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Of Love and Insects by Muthoni Garland

Mr Cartwright laughed a bit.

“Did you tell your wife about her?”

“It wasn’t like that.” Mr. Cartwright laughed a bit more, and coughed. “Really.”

“Dori,” Philo pulled her hand. “If a man couldn’t see in the dark, how would he know what item of clothing a woman takes off?”

‘Your sister is impossible,” said Mr. Cartwright, his tone oozing pleasure.

Doreen chose to misunderstand.  “Philo, I don’t think you’re being fair to Mr. Cartwright.”

“Okay,” Philo squeezed her hand. “You okay?”

As though in response, the buttons lit up again. Seven. Nine. Eight.

Doreen pressed the eight. The hard, slick, rounded button felt like the back of a black beetle. She squashed it until her finger throbbed. 

The lift jerked.

The doors opened.

Light flooded in. 

Greeted by the usual buzz of photocopiers and tapping of computer keys, and spits of gossip around the coffee maker, Doreen blinked. Nobody looked up, or more accurately, nobody looked like they looked up. They were on the eighth floor. What had seemed forever, had barely taken fifteen minutes.

As she emerged, Doreen noticed that the smell emanating from the lift was sour and warm like yeast. She heard rather than saw Mr. Cartwright and her sister scrambling up from the floor, Philo mumbling about stiffness.

Even afterwards, they didn’t quite look at each other, but busied themselves with little movements. Mr. Cartwright notched up his tie, and looked at his watch. Philo re-wrapped her scarf. But not before Doreen glimpsed the line of rashes beading her neck like a white army of termites before the rains. Philo’s CD4 count had crashed after Baba’s death and she’d been bedridden for a month. Doreen learnt to cope with the runny yellow-green diarrhoea that sometimes missed the toilet seat, and the blobs of mucus that Philo coughed up into a plastic bucket. But she couldn’t stand these rashes that appeared on Philo’s skin - even in periods of relative health - white pimples popping out of nowhere like an infestation of fleas. Particularly when they insisted on dotting her wrists and neckline like jewellery. 

“I’ll get someone to mend the fault before anyone else gets caught in that lift.” With the red file, Mr. Cartwright indicated the stairs, “I also need to drop this.” 

“I’ll first show Philo the ladies,” Doreen said, “if that is okay with you.” 

“Of course. Whenever you’re ready, please wait in my office. Make yourself comfortable. And eh, good to meet you Philo.”

“The pleasure has been mine,” said Philo, her voice rich with mischief. “even though we didn’t take off our shirts...”

Doreen shook her head, glanced about.

Philo shrugged.

Mr. Cartwright frowned as though he didn’t understand what was going on, or, perhaps, to force distance between them. With a curt nod, he walked to the staircase. He leaped up the steps two at a time.   


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Per Contra Spring 2007