Month: November 2017

Playing Hide And Seek

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The first time Kassim kissed Awino, they were five and playing hide and seek. As their overzealous friend Bobo counted, Kassim and Awino ended up in the same hiding spot behind some overgrown bushes. Then in one swift motion, Kassim planted a sloppy kiss on Awino’s lips.

“Yuck!” She reacted, pushing him away, while wiping his saliva off her lips with the back of her hand.

It was not exactly what Kassim had expected but being five, he had no idea what to expect. He simply kissed Awino because it seemed like something to do, when the two of you were crouching behind some overgrown bushes.

***

At 12, Awino had blossomed into a shapely pre-teen.

She was a head taller than Kassim, with already defined hips and perky boobs. Kassim particularly liked her almond shaped eyes, long neck and skin the color of dark chocolate. To him, who had grown up in a household of very light skinned, chubby, Arab women, Awino stood out.

To get near her, Kassim pretended to borrow books as an excuse to end up at their door. Mama never had an issue with Kassim going over to girls’ houses to borrow what she considered, education related material, as long as it was only that. Had she known that Kassim harbored a secret crush for a non-Muslim girl, she would have thoroughly been opposed to the whole book borrowing idea.

Mama had always made it clear that she desired all of her children to get spouses who shared in the same Islamic belief. Kassim’s elder brother, Abdul, married a Muslim woman. His sister, Muna’s husband was also Muslim. It was only his other sister, Rashida in high school and him, in upper primary, who were still at home with their parents, but he knew Rashida would soon be married off to an “upright Muslim man”.

He also knew that they would marry her off, before she got a college education and that she would quickly end up pregnant, with her first born. Then another and another would follow. He had witnessed all this with Muna, who got married when he was eight and was currently expecting her third child with her husband.

***

Awino liked Kassim. She liked him more than a friend, even though the butterflies she always got in her stomach whenever she saw him, thoroughly confused her. She never got them when around other boys, no wonder her conclusion that it had to be more than neighbourly friendliness.

Slightly shorter than herself, Kassim was slender, had lovely, light skin with shiny, black, curly hair. During the school holidays, he would shave off the sides of his head leaving only the top middle. Awino liked him better with this hairstyle but extreme shyness prevented her from complimenting him.

Whenever Kassim showed up at her door to borrow books, dad always asked, “Is it that Arab boy?” to which she would reply, “Yes dad.”

“Such a careless boy! Why does he always forget his books at school?!” Dad often retorted, without raising an eyebrow from his newspaper, which he loved to read when he got home from work.

There was a significant age gap between dad and mum, no wonder dad’s penchant for deftly scanning through some pages, then calling out to mum whenever he saw something he thought could interest her. He never gave her the newspaper to read but loved to “educate” her in this patronising manner that often repulsed Awino.

If it was politics related, dad would be deeply engrossed, so much that he failed to notice the Arab boy, coming over to borrow books from his daughter. It was at times like this that Awino took maximum advantage of her father’s absent mindedness.

Often, when the househelp alerted her of Kassim’s arrival, she would dash to the bedroom she shared with her younger sister Adelaide and spruce up. Sprucing up entailed brushing her hair afresh and applying a generous amount of Vaseline on her lips. Even these acts confused her for she rarely saw the need to spruce up before seeing other boys. Kassim must have been special.

When she finally got to the door, he would break into a sweet, somewhat shy smile. It was always, “Do you have your Kiswahili Mufti? I forgot mine in the desk,” or “Could I borrow your Science exercise book to compare notes?” or “Do you have your Maths book? Mine has some pages missing,” to which Awino would gladly lend if she had them with her. Later on, Kassim brought back the books. Sometimes, the same evening. Other times, the next evening.

“Are you sure it is only books that Arab boy comes to borrow?” Mum once questioned suspiciously, eyeing her daughter’s lips which glistened with freshly applied Vaseline.

“Yes mum.” Awino tried her level best to make it sound innocent though she also suspected that Kassim liked her back. What could explain his frequent borrowing and his apparent joy at seeing her?

