You All Need a Good Woman

Tomatoes, check. Sukuma, check. Cabbage, uncheck. Onions, check. Knife, check. Pepper, check. Recipe, innate. Cooker, check. Hunger, uncheck. Pause: A pseudo born-city young woman from Shamakhokho (/sh3mek’hauha:/) and Shiatsala (/shiets’e:la(r)/) is terribly concerned why there is no pizza flour (?) or Arabian garlic here. Otherwise this is a full health kit for any African bachelor doing miles above the helpless rest.

Wife

Wife

Today is those days. Your emotions are there too. You’ve been playing some Chirani Kuno (King’s Language) song repeatedly so that the neighbours can know that in your house lives a person, a human being, a man; all with the ability to live. You have been patient enough and now as you count the earthly possessions in your kitchen, you are very sure the bastards have all bolted back in their houses. You only need to spring to action before they start making babies….

So you wash your hands. You peel the onions, cry a bit, and continue peeling. And chop tomatoes. You do all the normal stuff. Pour some oil on the pan. It should worry you that the levels have gone down tremendously after your cousin visited last week but for now you are not picking quarrels with the world. Nature will punish him for you. Here, your stomach grumbles in agreement, and you nod yourself the wisest man alive.

Then you realise one spoiler: there is no salt.

You take the small packet and shake it near your ears. Then you tear it onto a plate. Three crystals come off and fall lazily. After serious negotiation with your ego you decide you can cook with those. Make the food saltless, eat it saltless, and when the climax is come, mix the crystals so that it is a grand climax that makes you forget the hardships of Misri. OK. Right.

But then, there is no water.

You open other sachets seeking crystals of water.

Nothing.

You check your shoe in case you could find a pint at least.

Nothing.

You bite your lips and clench your hands on the head. Slowly, you retreat to your bed that is two feet from your kitchen and a few inches more to the main door. You lie on your back. The bed even refuses to squeak from the little pressure you exert. This makes you worried. Even the bed you bought with your own money refuses to squeak when you lie on it! What kind of a bed is this?

You think of very sad things. But none of the things you think are as sad as your current situation. You wonder if this is not the saddest thing since the invention of humanity. You think through your childhood, your schooling, your tough lessons of morality and the foolish things the man of God used to say every week. Was this the target goal or there is still some life ahead?

As you lie there, you make one final observation: that you are in serious trouble.

And one lifetime solution: you need a wife.

Among many other things, a woman to just be there for you when such sad things come your way. One you can blame when there is no salt in the house or beat up when the landlord comes early. A woman whose beauty will be the consolation in times of hardships as this. A woman, for God’s sake, a woman.

Woman
Woman

There is this time I was a good classroom master. Used to tell the boys serious things that make life. Of course a lot of it was the normal bullshit to trick them into studying hard to get good grades and earn me a better pay and rank. But the one thing over which I never minced my words was marriage. And to date, I still tell the young folks around me to get themselves a nice woman for the house.

Please marry beautiful women, I’d say. Don’t go with that crap that a wife is chosen from her manners. Look, when you have a warthog for a wife and you go out for shopping, of course as members of the world we shall look and speak and tell ourselves how we sympathise with you. And why not? You will not stop by to explain to each of us that but she has good manners. That she is tender and crap. Those things are not written on her brows brother. We shall judge what we see. We shall all look and ask ourselves where your eyes were when you went to the market of women.

What did he do to deserve this?

Where did he pick her? A girl with small legs, a funny look, and a wig. A big green wig. Or red. Someday lightning will strike and her head will catch fire. It will happen so suddenly that the only thing you will see will be her two ears protruding in blades of heavenly fire. Before the fire brigade arrives, your curriculum document will be reading widower. And you shall prepare to have the loneliest funeral because where I come from people don’t attend funerals of girls with reg wigs.

But beautiful, they will come. Round head, round chest, round voice, round package of a wife. All round.

Marriage, done. Now maintaining it….

If your future wife brings issues after the wedding, chase her. Don’t even divorce The implicature of divorce is that you sit at a table and say this thing can’t work. Then you both walk away breathing freedom. Chase, on the other hand, is that she will be some distance ahead of you and you will be right behind with a weapon in hand. Both of you will be running for your lives. If she wins the race, bad for you. If you win, the world wins.

That is the chase.

