Rokan Asman Ngosia

On the ribs of Mwichina village lies an equally hidden village. It is called Ebuyofu. It is gay and reserved. If you are not careful, you may not notice it because of its quiet demeanour. Many are occasions Sunday travellers to Elureko have passed through and not seen anything of it. It must be the second most innocent place after heaven and the folks aren’t boasting even.

Ebuyofu is a remote village unperturbed by the false smiles of the world. People here are true and honest. If they tell you you are ugly, they mean that you are ugly and you might never be called ‘in-law’, not even in jokes. If they tell you your daughter will be married to a rich man with a large farm, start preparing a shed for the cattle because indeed dowry is on the way. And if with a smile they tell you they’ll beat you up, go buy the medicine for a swollen nose.

But Ebuyofu is not just known for its truth and sincerity. In those trees, in that forest of humanity and openness of the human heart, amidst the huts that house a lovable breed of humans in the Wanga kingdom, lies a home approximately one hundred metres from the Inyiriri river. There rests a serene compound fenced in openness and the eyes of passing travellers. It is there that when you enter you will find our man. Rokan Asman Ngosia.

Now how does one present Rokan to a complete stranger and still hope to be understood? Where should the narrative even start?

In a certain August, I think I was in class two, we followed the chanting circumcisers through Lubinu towards Ibokolo. August is this season of putting the boys to the knife and into manhood. We would have gone up to Sabatia had the envious sun not set so unceremoniously earlier and reminded us of the wrath of waiting mothers. Those were days we still had legs to hop us into Butere, Shiatsala and back. That is, if along the way there were groundnut and sugarcane farms.

So when the sun was almost hitting ground, we entered a home in Mwichina. The candidate, realising that we were entering his aunt’s home, danced himself almost lame in an attempt to solicit a better gift from the aunt. Some aunts would give whole bulls while others would give only a cup of water; this young man seemed to need both. He jingled the hand gongs in the air, circled them above his feathered head and rotated his waist in an artistic mastery to and from the ground. Many men came to dance him into his aunt’s home and occasionally put a shiny coin on his sweaty forehead.

Among these welcoming men was this man more jovial than the rest. His face beamed in a big smile. He was dressed in a yellow shirt with a single button around the chest, a yellow pair of shorts, a gum boot in one leg and another leg painted in the grey of the riverbed soil. He had come right from the farm, which explained why he still had a hoe in the hands. Now he danced so expertly in the crowd, moving backwards as he faced the approaching initiate, and I wondered where Kanda Bongoman sought talents. His heels never touched the ground and the legs were bent at the heels for the dance. He moved the hoe from this palm to that and flung his hands in the air with the flexibility of a pro. That was the first day I saw Rokan.

About two years later, when I had forgotten about him, Rokan reappeared. I came home from school and found a visitor helping mother to winnow the maize harvest. From the way he had turned white, he had been at it for hours, probably since sunrise. Mother introduced me to the guest. When I stretched my hand to shake his, he jumped up alarmed and crossed his whitened palms above his chest in protest. He said he could not greet his cousin with “dirty” hands. That was to open a water hunting session. He dashed into the house and apparently remembered he was a guest so he could not open the bedroom door to access water. He rushed back to where I was still standing and apologised. Said he’d be done in a minute. He ran towards the house of Namwiru, my small-mother. There he met a bolted door. Then there was only one other option. He decided to run to the river a kilometre away and came back twenty minutes later, clean and panting from the run. Then as he neared me with outstretched hands and a smile, ready to greet his cousin, he slipped on the canvas from where the maize had been being winnowed. And he fell right into the chuff to stand up a white man with patches of black where the mouth and eyes were supposed to be. I grabbed his white hand and forced him to greet me, which he did with a deep frown, complaining something about dirtying his cousin.

One day, he visited us for the Eid. Those days, Eid was marked as a community thing across the kingdom and everyone participated regardless of where he went on Friday or Sunday. Though he had not been fasting, he kept singing to others the positives of fasting. That day it rained. And we all know what happens when it rains on a festive day, one where you crush rice until hell drops.

