Its funny how life turns on itself. I was about to find out just how much , as I sat oblivious to the future, sipping a coffee and waiting for the woman to arrive.
She had seen my interview on the morning show and wanted to chat with me about my new book. It sat proudly in front of me on the table and I slowly paged through it again as I had done a thousand times before. I had written a recipe book with a twist, “A brave glimpse into the collective sin of a nation” as one critic had put it. The book was written through the eyes of a child growing up during apartheid, on the white side of the fence. I was that child. And I am this woman, because of someone named Mavis, a maid to my mother, a mother to me.
My finger traced the dedication I had written for her on the front page and I wondered where she was or if she ever thought of me. My mind picked over memories of her, most of them wonderful, and skittered over those that weren’t.
I sat back, sipping my coffee, remembering the times her and I had spent in the kitchen together. Boy could that lady cook! I could almost smell the vetkoek, the koeksisters and the butternut soup with a twist, as she would chirp with a wink. Mavis had taught me an art, wrapped in flour and love. She had created magic in that awful eighties kitchen, with its chipped formica tops, linolium tiles lifting in places and heavily barred windows.
My childhood home was a Benoni special, right on the railway, two blocks down from the veld I wasn’t allowed to walk through. The house was typical government issue and sat on a small plot. It was surrounded by cement walls topped with the jagged edges of broken bottles. Cosmos grew in clumps in the garden and that was about the only attempt my mother made at making the place look pretty. It somehow just ended up looking sad though. Just like my mother. Sad and crumpled. She would try to pretty up when my father came home, spraying her hair into stiff peaks, slashing on her pink lipstick, and generally fluttering around like a bird with a broken wing. When my father was due home she would make sure that Mavis got down and scrubbed floors and cleaned windows and all that stuff. I always asked if I could help but my mother said that it wasn’t a good idea, that if I gave a finger, Mavis would want an arm. I never understood what she meant by that, but was too afraid to ask because it sounded rather painful. My mother was a vague figure in our house when my father wasn’t home, tucking into her gin and ciggies on the stoep most of the time. It was great because Mavis and I could cook and sing songs and generally have a good time without feeling guilty. But, then my father would arrive and the house would become dark. Mavis would become quietly efficient, almost invisible and my mother would suddenly become a bossy missus to her, would smother me with wet gin kisses and jump up and down like a jack in the box if my father so much as cleared his throat.
He was a huge man, with massive hands and quite a boep on him. He smelled of cigarettes and Brut aftershave and booze most of the time.
My father came home every couple of weeks. He worked as a policeman, in the townships, doing “township tours”. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it sounded like he enjoyed it. I overheard him telling my mother once that he had ridden over a ‘munt’ in his ‘Caspir’ in Alexandra township just for fun… that it was the eighties and that if we didn’t keep the ‘munts’ in their place, they would murder us all in our sleep!
I wondered who these ‘munts’ were that my father had to keep under control with his ‘Caspir’. All I did know was that if they were half as afraid of him as I was, they would know better than to behave badly or my father would give them such a klap, like he would to me and my mom when he was angry with us.
He needed to drink to get things that he had seen in the townships out of his head. That’s what he said to my mother after he had flat handed her across the face one day and then came back with some cosmos out of the garden to say sorry. I tried to stay out of my father’s way and with the help of Mavis I succeeded most of the time.
Then one day everything changed.
That day, I lay hidden beneath Mavis’ bed and counted her tokolosh bricks over and over. Mavis said that those bricks holding her bed high off the ground, were what kept her safe at night from the tokolosh.
My father was the tokolosh in my life. So I figured the best place to stay hidden when he came home, was under Mavis’ bed, in her warm little room at the end of the garden.
Her room was dark and smelled of paraffin and pap. My mother would delicately wrinkle her nose and clutch at her throat ever so slightly when she had to come anywhere near Mavis’ room. She made sure it wasn’t often. Most times she would just stick her head out of the kitchen door and yell “Maviiisss!”,and boy, if Mavis wasn’t at the kitchen door in a shot, you would see my mother clucking her tongue and muttering something like, “Bleddy ousies.”
My mother always had lots to say about the ‘Bleddy ousies’to her friends. Then they would also shake their heads and cluck back. I could never understand what this was about, so one day I asked Mavis what ‘Bleddy ousies’was . Oh how she laughed, tears running down her shiny black cheeks, bosom jiggling like no one’s business.
My mother was like a stick insect, all jerky and angles. She gave awkward hugs, you know, when they just don’t feel right. But now, Mavis, boy, could she hug! It was where I loved to be most on earth, folded in amongst Mavis’ huge boobs, smelling moth balls and zambuk and love. It was my safest place, followed closely by my hiding spot here, under her bed, counting bricks while my father tore the house apart. I felt as though I were in a dark bubble where no one could touch me.
I could hear my mother shrieking in the lounge and so I put my hands over my ears and started to sing the song Mavis had been teaching me that morning. We had been in the kitchen and I was writing down recipes for her because she couldn’t read or write. Can you imagine not being able to read or write? So I did my absolute best, dotting my i’s with hearts, poking my tongue this way and that with intense concentration.
Mavis’ cooking was the best and we’d put together quite a collection of recipes already. She said that one day she would give the recipes to her daughter, if she ever had children, but that the ‘missus’ kept her too busy here in Benoni at our house for her to get back to her homeland in Venda.
It was a shock for me to hear that Mavis had another family far away! I always thought she just lived here! Mavis told me that my father kept her passbook, so she was stuck here, but that she would one day make a plan. I just hoped that when she did make a plan, she would take me with her.When I asked her about this, she just shook her head and said white people couldn’t live in Venda. She had tears in her eyes and stroked my head softly. I could tell she was sad, and that made me feel sad too, though I wasn’t sure why. Anyway, I thought, Mavis would be with me forever, just as she had always been.
I carried on singing my song, but as loud as I sang, my mother and father were louder. I pulled my knees up against my chest and drew patterns on the dusty floor under the bed, counting bricks as fast as I could. This was the worst fight my parents had ever had. I squeezed my eyes tight, watching the splotches of colour against my eyelids. I listened to my breathing and felt my heart wanting to fly right out of my chest. Opening my eyes, I wished for Mavis’ feet to magically shuffle into my line of sight, but all I saw were little dust balls floating upward on my breath.
My mother was sobbing now and so I peeped out from under the bed to see what was happening. She was in a heap on the courtyard floor outside the kitchen door. Mavis was holding a lappie to my mother’s face, trying to stop blood from trickling onto her blouse.
My fathers’ large form darkened the kitchen door. Just as my mother tried to flatten herself further into the cement floor, so rose Mavis to her full height and planted herself firmly in front of my father. She crossed her arms over her bosom and said, “No more Baas.”.
His back hand snapped her head back and with one movement he had her on the ground, face down on the concrete. With one hand he pulled up her skirt and yanked his belt out of his pants with the other.
Spit flying from his mouth he shouted, “You don’t fucking tell me what to do with my family. You are a kaffir! A nothing!” All anger turned upon Mavis, my father brought the belt down hard on the back of her body. Then with his knees, he spread her legs apart, tearing at her pantyhose.
When he pulled his pants down, I closed my eyes. My mother always told me that it was very unladylike to see a mans naked parts. So I shut my eyes and sang my song, not noticing the muddy puddle that I had made when I let myself go in fright.
Eventually everything was quiet and eyes screwed tight, I sang myself to sleep under Mavis’ bed.
When my mother eventually found me and brought me into the house, life had changed forever. I could feel that the house was empty. My father was gone, but so was Mavis.
