Man and wife were at it again. Isaiah could hear them bickering from the outdoor, communal bathroom as he scrubbed himself clean. They were frequent in their arguments and loud enough for the voices to be heard in the next plot. Sometimes, it was about something that had been kept where it shouldn’t. Other times, it was the woman complaining about how much she slaved away and just how much the man was unappreciative.
A quick glance into their compound, through the barely there wooden fence, that was almost collapsing and you were met with a neglected compound. A sense of misery hung in the air. No wonder they were never peaceful.
“Argh! Usiniletee!” The wife shouted.
She wanted the man to cease with the provocation. Today, for once, the man fell silent immediately afterwards.
Isaiah knew the man. He was one of those estate drunks who downed illicit brew and proceeded to rant about whatever was on their mind. It could be scandalous, words that needed to be censored, funny or incomprehensible. As he poured water all over his body to rinse off the soap, he wondered which sane woman, got married to a drunk.
Once he was clean, he patted himself dry with the towel he had previously hung on the portruding nail behind the door. Tying it tightly around his waist, he picked up the empty bucket and the soap dish and made his way carefully, out of the bathroom to his single roomed house.
Isaiah also knew the woman. She was petite and might have been once attractive before the ravages of an unhappy marriage, had transformed her into a somewhat, tired and frustrated looking individual. There was something else too about that woman. Whenever Isaiah, went behind the toilets and bathrooms to brush his teeth, he could always see her just standing there, looking. It was a look of curiosity. Never suspicion.
One day, she had shouted a greeting. Isaiah, surprised at fast, had only replied politely. She said nothing afterwards but made no attempt to leave her usual spot. He was tempted to conclude that she did it on purpose, but instead of causing him irritation, he found himself equally wondering whatever was so interesting, with someone brushing his teeth. As a matter of fact, Isaiah was not the only tenant. There were others who occupied the 10 single rooms in the compound, shared the toilets and bathrooms and of course, brushed their teeth at the back.
It was not like Isaiah particularly enjoyed this sharing but this is what he could afford at the moment. Sharing could be inconvinient sometimes. Sharing meant enduring the unmistakable smell of urine on the cemented bathroom floor, courtesy of those people who urinated while taking a bath. An annoying habit, he had since concluded, seeing that the toilets were just next door and everyone had a key to whichever of the two you shared with others.
Sharing meant rushing to the toilet when pressed, only to be met with a huge lump of excreta sitting on the stained toilet bowl, as if daring you to ask how it got there. Somebody who was uncouth enough had of course seen no need to pour water to sweep it away after the deed. Sharing meant ignoring all these inconviniences and acting as if you were satisfied, when deep down, you wondered when your turn of blessings would reach.
Isaiah dressed quickly, eager to make it for his evening shift on time. He worked as a Cleaner in the Housekeeping department of a 5 star hotel. He had been assigned the hotel rooms. Fancy spaces that could certainly not be compared to his one roomed, modest house but there were still guests who were unreasonable enough, to leave the toilets and sinks dirty in the rooms. Status it seemed, did little to change some of these uncouth habits, that some people picked up.
The pay at the hotel was reasonable and the random tips a welcome surprise, but he still had two other siblings to take care of. Their parents were dead so that made them orphans something that Isaiah rarely shared with anyone. His siblings resided with his grandmother in the village. He was the only one in the city and quite determined to ensure that they all got secondary school certificates. Were it not for his secondary school certificate, he doubted whether he would have been working at the hotel.
After he was done dressing, he looked at the time on his phone. It was 4pm. He had to hurry if he was to be at work by 5pm. Luckily, it was just 15 minutes away by matatu.
“Heading to work?” The woman’s voice startled him, the minute she spotted him at the back, retrieving the doormat he had hung behind there earlier, to dry.
She was standing there, like she always did on countless occassions and Isaiah might have jumped in fright, had he not been used to this strange habit. It was also the second time she had made an attempt at conversation. The first being weeks ago, when she had greeted him. For a moment, Isaiah wondered how she had guessed right that he might be about to leave for work.
He contemplated whether to reply to the question or ignore it altogether and quickly settled on the latter. Dusting his mat, he walked back to his house, wore his socks and shoes and locked the door, checking a second time to ensure that the padlock was indeed secured in place.
Evening shifts were not as busy as morning shifts but they often dragged and by the time Isaiah was closing his at 11pm, the only thing he could think of was his warm bed. He was lucky that the hotel van dropped off people, who resided near their workplace, at their respective homes. By 11.30pm, he was already alighting at his usual spot a bit further down the road from his house. There was this thing about hoteliers that made it inherent for them to protect their privacy and especially where one lived.
This was just one of the downsides that Isaiah had quickly realized about his field, being in the industry for close to 3 years already. The fact that you spent a significant amount of time, surrounded by hotel luxury and serving wealthy guests made you subconsciously conclude that, you needed to hide where you lived from your colleagues and particularly, if it was something you knew they would not deem fancy. He had been alighting at that same spot from as far back as he could remember. He doubted any of his workmates knew the exact house he lived in.
Making the short walk to the gate, Isaiah was grateful that another day at work was over. The stretch though dark had always been safe, so he was never particularly afraid walking alone at this time of the night. Sometimes, he wished that he had a wife to go back home to, but he had since shelved any plans of dating seriously until his siblings finished school. These city girls could not be trusted and the last one he had dated, had this annoying habit of always asking for money.
He could make out a figure in the distance as he neared the gate, but dismissed it as someone else coming home from work, until a voice spoke up.
“Why do you ignore me?” It was a woman’s voice and Isaiah instinctively knew who it was.
A chill ran down his spine, just as the neighbor’s wife came into view. Unlike those previous days when she was always dressed modestly in a skirt and buttoned up blouse, tonight she had on a short, pink dress revealing her shapely legs, that fluttered lightly in the night breeze. Her hair that was always hidden in a headscarf, was now combed into an afro, which framed her face beautifully. He had been right all along, that she might have once been a beautiful woman, but this was no such time to admire what he thought strange.
How had she known that he came home from his evening shift at this time? Why was she waiting for him, dressed in such a manner? He had no desire whatsoever to get into trouble with that drunk of a husband she had. As he fumbled with the gate latch, not answering her question, he realized that his hands were shaking from fear. Everything about this woman made no sense to him and now she was forcing conversation with him.
“Why are you running away?” The woman persisted. She placed a warm hand on his. Isaiah quickly moved his away from her touch.
“T_This, Whatever it is you are trying to do is not right.” He stammered, eager to get away from her. The gate was now open.
“What is not right about a woman loving a man?” The woman questioned, a look of hurt on her face.
“Go back to your husband!” Isaiah ordered, trying hard not to loose his cool and draw unnecessary attention from the plot, to them.
“But I don’t love him!” The woman protested.
“Just go!” Isaiah repeated for emphasis.
“Come with me. Don’t be afraid.” She said reassuringly, her arm outsretched. It was all that was needed to break Isaiah’s resolve and as if in a trance, he found himself following her into the dark.