It’s Friday afternoon in Nairobi, and exactly one week into Lucy’s whirlwind romance with Brad, the 36-year-old project manager from Australia. Today they’re going away for the weekend – Lucy’s first weekend away since arriving in Kenya, and her first with a guy for over two endless years. This, in case you hadn’t noticed (in which case where the fuck have you been?), is a Big Deal.
Life is good, it’s really fucking A-grade, peaches-and-cream awesome. She’s in Africa, she’s met a cute boy, and finally, finally, after all those years in the dating hellpit, everything seems to be going right. About fucking time, she thinks. I’ve waited shitting long enough.
Brad’s rented an elderly but serviceable-looking 4×4 and they bounce along the dusty potholed roads towards Lake Naivasha. He insists on doing all the driving, and Lucy briefly considers whether or not she ought to be offended that he clearly thinks driving on Kenya’s roads is a man’s job, but eventually decides against it on the basis that she didn’t particularly want to drive anyway: there are far too many wandering goats, stray children and randomly-placed, invisible speed bumps for comfort. So if Brad wants to play the macho petrolhead role, then he can knock himself out. Hopefully not literally.
The first order of business when they arrive is to dump their stuff at the guesthouse, and go look for somewhere to get dinner.
They find a candlelit table on the veranda of a nearby restaurant. A dance troupe is performing in the garden: a dozen athletic men and women in brightly-coloured Maasai clothing, dripping with beads, gyrating and shaking in a supposedly ‘traditional’ Kenyan manner for the entertainment of the tourists. Lucy, who only dances at weddings after at least two bottles of wine, and has moves that would put Theresa May’s Kenyan dancing to shame, watches enviously.
They drink local beer and Lucy takes photos of the dancers. Brad’s being cute and funny, and she basks in the glow of his attention, especially when he asks to take a selfie with her which he then sends directly to his mum with the message, “You said I should find a British girl to date…”
He’s sending photos of her to his mum now?! Lucy’s surprised to find that this doesn’t freak her out in the slightest. What the fuck is happening?! Where is the girl who normally loses interest when the guy is too keen?
A reply comes back swiftly. “I can’t keep up with you!” Brad’s mum writes. “But you know she will want kids and you can’t do that again! Also, what is a British girl doing in Kenya?”
Lucy can’t help thinking that Brad’s mum sounds like a judgmental bitch: what could she possibly know about Lucy and her attitude towards children? She’d probably be a nightmare to have as a mother-in-law. When they’re married, Lucy decides, they will definitely have to live as far away from this sour-faced harpy as humanly possible.
They order food and wine, and Brad becomes thoughtful.
“I want to tell you something, so you understand…” he begins.
Lucy really bloody wishes Brad would stop with all the bloody confessing. Another 24kg kettlebell lodges itself firmly in her solar plexus and presses down. What the fuck is it this time?
“The thing is, I’ve been hurt badly in the past – by my ex-wife, by the mother of my kids, by other exes. I’ve been lied to and cheated on. And one of the reasons I get hurt is that I tend to jump into relationships with both feet.”
No shit, Sherlock!
“When I came out here I didn’t intend to meet anyone,” he continues. “I’ve rarely been single in my life, and so I decided now would be a good time to be on my own and just look after myself for a change, instead of always looking after someone else. Meeting you definitely wasn’t part of the plan. So I’ve been holding back.”
“Well, um, yes, I’d noticed,” Lucy says.
“So this is great, but it’s taken me by surprise. And I don’t know what will happen. You’re leaving in 3 months, and to be honest, I’m already worried. I don’t want to fall for you and then get hurt again. But I can feel it happening… I’ve already found myself thinking about Christmas, and how nice it might be to spend it with you in the UK. Which is nuts, since we only just met. So that’s why I’ve been holding back – it’s not because I don’t like you.”
He falls quiet. The dancers have gone, and a gentle breeze is blowing off the lake. A moth flings itself suicidally into their candle flame and falls onto the wax. Lucy watches it twitching as it burns and wonders if this is a metaphor for her and Brad. Is she the moth, drawn to his light, but heading inexorably towards a fiery demise?
“It’s ok, I understand, and thank you for telling me,” she replies eventually. “If it helps, I’m feeling nervous and vulnerable too.”
“Because I like you, you fucking prick.”
“This is too weird,” she teases, trying to lighten the mood. “I’d never have swiped left normally: you’re too short, you smoke, you have kids, you’re from Australia…” she grins, hoping the grin will make him see it as a joke, even though she’s telling the truth.
“Stop being so mean!” Brad protests.
Lucy’s obviously only being mean because, in spite of her passport quite rudely stating she’s 39, inside she’s still about 13 – a giggling teenager who makes fun of the guy she likes because she’s too embarrassed and nervous to know what else to do. She likes Brad, and she simply can’t handle it. But the fact that he apparently likes her too, and is feeling just as nervous and insecure – well this is a very good sign indeed.
“I have a song on the brain,” he tells her.
As it happens, Lucy does too: Candle in the Wind has popped in there unbidden, clearly just to torment her on this otherwise perfect evening. Elton John has a lot to answer for.
