We bring to you our featured writer Khaya Ronkainen
with and an excerpt from her poetry book:
and her short story:
A CHAPTER FROM AN UNPUBLISHED NOVEL
AN INTERVIEW with Khaya Ronkainen
A CHAPTER FROM AN UNPUBLISHED NOVEL
by Khaya Ronkainen
George’s monthly visits had turned into fortnights. But neither Sheena nor Ben engaged in a serious talk about him, except a mere mention that he would visit on a certain weekend. Though Ben had never met George, he knew when he was around. George’s wild cherry Colt Galant was unmistakable. Ben never broached the subject of George’s frequent visits because he felt it was best if Sheena initiated it. But it irked him to no end to be the helpless gentleman-in-waiting, and unsure of which way things were going. Sometimes he was certain and other times not. Sheena, on the other hand, felt certain that their relationship was progressing at a comfortable pace and appreciated Ben’s understanding. She was warming up to the idea of falling in love again. But Ben was no mind reader.
It was a Sunday, and Sheena’s children and the nanny were at church. Ben stood in the kitchen doorway, fiddling with his truck’s keys.
“Are you ready?”
He asked with little enthusiasm as Sheena checked herself in the glass door between the kitchen and the scullery. She was always ready for Ben and so she missed the dullness in his voice. In fact, she completely missed the absence of a peck on her cheek, the way they greeted each other.
Ben was already sitting in the passenger’s seat when Sheena finally emerged after locking all doors of her big house.
“How far are we going today?” Sheena asked as she entered the driver’s side, placing the handbag on the space between them.
“As far as you want. I’ll follow your lead.”
She switched the ignition key on, and a smile formed on her face as she manoeuvred Ben’s truck backwards, and straightening the wheels to move forward. Sheena liked to keep quiet when driving. This way she could concentrate on gear changing. So, they sat in quiet as Bill Withers’ Just the Two of Us played on the popular radio station.
She decided on a thirty-kilometre drive and a destination, where a spaza shop had recently opened. The drive was smooth, because she was not burbling about but concentrated on the road. Ben almost fell asleep.
“I’m buying some cool drink,” she said as she parked in front of the spaza shop. “What flavour do you prefer?”
“Same as yours.”
Sheena reached for her handbag, and Ben got out of the car. He stretched his dull body before taking a few steps to sit on a big rock facing a small stream. The breeze was refreshing, even with the cow dung smell wafting in the air. He felt his mood lift a bit.
“There you go,” said Sheena, handing him a bottle of lemon-flavoured soda.
“I think you should take your test soon. You are ready,” said Ben, moving closer to fill the gap Sheena left between them.
“I think so too,” responded Sheena, who had cancelled an earlier date. She was now desperate for the driver’s licence.
As Ben moved closer, she accidentally dropped the drinking straw. He picked it up, but it was full of dirt.
“Don’t worry. I’ll go get another one.”
Swiftly, she got up. A frown formed on Ben’s face. He put the half-drank soda down and closed his eyes as if enjoying the sun. Sheena came back, and they continued to sit in silence while she enjoyed her drink. Ben was certain he wasn’t imagining things. There was a space again between them as they sat.
“I’m ready if you are. We could head back,” she said as she rose. “You look tired. Are you all right?”
Ben got into the vehicle.
“I’m probably coming down with something,” he said as if to correct his curt response.
Sheena was indeed ready for her driving test. The trip back home was smooth until they encountered a flock of sheep spread out in the middle of the road, chewing the cud. She pressed the horn. Sheep stopped chewing and turned to look at the car, but soon resumed their chewing. She pressed the hooter again, harder and longer. But the sheep seemed bored, and they did not move an inch.
“Ugh, come now. Get off the road!”
“Well, if they spoke the same language, they might.”
“You need to get out of the car and shoo them away.” Ben’s tone was impatient. “That’s a no-brainer.”
A red flag went up as Sheena registered Ben’s tone of voice.
“Are you implying I’m stupid?”
“Not much more than you think I am.”
“What the―?” Sheena stared at Ben for the first time that day. “What are you on about?”
“You tell me,” he replied, sitting up straight. “What are we doing exactly?”
Sheena was quiet for a moment.
“Now, I’m not sure what you’re talking about.” Her fluctuating temper was calm when she finally spoke, but remained puzzled as she tried to understand what was eating him up.
