Story of Two Worlds and a World

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.

two worlds
two worlds

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


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When the Hustle Extends Home

One day you will arrive home very late. You will drop your bag by the door, fall into the sofa, cool the hustle for 10 minutes and then go to the kitchen to send condolences to your body. The stomach especially. Then you will make a discovery – that there is no matchbox. All the shops are closed.

You are very hungry. Actually you haven’t eaten anything today apart from a few cups of tea you took at a sister’s. So you check all cupboards for anything edible. You look under the bed and in the bathroom. Tsiro. You check the kitchen sink just in case last week’s yams stayed. Tsiro, completely.

So, dejected, you grudgingly go to your bed and face the ceiling as your phone tells you what people answered Zuckerburg today. You still don’t believe that you are doing the night hungry. There is a kilo of flour in the kitchen. Next to it is another kilo or so of beans sent from the village. Behind that bookshelf in the corner is a small pack of Sossi Soya (God bless Adventists). The taps have running water. There is salt and the dishes are not very dirty. So how does a man sleep hungry with all these in the house?

You can’t believe that a single stick with an ugly head can be so decisive on a man’s happiness. Folklore has those tales of   Simbi the crippled hunchback who saves a whole village from ogres. Or Daudi the small boy who kills Koliatsi. Or the Greek king who kills his father and fathers his siblings. But this is not folklore. This is a serious matter. This is about food.

How can you spend a dreamless night because of a small stick that doesn’t even know English?

Then an idea strikes. Every time you have money, you usually drop coins in the unlikeliest places so that when you go broke you will bump into them and smile to the shop. You remember that particular day you were washing a sock and found in it a 50-bob note so new it almost cut your nails. So when you buy a matchbox you always ‘throw’ a few sticks in this corner and that. Now you actually find one on the bathroom window and another behind the Shakespeares on the shelf. You are purring: you only need whiskers and six more lives to change your taxonomy. Your impatient stomach gives a congratulatory groan. You tell him to relax because the battle is not yet over.

And you are right – the battle is not yet over. The last time you shook your gas cylinder was three weeks ago and it was patriotic. But the lazy flame that plays on top of the burner today is not patriotic at all. You try to adjust the nozzle but it remains lazy. You regret knowing Kefin.

Whenever he comes around, he takes everything under his colony. He is the hot-fingered idiot who thinks you cannot do without him. So he comes to your house in your absence, drinks all the juice and when you return, you find him resting his legs on the table with a toothpick in the mouth and your tv’s remote in his hand. Then he asks you if you have money to buy flour and you think about whether to reveal that you have some. Then you reluctantly feign warmth and tell him there is flour in the kitchen and he asks you if you are talking about the “little that was in the drawer”. Your heart sinks. He tells you it was so little he now feels hungry again. He even tells you your blender has refused to work. You should kill him.

You marvel about the criminal. He came to town as Kefin. Then clothes were bought and Kefin became Kefo. He dated a Zambian and became Foke. He began watching EPL and became Fokensky. Of late he calls himself Foke-Handsamu and has a chain round his neck. So Foke-Handsamu keeps expleting your resources. Today was the day for flour and you have to pay the price of dying alone in a quiet Kayole.

You take a few more minutes hating Foke-Handsamu. Then another stomach rumble takes your mind back to the present. You are in a lonely kitchen. Sad. Apart from something that sounds like a chant somewhere, and a distant rev of a bad engine, everything else is quiet. It’s funny listening to a silent Nairobi after the day’s violences and bustles. A Nairobi by night suddenly becomes a withered flower. A former girl now with flaccid breasts and a distant look. If you wish to conquer Nairobi, night is the time. Come when the streets and corners have surrendered to the beat of nothingness. Don’t even stealth – just come. If you can be nursing the most stubborn hunger pangs and the city cannot discover, what else can peck at its discovery glands?

Oh God, am I running crazy? What things am I thinking when others are asleep? At this age I expected to be a settled man. I should be leading a straight life. I should be coming home to warm food and open arms. Lord, I should be teaching my second born how to mount on a bicycle. Your teachers, Lord, assured me that if I paid attention and handed in assignments in time I’d become successful. Lord, a man who staggers back home because of the hustles is successful? When he meets a cold house without a matchstick? When he has friends like Foke and landlords who say to him 36 words a year? Good Lord, when is your rescue?