At first it was our neighbour’s wife who went to the bush and found the door locked from the inside. Then a respected guest from the mosque committee came complaining that the bush door was not opening. Eventually we had a caravan of Muslims with full stomachs and impatient eyes staging pilgrimage outside the bush. They danced mildly and shook their stomachs to shoo them into false relief. Yet even with their prayers, the door would not open and no sound came from within.

We hired a claw hammer from a local carpenter and began working on the iron-sheet door. It finally gave way. Immediately it opened, Rokan stepped outside the latrine with his shoes raised above the head. He waded in the mud and stagnant water as he went away mumbling something to himself. I later saw the shoes neatly wrapped in a polythene bag and tucked under his bedroll in the hut we shared. He later complained that bad people wanted him to soil his shoes. He was nowhere to be seen from the next day.

I was not his best friend.

Being the village celebrity, children will always find humour playing around you. So we used to pull pranks on him and he hated it. We came to learn that bursting a milk paper near him scared all the hell from my cousin. So we would wait for meal times and blow into the thing. Then one would step at the opening with the heel of one leg and drop the other leg on the inflated paper. Upon the burst, he would dash into hiding at the back of the house. He feared two things: the police and this burst. The burst was the only thing that would remove him from the latrine. Since I was always at the fore front, my cousin swore never to look me in the eye. But that was then.

ROKAN ASMAN NGOSIA
ROKAN, RESPECT.

I have been listing down all the cousins in my life. For every cousin, I was listing down all the sins they have committed against me. For some of these sinners, one page was enough. Others needed more space and I had to forgive and assume some crimes for them to fit and remain in the syllabus. Yet there was a page that remained blank. Apart from the name, nothing down there. So I’ve decided to bring that name here and fill the page with anything I can remember of this hero. God bless Rokan Asman Ngosia.

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The House of Apedneko

If you still think marriage is hell, ask Apedneko.

Apedneko, the one with several scars, will definitely tell you marriage is heaven. If you wake him in the middle of the night and ask the same question, the answer will be the same, unflinching. If you chain him and hang his neck over the cliff, the answer will still be the same, that marriage is the biggest paradise. Even at gunpoint, Apedneko will swear that marriage is the biggest blessing from the lord.

Because Apedneko is a chronic liar.

Six years ago, when he still smelled fresh city currency, he organized with the elders and poured eight cows in the homestead of Mzee Akuriba. That was the most decorated thing in the village and was spoken of for a long time. Mean, who still pays dowry nowadays? And not one, not two, not even four – eight walking cows, a bull and several chicken tucked in the hairy armpits of talkative aunts.

If you still think marriage is hell, ask Apedneko.

Apedneko, the one with several scars, will definitely tell you marriage is heaven. If you wake him in the middle of the night and ask the same question, the answer will be the same, unflinching. If you chain him and hang his neck over the cliff, the answer will still be the same, that marriage is the biggest paradise. Even at gunpoint, Apedneko will swear that marriage is the biggest blessing from the lord.

Because Apedneko is a chronic liar.

Six years ago, when he still smelled fresh city currency, he organized with the elders and poured eight cows in the homestead of Mzee Agripa. That was the most decorated thing in the village and was spoken of for a long time. Mean, who still pays dowry nowadays? And not one, not two, not even four – eight walking cows, a bull and several chicken tucked in the hairy armpits of talkative aunts.

And for six years Apedneko has had to add scars to his face. And don’t start hating scars yet. Wait.

If you have money, go to any nearest bus station and say you want to go to Kakamega. Then when you alight, take a taxi to the general hospital. Insist that you should be taken to gate three. From gate three, you can walk all the way to the wards, of course after the security checks (as if people steal sick people). In ward five, take a lift to the first floor. On bed number six-ten is a man who wishes that his wife should have added another scar this last time.

But I think Cherida added another scar, only that Apedneko is in the madness of anaesthesia. She cut it so well experts said she would have made a good circumciser. But women don’t circumcise, so she will have to go to the grave with her fucking talent. Even when she made such a century’s operation.

