By Patrick Ngugi, Kabete, Kenya
He looks so handsome today, Melvina thought amid the shimmering film of tears that threatened to run down her cheeks. She loved him so much that she could not even start imagining him being away for a day; leave alone the fortnight that he would disappear from her sight.
‘’My dearest, please wipe off those tears… why are you crying?’’ Justin asked, his voice with a slight quiver, “it’s not like I will be away for good, just a few days, and I will be back,’’ he said giving her another strong hug and kissing her cheek slightly.
“Promise?’’ she asked, smiling and wiping her tears with the back of her hands, as she looked up into his eyes lovingly.
“I promise,’’ Justin said, his right hand relaxing the grip on her shoulder and touching his chest, the area where his throbbing heart was and marked it with a cross.
She smiled again, cheer flooding into her being, ‘’Cross your heart and hope to die?’’ she asked snuggling back into his chest, with a childish giggle.
“Yes, my dear, cross my heart and hope to die, I promise.’’
‘’I will miss you,’’ she said.
“Me too, but I will be back soonest; promise,’’ He said wrapping his right hand around her shoulder again. She took his hand and held it in both of hers and brought it close to her heart. Held it there briefly then kissed his butterfly-shaped birthmark at the back of the hand, then looked up at him, still smiling”.
“Okay, let’s go then,’’ she said as she slid her slim fingers through his, making a tight clasp of lovers, as they headed towards the bus terminal a few strides away.
The two young lovers had known each other for almost a year. They worked in the same office, where Justin was the assistant marketing manager, while Melvina was personal assistant to Mr Kipeso, the managing director of Mauzo Financial Securities, one of the leading insurance companies in Robinia.
You can say that it was love at first sight. It happened on one cold Friday morning when Justin had gone to meet Mr Kipeso in order to present his weekly report, when, instead of finding the usually gloomy Mrs Joyless Terezo, who was then Mr Kipeso’s secretary, he bumped into this bubbly and warm lady with charming eyes and ready smile.
He had stopped in his tracks and fumbled as he tried to get the right words. Her smile had disarmed him, since he had arrived at the office expecting to find Mrs Terezo’s long face, and ready to hear a litany of complaints about her ever ailing body or about her errant juvenile teenagers.
“Hey… Look who’s here!’’ he found himself blurting, his frown turning into one of his most charming smiles.
“Hi,’’ an equally enthralled but bemused Melvina had said, enthralled by this buoyant handsome man. “What can I do for you?’’ she said, her sparkling eyes betraying the fact that he had bewitched her.
‘’Wow… a lot… but for now, I’d like to see Mr Kipeso,’’ he told her with a wink, then quickly put on a serious look and added, ‘’I am Justin.’’
‘’Like Timberlake?’’ she had responded, slightly throwing him off balance. He had not expected that. She was sharp, this girl… Beautiful and sharp, he thought.
‘’Yes, like Timberlake,’’ he said as they shook hands, ‘’but jokes aside, I’m Justin Motino.’’
‘’Glad to meet you Mr Motino,’’ she said.
‘’Just call me Justin, if you don’t mind, achana na mambo ya mister.’’ he said with another wink.
She nodded and smiled shyly, then said, “and I am Atieno,’’ she had said, pushing the rim of her glasses slightly over her nose.
‘’Atieno… just Atieno?’’
‘’Melvina, Melvina Atieno. I’m Mr Kipeso’s new personal assistant, she announced, seriously getting back to business. In fact Mr Kipeso had asked me to ask you to go right in as soon as you arrived, so, go in please,’’ she had told him, motioning towards the door with her soothing smile.
He was tempted to ask the so many questions that were surfing in his mind, but he thought better not. If she was the new personal assistant to Mr Kipeso, then there was a lot of time for that, he though as he bowed slightly and went in.
It so happened that Mrs Tereso had tendered her resignation abruptly during the week and despite Mr Kipeso’s pleading, that she stayed on until the end of the month so that he could get a replacement, she had declined. Mr Kipeso then had no alternative but to call one of the employment agencies in town, who then sent Melvina Atieno to work for MFS.
Their relationship started as a simple coffee date after work, then it grew into lunch and eventually dinner, bed and breakfast and before long they were inseparable. At first there had been a concern that their relationship would jeopardize their individual work performance but this did not happen.
Within six months he had proposed, and she had accepted. In no time he had even visited her parents where she had introduced him as her fiancée, who would later come to see them properly when the time was right. He had also reciprocated and taken her to parents and siblings to show her off as his future wife.
It was during this time when Melvina had met Justin’s elder sister Jacinta, who worked as a deputy headteacher at a city school, and instantly liked one another as prospective sisters-in-law.
About a month ago Melvina overhead Mr Kipeso speaking to Dawson Mulumba, the Mombasa branch manager, who said he was proceeding for his two weeks’ leave but the challenge was that he did not have anyone who could act while he was away, and as they spoke, she heard Mr Kipeso suggest Justin as a possible candidate.
