Collector of Stories

Yesterday I read something on a poster here. Something about a vacancy. I was tired from the hustles in the city and so I didn’t stop to digest. It happens. There are times you just put on a gangsta face and say don’t wanna take no shit from nobody and think that that is cool. So this morning I came back with the intention of taking any shit from anybody. I came to take the details and see if I could apply. I didn’t find it.

Okay, I found it; them. But they were all torn and ripped from the walls. All, from the junction at B-Centre all the way to Kayole, where yours faithfully stays. I actually walked from B-Centre back to Masimba and found nothing. Then I thought that going the other way towards Mama Lucy was the thing. That was not clever at all. I walked on and on and the only posters I met were of those city magicians and witches. They call themselves doctors and treat things like losing jobs, love problems, promotions at work, and finding a lost person. Those are the only posters that were left like the virgin of Joseph, very untouched. The rest were all gone and it appeared this man was using a chisel just in case a piece of paper remained on the electricity posts.

So I am officially a disturbed mind.

Who is this African employed to be ripping off posters from walls and electricity posts? Does he earn in US dollars or in shillings or he goes to the cashier with a wheelbarrow to take home the booty? Does he buy beer when the dollar towers over the shilling? Does he go to meetings and greet people in the hand? Who is this person?

Perhaps he is a high school dropout or his term papers were done for him like those guys at Moi University. He is a B.A. Collection of Stories. Zero.

 

I think we should all do one thing – find and cane him. It should be near a bridge so that in case he tries to run away, let him fall into the river and drown and we shall all witness that he fell in the water by himself. It would be better to hold a caning competition so that we choose the best people with strong muscles to do the work. Cane on the buttocks, cane on the back, cane on the stomach, cane everywhere until he sees what people like him are supposed to see. We don’t want a nation where job vacancy posters are ripped from walls by Moi University students who do not even know why their term papers were done for them.

What does he (it is a he) tell the wife when he comes home late? Like when it rains? Baby today work was hard. They used cobbler’s glue instead of office glue. Look even my hands are swollen. Baby these people have made my work so difficult and the local government must look into this.

And then madam will reply something. Sorry baby. God will help you so that next time they use saliva to stick the posters.

Yes baby, the mister will agree.

And God will also ensure it doesn’t rain while you are at work. It is only God who can intervene. The county government is sleeping on the job, especially that governor of theirs….

Sleeping!

May God help you.

Then they will say a loud amen.

And then the wife will bring to the table dinner. A mountain of ugali served with boiled chicken legs. All along she will sing and pray that God makes easy the work of her husband so that tomorrow he comes home early. She will ask God to bless the work of the hands of her husband.

This is a raw deal. The guy should not have a girlfriend in the first place. He is a fool.

Okay, don’t you also want us to be received home by our favourite daughters with smiles? I grew up watching those Britannia biscuits adverts and one of my favourite childhood obsessions was to raise one such happy family. I come home holding something in the arm and there is this daughter who rushes to me and throws daddy down in her mad welcome. She has really missed daddy. Look, she has even lost weight since yesterday. Then daddy opens the bag he is holding and gives cakes to her and she stands by the window and shouts to the unlucky kids below that daddy is the best. Is that a foolish dream?

When growing up, I used to dream that my wife would be British. Of course, of course. To me, British wives were the blondes who worked in Hollywood. Then along the way I encountered Kamasutra and the dream changed. Asian girls shone like stars and the long strands of black hair looked like they would trap all my troubles. But this, too, vanished somewhere. I had a couple of more dreams and the last was that I would marry one girl from Rwanda. I even gave her a name. She would be of medium height and dark complexion and have white teeth and a long neck. Then I would come home and she would tell me that I was growing grey hair and I would tell her that it is my job that is doing all that. Then she would ask if they give us any annual leave and I’d thank her for that reminder. Then we would go to the village for three weeks where I would take her through the attractions in the kingdom and teach her the difference between Pukas and Ebutingo. And at the end of the leave, she would say that my hair had grown black once again. And she would smile with the white teeth out and I would die there a happy man. Then this woman would weep for three days and also die and be buried next to me – the first woman to be buried in the royal graveyard.

But there is this man who thinks we should not read what employers want us to read. He keeps collecting stories and throwing them in the drain. Nobody may realise whether my hair turns red or yellow or any other colour.

This man who is our collector of stories esquire.

Not everyone wants to be an idle mind. Give us chance to work hard and send coins to our mothers back in the village. Is that too much to demand?

