His relationship ended with a smashed camera. Four years of invested emotions tumbled off the ledge of a window that was three floors up and hit the ground.
Ace held his breath, cringing, as he watched the camera meet its untimely death. He had been careless with it a few seconds ago, having placed it on the ledge so that he could taste the rich goodness of his spicy Masala tea. His elbow then nudged the device and sent it tumbling down.
Behind him sat his girlfriend. His only love. His lifeline on many occasions. It was she who had gifted him the camera just a week ago. It cost her almost a quarter of a million. She wanted to support his newly-found love for photography. What was he going to tell her?
“I’m going down to get it,” he announced, hurrying out the door. She gave no reply. He rushed out of their hotel suite and into an elevator in the hallway. He was on the ground floor in no time and charging out to get the camera.
“Jambo!” he responded in Swahili to a greeting thrown at him by the receptionist. Quick steps took him to the scene of the crash where he found damaged bits of his beloved.
His heart broke in a thousand pieces. He stared upwards and found Joana watching. When he returned to the room, she was waiting with crossed arms.
Her hand flew into the air to stop him.
“Zip it, Ace. Zip it.”
“Me too, because I’m done.”
“I was careless and very stupid…”
“I am tired!” Tears hit her eyes fast. He made to move towards her, but she stepped back. “I’m really tired. I can’t do this anymore.”
“You can’t do what?”
“Us. The relationship. I’m done.”
“I’m done! How much more do you want me to take, Ace?! How much?! I pay the rent, I buy your clothes, I feed you, and I even fuel the car that I bought for you! Just because I want people to believe my man caters to me! But he doesn’t! You don’t! This is not what I planned for myself! I just turned thirty and I need to settle down with somebody who can afford the type of wedding and lifestyle I want! Not the man who depends on me for his next meal! I just can’t do it!”
Ace was dumbfounded. He never saw this coming. She had alluded to it a few times, in subtler ways, but he had been inattentive, indifferent. Her words were hitting him like a cannon right now.
“You’re-you’re joking, right? This is a joke–”
“It is not a joke!”
Joana went to the wardrobe and dragged her box out of it.
“I’ve reset my goals and you’re not in the picture!”
“Joana?” Ace called, still stunned. He went to her. “Baby?”
When he touched her, she fell apart in tears. He held her. She smelled good. Felt so soft. Intimately soft. She was his Jo Girl. His caramel. Life was nothing without her.
“I’m so sorry,” she sobbed. “So sorry, but we just have to end this now.”
“You shouldn’t be apologizing. I should. Everything you said was right. You’ve tried, Jo. You really have…”
That was all he could say. There was a lot to dredge up. Four years of two lives spent together. He couldn’t summarize it. He didn’t want to. This was not the end. Joana was joking.
“I promise to pick my ass up and give you all you ever wanted.”
“You’ve been promising me for years.” Joana sniffled, pushed him away. “It’s too late.”
“You’re joking right?”
“Stop saying that! I am not!” she screamed.
“Is there another guy?”
“I wish there was,” she replied in exhaustion, “that I don’t feel like a big loser now, knowing I kept things a hundred with you even though you gave me nothing.”
“That’s a lie, Jo.”
“Argue with yourself. I’m done.”
She picked clothes from the wardrobe and flung into the box.
“Joana,” he called. “Jo?”
And it seemed from that moment on, she became deaf. Ace pleaded his case, reminding her how hard he was hustling to become rich, how difficult things had been for him. He also reminded her that he had not been entirely reliant on her.
“I buy food for the house and fuel for the gen. I take you to the movies. Baby, last month I bought you that Mongolian hair. And the two hundred thousand loan during Christmas that you wanted, I hustled and got it for you.”
Joana was all packed now. She looked at him in palpable sadness. “It’s not enough, Ace. I want a man who earns as much as me or higher. You’re neither, and if you haven’t been able to do all you’ve promised me in four years, I doubt that you’ll get it right.”
He continued to stare in shock as she packed the clothes she had come with for their one-week vacation in Zanzibar. Afterwards she had a shower and wore a sundress. She didn’t need makeup. She was always beautiful without it.
She picked up the receiver off a phone by the bedside and contacted reception.
“Please send someone to get my bags.”
When she hung up, Ace asked, “You’re going home?”
“No. I’m going to Dar es Salaam. I’ll be there for the rest of the holiday. Don’t worry about this suite, it’s all been paid for. Breakfast as well. And of course, your return ticket.”
