In plain sight

Benta signed her statement at the police station and rose to leave the moment the officer said she was done. Jared was standing outside the OCPD’s office. He did not speak, just held her hand and led her to the parking lot where he had parked his car.

Once they were in his Corolla, she looked back at the station. The askari had called him the attacker. The man had jumped out of the bush next to her building and tried his best to drag her into it. She could still smell him on her. She was going to take the longest shower of her life but the moment she had told them what happened, he had become the attacker.

Jared looked over at her every few minutes as he drove. Benta tried not to cry. A few rogue tears slipped past and he squeezed her arm. Her hands were curled into fists. She almost hated him for it. He had saved her and now he was watching her lick her wounds.

Do you need anything? I could sleep on the floor.”

No, I’m fine. Thanks for everything. But I just need some time on my own.”

He assured that her that he would be right across the hall if she needed anything. Benta had lived on the 4th floor of the building for 7 months and had not realized he lived on the same floor. It was her fault of course but now she owed him.

After an hour long shower, she dumped her clothes in the trash and cleaned her entire one bedroom apartment. The brick wall on the outside of the building was last. The window faced the side of the building where the bush was, it had overgrown.

She had liked the view in the morning, a shock of green in the concrete jungle. Under the street light, she could almost see the branches that had broken off as her attacker had pinned her onto the ground.

She did not know what to do. Her lick-the-floors clean apartment did not make her feel better. She thought of reading a book. She thought of looking up gun stores in Nairobi. She took another shower and tried to sleep.

Morning found her wide awake. At 8 o’clock someone knocked on her door. As she made the bed (it took her 3 minutes), she thought that it must be her mother. Her mother had found out what happened and was here to make her leave this heathen city and go back to Eldoret with her. Benta was almost relieved to be going back to the farm.

It was Jared at the door armed with coffee and mandazis.

I do not drink coffee and try to avoid sugar.”

Sorry, I had no idea.”

Come in. You can have your coffee and I’ll make my tea.” He was her Good Samaritan after all. She thought of her mother again. It was one of her favorite passages, but in Benta’s mind the Samaritan had looked nothing like Jared.

Will you be going to school?” Jared asked. Benta looked him in the eye for the first time.

No, school’s closed in April. I finished my finals last week.”

Good, you can have a break after what happened.” He smiled.

If she never saw him, how did he see her enough know that she was a student? . He had just turned up in her life.

How did you know? Yesterday.”

I was walking home. I heard your bag fall. When I caught up, I saw the bag on the pavement with the laptop shattered but I did not see you.” He said.

Benta remembered her laptop and resigned herself to the fact that she would have to call her mother after all. Jared said that he had to go to work but he gave her his cell number and his office number in case she needed to talk.

Benta got a call from the police station later that day confirming that she was pressing assault charges and that they had received the P3 form from the hospital. Jared must have dropped them off.

It was 2 o’clock when Benta left the apartment building after an hour of weighing the pros and cons. She met the care taker at the front gate. He was sitting in the sunshine. Juma had opened the gate to let out Jared’s corolla.

Madam, I have just told the landlord. He is going to make the owner cut those bushes and put up a fence… It is a good thing that kijana Jared was there. He had just left to go to the market, I do not know what brought him back but let us just give God thanks that he did.” He said.

Benta internally winced at the prayer. The man had meant nothing by it. No one really, truly meant anything by it. God just crept into conversations all the time. She had to call her mother.

The trip to the market had been good, no smelly men in rags. They were in the middle of the rainy season and everything was fresh and healthy. She chatted easily with Mama Toto who sold her green vegetables and herbs.

When did these come in?” Benta asked pointing at a batch of sickly spinach that had been set aside from the rest.”

I left them here when the market closed. Maybe someone will buy them for their goats. Everything else came out of the ground this morning.” She said.

The market closed?”

Yes, the city council does it every few months to keep up sanitation and kill the damn rats. It was just for two days, yesterday and the day before.”

Benta had never thought of rats in the market before. She left right after she got her veggies. Her last stop was at Maina’s, the local pub. They had just opened and only a handful of patrons were in.

Sasa Deno, how is business?” Benta asked. She had been picking up red wine from this place since she moved.

We are ok. What about you? Juma came in last night and told us what happened.”

I’m fine. The police are looking for him.” She paid for the bottle and went home.

Large clouds were rolling in. Juma had left his post at the gate but he turned up to help her with the door to the building and her shopping. Jared’s corolla was parked in the same spot it had been the night before. Juma told her a joke about a Chinese man who got conned by a Kikuyu woman, she smiled.

I will remind the boss about that kichaka.” He said. Benta thanked him and he left.

