The tower, a glass and steel monument, had an advertisement on its western side. It was a photograph of an almost naked man, smiling with his mouth closed, holding a bottle of whisky and a glass with five ice cubes. The man had the angular appearance of a sculpture. I sat on a park bench in Central Park for hours looking at him. It was on this bench that we came to know each other and enjoy the silence that had taken over my life. I wanted his features to be set against my wall for myself. At first I objected to this man being there but later discovered that my objection was based on the fact that I was sharing him with the rest of the city, with everyone who drove or walked along Uhuru highway. I became convinced that no one was experiencing this advertisement the way I was. Everyone was just a witness. Life was always different when you knew someone was watching you.
When I first met him he did not look at me straight in the eyes. I was just like the others: I wanted to meet him because he was that boy in the photographs. This should not have offended me as much as it did. We had our countless hours from that bench at Central Park and I had grown accustomed to his eyes. There was a faint breeze in the establishment and this made me more aware of myself than I had been for a while. The music found its way through the murmurs to where I was. The effect of colognes stuck to the bodies present like halos. My senses were going through a reawakening. I followed his trail by making conversation with the people he had just parted with. A woman was introducing him to strangers, who I assumed made brief remarks about how wonderful it was to meet him in person. It was an end of year party hosted for him by the same woman who had been responsible for his first mental breakdown and his later success. I could understand how it was necessary for him to be at the edge of annihilation and to come out of it having made up his mind to be a nudist. I knew all the facts of his life but what mattered most was his affair with this older woman who was always at his side.
I came across his photo in the daily paper and it was not long before I found the agency in charge of him. I missed an entire semester of my third year in campus waiting for him outside the agency, and missed a long holiday following him around parties and events. I thought about him for a very long time. He was laying in bed, I imagined, white sheets up to his neck, breathing like a child, his face bathed in darkness, the kind of darkness where his eyes were orbiting in those photos. Now the situation was inversed, so that the darkness became the emphasis. I could still make out his features in this state, quietly relishing the fact that I was the only person who could still discern his form without the leisure of light. I moved through his body, inch by inch, recording everything about it – birthmarks, wrinkles, patches of dry skin, the general expanse of his mildly feminine muscles. I devoured him for myself. If there will be another person after me I doubt they will ever know him like I do. I wish that my spirit could linger within him, long past I am gone. I have always been this possessive. As a child I opted to burn all my dolls rather than pass them to my younger sister. Just like with the cups and plates in his dining room. I remember how the dolls looked as the black flames consumed their parts. Their eyes were the last to burn, they told me they were glad I was not giving them up to anyone else.
I later met him during my book worship phase when I read entire novels, chapter by chapter, in a coffee house along Gallen Avenue. I picked up an author and formed a relationship with him. I looked for him in his fiction. I listened closely to the dialogues because I knew somewhere in there his voice was waiting to be found. This were the only true relationships I had, true in the sense that they began and ended at my own volition, I did not need anyone to tell me how to live my life. I was very impressionable then, but I could not open myself up to friends. Only novels and photographs mattered.
On the day he walked into the coffee house and headed straight to my corner he had the eyes of a deconstructionist. I knew he was wearing contacts and I felt my eyes tear as I imagined how he put them on. I had the tendency of being taken in by men with lucid eyes: there was the promise of one day experiencing the world through them. He paused to peer at things that were close but in a way that said these things will never be close, I will never own them. He appeared to be walking, lucid and dejected, in a world where things were meant to appear far and inaccessible. Is this why he had escaped the open metropolis into this calm, well-lit coffee house? He sat at a table behind me so that the edges of his shadow touched mine. I felt my body slip into another place where I was not in charge. I was woken out of this stupor by the image of the woman coming in five minutes later to sit next to him. I could hear my heart beat faster as I imagined her taking his hand into hers. She ordered house coffee for both of them. Their entire conversation was in low key and I could not make out a single word between them. I realized that I had never heard his voice. What was this woman doing to him? By this time I had quit campus and taken to hanging around coffee houses writing on my laptop or taking advantage of the free wireless internet. I wanted to be part of the conversation so badly. I recall this as our first intimate encounter but I did not really get to interact with him until a month later.
He wore a linen shirt with the upper buttons undone to expose a chest that lacked any traces of hair. Why did he find any need to expose his chest when there were nude images of him at the gallery in the city? The white on his linen accorded him the slight advantage of appearing as a transfiguration. His whole body had reacted shyly to testosterone, giving him the appearance of a skinny Ethiopian girl. I approached him.