Before you think of doing the dirty dishes, the flame increases itself, then does the best thing it can do on a famished night. It looks you in the eye and with all due disrespect, siphons itself back into the cylinder in some three seconds of pure magic. In that span you see your waning hope and the hopelessness that you can’t do anything to contain it. You shut your eyes tight and then open them. It is 0037hrs EAT, 2016.

Eff the Iraqis and eff the Saudis. A bunch of very useless Arabs whose only business is to have long noses and wear women’s dresses and turbans. And give little gas. If they gave good rates on petrol, you’d still have a few millilitres in that cylinder enough to attend to a meal. Eff the Americans too. Eff effing eff. You ask how such big nations could sit on five-star committees and discuss nothing but how to keep hungry a small person as yourself. You shake your head and hope God has taken note.

Hustler's kitchen
Hustler’s kitchen

You look at the cylinder, then touch your stomach, and you get the appetite to break down and cry. You think about Foke, probably snoring on a full stomach and next to his woman. You try to picture him early in the day, opening the nozzle just to feel the smell of it, and now you feel the urge for murder. You feel the urge to get his head and smash it on a cliff. Or clasp his neck until he gives his last sigh.

You go back to the bed.

But a bed shall not contain the son of man at this hour. You throw away the blanket and stand in the middle of your room. You suppress a yawn and listen to the dead of the city. Right now there is just one thing you pray from God. That if you should die, let it not be tonight. Let it not be that hunger is what defeated your bones. Let it not be laughed that you are he who went to heaven on an empty stomach. You already know Jibril as that jovial guy who will tease you about your hunger. You’d like to hang out with him and go to the cyber every evening (if heaven has evenings) and go watch AFC Leopards every Saturday. And now if those girls in heaven were to know that you died a hungry man, well, what do women do with poor men? So God, I rest my case.

Then you jump. Eureka. Before you know what is happening, you are back into the kitchen and running the tap water into a jug as you whistle a Bob Marley tune. You even fart a long hollow one just to prove to the night who the real king is. Then you immerse the heater in the jug and step back to watch events unfold. After four minutes, you add flour and stir the melt using the heater as you enter the books of history as the first man to knead ugali in a plastic jug. You keep playing with the switch to moderate the heat. You feel the fumes. You give yourself hope and time. And a smile of happiness. God’s rescue isn’t far.

And behold, what product do you have other than steaming isichwala? I-si-chwaaa-laaa. You pour it onto a plate and without washing the equipment, pour water in a smaller cup, add Sossi, add salt, add oil, immerse the heater, switch it on, step back, and watch a second epic discovery in the catering world.

As you stand there, your mind wanders. Your eye takes you to the cooking stick on the rack and it reminds you the hollowness in life. You remember how Neli used to hold it. At the centre with her thump pointing down. Did she find a better lover? Does she hold another cooking stick for him? Does he appreciate and say the words you didn’t say? It reminds you that your son is gone away too. You feel bitter that the brute took away your boy and now you are alone and lonely. Everything in the room soon looks so huge. Sometimes you look into a drinking glass and you are no longer interested in the water because you fear to drown in its depths. There are memories when you open the door. There are memories when you comb your hair. There are memories when you look yourself in the mirror. Madmoiselle left her image and scent planted on every object in the house. Then she went, as they say, high and South. Now you don’t know where and how she is.

Is your son fine? Will he be raised by another man? Will he stand up one day and call you a traitor? That you left him? Will he ever know the void he left? How you missed him? Knowing his mother, you know he won’t. This even punches another kick into your heart and you see the nakedness of your soul. It grips you and reminds you how much vanity you pursue to justify the lie that life is something, matter; and not just matter but matter worth pursuing.

By now the chant from outside is clear. It is not a chant per se but prayer. The good neighbour has awoken his wife and son and they are in prayer although you can’t hear any word clearly.

You pause and think. You try to figure out what it is they are praying for. If another Foke swallowed their gas. Their boy is in a good school and they have a bicycle, what else? It beats you how the man can rouse his family this early just to pray. You listen as he says things punctuated with the constant amen of two softer voices. You again remember yourself. For six months you’ve prayed for promotion and better life but you are still here in a house without gas. Could it be because there are tricksters who wake up when others are asleep and seek more favours that your prayer is always dismissed? There should be a way to restrict these selfish prayers so that everyone prays fairly in daylight. You imagine the prayers you have done this evening alone and ponder if the angels entered your house or the man’s.