I asked my mother where she was and she told me that Mavis had been a bit ‘voor’ . She had interfered with family business and we just couldn’t have that in our house. A maid must know her place. So Mavis had been fired.
At this piece of information, given to me in ice cold chunks, I collapsed into gulping tears.
“Don’t be silly!” my mother said, “You are 10! Girls your age don’t cry like babies over a maid! There are plenty more looking for work so we will just get another one.”
I looked at my mother and realised that I had just somehow participated in evil. I just wasn’t sure how. Already what I thought I had seen was becoming strangely distorted. Reality seemed to melt into a nightmare.
That was the summer I grew – inwards mostly. From then on I kept the memory of Mavis close to me. My love of cooking grew from those memories because I felt closest to her in the kitchen, perfecting the recipes I had written down for her.
And so here I was, sitting at a restaurant, twenty years on, paging through the recipe book and waiting for my appointment, remembering the woman who had given love to me, when I felt a soft tap on my shoulder. My appointment had arrived.
I turned around to face a young woman, the image of Mavis, with the lovliest honey brown face and eyes as blue as my fathers.
Its funny how life turns on itself. I was about to find out just how much , as I sat oblivious to the future, sipping a coffee and waiting for the woman to arrive.
The yellow-orange leaves decorated the floor as Chuck gazed at the magnificent maple syrup tree. It was like no other tree. Standing upright searching… Chuck under the gaze of its watchful eyes. Its beauty and majesty refused to escape his very thoughts. The image of the tree would forever haunt him. It stood there watching, erect as the sphinx. If you gaze closer, you will notice wounds engraved on the tree. “James loves Loretta” is the permanent scar the maple syrup tree is unfortunately abashed with. Chuck wondered whether it felt any pain or if it had perhaps responded to the burn of the sharp and torturous instrument against its wrinkled skin. He ran his nimble infant fingers along the crestfallen scar, “James loves Loretta.” He suddenly felt a gradual trickle of golden liquid ooze onto his supple index finger. He sucked at his fingers like teats and felt a delicious honey-suckle flood his tongue. An overwhelming sensation filled Chuck with excitement as he kicked off his leather shoes, releasing an extremely unbearable pungent odour. His toes sunk into the earth like sand at the beach. Such an inescapable feeling shattered the very core of Chuck’s soul. What in his monotonous life had he done to experience such a pleasurably intense and excruciating sensation?
Chuck raced home. He would appear athletic from an unfit person’s perspective with his feet pounding the ground as if racing against time in heightened anticipation to inform mamma about his Christopher Columbus discovery. Images of the tree remained fresh in his mind like sweet, precious photographic memories of Chuck’s vulnerable and erratic childhood. A sense of urgency and purpose was endowed upon Chuck with the need to tell mamma. He glided up the stairs in a ghost-like fashion. “Mamma, Mamma! You won’t believe!” Mrs. Brown looked at him through curious dead cat eyes. The thought suddenly escaped him as if he had never stumbled across such a glorious discovery. He forgot the sensation, that trickling feeling. Suddenly Chuck realised that the hot and syrupy sensation had left his tongue dry and bare.
The maple syrup tree clouded Chuck’s thoughts. He was unable to think of anything else but that looming tree. At supper time, Chuck played around with his food like a dog incapable of resisting a game of fetch. He poked around the wormy spaghetti mamma had so meticulously prepared for her darling baby. He thought the spaghetti wriggled on his plate as it reminded him of a heap of worms squirming in the dirt. He soon grew furious for no apparent reason and threw the pathetic plate of blood-curdling spaghetti against the flowered- covered wall. “I cannot eat this mamma! How many times do I have to remind you that I hate your spaghetti!” She looked plainly at him through cold, calculating eyes and menacingly responded, “that’s nice dear, off to bed now, I’ll stop by later to tuck you in.”
He lay awake that night with grotesque eyes, widened in terror. She had misunderstood him to an extent which he could no longer withstand. The image of that tree remained imprinted in his mind as he could not abandon the thought that the maple syrup tree stood watching over him. A mixture of fear and excitement surmounted Chuck as he lay conscious in his moth-eaten, handcrafted bassinet like a mad insomniac.
Arms outstretched, chasing mamma with a noose in one hand and a cleaver hidden in one of his pockets. He was unable to comprehend whether or not he was conscious. “HERE MAMMA, MAMMA, MAMMA! Come out wherever you are.” Mrs. Brown hid in the corner like a rat confined in an unbreathable space. Like a butcher, a cleaver appeared out of his pocket. He drove the cleaver into her heart, butchering her in the corner like the ripper himself. He repeatedly stabbed her with the release and finality of an orgasmic screech. Pure pleasure pumped Chuck’s heart at that very moment. Count Dracula’s reign of terror had finally reached a halt. Almost instantly, Chuck awoke in a hot sweat, realising that his fantasy was a mere nonsensical dream. His euphoric state had met a bitter end. His heavy head collapsed onto the soft pillow filled with concern.
Chuck awoke the next morning as a corpse; his throat felt bare and chalky. He lacked the desire to eat or drink. All that remained in his mind was the maple syrup tree with the golden glaze syrup flooding his tongue and intensifying his senses. Chuck rushed out the door like a dog in heat with the need to possess the sensation again. He blatantly ignored the desperate cries of mamma, urging him to eat something, pretending to be a proper caregiver, yet alone a mother.
“Mamma!” he desperately wanted to scream till his pipes had lost all its air and got snatched from his throat. He was convinced mamma was a bitter old woman. She had taken him for granted and used him just as she had with daddy. Chuck was convinced that he deserved better. The maple syrup tree haunted him that night, its omniscient presence being extremely hypnotic. He had to possess that enchanting tree. At least he would possess one thing immaculate in his god forsaken life.
He stood before it, savouring the pleasure of the maple syrup tree. It was different this time, punctured with wide gaping empty holes, releasing fountains of golden, gushing liquid. At the moment, all senses left his body, devoid of any feeling. He held out his hands like a beggar, scooping the golden liquid and lapping the delicious honey-suckle like a dog. The syrup was different this time, Chuck remained utterly perplexed. The golden liquid remained hypnotic yet bitter at the same time. The sweet taste of the syrup faded as the sweetness of the maple syrup tree was liquidated. No person could fully understand the maple syrup tree. One would have to taste its contents in order to experience its full cosmic power.
Chuck walked home savouring the intense toxic flavour. The maple syrup tree had been different today by favouring him with chocolate bitterness instead of overwhelming sweetness. His gut ached all the way home with an engulfing sense of satisfaction. Chuck thought James and Loretta were lucky to have come across such an archaic tree. Lying awake in his bassinet all day with a gut ache of bitterness was the only idea that entertained Chuck’s mind. Mamma would not dare to disturb him today or she might meet her end with that treacherous noose around her neck. Chuck would be her only audience, watching her face turn cyanotic with glee. She would scream only “Chuck” as precious life left her decrepit body. He imagined detaching her piece by piece like a helpless lamb and throwing the remnants in the void of the sea where she would soon be united with daddy.
It was not long before Chuck visited and drank yet again from the maple syrup tree. The taste was not that of sweetness or bitterness but was that of death itself. The taste filled his mind with reassurance and nullified his senses. He drank from the pool of golden ooze like that of a mad man. Excruciating pain crept upon Chuck’s body, turning his bones to ash. He could not stop; he could not resist the tree and the mystical power that it contained. His gut began to bulge in disgust so much so that onlookers would think him to resemble that of a pig with an apple gagged in his mouth ready for Christmas dinner. His once athletic frame had hastily undergone a grotesque transformation which was far from the celebratory transition into puberty.