She had tea brewing and got started on supper. The knock on the door was no surprise, her Samaritan was determined. Jared asked about her day and watched her over the brim of his mug as she made supper. She let him hold her hand as they waited for the ugali and he did not make one comment when she cleaned up and wiped everything down before they ate.

He said that everything was great and asked for seconds. She told him it was because the vegetables were so fresh. He brought his laptop over and they watched a thriller. He squeezed her hands at the bad parts and kept asking if she would rather watch a comedy. It was harder to laugh than guess who the killer was so she kept saying no.

The next morning, she called her mother. The attack had happened on Sunday night. Benta reasoned that her mother would have calmed down from the sermon long enough to listen without demanding that she go back home. Benta also thought that nothing could ruin her mood after the night she had had. Jared had left after the movie and came to check on her the next morning. He even had her sweet potatoes and some milk before he left. How had she gone 7 months without realizing he lived next door?

Hello mama?”

I was wondering when you would call. Have you closed? You must come home for the holidays.” Her mother was happy to hear from her.

Yes mama, I will try. How is everyone? Is Chero there?”

Yes, but she just went out to collect the eggs. Is something wrong? Do you want to talk to your sister?”

No, do not call her. I want to talk to you. I was mugged on Sunday night. I am fine, the police are looking for the one who did it. My laptop shattered.”

You must come home. It is safe here. I told you the city was a rat’s nest of thieves and murderers.”

I will try. I am safe, I promise.”

You will need a new laptop.”

Yes.”

Try to come home. Easter is this weekend.”

Yes mama, goodbye.”

God bless you Benta.”

Mrs. Chesanai was a hard woman. Life had given her a husband and four children. She was left with two daughters. Yet there had been no weakness or defeat from her.

Benta and her sister Cherop had grown up on a working farm in Eldoret. Their mother had barely missed a beat when her husband and sons died. Benta had been raised in the shadow of her mother’s strength. It was why she held on to her independence like a dog with a bone, it was why she could not suffer a blemish, and why she had had to leave home. Still, she had never doubted her mother’s love and loyalty. Mrs. Chesanai had been the single constant in Benta’s life.

It rained all day and Benta stayed indoors. She heard Jared come in and changed clothes and fixed her hair before she went to his door. She knocked and he was at the door immediately.

You left this at my apartment.” He smiled and took the laptop.

I would let you in but this place is a mess. How about another movie at your place?” He asked.

Sure, I have a bottle of wine. Do you like pasta?”

I love pasta. Be there in 10 minutes, I need to wash off the office.” Benta caught a whiff of something and tried not to wrinkle her nose. She smiled up at him and went back to make supper.

The water had come to a rolling boil when the call from the police came.

Miss. Chesanai, we have a suspect here. He was admitted into City Hospital. He has been badly beaten but has all but confessed to being your attacker.” The officer said.

He said he was the one?” She asked.

Well, he admitted himself to the hospital and told the nurses that he had attacked a woman in Karima Court. That should be enough, but he seems to be mentally unstable.”

What does that mean?”

He seems to think that it was a game of some sort. We will keep you informed about what happens.” He disconnected the call.

He thought it was a game, was that why he had laughed as he ran off when Jared pulled him off?

She told Jared what the police had told her when he came over. She had lost her appetite and he held her hand as she drank her third glass of wine. She made up her mind to go home for the holidays. A change of scenery was what she needed.

Jared moved so that he could hug her. “He is crazy and the police have him. He will never come near you again.”

How do you know?” Benta asked.

Because you have me now, I’ll keep you safe. You do not have to hide anymore. You don’t have to keep trying to be perfect.” He was grinning at her.

Terrible things happen in the city all the time. Worse things than had happened to her thanks to him.

He had seen her do the same thing every day, looked at her bare, sterile apartment and thought she was hiding. Benta stepped away from him. He was not trying to reassure her. He thought she needed saving.

The market was closed. You told Juma that you had gone to the market. And my bag,” the smell she had caught off him earlier came back to her. That was what she had tried to wash off her that night. The attacker had been badly beaten. He thought it was a game.

You think I’m scared.”

Jared turned to her. “You are scared, let me help you. It’s ok. You do not have to be scared anymore.”

He was looking at her like a parent looks at a stubborn child. It was weakness he saw. He implanted himself into her life, made himself her protector. He was the attacker, the faceless, odorless thing that had lurked in the shadows and convinced a beggar to play a game.

She stepped further back and he lunged at her, boiling hot water hit his face. The scream rang across the room. Benta ran out of the building.

It was not fear she felt. She saw life as a mess she had to clean up, it was not fear and disgust that ate at her when bad things happened. It was anger.

She ran all the way to the bar, Deno let her make the call.

Mama, something happened. It is about the attack.” Benta said.

I’ll be there in two hours. Stay where you are. Do nothing.”

 

 

 


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