Saturday, May 7, 2011

Angela on My Mind (Short Story)

A high-strung cop, a beautiful girl and a naive writer... After this drama, Angela will be on your mind, too!

It’s hard to explain what happened.

Even today, more than a year after the fact, I still find myself at a loss for words when I try to tell the story. But I’m a writer: I’m supposed to be able to describe people and events with devastating accuracy. So I’ll try to explain.

I first met Angela on a shimmering Saturday afternoon. (Yes, this is a love story – but it’s unlike any love story you’ve ever heard.) The sun was blazing in a barren azure sky and I had gone to purchase a loaf of bread at local kiosk. The kiosk was decorated with posters of Coca-Cola, orange juice and other products and Angela was leaning over the counter, making small-talk with the seller from whom she had bought some innocent household items. She was in her early twenties, about five-foot-five, very slim, endowed with large, golden-brown eyes and thick, sensual lips. She wore a long lemon-coloured shirt and black slacks. She had blonde hairpiece which went well with the delicate biscuit-brown of her skin. Attractive she certainly was, but no more attractive than other hotties I’ve seen around the estate.

I said, ‘Hi’, to the shopkeeper and since Angela was the only other person there, I greeted her as well. The wide ovals of her eyes studied my face for a brief moment and then she said, ‘Hi’, in return. She excused herself and as she sauntered away, I took care of my business. As I left the kiosk, I noticed Angela a few paces ahead of me, walking leisurely. I debated with myself as to whether I should catch up with her and in the end I said, ‘What the hell!’ and made my move.
‘Hello again,’ I said, drawing abreast of her and flashing a smile. She again stared at me for a second before responding and I started to despise her snotty attitude.
‘My name is Drew,’ I mumbled. ‘Andrew, actually. But everyone calls me Drew. And you are…’
She had a soft, child-like voice that I found rather endearing. Kids on roller skates and BMX bikes overtook us as we walked.
‘So…you live in this estate?’ I ventured.
She shook her head.
‘No, I just pass through it as a short cut.’
Hot air was rising from the baking ground in wavy currents and the dust stirred up by passing bikes or cars took time before settling.
‘So what do you do, Angela?’
She said it chirpy way but I didn’t like it because it didn’t make building a meaningful conversation any easier. I hoped she’d say she worked somewhere or went to college so that I could use that as the basis for my next query. You can’t make build something out of nothing.
‘What about you?’ she asked, turning to face me.
‘I am a writer. Freelance. I write feature articles on topical issues and then sell them to newspapers and magazines. Sometimes I write short stories, too. The magazines are usually interested in them.’
‘Does it pay well?’
‘Not really, but I love writing. Just being published is like part-payment to me.’
We had reached my gate so I stopped and extended my hand.
‘I guess I’ll be seeing you around,’ I said as we shook hands. And on that unromantic note, we parted.

I should have asked for her digits, I know. I should have, at the very least, asked her which estate she lived in and her house number. My main problem is that I often freak out when it comes to asking girls for their phone numbers or e-mail addresses or anything else that puts me at their mercy.
I hoped to see into Angela again but that didn’t happen for a while. I made more trips to the kiosk where we met but drew a blank. I almost asked the shopkeeper for Angela’s contact information since I had seen them talking but I decided not to until I became desperate. The thing is that, like most men, I prefer not to involve other people in my romantic escapades. Spread but the word, untune that string, and those who know you will watch your burgeoning relationship the way bored housewives watch Mexican soap operas, not to mention that they’re liable to get jealous and throw a spanner in the works.

Hence, instead of asking after her, I took long walks around the estate in the vain hope that we would bump into each other. I didn’t consider walking around a waste of time because walking helps me think out stories, especially when I’m “blocked” - when the creative juices aren’t flowing.

And then one hazy Sunday morning at around ten in the morning, I was going home from a nearby supermarket when I spotted Angela in the distance. Her shiny, blonde hair was the placard that grabbed my attention. Again, she was on her own and walking leisurely. I rushed towards her and called out her name from a few paces off. She stopped to wait for me.

