Every Thursday evenings they flocked to Dusk to hear her sing.
Technically, they came to listen to the Swahili blues band perform its jazzy acoustic tunes. But it was Nahla-the band’s lead vocalist-who held the crowd in rapt attention with her smoky, soulful voice that whispered the secret sorrows of men.
Abbas came to see her, be with her and chase a feeling. He just couldn’t stay away.
So he came. Every Thursdays like clockwork.
“You keep that up and you’ll break your neck,” Abbas said, giving his boisterous friend a bemused look.
Mike was incessantly gesturing with his head at something or someone on Abbas’s right. Abbas had been deliberately ignoring Mike’s head tilts just to see how long he could keep it up without cricking his neck.
“Check out your three o’clock!”
Abbas shrugged and took another swig of his beer.
“Man, just have a quick look will you?”
Abbas slowly scanned the bar, taking in the now familiar setting. Dusk was a roof top lounge bar with a staggering view of Nairobi’s skyline. Its banquet seating, tasteful but simple decor and dim lights gave it a warm, laid back feel. It was a sanctuary of sorts; a place where people did not say much, preferring to get lost in good, moody music and maybe, just maybe, have their spirits soothed before heading back to the mundane. It certainly didn’t hurt that the beer was fairly priced.
His eyes flickered over to Miss Three o’clock; a lovely lady dressed up in a dark power suit. He noted the short skirt. She met his gaze coyly then looked away to exchange a look with her girlfriend, who in turn cast a furtive glance his way before hurriedly turning back to her friend and started whispering
Abbas went back to nursing his beer.
“Well?” Mike prompted.
“What do you think of her?”
Abbas was a picture of pure nonchalance. “Nice legs.” He shrugged. “Big deal.”
Mike swore colorfully.
Abbas laughed. He enjoyed getting a rise out of Mike. It was so unbelievably easy.
“What’s your problem?”
“I have no problem.”
“Nice legs?” Mike echoed incredulously. “The best you could come up with was nice legs? Look at her. She’s a ten!”
“In your opinion.”
“She’s a ten, in your opinion.” Abbas explained, as he signaled for the waiter.
“Jesus! Why are you trying to be an arse?” Mike scowled.
That was when Abbas saw her.
Nahla was making her way towards her band mates, acknowledging a couple of hellos from several patrons. She carried her diminutive body with such an easy grace, he always found himself pausing to stare.
Mike followed his gaze. “Ah. And there sashays in my answer.”
Abbas shot him a look. “Remind me again why you’re here.”
Mike flashed him a crooked grin. “In all the years you’ve known me, have you ever heard me say no to free beer? Seriously though are you guys like back together?”
Abbas kept his face carefully veiled. “Not really,” he murmured.
Mike regarded him thoughtfully. Abbas appreciated that there was no pity in Mike’s eyes; just burning questions and some sort of understanding. They sipped their drinks letting the silence leisurely stretch out and it was only interrupted by the band’s rhythmic drum beats.
Nahla took her cue from the drummer and crooned about yearnings and mangled hearts; the lyrics underscored by a melancholic Arabic rhythm.
“People will always disappoint you, Abbas. I will disappoint you.” She had once whispered to him.
Nahla held the unwavering belief that in the end people would break her heart, especially those who promised to never do her harm. He’d vowed to himself that he’d prove her wrong. He’d convince her to stop running scared and try to fix that part within her that was broken. And by God he had tried. When things had been good between them, they had been magical. When she was not dwelling on the shadows and her fingers were not hovering over the panic switch, Nahla would open up that side to her that was tender, passionate and playful. She was an absolute joy to be with then. She looked at him as though he was somehow special and left him feeling like he could be anything he wanted and he wanted to give her the joy that she gave him and chase away her shadows.
But when things were bad…well, they were really bad.
So one and a half years later, Abbas finally stopped; too darn tired to move. Tired of trying, tired of hoping and waiting for the day she would finally stand up to and vanquish the monsters that haunted her dreams.
Soul weary, he’d broken it off with her. He still loved her but it was the sensible thing to do. So he walked away. Except a month after the break up, he came to Dusk one Thursday evening just to check up on her; make sure she was going to be okay. He ended up taking her home and staying the night.
“One last time for old time’s sake,” He had rationalized.
And so he came. Every Thursdays like clockwork.
During those brief moments they were together, the underbelly of their relationship seemed to fade; shifting from dark shadows to wisps of grey mist. And it felt so good; almost as good as when they had reveled in their own magic. But then dawn would come round and harshly remind him that he was settling for weekly no-strings-attached romps when he wanted more. He’d always wanted more with her. Hell, he deserved more. Except she still couldn’t or wouldn’t give him more and the realization tore away at him all over again.
Yet he still came back. Every Thursdays like clockwork.
Abbas had always been guided by logic. And his moderate sensibilities told him that he was not only having trouble walking away but he was also hooked to a feeling and needed to get it together. Fast.
“First chance I get, I’m out.” He promised himself grimly, taking in her radiating presence.
Her heart rending yet hopeful chorus swirled around the awestruck crowd, gently cloaking them in the surreal.
“I’ll be so gone.” he swore, as her gaze took in her audience and finally-almost instinctively- her gleaming eyes rested on him. Nahla’s face softened and her gaze gently caressed him.
His calm faltered.
With the silent vow echoing through his mind, Abbas reined in the disquiet within, tucked it away in a secret place. He slipped his trademark stoic face firmly back in place and raised his glass to her, casually smiling like it didn’t hurt.