Sanguine Hearts

This is a rough draft of a story i have been working on this week, its has been years since i tried to write a short story and this is the closest i’ve come to doing it. Comments will be appreciated below. 

“Falling in love is the most private thing, its not like the fairy tales or magic, it’s the simple things; the high pitched laugh you can’t get out of your head or the annoying words she retorts constantly.”

Jack stared for a moment into the blue sky, tracing the outline of the clouds, trying to make out a comprehensible shape. It was a lovely day, the weather was fair and the warm afternoon air drifting though the grass only causing a minor ripple on the golden grass, dried by the dissipating heat wave. She sat there staring at him, surprised by what he’d said, it was unusual for them to have such a talk, she’d only brought it up because of a book they were discussing.

“The thing about romantic novels that I despise is the way they describe it; the sex scenes are unreal and worse off the endings are always happy. It’s nothing like the real world. Perhaps that is why marriages end in divorce more often than not. The statistics are there to prove it,” jack continued.

“So what are you saying? Girls should lower their expectations? Or is it just your bias against the kind of books we like?”

For a moment, she stared at him intently with a mischievous look in her eyes. Would he finally give into her induced debate? Perhaps she could break through the blank stare and empty comments that Jack seemed to have perfected. Since they met, they had never gotten such a chance to talk. He’d always kept a distance and spaced out when the topics of conversation didn’t fascinate him. It was this mysterious veil she wanted to break.

“I’m not saying they are all bad, it is just the way the stories go, at least the few that I know, it is always predictable and there is sort of a niche towards romantic attraction from the beginning of the story. In which world does that ever happen?”

Feeling the pressure of having to back his own words, he shifted his gaze to the field watching as the football team practiced in the distance, the distant sound of the whistle reaching them faintly.

“It’s not all the stories that go that way, I’m more interested in the growth of the characters. The transition from girlhood to woman hood, which occurs in most of the novels, is for the most part superficial if it doesn’t include a little romance. That is just how it is,” said Jude, “Romantic stories always tell how lovers can overcome hardships together.”

She watched him racking his brain for a response; he looked good in his baggy T-shirt and grey trousers, not that she had noticed before when they arrived for the picnic, everybody else just seemed more preoccupied with sports and swimming leaving them in the shade to watch.

“But you can’t feel love without the fear of loss, that is why I say it’s a private thing. The characters are matched up from the beginning and so you can’t really find the romanticism of their affair. It sounds good when they go through hardships together but that looks more like a partnership than a romantic affair”, Jack said, feeling the heat underneath his collar.

He wasn’t used to such topics, but he wasn’t going to back down from the debate, maybe he could find enough reasons to keep him going.

“There is hardly ever a sense of urgency in the stories when the guy makes his move, there is hardly any anxiety. The author build up a confidence that is unshakeable through out the story which makes the characters all the more unreal. That’s why I probably like the end of Romeo and Juliet in the movie, when they both die…”

“Jack, surely you must know girls admire confidence”, remarked Jude fighting back the urge to tease him, “the main characters have to stand out. And Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy, also a very good example for the power of love. Which books have you been reading?”

“I really don’t like romantic stories, I prefer history books and fantasies, apart from the Merchant of Venice and Shakespeare stories in High school, I haven’t bothered to read any”, Jack replied.

“So what are you basing your arguments on? I’m sure you read a book or two which transverses those genres.”

She sensed the conversation was ending but wanted to get another topic on which to discuss. The awkward silences and his shyness had dissipated and she could not imagine having to lose the conversation.

“I can only think of Harry Potter, but that is not much of a love story. I just got disappointed when they made it into a movie and it lost some of its finesse. I’ve to say its one of the best books in all round character development,” he said smiling sheepishly, all too aware of the cliché he’d just made.

“it’s one of my favorite books, and the movie wasn’t all that but that didn’t stop me from watching all of them.”

For a moment they had found a common interest, and she wanted to keep the conversation going but Austin arrived panting.

“Some of the guys are heading back to campus and are taking a mini-van, so we wanted to know if you guys want to join us so we fill it up and he’d take us straight there.”

“Yeah, great idea. But I have to get off in town,” said Jude.

“Need some help with that?” asked Jack pointing at the backpack she carried. She nodded. They paced downhill towards the road, The 4 p.m sun bearing down on them as they went.