I came up to her, said hello and asked her where she was headed. She said she was just about to enter her church, indicating a Baptist establishment behind her. I asked what time the church service ended and if we could meet up afterwards: churches and I don’t mix. She said that the church’s traffic would end at mid-day, after which she would be free. So I suggested that she pass by my place afterwards and I would take her out for chips or something and she agreed. The Baptist church choir struck a hymn as Angela walked into the worshipful compound.

I stuck around the house, doing little chores and hoping she’d keep her promise. After my clock’s minute hand married the hour hand in a 12 o’clock ceremony, I started to peep through the window in anticipation. Fifteen minutes past the hour, the door bell rang.

A nice time we had of it, cracking jokes and getting to know each other. It emerged, to my detriment, that she lived with a guy. He was a cop attached to a police station neighbouring our estate. (There was also an army barracks, a prison facility and military hospital in our environs but for some reason the crime rate remained high). Angela’s boyfriend was called Dave and had the unimpressive rank of constable. I asked how they met, which was probably a mistake because I didn’t like the feeling I got in my stomach as she narrated the tale. Their paths first crossed as Dave and a fellow cop were on patrol, harassing drunks and arresting weed peddlers. Dave spotted her walking around with a friend and started teasing her. First, he said something to the effect that that he was going to arrest her for ‘Loitering with intent’ for which the sentence was marriage to him. He then changed directions and said he was going to arrest her for being so beautiful as to contribute to global warming and the sentence was…marriage to him. She was laughing as he fooled around so he just kept going. He insisted, in all seriousness, that she was too fat for his taste and that if she slimmed down she might have a chance with him, which was hilarious because she was as slim as a whip while he was potbellied. After a few minutes of making her laugh, Dave and his mate moved on, Angela and her friend watching their retreating backs.

Angela and Dave’s paths crossed each other again soon afterwards and this time he accused her of stalking him. They chatted for a while and then Dave had to go and throw weed peddlers into dank police cells. In later days, Angela and Dave’s flirty interactions began to gel into a relationship and Dave asked her out on a date. It was a Saturday and he was off-duty. It was the first time she saw him without his deep-blue uniform but the bulge of his holster was still visible on the side of his jacket. He took her to a classy restaurant and asked her to order ‘anything’ which surprised her because the salaries paid out to constables were nothing to write home about. Later in the evening, he called over a young waitress, gave her a Gloria Estefan cassette tape and asked her to play it over the stereo. The waitress thought it was a romantic move and dreamily obliged. As the strains of Gloria Estefans’ I’m Not Giving You Up filled the room, Dave took Angela’s hand and smiled in her face. It was at that moment that she realized what was going on: Dave had fallen in love with her.

It was past two now and I asked Angela to accompany me to a nearby Kenchick takeaway joint. She agreed. I bought us chicken, chips and canned Coca-Colas and then we returned to my place where I sought to learn more about her.

With her legs crossed and a fork held gingerly by her slender fingers like a painter’s brush, Angela explained that she came from a small town, without the benefit of a college education, and had originally hoped to find a job as a receptionist or something while she mapped out her future. Initially, she lived in my estate under the auspices of her older sister but they fell out dramatically when her sister’s boyfriends switched their attentions to her. At the time, she was working as a shampoo girl at a local salon. When she explained to her lady boss that her sister wanted her out of the house, the salon owner gave her a place to stay. Shortly after that, Dave took her out to the trendy restaurant and later asked her to take up residence with him. Since she was drifter, she said yes.

Did she love him? She liked him, certainly. She liked him from the day they met. He made her laugh, he showered her with affection and presents, he gave her commitment. Without question, he was madly in love with her. Unfortunately, she didn’t reciprocate the feelings. Girls like her were approached by men all the time. They couldn’t fall in love with every man that fell in love with them even if they wanted to.

Angela and I spent the whole afternoon together, that cloudy Sunday, talking and eating. Somewhere along the avenues of conversation, she asked me whether I smoked. I used to smoke but I had since given up the habit.
‘No,’ I said. ‘Why do you ask?’
Because she liked the way men smoked, she said. She enjoyed watching the blue smoke curl out of their mouth. It was like Angela to say things like that. She wasn’t the smartest girl on the block and was very much taken by small things.
At round seven in the evening, we left my place for Angela’s. I asked her if it was safe for me to visit heart her boyfriend’s place and she said, ‘Sure’. Dave was away throughout the day so I could turn up any time during those hours. She had stopped working at the salon because she didn’t like job description.
One had to enter the police station compound to get to the cops’ residence so I bid Angela farewell at the main gate and returned home.

