian sighed and faced down, shaking his head.
“You saw him too, didn’t you?” Damian asked.
“I don’t want to…”
“Did you see Jessie too?” he asked, to which Brian came at him and held him by the shoulders, his hands trembling and his face furrowed.
“Damian, just don’t go back there. Just don’t. No Boulevard, no Bliss Street, none of it.”
“It’s about her, isn’t it?” he asked him, watching his eyes twitch and his lower lip tremble.
“Promise me you’ll stay away from it, okay?”
“Promise me, Damian,” Brian asked, the desperation in his voice more apparent. Not wanting to push the point further, he simply nodded. At this, Brian let him go, straightening his shirt and feigning a smile as he said.
“We should head back in. Lunch hour is almost over.”
“Sure,” Damian said as they walked back in to his work station. As Brian left, he whispered in his ear:
“You won’t like what you find there.”
As soon as the clock hit 5 p.m., Damian stood up and headed straight for the door, his bag in one hand and the thick document in the other. The secretary giggled as he passed, asking the same question she did every day.
“Ai, Dame, not even for tea?”
“You see here?” he said, showing her the document, “my contract says 8 to 5. Not 5 past 5.”
“Yes sir!” she said, laughing as he marched out to the parking, out the gate while saluting to the guard and to the stage, his earphones blasting music the whole way there.
He found a group of people standing at the stage, some seated on the bench and others at the curb, waiting eagerly for the next bus or matatu to show up. He didn’t mind waiting there with them, for as long as he didn’t sit in the office past 5 p.m. He normally liked to sit there and listen to his music for about half an hour while the crowd subsided, but this time he barely did so for a few minutes before a lady called him.
“Hey,” she said.
“Hi,” he replied, pulling out the earphones and looking up to her.
“I normally see you headed towards Thika Road, right?”
“Yeah, but much later when these guys have fought for seats.”
“I have a car today, I could drop you somewhere there. it might be easier to get a bus from there,” she offered. He looked at her for a while before he said.
“Okay then. My mother told me not to trust strangers, but what the hell?”
“I’m not a psycho, trust me,” she said as they walked back towards the office, turning right into a parking lot a few meters from the office building. He marveled at the sleek glossy black BMW that she unlocked.
“Oh, wow. Nice car!” he said, walking around to admire it, much to her enjoyment.
He walked to the back and saw an M badge, squealing with delight.
“It’s an M5?!”
“Yes it is,” she said, amused at his childlike delight.
“Awesome. You don’t see many of these on the road.”
“You wanna see how it drives? Get in and I’ll show you,” she said, stepping into her car. He opened the door slowly, sliding in slowly as if he were handling a piece of rare artwork.
“Good stuff, yo!”
She laughed a bit as she pushed the Start button, the car revving to life as Damian inhaled, saying.
“Ah, the music of our people.”
“You haven’t seen anything yet,” she said, pressing down the pedal. The car growled as they drove out the parking and past the stage where he stood, louder so as they headed into the city.
“What a machine!”
“I know, right?” she said.
“You’ve got a good one here. Please take good care of it.”
“Will do. By the way, I have a bit of a confession to make.”
“Oh my God, I knew it,” he started, raising his hands, “please, make it quick and painless. I don’t like suffering.”
“What? No, no. I’m not…”
“Relax. I’m kidding,” he said as she sighed with relief.
“Okay, you got me there. I wanted to admit something.”
“Yes. You kind of look familiar, and it’s been bothering me for some time.”
“Ah, you don’t remember when we dated?” he asked, seeing her laugh heartily.
“Okay, I didn’t expect that.”
“You don’t remember us dancing all night at Boulevard and…”
“Oh shit! That’s where I know you from!” she exclaimed, much to his surprise.
“Actually, I was just…” he tried to explain, but she went on, happy to have figured it out.
“Oh man, those were fun times, right? Boulevard was the place to make memories.”
“You know, I was just joking…”
“Do you remember how much fun we used to have with Patricia and Emma? The dancing, the booze…”
“I’ve never actually been there with you guys. I was joking earlier,” he managed to say as she looked at him in surprise.
“Yes, you were. I remember very well. It was the three of us and you mostly, the others just came and went,” she said before she started laughing again.
“What is it?”
“I’ve just remembered something. You remember that guy that Patricia made Emma call every time? Like we’d want ice cream then he’d send her some cash for ‘fare’? How dumb can someone be?”
“Really? So it was Patricia, not Emma?” he asked, flowing with the story, satisfied that he’d finally get answers.
“Yeah it was. I can’t remember his name though, lemme call Patricia,” she said, pressing a button on the steering wheel, a voice answering loudly?
‘What’s up, Linda?’