Suddenly a thin voice whispered in the air, “What are you doing?” The voice was so mellow, harmonious and soft that the wind easily swallowed it up whole, resulting in the mere apparition of a sound heard. Chuck’s eyes followed the source of the quaint voice. She was tall as a surfboard with golden locks falling harmoniously and sculpting her shoulders; she had the appearance of an angel. She had wanted to know what he was doing, as curious as his feline mamma. Despite her divine state, she appeared to be nothing but a nonentity beside the grandiose maple syrup tree. An overwhelming scent filled the air. It was obvious that this golden-haired, Grace Kelly angel had the desire to claim the tree for herself. Greed fell over Chuck, blinding the remaining sanity that he possessed. Chuck pounced on the angelic girl like a creature sentenced to a minuscule cage for eternity. He tore off a branch from the tree and beat her bloody to a state of nothingness. He had done his duty and walked home with steady but heavy feet. Crimson footprints read like breadcrumbs left, hinting to the whereabouts of a cold and calculated butcher.
He lay awake staring at an empty space haunted by the maple syrup tree. The tree offered treasures beyond any measure and fulfilled wishes as unbroken promises. Chuck savoured the bitter pleasure the tree had offered. He quickly unbuckled his leather belt as his belly swelled beyond mountainous measure. Something was wrong, as he released his leather belt buckle; his gut began swelling to an unimaginable height. The belly blew up toward the height of the ceiling. Golden bubbles issued from Chuck’s mouth forcing him to choke on the golden ooze he had one too many times delighted in. Chuck fell into a deep unawakening slumber haunted by that maple syrup tree for an eternity in the afterlife, restlessly roaming with coins for eyes.
Mrs. Brown rushed through the door, grateful that her tedious job was done. It was not easy to entertain a string of jobs in order to provide for their small non-existent family of two. She absolved herself of her leather patent shoes and red kimono dress. She slowly eased into her grandmother’s leather coach with a bitter scotch in one hand. The radio flared up with The Fleetwood’s, “Come softly to me.” Mrs. Brown poured herself another bitter scotch as the symphony of music played in the background with her tapping her toes placidly against the warmth of the soft carpet floor.
Time passed by as a century would. Mrs. Brown awoke to the placid drip of golden ooze originating from the fresh dampened spot of the ceiling where Chuck’s room supposedly was. She awakened like a tired retired antique man and slowly crept up the stairs like an insect upon inspection. She had not heard Chuck since she relieved herself from her cloak of tired superficiality. Huffing and wheezing like an asthmatic, she finally reached the tip of the stairs, staring at her son’s room door. She knocked. No answer. The air was quiet and dead, harvesting flies and maggots. She finally opened his door like an intruder, evasive like an alien from the void of space. The aftermath of the scorching sun had preserved the room in a cocoon of heat leaving the contents to bake. The air was filled with a pungent smell of honey; there had been no room to breathe. A large puddle of golden ooze lay in the middle of the bassinet with an overflow of honey, dripping at the sides of the perfectly constructed wooden crib.
A glimpse of madness passed over Mrs. Brown’s face as she subconsciously drank in the liquid resulting in a picture of perfection to fall before her very eyes. Suddenly, a drop of golden ooze trickled from the ceiling and landed in her trap. She drank the trickle of ooze and delighted in its taste. If heaven had in fact existed, she would have already received confirmation to enter through the holy gates. She licked her thin lips to reveal sharp, supernatural feline teeth of Satan himself; crimson ooze dripped from her fangs. She sneered with satisfaction and instantly thought of her son which was a thought that had barely entertained her mind for over six years. She was filled with a sense of satisfaction yet sadness. She uttered a few words that her son had rarely heard her mouth before, “I love you” and this time she meant it.
The air was filled with excitement. It was a long weekend and most people were planning trips to the lake or recreational spots to unwind and have fun. At age 15, I was just so excited about the excitement and my nephews and I were running around sharing in everything from people just passing, carrying large water- melons or some lugging crates of beer and meat for their barbecues. It felt like Christmas, yet it was the first day in May. It was also the last month of Fall or Autumn as we know it. The weather was unusually warm, though windy. The hustle and bustle of the day continued well into the late afternoon and it suddenly died down. Everyone had gone to their respective lake trips or picnic areas and the township was quiet.
My nephews and I went back in the house to play “Karate Kid” moves. The two boys adored me, and they’d hang onto my every word. I loved telling stories. I used to be able to just make up a tale and tell it. They most especially loved the story of “Vera, the ghost lady”. I believed that story since it was an urban legend as I grew up. They were my older sister’s sons. Ronny, the older and Reggy, 6yrs old. He was younger by just a year and a half. Ronny was much closer to me. He’d shadow me in whatever chores I was given and he’d follow me everywhere. The house they lived in was their mother and their stepdad’s. It was an ordinary four-roomed house in a busy township in Soweto. Most people who lived on the same street knew one another. I was relatively new there as I had recently moved in at my sisters house to keep her boys company after school, during the day while my sister and her husband were at work.
On this bright sunny afternoon, my brother in law sent us on a errand. He used the train to work and his monthly train-stub had expired. He gave me the exact amount to go buy him another monthly stub at the train station, about three kilometers away. My nephew Ronny and I were excited because it’d give us the chance to take a nice long walk, watching people’s comings and goings along the way. We made it to the station, and bought the ticket. The long walk back suddenly didn’t seem so nice anymore because we were so tired and thirsty. Most times we had to keep jumping out of the way of a reckless driver or watch some very drunk people swearing their way through the streets of Soweto. I pocketed the stub and we started our trek back home. A few meters away from the station, we were walking on a gravel path in a very rocky part of the area. It had a nice view over the nearby neighborhood and was very quiet. Suddenly I hear my nephew cry out. I thought he might have stepped on something and I ignored him. Then it went eerily quiet and I turned around. A young man, probably in his early twenties was pulling my nephew by his arm and I could see he was hurting him. The guy stood there sneering at me with his bloodshot eyes and two missing front teeth. I asked him what he thought he was doing and demanded that he let go of my nephew. He asked me in the Zulu dialect what I was gonna do for him to let my nephew go. I was so naive for not understanding what he was getting at and I feebly answered that I’d say thank you to him. Someone behind me laughed out loud and there were three of his friends approaching. My nephew started crying and I was suddenly very scared. People were passing by and no one stopped to see what was going on. The guy behind me pushed something into my rib cage and ordered me to start walking. I resisted and begged him to let us go, but he kept laughing, then he whispered something in my ear. He told me his name was Themba and he was the leader of the gang in that area and everyone was scared of them. He showed me a pistol and told me killed many people and was wanted by the police, but even they couldn’t catch him. He then pointed the weapon at my nephew. I started screaming but he hit me so hard on the side of my head, I saw stars. The guy who had my nephew started slapping him around and I screamed at him to leave him alone. I begged them to let him go. He was just a little boy. My captor, Themba, started pushing me against a huge rock and told me to lift my skirt. I started crying even harder, because I was terrified. I’ve heard people talk about what men do to women once they lifted their skirts or take off their clothes and I had sworn that I’d rather die than ever do that. I heard my nephew cry again and this other guy threatened to use a weapon on him if I don’t hurry up. I cried and held on tightly to my skirts. The guy Themba slapped me dizzy and while I put my hands up to my face to ward off more slaps, his filthy, smelly, crusty hands found their way up my skirts and I felt my underwear rip. I started screaming, but he held his smelly hand over my mouth and nose, while with the other hand he unzipped his pants. I couldn’t breath and fought him with my free hands. I felt my neck twist at some stage and I must have lost consciousness. When I resurfaced, the guy who had my nephew captive was on top of me. My hands were held by the other two who had, until then, not said anything. They were laughing and pushing one another to have another “go” at me.