The smell of burning plastic brings you back to the present. It is the plastic cup. You quickly switch off the heater and examine the extent of the damage. You have just lost another cup. But it’s okay, you say as you harvest your food onto a dish and take a piece to taste. He-he.

He-he-he. It smells like the fart of a mangoose. But it is still Sossi; food. If the stomach has persevered the pangas of hunger pangs, a mangoose fart is nothing. Especially if that mangoose fart will get rid of the condition called hunger. Where I come from, it is your friend whatever kills hunger. That’s why he who feeds you beats your mother as you watch. So come on, make it smell whatever animal fart as long as it it called food.

You sit down on the floor. You drill your hand into the melt of ugali and as your stomach welcomes your heart-felt condolences, the lights go off.

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Choices and Life

I am one of those who make it a big deal the person I sit with when travelling. Choices and the freedom. If I take a seat and the lady sitting next has insufficient accompaniments to her exhaust pipe, I am that passenger who will alight at the next stop. I can sit next to a drunk or a talkative old man. Or a sinner. But a woman who cannot spew smoke when the time to spew smoke comes cannot find forgiveness with me. What are you doing calling yourself a woman in the first place? A woman is not simply a woman because the dictionary says so. There are many crimes the dictionary has committed against truth but we choose to keep quiet because we have other things eating us up.

Like rent.

Russians are yet to discover of what fibre the hearts of landlords are. Landlords have their own complex curriculum of nobility. When you come from the village you will have it that the only things worth your pulse are hunger and poverty. Poor thing. You. Because you haven’t met the Nairobi house owner.

The guy walks about like Hakoush. If you watched WWF in the 90’s then you know the demeanour of Hakoush and Mbambam. Just a step and you read sadist. Another and you see ego. When the first of every month comes and he stands before you, you read both sadist and ego and many more scary things but you can’t appear to have noticed because the demigod owns you and all little else that you own.

It is end month. They are all over all of a sudden. Yesterday they began walking around with many locks in their hands and a forest of keys. And a crowbar. Especially the crowbar. They don’t smile. Like a smile will clump them at the neck. When they greet you hear the suppressed cords in their voice. And you know what that greeting insinuates. Give me my money you fool. Give me my shitting money else I’m locking the house and moving in with your wife until you call me Caesar. You think building a house is a child’s play, don’t you? Okay, money.

A time like this, a landlord becomes more hated than a tax collector. Perhaps because the tax collector eats the loot back into the economy. And among other things, you can dodge him or offer a bribe so your tax is cushioned. But house owners are real brutes. They cannot be dodged. Not in Nairobi.

The guy next door has a curious name to his name. Sandra. He told me he is called Sande but everyone here uses Sandra and there is no way I will start a public campaign dubbed Let Sande Be Called Sande. Sandra is only three months here. Three months, which is literally 90 days, yet Sandra owes everyone in the hood. Not that he talks sweetly or has a flute over which he sweetens his approach. He even has a big stammer and his nose is longer than a Londoner’s. But he owes them all. Singlehandedly. Dodging is his strength.

Last month everyone was looking for him. For five days he proved slippery. The grocer down the corner wanted her money. The cobbler was here and the barber. The three shopkeepers next block had to exchange turns hunting him down. It’s only I who didn’t look for him because I had pardoned the first 150 and was not in any emergency for the other 30 bob.

There was always a padlock on the door. If you were an experienced credit agency, there is still no way you could claim your money from a locked door. The wall separating our houses is not so strong and sometimes I lay on my back listening to see if my neighbour was back. Nothing. Five good days and nights and not a soul has seen our Sandra.

The sixth day I talk to the landlord’s wife to see if we could report a kidnap. I will offer the bus fare to the police station. She just laughs. She laughs so hard I think she saw what I ate last night. Then she calls her husband. I endure my discomfort as the man greets me with flaming eyes that remind me it is end-month. He gets into his bedroom, takes a hammer, a crowbar and something else whose English name I don’t know. I follow at a safe distance.

He knocks at Sandra’s door twice. Nothing. He calls. Nothing. Young man stop wasting my time. I saw you yesterday. Silence. Sandra, open this door.

