African Fiction

Three Lines and Fourteen Words

By Akuchidinma Raymonda M.

Silhouette couple holding hands. Pinterest.

When she got tired of crying on the sofa, she sluggishly changed into a flowered jumpsuit, left her apartment and walked down to the bus stop, where she took a cab to the beach. The well illuminated beach teemed with people, finding it an ideal place to celebrate a day of romantic love. She sat down on a cane chair wide enough to contain two persons, which she found under a curved coconut tree.

A couple kissing passionately under a canopy caught her gaze. Repressing a sigh, she looked away. Nothing had prepared her for a break up on a Valentine’s Day. Looking up at the starry sky, she wondered if she would ever heal from the heartbreak and if she did, she knew she might forever remain immune to love.

Earlier, she had planned the events for the evening, just to show him how much she cherished him; a romantic dinner at a celebrity restaurant, two hours at the cinema, an hour at the beach and a steamy night at a five-star hotel. She had left the office earlier for the airport to pick him up. At the airport, the sight of the descending plane, heightened her excitement.

She quickly made her way, through the crowd in the arrival hall, where she had been patiently waiting. When she spotted him, her heart skipped a beat. She waved at him. He had barely spared her a smile, when someone whizzed past her.

“Sweetheart!” Screamed the pregnant woman, whom she could as well have ignored.

To her astonishment, she threw her arms around his neck and they held each other for what seemed like an eternity, before he stepped back to kiss her on the forehead. When their gazes met over the head of the petite woman, she saw the silent plea in his eyes and knew at once, that she had lost him forever.

Leaning forward, she cupped her head in her hands. Her only imaginations were of him, caressing the petite woman on a sofa, in a candle lit bedroom. This sent a shiver down her spine. She wondered why she always fell for demons in white robes. Her phone rang. She reluctantly picked it up on the fifth ring.

“Nkem, we need to talk.” She recognized his husky voice.

“Ekene, you should know we don’t need goodbyes to walk away.” She ended the call.

Trying not to relive the beautiful moments they once shared, she got up and walked towards the sea beckoning her. She winced when the soles of her feet hit the cold water. Neither the soothing sounds of the clashing waves nor the beautiful white creases they made on the sea could ease her pains. She stood there relishing the idea of committing suicide.

“It hurts so much.” She whispered.

When her crave for life outweighed the urge to drown, she returned to the cane chair, only to find a stranger sitting at the other end of it. Too tired to search for another seat, she went and sat down quietly, keeping a distance from him. As she flicked through her phone gallery, tears like rain drops fell on the phone screen.

“Did you lose someone dear to you?” His sonorous voice sliced through the silence.

She ignored him even though she was tempted to share her grief with someone.

“It is a beautiful night. Don’t waste it crying over things you can never change.” He returned his attention to his phone.

As if she had been waiting for a cue, her shoulders convulsed with sobs. Spent from crying, she leaned back to stare at the receding tides.

“I always love the wrong men.” She sniffed.

He handed her a bottle of water which she reluctantly took.

“I always fall for women who take my love for granted.” He added.

Silence ensued, each lost in their own thoughts.

“True love doesn’t exist.” She broke the silence.

“It does. Just that people like us don’t have cupids hovering above us.” He adjusted, so he could look at her.

What type of man would hurt a woman on a day like this? He wondered. He had also suffered the same fate but had moved on, hoping that someday his scars would be healed by a stronger love. He couldn’t help pitying her so he decided to share his experience, with the hope that she would find some consolation in his story.

“Is it too late to make up?” She turned to look at him.

“Last night, I got her wedding invitation…” He choked with emotion.

“Aww…” She gasped.

“I doubt if I can ever love again.” He heaved a sigh.

The gloomy look on his handsome face tore at her heart. She thought of how to put a faint smile on his face. Without a second thought, she said the only three lines she could remember from a novel she read as a teenager.

“Hide not your emotions
For gracefully a rare love rides
And you it will surely find.”

He chuckled.

“Strangely, your words just warmed my heart. Are you a poet?”

“No.” She answered with a grin.

For the first time that night, he noticed how beautiful she was. Ignoring the warning bells ringing in his head and giving in to the desire to derive peace of mind from a genuine smile, he said the only fourteen words which his heart could muster.

“Hold my hands
Let’s walk together
And feel these sands
If not forever.”

She looked at his outstretched hand and smiled. She knew that if there was any way to salvage their ruined Valentine’s Day, it was to take the hand of this stranger whose love life was also a mess as hers and enjoy the rest of the evening at least.

To her, it was neither love nor attraction, rather an escape from herself. So she slipped her slender fingers into his larger ones which curled around hers. With their shoulders an inch apart, they walked along the beach and forever, they never let go.

 

Akuchidinma Raymonda M. is a Microbiologist from Nigeria with a passionate interest in fiction writing. To read her full bio among those of other Writers, who have previously submitted their works to the blog, click on the “WRITERS FEATURED” page at the top.

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What’s Your Biggest Writing Fear?

As a kid, who wrote a lot in her free time, my biggest writing fear was anybody reading what I wrote but it seems I wasn’t too good at hiding. I have an elder sister, 9 years older, which meant that when I was in lower primary, she was already in high school and had exercise books she had finished using, which still had some extra pages inside to write on.

These books of hers happened to be my preferred writing material. I used to think I was very clever then and she would probably never find what I wrote if I stashed it amongst other books. To my horror, when I eventually left for boarding school and she was now home awaiting to join college, she kept stumbling on what I had been writing at 7, 8,9, 10. I began writing really young. Come to think of it, I wonder what really was that scary about your sister reading something you had written. Nonetheless, back then, it happened to be my greatest fear.

