She was both the
center of attraction and the orbit of disgrace. I was not the only man equally
attracted and repelled by the giant woman, black as midnight, dancing by herself
under ultraviolet light in the infamous Bora Bora Disco. She was wild excess,
the sensual figure writhing in rising mists of dry ice, and the comparative
excuse for others to dance with greater wantonness. Her clothes were
form-fitting, barely there, not an uncommon sight in this loud den of
prostitutes answering the mating call of British and American soldiers on shore
leave in the dirty, exotic town of Mombasa.
I did not mind them,
the twilight girls and the soldiers of sexual fortune. In fact, I greatly
enjoyed the buzz of their unfettered lifestyle, which was so different from the
restrained, prettified atmosphere of my world. It was my weekend escape, the
bump slowing the journey to premature aging; a warm refuge from a boring
conventional wife who loved my diplomatic wallet but hated the country that
stuffed it. Our two teenage children in England were her excuse for staying away
months at a time, even though they were in expensive boarding schools. It left
me at liberty to enjoy the freedom of local friendships.
Of course, I had to
be careful. An accidental meeting with United Nations paper-shufflers,
expatriate bosses or fellow diplomats would severely dent my image. And Kenya is
an AIDS hotspot. So I sat myself down and carefully planned how to avoid the
penalties of immoral fun. I cultivated places, tested various looks and
practiced lines to use in case I got caught. And I bought reinforced Dutch
In the end, the
simplest strategy proved the most successful. The fact is that white people
working on contract in black countries do not go to black places, and they
certainly do not go anywhere low class. They write their proposals for poverty
eradication and recommendations for development projects from the comfort of
leafy, high-class neighborhoods. Only the odd one, perhaps, consults with a
high-class black person.
I could not care
less for race and racial problems. The more they are given time to breathe, the
more oxygen they suck. But this simple delineation across race and class lines
made it possible for me to dip back and forth, frolicking with the hares and
drinking with the hounds.
My eyes, like the
purple light above, were glued to the dancing figure in constant motion. She
moved her body as though it were anchored on two different axes. Her generous
breasts vibrated while she rotated her sumptuous bottom in fast, continuous
motion. Just when I was sure that something would break, or that centrifugal
force would fling her up and out the glassed dome roof, she stopped and changed
direction. She rotated her top end, swaying arms to the sky and then, with legs
apart, dipped almost to the floor and vibrated up again, exhibiting restraint
and abandon in equal measure.
My mind filled with
shuddering images of earthquakes. They come with a bang, crack open our fault
lines and can even swallow us whole. Our hope lies in the fact that they are
soon gone, leaving us to grapple with the consequences.
Other dancers moved
away, crowding me to the fringes, and I had to cut loose from a pretty hopeful
to force my way through to the inner circle. I soon realized they had melted
away not only to get a clearer view of her rapturous dance, but also to escape
from her strong odour. An extraordinarily complex odour that brought to mind
autumn leaves composting, yeasty underwear, clay earth after a heavy rain,
overripe fruit, full-bodied red wine and yes, unrefrigerated meat. And all of
this was overlaid with a stinging oriental perfume.
odour moved and turned with her, drifting over in short drafts. It bit my nose
and lingered in my mouth, and had so much character I momentarily left her altar
to find a drink to wash it down.
I gulped the gin and
lemon and finally moved back in, ever closer, as one is wont to do when
confronted with the seductive whispers of one’s dangerous longing. She was now
within reach but I did not attempt to touch her. Instead I moved my body to the
frenetic Lingala beat more vigorously than ever before, and chased away the
passing thought that I probably looked an absolute fool.
A new sweat gathered
under the silk shirt that now clung to my armpits and love handles. My heart
thumped in tune with the music. I snapped my fingers in the air while my feet
jerked about, released of all inhibition. The beginnings of an erection tingled
pleasurably. My mind floated on a cloud of vapors and heat. I throbbed with my
giantess and her music, bestirred and becalmed.
I could not recall
the exact moment I became part of her rapture. It was as smooth as the way the
music changed to the deep gravel tones of Barry White. It was as uncomplicated
as the way her long arms reached around my waist, and as natural as the way I
eased my head onto her heaving bosom and let her overwhelming redolence imprison
Smoother yet was the
path, cleared as if by magic, through other dancers into the cool dark night.
The taxi could have been old, held together with safety pins. The ride to my
room in a third rate hotel in the middle of the town probably bumped over
potholed roads. It could have cost more than the Concorde from London to New
York. But I did not register any of that.
Up close, the citrus
notes in her oriental perfume stung like a nest of angry wasps, overriding the
fetid muskiness of her unwashed body and yet, every now and then, a waft of that
something unsavory made me cringe. Still, I fucked her and fucked her and fucked
her. She was the burning center of the volcano, the voracious black hole, the
source of evil and ecstasy. She swallowed me whole, agitated and regurgitated
me, extracting the essence of my very being before disgorging me, a limp rag
shaken and hung out to dry.