There goes this story of our teacher, a distant uncle to the friend of my deskmate those days. By all standards and criticism, Mwalimu Kilibati was doing fine. He had a bicycle, clean shirts and had bought a plot of land next to our home. I should not forget that he was the only man in the village with a Panasonic radio cassette player and that the chief would seek his services, making him by default the only DJ at village functions and beyond. He was respected.

Then happened this rumour that he was marrying. By the time I saw the woman leaving his hut one fine weekend, word had made so many rounds that he was (imagine!) bedding a (one,) tall woman with thin legs who (two,) spoke English and whom they said was from Uganda. These two were, and still are, the biggest scandals that a woman seeking marriage can be pulled into in the kingdom.

People said.

You go to school and continue to become a teacher. Then you come back and marry an ugly girl with a lot of English! Who does that? You even paid dowry and promised to take her brother to college.

Mwalimu Kilibati had his defense. He said he would marry her anyway. Elders had sittings with him. Not once, not twice – I was there when the third sitting was done and wine and libation were also sent to Those Under and About. You know what Mwalimu said? He stood with the pride a successful elegant youngman can conjure and told the elders to mind their business.

That was unexpected. And so instead of caning him, they also did the unexpected. They left him to go back to his wife.

The divorce took place at the unlikeliest place. It was in Class Four of Musenda, where I was fighting ignorance. We were closing school. Our teacher’s young wife stormed the room shouting things we couldn’t understand because she was using English from Uganda. Then when a good crowd was beginning to gather and peep around, she rushed out and came back with a heap tied in the remains of a green polythene bag. Before anybody guessed what was happening, the mound smashed into the face of our teacher, ungracefully, and pacham, which was underwear of all colours and hygiene, scattered on the floor.

English women.

There are worse women in this world. There are those that will bully you every day of your life. You will get those that will be nagging. There will be those whose work is to get anything and everything from you. They will enslave you. They will kill you. But when all is said and done, cliche, you still need one such piece of punishment in the house. That is how society ticks.

Epilogue

I’m writing this story on a bus to work. I’m seated right behind the driver. The person next to me is an old man perhaps in his ripe sixties. Guess he is a night watchman coming back from work. He smells sleep. He even had to struggle to give the conductor his money.

I think he has seen a lot in life. A lot more than what is happening on the second side of the aisle.

The second side has a guy and, if judgment pardons me, the guy’s girlfriend. She’s been speaking so much English. Which is okay. But why does she struggle with that accent? Then she speaks loudly, and doesn’t give the man any airtime to respond. I think the guy is embarrassed. There are those cases when you must get embarrassed by your girl who insists on showing off loudly for something that is not there. But who am I to judge?

Then she sees another woman pass outside and she wants to jump from her seat. She almost rips off the shirt of her boyfriend just because she is saying that the passing woman was her deskmate from (there is a way she calls it – international) primary school.

Luckily for her, and sadly for our peace, the second woman turns and gets into the bus. And the greetings that follow almost bring down the entire city. Because the boy cannot move from his seat, the second woman sits right behind them, and their stories begin.

We pass DoD, their English is just as beginning as the old man next to me begins to snore. By the time we are in Hurlingham the first woman is explaining an old memory to her friend. She uses the whole stretch between Kilimani and Bangladesh to pronounce the vowel in PORT, and when her turn comes, the second one hijacks the stretch between Bangladesh and Kawangware to ask REALLY?.

When I disembark, I disembark with sympathy. Sympathy for the two women that won’t find a marriage. And sympathy for the men that might be appointed by fate into the bridal huts and heartbreaks.
And long spells of English.

PHOTO SOURCE

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GUEST POST: Protus, Shit and Other Shit (by Babji)

I’m four years old in this Nairobi but trust me, I’ve seen more shit than all the nineteen years I spent in shagz. My own shit I mean, not others’ smoking shit. Leave alone the time I landed my first job as a cleaner just after secondary. The time when a fat potbellied Mhindi would go across the road, eat pizza, croissants and top it up with a mug of Cappuccino then come to the loo. It was very usual to see a man straight from Galitos to my workplace straight to the washroom and seven minutes later, he gets out of the room, orange handkerchief in hand (it always is orange since it doesn’t show dirt) wiping his forehead, nose and moustache. The stench that would come out is worse than that of smelly feet, decayed carcass and soiled pampers combined. Some would not even flush the stinking shit, they’d just walk out and then I’d go clean it up.

