[From: Breaking the Ice 1]
The voices in your head tell you she’s perfect and those voices do not lie. Maybe it’s how you’re at ease when you’re together or how exhilarating it is when your skin touches against hers. And of course the boys have seen a picture; their opinion matters. She’s a keeper they tell you. She’s hot. How have you not made a move yet? So you make moves, slow and calculated, like a game of chess. She’s the queen you want to capture.
Coffee sounds like a good idea, it always is. Something about freshly brewed caffeine in an ambiance as warm as the pastries that’s appealing. A lot happens in a coffee house, there’s a guy on his laptop finishing a report that was due a week ago. They always have a white shirt and stripped tie; the shirt is folded to the elbow and the tie not loose but top shirt button open. He will type furiously like it is the keyboards fault the report is late and in between key strokes absent mindedly sip on the beverage; which is usually a latte. At some point he will sip to an empty cup and he will wonder where the drink went; he will stare at the cup like it is about to offer an explanation. With none forthcoming he will put the cup down and slide it to the middle of the table, signal the waitress with a nod and a low grunt then he will go back to his screen.
Then there’s the couple that are meeting after work. The lady will be in a skirt suit and tall shoes with a phone gripped in her slender fingers, or on the table next to her large handbag. She will be smiling at something the guy said and will sip from her cup before placing it down, gently, like she does not want to bruise the table. She will stare at him and say something in return and the guy will raise his hands in laughter. They’re at ease with each other and everything around them seems to melt away leaving only them. At one point she will complain that the cake is too much and coo until he agrees to have some of it. It wasn’t too much she just wanted him to have some cake; because he says he does not like it.
The first time couples like Sue and I are also something to watch. Comfortable in their cocoons of brief familiarity. They stare at each other a little bit too long and giggle aimlessly. It is usually the guy who says something to break the ice and turn the conversation around. She will be grateful for that, the date and will run with it. She will show you that she is more than just a pretty face surprising you with wit and unprecedented humor. Usually the coffee runs out but they will sit their for ages enjoying each others company. Then they will saunter out, shy hands not sure if they should hold or remain to themselves. But one of them will make a move and they will walk into the Nairobi rush hour and disappear like their uncertainty with each other.
The loners are the best part about a coffee shop. The ones that come in alone either waiting for someone or to enjoy their own company. These are the ones that will read the menu cover to cover, analyze the prices find the median price and ask exactly what Parmesan is before placing an order. They are fun to watch as they engage the waitress and then get lost in their own world. The ones who get on phone and chat; the ones that update their status and the ones that lurk silently in someones Instagram page. Then there’s the ones who will take out a book and delicately place it in front of them. They will give the room a once over and before long they will be sucked into a world of words.
So when Sue said she was not a coffee person, it took me back. Myself I am not a coffee person, but I know coffee dates don’t mean coffee dates. It is just an excuse to sit opposite someone and stare at them as they undress their personality. It is a chance to listen if their voice tickles the back of their throat when they laugh. You can have a coffee date at a restaurant over cocktails and dry jokes. You can have a coffee date at the kibanda over tea, two chapatis and firewood smoke. Even in your room with dull conversation, boring movies and chill is coffee dates. If not for the ambiance, even the guy at the corner selling smokies and boiled eggs on Tom Mboya street counts as coffee dates.
But when she’s pretty, when she makes you feel stuff you’re not sure of yet; you don’t take the no for an answer. You weave your way into their minds then heart and finally into a restaurant for a coffee date. Sue was worth it, and the thought at the back of my mind that someone else would swoop in and steal her, well it motivated me. I started getting to know her, unveiling the layers one by one getting to the real sue. For her it was the usual cliché, cheating boyfriend. An unapologetic jerk who took her out for coffee dates, then took off her pants, then took out her heart and stepped on it like some used tissue paper before taking someone else’s pants off. Jerk.
“I don’t think I want to be in a relationship again.” She’d say
As her voice trailed off you could hear the chords of a broken heart strumming with each syllable. But if you listened close enough you could hear a call for help. It was faint, one that asked you not to give up. It wanted you to just stay on a little bit longer because all it needed was time.
