Short Story: The Jasmine Tree

The rain had finally stopped.

She walked out of the house, closing the door behind her. She was careful, dragging it slowly so that the rusted hinge didn’t make a sound to announce her departure. She stood still for a few seconds, listening, making sure no one heard her leave. Once certain, she continued across the yard, slowly making her way to the edge of the cliff. When she got there, she  allowed herself to breathe in the cool air.  It was always crispy for a short while after it rained, a relief from its normal hot and sticky. She was free, even though it was just for a few moments.

She looked out at the sea below, in the fading light of early evening. When she first came to this house, her first glimpse of it gave her the one ray of hope from the darkness that her life had become. In the early morning it was a soft grey, waiting for the sun to wake from its slumber and illuminate it. During the day, in the height of Mombasa’s unbearable heat it was a bright blinding blue throwing shards of lights. It was difficult to look directly at it. When it was raining it turned an angry metallic grey. Right now, in the aftermath, it was a darker blue. By night fall it will be an inky black, deep and mysterious and a bit daunting. She loved how it changed colour at different times of the day.  In the distance the sun was in its final descent, almost touching the water; a liquid ball of orange fire. Birds dotted the sky, returning home from a hard day’s work. It was quiet now. In a few minutes the calls for prayer will signal the beginning of night.

She walked around the small garden, looking at her flowers. The viluas were ready to be picked.   She absently plucked a rose. But her favourite were the yasmini flowers. They were 5 bushes at the edge of the garden, next to the fence made of old mabatis. The green leaves were dotted by the white flowers. Their scent filled the whole garden.  I should pick them she thought. But she liked seeing them on the tree first, a reminder of their fragile beauty. If not plucked as soon as they opened, they started to die, turning brown at the edges. It was bitter-sweet; how beautiful they were and how short their lifespan.  Some were scattered on the ground, discarded and already turning brown. She felt like that sometimes. Then there were the young ones, not yet opened. They live to die another day. Her youngest daughter, Shadia liked picking them so she’ll call her later. But not now. She needed some time alone first.

She makes her way to the bench near the trees. She had asked her husband to put it up for her, after she was done planning the garden. It was the early years of their marriage and he was still eager to please her. It was nothing elaborate, just 2 pieces of wood erected on the ground and a board nailed on it. But it was enough to sit on and look at the ocean. And it had been a victory against her mother in law. May God rest her soul in peace.  She sat down and finally allowed herself to think of what had brought her here.

She had seen him today.

She had been in the market accompanied by Hamida, her house girl. She was examining the coconuts. You have to be careful when choosing them so that you don’t end up with one too young. Or an overly mature one. She shook it to make sure it was full of  juice then tapped it with a small stone listening for the hollow sound.  She then told Hamida to break it just to be certain. “Ikiwa ni mbaya ujue sikulipi”  she told the vendor. “Mama usijali, nazi zangu zote nzuri” he responded in the sing-song Mombasa accent. She looked around her absent-mindedly planning in her mind what she would make for dinner. Cassavas in coconut milk and fried fish. Or maybe some mahamri. She was lost in thought and at first didn’t notice him. He was standing at Mzee Abdallah’s gahwa stall, a small coffee cup in his hands. At first she didn’t recognize him. He was taller than she remembered. And she could see by the way the kanzu he was wearing fit him his skinny frame had filled out. But it was his stance that gave him away; slightly leaning on the leg he had broken as a child. His face was half turned away from her and she could see he had grown a beard. She almost turned away, thinking it was one of her false sightings. In the beginning she had looked out for him everywhere she walked. Those days her husband didn’t let her out of the house alone. He accompanied her everywhere. So she had been discreet about looking. But she had searched every face. It was torture, those days; His smile in someone else’s lips or someone with  exact shape of his eyes. But never the real person.

But just then he turned as if sensing that someone was watching him and there was no mistaking that face. Her breath caught and the gasp that came out was masked by the crack of the coconut breaking. Their gazes held. It must have been just a few seconds but it felt like hours. She stared at this man, almost a stranger, with the face of the boy she once knew. His eyes crunched as if puzzled, and then he looked away. He hadn’t recognized her. But how could he? She was one of the many buibui clad women moving in the market. Her face was hidden by her niqab, just revealing her kohl lined eyes. She could be anyone. And yet she couldn’t avoid that pang of disappointment that settled in her stomach. She doesn’t remember the rest of her shopping trip only that it felt like her heart was pounding in her mouth.

To be continued…

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