“Don’t play dumb with me, Sheena,” he said. “You’ve been wishy-washy lately. I try to reach out and all I get is a lukewarm response.”
Sheena’s nostrils flared, her temper vexed by the word dumb.
“What are you doing with me then, if I’m so dumb?”
Ben shouted as she reached for her handbag, and about to get out of the car.
“With you, I don’t know where I stand!”
“With me?” She jerked her head in his direction and gave him a piercing stare. “What do you mean with me?”
“At least with Vicky…we talked about things,” he responded with a yearning in his voice.
“Oh, my!” she said, her eyes blind with tears as she got out of the car. “I’m now in competition with a ghost.”
The comparison to Ben’s long-deceased wife stung. She deemed it unfair. But mostly, it was unexpected. With great vigor, she started walking up the hill.
“A ghost? What about the ghost in our midst, sucking all the oxygen? Huh?”
Ben shouted after her as he got out of the passenger’s seat. Sheena continued huffing up the hill and made no attempt to reply.
“Why did we stop touching?” the car was now rolling next to Sheena, matching her walking speed. “I’ll tell you why. Ever since your ex’s frequent visits, you went from hot to ice cold.”
“Oh, for crying out loud!” she said, stopping for a while to catch her breath. “Of all people, you surely know there’s nothing between me and George.”
“Sure? No ma’am. I’m not sure of anything at this point,” he revved the car. “Only you know what you both get up to when he is around.”
“For goodness’ sake, George is visiting his children.”
Ben pressed the accelerator hard and drove off before Sheena could respond. The dust stung her eyes as the car sped away, but it was the pain piercing her delicate heart that made her legs weak. She hadn’t seen Ben’s tantrum coming. She reached for a fallen tree on the roadside, where she sat down and wept.
A local man who witnessed the scene shook his head and smiled. Because he recognised an argument when he saw one, even though he was too far away to hear the exchange. “These hot-blooded people!” he said to no one in particular.
After nearly denting his SUV as he rushed it under the carport, Ben wasted no time, but traced his way back to where he had left Sheena. He wanted to resume the fight, strike while the iron was still hot, and get everything out of his chest. Maybe thereafter, he would sleep peacefully at night knowing that he had his say.
The local was about to continue on his route when he saw a tall figure descend the hill. He stopped, determined not to miss a thing. The figure’s identity became clear as Ben, jogging down the road, neared. Leaning on his walking stick, the local waited. Upon reaching Sheena, Ben stood in silence. Because he certainly did not expect to find her in tears.
But now everything was quiet, except for Sheena’s sobbing.
He sat down on the same tree trunk, but kept his distance.
“Wise move, son.” the local chuckled from afar as he watched the couple.
Sheena stood up abruptly, a combination of shock and embarrassment, crying over something stupid. But she held her head high and feigned confidence as she picked up her handbag and resumed her march up the hill.
“I’m sorry, Sheena.” Ben tried again for a response. “That was uncalled for, I know.”
He followed, taking long strides to match Sheena’s pace. She didn’t respond. Instead, they walked side by side in silence. A bit disappointed that there was neither a continuation of the spectacle nor a sign of reconciliation, the local shook his head and continued on his way.
Ben wanted Sheena to say something, shout, anything, but not tears, and not the silent treatment. As they reached a junction where they would proceed to their respective houses, he reached for her hand. She pulled it away fast, as if it had caught fire, and gave him a pregnant look.
“Jeez! We are hardly six months in it and we’re already fighting like this?” he said, throwing his hands up in the air. Sheena swayed her hips as she walked out of his sight, leaving him to eat dust this time.
Read more from Khaya Ronkainen in LIT eZINE Vol 1
Connect with Khaya on her website
Connect with Khaya on Instagram
Buy her book THE SHELTERING
Khaya Ronkainen is a writer of poetry and prose. Her work is largely influenced by nature, often examines the duality of an immigrant’s life and lately also explores themes of ageing and women’s health.
She is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Seasons Defined (2018) and From the Depth of Darkness (2019), as well as full-length collection The Sheltering (2022). Some of her work has been anthologized and published in various international literary journals.
Khaya enjoys a dual South African and Finnish citizenship, and currently lives in Finland with her husband.
You can find more of her work on her website or connect with her on Instagram @khaya.ronkainen.
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Interview: Khaya Ronkainen
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