Let’s say a guy named Mwangi is attracted to a woman named Njambi. He asks her out to a movie, she accepts; they have a pretty good time. A few nights later he asks her out to dinner, and again they enjoy themselves. They continue to see each other regularly, and after a while neither one of them is seeing anybody else.
And then, one evening when they’re driving home, a thought occurs to Njambi, and, without really thinking, she says it aloud, “Do you realize that, as of tonight, we’ve been seeing each other for exactly six months?”
And then there is silence in the car. To Njambi, it seems like a very loud silence. She thinks to herself, “Ngai! I wonder if it bothers him that I said that. Maybe he’s been feeling confined by our relationship; maybe he thinks I’m trying to push him into some kind of obligation that he doesn’t want, or isn’t sure of.” And Mwangi is thinking, “Ngoma! Six months!”
And Njambi is thinking, “But, hey, I’m not so sure I want this kind of relationship, either. Sometimes I wish I had a little more space, so I’d have time to think about whether I really want us to keep going the way we are, moving steadily toward…I mean, where are we going? Are we just going to keep seeing each other at this level of intimacy? Are we heading toward marriage? Toward children? Toward a lifetime together? Am I ready for that level of commitment? Do I really even know this person?”
And Mwangi is thinking, “…so that means it was…let’s see…February when we started going out, which was right after I had the car at the garage, which means…let me check the odometer…Whoa! I am way overdue for an oil change here.”
And Njambi is thinking, “He’s upset. I can see it on his face. Maybe I’m reading this completely wrong. Maybe he wants more from our relationship, more intimacy, and more commitment; maybe he has sensed…even before I sensed it…that I was feeling some reservations. Yes, I bet that’s it. That’s why he’s so reluctant to say anything about his own feelings. He’s afraid of being rejected.”
And Mwangi is thinking, “And I’m going to have them look at the clutch again. I don’t care what those Nugus say, it’s still not engaging right. And they better not try to blame it on the cold weather this time. What cold weather? It’s 30 degrees outside, and this thing is shifting like a chokora garbage truck, and I paid those incompetent thieves 12,000 bob!”
And Njambi is thinking, “He’s angry. And I don’t blame him. I’d be angry, too. Ngai! I feel so guilty, putting him through this, but I can’t help the way I feel. I’m just not sure.”
And Mwangi is thinking, “They’ll probably say it’s only a 90-day warranty. That’s exactly what they’re going to say, the nyangaus.”
And Njambi is thinking, “Maybe I’m just too idealistic, waiting for a knight to come riding up on his white horse, when I’m sitting right next to a perfectly good person, a person I enjoy being with, a person I truly do care about, and a person who seems to truly care about me. A person who is in pain because of my self-centered, schoolgirl romantic fantasy.”
And Mwangi is thinking, “Warranty? They want a warranty I’ll give them a bloody warranty. I’ll take their warranty and stick it right up their…”
“Mwangi,” Njambi says aloud.
“What?” asks Mwangi, startled.
“Please don’t torture yourself like this,” she says, her eyes beginning to brim with tears. “Maybe I should never have…Ngai, I feel so…” She breaks down, sobbing.
“What?” says Mwangi.
“I’m such a fool,” Njambi sobs. “I mean, I know there’s no knight. I really know that. It’s silly. There’s no knight, and there’s no horse.”
“There’s no horse?” says Mwangi.
“You think I’m a fool, don’t you?” Njambi says.
“No!” says Mwangi, glad to finally know a correct answer.
“It’s just that…It’s that I…I need some time,” Njambi says.
There is a 15-second pause while Mwangi, thinking as fast as he can, tries to come up with a safe response. Finally he comes up with one that he thinks might work.
“Yes,” he says.
Njambi, deeply moved, touches his hand. “Oh, Mwangi, do you really feel that way?” she says.
“What way?” says Mwangi.
“That way about time,” says Njambi.
“Oh,” says Mwangi. “Yes.”
Njambi turns to face him and gazes deeply into his eyes, causing him to become very nervous about what she might say next, especially if it involves a horse.
At last she speaks. “Thank you, Mwangi,” she says.
“Thank you,” says Mwangi.
Then he takes her home, and she lies on her bed, a conflicted, tortured soul, and weeps until dawn, whereas when Mwangi gets back to his place, he opens a bag of crisps, turns on the TV, and immediately becomes deeply involved in a rerun of a tennis match between two Czechoslovakians he never heard of, as he awaits the big match of the day between MAN-U and ARSENAL.
A tiny voice in the far recessesof his mind tells him that something major was going on back there in the car, but he is pretty sure there is no way he would ever understand what, and so he figures it’s better if he doesn’t think about it… (This is also Mwangi’s policy regarding world hunger)
The next day Njambi will call her closest friend, or perhaps two of them, and they will talk about this situation for six straight hours. In painstaking detail, they will analyze everything she said and everything he said, going over it time and time again, exploring every word, expression, and gesture for nuances of meaning, considering every possible ramification. They will continue to discuss this subject, off and on, for weeks, maybe months, never reaching any definite conclusions, but never getting bored with it, either.
Meanwhile, Mwangi, while playing squash one day with a mutual friend of his and Njambi’s will pause just before serving, frown, and say,
“Kamau, did Njambi ever own a horse??”
— I didn’t write this. Got it in an email and hope my readers love it!