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Last weekend I took a vehicle to Kakamega and told the taxi to take me to gate three. I found Apedneko asleep, so the doctors told me to wait. When he woke up, I was allowed to see him. Man, facial scars are better than what I saw. The thing was cut like you cut the tail of a cow. The doctors had just opened the wound for freshening before dressing it again. It was a bit shrivelled, lost, and lonely. It was sad. Upon Cherida I conferred the powers to read and do regarding circumcision.

I made one conclusion: Apedneko, son of my firstborn uncle, married a Nazi. And paid cows and birds as aunts cheered and felt proud.

Fortunately the knife was a bit mean and did not remove what it was asked to remove. And the hope of Apedneko lies in the narrowness that the muscle will at least heal through the few veins that were spared. There must be hope every Sunday the doctors come with scissors to undress and re-dress the wound, though I cannot pretend to think what Apedneko thinks every time the nurse makes the scissors near his thing. Every time I looked at him, I felt the moment absurd.

“I came home late,” he said, which was another lie.

The wife had caught wind of her husband smiling too much at the daughter of a local brewer. If women do not visit magicians, how did a feared woman like that get so accurate information? All she needed to do was go to the house her husband was rumoured to be spending most of the evenings behind closed doors. And man and woman were caught, as talkers say, in the act. Cherida did not have time to wash and anaesthetize it before the operation.

In our chat, I offered a condolence thing (to his thing). I gave him five thousand shillings. I don’t know mathematics but I think each shilling represented a sorry to each separate scar. It is a thing we have raised at our clan meetings though the elders say that a whole clan getting in to defend a whole man before his wife is demeaning the clan. And no one wants to be the laughing stock of the villages.

So he took the money, smiled, and tucked it under his pillow. When we eventually exchanged byes and it was clear I was leaving, he stopped me in my prayer and handed me five thousand shillings.

“Take this to Cherida. Tell her to clear he debt with the shopkeeper, pay seventy shillings to the brewer and use the rest for upkeep. And tell her to look after the maize harvest well.”

Mbukinya

In my childhood, many things happened. We would spend the weekends swimming and waiting to be caned in the evening. We would roam villages ‘stealing’ guavas and occasionally a banana and a nut. Then we grew up a bit, and the boys no longer walked with the girls, and we would go to the nearby stream to hide in banana plantations and steal peeps at women bathing and washing their underthings. We stood at strategic corners at the shopping centre and waited for girls; and when they passed by, everyone claimed to own them amongst ourselves. And we would sometimes fight over whose girl a girl was, and the girl in question would remain ignorant of this ‘love’. I doubt they even knew we existed.

So how does Mbukinya come in?

This is how Mbukinya comes in: When I mention the name, everyone of my age and beyond goes back to the image of that one and only bus. And really, Mbukinya was a bus! It existed at a time people travelled on foot or by bicycle. It ferried humanity to and from the city, which meant that only people of stature – who had life and people in the city – used it. It used to pass through our village at every 7.10am and 4.56pm, to and from the city respectively. You would always know it was Mbukinya from the hooting it entertained the children with. It would be another time to lose chicken and yams and goats to the city, or time to receive home those niceties as biscuits, glucose packets and cousins who fascinated you by their inability to speak the local language. It became part of our routine, and at school, if the bell delayed, the hooting of Mbukinya was legitimate a signal for teachers and learners to call it a day.

And Mbukinya would stir the whole market place! Everything would come to a standstill till it passed past the D.O’s offices to the world unknown. I remember a policeman hoisting a flag and who after blowing the whistle for ‘alert’ forgot his task and turned to look at Mbukinya. That day he was transferred or sacked or something.

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The bus had a picture of a beautiful woman, drawn with curves and curvatures to the best of my memory. She had a beautiful diamond necklace and a sparkling bracelet on each of her hands. She had a vest dress, which means that her breasts were adequately exposed because she was in a horizontal position like she was flying. In her right hand was a yellow flame resembling a flag. But the woman was unusual because on her lower side she did not have legs. The fin looked so powerful and whenever I asked my mother, she would tell me that the women living far away in the islands of Nyanza looked like that. Together, it was this woman’s picture that gave the bus its beautiful feminine feeling and adoration….