On the equator
everything dries quickly, but it still surprised me how soon I hungered for her
again. I fed the hunger that day and the next and the next. Such was my
consuming need that for days I barely left that stained bed. In mindless frenzy,
I spanked, sodomized and came all over her. I licked up every drop of heady
sweat on her body and then created more. I tore through the condoms and
eventually threw them away. I experimented as I pleased, doing unspeakable
things, making loud groaning noises that would have had me arrested on suspicion
of murder in old Blighty.
She always obliged,
moving her body this way and that, letting me dictate method, pitch and
Three delirious days
passed before I remembered to call the Embassy, lying to the receptionist that I
had to fly out on an unexpected trip for family reasons. I hung up before she
could summon a superior to take responsibility for this strange message. All
other obligations flew from my head on the wings of powerful, unmitigated lust.
Her name, when I
finally asked, was Anastasia.
Her face was not
conventionally attractive although individual features had their own charm: milk
white teeth, unblemished skin, a flaring nose. Her figure though was
cartoon-like in its dramatic disproportion. Slim shoulders rested on a mighty
bust hinged on a tiny waist that in turn swiveled on a bottom that was a firm
bench on which you could rest the Greater Oxford Dictionary. And her slim
well-muscled legs went all the way from Cape to Cairo and back again, all the
way up to her magnificent buttocks.
She spoke in a
discordant voice, with an accent that told me right away that she had learned
her English at a late age from American customers. It was a strange ratatouille
of Bantu, American slang and bits of English so that when you finally heard a
word you recognized, you said Ah! It was just as well that her gestures were
illustrative enough that you rarely needed to understand her speech.
Her laugh, though,
was an encouraging rumble like a diesel engine accelerating uphill. And even in
repose her dark face rippled with a quiet amusement that indicated she had
experienced the depths of the ocean, come up surfing, and was now unable to take
the floating world too seriously. It made me want to prove that I had to be
So I fucked her.
Again and again.
appetites were all healthy. She consumed snacks, fruit, tea, drinks, and all her
meals as well as half of mine. At first, I had them delivered on a tray or we
ate downstairs in the small dining room. As the month wore on and my body
screamed for pause, I took her to small Swahili and Indian restaurants where she
happily mopped up fish sauces with balls of maize meal rolled up in her hand, or
gulped down lamb koftas with rice biryani. And she attracted attention without
inviting it in any way that I could see.
awakened Mr. Jealousy, who stimulated the need, so I would take her to our room
and fuck her.
I was generous, gave
her money and compliments as extravagantly as a teenager in the grips of
hormonal rage. She smiled and said something that I took to mean thank you. We
went shopping and I bought her a number of voluminous kanzus. It was in
vain bid to cover her voluptuousness from the myriad eyes that followed her, as
though she was a glow-worm in the dark, a sumo wrestler in pink lingerie, or
even a caged gorilla with an erection.
Those lustful looks
made me behave even more outrageously. I dipped a hand inside her cleavage to
massage her bosom. I turned her chair to face mine so she could extend her leg
for me to slurp over her long toes. I felt under her robes and then licked my
fingers in full sight of scandalized men and women.
Unappeased, I took
her back to our room and fucked her.
She expressed no
curiosity about me or anything else, asked no questions, offered no insights.
But she answered every question put to her, so I gleaned the bare, sad and ugly
facts of her life. She had grown up in the slums of Nairobi, born of parents who
had too many children and were too poor to keep them in school. Her own children
were burnt in a fire set by a jealous lover, and her family disowned her for
turning to a life of prostitution.
Italian took her to his country where he was immediately ostracized by his
community and soon committed suicide. She came back to Kenya on the arm of
another older Italian and landed in play-town Mombasa. The romance was
short-lived as he too died, of a heart attack. It barely created a ripple in her
life although she confessed that she would rather not go out with an Italian,
given the choice, as they were so prone to dying on her. Strangely, this Italian
oddity weighed more on my enraptured mind than the incredible burdens of her
She acquiesced to
everything with a beatific peace, be it her lifestyle, copulation, lustful
looks, food, clothes, money, compliments, suicide, customers, me. She asked for
nothing and accepted all she was given.
Maybe that’s why
the dissatisfaction began, a constant gnawing at the edges of my obsession; a
growing feeling that I could never give enough or get enough to make an ultimate
difference. Or maybe it was the fact that I had also begun to wear kanzus, eat
with my hands and happily fart in public. Was I facing a mid-life crisis and
these were the symptoms? Me, a healthy civilized man of fifty-four with
husbandly, fatherly and professional responsibilities which, for now, could go
chew curd or bay at the moon for all the attention I spared for them?
