When we get back to the apartment, I head for the fridge. I’m pulling out a stir-fry when Mwanza slaps it out of my hands.
“You’re not eating,” he says.
“Not yet,” I reply. “Give it back. I need to heat that.”
“You don’t get this, do you? I said you’re not eating.”
“You cannot be serious,” I laugh. “You’re drunk! Do you think you’re my parent? Am I on restrictions? We dieting?”
“It’s not a joke! What happened back there? I have to fight some guy off of you, you ruin our night, and now you’re going for waffles like nothing’s wrong. What the fuck, Bitumba.”
“What the fuck me?” I am incredulous. “I ruined our night? First of all, we didn’t have a night together to begin with.”
“And whose fault is that?” He moves toward me, and my stomach starts to feel weird again. “You barely went near me all night. You wouldn’t have noticed if I left!”
“Mwanza, are you kidding? I was following your plan. Which was disgusting, by the way. But we did what you wanted.” Like we always do.
“What I wanted. You think I wanted to watch you flirt with other guys? Dance with them? I was supposed to leave with the girl no one could get. Not the skank everyone touched. A guy thought he could kiss you!”
“But he couldn’t, and I showed him that.” So much nonsense has just flown at my face; I don’t know how to respond, so I settle for a low blow.
“Are you really mad that a guy tried to kiss me? Or are you jealous that your knot-headed friend didn’t want to kiss you?” He’s staggering closer to me, and my stomach hurts more, but I can’t stop talking, can’t stop dripping derision from my lips.
“Poor Mwanza, let down by all his women!”
He shoves me then, hard. One second my feet are under me, and the next they’re gone. My arms flail out in a stupid attempt to grab a stabilizer, but there’s nothing to hold on to. I’m crumpled against the fridge, and Mwanza is inches from my face, breathing heavily. I don’t know how he moves so fast. I see his chest heaving, and our eyes widen together as I inhale – and get hit with a wave of understanding. Every part of him, his face, neck, arms – I grab his hands to confirm – smells of vanilla.
“When you said I wouldn’t have noticed if you left,” I say slowly, “That wasn’t a hypothetical.”
His fist clenches. Unclenches.
“What did you do?”
“Does your dick smell like vanilla, too?”
His hand slaps the side of the refrigerator, so hard that magnets fall down. A couple of them bounce off of his head. It’s funny.
“Be grateful that wasn’t your face,” he says. “Women who are disrespectful can still get slapped.”
That’s so ridiculous, I can’t hold in the laugh. It comes barking out, before I wipe it into severity.
“If you slap me,” I say to him, “I will kill you.”
He kicks the fridge now, and tears out of the apartment, banging the door shut behind him. I slide until I’m lying straight on the floor, staring up at the ceiling.
It had never occurred to me that Mwanza might be lying about the love, too. I close my eyes. This whole time, at the window and in my head, I’ve taken his love for granted, berated myself for not meeting him in what I thought he felt. I was wrong. Amazing how much energy I wasted, calling myself stupid for not being into something that seemed perfect on paper. Perfection does not exist. Couple goals are made up! We don’t love each other. We don’t want each other. This can end, and we can be free to exist Elsewhere, Otherwise. I almost smile. I would be happier about it if the message hadn’t been delivered so violently.
* * * * *
“Bitu! Bitumba!” Mwanza is back.
He tries to pull me up, but I roll away from his hands. You can smell tobacco on him. He has made himself into a vanilla cigarette.
“Don’t touch me,” I say tiredly. “Go away again. You tried to hurt me.”
“You hurt me first!” There’s a squeaking sound, and I feel a puff of air at my back. Is this man kicking at me now? I sit up and stare at him.
“Damn it, Bitu.” He slides to the ground. Mwanza is art. The way he moves is graceful fast; even his violence seems choreographed. Now he just lets one foot slip out over the floor, allowing his body to follow, keeping one foot anchored while bending that knee. I don’t think he appreciates his physical gifts, this beautiful monster. He probably feels the same way.
“You, know, I’ve said sorry,” he says.
“No, you haven’t.”
“Well, whatever. Sorry! But you didn’t apologize for anything, either.”
“Me apologize. I didn’t do anything.”
“Exactly! You don’t do anything with me anymore. I saw you at the club. You danced with everyone. And the way you looked? Happy. The love of my life doesn’t care what I do. She’s happier with others than she is with me.”
Maybe I was wrong about being wrong.
“Did you just call me the love of your life, after you fucked some other girl in my vicinity?”
“Why do you think I did it? You didn’t even notice! You don’t see me anymore. It’s like you’ve forgotten who we are, Bitu. We’re the lovers who came from different parts of the world to be together. I set you up here; this country has the two of us in its seams. You’re pulling away, I don’t know why – why? And it’s tearing the seams and it’s hurting us!”
“What do you think love is, Mwanza?”
“It’s pushing through white-hot pain, withstanding all, because you know you’re supposed to be together.”
“Do you really think that?’
“I know it.”
“I don’t want that.”
“You don’t want anything, but you don’t say what you do want, either. You being so damn impossible to please, but I’m wrong, because, ‘Oh, I pushed you; I threatened to hit you; I fucked some other girl.’”
“Do you admit that you did all those things?”
“It doesn’t matter!” he yells. “What do you want?”
“I don’t know,” I whisper. I’m overwhelmed and exhausted. Tears drip slowly out of my eyes. Mwanza grabs my inner thighs, and pulls me across to him.
“You want this,” he says urgently. “Us. This.” He tries to kiss me, and I try to bend away like before, but we’re too close to the floor and he pulls me in through the small of my back. He tries to kiss me again, and I turn my head. Again he tries, and again, and again, until I don’t care about stopping him anymore. I let him kiss me, and I let him pull me to bed, and as much as he’s claimed to be hurt by it, Mwanza doesn’t seem to care when I go into my head.