The ride felt short and Jack was back to his hostel watching a movie, he hadn’t started off on any assignments and felt too lazy to start any that day, then came the knocking on his door, He welcomed Austin to his room.

“Hey, so you and Jude hanged out for most of the picnic. Enjoying each other company?” He teased, waiting on Jack to react.

“Haha she’s cool, we just chatted a little before you came to interrupt. So what’s the plan for the weekend?,” Jack asked, “Can’t spend all Saturday on campus, need to get out.”

“I’m broke this week so I won’t be partying anytime soon, spending some time with my girlfriend tomorrow so we could go play PS at Johny’s, loser pays.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Walking to Johny’s they meet Jude heading back from town seemingly disgruntled.

“Hey,” Jack said.

“Hi,”

“How’s your evening going?

“Not bad, just heading back to my place,”

“Is everything okay, you look a bit glum,”

“It’s nothing really, see you later.”

She left him there for a moment staring as she went; he’d almost forgotten Austin was by his side. They walked on to Johny’s with little to say amongst themselves. The sun was just starting to set, and the village near campus had just started to come alive, the night brought to life the otherwise dull bars and restaurants littered all over the village.

“Hey Johny, how many more tournaments to go before we can get a chance to play?” Austin asked, having found the dingy shop crowded.

The shop reeked of sweaty armpits, stale beer and musky dust: a proper man-cave with cool posters on the wall and hardly ventilated, except for an open window with the curtains drawn, Gamers like it dark inside or they would have an excuse for losing a game: not that they really could explain how.

They left and for a moment thought of going back to the campus. There was hardly much else to do in the village apart from eating and drinking. Austin suggested they go to play pool at one of the local bars if it weren’t crowded.

At SHiro’s there was always music and a gambling game going on, Austin couldn’t was always eager to play, knowing all too well he would win. There were also a lot of friends so they could perhaps get drunk if anyone was buying. Jack had only carried enough money for two bottles of beer each. What started as a winning streak for Austin turned sour on the forth game and he decided to bow out and go to the bar counter to buy himself a drink from his winnings.

“How far have you gone with your dissertation?” asked Jack.

“I’m still in chapter 2, the lecturer hasn’t come around to approve and tell me to proceed. I’m collecting material for chapter three, and I hope he won’t tell me to repeat chapter two again.”

“I’m in chapter four right now, feel exhilarated now that we’re almost done with school. What are you looking forward to?”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself bro, this place has a way of wringing the hope out of you. Look at Don over there, he’s always stressed and spends his day drinking.”

“I hope to finish my dissertation and start preparing for the specials exams this august, have to clear by December and graduate, I can’t imagine spending another year waiting around here Austin, this last lap feels like its dragging its feet.”

Reminiscing about the old days when they were first years, having met on the queue to the admissions office, they chatted on about how the parties in the first semester were always the liveliest and none since have lived up to the standard, with a few notable ones down the years.

“Man I feel old now that I’m almost done with school,” said jack, “The way first years are happily dancing around campus, they’d learn soon enough how the system works. Party now & study later, was the grand motto with came with now look at the bags below our eyes from coffee and turning pages.”

“I realized something my mother told me a long time ago is now true, girls and books don’t mix. I’m thinking about how to breakup with Eve. She’s been stressing me of late with trivial things. It’s going to be our two-year anniversary in September and I don’t think I can stand her attitude anymore”, lamented Austin.

Jack couldn’t help the smirk that came to his face as he reminded Austin of the way he was dumbstruck the first day he saw Eve and started dating her. “You were whipped bro, she had you wrapped around her finger doing her beck and call.”

“Haha, remember when we were being told on the meeting the student leaders that campus relationships don’t last? I think this is what they meant. What are you planning to do once you’re done with school?” Austin inquired.

Wracking his brain, Jack couldn’t come up with an answer. He was in an awkward position where he couldn’t discuss his fate without having to consult his father. Everything he had done until that point seemed to be geared towards finishing school and discovering what awaits, such is the life of a refugee growing up outside of his country. Looking back at Austin he seemed disoriented by the question, “maybe I’ll get a chance to go see my grand mother, It has been over six years since I last saw her.”