Somewhere during the confusion, I heard a dog bark. I saw a large Alsatian coming from behind the huge rock they’ve been keeping me. It barked viciously at them then a voice from behind the rock came. An older man came leeping from behind the rock and started shouting at them. The guys scattered around and the one who was still on top of me was pulled roughly by his neck. The scuffling brought the dog in a hurry and I could hear screaming. The dog must have sunk its teeth into one of them. The old man came to me and pulled down my skirt and fastened my shirt around me. Suddenly I remembered my nephew. I told the old man I was not alone. I heard whimpering a few steps away and my nephew was lying there, bleeding from his nose. Those thugs had really worked him over. I started crying again and when he saw me, he cried even louder. The old man asked us a lot of questions, but we (my nephew and I) were just too happy to see each other. We grabbed one another and started running. All the way home, I felt so sad. I felt bad for what had happened and my biggest relief was when I found the ticket stub still in my pocket. I wondered what I had done wrong for those men to do that to us. All the time we were running home, we never stopped or spoke to one another or anyone, although we kept looking over our shoulders. Once home, no one was around. My sister and her husband were out and I was even more relieved. I’m not sure how I was going to explain my torn shirt and underwear. I made sure the ticket stub was in a safe place where my brother in law would find it and I ran straight to the back of the house where there was an out-house. I filled a tub with cold water, added washing powder and some bleach and got inside. I sat in there for a long time, washing off the stench of those men. Trying to wash away everything that happened. I scrubbed myself so hard till my skin burned. I never cried while I did that. I took the clothes I was wearing and the underwear and dumped it in the dustbin. Afterwards, I flushed the water down the drain and every single memory of what happened that afternoon.
It all came back to me like a ton of bricks seventeen years later as I was taking a nap. It returned with such an overwhelming rush, I felt I was drowning. At first I thought I was dreaming, then it hit me. I was re-living every moment of that horrible day. For all those years I managed to carry on with my life. I got married, had a child, miscarriages and even managed to fall in love. I went to see a physiatrist who told me that I was able to lock away all the bad experiences at the back of my mind, and it was just waiting to come back out without warning. This experience had a life altering effect on my nephew, because he had to watch. I’m still filled with guilt for his ordeal at the age of seven. He never deserved to see something so cruel. We spoke about it once after it came back to me in a dream. He told me he never forgot and he always wondered how I could just carry on living my life as though nothing happened to me. Today, he is married and has a brilliant son. I pray daily that he is happy. My life changed at a few moments’ notice. Today, houses are built on that hill and the place is called Mountain-side. I can’t help staring at the very spot every time I drive past the place, on my way to visit relatives in Soweto.
Because I dared to dream bout what happened to me on a hill in Soweto on the first day of May, I live with a large wound in the pit of my stomach, and it does not allow me to trust or to love again. I am divorced now, and living with my son in our home.
I dream of finding the best of what this world has to offer me. I know I will find it. I live with hope, but also with the inability to forget.
Spoiling myself, I bought four new incredibly hot outfits. When I saw them, it was love at first sight, so I didn’t bother fitting. I simply pictured myself in them, and that was enough. Now, here is the disappointing part, when I got home, they simply didn’t fit. Even worse, they are my size, the last size in the shop. A sad reality hit me; I had to return all of them. I hate returning merchandise; the tellers have a way of making you feel like you committed the worse crime of the century, an unforgivable sin. There I was, walking stupidly feeling nervous and scared like a kid called into the principal’s office for being mischievous. I told myself that I was going to put up a straight face just to make sure those cashiers don’t make silly comments that will lead to worse guilt than I already felt. I joined the long queue , and endured each passing second and minute with the sound of the ticking clock in my head. By that time, I so strongly wished I were done and on my way to the exit. The queue moved in its slowest pace, and by the grace of higher powers, I reached the cashiers. “Good morning, how can I help you?” The nice lady asked with a sweet smile. “Hi, I would like to return these please.” I told her as I handed over the items. The nice lady’s face changed to a mean lady’s face, reminding me of my grandmother’s face when I accidentally knocked over her Sunday lunch salad. “All of them?” She asked in awe. “Yes, they don’t fit.” I said, half scared and half trying to put on a brave face. “Returns and Exchanges are done upstairs on the second floor.” She said, pointing me to the direction of the escalators. Great, I had to go and join another long que for a good thirty minutes. Just when I was about to go next, some woman and her husband cut in front of me. I was so angry and irritated. The woman noticed, and felt the need to explain, “sorry about this, we were in the queue downstairs and we were told to come here.” Why didn’t I do that? Yes, my guilt wouldn’t allow me. I had to release the tension on my face and look more understanding. I waited patiently for them to finish. I was skeptical of going back to the line thinking it would cause tension with the other customers, so I just stood in the middle of the isle feeling embarrassed. I was trying to divert my attention to something else when I felt the pang in my stomach. Yes, I was hungry. My head began to pound, the bright naked lights in the store made me feel dizzy and sick. I wanted to sit down so badly. I looked at the lady and her husband again, to see how far they were. To my surprise, they were doing the same thing I was about to do. The worst part for them was that their account had reached its limit and they couldn’t take items on credit. They had to return a full basket, imagine, a full basket! I felt a bit sad for them since they also had to return baby food, poor baby. They left the counter empty handed, and I moved closer. The teller slowly got up from her chair and limped around returning some of the items to their respective shelves. “Couldn’t she have done this some other time?” I asked myself in half a whisper completely annoyed. The teller had a bandage on her uncle, hence the limping. I couldn’t understand why she had to be macho and do the task, neither did her fellow colleagues who told her to stop. “Are you exchanging?” she asked as she half dragged her lower body sitting on the high chair behind the counter. “No, returning.” I said, pushing the items to her. “They don’t fit the person I was buying them for.” I explained further just to avoid follow-up questions. I saw her lips shaping into half a pout and I could swear she was about to yawn as she scanned the items one by one. A snail could have done the job much faster than she did, but I wasn’t exactly in the position to complain. I had my fingers crossed and prayed internally for her to finish without complaining or saying there is a problem with the items. She finally finished, and I had my cash in my hand. As I made my way out of the store I had to fight the urge to run, scared that I would be called back and told that there is a problem with the merchandise. If the shopping center didn’t happen to be so packed, I would have shouted “free at last!” on my way out.
The sun was shining and the birds were singing on that day. There she was, across the street. She sat on the pavement as though waiting for something or someone. Day in and day out I watched her but no one came. Seasons came and left but still she did not move. On one summer day, she stood and stared into space as though looking toward a future she once had.
One morning, I did my usual routine and thought just maybe it were time for me to talk to her. I paced up and down the stairs not knowing what I would say to and whether or not she would even talk to me. I ran to the door and stood there for an hour, then a day and before I knew it I had been standing there for an entire week.
“Tina! Are you there?” It was Mrs. Cook. She comes to see me every day. I do not know why she comes because she never has anything to say to me besides the usually “hi Tina” and the “the weather is so beautiful outside”. She scares me. It is as though she knows my fear and is pushing me to face and maybe conquer them. “TINA!” She carried on knocking. For a sixty five year old she knocks very hard and loud. I went up stairs to change and ran back down the stairs and stood at the door.
“Mrs.Cook! What a lovely surprised. I was not expecting to see you.” That’s what I would say to her all the time. She must have known my script the same way I know hers. Today she looked different, I could not put my finger on what it was but I sensed that she was not here for a casual visit. “Oh Tina, I just came to say goodbye. My husband and I moving into a nice little cottage at a retirement home on the other side of town.” She said. I stood there startled. I had dreamt of this day for as long as I can remember but never had I thought she was going to leave me.