One of the reasons why I like writing so much is the flexibility of the hours: they bend like rubber. The following Monday morning, I finished up an article I had been writing on Human Genetic Cloning and e-mailed it to my main client, a general-interest magazine called The Informer. I then shut down my computer, bought a packet of Marlboro cigarettes and went off to Dave’s house. The area was rather crowded with clotheslines everywhere and kids running up and down between the semi-detached houses. I located Dave’s house and knocked on the door, ready to say I was an insurance salesman should Dave open the door. (I had real insurance forms left for me to fill by an Alico agent). Angela opened the door in a T-shirt and shorts and invited me in. She had been watching TV and the set was still on. We had orange juice and then I pulled out the smokes and asked Angela if I could light up in the house.

‘Of course,’ she said. ‘Dave smokes all the time.’
I offered her one stick but she declined, saying she wasn’t a smoker herself. I lit up the cigarette and proceeded to entertain her with the peculiar smoke signals I could blow out of my mouth and nose. She especially liked it when I closed my mouth and puffed out streams of nose smoke the way a raging bull puffs out hot breath.

Afterwards, I started kissing her around the neck and we ended up making love on the sofa. I have to say I was rather surprised at how easily I nailed her. I had expected my seduction to last at least one month. She must have been bored with just hanging about the house all day. Later, we had more orange juice and then I left.

Over the next five months, Angela and I engaged in a passionate love affair. I didn’t go back to Dave’s house because it was more discreet for her to visit me at my place. The police residence was densely populated – rumors would swirl around us like flies over a dead dog.
To spice up our sex life, I talked Angela into bringing along one of Dave’s spare police uniforms when she came to visit. We’d wear the deep-blue uniform in turns. Imitating the detectives on TV, I’d feign seriousness and tell Angie, ‘You have the right to remain silent…Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law…’ Angela would burst out laughing while I fought hard to remain stone-faced. She loved my Oscar-deserving performances almost as much as I loved seeing her in nothing but the unbuttoned police shirt and the peaked cap. It created a lust in me like the Devil’s own. Once, Angie even brought along a set of shiny handcuffs. She deliciously arrested me, read me my rights and then made love to me while I was helpless.

I won’t go into graphic detail concerning my intimacies with Angie, not because I’m a gentleman but because I don’t want to create distractions or downplay the gravity of this tale. Suffice it to say that those lazy summer days I spent with Angela were the best days of my life. I even toyed with the idea of marrying her. She may not have been overburdened by brains but she didn’t have as many issues as most women, the kind who enter union with a man still carrying baggage from as far back as childhood.

So one day, as I pondered the question of marrying Angela, I offered to buy her French fries and soda at a nearby sports club. The sun was beating down on the earth with hammer blows of heat as we walked out of my estate and onto the main road on which busy vehicles criss-crossed each other. We were passing a roadside grocery when a fat woman buying onions and tomatoes greeted Angela. She didn’t greet me but her beady eyes flashed at me from above sagging cheeks and I knew that she had taken a mental picture of me and filed it under ‘PEOPLE TO INVESTIGATE’. Even as the distance between us and the woman widened, I could sense her gaze on my back.
‘Who was that?’ I asked Angela, further on.
‘Just a neighbour,’ she replied in a dismissive tone.
We reached the sports center which had, among other amenities, two gyms, two Olympic-size swimming pools, three tennis courts, a restaurant and a members-only bar. We entered the restaurant and ordered fries and chilled sodas. The large windows gave an engaging view of one of the swimming pools and every now and then we would watch a swimmer launch himself from the high-up diving board and plunge into the blue water with a mighty splash. After we had had our fill, we walked unhurriedly back to my place, the looks from men we passed leaving no doubt that Angela was very easy on the eyes.

Angela took a nap while I tapped on my keyboard. Towards evening, she announced that she had some errands to run. We kissed and she left.