Threatening to arrest them is a futile thing too. It’s like a woman in short skirt who tries to chase a hen. A hen is an animal that knows she lives rented life, in a rented house, and on rented friendship. The hen understands that there is nothing to lose. So if our lady in a short skirt chases this animal, chance has it that it will cease to be a matter between a woman and a bird and become that of whether the understatements are pink or black. There will be a fall, definitely. And the hen will be somewhere in the fence congratulating itself as the woman dusts her skirt.

Once upon a time there lived Lizard. Every time she left home to go hunting, a neighbour would sneak into her home and steal an egg or two. Whenever Lizard asked to know this thief, nobody claimed responsibility. She tried to set traps but still nothing happened. So one day Lizard decided to call all her neighbours and force them to proclaim an oral treaty among themselves. Today, he told them as they repeated, I swear that I don’t know who steals the eggs of Lizard. I swear that I will help my neighbour with the right information to keep her eggs safe. If I spot any thief, I will raise alarm. If I am the thief, may I die a cursed death….

No egg got lost again. And of course, then they lived happily thereafter.

Let us all have an agreement. The person who rips posters off posts is a fool. That if we spot him we shall report to the nearest police station.…

The person who does this is our example of modern day night runner. What else drove night runners into the chilly nights but a sadistic passion? They merely wanted to see the agony of others. Then what happened? We came together and lynched all of them. The only one we spared died last year. We are at peace.

If this man of ours knew what we go through seeking jobs, he’d not tear an advert. Especially where one has been promised to earn Nairobi’s 15k weekly. Tell me where else you can earn that and I will call myself backward. Even lawyers and other thieves would envy such a sum. Then you come with your dirty fingers and rip off all this cash from us in a bid to collect stories to nowhere! RIP yourself.

IMAGE CREDIT

I am sorry, James Bond

I put on my first pair of shoes when I was fifteen. That is something the streets of this city just reminded me today. That is the story for today.

Walking on these streets will remind you many things.

When you enter the city madness, that noise will remind you of Khangoma-khamoja, your freak of a neighbour. You don’t know his real name; you call him Khangoma-khamoja because he plays one loud track the whole night. You don’t understand his language but you are sure it is a dirge. The only music-free nights at your place are Sundays, and that is because the screaming girlfriend visits every time she gets the Saturday off from the salon downtown. So you look at the shouting touts and remember the way Khangoma-khamoja’s chick disturbs the peace of your weekends.

Sometimes you will look at the screens in pubs and remember your unpaid electricity bill. Then tears will well in your cheeks. How do they misuse electricity when you have your colossal arrears with the power company! You promise to also sell your kidney one day. They are so preoccupied with other business they don’t seem to notice that electricity is expensive these sides. You accept and move on, slowly.

Then there is of course this lady in heels who reminds you of the college model. You feel like kneeling if front of her, hold her palm in yours, pick finger-three and thrust it upwards. Because your class and her class are like west and east.

Anyway, today I am walking past this Tom Mboya statue and all of a sudden hawkers are running all over disturbing the peace of the hero. There is tear-gas following them. As usual, we, the innocent citizens, move to the sides and leave them the street to run as they wish. They are like five hundred and each is running with a sack clasped on the chest, another on the back and other goods on the head. Then comes this woman.

She is healthy and fat. She runs so vigorously and wails at the same time, hitting her bare feet on the ground every time she needs the earth to throw her forward. She almost collides into the crowd at Mr Price. She thinks better and re-aligns her projectile into the corridor before Archives. In negotiating the corner, a shoe falls from her head. She slows down, partly turns, does as if to go pick it but when she sees the approaching city council police, she runs off, killing her voice in the Accra Street ahead.

shoe

After the police passed, I looked at the deserted shoe. It looked lonely. It sat there in the July cold and nobody dared to look at it like the most expensive item shoes are supposed to be. Not even a street boy picked it up. Impossible. It reminded me of Machanja and my first shoes.

It had been my childhood dream to cruise in shoes. Whenever December came and the children from the city remembered their folks in the Kingdom, we were reminded that shoes just had a magic of their own. The way these kids talked on top of themselves, trousers midway down their buttocks, the way they swerved in imaginary mud, ran through thorns and hit at stones; was just the thing. I believed that with shoes you could do everything the boys did as well as what those guys did in the movies. And so for a long time my dream was to get those hooves, sag trousers, speak Swahili and act a movie with James Bond. Many are days I wore imaginary boots, stuffed papers in my nose, talked ‘English’ with James Bond and arrested imaginary criminals. I kept promising James Bond how our partnership would help finish the gangs.