Tears were filling her eyes again. She went to him and planted a kiss on his cheek.
He watched her open the door and let in a porter who took her luggage out. At that point, Ace jumped to his feet.
“Please, don’t follow me,” she begged.
He ignored her instruction. “Jo, let’s talk about this.”
“There’s nothing to talk about,” she responded, hurrying towards the elevator.
“I’ll change. I’ll find a stable job and a side hustle so that I can meet up. I’ll do everything to make you happy, Caramel. Please, don’t do this to me.”
They stood before the elevator, waiting. “Go back.” Joana flicked off a tear. The elevator door opened. She entered it, and so did Ace. When the porter tried to join them, he stopped him. The door closed.
“Stop begging. You’re beginning to piss me off.”
“Come on. You can’t do like this nau. Four years, Jo. Four good years. I never cheated on you. I did everything to make you happy. I was always at home. I stayed away from my friends because of you. Haba.”
“Haba? Are you serious right now?”
The elevator door opened again. They were at the ground floor.
“The only reason you were always at home was because you couldn’t hold a job down.”
“All those jobs had issues, you know that.” He hurried out of the elevator, after her.
“Ace, please stop talking. Just stop it.” Joana was conscious of the fact that they were no longer alone. They were in a small lounge area that led to the reception. A lady sat there, eyes on her phone.
“You got too comfortable,” Joana continued. “Unfortunately, I’m no longer comfortable with that.”
“Jo…” He touched her hand but she snatched it away.
The elevator opened again and the porter came out. Joana started towards the reception in angry steps. A stubborn Ace went after her. But she made a quick move by reporting him to the security man stationed at the entrance, and he was stopped from following her.
“I’m her boyfriend.” He struggled to push through but was held back. “Joana!”
When she disappeared from sight, Ace felt profound emptiness settle on him. He managed out of the security man’s clutch and returned to the suite where he sat in silence for a long time. His thoughts seemed not to be able to pull together to anything sensible. And so he dug beneath the blanket.
The day flipped past and darkness came with the rumbling of his stomach. Ace picked his phone and connected it to the hotel’s Wifi. He went on Instagram and the first thing he saw was a collection of Joana’s pictures. She was in Dar es Salaam, alright. Her long sundress with the open back couldn’t hide her curves. She struck various poses on a busy street. She captioned them ‘Freedom’. She would usually tag him, but didn’t this time. And when he scrolled through older posts on her feed, he noticed that all the photos she shared of herself in Zanzibar didn’t have him in them.
He went on her Facebook, just out of curiosity, and discovered her relationship status had changed from ‘In a relationship’ to ‘Single’.
Ace felt pain in his chest. He put his phone away for the sake of his sanity. He returned to his shelter beneath the blanket, ignoring his hunger pangs.
He slept off.
Morning came with the scent of her perfume and a painful realization that he may have to get used to waking up without her. They usually made love in the mornings. She was a morning person.
Ace managed a cold shower and left the suite for breakfast, which turned out tasteless. He decided it was a good day to take a walk around the city. He found himself meandering through a maze of streets, intrigued by how tight they were and the way the houses and shops flanked them so closely. He loved that one could walk past the entrance of a four-star hotel and may not even notice it because it opened up to an ordinary street, like every other building did. The ancient, artistic architecture of the doors was something to engage his mind. The tour guide that had taken him and Joana around town two days ago explained that doors with square shapes were Arabian and the ones with arches were either British or Indian.
There was a tubby cat in every corner, and the welcoming smell of spices was prominent in the air. He took pictures with his phone. Every click reminded him of the broken camera and of Joana. He had sent her a message on Whatsapp earlier. She had read it and not responded.
Ace continued on his tour until he came to an amphitheater that was built by Omani Arabs in the 17th century, but was now the headquarters for the Zanzibar International Film Festival which held annually. He sat there until sunset.
He was hungry. Ending his tour, he found his way to Forodhani Park. In an hour or so, the place would be teeming with food vendors and their customers. Ace sat on a concrete fence that had cannons dating back to three centuries ago. The fence looked out to the ocean where boats and ships floated. He and Joana had planned to visit one of the islands they had seen in the distance. He wasn’t feeling up to that any longer.
He was there until the park became busy. He got up, side-stepping a black cat that was in his way. He smiled when he thought about how his mom would have freaked out over the fact that a black cat had gotten in her path.
