Bitu! Bitumba!” Mwanza is back.
He tries to pull me up, but I roll away from his hands. I 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? Amazed, I propel my torso off of the floor, sitting up to 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 the other foot anchored while bending that knee.
“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, right 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 now. 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, 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.
* * * *
A few hours later, Mwanza is snoring, and I’m back at the windowsill. Below me is the faceless writer, buried in their journal. Clearly, this person does not need to lean against a window. They can go out, filter the world through loose leaf, and then – create Anywhere, instead of wishing for Elsewhere. I want to slip through the window and dive into their pages. Maybe they could write me away.
The person glances up, and my breath catches. This is it. I prepare myself to finally see their face, lock eyes, and – they turn to look over their shoulder. Someone else walks out to sit across from them, and the world as I have previously imagined it dissolves a bit. There are two writers on the stoop now. I watch them smile shyly at each other, then write together. Sometimes, they stop and share with each other. At one point, my writer – although they clearly aren’t mine, now are they? – uses their pen to mark something in the other’s journal. It’s intimate, and makes my stomach hurt in an entirely different way than the vanilla did.
Vanilla. I look over at Mwanza. He still smells of vanilla and cigarettes. Some of it even rubbed off of him and on to me. I feel so sick, and disgusted with the two of us.
Leaving the window early, I head to the shower. I scrub the stink from my skin, putting the water just below scalding, purifying myself. This will be Mwanza in an hour, I know. He’ll scrub away last night’s stench and spray Eros all over his clean slate. Just like he’ll try to do with us: fuck and shove away his bad feelings, then pull me in close, grasping on to our “love”. I don’t want him to do this. Don’t want to get stuck in a cycle. What do you want, Bitumba? Good question, Mwanza. A change. I could give a damn about familiarity. Knowing something does not necessarily make it safe.
He will be up in less than thirty minutes, now. I step out of the shower and quickly towel off, then quietly get dressed. I look around me. A minute’s contemplation reveals that most of the things I have here are not things I actually care about. I grab my laptop and some clothes, neatly placing them into my roller bag. I look at the beautiful, fine-fine, still sleeping Mwanza. I remember the feel of his hands pulling me in through the small of my back, then the feel of them shoving me down through my shoulders. I think of his voice, whispering soft and sweet; then yelling coarse and rough. I wonder if I’d be able to do this, were he to wake up now and look at me. Or if he’d just pull me back and convince me that ambivalence about Elsewhere is enough reason to stay anchored to toxicity. I don’t want my feelings pushed down, sprayed over.
Once the door is opened and my things are outside I reenter the room and pick up the second bottle of Eros. I hold it carefully, slowly extending my arm until it is in front of me, like an offering. Then, I slam it down onto the floor. It shatters, and I’m gone before that smell can hit me.