The very next day, Angela unexpectedly turned up at my place. She looked distraught and I immediately sensed that something was wrong. She informed me that Dave had been asking questions about me. Apparently, the woman at the grocery store was as nosy as she was fat and had spread the word around the neighbourhood. She had actually commissioned a small boy to follow us and report back to her.
‘What did you tell him?’ I said.
‘First, I told him you were just a friend but he said that he had suspected I was cheating on him for a long time now because there were many times he passed by the house during the day and missed me. So I told him everything.’
‘I told him that it was true that I was seeing someone else.’
‘How did he take it?’
‘Well…He was hurt.’
‘Did he beat you up or anything?’
‘Are you sure?’
‘What do you mean, “am I sure”? Dave can’t beat me. He loves me.’
‘You mean he didn’t react at all? Most guys I know would have gone ballistic.’
‘Well…He was hurt and he didn’t want to talk to me after that. But it’s not like we’re married or anything.’
I was relieved that he hadn’t hit her but I now began to fear for my own safety.
‘So what will we do now?’ Angela was saying.
‘Er…er…Tell you what – why don’t you just come and stay with me? I mean, you can’t continue staying with someone who knows you’re cheating. Dave won’t have it. Ok? Will you come and stay here?’
‘So when do you want to move in?’
She shrugged.
‘Even today,’ said. ‘But I have to tell Dave first.’
We parted.
Angela never did move in with me.

She packed her bags and waited for her policeman lover to come home. She told him that she was leaving him. He asked why. She confessed that her feelings for him had never been that strong; that she thought of him more as a friend than a husband. He controlled his emotions and asked for just one last favour – that she would dine with him at that restaurant where they had had their first date. She agreed.

The rest of the story is gleaned from a hodgepodge of eyewitnesses. Dave and Angela arrived at the restaurant a little past 7 PM. They ordered drinks which neither touched. Dave did most of the talking, speaking in the low tone of a bereaved person. He presently handed a passing waitress a Gloria Estefan cassette and asked her to play it over the speakers. The love song, I’m Not Giving You Up, suddenly imbued the diner. Dave reached into his jacket. The waitress who had taken the tape was passing by again and thought that the romantic cop was about to present an engagement ring. Instead, Dave drew his service revolver and trained it at Angela who was seated across from him. Her eyes widened into orbs but that was her only visible reaction. The sound of the blast filled the diner, drowning out Estefen’s ballad. So great was the force of the bullet that Angela toppled backwards in her chair and hit the floor, arms outstretched, a red magma of blood flowing down her bust. Dave then placed the muzzle of the pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Another volcanic explosion of blood erupted, mottling the waitress and an old couple sitting behind the crazed policeman.

Chaos erupted. Patrons, waiters and waitresses all scrambled for the exits, screaming. A crowd of curious onlookers gathered at the windows. Traffic on a nearby road ground to a halt. Before long, a police car rolled up, followed by two more, sirens wailing. The law enforcers parted the crowds like Moses parting the Red Sea and studied the mess. Man, the place looked like a slaughterhouse! The most nauseating aspect was Dave’s bulk as it lay in a pool of its own blood. The face, including the mouth through which the bullet entered, looked as calm and innocent as a sleeping man’s - but the exit wound was another story. Half the back of his head was missing and blood-soaked brains littered the shiny floor. Shaking their heads at the spectacle of their fallen colleague, the cops secured the area and set about recording statements from witnesses.

So that’s what happened. Dave the cop put a bullet through the girl he loved and then blew his own brains out. The story sounded so unbelievable to me when I first heard it that I would wake up in the morning hoping it was all a bad dream. I have tears for Angela – and Dave too. He wasn’t a bad guy. He just loved too much.
I haven’t been the same since the incident, as you I might suppose. To expunge my guilt, I keep telling myself that it wasn’t my fault. That people cheat on each other all the time. The trick is not to turn love into an obsession the way Dave did. It’s ironical that Dave spent most of his short career arresting drug dealers without ever knowing he was himself addicted to a potent drug – love.

I now smoke more than I ever did and think more carefully about the consequences of my actions. Right now, I’m alone in my house, tapping on my computer, with a packet of Marlboro cigarettes on the desk, a sense of loss in my heart and Angela on my mind.

(c) Alex N Nderitu

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