A month after Mrs.Cook left, stepped out the door and went to the girl across the road. She took my hand and held it. Before I could say a word to her she said “set me free, it is time. Do not hold on to me. You need to move on from this scene in your life. I can not sit on this pavement forever”. “What are you talking about? I do not know you. Who are you?” I said to her. She stood up and stared into my eyes and said “I am the little girl trapped in that cage you call a heart. I am the memories that bring tears to your face. I am the one holding you back from yourself. It took you long to come and face me because you did not want to let me go.” At this moment I thought she was a deranged young girl who was doing drugs. She fixed herself up and started walking away. “Wait! I didn’t get your name” I shouted as she disappeared into the light.
“Tina” a voice whispered in my ear multiple times. “Wake up sweet, it’s time to go home now” the voice continued. I opened my eyes and saw my mother standing before me. “All her stuff are in this bag. She has come a long way and she is ready to go home now.” a nurse said to my mother. “Did you hear that Tina, you are coming home with me.” my mother said as she hugged me. “Let’s go home mum.” I said.
I recall how willing I was to reclaim our territory. Full of vigor and youth, we would venture at least thrice per moon cycle to realms beyond our own. By paw or by machine, we journeyed along the blackened paths, navigating our way through uncharted lands. One of our favourite prospects was known as the Land of The Dozens. It was a lush field of grassland complimented by sloping mounds and scattered foliage. A vast expanse of land which required a vantage point in order to scope the entire arena. Many artificial lookout posts had been erected and were utilized by their young. They would scurry and climb, slide and swing, quickly learning the essential rules of play. Upon entering the Land of The Dozens, one would be greeted by hordes of enemies. Often I would see the familiar mug, and a new face from time to time, but all with the same look in their eye, that same sheer desire to lay claim to that land as their own. But none before had been able to establish a settlement within the hallowed grounds, so each cycle bore opportunity. The atmosphere within the picketed walls would teem with unrest, culminating in a tension so electric, it was palpable. In my impudence, I would rush onto the battlefield, bellowing the ancient call of my kind, paying homage to the most primordial of games! We were on the hunt!
As a wee whelp, my mother would tell my siblings and I stories of how our relationship with the Bipedal Ones came to be. Tales told by our elders of how our ancestors domesticated them. For the ancestors were fascinated by how these hairless creatures lacked any significant natural weaponry, yet fashioned artificial claws and teeth in order to compensate. We taught them how to bring our young eats and drink, and in return we aided them with protection from predators and lent them our keen sense of smell when tracking prey. It was theorized that since they lack any true proboscis, they are reliant solely on their eyesight and opposable thumbs, yet they were a proud warrior race. A formidable partnership had been born and as its success grew, we moved into their settlements and shared migration patterns. But not all of our ancestors left their wild ways; many stayed and procreated, and to this day, inhabit immense outcrops of territory in lands far away. Their progeny are our cousins, the Wolvian kind. My descendants were farmers in the hills of western-central Europe, shepherds by trade. My great, great, great, great, great, great, great uncle told his family of how he had had a brief conversion with an old wolf whom had told him that the Bipedals were not only slaughtering one another but also the local population of wolves as well. They had betrayed the scared oath. But these are lore of old, now the Bipedals seem too amused by distractions and our kind made too soft by their comforts, too obsessed with worldly possessions to heed the call of the explorer. Too often on my return from expeditions with my bipedal, ten settlements before our own, one would hear the mut at the end of the path hollering, “Sound the alarm gentlemen! An intruder is in our midst!” Had they the decency to introduce themselves, I would have lost the hubris air with which I walked. Their taunts were directed at our freedom. I basked in it.
For generations we had watched them grow as a species. Under our tutorage, they made remarkable advancements in development and exploration. One of our most notable achievements was sending the honourable Laika into space. However, it seems that they no longer rule their tools, but rather their tools rule them. My own Bipedal would spend copious amounts of time staring at the moving pictures on the wall, a veil of static seemingly able to reach within his being and subject him to aimlessly sitting on the couch for hours on end, transfixed by a random pattern generator. But that was not the worst of his worries; he was addicted to a luminescent box which he kept on his person religiously. Every time it cried he would run to its aid, every time it flashed he would respond. Pavlov would be proud!
Perhaps the reason for their downfall was in fact the very essence of what made them successful. They seemed so intent on creating a utopia that they forgot they were living in one. I remember my alarm when I first noticed that my Bipedal kept mutilated fowl and beef in the cold box. I thought to myself, “Good gracious man! What will stop him from doing the same to me? I mean they do do it in East Asia don’t they!? How could he desecrate another living creature like that? I’ll have to end it whilst he’s sleeping…” But soon I learnt that this was just one of the many forms of their superstimuli. But not all of their stimuli have been disastrous. They have a keen sense for companionship, one surely developed long before they had even met us. It is the very thread which holds them together. The last shred of love in their rapidly deteriorating world. I pray for the day when I can tell them that a caterpillar emits the same signature as a butterfly.
Question? You ask me if I love you or just admire the hell out of you. I have this to say in return.
I like you. Your eyes house collections of self-portraits of every kind of material possession imaginable. Almosts. All I have are gorgeous almosts. Forgive me; I am afraid I may have already drunk the poison that was meant for the rats. It was an accident. The waves of a good man like Zeus will always come with a map. Some kind of atlas. A succession of cloud people will learn to tolerate you because the man who has fallen for you not only has an intellect but has empires too. There is something written in him.
Your hair was as thick as syrup. Your hair is a swarm of bees that awaits the fortunate villagers. Your hair was a specific colour. Dark and sometime I would see our children in your hair. As if, your hair was something otherworldly, ethereal and magical. You are my heart’s assignment. The object of my affection. Sometimes when I dream I see that the fishermen have caught malignant fish in their nets. You saw the girl inside me. Destroyed her in the end. I already know the ending to this story. I feel as if I have wasted something.
All along, I knew you would break my heart, even though I called you beloved. I can see you in the dark with your pig’s heart. I asked you quite timidly. Are you done with me now? You said, I am quite done with you now. I have no further use for you. Do not love me if the only thing you are going to do is break my heart? Do not love me if all you are going to do is the proof a hypothesis. The stars unite with the night. The details were left up to you. Completely up to you. You were the one who had to include me in your life.
All I want to remember is pleasure and the pleasure that you give me but it is never quite enough. I long to be loved and admired by both men and women. I tell myself that this is no big deal. It is what everyone wants but I know at the heart of it all it is not so. Heterosexual women want to be desired by heterosexual men and not by other women. I never wanted to be anointed or a prophet. Do not go on so. As if, it is a big deal or something. I change. With each autumn’s birthday that approaches, I change. It is comforting to believe we are just bodies.
With every fall, with every friendship, with every city or country that I move to, with every Kafkaesque movement inside my head, you, my blonde gravedigger one day I am afraid I will have to give you up to your children. I know the gist of your knowledge. I know the translations of your language and I want to be lost in neither. I slip into your skin. Afternoon delight. I slip into your skin. I become a woman. When I finally give up your butch flesh, sweat, tears, blood, bone, straw I become a girl again.
It is wonderful to be a girl and to see the world through the eyes of a girl even though you are a woman. There are the details of us in the grass. The outline of our bodies. Yours crashing and crashing like waves into mine repeatedly until we are one. Solidity. Anchor. I think of words like that when you are with me. You deliver your messages with such confidence that I just have to kiss your sweet face. I know that one day I will return to this ground. I will walk here but you will have passed on to the hereafter never to be seen from a distance again or heard from again.