Okay. Let me leave this boring story of mermaids. I have another one. Better.

I first saw her at our school assembly. I was in class three. It was definitely a Friday since the teacher was using Swahili – this I can remember so well because the senior students appeared to be getting the teacher and laughing along. Then the teacher must have said something about cleanliness, and he beckoned this new girl to come forward.

I remember seeing her walk bashfully, in her blue school uniform and the best airs, to the teacher. She was a new girl at school. On her blue dress she had a black pullover that matched her shoes. The white socks climbed from her shoes to the knees; they matched her white collar and the belt strap that, for school girls, lingered from somewhere over the stomach. She was slender and had eye glasses (eye glasses!). She even had shoes! Even if I would have understood Swahili at that age, I don’t think I could have heard anything the teacher said from then onwards.

The following weekend, as we waited for girls at our corner of the market, this girl came. She was walking with her mother, I guess from church. They looked expensive. Her mother also had shoes! The girl today was putting on a different pair, and there is something provoking her church dress did with the area around her chest. I was young, but who says a boy in class three already watching Rambo II and American Ninja does not know what breasts are?

I turned to my company and said, with all pride and confidence, “That is my girl.”

Perhaps they had not heard well, or they had not seen her, or they were just playing jealous. So I repeated.

“That one walking with her mother. She is my girlfriend.”

The guys laughed. All of them. But when they saw me calm and serious, they became interested.

“But isn’t that the girl Mwalimu was praising at the school assembly? She is in class seven!”

“She is my girl. She has told me that I am good,” I said.

“But look, this girl has shoes!”

“And she speaks Swahili. How did you convince her?”

When asked about her name, I thought of the most beautiful name an angel like her could have. I thought of the most sophisticated name. A name that insinuated class, cleanliness, having glasses, having shoes, having a mother with shoes – beauty. A name that could match what the teacher had said (if anyone heard).

“Mbukinya. Her name is Mbukinya.”

Everyone agreed at once that she was truly Mbukinya. And for the rest of the evening, other people’s daughters were at peace because we discussed only Mbukinya. I gladly answered questions about her family, her tastes, her secrets and most importantly, her body.

One day I was coming to the market from home. Three-ish, four-ish there. With me were my two close friends who were arguing out how lucky I was to have a girl who not only put on shoes and ‘goggles’ but also topped the class. You should have seen me beam and console them not to worry. I remember telling them that I would talk to her to walk with her sister a next time, a sister whom I said was almost as beautiful. Then Karma, the female dog, struck:

Right in front of us was this jewel, walking alone from the market. In one of her hands was a basket. The other had a white packet. Her milky eyes were in the air erect, piercing through the glasses to my heart, and her confidence would not wane with whom she met. She glowed like a starlet. And gleamed like an ornament. My heart began to palpitate. So fast that I blamed fate. Why hunt me thus and signal me late?

I froze. It was indeed late. She had already reached us. And was passing fast. My eyes made four with hers, large and beautiful, but even in those glasses it was not impossible to see her blank look – one that you give strangers you have never met and who at the same time aren’t your league. Later on I explained to my buddies why I hadn’t talked to her. That our love was at best still clandestine and that she’d not wish people to know because her mother might then know. What about her sister – we’d look into that, pal. And the wet pants – tea.

On another occasion, I remember her entering our class. Being the cleanest, and no doubt the most beautiful, she had been made prefect. That year I was in class four with furious pimples replacing my dimples. I don’t know if she saw me wink at her or not. She just came to where I was sitting on the floor (as a rule, only class seven and eight used desks) and asked me out of the class. Airs. Outside, she took me to the teachers’ latrines and instructed me to clean them. All along I could still smell her vaseline that crept through the reek of the teachers’ dung. When I was through, she asked me when it was I had last taken a bath. She said they were almost cracking the whip on my likes, then commanded me to go back to class. I found my peeps excited and talking about sex. My despair died. That little time I had had with Mbukinya was adequate to sharpen all the cells of admiration. As she instructed, and looked, I had thought other thoughts. As in, how do you remain sane, man?