“I hope so.” Mum would only say, resuming her cooking on the gas cooker for if dad failed to eat at 7 sharp, there would be an endless lecture on the essence of punctuality. Such a bore. Awino often wondered to herself what her mother had possibly seen in a man, 20 years her senior, with grown children he shared with a deceased wife.

When she came of age, she had promised herself, she would not get married to an old man.

***

At twenty, Kassim broke Awino’s virginity. It happened behind some overgrown bushes where they had once hid as children while playing hide and seek. Not necessarily a very romantic spot to break one’s virginity, but the only private place they could find to satisfy their curiosity of each other’s bodies.

The kisses, though rushed, were expertly delivered, this time around.

***

“Hafsa seems like such a lovely girl, don’t you think?” Kassim’s father began thoughtfully, one lazy Sunday afternoon.

Hafsa, was the daughter of a family friend and coincidentally, the same age as Kassim. Like his sisters, she was very light skinned and always clad in a tightly secured hijab and flowing buibui. On some rare occassions, she would cover her whole face, leaving only the eyes. At Eid, her hands and soles of her feet were usually adorned with intricate, henna designs that stood out from her skin tone.

Kassim had since grown so used to these Islamic habits by Muslim women, that he considered Hafsa, a sister. So his father bringing her up randomly in conversation, sounded somewhat suspicious.

“I have never paid attention.” Was all he could reply to his father’s comment.

“But she’s always visiting with her parents!” Father pointed out incredulously that Kassim wondered where the conversation was headed.

“A girl like Hafsa can make a good wife. She is very well mannered.”

“I’m still studying, Father.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean now. I meant later. These things have to be planned early.”

“But she’s like a sister!”

“Makes it even better! You know her that well to consider her a sister. Think about it.”

“I have a girlfriend.”

“What?! Who?!”

“You don’t know her, Father.”

“Is she Muslim?”

“No.”

Father stood up, fuming while glaring at his son, who calmly sat on one of the dining table’s chairs. Kassim had not meant to break the news to his father in this manner, but with the way he was pushing about Hafsa, he had been left with no other choice but to let it slip.

Of course he had not expected anything different. His parents had often made it clear that their children had to date, if any and marry within their religion. Such close mindedness, Kassim had always dismissed it as such.

“What do you mean by she’s not a Muslim?!” Father now growled. From his position, by the dining table, Kassim could make out the long strands of wispy, white hair, peeking from his father’s oversized nostrils. He had significantly aged in recent times.

When Father got angry, even the tip of his nose sweated and there would be small, visible beads of sweat.

“She is a Christian.” Kassim revealed.

“But we are Muslims! You of all people should know that!” Father shouted.

“Father, times have changed. What is different between a Muslim and a Christian? We all worship the same God, different names…”

“Clearly, you have learned nothing all these years!”

“Father, I…”

“Quiet!! Not another word from your mouth!”

And with that, Kassim’s father stormed off.

***

“It is that Arab boy’s, isn’t it?” Awino’s dad spat out, the day mum broke the pregnancy news to him. The way he said “Arab boy’s” betrayed his disgust at his daughter’s antics.

Awino said nothing, eyes firmly fixed on the floor. She was nursing a headache from the countless blows mum had rained on her head earlier, at the realization that she was carrying the child of a Muslim boy. Though she suspected that the rage was also mixed with mum’s frustrations, of living with a significantly older, patronising man under the same roof.

“Answer me!” Dad now shouted. “Is that which you are now carrying that Arab boy’s from Block 5?!”

“Answer your father.” Mum ordered, rather calmly when again, they were met with silence from Awino.

Awino now looked up. The first face she could make out through eyes blurred with tears was that of her sixteen year old sister, Adelaide, standing timidly by the door leading to the corridor, a genuinely, sympathetic look on her face.

After breaking the news of her pregnancy to Kassim, who had requested for time to gather enough courage to tell his parents, it was Adelaide she had next told, but her sister could not disclose the information to anyone, as she was sworn to secrecy. She had instead witnessed silently, Awino avoiding on numerous occassions to cut up onions, for the smell suddenly made her terribly nauseous.

