I am keenly aware of Mariam, sitting behind me, being pensively silent.
It’s a lovely evening; the sun is setting yonder, lending a lovely orange dusky glow to the light and the leaves in the trees.
“Ok, let’s go get set up!” Jo says as she emerges out of the reception room of the campsite we have booked. “Our location is over there-,” she waves her hand vaguely in the direction of Lake Naivasha, “-and someone will be there with our tents and things.”
And so we all hop back into the car, Fatma having returned from the ladies’ room, and I am keenly aware of Mariam, sitting behind me, being pensively silent.
“Is everything alright at home?” I ask her finally, turning around to face her as we bump over the dips and hollows of the irregular terrain. It’s a lovely evening; the sun is setting yonder, lending a lovely orange dusky glow to the light and the leaves in the trees.
Mariam merely sucks her teeth. “I’ll be fine,” she says grumpily. I give her a piercing stare but she does nothing except look out the window. I can sense when my concern in unwanted and so I turn back to Jo, who is now parking the car next to collection of rods and canvas sheets.
HERE WE ARE
“Here we are!” she yelps, jumping out excitedly as if she is about to commence a shoe-shopping trip – except that I am the one who gets excited about shoe shopping while she is the one who gets excited about putting things like tents together. “Get the sleeping bags out of the trunk and let’s get set up!” she yells like a drill sergeant.
For the next hour, Jo yells instructions sternly – “Lift that!” “Hold this here!” “Don’t you know how to hammer anything into the ground?!” “What’s wrong with you girls – afraid of ruining your manicures?!” “Gah! Give me that, let me do it myself!” – while the three of us fumble around most ineptly. At the end of it all, we find ourselves sitting on camping chairs in front of a wood fire (which Jo lit) in front of our two tents (which Jo practically erected by herself) with a camping table (which Jo put together without the manufacturer’s instructions) sipping on cans of beer (Jo) and red wine in plastic cups (the rest of us).
“You girls are so delicate,” Jo says, looking at us sipping our drinks. “I mean, who brings red wine on a camping trip?”
“Thank heavens they make the bottles with screw tops instead of corks these days because after all that work, I couldn’t bear the thought of battling with a bottle,” Fatma sighs.
“Ugh, this tastes horrible,” I grimace after a sip.
“No it doesn’t,” says Fatma, sniffing the contents of her cup.
“It’s because it’s in a plastic cup,” Jo rolls her eyes at me. “Liz is so bougie that if her wine doesn’t come in a glass with a stem in it she feels like she’s been cheated.”
“Ah!” I protest, slapping her arm. She giggles, and Fatma joins her. But through all this banter, Mariam is quiet. I turn to her feeling somewhat exasperated.
“Listen, I don’t know why you came if all you’re going to do is sit here and sulk, Mariam,” I tell her. “I mean, we’ve all been at odds with each other so much the past few months, it’s a blessing we can all be here as friends.”
“Liz!” Jo protests. This time, she is the one who slaps my hand. “How about a little empathy? Mariam is going through things, you know.”
“We’re ALL going through things!” I exclaim. “So Mariam hasn’t heard from her boyfriend over the past few hours – I haven’t heard from mine in days and I’m still here, still happy!”
“Excuse me,” is all Mariam says as she stands up and wanders off into the distance. I can see from the light radiating from her hand that she is once again trying to reach her toy boy.
“Watch out for hippos!” Jo yells towards her and Fatma and I giggle. Mariam doesn’t acknowledge us; the light has now moved to her ear.
“Right, now tell us what’s happening with your man,” Jo says, turning to me. I shrug. “Come on, open the email he sent,” she says.
“I don’t want to,” I say. “I am having a very nice time and I am determined to keep it that way.”
“Aren’t you even just a little curious?” Fatma asks. I have to admit that I am. “Ok, then bring out your phone and let’s see!”
I might as well, I think to myself as I reach for my phone, bracing myself for whatever message I am about to read.