We know there is nobody in there. The guy measure his weight against the door. He fits the crowbar and with one strained effort the padlock cracks open. He pushes his stomach in. A few seconds and he comes out trailing Sandra.

Do not mess with landlords.

Today is 29th. It is a special day. I wish I was born on 29th My birthday would always be planned in four years. But I wasn’t born on 29th. I don’t know when I was born. When I was growing up, I used to choose a date and tell other boys that that was my birthday. But I’d soon forget it and sometimes I’d have two or three DoBs in a year. Lucky? As age came, I gave up.

Feb 29th is something that comes quite rarely. One in every four. That is quarter. 25 per cent. Grade E. As it wanes away, with it wane the rare opportunities it presents.

A day comes once. There can never be another Monday, 29th Feb 2015. Unless in a philosophy class, which this is not. Life is that once. Live it like it will never come again.

Life and Choices
Life and Choices

Life presents us with options. We have the option of choosing this or that. We have the option of choosing what makes us happy or that which brings pain. Don’t choose the painful. Simple formula. Don’t pain yourself sitting next to a person you don’t like. You think that is morality; I think that is not.

People and women are all the same. Have you seen how good women behave when they know they are good? A girl once almost spat on me in campus. (Okay, she span on my roommate, not me). You think you are under the slavery of morality to be nice. Alright, when you get the Nobel Prize mention me on the podium.

In life I’ve learnt to go for that which fills my heart and so should we. Traverse the boundaries if need be. Do not force yourself onto things just because men and women shall say how inconsiderate you are when you decide to live what you believe. Let them be -ists with -isms and call names; everyone must have a name at the least. That’s how we pay tax anyway. Names and pin numbers.

Because woman is not a woman without a good reverse.

Tomorrow my landlord will visit Sandra, then me.

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Our Whiteman of Musenda

A bicycle is something I still respect. Go on and grab iPhones, iTunes, iPads and everything else i-, my respect for bicycles remains unwavering.

The other day I was in town running errands for myself when an absurd thing happened. It was at this point where Voi Road pours into Kirinyaga Road. So as I crossed to go take the left side of Kirinyaga Road, this man in a Passat almost made a corpse out of me. I stopped my machine, turned to look at him, and hoped that he’d feel his shame and run away before I fixed him. Or at least, come fall at my feet and apologise profusely before I got the trouble of pacifying angry passers-by who would be on his neck. But the bastard got out of the vehicle and came to confront me. His key words were that I was wrong to use the road instead of the pavement (which isn’t on Kirinyaga Road). When I looked in his face and saw that he meant his words, I so much sympathised with him that I almost called the ambulance to the mental hospital. How could someone in his right senses rate an ‘86 Raleigh bicycle with a plastic car like a Passat! Not even Neelam or the postmodern Hero Jet could beat a 40 year old Raleigh. But foolishness, I realise, has no herb. So I cycled off without a word to him.

Men on bicycles

When I was growing up, bicycles were symbols of everything good. They were symbols of affluence, symbols of education, symbols of libido, symbols of national unity, symbols of immortality – anything that the schools said was good. Indika earned you respect. Indika earned you a wife. Indika earned you adoration. That is why they were majorly used by the most respected members of our community – teachers.

Teachers were the only people who outdid the local chiefs in being respected. I went to Mukambi Primary School, commonly known to the villagers as Musenda because it was next to the chief’s centre. They should have preferred Mukambi because it was also a chief’s camp for Chief Akaki Kodia, but that was just their choice. So at Muks (which is how we made the name look an equal to Booker Academy) we had these teachers whom we respected to death. If a doctor said you had malaria and a teacher said it was typhoid, the teacher’s word ruled and it would take time before the doctor received any clients. A teacher would tell you to bring to school a piece of firewood on Monday and by Sunday evening a heap would already be deposited outside the school kitchen. If a teacher told you to kneel by the school gate from morning to evening, you knelt. Then before going home you would look for him to say thank you and help carry his bag. And if you saw your teacher on the road, you’d immediately go into hiding. If perhaps you were convinced that he had seen you, you’d run to him, greet him in English and help push his bicycle.