When mum had insisted that evening that her sister help in cooking, again Adelaide had witnessed silently as Awino tried unsuccessfully to hold the vomit in before dashing off to the toilet. She was there when mum demanded to know if Awino was ill and when Awino tearfully revealed that she was in fact 3 months pregnant. Then the blows to her head from an enraged mother had followed.

Awino, who was set to join campus the next month had clearly dissapointed her parents.

“Yes, it is dad.” She finally acknowledged.

“I should have known! No wonder that Arab boy would never stop coming to our house!” Dad remarked, almost triumphantly, that he had been right all along with his suspicion.

“Do you see how much of a disgrace your daughter is?!” He now turned his anger to a hapless mum. “Do you see that at 20, she decides to go ahead and get pregnant for none other than a Muslim boy?!”

“I had no idea there was something going on bet…” Mum began to protest.

“Shut up woman!” Dad rudely cut her off mid sentence. Awino resented him even more. “You, together with this, you call your daughter and I are going over to that Muslim’s house to tell them about this shame they have brought to our family!” He added firmly.

***

The two elderly men nearly got into a fist fight, when Awino’s father dropped the bombshell of his daughter being pregnant. It took the loud, racking sobs of a shattered mother, who happened to be Kassim’s, to make them calm down but not enough. They still hurled insults at one another from opposite ends of the room.

“My son will only marry a Muslim girl from an upright family!” Kassim’s father made a point to announce in a show of defiance.

“I did not say I wanted your son to marry my daughter! We are Christians and shall only get married to those who believe in the same things we believe in!” Awino’s father was not one to be defeated. Kassim’s mother had since stopped sobbing, but was now rocking herself back and forth, as if in intense pain.

“Then what brought you to my house?!” Kassim’s father shouted.

“To inform you of the shameless son you have brought up!” Awino’s father shouted back.

“It is your daughter who is shameless! She probably seduced my son and then got herself pregnant!”

“That is not what happened!” Awino found herself crying out defensively, without meaning to.

It thoroughly broke her heart that Kassim, in the presence of his father, did not dare speak up to defend her. Instead, he stood quietly, a safe distance from his enraged father, head bowed, like he was ashamed of himself or ashamed of her. She had no idea which, but the pain in her heart was unbearable.

“Come! Let us go! We shall not allow ourselves to be disrespected in this manner!” Dad suddenly decided, grabbing her forcefully by the arm. He literally dragged her out of the house.

***

Five and a half months later, Awino delivered a beautiful baby girl. She came into the world with a piercing cry, after dreadfully, long hours of horrible, labor pain, light skinned, with shiny, curly, black, hair that clung to her delicate head. By then, Awino’s family had moved from the Block of flats to a different estate, possibly from the shame that their daughter had gotten pregnant for an Arab and she was no longer in contact with Kassim.

Though faced with opposition from her parents on her name choice, she named her daughter Aisha, in remembrance of her roots. Perhaps someday, she and Kassim would indeed gather enough courage to stand up to their parents and rekindle their love for each other. Her only hope was that it would be soon before his parents got him a Muslim girl to marry.

 

 

 

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The Archives

The Kenya National Archives, Image courtesy of Jambo Nairobi

When they say Nairobi is not your mother’s, you better believe them. Yesterday afternoon, I alighted at Nyamakima, grateful to have made it safely to the city and to a new life. Father had given me strict instructions in the morning, before I left Eldoret, to call Uncle the minute I got to Nairobi. He insisted that Nairobi was big and confusing and a new person could easily get lost.

Uncle was supposed to come pick me up at The Archives. He was also the one supposed to give me directions to get to the place. So the first thing I did as soon as I was out of the vehicle was to call Uncle. The phone rang, once…twice…then Uncle hang up.

“I’m in a meeting. Call me after 30 minutes” A message followed soon afterwards.

For a moment, I was at a loss on what to do. Here I was, a heavy backpack with my belongings, very new in this big city, wondering whether to wait for Uncle’s meeting to finish or to take the initiative and head to The Archives. Was it a building? What kind of building was it? I had no idea.