I saw people’s shit, trust me. Smoking and steamy.Hard and diarrhoea, green and yellow, all that. And I had a chance to see mine as well. I walk into that room, drop my pants, squat then push like a woman in labour. Thereafter, I look back and look at the work of my rectum before finally turning the flushing water on. In shagz I never had the chance to see my own poop. Once you walked into a latrine, you just heard the sound of your dropping hitting hard against the bosom of earth. There, it’s met its fate. If you didn’t hear the sound, then it was obvious you had dropped it on the floor of the loo. Me I would move my right toe, knock that thing into the right place and go on. Once or twice, it happened.

You see, the latrines in shagz are floored by use of wood off-cuts. The pieces that saw mill guys feel are of no use are nailed together to make a floor with spaces between them. The doors are just gapings that always face the hedge, so when you come you have nowhere to knock, you just cough and whoever is inside coughs as well. The walls can be anything. Anything can be mud, iron sheets, tree branches tied together…. Anything.

Let me tell you about Protus’ latrine. A latrine and a half. This one, Protus’ latrine, was rumoured to be so clean till one would lick yoghurt from its floor. So clean that before you went in, your conscience led you to wipe your muddy shoes on the long grass nearby. No, it wasn’t cemented by the way. Just like the other latrines, it had a small opening carved at the centre of the room for poop. But so clean.

And then, it happened. It always happens, sindio? Especially during holidays. Protus was living in Nairobi, leaving only his wife and kids back at home. Two kids. But women whose husbands work and reside in the city always travel to see them. Even when the husbands make efforts to come over after every two Saturdays, she will always call the mzee that one Wednesday he is trading his sorrows with Wanjiku.

“Hey, Baba Nanii…. I’m here at MaaiMahiu…. Nitafikakitusaatatu (I’ll arrive around 9 p.m.).”

Then the man is taken aback.

“Ah, kwaniuliamuaje? (What did you decide?) – hic. Si you should have told me I buy (hic)… flour? Then the mama goes silent. He can’t even hang up. He’s looking at his pretty untouched Shiko.

Sikujiiunga.Kwanikwetuukinitoahatukuwanaunga?” she retorts what can only be translated as: I’m not coming for flour. When you got me at my parents’ home didn’t we have flour?

“But I was there last week. And I was coming (hic). And the line goes off. It happens, right?

Protus used to come, once after every three months. Early in the morning he’d pass at the lone footpath, loaded with a bag, a carton, another bag on the woman’s head and a paper bag. A really nice man, Protus. But then one day his Jaber said no. She too wanted to go and see Nairobi. One calm evening she clutched her handbag, a paper bag full of sukuma wiki and some onions, tied her younger child onto her back and walked behind some lady. This lady had on her head a sack.

Now, any Kisii person can tell you that sack carried a lot of matoke, then some avocados. We watched as the sashayed Protus’ wife so careful not to dirty herself. She took a Nairobi-bound bus. Then the lady who had escorted her came back. A young nice new lady who had never been seen in the village before, looked like her sister. Let’s call her Moraa. Now, you know what a new carcass means to a hyena. We watched from a distance, four heads together the way players stand conspiring on how to take a free-kick.

Now this is where the story begins. I however have to tell you that my cousin Oscar spent all the nights at Protus’ house for a better part of that holiday. We would eat our supper, go to our esaiga and when it approached ten he would dress like a mercenary. The head would be covered in a godfather, a large black overcoat and boots. Then he would carry a large metal rod. By four in the morning, he would come knocking… tired like a dog on a sunny midday, sleep for the next two hours then wait for the next night. Till when Moraa told Oscar that Protus would come the following day with his wife. You know, he always travels at night, and arrives here in the wee hours. That meant end of business between the two.

But nothing is sweet compared to the last drop of milk from a gourd. Nothing. Oscar knew that too well. And on that final day we all decided to escort Oscar. All the four of us- Oscar, Jeff, Farid and I. You know, it’s a few minutes past ten and we are walking silently, dressed like vampires. Nobody is talking. We’re just quiet, hands in our pockets, eyes straining to see where we are stepping. The only sounds we hear are of crickets, croaking of frogs and whistling of porcupines. Yes, porcupines whistle. A story is told of Mzee Nyamongo. This respectable old man, after having one too many, staggered home at the odd hours. Then he stopped and listened, someone was whistling rhythmically from the maize plantation. He listened again, that must be George.

“George” he called out.