They were Nazis. Pharaohs. Beat us so hard you would come home with zero if you set out to count the number of learners who never farted during punishment. Our fathers would wait by the road and when they saw the strictest teacher, they’d give him a token and plead with the teacher to beat the child even more. Whenever a child complained that Mwalimu So-and-So had caned him, that father would wait for the teacher with a hen tucked under his armpit. The man who took home most hens was one Mwalimu Jairo, whom we all loathed, loved, feared and admired in the same breath.

He donned a neat afro hairstyle, which just took him to another league. Every Sunday he went to the school and sat alone marking our books under a mvule tree. Then he would sample books of those who had done their homework poorly and go with them home to prepare punishment. Word had it that he had employed a Maasai boy whose JD was to go to the forest, cut young guava sticks for canes, rub on them red pepper and salt, warm them by the evening hearth, then package them in a small sisal sack for the school journey the following day. Parents therefore adored this man’s manner and proudly referred to him as Our Whiteman of Musenda.

But he had one weakness.

Ever since he had been transferred to our school sixteen years before, it had always been rumoured that Mwalimu Jairo didn’t know how to ride a bicycle. Now that was enough reason to cause stigma among men. An omusumba – bachelor, an omusinde – uncircumcised man, a man who got whipped by his wife, and a man who didn’t know how to ride a bicycle all passed as one and the same. It was taboo for big men and small children to mingle with women in gossip, but where these four were being discussed, everyone was greatly welcome and one could bash as much as they wished if only they kept their voices hushed. And despite the respect they gave Mwalimu, they sat behind closed doors and laughed how a well-educated man with two wives and an afro could not ride an indika yet even girls like Apedneko’s daughter were cycling well.


So when Mwalimu Jairo was seen that Sunday evening on top of a newly bought Black Mamba, it became everyone’s business. Those who saw him mount it said he had been shaking, sweating, and had needed someone to hold the bicycle and push him forward to start the ride. Those of us who played downslope were denied that rare opportunity of seeing a whole deputy head teacher panic on a Black Mamba in fear. But another opportunity awaited us.

As someone began descending the hill, something went amiss. We were playing marbles by the roadside in the far downhill, but we could still see a staggering bicycle even from far. It went from left to right and right to left. At some point, the man gained stability and we thought all was fine. Then we realised the speed was increasing and the left-right thing was now getting out of control. Then we heard the shouting as he approached. And we knew whom it was.

“Help me! Help me! I am the deputy at Musenda Primary! Help me stop! I am the deputy at Musenda! Museendaaaaa! Help! I am the dep…!”

I had never heard a man cry in such distress. Especially when the bicycle flashed past us and I saw how harassed he was; when I saw the furrows of despair on his forehead; when I saw the terror. His head had been thrown forward in concentration, and the arms tightly held onto the handlebars.

I ran in trail, bringing the best out of my feet. My playmates followed. A teacher was not supposed to fall with a bicycle – not a deputy! If a teacher never went to the toilet and never farted, how now? A teacher bathed every day in milk and warm mango juice, not fell. It would be a sin for his skin to touch down disgracefully. So I surged faster, outrunning my friends and hoping to get hold of the carrier first and slow him down to stop. Who knows, he might decide to remember me when caning those who used vernacular, and perhaps subsidise my punishment.

But I was slightly slower to the metal, which led in rage and contempt.

He lost control and hit a rock by the roadside. Then the shouting stopped for some seconds. For three seconds he was in the air, summersaulting and preparing for a landing. We all saw his whole body soar up into the air, fight gravity and rotate above the Black Mamba. We saw the buttocks turn up and head sweep down. We watched with caged breaths and unwilling eyes. Then he landed. A big thud. He gave two painful groans and went silent that for some time we feared him dead.

Then when we overcame our fear and got the courage to move near the injured teacher, our Whiteman of Musenda coughed and unsuccessfully tried to stand up. The dust that had gone in air was enough to blur one’s vision, though that which settled in his afro was more.

We had been so engrossed in the drama of his moving downslope that we had not noticed what had been tied on the bicycle’s carrier. Now tomatoes, sugar, several class-six exercise books and a hen were all strewn on the roadside beside their master. As villagers helped him to his feet and cursed the mad bicycle, I collected the items on the road and tied them in a heap beside the Black Mamba. I unwillingly put my exercise book back in the others for fear that he would realise if it went missing. But I hoped that come the following day, he’d still subsidise my punishment.

(I have exceeded my word-count. End.)

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