She was both the centre of attraction and the orbit of disgrace. I was not the only man equally attracted and repelled by the giant woman, black as vinyl, dancing by herself under ultraviolet light in the infamous Bora Bora Discotheque. She was wild excess, writhing in mists of dry ice, a license for others to dance with greater wantonness. Her clothes moulded her body, barely there, not an uncommon sight in this den of prostitutes answering the mating call of British and American sailors on shore leave in the dirty 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, an enthusiasm so different from the restrained, prettified atmosphere of my world. It was my weekend escape, the bump slowing the journey to premature aging, and refuge from a conventional wife who loved my diplomatic wallet but hated the country that stuffed it. Our two teenage children in England provided excuse for her to stay away for 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 carefully planned how to avoid the penalties for my immoral fun. I cultivated hideaways, tested disguises and practiced lines to use if I got caught. And I bought reinforced Dutch condoms.
But the simplest strategy proved the most successful. White executives working on contract in black countries don’t visit black places, and they certainly don’t step anywhere low class. They write proposals for poverty eradication and recommendations for development projects from the comfort of Nairobi’s leafy, suburban neighbourhoods. Only the odd one, perhaps, consults with an upper 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 of race and class made it possible for me to dip back and forth, frolicking with the hares and drinking with the hounds.
My gaze, like the purple light above, trailed the writhing figure. She moved as though her body were anchored on two different axes. Her generous breasts vibrated whilst she gyrated her sumptuous bottom in a 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 changed direction. She rotated her top end, swaying arms to the sky and then with legs apart dipped almost to the floor, vibrated up again, exhibiting restraint and abandon in equal measure.
My mind filled with 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 their violence is soon spent, leaving us to grapple with consequences.
Other revellers moved away from her and crowded me to the fringes of the dance floor. I had to cut loose from a Pretty Hopeful to force my way to the inner circle. I soon realised they had melted away not only to attain a clearer view of her ecstatic show, but also to escape her odour — a heady texture that brought to mind autumn leaves composting, yeasty underwear, over-ripe fruit, black cotton soil steaming after a downpour, full-bodied Merlot, gorgonzola cheese, and yes, un-refrigerated meat. All overlaid with a stinging oriental perfume.
Draughts of this odour drifted towards me, bit my nose, lingered in my mouth, and had so much character that I had to leave her altar for a moment to find a drink with which to wash it down.
Confronted with the seductive whispers of my dangerous longing, I gulped the gin and tonic, and moved in, ever closer. She was now within reach, but I did not attempt to touch her. Instead I moved my body to the frenetic lingala beat, and chased away the notion that I probably looked an absolute fool.
Sweat gathered under the silk shirt that 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 heat and vapour. I throbbed with my giantess and her music, be-stirred and be-calmed.
I cannot 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. 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 me.
Smoother yet was the path, cleared as if by magic, through other dancers into humid night. The taxi could have been old, held together with safety pins; the ride to my room in a cheap hotel probably bumped bumpety-bump over potholed roads; it could have cost more than the Concorde flight from London to New York. 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 unsavoury made me cringe.
Still, I fucked her and fucked her and fucked her.
She was the burning centre of the volcano, the voracious black hole, the source of evil and ecstasy. She swallowed me, agitated and regurgitated me, extracted the essence of my very being before disgorging me, a limp rag hung out to dry.
On the equator everything dries quickly, but it surprised me how soon I hungered for her again. I fed the hunger that day and the next and the next. I tore through the condoms and eventually threw them away. In mindless frenzy, I spanked, sodomised, and came all over her. I licked every drop of heady sweat on her body and then created more. I experimented as I pleased, doing unspeakable things, groaning in a way that would have had me arrested on suspicion of murder in old Blighty.
She was obliging, moved her body this way and that, letting me dictate method, pitch, and frequency.
Three delirious days passed before I remembered to call the Embassy. I lied to the receptionist that I faced a personal emergency of unpredictable dimension or duration. I hung up before she could summon a superior to take responsibility for my strange message. On the wings of lust all other obligations flew from my head.
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, and a flaring nose. Her figure, though, was cartoon-like in its disproportion. Slim shoulders rested on a mighty bust hinged on a tiny waist that in turn swivelled 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 right back again, all the way up to her magnificent buttocks.
She spoke in a discordant voice with an accent that told me 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 I finally heard a word I recognised, I said, “AAAH!”
It was just as well that her gestures were so illustrative I rarely needed to understand her speech. Her laugh, though, was an encouraging rumble like a tractor 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 taken seriously.