“So what does that mean, you’re not going to join us in Nairobi to attend the Kenya school of Law?”

“I don’t know, haven’t decided yet,” Was all jack could say. For a moment he felt a dull buzzing in his ear as everything in the room seemed to fade into the background, he looked around and saw how little affection he had for the bar and the crowd and the music that didn’t really make him feel captivated. His thoughts drifting back to the day when his mother reminded him that the only gift they could give him was education. What was he going to do next? The usual lingering question that always got him daydreaming about what it would feel like to go home, to laugh with the whole family over how awkward he sounded trying to speak his colloquial. Waking up to his grand mother gently nudging him awake, and her glowing smile.

“Dude you just switched off, what were you thinking about? Was it Jude? I saw you guys had hit it off before I came to her rescue,” said Austin, bringing Jack back to reality.

“ We were talking about books, not exactly something you can make much out off, but she’s really cool. Want to get out of here and get back to campus, it’s getting late.”

Walking back to the hostels, Austin teased Jack about catching the love bug and how he was swooning at Jude when they met earlier that evening. Before parting to go their separate ways, Austin asked if it was better to break up with Eve soon or after the semester ended, knowing her propensity to cause a scene Jack suggested he wait.

The weeks went by relatively fast, with the few classes they had and the research papers that took up most of the time, Austin and Jack barely met. The occasional call to go watch a movie in town and to play Playstation at Johny’s came but weren’t followed up on. As the semester came to a close, Jack and Jude had been meeting and greeting each other but nothing ever came of their conversations, just a friendship that grew with every encounter.

The semester ended and the only people remaining on campus were the forth years working on finishing their final dissertation papers. Austin, Jack and Jude all feeling drained from the hectic reading schedules they had decided to go out to a picnic and perhaps take a break.

“So where shall we go now that we’ve all agreed to take today off? Will there be more people or just the three of us?” asked Jude; she was feeling slightly uncomfortable with the idea of being the only girl.

“I tried to invite Eve but she said she wanted to go into town and do some shopping. Most of the people have gone home for the weekend and will be back on Monday,” answered Austin.

“How about we go to the park to explore the riverside, haven’t been there for a while,” suggested Jack.

There were two ways of getting to the park, walking was out of the question since it took more than thirty minutes and none of them wanted the exercise so they took motorbikes/ Bodaboda (aptly named for their function ferrying people from one place to the next). The short walk to the riverside was dull; having seen a distant entourage of ducks, they looked for a comfortable place to sit facing away from the sun that was bearing down on them.

“So Austin, what’s happening between you and Eve? You guys seem to be falling out and my friend Liz overheard you guys fighting at the cafeteria.” Said Jude, “I hope everything is okay.”

Feeling slightly exposed, Austin shrugged looking despondent, “I guess it’s hard to tell if she cares for me anymore. She is always going into town this days and wriggles her way out of making any plans with me.”

“It’s hard to imagine you guys falling out, you were always the envy of the crowd, especially during the miss Campus edition when she kissed you after winning the crown,” Said Jude.

“Could we not talk about her right now, kind of need a break from all the reading and stress right now,” Austin replied with a stern voice.

“I’d hate to point out how awkward it feels sitting here listening to all this girl talk, so how about we just talk about the graduation plans? Anybody else have a special exam next month, I need to find some notes,” interrupted Jack.

“Nice try Jack, I’m tired of all that school talk too. For a change I’d like a personal conversation. We are all friends here so there shouldn’t be anything to hide,” Replied Jude.

“Speaking of which, most of the time you’re day dreaming and hardly ever tell us anything about where you are from or what you always think about when you’re drifting off,” Austin added.

“There isn’t that much I can tell you about where I’m from. I was born in exile so this is all I have known all my life, the anxiety of moving from place to place. There really isn’t anything fanciful that I can tell you about my country, I plan to go back after I’m done with school and that is just about it,” said jack.

“You’re as much Kenyan as we are then, you speak our language and know everything about us. How come you didn’t apply for citizenship?” asked Austin.