“I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours,” she offers.
He shifts uncomfortably, reluctant to say.
“Go on!” Lucy prompts.
“OK… It was that Eagle Eye Cherry song, Falling In Love Again.”
Jesus Horatio Christ! Where did THAT come from?! Even Lucy, who’s been bizarrely comfortable with the pace things have been moving, is taken aback by this one.
She wonders if telling him she was thinking of a song about an actress who committed suicide (or, if you prefer the other version, a princess who died in a car crash) will somehow ruin this vulnerable moment.
All the oversharing has obviously helped Brad get over his reserve, because he jumps on Lucy the second they get back to the hotel. He even appears to have forgotten about his cold sore, which is fine, since another search on Dr Google has reassured her she can’t catch one if she already has the virus.
“But no oral!” she tells him, much to her regret. She’s not sure if she can catch the other kind of herpes from a cold sore, but it’s definitely not a risk she’s prepared to take.
She encourages him to use his fingers instead, but this is not a skill Brad appears to have had much education in, because he starts rubbing at her like he’s trying to remove dried-on food from his kitchen worktop.
“Be gentle!” she pleads.
He stops. “You do it,” he says. “Show me how.”
Lucy feels the colour rising to her cheeks. Suddenly she’s embarrassed and self-conscious. She knows there’s no need, but touching herself in front of someone else is not something she’s terribly comfortable with: it feels exposed and transgressive.
“Go on,” he urges. “I really want to watch you come.”
And so she does, like a musician strumming her instrument, relaxing into it, feeling the music build until, just as she’s right at the top of the crescendo, he joins in, the conductor, using his baton to bring the orchestra to its rousing climax.
It must’ve been an emotional work – a Rachmaninov maybe, or a Verdi – because as soon as it’s over Lucy’s surprised to find tears welling up. She turns her face away, hoping he won’t notice.
“You ok?” he asks.
“I’m sorry, that was just a bit intense is all. Give me a moment, I’ll be fine.”
Will you, though, Lucy love. Will you?
It’s the day of Brad’s birthday. They’ve booked a morning boat ride on the lake, and Lucy’s up and showered before she suddenly remembers what day it is. She digs in her backpack and produces Born Free, wrapped inelegantly in a carrier bag. “Happy Birthday!” she announces with triumph.
He sits up in bed and opens the bag, then peers thoughtfully at the photo of Joy and Elsa on the cover.
“Wow! You didn’t need to get me a present! Thank you! I’m not much a reader, to be fair, but I want to start. This will be a great way!”
Not much of a reader? Lucy’s aghast. What, no reading at all?
But today she’s in a good mood, and ready to see the positives. She might have just introduced him to a whole new world of delights, and if she hasn’t, well, she can have the book back. Win-win!
His mum has sent him a birthday voice message, which he listens to, phone pressed to his ear.
“What did it say?” she asks when he’s done.
“Oh you know, Happy Birthday, be good, yada yada. She also mentioned the selfie from yesterday: she said she doesn’t believe you’re really my girlfriend, she thinks you’re one of my friends’ wives and I’m just messing with her.”
Lucy doesn’t know what she’s more thrilled by, the fact that Brad just used the word girlfriend, or that she looks like she could be someone’s wife.
The day they spend together is like one of those nauseating montages from a romantic movie, showing the couple doing cutesy things and falling in love to the tune of Ronan Keating’s ‘When You Say Nothing At All’ or ‘Kiss Me’ by Sixpence None The Richer.
The boatman steers their tiny craft across the calm waters of Lake Naivasha, as flocks of white cattle egrets swoop and skim across the surface, and black-headed weaverbirds hop and chatter on overhanging branches. Brad rests a hand on her thigh as they glide gently past hippos, pelicans and even a fish eagle, while giraffes and antelopes graze on the shore. Lucy’s giddy with excitement, firing off her camera at everything that moves, and squealing half in delight, half in fear when a hippo comes perilously close to the boat. A fellow passenger takes their photo: Lucy leaning back into Brad, his arms wrapped protectively round her, looking for all the world like they’ve been together for years.
In the afternoon they do a walking safari where they see zebras, gazelles and more giraffes; Brad carries Lucy’s backpack and, like the perfect Instagram husband, delights in grabbing her camera to take photos as she poses with animals in the background.
He puts in a video call to his kids so they can wish him a Happy Birthday, panning the phone around to show them the view, and Lucy does her best to keep out of the shot in case the ex is watching.
Imagine the drama if she saw!
She listens to Brad chatting to the children, every inch the devoted dad, and feels a pic’n’mix of conflicting emotions: the sweet attraction of how clearly besotted with them he is, the stick-in-your-teeth chewiness of how hard it must be for him to be separated from them, and the pinched-face sour awareness that a man with kids will always and forever be inexorably tied to another woman.
Could she really, in all seriousness, get involved with a guy who has three kids? Or is it already it too late to be asking this question?