I was clearly
falling out of control, flirting with insanity.
I tried to rein in
the sex, ration it, tether it as far away as possible from whatever sticky patch
of sanity remained. I rented an adjacent room, locked both her door and mine,
and fell asleep watching soccer on a little black and white television. By 3
a.m. I awoke with such an insistent erection that I forgot I had the keys and
broke down the doors in my haste to fuck her.
Then I tried to tire
myself out with masturbation, three to five times a day, and proved the theory
that it drives one mad by fucking her.
The odour was to
blame, for baiting me and groping everywhere, ignoring all obstacles, even
doors. It seemed a separate living thing on a mission to provoke my need and
stifle my dreams. And uninvited, this multi-textured, malodorous odour finally
invaded and lodged in my body.
A few times, I had
caught its unsavory waft on myself but quickly dismissed it as arising from her
proximity. But on the day I left her in the room to walk to the bank, even
people across the street wrinkled their noses and looked in my direction,
puzzled. At the bank, the queue mysteriously dwindled. I took a taxi back and
the driver insisted that all windows stay open.
I took to referring
it as The Odour. It was strange indeed. When I was by myself, it
disgusted me. But when I was with her, The Odour acted like a fertilizer, a
catalyst, and an integral part of our aches and desires. It fomented, agitated
and copulated along with us like the pressure that pushes pistons in an engine
block. And the stronger it was, the greater my need for her. And the more I
fucked her the stronger it became. I was held fast in its grips, sucked into its
raging whirlpool from which there could be no escape.
I became convinced
that if I could get rid of The Odour I would be free of my obsession. But no
matter what I tried, it was no use. Nothing I did would strip it off.
It was not the type
of hotel to have running hot water, but twice, thrice and even four times a day,
I had the old fashioned claw-footed bathtub filled with hot water brought to the
room in plastic buckets by two teenage boys. They shyly glimpsed sideways at her
lying on the bed, so I stroked her breast or fondled her stomach or just stood
between them and her, glowing with a dangerous jealousy. She accepted it all
without comment and gave no sign that she was aware of the turbulence in my
I washed her with
scented soaps and scrubbed her raw with a loofah pad. I buffed her with
mentholated toothpaste. I used a machine wash detergent that claimed it
contained “enzymes guaranteed to give the most power-foam clean and eliminate
all odours.” I soaked her for hours in bubble baths, shampoos and foaming
gels. Once I poured in a bottle of olive oil, which had us slithering around
like baby snakes trying to get out of the deep tub. On another memorable
occasion, I abraded her with ash, collected from charcoal jikos in the kitchen,
which had us turning everything in the bathroom black.
Everything I tried
on her, I used on myself with exactly the same result. No change. If anything,
The Odour raged with greater potency as though recognizing a worthy foe.
I tried various
potions and lotions recommended by Indian chemists but to no avail. I went to
see an elderly, local doctor who bent towards me, asked me to open my mouth wide
and say Aaah.
When he roused,
gagging, he asked me to sit outside while he wrote the prescription. It was for
drugs that added another layer, a medicinal coat, to The Odour rather than
eliminating an iota of its punch.
I consulted a famous
healer—a witchdoctor. He fed me bark broth, sprinkled me with chicken feathers
and made incantations. When this did not work, he ushered me out with two
proverbs, “He who leaves a white goat will meet another of the same color,”
and “He who is the cause of his own troubles never gets to the end of them.”
I was clearly
getting nowhere near the end of The Odour.
Finally I tried
masking scents, of which her oriental perfume was the most successful—especially
when compared to baby powder, antiseptic, mentholated spirit, vapor-rub and
several designer colognes, all of which made us gag, itch, or break out in a
rash, or all three at once.
I hired a car and
took to driving to the Shimba hills for long periods of contemplation. I lifted
an old Bible from the drawer in the room and read long passages but they
revealed no epiphanies for my salvation.
Each time I left her
in the room, I would find her there on my return, but she never asked where I
So I fucked her.
My anxiety grew. And
The Odour increased along with my need.
Enveloped in this
odorous torpor, my mind cast back forty-five years to when I was nine, growing
up in Yorkshire. My mother lay dying of cancer on a French Colonial bed in her
faded pink bedroom. The cancer had been diagnosed five years earlier at the tail
end of the war—a war in which my father lost the use of his legs in a grenade
mishap involving his own countrymen during the Battle of Dunkirk, that last
frantic push by British soldiers on French shore, and gained a lifelong cynicism
that regarded any effort expended beyond the minimum required to do your duty,
as a complete waste of time.
He insisted that I
visit Mother for an hour every afternoon after school. Sometimes dour Nurse
Grubber sat with us, sipping tea by the window, and she insisted that I read
only from the Bible. But more often than not, I perched on the side of Mother’s
huge bed and read Revelations, alone with her and uninterrupted. She
occasionally nodded or rasped indecipherable comments that I ignored. Mostly she
fell asleep in the middle of my reading.