“We can never really get integrated, beyond being a refugee, here I’m just a walking bag of cash from which to extort. So you see, I’m tired of having to cough up a little extra just to get a service. Until I finish my studies, I’m stuck waiting for the journey back home. I would like to know how it feels meeting relatives I never knew or haven’t seen for the better part of a decade. The war back home tore our family apart and most of the time I have to watch my mother anguish over how rudely she was treated or my sisters holding on to their dignities when insulted for not replying to crude advances on the streets. It’s a hard life to get used to and I can’t say I want to stay here for more than I have to,” replied Jack.

“I know that most institutions are corrupt, but it can’t be that its been all bad staying here. This is like your home away from home, you have friends here and we care for you. I know its not the same everywhere but at least you should feel free being with us, I’d like to help where I can.” Said Jude.

“I don’t see how it can be helped, it is what it is, besides it hasn’t stopped me yet. I just daydream most of the time about how much better it would be if I could get away for the day and fly home. Its silly I know but I can’t help but wonder how much more different it would be if I were staying there,” replied jack.

“You sound like a poet speaking about home like that. Most of the time I overlooked it when I visited my grand parents as something normal. You know you are like a brother to me, since I got to know you. Though I’ve to admit, I hate looking up to you, like literally,” Austin grinned as he looked skywards.

“Isn’t it true that girls like a tall dark and handsome man Jude? Or is it just another work of fiction like cupid?” jack asked.

“I can’t presume to tell you what girls like. You should probably get your heads out of the clouds though jack,” said Jude.

“You’re so punny, you remind me of a cousin of mine who had a problem saying p and f in any word,” Jack retorted.

“I can him saying the word pack and push in the same sentence,” said Austin.

Jack and Jude stared at him for a moment, noticing that his joke hadn’t really hit the spot he faked a cough. He was still feeling uneasy about having gone on the picnic without Eve by his side, it was as if he had become the third wheel on a date seeing how well Jack and Jude got along. She had given him unwavering attention as he talked, now that his joke went amiss he felt awkward sitting there.

“I’ve to ask, Jude, is it normal for a girl to go shopping and on dates every weekend with uncles. I can’t help worrying that Eve is not being honest with me, for the last three months its been fight after fight about how I don’t give her the same kind of attention as when we started dating or asking me if I’m serious about our relationship.” Lamented jack, “She has been so distant of late that I can’t even talk to her without starting a fight. I can’t tell what’s right or wrong with her anymore.”

“I don’t know how to say this to you, there has been a rumor that she is dating some older guy who drops her off at the campus gates in a black SUV. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you but it is not right that you find out like this.” Said Jude.

Austin’s face for a moment became distorted with rage; his brow cringed as he tried to contain his thoughts. He sulked feeling betrayed, angry that he didn’t find out earlier about the deceit. Had he been so blinded by love that he couldn’t see through that outright lie. For the rest of the picnic he seemed occupied in thought thinking about what he was going to do next, confront Eve about it or wait to confirm if it were anything more than a rumor.

Austin went to his hostel deep in thought about the new revelation. Walking along the pavements, he hardly noticed anybody passing him along the way. He looked down, trekking the footpath using only his memory for the number of times he had walked this way too inebriated to see more than two-step ahead of him. Suddenly he craved to go out on a drinking spree, maybe that could free him from the chains of betrayal that he felt yanking at his soul. For two years he watched Eve, she was the only thing that he felt proud of, she was everything he could ever dream of.

Since the day they met, he had never stopped liking her; she had a hold on him that he couldn’t easily shake. It was a rainy afternoon when they first talked, It had been raining since morning and she had just fallen into a puddle of mud and needed help getting back up. It felt like a cliché from a movie scene, him holding out a hand to pull her up. He walked her to her hostel talking about how cold it was and getting to know each other better. It was the first semester of their second year of studies and they were surprised that they had not known each other considering they were in the same class. They got to know each other and began dating soon after; she was always fending off advances from other guys while she walked with him that he hardly ever got jealous about the attention she got.

The thing that he loved the most about her was the way she looked at him. She had hazel brown eyes that seemed to bear down on his soul and swallow him whole. From the first day she looked at him, he felt compelled to follow her home. They were kind and yet seemed to burn, he could never look at them when he thought he was wronging her, he always gave in to her wishes. For a while he thought it was her charm that had him sprung, she had him doing her every bidding and he was powerless to stop it. Now he had to look into those eyes and demand to know the truth, could he really go through with it and break up with her?