Mbukinya visited me every night. Even after they relocated from our market place to the world away, she continued visiting. By now I was a senior adolescent and every visit ended the way such visits end with adolescents. Then she began staying long and I began going to school with her. I went with her to the bush, to the market, to the library, to my parents. I loved the way she smiled. God had done something with her teeth. Her chocolate skin radiated and blurred my sight of anything else around. A few months and I no longer walked with the boys and everyone at home thought I was turning antisocially sick.

In high school when I admired the female teacher of Biology, I did so because I thought they could be Mbukinya. I created her from anything, and grew much attachment to these creations. In the art room, I drew her, even when I was to draw a shrivelled old man. I wrote her poems, and wrote poems on her. A Chemistry teacher would later reprimand me for drawing bonding atoms like interlocked lips, mine and hers….

But she had moved and had perhaps never imagined of going back to check on the fire she had lit.

She still visits occasionally. Always finds me at the river. She prefers the other bank. The river is raging wild and I can’t swim like the childhood me. I shout to call her, she looks. When I talk, she looks on as if I don’t speak her language. And then I pause to wait for an answer. I wait for ages. When she eventually parts her lips to talk, to shout back, I don’t hear a word. She curves her palms at the sides of her mouth and attempts again. I gesticulate that I don’t hear a thing. She looks on blankly. Then I begin to cry. I cry like a child. My tears scold their way down my face into the river, further flooding it. I cry and call on her. She looks on, her eyes with glasses, and I don’t see any emotion in those eyes.

Mbukinya, if you are reading this, please give me a call. Do you remember the boy whom you almost slapped for putting a mirror between your legs at the assembly? Thank you. I know you could be married by now (God forbid). I know you could be having other life commitments. I know this and even more, but just give me a call because I can speak Swahili. Or write me a letter. I will tell you about that bus which served as our bell at school. Just communicate in any form. Tell me your real name. Tell me about your studies. About your mother, your dresses, your teddy bear, your shoes. Tell me anything. Assure me that you were, and still are.