I quickly scanned the environment and noticed just how busy everyone seemed. There were vehicles everywhere. Crossland…Crossroads Travellers. White Nissans, as we called them instead of vans, with the telltale yellow stripe to indicate that they were Public Service Vehicles. Former Transport Minister, the late Michuki’s legacy still going strong.

Boards overhead announced the destinations they were heading to. Narok, Nakuru, Naivasha, Eldoret… I could not read all of them. I was tired and overwhelmed by all that I was seeing. I simply wanted to get to Uncle’s home.

Hurlingham…that was where Father had said his cousin lived.

Uncle is actually Father’s cousin but if you wanted a relative in high position to help your daughter, you did not refer to them as a cousin but something closer, like a brother, perhaps. No wonder Father had warned me against calling his cousin anything else other than Uncle. He was the one supposed to pay for my college tuition and I in turn, had to patiently reside in his house until that time he deemed fit for me to join college.

“Excuse me, how do you get to The Archives?” I asked a buxom woman, with a toddler and several, heavy luggages. The child, a boy, stood quietly beside his mother.

“Oh, you want to get to The Archives?” Her voice was unnecessarily shrill.

It reminded one of a witch’s cackle but I have never encountered witches, so I just assumed it did, judging by how annoying it was to the ears. The thing with Kenyans is that they have this annoying habit, of repeating what you have said in a statement, that comes across as a question.

“Yes.” I replied politely, to what should not have been a question in the first place.

“Go up, when you see a junction on your right, follow that junction all the way to the end. The Archives is visible at the end of the street.” She offered and though what she had said made little sense to me, I decided to trust her word.

“And do carry that backpack at the front. There are a lot of thieves at this time. Si unajua ni January?” She instructed.

Indeed, it was January. January was always marked with scorching heat. It was as if God decided to move the sun closer to the earth at that time. I was sweaty, having been in a vehicle for 5 hours straight. I could not open the window, because the woman sitting next to me, had a small baby and was complaining of the wind, although I felt like she was just making a fuss for nothing.

A little wind on a very hot day, did no harm to a baby that was in fact, warmly dressed in woollen clothes. Every once in a while during the journey, the baby would let out a piercing scream. I was convinced that she must have been hot but I could not tell the mother, seeing that she acted like she knew what was best for her child. So I had endured.

January was also touted as the brokest month of the year with many having overspent during the Christmas festivities. No wonder the lady had taken it upon herself to warn me of thieves. They must have been stealing more at this time of the month. Following her instructions, I decided to carry my backpack at the front even though I felt ridiculous and like a woman with child.

Someone offered to carry the luggage for me, I politely declined. He could have just been one of those cunning thieves the woman had spoken about. The ones who disappeared down a corner and you never saw them again, together with your belongings. She had instructed I go up and that is exactly what I did. I went up till I saw a junction on my right and followed the direction all the way to the end, only to be met with another street.

Hadn’t she said that The Archives was visible at the end? The only thing I could make out were tall buildings, very close to each other and so many people. I was convinced that Nairobi is where everybody headed to make a better life for themselves. Otherwise, what could explain the large number of people on the streets?

“Excuse me,” I tried to stop a lady but she ignored me. Did not even bother to look at me. I watched her walk past as if nobody had just spoken to her. As if I was invisible. I was scared of asking men for directions. Father had insisted that I only ask women for directions. They could be trusted, unlike men, who could not be trusted.

Funny, that coming from a fellow man, but Father had once lived in Nairobi. Sometimes, he would mention just how life could be expensive in the city, but would always point out that there were plenty of opportunities, especially for youngsters. I did not want to dissapoint Father, so I had purposed to be obedient to Uncle until I graduated from college. I still had no idea what I was going to study but Father was convinced that Uncle, a Lawyer by profession, would guide me on the best career choice.

“Excuse me,” I tried to stop two young ladies, deeply engrossed in animated conversation. These ones looked at me, their faces glowing with the excess make up they had applied, as if I had just dropped from planet Mars and carried on conversing. They even burst into laughter, just for effect, as they walked past.