So I fucked her.
Her appetites were all healthy. She consumed snacks, fruit, tea, drinks, and 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 Swahili and Indian restaurants where she mopped up fish sauces with balls of maize meal rolled in her hand, or gulped lamb koftas with rice biryani.
And she attracted attention without inviting it in any way that I could see. The attention awakened Mr. Jealousy who stimulated the need, so I took her to our room and fucked her.
I was generous, gave her money, and complimented her 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 voluminous kanzus. It was in vain bid to cover her voluptuousness from the 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 more outrageously. I dipped a hand inside her cleavage to massage her bosom. I turned her chair to face mine so she could extend a leg for me to suck her long toes. I slipped my middle finger into her cunt, and then licked it in full sight of scandalised 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, ugly facts of her life. She had grown up in the slums of Nairobi, born of parents too poor to keep their children in school. Her own children were burnt in a fire set by a jealous lover, and her family disowned her for turning to prostitution.
A lust-struck Italian took her to his country where he was ostracised by his community and soon committed suicide. She came back to Kenya on the arms of another, older Italian and landed in play-town Mombasa. The romance was short-lived when he too died, of a heart attack. It barely created a ripple in her life, although she confessed that she would rather not be with an Italian, given a 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 past.
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 that happened.
Maybe that’s why the dissatisfaction began, a gnawing at the edges of my obsession — a growing suspicion that I could never give enough or get enough to make a significant difference. Or maybe it was because 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 civilised 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 them?
I was falling out of control.
So I tried to rein in the sex, ration it, tether it as far as possible from whatever sticky patch of sanity remained. I rented an adjacent room, locked 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 with masturbation, three to five times a day, until I proved the theory that it will drive you mad by fucking her.
It was her odour to blame, baiting me and groping everywhere, ignoring all obstacles, even doors. It seemed a separate living thing, bent on provoking my need and stifling my dreams. And, uninvited, this malodorous quiddity finally invaded and lodged in my body.
A few times, I caught its waft on myself, and 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, queues mysteriously dwindled. I took a taxi back and the driver insisted that windows stay open.
I took to calling it The Odour. It was strange indeed. When I was by myself, it disgusted me, and all those around. But when I was with her, The Odour acted like a fertilizer, a catalyst, and an integral part of our desires. It fomented, agitated, and copulated along with us like the pressure that pushes the pistons in an engine. And the stronger it was, the greater my need for her. And the more I fucked her, the stronger it became.
I became convinced that if I could get rid of The Odour I would be free of this obsession.
Ours was not the type of hotel to have running hot water but twice, thrice, and even four times a day, I had the claw-feet bathtub filled with hot water brought to the room in plastic buckets by two teenage boys. They glimpsed sideways at her lying on the bed, so I stroked her breast or fondled her stomach or just stood between them and her, glowering with a dangerous jealousy.
She accepted it all without comment and gave no sign that she was aware of the turbulence in my heart.
I washed her with scented soaps and scrubbed her raw with a loofah pad. I used a machine wash detergent that contained, ‘powerfoam bio-enzymes guaranteed to eliminate all odours’. I soaked her for hours in bubble baths, shampoos, and foaming gels. I buffed her with mentholated toothpaste. Once I poured in a bottle of olive oil, which had us slithering around like baby snakes. On another occasion, I abraded her with ash, collected from charcoal jikos in the kitchen, which turned everything in the bathroom black.
And 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 recognising a worthy foe.
So I experimented with various potions and lotions, recommended by Indian chemists, but to no avail. I went to see a 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 eliminate 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 didn’t work, he ushered me out with two proverbs, ‘He who divorces a white goat will wed another of the same colour, ‘ 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 tested masking smells. Her oriental perfume was the most successful when compared to baby powder, antiseptic, fresh mint, mentholated spirit, vapour-rub, and several designer colognes, all of which made us gag or itch or break out in a rash, or all three at once.
I lifted an old Jerusalem Bible from the drawer in the room and read long passages, but they revealed no epiphanies for my salvation.
In a hired car, I drove to the Shimba Wildlife Reserves for long periods of contemplation. I saw crocodiles tear zebra apart, hyenas fight over carcasses, lions mate for hours, and elephants trample down fever trees. Even though I parked the car to take forbidden walks in that dangerous territory, none of these beasts exhibited the slightest inclination to approach me.
Quite the reverse, they shied away in droves.
Each time I left her in the room. I always found her there on my return. She never asked where I had been.