He waited patiently for her call, practicing in his head every word he wanted to say to her to express how betrayed he felt. He kept asking himself what he did to deserve this betrayal, were there any signs he had missed. She didn’t call; he sat in his dark room shifting from the bed to the sofa and back to bed. Agonizing over every second that he didn’t know where she was he picked up his phone, looked up her contact and talked himself out of calling. It was half past nine when she texted that she would be spending the night in town and he could barely contain himself.

He walked to Jack’s place to talk, Jack noticing the strained expression on his face welcomed him in and asked him what was wrong. Pouring his heart out, Jack felt sorry for Austin. It had inadvertently been confirmed to him that she had no more love left for him and he could barely contain the whirlwind of emotions inside of him. He briefly suggested that they should go to the bar before changing his mind and saying he would rather avoid meeting the crowd. Austin was doing a poor job masking the rage burning in his eyes, a balancing tear clinging to his eyelashes but not falling from his eyes. He was otherwise preoccupied with the betrayal that he barely noticed the knock on the door.

Jack got up to go answer the door, Jude stood on the other side smiling awkwardly as if glad that he was in. She asked if he was busy and he replied not at all. He worried about how Austin would react having her in the same room as him but he greeted her with a slight grin on his face that seemed out of place. Jack ushered her to the sofa and offered to get her a drink, soda or water he asked. He always had a two-litre bottle of Coke in the mini-fridge in his room, he poured two cup for his guests.

For a moment the silence in the room was tense, Jack sat down on the bed filling the final angle of the triangle. Jude seemed rather cheerful and so she broke the silence asking if they had any plans for the evening. Austin shrugged and Jack answered that Austin had just arrived briefly before she did.

“It must be a special day for you all to visit me,” he retorted.

“Sorry to barge in on you like this, I couldn’t get what you said earlier out of my head. I’m glad we got to talk and it’s hard to defend the indignities you are put through. I just wanted to talk more about what you are planning to do when you get back home,” Jude replied, “there must be like a million things you want to do, and the number of opportunities for an educated lad like you. The Job markets here is saturated and I was thinking that I might join you there.”

“Falling for his charm already Jude, you’d better watch out, you’re proving the Cinderella stories true. You have finally met the African version of prince charming,” teased Austin, seemingly rejuvenated from the dark mood he had been in earlier.

Jack felt relieved that he had talked, he thought it would have been one of those awkward moments where he would have to fill in the gaps to keep the conversation going. The mood seemed to have lightened and soon they were all laughing their heads off. They watched a movie and Austin started dozing off on the sofa where he sat. Jack escorted Jude out and they talked all the way to her hostel. She thanked him for a wonderful day and went in to her hostel.

Jack walked back to his room thinking about the day he had, wondering what he truly felt for Jude. The jokes Austin cracked aside, the more time he spent with her the more he felt drawn to her. She had a crackling laugh that seemed to cheer him up too. She had a cute smile, and every time he looked at her she seemed to be wearing it. For a moment he seemed convinced that she was the girl for him, but then he remembered that Austin was still in his room napping off a relationship hangover.

Thinking to himself, he laughed off the idea of ever dating Jude considering how late it was to start. Graduation was a couple of months away and he couldn’t possibly string her along to his gloomy world of uncertainty. He convinced himself that it was just a passing glance at a beautiful friendship, he should not make up more out of it than the molehill it was. It’s funny how he thought up phrases like that, making mountains out of molehills, it was as if his mind had been colonized by some foreign voice feeding him those English phrases that filled his elementary school compositions.

Getting to his room he closed the door gently behind him, shut down his computer, covered Austin with the spare blanket and went to sleep. He woke up at around six to find Austin deep in thought. He seemed as morose as he had been the previous night; his hair was a mess and his heavy sighs showed how heavy each thought that crossed his mind weighed him down. Austin involuntarily coughed and went back to his deep thoughts. Jack didn’t want to interrupt his train of thought but felt it was necessary to distract him from it.

“Hey, so are you going to spend all morning planning your escape? Even prison breaks aren’t thought about that hard. Take it easy bro,” jack started, for a brief moment he felt tense that he had gone about it the wrong way but when Austin laughed he got up from his bed.

“ Want to watch a movie? I never start my morning unless I watch something interesting to replace that dreamless sleep I had,” jack inquired.

