By Amanda Nechesa

You grow up in this interior village in Kakamega, and the only time you hear the word coffee is when you’re playing the rope game of tea and coffee. Two girls swing the rope on each side, singing in Swahili: between tea and coffee which one do you choose?And you say tea every time as you skip, because the word coffee sounds foreign coming out of your tongue.

When you grow up, you go to a boarding high school with girls who come from those rich houses in Nairobi. Their parents have packed glasses of Instant Nescafe coffee in their bags, and when the breakfast bell rings, they rush into the cafeteria with their instant coffee, scoop two spoons, pour it into their mugs with hot water, and then continue their conversations like all this is normal.

You, together with the other girls who are more like you, stay in line for the tasteless tea that the school provides. When you reach the front of the line, you accept your fate, and then choose a table in the back. You sip, and you watch the rich girls with their coffee trading stories and laughing, and you wonder, how does it feel like being them? How does it feel being that privileged?

Before you know it, two years have passed by with you staying in the same backseat, drinking tasteless tea, and still watching the coffee drinkers as you have come to refer to them. You are now in Form 2, and you have not made any long-lasting friendships. Acquaintances yes, mostly from Math and Chemistry classes, but not a close friends.

You prefer it this way. Keeping to yourself. You have never been one to talk too much, and you are content that you don’t have anyone who keeps nagging you. Friends do that. Nag you and nag you and nag you until they disrupt your life.


That’s not what you want. When you got the chance to be enrolled in a school in Nairobi, you promised your mother you’ll work hard, get a straight A with 84 points, and go to a good university to study Medicine. You have wanted to be a doctor for as long as you can remember. You don’t know when the dream was born, but one day, you woke up, and there it was, sitting quietly at the bottom of your heart, waiting to be fulfilled. Now, there was no going back, there was no other dream other than being a doctor, and damn it if you were going to let something as simple as a friend disrupt it.



But life never works out the way we plan it. One day you are holding these notions close to your chest, the next, Kendi comes into your life and makes you forget all about them.

The first time she comes to talk to you, you have no idea she is coming to talk to you. You have seen her around. She is one of the coffee drinkers, a rich kid. She is also in your Chemistry class, and she answers questions correctly most times, so you know she’s smart.

When she comes over to you, you are sitting at the back table with your acquaintances whose name you don’t bother to learn, drinking the tasteless tea, when you see her, two mugs in hand, walking towards your table. You don’t think she’s coming your way, so you don’t feel ashamed to watch her. Her blue uniform is well ironed, her black hair straightened, her black shoes shined. Her walk is confident, so confident it oozes prestige. Privilege. If the school had a magazine, she would be the perfect model to put on the cover.

When you discover she’s coming over to your table, you quickly look down to try and recover from being caught. You feel her sitting on the chair opposite of you, and watch from the corner of your eyes as she pushes one of the mugs towards you. The gesture surprises you, and you look up, your eyes full of questions. Your mind whispers,this is a disruption,run. But you wonder where?

“I brought you coffee. I don’t know how you can stand drinking that gross stuff they serve here,” she says this in a friendly tone, like she’s talking to her best friend of a hundred years and you two are just picking up the conversation where you left off the last time.

She has a charming smile, and you wonder if you missed something. Are you two acquainted? Friends? No. She has barely spoken a word to you since you both enrolled two years ago. In fact, the only time your eyes have ever met was that one time in Chemistry class when you both raised your hands simultaneously and blurted out the correct answer at the same time. But since then, there has been no interaction. So, what is this?

“Are you going to at least drink it?”

Her question does not register at first, then your eyes fall on the coffee mug close to you, and suddenly you’re like one of those kids in Christmas movies who have just gotten a new bike or a new doll they have been wanting. You adjust yourself, inching closer to the table, nose and mouth closer to the mug.

The smell of coffee hits you. It’s strong, dusty. Somehow, it reminds you of the smell of rain, but very strong. Shame leaves your body as you inch even closer, inhale even further.  You stay in that position for a second too long, and only raise your head when you hear Kendi laughing softly. You look at her, blushing at being caught again.

“Are you going to take a sip or are you just going to smell it?” she says, the smile still playing on the corner of her lips.