As they had lunch at the office cafeteria, she was telling Justin what she had just heard, when he got a call from Mr Kipeso, confirming what she had just told him. He called to ask him to prepare to travel to Mombasa in a fortnight to go relieve Mr Mulumba.
And so, here they were. Justin was all packed ready to travel to Mombasa by the night bus which would arrive at the coast early the following morning.
The couple entered the large commuter’s lounge, and after putting his bags down he asked Melvina to wait with the bags as he went to present his ticket to the counter to confirm his arrival and also get the bus number that he would be travelling in.
“Just confirmed, I am traveling by bus number three,’’ he said when he came back and showed her the ticket. She scanned the ticket, and then handed it back to him, with a detached look in her eyes.
‘’What is bothering you Melvina?” he asked.
‘’I don’t know… Perhaps I still hadn’t believed that you were still going. But now that I have seen the ticket, the truth has downed on me,’’ she said, somehow with melancholy, clasping her hand with his again and snuggling closer to him.
‘’Mombasa is just here, you can jump into a bus over the weekend and come over, or even better, take the SGR,’’ he smiled reassuringly.
‘’I know… But I’m still going to miss you,’’ she said.
‘’If you were not Mr Kipeso’s secretary I would have gone with you,’’ he said smiling…
‘’Oooh, how I wish,’’ she said.
Just then, a heart searing announcement over the loud speaker, said that bus number Three would be leaving in 10 minutes and would the passengers still outside please board.
They stood up and hugged tightly for eternity then Justin whispered into her ear… Melvina, I have to go… you can come visiting next weekend.’’
‘’Like hell I will,’’ she said smiling and tearing herself off him. She helped him carry his bags, with the two bigger luggages going into the bus’ racks, as he remained with the smaller one which carried his laptop, his ipad and other personal stuff. Before long the bus had left and the only thing he could remember was Melvina’s melancholic smile as she waved him away as the bus left the terminus and onto the main street before heading on its way to Mombasa road.
After that they were exchanging sweet nothings on Facebook and WhataApp.
Once a while he listened to music on his phone, or when the bus could allow, he would switch on the laptop and study some work-related documents, particularly those that concerned Mombasa branch, which covered the whole of the larger costal networks of Malindi, Kwale, Lamu and even Taita Taveta. Those names sounded exotic, and wished his stay in Mombasa could be longer.
He longed to work here, and maybe, possibly maybe, one day he would be sent there as the branch manager, and not just in an acting capacity. He imagined himself basking on those beaches over the weekend with Melvina beside him. That was the last thought he had as he closed his laptop and dozed off.
Until he was woken up by the passenger next to him, telling him something he could not immediately understand.
‘’What?’’ He asked as sleep vanished from his head.
‘’We have to get out. The bus has broken down, and they want to take it to the garage.’’ The man said as he picked his bags. Justin could see other passengers also disembarking. He looked outside. They were in a small town which he could not recognize at this time of the night.
‘’Where is this?’’ he asked.
‘’Masimba.. not far from Voi.’’ the man said without looking at him.
‘’This is crazy, ’’ he said as he stood up to collect his stuff.
Soon they were seated at the veranda of a dimly lit restaurant. Some passengers were walking around, but Justin did not feel like it. He was tired and just sat there scrolling his laptop, or phone… he had tried calling Melvina twice but apparently she had gone to bed. After all it was 2.30 am.
‘’I am going to get cup of coffee, would you mind some?’’ a lady who sat next to him offered. He thought it was chilly and the idea of coffee was welcoming, so he said yes. He was going to produce some cash from his wallet, but the lady said, ‘’not to worry, let me buy for you,’’ She said with a smile, and left before Justin had the opportunity to thank her.
Before long, the woman had come back with two cups of coffee, which she gave one to him, and pulled the seat nearer to him.
‘’Are you from Mombasa?’’ she asked trying to strike a conversation. He was bored, he thought, he might as well chat with this strange woman.
‘’Not really, but I am going to work there for about a fortnight.’’ he said, ‘’how about you?’’
‘’Well, I am a businesswoman,’’ she said. ‘’I’m always traveling
between Nairobi and Mombasa.’’
‘’What is wrong with the bus?’’ he asked. He really wanted to get out of this place.
‘’I don’t know, but I hope it won’t take long. They might bring us a replacement from Voi,’’ she said.
‘’They’d better,’’ he said. Then he felt a strange attraction towards this woman. She looked so smooth, so polished, with curves in the right places and a sweet voice. He wondered why he had not noticed her, perhaps because Melvina had been around… he smiled to himself then he opened his mouth to ask her more about her business but no words came out.
‘’What?’’ she asked staring at him. He looked at her. She seemed to be too far away, and he wondered why he had started feeling dizzy. Then he saw dazzling light above him, and then he blacked out.
End of part one