So one day the local chief makes an impromptu visit to the school. There is a quick assembly. Mwalimu Olwichi only needs to stand by the flag post and raise his hand in all directions and there we are, jumping through windows to go listen to him. By now I am a full-time adolescent and in class seven, which means I can understand some of the English words he says. I am right, even Ngongo later affirms that the chief has announced the expected visit from a mzungu. The immediate challenge is not the expected language phobia as most will expect. We are rather caught in the scary reality that all the pupils are supposed to wear shoes on that day. How again?

Wearing shoes was a great taboo at school. I still remember how new pupils would be alienated from the main population until they learnt better of putting on shoes. So although I told Nyawando of the need for new shoes, and stressed every time I mentioned the chief and the mzungu, I had my fears too.

We went to the shop of Machanja. Now Machanja was another thing. He owned the only Bata shop at Khushianda, one of the very few in the Kingdom. In my entire childhood there is no person I feared and adored in equal measure as this man. As I dreamt of owning even a single torn shoe, this dude had a whole Bata shop with shoes strewn everywhere. I never saw him talk or smile, and he had this reserved serious look in his eyes. After a customer left the shop, he’d take a broom and sweep the veranda. If the customers were more than one, he’d dash into the back room, return with a mop and a bucket of water. People said that even if you waved him greetings from afar, without nearing the shop, he’d take a fly whisk and dust his counters until he was sure he’d gotten rid of your dust.

This is where Mother took me to buy the shoes. Say walking on the moon. Say James Bond in the making. I was to only wait till my brother was at school, sag his trousers and go sit where most girls from the market passed.

It was Nyawando who entered Machanja’s Bata as I waited at a reasonable distance from the veranda. The bargaining was fierce; Nyawando’s bargaining powers are another story I’m thinking of. At a point she came out, stood at the veranda in thought, talked to herself, and then went back into the shop just as Machanja was planning to come out with a broom. Another battle ensued, and I could hear mother argue about the laces being this or that. In the end, I was called to measure my leg, and since it was soiled and deformed from years of freedom, I had to first wear a polythene bag before inserting my left leg. Mother immediately said it was my size even though I felt my toes play in there. But who was I when Machanja himself agreed that I’d grow up in them? There was no need to measure the other leg – it was already late and no one wanted to waste time.

It was not until two days later that I discovered our folly: the two shoes were not of the same size. That was the day Madam Doric visited, and I had had to endure a long day of misery: alienation, low esteem and hot toes.

Most of the pupils had stayed at home for fear of being seen in shoes. Majority of those who came claimed they had injuries on their toe or heel or ankle, and indeed everyone walked around in a limp. It was only the head girl, the chief’s son and I, that had stood at Doric’s parade in shoes. And Mwalimu Hatemaster came for me immediately after the function. Up to then nobody, including myself, had realised the size thing. He beat the shit out of me for intentionally wearing shoes of different sizes to embarrass the school. Even those who had hated on me during the day began to sympathise. That was my first day to put on shoes. And the last in primary school. I never sagged trousers even when city dwellers came home that December.

Today I saw the woman run and leave behind that shoe. Maybe she doesn’t know what shoes are. Maybe she doesn’t know our history with shoes. She perhaps has no idea what shoes should make you feel. Those days, rescuing a shoe was like rescuing twins from a burning house. And shoes were kept in the wooden box that also kept best clothes in the bedroom, not on shoe racks at the main door….

Perhaps this city will remind you of the day you broke your virginity. Depending on where you walk and what you see, you might get the memories of the day your grandfather died or the day your mother caught you stealing chicken soup. Some memories will be good and bring nostalgia. Some will make you ask questions, like why the sex you never met James Bond at Hollywood.

I am personally sorry, James Bond.

My Shoes, Four Girls, and the Money

It’s good I have to remove my shoes before entering this house. Coincidence 1: the girls never leave the house all the time I’m in there. Coincidence 2: they have this ninja for a mother drumming sense into their bleached heads. Now, who’d otherwise waste their respect on a teacher whose shoes are torn?

I remove my shoes at the door. It is one of those painful moments where you have to part with a close and faithful friend. I grew up with friends whose fathers thought we were stray children born to corrupt their good children. So I know how it feels when Vic stops on the way, near their gate, and tells you to wait for him here. I know how it feels to be left aloof so that the friendship may reach a tomorrow.

And so for a whole two hours my shoes remain in the cold, alone, unused and neglected. Those black Gucci hooves that once were an envy in the village. I often taste betrayal on my tongue, yet still can’t help. For two hours I rant inside their sitting room which is our makeshift classroom.

I take days explaining the present simple tense. I spend a few more centuries preaching the spelling of ‘remove’, each decade reminding them that the word does not have an ‘i’ and things like that.