I saw you. Love at first sight. I buried themes in the ground hoping that you would find them and when you did that, first you would find my eyes and put them to good use. Wear them as if you would wear rose coloured glasses and see the world through my perspective. I am elated that at my age I have discovered love. The love of mountains and of dogs. I will never forget that day that you made for a bed for me out of a field. I can hear you breathing and it is the most beautiful sound in the world to me. This journey has been strange.
I want to waste nothing of the sweetness of it. All I can remember of your passing through my life to the other side is your mouth and from here on out that is all I have been searching for. Duplicates of it. There was something so comforting lying down next to you, putting my arm around your waist, and feeling you breathe in and breathe out. It reminded me of childhood except we were not children. We were grown women. I was older. You were younger but at the end of the day, it did not matter. We were women in love.
Nothing could camouflage that. The shadow of pain lasts and lasts and lasts. For a while, whenever you lingered and I languished in your arms it was forgotten but only briefly. Let us build a home in the desert and we could make love all afternoon there if we wanted, you said. Your breath smelled like cake. What did my breath smell like? I was a late bloomer. You showed me photographs of you and your family. In one, you are posing with all of your friends in swimming costumes. You were the bravest one out of them all. You were wearing a bikini.
You hardly had any breasts late bloomer but you looked at the camera zooming in on you with a swagger and an honest confidence. I was finished.
They do not know. No one really does. She keeps all at arms length. Never letting anyone in too close- too near. She let’s them see what she wants them to see… but slowly the armour is starting to shatter. The rust is becoming visible and soon she is uncomfortable. She still wears her mask.
She struggles being afforded with compliments and praise or others viewing her positively but secretly she yearns for more acknowledgement. She is a complex being. She is both strong and fragile. She does not know who she really is but she is not who she use to be… but what she does not know is that she has changed. She has been shaped by her experiences. She still wears her mask.
why does she wear this mask, all too often? why can she not take it off and bear her soul? Is she afraid of her reality? Possibly. She is overwhelmed by her thoughts and the pressure she puts on herself. She is afraid of her dreams. She is both proud of who and what she is and terrified by her being at the same time. She still wears her mask.
Does anyone truly care, she asks? In the true essence of the word. She still wears her mask. She tries to slowly peel off her mask, but this sparks tears, fuels an undesirable unwanted uncomfortable feeling. She still wears her mask. She feels protected with her mask on. No one will ever know about her. She feels in control. Why then does this mask not make her happy? She still wears her mask. She stands lethargically alone staring at this mask she wears in the mirror. She is tired. She is weary. She is afraid… but she has also come to the realisation that as the years have passed, she has outgrown this mask. It no longer serves her. In fact, it never did. She starts to slowly remove it, welcoming any unpleasantness it brings as the tears roll down her cheeks.
She breaks as she falls to the floor, unable to face herself in the mirror. She indulges this feeling and chooses not to fight with herself anymore. She reluctantly forces herself to get up again, to stand and face the truth she sees in the mirror. The tears start flowing again but this time, because of an awakening. A catharsis unfolds. She sees reflected back at her, the strength she gained from adversity, the love she has for others and herself, the pride of how far she has come and the contentment of realising she is worthy of an abundance of blessings she has received and those that are yet to come.
She still battles with this new feeling, with not having on her armour but she is on a journey, okay with knowing that she does not always have to be okay… okay with accepting the misfortunes of the past and letting that fuel her growth… She is learning to be okay with herself…
She no longer wears her mask
CHAPTER 1 (ONE)
Everytime he saw her, she would throw a grin at him when he’ll do the same from first they met. It became ocassional for Sam to pass by Ben’s house, certain she’ll find him as if, he was expecting her. Ben’s house was positioned on a corner between two busy lanes people used to get to the super market which was side opposite to his home. It was more like something they’ve planned, Ben knew when to get outside and wait for Sam to pass, blash to each other silently with a hand wave followed by a grin, it seemed a routine they both enjoyed but surprisingly they never said a word to each other. The super market seemed a perfect excuse for Sam to pass by Ben’s every single day, once, twice or trice sometimes, she just seemed not to get enough of seeing Ben’s face, either was Ben.
As time pass, Ben then realised he was in love with someone he berely knew, but it seemed he wasn’t intending to make an effort of getting to know her better; approaching her and ask for a name at least or numbers, he desperately relied on seeing her passing by his home to the market. Sometimes he would sadden himself with scenarios like, what would happen if the super market closes, that would mean Sam won’t have to pass by anymore to flash that grin. Or what if she happens to runs out of cents to just crab something at the markert, she wont be able to come to the market and he won’t be able to see her, he somehow knew that he was the reason Sam appeard so often to his side and just a thought of Sam’s absence, was enough to shatter his feelings and darken most of his day till Sam would appear.
CHAPTER 2 (TWO)
It was tueday when a day had went dawn with no sign of Sam anywere. Ben was sad that whole day, he set the whole night secretly crying for not seeing Sam it was hard for him to catch a sleep with all the wonders why she didn’t show that day. About 3am in the morning, he unexpectetly fell to sleep with tears all over his face.
Next day same thing happened, Sam didn’t pitch like she usually does, and that really hurt Ben’s heart so much that he locked himself in his room till he fell to sleep. That same day he woke up and went outside to pee, he didn’t really notice what time it was or else he wasn’t to go outside at that time. After peeing he zipped his pants, when he was about to turn to the door back inside the house, there she was, Sam in the middle of the night, in the dark passing by Ben’s. As usual, she flashed a grin and waved, stared at Ben. Ben was gazed for some seconds and blinked, to his suprise she wasn’t there anymore. Ben looked all sides but had no luck tracing where she had dissappeard. He then went back to the house and realised after checking on the time it was too late for someone to be roaming out in the street, or for someone to be peeing outside that late, he was just confused but then, went to bed. By sunrise, he sit outside determined to break the silence between him and Sam so he can ask why she didn’t come to check up on him like it was an appointment, but still she didn’t show.
Ben had slept for some hours during the day when he was woke by a dream again, a dream where Sam was flashing a grin at him, waving hand saying goodbye with an empty voice. He was confused and couldn’t really understand the dream, but he thought maybe she had left the township maybe. Thoughts kept flowing but then decided he will go out and try to track her. Suddenly the weather changed and became rainy. Looking through the window from his room, there she was again in a stormy weather, alone in the streets. Ben then rashed to her for the first time, the routine then he hollered; “hey, what are you doing in such a weather?”, asked Ben with rain drops flowin off his face. Sam smiled staring at him and didn’t reply. “Are you okay? Do you wanna come inside maybe, it’s raining out here”.
“I can see, Ben. I can see”, replied Sam.
“Then why are you out here, geez how you know my name..we never spoke”,said Ben as he attempted to hold Sam, but he couldn’t touch her.
“Stop that Ben, you can’t hold me..i wish i could hold you in my arms and never let you go but…i can’t”, said Sam with a tear dropping off her face down her chin, but rain drops modyfied her tears. Ben couldn’t understand what Sam was saying really, then he asked with a sore heart.
“What do you mean i can’t touch you, just let me come close and feel you..”.
“You can’t!”, Sam interupted. “I reckon you dreamnt of me today”
“What…how did you know that, are you a ghost or something?”
“That was a way of me saying goodbye ’cause you’ll never see me again Ben. I LOVE YOU!”.
“But…bu..i never even got a chance to know you..i”, he then woke up tears shed from his eyes.
CHAPTER 3 (THREE)
Next morning he managed to track and enters Sam’s home looking for her.
“Oh, you must be a friend of Sam who she used to always talk of recently in the house”, said Sam’s aunt to Ben.