“I know you from somewhere,” he said.
“I get around,” I replied, feigning indifference while my body felt like a spinning machine at the brink of collapse. “Are you here alone?”
“Yeah. Although it appears like I am with you now.”
Later that night, under the comfort of clean bedsheets, I conjured his face and voice. I called back his arms to aid my arms as they slid down under the bedsheets. It was now time to welcome his unmanliness into my own body.
We arranged to meet at the bench in Central Park. By this time they had replaced the whiskey advert with another one. We always met there and as much as he insisted I tell him why I chose this place I never did. He told me about the woman, about how he had given up posing for photographers. She would not hear of it and they had a big fight where he ended up homeless and she replaced him with a young banker. The details of their affair pained me but I could not stop him from talking. What usually happened is that I ended up recreating their affair in our life. It took a lot of effort not to turn into her.
We never got to have what my authors would consider a proper relationship. There were nights when I threatened to leave only so that he could stop me. I broke his coffee mugs, wine glasses and ceramic plates with the hope that I would buy him new and better sets. He had an ugly set of plates, too heavy and gray for dinner plates. I spent what felt like an entire lifetime in his new apartment.
I watched as the photographer paraded his body in front of the light. In the transient flashes of light his body secretly responds by giving of its famous charm. No one else was aware of this apart from me. There were things emanating from him that I could not describe. In moments of weakness and desperation I let myself go out to meet him. We were transposed to a field in the open country, he fed me cherries and I was in bloom. After the photo shoot we took a walk down Gallen Avenue. We walked into a coffee place. The chairs and tables were made from the same pieces of ugly, furnished wood but the carpenters were so careful that together the end products looked impressive. We sipped our coffee in silence, watching people through the glass windows. I had never felt so removed form the city like that day. I wanted to tell him everything but he was lost in some far off place where no one could reach him. The café was on the ground floor of a skyscraper and it felt all the glass would come crushing down on us. The waiter refilled our cups and walked away after stealing a glance of my cleavage.
Later that evening he stayed up looking at old photographs from his childhood. I called him to bed but my voice was meaningless, like the distant sound of a TV in the next room. I walked over to him but he had surrounded himself with a great loneliness. In all the photographs he is smiling. He always smiled as a child. Not any longer. He was examining his own transformation, maybe he had notions of where he was at present, in terms of latitude and longitude, but I doubt he understood who he really was. I mean, don’t we all look at old photographs and try to make a connection between ourselves and the person we are staring at? I could try and join him but my presence there would only startle him back into the real world. I had a feeling that he wanted to be alone, to remain a child. It’s the only way he could be happy. There was the possibility of dragging him to bed and making impassive love to him but that often left us both tired and distraught. It has happened more times than I care to admit, I confess. And it would only remind me that we can never have a proper relationship.
In the morning I woke up hungry. I walked to the kitchenette, broke two eggs on the frying pan and made omelets. I also made pancakes and added a fresh bag of beans into the coffee maker. He liked his coffee thick. I added a pint of sugar to both cups. The smells wafted through the kitchenette to the bedroom where he sleeping, his morning erection – a gentle fold mountain – visible through the dirty sheets. He turned and groaned. The smell of coffee always woke him up.
He came to the room, smiled and sat down to eat, without looking up and barely chewing the food. His lovemaking and chewing were similar – erratic, fast, careless. A routine.
Before he finished I told him that I burnt his old photographs. He did not look up immediately but when he did I got the feeling that he was grateful I did. I had hoped this would enrage him and get him to scream or hit me. I missed the brief moment before the contact between his fist and my face. Instead he picked me up and put me down on the dirty rag and he was finding his way into me, like a child putting his pinky finger inside a budding hibiscus, curious to uncover the mystery of the flower. I could taste the coffee in his mouth. I tried to prevent myself from moaning but I began to shout. He stood up and left for the bathroom to aim his semen into the toilet bowl. He does not trust me enough to come inside me.
Just before I could allow myself to enjoy the feelings that sweep through me I suspected that he did all that to punish me. My paranoia was something I could not entirely ignore. It had brought me this far. He began to whistle some incoherent tune in the bathroom. I could see him holding up his phallus like a sax, thinking he was John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall. I gave in to the temptation of allowing myself enjoy what had just happened. It was another punishment that I did not mind.