I did not mind that
she looked like a skeleton, all bone and drooping skin. I did not mind the eerie
yellow glow of her jaundice. I did not mind her silent tears or the powdery
handkerchief she held to her face to hide them.
But I did mind the
smell of dying that clung to her, filled the room and pervaded the whole house.
For years I could tell by the pungency of the smell what state of unwell she was
in, even before I entered the front door. On some days it was so oppressive it
made me angry enough to vomit.
Mother’s odour was
particularly putrid the day she passed away.
I tried to tell
Nurse Grubber that it was my fault. I tried to tell her I had pressed down that
awful smell with one hand while holding the Bible with the other. But Nurse
Grubber told me to stop imagining I could do such a terrible thing and shooed me
away. When I insisted, Father told me to stop being so damn self-indulgent.
I awoke from reverie
feeling weak with relief that the awful death smell was finally gone,
momentarily confusing the disappearance of one odour with the other. Then I
caught a heady whiff of myself and suddenly understood that the long ago odour
was now reincarnated with an even more potent means to oppress me.
Even as I reflected
on this insight, I felt my Judas body stir.
My thoughts turned
morbid. Was this how I was doomed to live the rest of my life, yet another
foreigner fucking pliant Africa, or would my days be prematurely shortened by
these endless exertions? Could I forget my past and build a future on this
stinking foundation? Surely it could not be my fate to forever wallow in this
malodorous miasma of obsession.
I came to see that
there was only one way to rid myself of the madness that had taken over my life.
There was only one sure method to make The Odour disappear. I had to kill the
source. Yes, I had to murder it.
I had no doubt that
she would accept death just as she accepted everything else life dealt her. And
I had no doubt that I could do it. And get away with it. But I could not bear
the thought of leaving no monument to honour her remarkable potency, no Mecca to
go for pilgrimage to flay the devils that so often beset me; no confessional in
which to seek absolution and forgiveness. She was, after all, to be a sacrifice
for my sanity.
So I bought a plot
in a cemetery in the high-class Nyali suburb and hired artisans to build a fine
tomb—an underground tomb with steps leading to a Lamu-style door made of
hardwood mvuli which is guaranteed to last the ages. I had carved on it, in
Swahili, italicized inscriptions of everything I knew about her life. Inside was
a Kisii-soapstone sarcophagus, raised on a hollow platform, to encase her
She watched me
spread the shower curtain on the bed and cover it with a blanket. She watched me
place the knife under the pillow. I got her on her hands and knees then executed
an ultimate fuck that almost killed me before I could finish the job on her.
Then I did the deed as quickly and cleanly as I could. I did not want to cause
her unnecessary pain. I just wanted her dead and done with. She collapsed
without a sound, without a shred of resistance. I wrapped her in both shower
curtain and blanket, and flung the bundle over my shoulder.
exhilaration and horror coursed down my face, flooding the room, floating us
down the stairs and into the hired car. I drove her to the Hindu crematorium,
where I paid the blind assistant to burn her body. And after a few moments of
listening to my silent crying, he did just that.
I opened the mvuli
door and entered the tomb. In her coffin I sprinkled her ashes. They had no
I looked around for
the last time and locked the door, climbed the narrow stairs and drove to nearby
Nyali beach where I intended to throw the key into the sea but found I could
not. The sea was at full tide, frothing and spraying the pier, but it offered me
no assurance that I was now purged and sane. I needed respite, a place to rest
my aching head and delay the moment of reckoning.
So I went back to
her tomb and lay on top of it, lay on top of its pruned carpet of grass. I slept
there that night, and the following day and night.
me, not even the rain.
What I realized when
I finally came to was that at my hand she had died one type of death and I
another. Yes, I was dead already. I was merely wearing a mask, like her oriental
perfume, making worthless motions. I existed without purpose, principle or
challenge. I gave no love or inspiration and received none in return. I expended
no meaningful energy.
On this third day, I
found an old Bible in the glove compartment of the hired car. It seemed
appropriate. I used the Mont Blanc pen given me by my wife the previous
Christmas, to write over its thin pages. That too seemed appropriate.
And it all poured
out in one long, concentrated stream, this testament to illustrate the folly of
wasting opportunity and the dangers of excess.
Now I lie on top of
her tomb shouting sacrilegious nonsense at the stars. It seems appropriate that
they are not moved.
At midnight, I will
leave the Bible on the grass covering her tomb, where it might be found. Then I
will walk down the stairs, enter her tomb and relock it. I will creep beneath
the platform of her coffin and lie down under my lover, to sleep.
To finally sleep the
odourless sleep of the dead.
© 2003 Muthoni Garland