“Transaction” by Wanjeri Gakuru

Transaction.

You’ve just turned nineteen
and are sitting in a tiny hotel room
fiercely reciting to yourself that from this day forth
the things that get trapped between your teeth and your thighs
will be nobody else’s business but your own. To make this stick, you shout
over and over in your head and especially loud as you blow out the solitary,
fast-burning matchstick atop a ten-shilling cupcake in one forceful fried-chicken exhale.

Air stops rushing out of the small, sickle-shaped space between your pursed lips but you decide to hold them in place a few seconds longer. After all, this is it. There is a shirtless guy next to you in bed. And it is on his outstretched left palm that the unexpected gift marking the nineteenth anniversary of your birth stands: a tiny cake you could clear in three bites. No matter, the overhead bulb is casting a flattering glow on his smooth dark torso and firm legs that sprout out of a faded pair of green shorts. The slight bulge of his pecks reminds you of the chicken breast you’d saved for later.

“Happy mbazday.”

You wince, wishing he hadn’t spoken, hadn’t broken the illusion that is the two of you actually in a cramped hotel room above a very noisy bar. But you decide to turn the scowl into an awkward smile and softly pat the young man’s beautiful head as one would a dog that had brought its master a dead rat happily clutched in its teeth.

It may be small but the room is clean. Frayed and partially drawn curtains reveal a cloudless sky and a full moon. The thumping music from the bar downstairs rises to meet your power-radiant face. You square your shoulders, place the uneaten cake on the bed-stand, and push the man gently back on the bed.

You kick off your sandals then put your hands under your yellow dress. You wiggle floral panties down your plump thighs and beneath one foot then the next. Motioning the man to make space on the tiny bed, you set your back down heavily, feeling your flesh spread out and away from your core, colonizing the narrow space between the mattress’ edge and the man’s side.

“Vaa hii.” Put this on.

One of three square silver packets is now freed from your dress’ pocket. A smell like Aunty Veronica’s ancient basket of plastic fruits sat too long in the sun tickles your nose. You try not to stare as he peels off his shorts but your eyes grow wide and eyebrows creep higher and higher as you sneak a first proper look at what lies between a grown man’s legs. Your stomach’s gurgling sounds become drumrolls that egg on the man’s fingers as they pinch and roll the yellow prophylactic device over an appendage with the girth and presence of a well-watered carrot.

A cock crows.

Or a guitar? You push your knees up against your pillowy belly, the front of your nightdress hiked up mid-thigh. Your squashed bottom having made contact with the bed’s flimsy blanket, you take a deep breath and gradually increase the distance between your fleshy thighs. Fighting the urge to pull down your dress and flee, you fix your eyes on the water-damaged ceiling and ask the man to proceed quickly to deflower you, as discussed.

Your torso wobbles as he supports himself into a kneeling position by your side. His massive form soon darkens the V-shaped frame of your quivering thighs. You become thankful for the now switched-off lights because the man can become a stand in for Mr. Whomever. Behind the drawn veil of your eyes you’re all sass and beauty and flat stomach and perky breasts.  

You jump a little as warm hands gently lower your legs—sharp hills plateau into two trembling rods. You wonder what to do with your hands. Should you reach up? Down? Lay them impotently by your sides? After a few minutes you question what is taking so long. Ah, there he goes. Breathe. You try to relax. But wait, what’s that? A hot, sharp pain starts to slice through you.

“Aah, acha!” Stop! 

You can smell the thin film of sweat on the man’s forehead as he hovers above you. Mr. Whomever is Mr. Stumped. His sinewy arms are planted on either side of your vast torso. You imagine that his eyes are darting between the space your chubby face must occupy and the dark tussling organs below. You feel the man relax his arms, turn, and rest on his back.

“Nipe ingine.” Give me another.

Your dress is crumpled halfway up your back. You feel wet and sticky in the usual, and sadly, wrong places. Should the two of you have kissed at least? Was that part of the deal? You can’t remember. The gist of the proposal when you picked up the guy downstairs was two thousand bob for a painless poke in your nethers, one of them anyway.