Later they go for a birthday dinner: another candlelit veranda, another fragrant garden, another bottle of South African Chenin Blanc. Lucy had to come up with some lame-arsed excuse for having to go back to the guesthouse before going out – Brad wanted to go straight for sunset drinks, but she needed to pick up that all important box of cake. He’s a bit annoyed at her insistence, and bemused at why she needs to bring her backpack to dinner, but she manages to remain tight-lipped. He’ll understand later, she thinks, so for now he can go fuck himself.
When he goes inside to use the bathroom she quickly whips the Tupperware out, retrieves two of the muffins and the numbered candles, and tries to arrange everything before he gets back. But – disaster! – the candle packaging is impossible to open, and in her frantic haste to get the candles out she breaks the number three in half. Fuck! With the clock ticking, she prods the seven into one of the cakes, and then, with panicked, shaky hands, attempts to use Brad’s lighter to melt the two halves of the broken three so she can stick them back together.
Two guys at the next table spot what’s going on and come over to help. One of them keeps a lookout to see if Brad’s coming back, the other takes over the candle re-sticking, succeeding eventually, though now the three looks rather more like a five. But it’s too late, the alarm is sounded: Brad is on his way back. They quickly shove the mended three into the second cake and arrange them so the whole thing reads ‘37’ – or, more accurately, ‘57’, and then light them. But the breeze keeps blowing the candles out, so that when Brad arrives he’s greeted by the sight of two slightly squished lemon muffins adorned with the number ‘57’, a heap of discarded packaging, and two random guys looming over Lucy looking like they might be about to rob her.
Not exactly the effect she was going for.
“Happy… um… 57th birthday!” Lucy laughs, and Brad kisses her in delight, evidently touched by the effort she went to, even if she has aged him 20 years.
Birthday Party for Two
Back at the hotel, it’s time for Brad’s final birthday treat. After the dream day (and the bottle of wine) they’ve had, they’re barely through the door before their clothes hit the floor. Lucy doesn’t know what it is about this man, but she just can’t get enough of him, and finally, it seems, he’s beginning to feel the same way. He starts pushing against her hungrily, and although Lucy knows she should stop him, and that the condoms are just a short distance away, somehow, in the heat of the moment, and with alcohol and lust coursing through her veins, the words just don’t quite come out. Truth be told, she hates condoms just as much as anyone, and in the heat of the moment she allows desire to trump common sense.
But of course the longer he carries on, the louder the little voice in her head starts shouting, that nerdy killjoy that always pops up to spoil the fun when she knows she’s doing something even the teensiest bit naughty.
You don’t know this guy! You don’t know where he’s been! He might have all manner of nasty diseases!*
Don’t they say you can’t give blood if you’ve had unprotected sex in Africa?
You can still get pregnant, you know!
That little voice in her head is a really sanctimonious little know-it-all, that’s for sure.
So she stops him, and makes him put protection on. Possibly a slight case of shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted, but she doesn’t want this horse to gallop her all the way into a maternity ward either.
They carry on like this, but after the skin-on-skin thrill from before, it just doesn’t feel as good, and pretty soon starts to get chafy. She stops him again.
“You’re just going to have to let me come in your mouth,” he says. “You do it so well, after all, and it IS my birthday!”
Lucy hesitates. The thought of putting that in her mouth when she knows exactly where it’s just been makes her feel slightly nauseous, and as you know, dear reader, a gobful of warm jizz is not exactly Lucy’s favourite snack. But he makes a valid point: it is his birthday, so how can she refuse?
She’s just going to have to suck it up. Literally.
Once she gets over the initial ick factor of putting it in her mouth, it’s actually not so bad for a while, but he does seem to take ages and it begins to feel like hard work. Brad puts a gentle but firm controlling hand on the back of her head, regulating her rhythm, and watches her with a satisfied grin on his face. She looks up at him occasionally with what she hopes is the sort of sultry expression that will excite him enough to hurry the fuck up, but it’s a hard look to pull off when jaw ache is beginning to set in.
He gets there eventually, though, Lucy swallows down her medicine like a good girl, and afterwards he pulls her into him, kisses her, and tells her he’s had the best birthday ever.
Lucy’s never felt more proud.
*Don’t worry, friends. Lucy’s been tested since, and she didn’t catch pregnancy, or anything else for that matter.
The next day is almost a repeat of the first. There’s a delicious hotel breakfast, more scenery and wildlife spotting and taking of photos, more touching and hand-holding and grinning at each other like two total twats in love. At one point Brad again brings up the subject of her going home in three months time, and suggests that he might come with her, ‘to see where you live and to make sure you come back’, and Lucy finds it’s not a scary thought in the slightest.
He’s happy and funny and lovely, and only smokes one cigarette, and Lucy starts to allow herself to believe that maybe, just maybe, she’s finally found her person, when she least expected it, just as they said. Maybe all that swiping, all that frustration, led her to the point where she ran away to Africa, and that’s where she finally found him. Maybe that’s what it was all for, and if that’s the case, then it was totally fucking worth it.
Next time: Lucy’s reminded why dating a man with kids will always come with complications.