Silence.

“George!” He called again. “Don’t you dare whistle at this time again, you are calling snakes!” He retorted. The whistling had stopped. He asked George what he was doing there at such a time and when he got no reply, he clicked and walked way. Then the whistling commenced.

We walked amid the whistling. Not scared even of the night runners. Night runners do not dare touch a group of people, they only scare you if you are alone. At the gate Oscar sat down, passed his right leg below the gate and pushed the stone that was leaned against the gate, that’s how the gates are locked in shagz by the way. And we slithered into the compound. Now, we did not intend to do the lady all of us. No. Neither were we planning to go and eavesdrop by the window of the bedroom as the two made herstory. It’s just Satan. It’s Lucifer, I tell you.

The kitchen was open with so much smoke coming out of the grass roof, and the lamp was still on. A child was crying from the bedroom and a lady crossed from kitchen to the main house. We dashed into the latrine nearby. Its door faced the thorny hedge and I’m sure I heard Farid cry out an Ouch. We hid inside the latrine, the much appraised latrine. It felt slippery. At was also used as the bathroom. We were so cautious not to slip into the hole at the centre, so we huddled close to the door, and peeped to see what was going on. The dogs had begun barking but none came to the doorless room. We shivered, we shook. We knew that shit was pending. We could see a spotlight moving around. It was Protus. He shone his torch towards the hedge close to the latrine, and then went away.

We were sure he would go to sleep, and probably Moraa would sleep alone in the kitchen as Protus and his wife slept in the main house, so there was still a ray of hope. We just stayed in the latrine, trading stories. Jeff told us of how he thought the next Bible would be. Yaani, the Bible to be used after God comes back, burns some of you and creates new beings. The Bible these new beings would be using. How many books it would have, how many testaments blablabla. Said the Bible would have a verse reading, “And behold that night, Satan lied to Jeff, Oscar, Farid and Babjy to go to Protus’ place. He spoke unto them. Isn’t this your last day to that place oh Oscar, why don’t you take with you…. We laughed. You should hear Farid laugh, wuueh! He forgets everything.

toilet

And the dogs heard the laughter, and then began barking. We knew Satan was on our necks. I particularly was upbeat. And I had to release the pressure. I tore a piece of newspaper I had leaned against that was tucked into the corner of the latrine.

“Shhhh, careful bana….” Oscar warned.

“No, I want to poop,” I hissed.

“What, but we can be heard yaa!”

I was already peeing. I would hear them breathing heavily. I would smell the fright in them. A torch lit somewhere close to the latrine. That fool was out again. I dropped. The poop hit water inside that pit making the sound. The spotlight began becoming stronger, reducing in size. A figure dashed out of the loo, another one followed and before I knew it, I was alone. Squatting in somebody’s pit latrine, less than two hours to midnight. Here I was, pushing shit like a woman in labour, my face wrinkled as the light finally fell on me.

“Babjy, is that you?”

“Yes Uncle, I was on my way from town and pressed so bad. I had to rush here to relieve myself”

“Mmmh, nice story you have.”

(For more mouthwatering stories from Babji, visit his site: www.babjy.wordpress.com)

 

A Friend and Friendship

I will start it straight. The people of the Kingdom have a saying that omulayi w’ebuwanga ashina mumuse lulala. Dear Gentile, the good one of Wanga dances on the floor once. So I want to dance on this floor once and only once. And quick. Friend, the trouble with dancing is that you are assessed by those whose bones cannot twist but whose eyes are so sharp to pick the best dance of the year. You alone sweat; they alone judge. You must dance well because that is the only dance you will have. Unless you don’t want to be the omulayi of Ebuwanga. So this dance will be Brutus, using the crudest means here and there. It is thus perhaps paramount to state from the onset that I will hit badly “or else the story I am going to tell you will make no sense”.

Life has become difficult, yes. People don’t respect you. Everything is going to the dogs. Now you want God to bring a rain of fortune. Smoked fish, millet powder and iPhone. My friend, the woman who will give birth to the woman who will bear the grandfather of your liberator has not been born.

You sit there complaining about the weather and January. You spend your time cursing this and that. That you are broke. You now forget your laziness and curse January, an innocent month of God sacrificed at the front to open doors of blessings for you. Imagine having to come at the beginning of every year (because you’ve never seen July come first) and having to persevere with curses of people who have no clue how innocent you are.