“ Sure thing, what movie do you have in mind? it’s not dreamless as such, you just forget your dreams when you wake up.” Austin replied.

“I was thinking of a series actually, not really in the mood for reading today either. I got this last week and wanted to watch it, the scribbled name is hard to make out but I think it’s good.”

Having waited for the computer to boot up, he put in the DVD and went back to his bed. The computer screen was large enough to be seen by both of them and so for the next hour none of them spoke. Jack received a text message from Jude asking him how he slept. He replied to her and asked what she was up-to. They texted for a while before Austin noticed and asked who it was. Jack replied and immediately regretted it. Austin started making faces, teasing him about what had happened after he had dosed off. He pointed out that nothing happened but it was to no avail, Austin didn’t believe a word of it.

Jude was asking how Austin was doing, she had noticed that he wasn’t his usual cheerful self since she had told him about the rumor and so she felt guilty for bursting his bubble. She wanted to know if anything had happened yet, weirdly enough jack seemed all to eager to engage her in the gossip. He was not sure if the confrontation would happen but he was anxious to hear how Eve would explain herself. It felt like being part of a telenovela soap opera.

It was a little past ten when a call came through, Eve asked Austin where he was and he told her he was with Jack. They talked briefly and agreed to meet at Austin’s hostel. He got up and began pacing the room, anxious about what he would say, he looked at Jack and decided it was better he went without any further delay. Every step he took after walking out the door felt heavier and the air felt thinner. He tried to gulp in as much air as he could, sighing with every step as if resigning to the fate that waited on the other end of his Journey. He had given Eve the extra key to his room and found her seated on the bed. She asked him where he spent the night, as if jealous that he had spent the night out. He replied that he watched movies with Jack all night and ended up sleeping on the sofa, that’s how the fight started. Before long they were shouting at each other insults and by the time he walked out of the room he was sure that the three cups and two plates on the overturned table were broken.

The argument had him feeling drained and so he paced for a moment unable to decide which direction to go in. He walked back into the room to find Eve crying on the bed and for a moment he felt pity for her. He wanted to comfort her as he had always done, but the anger and pride within him would not let him. He felt betrayed but wasn’t sure if he could go through with the breakup. He sat down on the opposite side of the room and buried his head within his hands, before asking the question that nagged him all night.

“Who is the guy in the black SUV that drops you off? Is he the same uncle you tell me everyday you are going to meet? Why do you lie to me like that, did you think I wouldn’t find out? I’ve loved you for so long I don’t know what to think anymore, so please tell me where did I go wrong?” he said tearfully recounting the memories they shared.

Eve said nothing; she just cried, occasionally shuddering as she blew her nose into the handkerchief in her hands. She sulked and looked away from Austin before saying, “I never meant to hurt you like this, I just didn’t know how to tell you it wasn’t going to work out between us. I’ve been holding on to the memories we share and didn’t want to throw it all away and I betrayed your trust when I decided to keep this secret from you. I’m in love with a married man and I know it will never work out but I can’t stop loving him.”

Austin was taken aback by her confession; he stood up and walked out of his room leaving her crying on the bed. There was a crowd gathering outside the hostel’s door the neighbors having overheard the fight. He walked to Jack’s room knocked on the door and recounted the confession barely believing the words as he spoke them. He felt even more betrayed and for a moment thought of going back and chasing Eve out of his room if only it would take her out of his life. Jack held him back and told him to cool off. For the next few days there was little else being talked about around the campus than the falling out between Austin and Eve, the rumors being distorted with each retelling that in the end Jude heard only a fabrication that both Austin and Eve had cheated on each other and fought after they discovered their indiscretions.

Jude coming to the realization of what happened tried to console Austin, but by then he had become numb to the comforting words. He simply smiled, that fake smile that seemed forced and only last for the better part of a second and restored the glum sulk of a sullen face burdened by inexplicable thoughts. He seemed almost uninterested in talking much, the heartbreak had removed the spring in his step and the usual cheery disposition he had. Jack spent his day chatting him up about alternative plans to sitting in the poorly lit room. Austin only seemed to respond to invitations to drink until he passed out. Eve had only come over once and he barely spoke to her as she begged for his forgiveness, she took her things from his room and left after he scorned at her for having chosen a married man over him.

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