Every morning I see her. Her radiance is that of a fully blossomed youth but she doesn’t look like she works. Somali girls don’t work anyway. They spend half their life in duksi, then use the other half giving birth and burning their melanin and searching themselves in the mirror and crying at the clash of the worlds and bribing policemen who at every end-month scramble to incriminate Abdi of terrorism. And being nice.
So I come to the kitchen and stand looking at the reflection of the morning. Sometimes I wait long. Sometimes she comes early. I always know that she will appear between quarter past seven and eight. Look; the other thing they do is keep time coming to their balconies.
The first day I saw her I didn’t cook breakfast. I stood in the window and beheld the marvels of our Lord God. And what a beholding it was! Please reject the foolish joke that we are all created alike. Kallaa. We are not. Children of women out here were created. Children of women out here have bathed. That day I dropped the blinds and pulled an empty bucket to sit and watch. And when she went, I went back to bed to sleep and force another morning. Of course she didn’t come at my plastic morning. But I stood there anyway, looking at their balcony and measuring myself. I looked at the old rag on the rails. I looked at their door colours. Everything had a heavenly touch. Everything was perfect. Except that she was absent in my second morning. A longing thus turned obsession, and obsession a small sweet disease under the flare of a Sub-Saharan sun.
That day I kept thinking of nothing else. I fantasised her manner. Did she speak fast or she spoke like the children of God? Did she speak spotless Swahili or she sBoke it like that sheikh of theirs down the street? I fantasised her hobbies. What she ate every evening. Her best colour. The design of her undies. How she laughed when she heard a joke. If she slept facing the ceiling or on her ribs. I fantasised many things. And when the fantasy was over, I marvelled at my creation. And I called it Muna.
Muna has a sister. She is slightly taller and darker. They could as well count for twins and nobody will ask questions. But this one looks a bit more slow on life – the sister. She doesn’t take too long with the mirror. Not longer than 15 minutes, if I were to stand in the court of God. Her movements are so Somali I believe she used to top her duksi class. There is no Hollywood on her and the street has always avoided her. Her dressing and make-up are not exaggerated. I have never seen her apply that cream on her face.
Apart from inter-house rivalry and pride, Somali women have an obsession with being white. I meet dozens at the mall with the cream in the face plus something like green leaves. Good, powder is from leaves. For what? They look like high school kids direct from an x-orgy rampage. Do they remember to do emergency shopping just immediately after applying it or what? Even mothers in their sixties smear the thing and sit on the couch waiting for melanin to walk away. Muna’s day for burning melanin is Saturday, 9 a.m.
She will come at the balcony and brush her teeth. Then she will go inside and come out with 56 bottles and tins and cans of chemicals. Then she will start to apply. On such occasions she comes in tights with the strands of her hair falling beyond the shoulders. Occasionally she will enter the house and back. Occasionally she will laugh with someone inside. Occasionally she will put down the mirror and stand at the rails to survey the street down. I am in my kitchen all along. Looking. Listening. Praying. Ishting and effing, whatever that means.
I don’t know what yellow becomes when you burn the melanin in your cheeks. For satan’s sake, you are yellow already. Muna! I don’t want Muna to go that way. I want her to remain true to the imaginations of my creating. Sometimes I lie in my bed and think about her all evening. Her frail fingers. Her voice. Her fragile bones. I think about her soft touch every time I am in a traffic jam. When others are struggling to see an evening, others have the gold of the face and of the bank. She remains a spot in the pool of evidence that life is unequal and nothing there is we can do.
I live on the sixth floor. The opposite side of the building has an upcoming flat. There I see tough guys. A rich guy bought the plot and in almost a month, the storey is almost over. Most occasions he is there to make sure not the boys nor their leader steals a bag of cement. He must be really tough how he manages to cope with the noise of the crane and mixer and of spades and trowels. Or his pro-stingy hormones carry around his poor soul unconsciously. If you paid me a million and promised a yellow wife, I’d still not sit there. Okay: Only for the 1M, I’d hire someone to sit there, pay him 3k and take home my booty. Nairobi will teach you that. And if you insist, I’ll come back take Yellow too. So this man could have been promised a woman or money or both.
Men do many silly things for skirts. They do. There is a man in Kakamega who said he would not climb down a tree unless that nurse accepted him. Two days up the tree. The second evening he was so famished and tired and sleepy and then rains came and he fell down and broke his spine. No nurse accepted him still. Another man threatened to commit suicide if his woman didn’t come home. She came home. At his funeral. Elders were performing the rite of caning idiots who take poison. In simple Latin, humiliation followed him to his grave.
There are like 30 men on this site. There can never be a better metaphor between bees and humans. They move and climb and beat and all. And the wall grows bigger.
The mixer wakes me up every day. These men arrive at the site before you can see the colour of a bird clearly and they leave very late. This is a city of beating deadlines. Nairobi has a cruel rule that if you can’t beat the deadlines then life is a scarce privilege to you. So the men will rise every day at four and take two hours walking to work. Then they’ll be on their twos for the better part of the day. They are attacked by the noise of the crane up and of the mixer down, and the banging hammers, and by the sun, and by the occasional conscience of their being.
Over the noise, you will hear them call. Mostly yell. Sometimes they will laugh at a joke only they heard. It is possible to think them happy men. You will see them churn their muscles and pour wellfulls of sweat every day. Much of it pours into the wet concrete and breaks up to take a million corners in the new walls.
There is this short man on site. He never talks much. Whereas most of the rest have fixed tasks to run, he is our utility player on site. Today morning he was pushing the wheelbarrow. Now he is spading concrete to the man with the vibrator. Beads of sweat are him and he them. He puts on only shorts that go short of the knees. Otherwise the rest of the body is covered in water – water of his body. You can see his shinny biceps twitch as he plants his legs to scoop a heavier load.
With every scoop comes the thought of his life. The woman at home. Kids. Mother. Father. Small Father. Shopkeeper. Alice. Landlord. Brother-in-law. Food. Breasts. School fees. Rain. Nothing. Suicide