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Of Love and Insects by Muthoni Garland 

The blur was visible again, flitting along the windows behind him - a dark speck weaving a groove through the glassy reflection. At this distance, the city of Nairobi looked so polished and possible, the edgy topography of concrete buildings setting off the warm green sprawl of Uhuru Park. But Doreen knew it didn’t bear closer scrutiny. She could visualise the iridescent flies resting about the eyes of the child carried on the back of the beggar woman on Koinange street,  beetles skittering out of sacks of beans and cereals lining the floor of the dukawallahs on Biashara Street, bedbugs proliferating River Road hotels, and the lice on the heads of her nephew’s classmates at Kili Primary. If she concentrated hard enough Doreen was certain she’s see the haze of locusts on the horizon - the ayaki, the thing determined to consume and obliterate us.

Doreen awkwardly scrunched up the sofa until her feet found purchase.  “Bob, it must be something about the air here - hot and unforgiving. I suggest you apply Global intensive-care cream. On your arms, I mean, to counter the dryness.”

He flushed, tapped his mouth with his fingers.  “Because of the…exceptional circumstances, I’ll overlook that.”

The whirring in the air drew closer and then flitted away again, not staying long or still enough for Doreen to figure out what kind of bug it was.

“What else are you prepared to overlook?” With her chin, Doreen indicated the glass partition.

Mr. Cartwright clipped his words to match the stiff demeanour of his moustache. “Perhaps you could explain what you mean by that?”

It might have been a trick of light but it seemed the whirring in the air was getting frantic. Her hand inched towards her bag.

“They’re guilty,” she said, “The marketing and sales heads share pillow secrets if you know what I mean. They cover up for each other. And probably half the operations director’s extended family works for Global Beauty - in the factory and out in the field. They use first and middle names to obscure things.”  

“What evidence do you have to support these allegations?” Mr. Cartwright massaged one hand with the other.

“That’s just the stuff floating on top, Bob, the lesser proofs outlining the pattern of the whole. Smelly stuff but not legally indefensible. To prove what’s eating the bottom line, I need more time. Time to root around in that corrupt armpit so we can yank out all the pubic crabs once and for all.”

“I wonder if I’m mistaken about you.”

Was that Philo knocking on the glass door and mouthing something at her?

But Doreen’s gaze drifted back to the little soldiers guarding Mr. Cartwright’s lips.  She wondered if he realised that after the knowledge came the fallout. And fallout affected so damn many – Ambrose’s wife and children, Caleb’s wife and son, those arms that reached for Caleb’s wallet or prodded his broken body, whoever Philo had shared a bed with and whoever they were related to. Mama. And her. She sighed, but as the air expelled from her lips, Doreen spied the speck zooming in the air towards them. She recognised the danger.

She grasped Bob’s hand. Startled he leaned back. Pulling against him, Doreen leveraged herself out of the sofa. He was forced up, his face turning a violent red. Their bodies smacked.

Doreen extracted the Doom from her bag and held up the nozzle.  

“Careful,” she said, puffing air in his face. “Careful.”

He blinked, tightened his mouth, the soldier ants bristling.


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Per Contra Spring 2007