You smile a little to yourself, and then decide to take a sip. You raise the mug to your lips – it’s not hot. It’s not cold either. You sip. The second the liquid hits your tongue, you feel like you are in heaven. The coffee is not sweet. You did not expect it to be. You expected it to taste like raw biting passion exploding in your mouth, and that is exactly what you feel.

You hold this first sip in your mouth for a while, then swallow. You want to go in for the second sip, but something is still bugging you about this. You set the mug down, and face Kendi, trying to appear more intimidating than you are.

“What do you want?” the question comes out rude, and you hope that you did not just ruin your chance of taking another sip.

“Relax,” Kendi says with laughter in between her words, “I want to be your friend.”



“Yes, why. We barely know each other.”

“Can’t someone just want to be your friend?”

She is smirking now, and her light brown eyes are glowing like a dog that has just found a bone it has been searching for. Again, you wonder what this is about.

“No, I really don’t make friends.”

“Yeah, I noticed.”

You stare at her. In all your years of watching people, you had no idea that you were also being watched. Something passes through your spine, straight to your stomach. You take your second sip.

“Okay,” you reply, trying to sound cool with this, then add, “So, why? You still haven’t answered.”


“Okay fine,” Kendi says, and looks at you squarely in your eyes. It is the first time you actually get to absorb the brownness in them. They remind you of this coffee you are drinking. Just like the coffee, there’s some kind of raw-biting passion in them, something so intense, you can’t bear to look at them for more than a few seconds. You redirect your gaze back to the mug.

“Truth is, you are the only other person who is probably better at Chemistry than me. So, naturally, I am curious,” she says nonchalantly, then takes a sip of her own coffee, which makes you take another sip too.

The taste is still as glorious as the first time. You continue sipping as Kendi starts talking about your Chemistry teacher, and how much he is frustrating her. She talks on and on, and you insert random ahs, okays, as you sip. It feels like she doesn’t need feedback, and you are not exactly willing to give it anyway. You’re just fine with drinking instant coffee.



During the next few weeks, Kendi becomes a fixture in your life. She often sits with you in the cafeteria, in Chemistry class, and when she finds you walking alone, she joins in and walks with you. She always has stories to tell. Most are usually complaints about the school, some about her friends, some about her family. You don’t contribute much to these conversations, but that doesn’t seem to worry her.

At first, her friendliness bugs you. You can’t place why she’s being so nice, so sometimes, instead of trying to figure it out, you avoid her. But this all proves futile. Kendi is determined if not persistent, and a few weeks later, you find that you have gotten used to her presence, even missing it when she’s not there. You know what you are doing, what you have done. Your guard is down, you have let someone in, but instead of this feeling like the blaring warning signs you thought they would be, it’s actually nice, comforting, even, to have her in your life. And, of course, the plus side is, she always brings you the instant coffee you have grown to adore.



If your friendship is unusual to you, it’s even more unusual to the rest of the girls in the school. The status quo dictates that the rich girls stay in one pack, the poor village ones in the other. So, it doesn’t surprise you when one day an acquaintance who you have had two or three short conversations with comes to you and asks what is going on. You shrug and walk away. You don’t owe her any explanation.

What does surprise you though is when one of Kendi’s friends, a Mercy something, who you know because she is the basketball captain, corners you one day when you are coming from the bathroom, and asks you, no, commands you, that you stay away from Kendi.

“She does not belong to your world, and you don’t belong to hers. She is just trying to prove that she is not snobby like us, but trust me, she is. She will get bored with you soon and find another toy to play with. I’m just trying to spare you hon.”

You don’t like the way she keeps calling you hon. You don’t like her brass tone or the way she touches your arm patronisingly as she calls you hon. Still, something she says resonates with you, something about being a fleeting object, and you avoid Kendi from then on.

A few weeks later, before breakfast, you are rushing out of your dorm room because you overslept and missed the bell. You are extremely late and you don’t think there’s anyone else around but you, so you stop in your tracks on the hallways when you recognize Kendi standing near the stairs, two mugs in her hand.


You look around for an escape route, and finding none, you slowly walk towards her, your heartbeat mirroring your every step.

“Hi,” she says and hands you one mug.

The coffee is steaming, the smell wafts to your nostrils.


You take the mug, and suddenly realise how much you had missed her instant coffee. But even more than that, you realise you had also missed Kendi.

“You are avoiding me.” Her tone is accusatory, her brown eyes betray her hurt.