THE BUS STAGE AT STEND KISA

(first published by www[dot]ishaandikwa[dot]blogspot[dot]com; 2014)
They call it Stend Kisa bus stage, although bicycles, camels and beggars stop there too. In fact, majority of vehicles here are vans, pick-ups, cars and lorries before you even think of Msamaria or Mbukinya. The stage is known from Lwanda to Mulwanda; Khwisero to Khayega to Malakisi to Funyula, and Msamaria Mwema touts of Nairobi know it also. Stend Kisa bus stage is not your everyday bus (and camel) stop: it is peculiar; distinct. When you go to Stend Kisa bus stage, unless you didn’t go there, there are things that can never escape your eye.
There is this woman selling onions, sugarcane and boiled groundnuts. She always has on her leso and rubber shoes that reveal more toes than hide. She is fat, tough looking and with a muscle you would never wish to meet. In fact, she must be doing more of her selling through infliction of this commercial fear than business attraction. The way she sits on that her wooden stool will make you define your qualities of a mother in law, but the way she frowns at a non-buyer makes you hate poverty.
Stend Kisa bus station has the manambas. For those who need definition, a manamba is that samaritan who knows of your journey more than you do, and that you need his accurate and unparallelled advice while you are at it. They are always there. Chofrii, Kition, Mrefu, Mandeke, Chonii, among others. You must see them because those unchoreographed calls will not allow it otherwise. To call passangers to their ship, they whistle, they whine, they bray, they howl, they hoot, they shout, they purr; but still remain manambas looking for the day’s flour. The vehicles at Stend Kisa have boards showing the destinations for each, but still Chofrii will insist on wanting to help you know where to go. And this is help, until you play contrary to their script. Then you start to know how you have an ugly eye or how you are proud without education or even the secret of why your spouse abandoned you.
Next time schools open, I will never attend to sons of some professionals in my class, unless someone apologises.
But they are not alone. There is always this or that conductor asking where boss you are going. You play sharp and ask him where his metal junk (pronounced as ‘chopper’) is headed. He tells you. You say you are not going there. He asks again where it is you are going therefore. His vehicle seems to be going everywhere now. You say Khumusalaba to buy a dog. He says come he in fact has one space for Khumusalaba before the van leaves for Butere. You say you are not going to the Khumusalaba of Butere but that of Soi. He says no problem, come with him he has space for that too. He even has a hand on your sisal sack that should carry your pet back. You are cornered. You tell him to leave you alone. He calls the manambas, and they give you collective insults. Boss, you never mess with those of Stend Kisa.
But even that’s not all. When you eventually enter the matatu comes the sales boy. Weak, mulnourished and disillussioned, he looks like he shall collapse in his next blink. His shirt has three rat holes near the left shoulder-line, but he is yet to start knowing inconfidence. Like his other compatriots, he sells everything too. Sells Nacet, a jembe, Eveready, tealeaves, shirt buttons, needles, bar soap, bamba ten, cutex, Dasani and rat poison. In the other hand are sachets of groundnuts, two cobs of roasted maize, a roll of polythene rope, toothpaste, ginger biscuits, mukombera, a roast chicken leg, and a woman’s panties. The only things I don’t see are the femiplan female condom and Aromat. He also has fishing lines for sale. Don’t ask me how he carries all. I also don’t know. He insists you should buy. Ignore him? Then you don’t know Stend Kisa and its stage for vehicles!
The manambas of Stend Kisa tussle. I mean, even before the vehicle fills to capacity, which happens just after every solar eclipse, there they are! One is in a faded UDF t-shirt and miraa suffocating his teeth somewhere. Fighting over a woman’s luggage. The woman eventually enters, followed by her four children of equal height. Their heads resemble tortoises, and so with no ill intent you baptise them Likhutu-wan, Likhutu-tuu, Likhutu-tsiri and Likhutu-foo. She sits next to you, and places Likhutu-tsiri on Likhutu-wan, Likhutu-wan on Likhutu-foo, and Likhutu-foo on her laps. You have no otherwise but to find space for Likhutu-tuu on your laps, plus a noisy hen, the sugarcane they’ve bought from commercial fear, a burst baloon and seven nosefuls of pungent urine fumes. Oh her God, who has taken her purse?
But you cannot claim to have been at Stend Kisa stage if you didn’t see Amigo. Amigo is a legend around here, and all who hear of him always know him first sight. You see, even Amigo himself believes he is crazy! But we all know what he does, because you can never fail to get the strong Luanda (holy) weed if he is around stage. Ever present. The only time he ever avoided the place was some April day in 2002, when the marketters (villagers?) decided without dialogue to force body hygiene onto everyone. But in those rags, Amigo is an asset to the transport guys. He scares children and pregnant women into vehicles to Kisumu or Lubao or to their safety. Young college girls and frightened city dwellers also hasten into vehicles whenever amicus Amigo approaches. And manambas regularly tip him for services. Thank the skies, no sane woman can dress the Nairobi way when they travel through Stend Kisa, otherwise they might see what the woman of Murang’a saw one fateful day, long time ago, courtesy of Amigo.
And our Stend Kisa has an average of three beggars a day. No, not those scared faces who claim having lost money after the manamba scuffles around them. Stend Kisa has regular proffessional beggars who call you Al-Shabaab or Olelengo when you don’t drop something into their bowls. One is called Salimu. Salimu tells us he was born blind. But he always knows when to remind you that you should not return that one-thousand-shilling note into your pocket. Whatever he smokes, it is not kitchen smoke. But I am not through with Salimu: he crosses the busy Stend Kisa road all by himself, appears at vehicle ‘windows’ all by himself, always removes and hides the big note from the bowl all by himself, avoids hitting the sales woman’s maize cobs all by himself, yet he asks you to walk him to the food kiosk, and asks you whether you have paid for his meal so God could bless you. Last time a person at Stend Kisa told me that my new leather (!) belt was smart, and you wouldn’t want to know who that was.
This Stend Kisa bus stage, brethren, will kill someone some day!