“Tunawesa acha.” We could stop.

The man’s whispers mingle with the velvety darkness, the soft swish of a kale-flavoured plea. Your earlier worries about his amateur skills are confirmed. Chickening out already? You begin to assess the situation. You could stop…or you could get on top; crush his body under your weight, trap him within your spindly web of stretchmarks and take what you carefully saved up in order to pay for.

Instead, the disinterested flicker in the man’s face makes you angry.

“You men are so stupid! This myth of the ideal African woman is bullshit. All you really want is smooth curves and symmetry. Anything other than that is disgusting. Every time a woman walks out of her house, her body is hacked into parts. There are breast-men, leg-men, butt-men but where are the men who like big girls?”

The air feels leaden. Your chest is rapidly heaving. You’ve even held balled fists against the bed’s blanket.

“Kama hutaki, tunawesa acha.”  If you don’t want…

But you don’t want him to stop, do you? Not when there’s a chance to finally rid your body of its shame, of this rite of passage that hadn’t yet come to pass, that didn’t seem likely to. Because, when was the last time you were touched properly by anyone? Handshakes don’t count and it has been years since your high school hockey teammates threw you brief neck hugs and butt pats.

Extended periods of touch had only been by the gloved hands of doctors and the clinical pedicures of nurses when you were fourteen, when your mother ordered a series of tests to find the cause of your continued weight gain. Cold rubber hands, white and acrid, and small blankets of lifeless second skins that groped at you.

Besides, no one ever touched you there. Not even you. You knew how sex worked, of course, but your natural vessel by which to participate in the act was still a mystery. The one brave night you held a small mirror to it, you quickly withdrew from the sight of your hairy slit. Therefore, as much as you were embarrassed that after some concentrated shoving, nothing had happened besides a burst condom and searing pain, you would proceed.

Or would you?

You get out of bed and switch on the light. You smooth down your dress and sit on the bed’s edge. Your eyes sweep slowly across the room and take in the cheap blue paint on the walls, the old wall clock, and a wooden door from behind which you can catch the unpromising whiff of an unflushed toilet. Your eyes finally rest on the man. He looks uncomfortable, eyes fixed on palms cupped at the top of his crossed legs.

You remember avoiding meeting his gaze from the start. You were afraid to see the look dancing in there. Would it be disgust? Revulsion at having to deal with the blob of rolling flesh that he watched labour up an endless series of staircases? Or worse, would you have caught indifference in there? Did he see you as just another piece of meat which paid to be devoured?

“Polē.”

He gives you a look of surprise. You’re equally surprised. You find yourself beginning to speak. The words come in fits and starts. Under a solitary bulb and in the view of a lonely moon, you wrestle with your tongue. Finally you tell him about your childhood and about your father who ranted about your ballooning school fees as your mother railed on and on about the corresponding increase in your girth. You tell him, the room, the world, how people on the streets barely looked you in the eye but planted daggers of disapproval into your back. You tell him how you’re constantly walking under a cloud of unhappiness until you sit before a plate of food. You tell him how food doesn’t judge or disappoint you, how it’s always present when you need it. You talk until the words that first poured out as thick lumpy porridge take on the sleekness of flowing water. You talk until you don’t even notice that these waters have receded from your mouth and were now flowing down your face.

You stand up, embarrassed, and decide to brave the toilet in the hope of finding a running tap. Once there, you blow your nose and splash cold water on your face.  You take a long look at the chubby girl in the spotty mirror. You smooth down her dress again and smile at her. You step back into the room. Look at that? The man is now fully dressed and is delicately holding the cupcake in the hollow of his cupped palms. He brushes aside the two thousand bob notes in your hand.

“Happy mbazday.”

He quickly exits the room and you stand there cake in hand, a huge grin on your face wondering where the hell you threw your undies.


Wanjeri Gakuru (@mawazo_mengi) is a print journalist, creative writer and a 2012-2014 StoryMoja Fellow. She writes Some Semblance of Literature at http://www.wanjeri.com