“Oh really, she used to..and now, don’t she mentions me anymore?”, asked Ben with an impotent voice. Sam’s aunt saw love written all over Ben’s face and she knew how, probably the two were deeply in love with each other so she defended her statement; “when i say used to, is when she was still here, right now she’s not here she’s home”.
“Oh, for a visit?”
“Yes..something like that.”
“But she didn’t tell me”
“I’m sorry, it’s just that she told me that you guys never speak you are afraid of each other, somehow”
“Oh, i’ll come back when she comes back then. Stay well miss”
“Ok, boy”, a tear dropped from Aunty’s face watching Ben leaving in despair. She thought to her self it was too early to let Ben know that his loved one had a car accident with her mom and dad, and no one made it alive, even Sam’s pet.
“But i just wanna tell her that i love her”, Ben murmmered to himself with face down as he leaves Sam’s house, he could feel something was not right but kept on a hope that Sam returns home sooner so to tell her his feelings on her.
The two young men walked leisurely along one of the busiest street in Nairobi. The city popularly referred to by most people as the – city in the sun. It was around nine in the morning. And it was their second week in the city, having come all the way from down coast.
Omari and Sudi had really enjoyed their stay, and had toured various places of interest since their arrival. Everything they saw to them was amazing. The people hurriedly walking to their destinations and somehow, minding their own business.
Unlike Lamu town, where they came from, Nairobi was absolutely different. They were overwhelmed by the many cars they saw, moving mostly along the three lane avenues. A sight they were not used to back home. This made them even have difficulties, when crossing the roads. For back home, the mode of transport they were used to, was mostly the mules carrying heavy luggage on their backs, striding on narrow streets.
“Oh, look at that car,” Omari said, looking at a sleek Mercedes car passing by. It was a very long one, and a rare one to find where they come from. It was the type usually used by presidents. His face, beaming with great joy, he slowly shook his head in amusement.
“This is wonderful,” his companion, Sudi said. “I’ve never seen this before. This is quite a rare car to me. This is great.”
They both stood to see it pass. It moved on slowly in the midst of the other vehicles. The traffic at that morning hour was so heavy. They watched it as it moved slowly, until it was out of sight. And they turned to go on with their walk.
“Let’s visit one of the markets today,” said Omari , putting his hands in his hip pockets. “I want to see how they are, and see what I can buy.”
“Aah, why can’t we go to the library,” said Sudi, “we can try the markets in our final days here.”
“What is there in the library?” queried Omari.
Sudi looked at him with a smile. “At least we can go and look around, see what magazines and books they have. I love libraries, you know.”
“Ooh,” Omari said with a jeering smile. “I see no point in your view. I don’t see why we should come all the way from Lamu, just to while our time in a library. You see, we are here on a real tour. Not to visit libraries.” He paused. “So far, I know we have visited places, in the one week we have been here. And we still have plenty of time.” He looked at his friend, who had been gazing down, as they walked along the pavements.
“I think libraries will be the last places to visit in our last days here. That is once we are through with all the other places.” Omari concluded.
Sudi did not see any use, arguing with him. Furthermore, it was him who financed almost everything in their tour. It was him, who took him as a companion in the tour to the lovely city. And he saw it wise to side with his suggestions, without any argument.
“Okay,” he said, patting him on his back, “you are the boss,” he smiled, facing him. “I have no objection, we can do as you wish.” He knew, as the people always say; the boss is always right.
They walked in silence for a moment. Crossing the wide roads and streets here and there. Everything they saw was beautiful, and they really liked it. They enjoyed everything. Indeed, this was the real city-in-the sun.
It was a relief to them, when they arrived at Muthurwa Market. They had really had a long walk, and they were tired and very thirsty. The market was jammed with people everywhere. Everyone looked busy doing something. They settled to a nearby kiosk to relax, and have some drinks.
“Hey, hey, hey, this place is far,” said Omari, sitting on a stool with a bottle of soda. They had both ordered the drinks to quench their thirst, and the kiosk owner had served them well.
They relaxed, sipping their drinks as they watched people going around the place. Muthurwa Market was a very big place, with all sorts of businesses. Most traders there, were small time people; in other words, they were the young and up-coming business people, starting with small businesses. They sold almost everything – farm produce, clothes, utensils, and many more merchandize. There were those who sold their wares in the kiosks, scattered everywhere. But most traders displayed their goods on pavements. Some were mobile, moving about with all types of assorted goods, selling them to people all around on their way.
“I think we can now move around, and see what the market has,” Omari said at last, paying their bill. They had relaxed enough and had gathered enough strength to move on.
They slowly left the kiosk, thanking the owner for his service. They moved on. The sun was now slowly taking over the chilly morning. But it was still cool and the two-some, seemed to be on their grounds, and very well relaxed, enjoying themselves. They were indeed so happy with what they saw in the market. Everything to them was so peculiar, and quite different to what they were used to back home in Lamu.
Soon they were at another kiosk, that sold mainly T-shirts, and men’s trousers. And Omari was really moved and attracted by a T-shirt, which was well placed there.
“Let’s have a look at these T-shirts,” he said to Sudi. There were an assorted type of T-shirts, very well arranged in order. “They look so nice to me.” They calmly moved on to the kiosk, and the owner welcomed them, with a very wide grin. He looked so friendly, cheerful, and no one could suspect him of anything.
“Oh, young men,” he said, “You are very much welcomed.” He stepped aside to let them in. He was a huge man, with a protruding belly, gentle and with much respect.
The kiosk was really big, and very well stocked. It had a variety of T-shirts, most carrying the names of big English Premier League soccer teams, well printed on them. And Omari was very much attracted with the red one, with the name of his favorite club —Manchester United. He really loved it, and it was of very good quality.
“How much is this?” he asked the owner.
“That goes for five hundred shillings,” he said, moving towards him, smiling.
“That’s too much,” Omari said, holding the T-shirt, and examining it closely, turning it on both side and feeling the texture with his fingers.
“Oh, my friend,” the owner said, “This is of very high quality .You can hardly get it anywhere, apart from me. This is imported stuff, not the locally made ones you find in most places. No one else here in this Market has this kind of stuff. This is original material, young man.”
“You see,” he continued, holding the other side of the T-shirt. “You can feel the quality yourself.”
“What is the last price?” Omari finally said, a grin on his face, absolutely satisfied with the stuff. It was really good.
“That’s the last price, young man .In fact, I reduced the price just recently, they used to go at eight hundred.”
Without hesitating, he took his wallet, and got the five hundred shilling note the seller had asked, and handed it to him. The man took the T-shirt from him, and immediately moved to an inner room, partitioned by a large curtain. “Let me go in and wrap it for you.” He said.
It took him some minutes to do so. He came back with a hard brown paper, neatly wrapped, and handed it to Omari.
“Here is your property, young man,” the seller said, jovially.
Omari was so much pleased with the man and his service, and took the well wrapped parcel from him. He didn’t even bother to look at what was wrapped. He confidently knew that what was wrapped in the paper was the T-shirt he had bought, and nothing else. He thanked him so much for his service, and they left.
They went on with their rounds in the city. It was now some hours after they had left the Market, and they decided to take a break. It was past noon.
“I think we can have some lunch somewhere,” said Omari, looking around to spot a cafeteria nearby. And as they walked, they spotted one across the road, and they hurriedly crossed towards it.
It was a fine cafe, and the waiters were busy serving people. They settled down at a table near the door, close to the cashier’s counter. And as they waited to be served, Omari decided to have a look at the T-shirt he had bought. He slowly and cautiously opened the tightly wrapped parcel. By that time, the waiter had turned up, and was waiting for them to give their orders.