You debate whether you should make up an excuse to deny her accusation, but you decide against it.

“Yeah, I know. This was getting weird, plus I don’t think we really fit in each other’s lives. Belong in each other’s worlds that is.”

“Aaah, I see Mercy talked to you huh,” she nods, and you look at her, shocked that she put two and two together so quickly. “She has this thing where she believes in this status quo and there being different worlds that cannot be mixed. I’m sorry she got to you.”

As she explains, you take a sip of the coffee, and you sigh in satisfaction as the taste hits your buds.

“Okay then,” you say.

You start walking down the stairs, thinking that she’ll follow suit, but Kendi stays in place, so you can’t really get past her.

“Listen, I lied to you about something.”

Her eyes keep shifting to the ground and back to you, and you wonder what she lied to you about that’s making her nervous.

“About what?”

“When I first came to talk to you in the dining room that day, I didn’t come to talk to you because of Chemistry. I mean, I did, but let’s just say it was about a different kind of Chemistry.”

Before you say anything else, or have any time to react, she walks towards you and stands so close to you that you can’t breathe, then in a swift of a moment, she places her lips on yours.

You have heard of this, even warned of it when you were coming to this school. In Nairobi, girls kiss other girls. If that happens to you in school, run and tell a teacher. You must not encourage such ungodly behaviour.

That was what you were told. The instructions were clear, first run, then report the action. But at the moment, now that it’s finally happening, you find that you do not want to run. You want to stay here, in this moment, with her lips on yours, for an eternity.

Your body begs you to do something more, something that comes after. In movies, the actors intertwine lips, and hold the other person’s bodies. You wonder if you should do this. Kendi beats you to it. She moves even closer, holds your body against the railing, and parts your lips slowly.

The kiss lasts for a few seconds, and she pushes back almost immediately.

“I’m so sorry,” she says. “I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have done that. I don’t even know if you’re like that, and now, I might have just ruined something. I’m so sorry.” She keeps rambling on, and you don’t know what comes over to you.


You set your coffee mug down, and grab her, full hands and all, and kiss her. She smiles against your lips, and the kiss lasts an eternity this time.

“God, I’ve been dying to do that for I don’t know how long. You are beautiful, you know that?” she says in between the kisses.


The next day is Friday, parade time. You have not been able to think of anything else but Kendi. In class, you are barely there so it’s no surprise that you are barely there during the parade.

The flag is raised, the teacher on duty talks, the prefects talk, but you pay them no mind. Your mind keeps humming Kendi KendiKendi, and when you can’t bear it anymore, your eyes search for her in the crowd. You find her standing next to her group, her eyes on you. You both smile.

The principal talks last, and you want her to finish up quickly so you could sneak a chance to talk to Kendi afterwards, but her speech is not what you expect. She starts off by talking about lesbianism, and how much it’s a sin. Your heart beats rapidly in your chest. Did someone see you?

When she finishes with the preaching, she takes out a list from her pocket, says it’s the list of girls suspected of the act, and as an example, they will be expelled. The school will not tolerate such acts, she says.

You hold your breath. You can feel the sweat trickling down your forehead. You wait.

Five girl’s names are called before finally Kendi’s name is called out. You wait for your name to be mentioned, you worry what your mother will say of you ruining your future. You wait, and you wait, but the list comes to an end, and you release your breath.


When the parade is over, the girls on the list are marched over to the principal’s office. Before she gets into the office, Kendi turns around, finds your eyes, and smiles at you.

That’s the last time you see Kendi. Over the years, you will go back to that moment and dissect it. You will wonder what would have happened if you had been expelled with her, if you had taken a chance and ran to her despite all odds.

It will be the only thing that will keep you up at night when you are studying Medicine in college and when you finally become a doctor. When you meet a nice guy, a doctor too, who your mother will love.

Every morning after you get married, your husband, a tea lover, will ask you what you want for breakfast, and without fail, you will always answer, coffee.


Amanda Nechesa is a writer and poet from Nairobi, Kenya. Her work has been published in The Kalahari Review, Salamander Ink Magazine, WSA-K Magazine, Qwani Anthology and long-listed in the Kikwetu Journal 2022 Flash Fiction contest; among others. An alumni of the WSA Creative Writing Academy, she is also a contributing writer for Erato magazine and a constant seeker for a muse to write about.