To earn some coin.

I am hoping that I will be rich someday: a stinging rich fellow with 97 cars, a jet, a belly, and a fleet of women trailing my ass. I have this dream that one day I will own a house like this and force people to remove their shoes at the gate while I shelter my clean toes even at the swimming pool.

It doesn’t matter that I don’t know even quarter the IGCSE ESL syllabus. It doesn’t matter that my pronunciation gives them hell (at least it did). Nothing matters really. Nothing should as long as there is money coming this way. Live in this city and you will know what I’m saying. Which reminds me of an old Arabic proverb: Al-rizq-ul-ulamaai fiy yadd-il-juhalaa’. (Visit my bank just in case you want the translation.)

So basically, this thing is about lies, pretension and money. What is not about lies and money these days, anyway? I lie; I get my fuckin pay and go home. I lie more; I get even more. Willing buyer and stealing seller on the bargaining table and the world spins.

But sometimes I feel what they give is not even their money. Last time their ninja mother paid me in notes and I checked: they were minted in 1976. In nineteen-seventy-fucking-six she was still a virgin and not in Kenya. In 1996 she was still a virgin nigger in Norway. In 2006 all the four girls were born, alright, but they were still living under Stoltenberg. So the 1976 notes are by birthright more deserved to me than her.

Or what if we’d all shared the money somewhere around 1977? What if, during Kenyatta’s funeral, Nyerere and Uncle Bob oversaw the sharing of the country’s resources to every citizen? They’d have come from that fuckin Norway and got nothing, poor things. They’d be beggars at Jamia Mosque or somewhere around State House. Or they’d be running a brothel along the coast. Point is, this 1976 money is legitimately MY money. In my next visits I should start knocking, sitting silently and waiting to be given my cash without a word – no parroting. That is before my brother becomes president and they start queuing at my castle every morning to bring to Caesar what the Jew commanded them to.

The first day I came here, they scared me. They put all their English in their noses and forced me to take my pronunciation back into the shoes waiting outside. Only a teacher’s confidence saved me, plus some lies about me lecturing at a college in town and having applied for a PhD at Cambridge ee-of-tee-and-see. They still fear me like a deity.

What else? If you stay in Norway all those years and you come back to Africa without knowing London’s language, what do you want? Norwegians are cousins to Londoners yet they didn’t leave a mark in your grammar; what in the name of the Queen can I do, thousands of miles down the Sahara, to give you the same language?

So I teach them with the attitude of let-the-goat-eat-its-rudeness. I keep skipping topics I don’t like. Like Noun Clauses and Prepositions. I tell them to write assignments I hardly mark. When by accident they ask a challenging question, I dismiss it and assure them it can never come in the exam, and you should see how the four faces beam! Anyway, they couldn’t have understood the answer even if you, you, told them.

The girls! They carry chocolate to class and never remember to get a fifth plate. When they are not chewing, they are talking to each other in Somali. At 19, 18, 16 and 15 they believe they know freedom and rights. Fuck Norway.

All along I pray no one leaves through the front door. I pray that no one becomes curious on what is hiding under the door mat. No one, dear God, should have business there.

My Gucci pets are leather. I bought them when old-school moccasins were just the thing in town (they still are!). Cost me a fortune. But now they are an old pair with a forced smile on the left piece (my mother says my left foot is bigger) and a beaten look like they come from apartheid cells. The soles keep cursing rain. The leather that was originally dark black can currently not go beyond blackish grey no matter the polish. The right piece is comparatively better, only that it has this dented heel that resembles a loose bumper. And then they have this conspicuous rise, just at the fulcrum, where they curve upward like some creepers.

Lonely hooves
Lonely, dejected and very sad hooves. How’d you feel when your friend tells you to wait at the gate?

But shoes aside. Our girls.

My many sessions with them and a lot is revealed to me. They are a bunch of innocent girls whose mother thinks you can buy brains downtown. They believe your grammar can improve through bleaching, watching Meixcan soaps and spending the afternoons practicing American accent before the mirror. They are sweet things sometimes though, especially Riya, 17, who has this sharp twinkle in her eye whenever she smiles. Last time she even told me I have dimples, and twinkled her eyes.

The book we study is supposed to take four years or so I guess. Their mother told me to take seven months because they have some exam around ‘Nofember’. I will complete it by September so she can tip me a speed allowance. Then before she realises what I did to her white girls, I will be gone.

Perhaps to take another job that can give me better shoes. Or perhaps to take one where the Gucci pets can proudly accompany me to any table.

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.

Featured image

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.