The narrator of Ndinda Kioko’s “Obscure Sorrows,” today’s addition to our New Voices catalog, discovers her husband’s lover, Tito Telagat, when Tito e-mails her a picture of the illicit affair. At the time, she and her husband are trying hard to conceive a child. How will the affair unsettle this couple? Kioko’s ruminations on secrets, on stagnancy, on love and identity, are deeply moving in this story we are proud to share with you all today.
I thought of Tito Telagat and my husband standing there looking at each other with the shyness of new lovers, that hesitation after having not seen each other for a while, before a lover’s hand reaches out to touch their lover’s face. I saw them as though they were standing next to me, and I could almost breathe their air.
The day Tito Telagat wrote to me, saying he’d been sleeping with my husband of one year, I was thinking about my knees, which have always had scars.
On the email, Tito Telagat had attached a picture of the two of them sitting on the edge of a bed, my husband half-dressed or half-naked, his hand on his lover’s knee. I’d just woken up, and there was music coming from a radio I couldn’t remember switching on.
For the rest of the morning, I sat in bed staring at Tito’s knees. How small, how beautiful, how soft they looked under my husband’s palm. There wasn’t a single hint of life’s wear on his skin.
Later that evening when my husband came home, I said nothing about the lover or his beautiful knees. I let the news sit at the roof of my throat, suspended, and listened to the unvarying rituals of his evening. There was the carefulness with which he turned the doorknob like a thief, a touch that was almost not there. It was light. Like a soft wind on sand. There was the sudden loudness of the door opening. Then, the weight of his boots on the wooden floor. He walked in, leaned over and kissed me in practiced motions. His right hand rested lightly on my forehead in that soft way he’d always been with me, and the other loosened the buttons on his shirt without looking..
Then he sighed. He was home, away from it all.
My husband was in his late-thirties, and like most Nairobians in their late thirties, he was becoming more disappointed with the state of the country. In these first few minutes, he complained about the unending traffic on Ngong Road, the heat, the noise, the increasing lack of personal space, and three short men he worked with who drank cheap whiskey and talked a lot. Then, he collapsed on the sofa and slept, his head resting on my thigh.