His mom… She loved Joana. What would he tell her happened to their relationship?
Ace picked a familiar food vendor. The man had sold chicken and fries to him and Joana on their first night in Zanzibar. He was a jovial man in his late twenties or early thirties who called himself Mr. Hakuna Matata. He advertised the variety of meats on his table to each customer in an engaging manner. The tourists always ended up buying more than they desired.
Ace made an order for chicken and fries and picked somewhere in the park to eat. Half of the meal went into his mouth, the other fed a dozen cats that gathered at his feet.
He felt like having a drink. He strolled to a bar called Mercury, named after the famous rock singer, Freddie Mercury, who was born in Zanzibar. Ace had a few bottles there that cost more than the market price, but didn’t give him the bliss he sought for. He eventually left and went into a side of the town that was named after Freddie Mercury as well. There he found a locally distilled Cognac called Konyagi. He sat with a group of residents and consumed bottle after bottle until he ran out of cash.
Ace left the men and returned to the hotel, arriving there after a tiring walk. He was going to walk past the reception, but the lady behind the desk called him back.
“Your key!” she said.
She was smiling at him when she pushed the key card to him. She had flirted with him from the first day.
“Goodnight.” Her smile remained as he turned away, feeling his woozy head respond to his movement. He ambled through the lounge to the elevator, noting the presence of a familiar face there. But he didn’t acknowledge the person. He entered the elevator and rode upstairs. All he wanted was the comfort of his bed and the chill of the air conditioner to deal with the drunkenness in his head.
He strode into his room, not observing that the door was unlocked. He stripped, threw himself on the bed and passed out.
He awoke the next morning, freezing. He dashed into the bathroom, wondering why it felt as if someone had moved it from the position it had been at. After a long urination, he walked back to the room in slow steps as it came to him that he was in the wrong suite.
He stopped, looked around. The curtains were of a different shade and the room had signs that it belonged to a woman. A bra and thong lay on a dress that was resting on a chair.
Ace scratched his head in confusion. He had gone to sleep in his suite, but had woken up in a woman’s space, all nude. What had happened last night?
“How did I…?” he asked himself, walking to the entrance room which held a different color theme from his. After trying to decipher the mystery without success, his eyes fell on a piece of paper slightly tucked under a vase on the center table. It was a note addressed to him. He read it.
Remember me? We chatted for a bit yesterday. Unfortunately, you returned to the hotel very drunk last night, walked past me downstairs and ended up in my suite because I had forgotten to close the door. I would have called security if you were a total stranger and you were not going through a heartbreak. Anyway, I’m taking your key to sleep in your space since you took mine.
Ace dashed into his clothes in lightning speed. He began out, but recalled that his mouth stank. He entered the bathroom for some toothpaste which he rinsed his mouth with. Recollections of his time spent with Dugo yesterday began to fill his head. He had embarrassed himself at their first meeting. He didn’t want to make a second third impression with a smelly mouth.
He straightened the bed and left the suite to his. He knocked on the door. Seconds after, it opened. Dugo stood before him in a silky nightwear and a scarf around her hair. She was a beautiful woman. How hadn’t he noticed this the first time?
She wasn’t smiling.
“Hi.” He scratched the back of his neck.
“Good morning, Dugo. I… Um…” He rubbed his eyes. “So we talked yesterday, right?”
“The day before yesterday. After your girlfriend left, you came to meet me at the lounge to tell me about your breakup.”
“Right. I’m so sorry about last night.”
“This is not me, for the record. I’m not the guy who gets drunk and ends up nude in strange beds.”
“Trust me, I didn’t see anything I haven’t seen before. Shit happens. You’re heartbroken.”
“I have to go. Let me through.”
He moved away from the door.
“I’ll be going out today,” she said. “Do you want to come along?”
“Me? You want me to tag along after what I did?”
She laughed. “Meet me downstairs for breakfast. I need a friend in Nigeria for when I go back there. You look like a cool guy.”
“See you later, Ace.”
She entered her suite and he went into his. When he got into the bedroom, the scent of a different feminine perfume hit him. Yesterday the room had Joana stamped all over it. Today, it was Dugo.
Ace sat on the bed. He yawned. It was another good day to sleep in, but he remembered Dugo’s offer.
He hadn’t been known to turn down the request of a beautiful woman.