“Hey, girl. I wanted to ask something.”
“Do you remember the name of that guy you used to make Emma call for ice cream?”
‘You mean Damian?’ she said. As soon as he heard his name, his lungs nearly collapsed. He wanted to scream, but he composed himself as they kept talking.
“Yes! That was his name! Oh my God, what a loser! Can you imagine being that gullible?”
‘That was then, Linda.’
“Oh come on, you know it was funny. I know you’re his friend and everything, but even you have to admit that he was a bit stupid. Like, remember when Emma cried and he narrated a poem for her?”
‘Okay, that one was funny,’ Patricia said as she laughed loudly, crushing Damian’s soul as she went on, ‘and he actually sent her money? Woi, my poor baby. So naïve.’
They shared a laugh together as Damian struggled to maintain his composure, grinding his teeth while sinking his fingers deep into the chair.
“Yeah, that was fun. For us, at least. Pathetic on his end.”
‘True true. But give me time with him, he’ll stop these tendencies.’
By the way, why did you decide to be his friend?”
“I don’t know, I kinda pitied him in a way. As in, how little of a life do you have to do such things? I mean, really?’
“I don’t know, girl. Anyway, those are the ones we come to when we say ‘we’ve changed. We’re turning over a new leaf.’ Going to Bible study in the afternoon and getting our cheeks clapped in the evening.”
‘I know, right? I can’t believe how easy he is to get. That’s why Emma is having it easy with him, and that’s why I want to keep him away from her.’
“Oh my gosh, do you like him or something?”
‘He’s a good guy, Linda. Trust me, I didn’t see it when I started hanging out with him, but I do now. I kinda regret what we did to him back then, because as it turns out, he was just being considerate.’
“Aww, how sweet. Is that why you went to see him this afternoon?”
‘I was worried about him. He never told me when he got home last night, and we always do so every weekend. I suspect there’s something he’s not telling me.’
“What kind of secrets does a guy like that keep? His porn stash?”
‘No. I just know there’s something he isn’t telling me. I’ll have to ask Brian to keep an eye on him.’
“Brian? You guys still talk?” Linda asked, her tone a pitch higher.
‘Well, he’s Damian’s colleague.’
“Oh. How is he?”
‘He’s – different.’
“Yeah? How so?”
‘You know, I could take you to their office over lunch. Seems you have something to get off your chest.’
“No, no, I – I was just curious, that’s all.”
‘He doesn’t hate you, Linda. He just…’
“When you two are done frolicking, say hi to him for me, will you?”
‘Um, okay. I will.’
“Bye,” she said, hanging up. For a moment, Damian thought he saw some emotion in her eyes, but as soon as she started laughing at herself, he was reassured of her real self. He was holding back the tears of betrayal, keeping the tide of anger at bay with a fake smile, coughing to start the conversation.
“Wow, sounds like she’s going to have a great time,” he started, his voice a tone deeper than usual.
“Oh yeah, she’s been at it for months now. That guy knows what he’s doing.”
“Then she’ll go to Bible Study with Damian?”
“Well, to his credit, he sounds like a genuinely good guy. I get why she’s hanging out with him,” she said. Just then, his phone rang. He saw Emma’s name on the screen and cancelled it.
“Oh my God,” she said in a less excited voice, “you’re still ghosting Emma?”
“What? No. I just don’t want to talk to her right now.”
“Hmm, you men,” she sneered, “a girl gives her heart to you and you throw it away for the next piece of ass that passes your way?”
“No, Emma decided to act…”
“No, no, I’m just saying that you’d make a bit of an effort to call a girl, especially after you shag her.”
“What?” he asked, genuinely surprised.
“I mean, you could at least talk to her. She goes out of her way to get with you. She even told me she left a guy on the road to come to you,” she said, Damian trembling with rage.
“Mmm?” was all he could say.
“She really cares about you. Please don’t let her settle with that Damian. He’s too much of a loser for her. I don’t care what Patricia says, I’d never give a guy like that the time of day,” she spat, the venom from her lips spilling into his already broken spirit. Fortunately, they had just passed the mall near his stage, and he could breathe easy.
“You can leave me here,” he said as she slowed down.
“I hope you didn’t mind hearing girl talk,” she said merrily as she smiled at him. His face twitched and contorted into an eerie and somewhat scary smile to her as he opened the door.
“Are you okay? I hope I didn’t scare you too much.”
“Not at all,” he calmly said, letting the tear cascade down as he leaned on her door and said:
“Tell Patricia that Damian said hi.”
With that, he turned and walked away, leaving her in utter shock and disbelief.
“Oh shit, oh shit,” she said, pressing the button on her steering wheel.
“Patricia, um, I don’t know how to say this.”