Omari didn’t believe what he was seeing in that bundle. “What is this?” He said to himself. There in that bundle, was a bunch of green vegetables, and not the T-shirt he had bought.
“Ooh, my God!” he exclaimed a bit louder his eyes wide opened in disappointment. “Do clothes in Nairobi turn out to be vegetables .What is this?” He slowly removed them from the hard brown paper.
The people around the café, were all looking at him, wondering what could have happened to the young man. The waiter still stood, waiting to serve them. He himself couldn’t understand at that moment, what the young man was up to or what could have happened to him.
“What’s the problem young man?” he asked him, looking at the green stuff Omari was holding. His companion, Sudi watched with his mouth wide, disappointed and unable to understand what could have gone wrong .He couldn’t believe what he was seeing himself.
“I thought we bought a T-shirt,” Omari said, his mouth slowly shaking in shock.
“Of course we did,” Sudi replied, slowly shaking his head. “I can’t believe what I am seeing here.”
“What happened?” The waiter insisted.
“We have just come from the market at Muthurwa, where my colleague here, bought a T-shirt. But what we have here is unbelievable.” Sudi said, trying to explain the situation. “How come the seller gave us the vegetables?”
At that moment the waiter, going by his experience with life in the city, understood what had happened to the young man. He was a longtime resident in the city. Such occurrences were not new to him, and were very common. He understood that the young men were new in Nairobi. And the seller must have taken advantage of that fact.
“You seem to be new here in the city, are you?” he asked them to confirm that fact.
“Of course we are?” Omari replied, his hand still shaking with the green stuff. “We are here on tour… we are touring.”
The waiter and everybody in the café, felt sorry and pitied him a lot. They knew the boys must have fallen victims to the very notorious games of the city.
“You see, we happened to be at a market, when I saw a very nice T-shirt that attracted me so much,” Omari tried to explain the incident. “The man operating the kiosk was friendly, and welcoming. I didn’t expect him to do such a thing at all to me.” He paused and bitterly swallowed hard.
He continued, “I asked for the price and without bargaining much, I paid him five hundred shillings, he had asked for. He took the T-shirt from me, and entered an inner room, partitioned by a large sheet, telling me that he was going to look for a paper to wrap it for me.
“We waited for some minutes, and when he came back, the package was tightly and neatly wrapped. I never bothered to look at what was wrapped at that time, for I precisely knew it was the T-shirt I had bought —
“Young man,” an old man, seated next to them interrupted him, “That was the worst foul you made. This is Nairobi, you must remember that. Such happenings are common here. You only need to be cautious when dealing with people.”
“But the seller —” Omari tried to say something. But he didn’t know what he really wanted to say, for he was completely lost and buffled with what happened to him.
“Where do you come from, young man?” The old man inquired calmly, a feeling of pity all showing on his face.
“We are from Lamu,” he replied. “Down Coast. We are here on holiday This is our second week here.”
“Why didn’t you check the package when the seller handed it to you?” the waiter standing by, asked.
“Aah I trusted him, and I didn’t expect him to do anything silly like this.” He glanced at the bundle of vegetables he was still holding.
The waiter slowly shook his head, and again he really felt sorry for him. Other people around the cafe felt the same, having comprehended the nature of the problem he was already in.
Omari was now in deep thought, figuring what to do. He could hardly believe on what was happening to him. He sadly looked at the bunch of vegetables still held in his hand. Is this real? He thought to himself, shaking his head.
He abruptly said, “Sudi let’s get back to that market and see that stupid man again. He must give me back my money, or I get my T-shirt.” He almost stumbled as he tried to get up.
“Aha, my friend,” the waiter said, stunned, “Do not dare, young man. Don’t do that. It can be fatal.”
“Why?” Omari queried in bewilderment. “How can it be fatal? I must get my money back!” He yelled. “I can’t let it go just like that.” He was so bitter.
“As I’ve said, it could be fatal to do that .You may end up losing your own life, young man.” The waiter kept on saying.
“But how?” Omari wondered, his eyes wide opened. He just couldn’t understand, how his action of going to claim back his money from a rogue businessman, could be fatal. He was really confused, and in great anguish.
The old man, on seeing where the argument was heading, decided to be of some use to him. Much as he had so far known that the young man was new in the city, he thought it wise to explain to him about the situation he was in.
“You see, young man,” the old man said. “What this gentleman here is trying to say,” he glanced to the waiter’s direction, “is that you may go back there, and find yourself still in more problems than you are already in.” He paused, looking at him.
“You see,” he went on, “I can tell you a story of a certain man, who happened to be in the same situation just like you.”
“A man went to buy a trouser at a market. But as the seller tried to wrap the trouser for him, the man pardoned himself, and went to buy a cigarette at a shop, just across the street. When he came back, just in a couple of minutes, he found the trouser already wrapped in a paper by the seller. He paid the seller his amount, took his package and left.” Almost everybody in that café, listened to the old man.
“Hours later,” the old man continued, “the man returned and in a very furious mood.” He paused, “You see, here in the city, most thugs work in cahoots, with other people, and in particular those doing business like the ones you saw at the market you’ve just come from. The markets are full of them.
The old man went on. “The man came shouting that the seller had sold him rags, and indeed it was true. The seller did not wrap the trouser he had bought. Instead, he had put rags in the package. This is a very common game here, especially to visitors like you.
“The man did not believe on what happened to him, next. A mayhem broke out, and no one wanted to listen to the other. A fight followed, and the other people around, mostly idlers, sided with the seller, calling the man who came with the rags, a thief. The man was rounded up, and beaten mercilessly. As we are talking now, the man is not alive. He died hours later, when the police who happened to be patrolling around, came to his rescue.
“That’s how it is here. You may go back there, and find yourself in a similar situation. And it can be too bad.” he paused a bit, looking at the young man. He could see a state of panic and anxiety, all on his face.
He continued. “What I can say to you, and this is for your own good, is that take what has happened to you easy. Don’t risk your life. Some of these places are extremely very dangerous. Just leave whatever has happened to you to God, and He will take care of everything.”
Omari was now at a cross-road. The old man’s story was so shocking to him, that he could feel a terrible fear taking control of him. He just didn’t know what to do at that moment. But the old man’s words, of leaving all that has happened to him to God, really touched and consoled him. The story the old man narrated to him was terrible.
He looked at his friend, Sudi, and he could see him having the same mood just like him. He regretted, why he did not heed his suggestion of going to the library that day. At least, he wouldn’t have found himself in such a terrible situation.
Oh, my God, he thought. What is all this?
They quietly gave their orders to the waiter. And as they waited for their meal, they could both be seen to be in a very irritating mood. They hurriedly ate their meal, and left, leaving the green vegetables on the table.
To Omari, it was a very devastating experience that he had undergone. And as they walked back to the hotel they were staying, he sadly tried to think about it.
How could such a thing happen to me? He thought, all throughout his life, such a thing has never happened to him. He tried to figure out the man who had sold him the T-Shirt, but he could not even recall his image. His looks faded, immediately they left his kiosk. Even if they were to trace their way back to the place, they could hardly find it, for they were so many of them. The man had been calm and very friendly. He could hardly imagine him to be a con.
“You know what?” He finally said to Sudi, who had been calm all throughout the way. “Once we are back at the hotel, we shall pack up, and travel back home.”
“Today?” Sudi said, puzzled.
“Of course, today” Omari said. “I cannot keep on staying in a place where people are conned in broad day-light. This is foolish.”
Once back in their hotel, they calmly gathered their belongings in their bags, paid their hotel bills. And immediately left – the city in the sun, back to their ancient town of Lamu. The land of mules, narrow streets, and the vast beautiful Indian Ocean.
– END –