You sit there gossiping people in Watsap groups and expect life to run smoothly. You gossip that girl in the hood when she passes. You gossip your in-laws when your partner goes to work and still hold you are okay. How? It is legal for people to dream of a Subaru before 30; but how many people do you need to gossip to get one? Last year one second-hand Impreza costed 760k gossips; it must have gone down with the fall in oil prices. Find out and let me know. Gossiper.

By the way there is nothing that demeans an intellectual as cheap talk. Nick went to town yesterday and dash dash. Hey, when will you build your life? I am announcing amnesty for the criminals who slander friends that leave social media groups. Three days amnesty. I’m talking of “any dim-wit with internet connection, rent to pay and a lot of…”. Surrender your gossip tools in three days or we shall come for you. Me and my girls. And boys. Call the people you slandered and apologise over a glass of juice and goat meat. Three days’ amnesty, not four.

And you are the slowest monkey around yet you complain why the people around you are in an unending rush. No hurry in Africa? That’s what the thieves said. Came around, found Africans in a cultural hurry and were disappointed why people with melanin could be so unfair. Then when they were going away, your father, whom you take after, took them to the port. He was lazy and hungry and so he snailed himself on the way. They took B/W photos of him and on their home-bound voyage wrote big books. So you may believe them.

Otherwise Africa itself is a scramble. Virus, an accomplished professor of Engineering and rusticator of students, acknowledges the fact that life is a race for the strong. So if the race is too hot, buy a sisal rope, choose a branched tree and end the misery. Or get bus fare and go back to the village.

The village is a very noble idea. No need to buy an umbrella. Just walk back and those guys will embrace you. They’ll clap their hands and enthrone you. They won’t know you are stingy. And poor. Haha. A poor stingy man returning from the city. And that you don’t honour your debts. They won’t know you are a criminal of life. They won’t know you’ve committed all solid crimes under the sun.

Your mistake number one is that you are a fluent watcher of soap operas and you are also a bookworm. The latter is what you call yourself when you do motivational books once in seven months. For the last 5 years you’ve been waking up at 8 a.m. every 1st January and when Zuckerberg asks what’s on your mind, you’ve always set your New Year resolutions painted in colour and by 3rd you can’t recall what they were. You spend the first half of the year breaking and washing them down the drain and use the second half conjuring up new ones and painting them in air to later respond to Zuckerberg on the next 1st. You amaze. You do.

Selfies guy. By right and by worth. So you have reduced your world to images. Dead copies. And you complain when girls buy buttocks and don 3-ton wigs of dead Indians. When you take popcorn, you selfy yourself. When you buy new shorts, you selfy yourself. When you selfy yourself, you selfy yourself. You selfy yourself at the pub with a borrowed girlfriend and glass. Have you heard us complain? No. We have not even unfriended you. We don’t gossip you. We keep asking ourselves what sort of a guy you are that you cannot take a meal without burdening the selfies stick and running to photoshop for a favour here and there. We ask ourselves what you were doing at college for four years. Like, if you learnt anything else apart from cheating. And failing. You lie even to yourself. Typically that thief who waits till it is dark and then steals their own clothes from the line.

Then when you go to town you complain of the traffic. You complain of the dust and post selfies of your Turkish sandals. You complain of the noise of hooting buses. You even watch those movies and say how backward our city is. Our city, for God’s sake. Issokay. Just go.

Go back to the village because that is where your A-Double-S belongs. Go back home and look after your father’s goats. Just leave us some feet near the gate in case the city cemetery will be full the time we respond to the Call. Demarcate it with thorns (we’ll send the money) and every time you pass there, remind yourself that thereunder shall rest the bones of a stronger inhabitant of Earth.

This is 2015. Hitler is dead and so are Jews. 2016 in fact. Yet you still want things that would make Daedalus and Icarus laugh. Do you even know Daedalus and Icarus, friend? See! Motivational books and Mexican soaps.

*                       *                          *

Anyway, you are my friend and the only one I got. I hope you continue staying around and giving me company. No, don’t go to the village. I hope you stay around so we go swimming together and walk to work together and gossip that new tenant – who does she think she is? – together.  The world has changed and we can’t be what our old folks were. We can’t live in their shadows of values.

Friends and friendship.
A Friend and Friendship.

I hope you dwell not on my weaknesses but keep reading this henshit and that you don’t compare me with the established icons. Let’s die for each other. That is friendship.

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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.