There was a shop selling phone accessories nearby. As a last resort, I decided to walk into the shop and ask for directions. A young man was at the counter, eyes fixated on the street. He turned two lazy eyes at me and said, “Yes, how can I help you?”

“I think I’m lost.” I confessed. At this point, I was not really paying attention to Father’s caution.

“You look lost.” He mentioned, much to my chagrin.

Just why were Nairobi dwellers so rude?! I wondered angrily, to myself.

“Damn right I’m lost!” I would have loved to retort back but instead asked meekly, “How do I get to The Archives?”

“Eh, huku ni mbali sana na Archives.”  He informed, suddenly energised, as if my ignorance of Nairobi had stroked his ego and probably, reminded him that there were some people having worse days than him. “Huku ni River Road!” He added.

“But this lady directed me to walk straight to the end of this road and I will see The Archives.” I lamented.

“Eh, that one misled you. You see that street at the end, turn right. You will see some matatus. That is Tea Room. Walk up to the end of that road. That is Accra Road. There, you can clearly see The Archives.” He offered. For some reason, everyone I asked directions spoke of The Archives being at the end of the street but I still had some faith left.

I mouthed a Thank You, I doubted the young man at the shop heard, as he had resumed his previous demeanor of lazily looking out at the street. If someone could get paid just for watching people walk past and cars drive by, then Father must have been right that they were plenty of opportunities in Nairobi.

By then, my legs were beginning to ache and my only desire was to see a building with the words “The Archives” inscribed. So I carried on, afraid to walk too close to the busy road for the matatus were being driven like they were on a roadtrip to hell. I saw an elderly man nearly get hit by one of those old buses. He quickly jumped out of the way, surprised. I think I was more surprised that he had been able to do that given his age but this was Nairobi. Anything was possible here.

A street boy rudely bumped into me. The backpack nearly fell off.

“Nini wewe! Angalia pahali unaenda!” He growled menacingly.

I held my breath as he walked past. He stunk.

Clutching at my backpack more possessively, I resolved to search for The Archives until I found it. Eventually, I did.

On seeing the pale yellow, colonial style building, with the distinct words “Kenya National Archives”, I nearly jumped with joy. Finally, I could breath a sigh of relief. I was careful though to watch for any carelessly driven matatus as I crossed the road, eager to get to my destination. I could almost picture just how proud of my efforts Uncle would be. I was a first timer to the city yet had managed to get to where he was supposed to pick me up without any directions from him.

As I got to the front part of the building, I chose a spot where I could make a phone call to Uncle. I had previously put my phone on one of the side pockets of my backpack. Instinctively, I felt for the pocket only to be met with nothing. Frantic, I put my bag down to check. The whole pocket together with my phone was missing. In it’s place were tiny loose threads hanging out.

**********

Uncle would find me at dusk, still at the same spot waiting for him.

“I told you I was in a meeting, why didn’t you call me back after 30 minutes to get the directions?!” He admonished. “I would have sent someone to pick you up!”

“I couldn’t!” I gulped, thoroughly ashamed of myself that I had annoyed Uncle even before I got to his house.

“What do you mean you couldn’t?!” He sounded exasperated.

“My phone got stolen.” I revealed quietly.

“Hii ni Nairobi.” He reminded and I felt thoroughly stupid.

“Get in the car. We will figure out your phone crisis at home.

 

CALLING ON WRITERS AND POETS

Image Courtesy of Google

Are you a Writer or Poet?

Would you be interested in contributing to www.definitelylorna.wordpress.com, poetry of any length or a short story of between 2,000-2,500 words?

African themed stories are highly encouraged, though it would equally be refreshing, to read stories from other continents.

This is an upcoming blog therefore, submissions are voluntarily for interested persons. Hopefully, this can change in future.

Include a short bio of yourself as well as a recent photo together with your short story or poetry and send to lornalikiza@yahoo.com.

A separate profile of the Writer/Poet will additionally go up on the blog.

Looking forward to hearing from you 🙂

Let’s Write!

 

(Upcoming Kenyan Writer, Scholastica Memusi’s Short Story http://www.definitelylorna.wordpress.com/growth-warrants-change was recently featured on the blog. She makes the first Guest Writer.)