“The thing about bad experiences is they can lock you out of good ones if you let them.” You’d say.
Unsure of your own words and where they came from, you would watch her eyes strayed into a world of her own as she devoured your words. Chewing them through softly, letting their flavor marinated in promise of hope fill her mouth. Then a little crack at the corner of her mouth would start to form. She would enjoy the idea, warm up to it even. And in that moment you’d know you had her.
You don’t get to share personal stuff and remain impersonal. It doesn’t work like that; the more intimate stuff you share the closer you get connected. And that was the same thing that was happening, there was a closeness that was creeping up on us like the break of dawn chasing away the silky darkness of dusk. We were getting more comfortable around each other like the couple meeting after work for coffee. It felt nice, that feeling that someone trusts you that much that they let you in on their darkest secrets. We would spend hours on end talking about anything, everything and mostly love. What it would be like to find the perfect person and if there was really anything like the perfect person. In such conversations we would do what was best for ourselves. She painted the picture of the perfect person for me and I mirrored her. We were a match made in our heads.
Somewhere in between no coffee dates and good conversation Sue became my girlfriend. At first it did not feel like the achievement I expected it to be; there was no fireworks and grand ceremony with wine, chocolate and roses. It happened just like you’d casually walk into a church on a Sunday morning. One morning she just wasn’t Sue anymore but babe. And for a moment it seemed like I had everything I ever wanted. I was happy. She was happy. We were in love. Nothing could beat the feel of her lips on mine, kisses that felt like an orchestra was playing. Her scent that followed me everywhere and would linger for days after she had already gone. It slowly started to feel like an achievement. And with full knowledge of what had happened to her before, I would be different. Or at least I would not break her heart by cheating. Because in all honesty I was going to break her heart at some point. It has always been the case, different cast same story. I just wasn’t going to do it in the same way. That made me good or at least better than the other person.
That thinking. That school of thought. It is dangerous. Thinking that you’re better because your evil is lesser? Bad. A broken heart is broken no matter what broke it. The means might be different but the end is the same. Such thinking, it is a loaded gun pointed at your own foot.
“Something about you has changed” she said.
A cloud of concern lingering in her eyes a stare darting across the room holding mine seeking some answers.
“Nothing has changed.” I lied.
Everything had changed. The danger of knowing someone too well is that there is no more mystery. There’s no more layers to pull back and what they are you feel is not enough. You want there to be something more, to intrigue you, to keep you occupied like a little project. One broken heart is not enough. One boyfriend’s misdeeds in the past is not enough. You get over it and get tired of trying to show that you’re different because it’s already clear. And when that feeling dies a slow natural death then you realize it was all you ever wanted. To prove you’re not her past. To redeem yourself of sins that were not yours and to restore a faith that was lost. Only it has now become too big a burden to carry, and you know what they say; sins are best atoned when yours.
“Okay if you say so.” She’s resigned. Shoulders falling back. Choosing to accept fate as it is.
You get an irresistible urge to turn it into a fight. It would be your first. But then a guilt eats you up from the outside in. You look at her pretty face and sad eyes and you don’t have the balls to do it. So you just hug her and tell her it will be alright. You punctuate your assurances with kisses, only they are not comforting. You will betray her. Your kiss tastes like cold thirty pieces of silver. The saddest part is that she believes you and as the cloud of concern dissipates from her eyes something worse grows inside of you, contempt.
You already know what she will say when you break the news to her. That it’s not you it’s her. It can’t be you, and her saying it is you would be unfair. Letting you live with a guilt that doesn’t belong to you? Unfair. And so it’s her for opening up and allowing you to see her vulnerable. It’s all her fault. How could she? She of course knew you would try and fix her. Her heart. Her perception of men. She basically played you into the whole thing. But there’s a part of you that still wants to hang on to Sue. That’s the part your boys tell you to listen to. The part your mind refuses to shut out. And so there you are torn; between breaking her heart and setting yours free.
“Babe we need to talk…” You finally say. It could be hours, days, weeks, months or even years later but you will still say it.
And at that moment it will look like you’ve already made up your mind.
The ice will have broken.