So I fucked her. And I fucked her. And I fucked her.
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?
How was I to rid myself of this obsession? My pathetic attempts to ignore, deflect, medicate, or camouflage The Odour had only fed its potency.
Immune to appeasement, half measures and grey morality, The Odour demanded the clarity of extremes. I had to think on a grand scale, rise above the quaking ground and become GOD of my fate.
Freed of limitations, my thoughts plunged the depths, and scanned the ages until, akin to lightening, wisdom blinded me.
Healing necessitated destruction! Pebbles be damned, I needed balls of might.
I had to kill the source.
Yes, I had to murder my Anastasia. It was the only guaranteed method to rid myself of The Odour.
It was a black and white decision. I had no doubt that she would accept it just as she accepted everything else that life dealt her. 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 potency, no Mecca to go for pilgrimage to flay the devils that so often beset me, and no confessional in which to seek absolution and forgiveness. She was to be, after all, just a sacrifice for my sanity.
So I bought a plot in a cemetery in the leafy Nyali suburb of Mombasa, and hired artisans to build a fine tomb — an underground tomb with steps leading to a Lamu style door made of hardwood mvuli guaranteed to last the ages. I had carved on it, in Swahili, italicised inscriptions of everything I knew about her life. Inside was a Kisii-soapstone sarcophagus, raised on a hollow platform, to encase her coffin.
I hid the knife under the pillow, manoeuvred her onto her hands and knees, and executed the ultimate fuck, which almost killed me before I could finish the job on her.
I raised the knife. She jerked, craned her neck towards me. I thrust at her kidneys.
“Eeewwwooohhh” she snarled, a wild cat, as the crunch of steel on hipbone rocked the room.
Blood spurted. Blood pounded in my head. She reached back and gripped my wrist.
I pressed her down, my weight on her back as she tried to twist around. The bed scraped the floor. Her hand tightened on my wrist like a steel cuff. Slithery with blood and sweat, we wrestled, naked, hot, stinking.
A pierced volcano could spill in any direction.
I struggled to free the knife and wrest back control. She hissed and grunted as though in labour, and refused to break. I struck her with left-handed blows, and bit her, kneed her, clawed.
Then her head slammed against the wall. Her body juddered as though in epileptic seizure. A perverse cacophony of Handel’s Halleluiah Chorus rose and merged with The Odour. Victory! Overcome by the high-strung twins of horror and exhilaration, I flopped, ceded to the nerve dentist drilling my spine. Vomit burned my throat.
How easy to underestimate a woman you fuck. How seductive to think there are depths from which a person might never surface! I heard my wrist crack as she wrenched herself free and flung off my weight like yesteryear’s garbage.
A phoenix risen, she towered over me laughing like a banshee, once again the possessed giantess I had met that fateful night.
But the knife was still in my hand. I lunged, all body and movement. Her grip on my broken wrist made it seem as though she were stabbing at herself.
Eyes blazing with recognition, she danced around my knife baptising me in blood. Her laughter shook the foundations of my earth when she turned the knife on me. The Odour burgeoned, poked its ghostly fingers into my every crevice. Despite the pain, I felt my Judas body stir.
I choked on self-revulsion as The Odour consumed me.
When I came to, Anastasia was gone.
Recriminations followed thick and deep but I could not return to my other life of delusions. I severed the umbilical cord to my diplomatic, husbandly, and fatherly past, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say it was shorn from me.
My volcano is not dormant, just temporarily spent. In between its distant rumblings, I wander the streets of Mombasa in search of Anastasia. A voluminous kanzu shrouds my wounds — the pockmarks on the crater. Disgust, bemusement or pity, cloud the averted faces of those who behold me sniffing the air following an invisible trail. Maybe you are one of them.
Even though they avoid all questions to do with Anastasia, twilight girls are my only friends. They assure me that when lava cools, it becomes fertile ground on which to plant different dreams. This may be true, but cannot satisfy my bouts of odorous craving.
Whenever The Odour rages, I drag my broken body to Anastasia’s tomb. In this sanctuary, The Odour mysteriously dissipates — a temporary reprieve.
My rituals are simple. I lie on top of her tomb, on the pruned carpet of grass, and shout sacrilegious nonsense at the stars. It seems appropriate that they are not moved. When my throat seizes, I scribble this testament over the thin pages of that old Jerusalem Bible. Then I climb down the narrow staircase, and open the mvuli doors. I creep under the platform of her sarcophagus with its empty coffin.
I sleep an odourless sleep of peace, hoping never to wake. I always do.