As I have began putting my writing out there, getting into writing competitions and the likes, my biggest fear is for a beta reader to give bad feedback or for a publisher to reject my manuscript. I remember sending a collection of 10 short stories early last year to a certain African publisher and slightly over 3 months later, I received rejection mail. It wasn’t exactly my first rejection mail.

Back in 2014, a Kenyan publisher had equally rejected a manuscript I had sent. But you see, that time, I feared sharing my written work with beta readers. I figured that it was better for a publishing editor to be the first to read anything I had labored on. How wrong I was. Without sharing, I had no idea where my writing weaknesses were and if I had any for that matter.

When those short stories were rejected last year, I later sent them to a friend who is in the Journalism field and had previously interned/worked as an Editor in a media house not very sure which of the two positions. He took his time to read the manuscript and all that time I worried myself sick with what the final feedback would be. After he eventually finished, he sure did have feedback and it was not positive. It was constructive.

As he broke down to me what he had found problematic with the stories, it suddenly dawned on me why the manuscript had been rejected at the publishers. I know many times as upcoming writers, we tend to come to the conclusion that editors have something against us, being still relatively unknown and it ends up discouraging us greatly. Far from it!

They simply have no time to break down to you exactly, why they rejected whatever you had sent given the high number of manuscripts they might be receiving. So most probably, you get a polite rejection mail with maybe a sentence long reason why; it did not meet what we are looking for/our standards. At a point in time, I was one such upcoming writer who felt so discouraged and you can just tell from the length of time it took me from 2014 to 2017, to gather enough courage again to send something to a publisher.

Image courtesy of christopherfowler.co.uk

In as much as many writers may have a fear of sharing their work with friends/acquaintances once completed, we have to realize that their feedback matters a lot. Imagine them as readers who do not know you personally, but will one day purchase a book you have written, read it and most definitely form opinions over what they have just read. Their opinions in this case vary. Some may like the book, others not so much.

The best thing about sharing something with others, before it ends up at the publisher’s is that they can point out anything you need to change and you actually, have an opportunity to rectify it. Consider them more like a second eye. As a writer, I have had some trouble trusting people with my completed manuscripts so when choosing beta readers, make sure that they are people you can trust with your work, will actually read it in good time and are known to give unbiased feedback. Also be willing to listen and learn.

There’s usually that temptation to argue and defend something you have spent hours, days or months working on, especially when you feel like someone is attacking it. Try as much as possible to be reasonable and open minded when recieving feedback. Afterall, just because someone said something you disagree with, doesn’t mean that the manuscript now ceases to be yours. It’s still largely your effort and they are simply giving their honest, hopefully, opinion about it.

Of course your closest friends and family might always give you positive feedback, but you need someone who is never afraid to point out the negatives too. Sometimes, I count myself lucky that I have close friends who easily say what is wrong with my writing should I share it with them. I equally count myself lucky that so far, all those beta readers are people I can trust. And while in the past my biggest fear was giving people my work to read and critic, once you do it a couple of times, the fear kind of fades. Not completely, but to a large extent.

It may surprise you to learn that after I got feedback on the collection of short stories from my friend, the next short story I did and submitted to a writing competition, got shortlisted! My fear in this case, was conquered to a large extent. To be a writer, is to be courageous enough to face anything and everything this writing journey will throw at you. It is to be determined enough to keep writing in the face of frequent/once in a while rejections. To succeed, we need to start conquering our writing fears one by one.

 

On Reading And Why I Intend To Read More In 2018

My mum once worked in the Civil Service and many times in my childhood, I ended up at the office with her when she lacked someone to look after me back home. Now a child of around 4, 5 in an office environment with adults is not necessarily a fun thing for that child. So my mum, in a bid to keep me preoccupied and probably entertained, would take me to the National Library, a short distance away, help me look for books to read and request the Librarian to keep an eye on me.

Those library visits would introduce me to the interesting world of writing and while mum always ensured I read age appropriate books, what she seemed not to have an idea of, was the fact that I was a pretty fast reader. Sometimes, I would finish reading all those books she had picked for me from the shelves before she came back, then proceed to get adult ones for myself.

One time, mum walked in on me reading the Princess Diana autobiography, where they gladly discussed her troubled marriage to Prince Charles and the men she had dated. I could just tell from the horrified look on her face, which she tried unsuccessfully to conceal, that she had not expected to find her child reading such a grown up book. I’m not sure whether the Librarian who was supposed to keep an eye on me that day, got an earful or not. Thankfully, that did not mark the end of my Library trips.

As I grew older, I graduated to reading newspapers. Whenever my dad sat with his paper, I was there peering at some of the pages until he pulled them out for me. I would then proceed to read even stuff that barely made sense to a lower Primary School kid then. Some of the things I read, would make sense much later in adulthood. So if there is one thing I always thank my parents for, it definately has to be allowing me to read. They never had any qualms about it.

Me and mum in the library as a child. She had this habit of writing the date and where the photo was taken and so this was March 1994 at the Kenya National Library in Eldoret town. I was 4.

Well, reading has taken an entirely different meaning to me in adulthood. As a child, I read for leisure. As an adult, I have to read as someone who identifies herself as a Writer. So yes, there’s the leisure aspect to reading now and equally, the learning  and appreciating aspect. I must confess that I haven’t been reading as much as I ought to in recent times. I’ve had so many excuses as to why I wasn’t reading until I started encountering the crucial question “What are you reading?” more often.

I plan for this to change in 2018. While back then in ’94, our Library shelves were laden with books from European and American Writers, nowadays, there is a lot from African Writers in the Market. I’m not completely closed off to reading works from the West, but I can’t help but notice the vibrancy and diversity in the African Literary World to be specific. One I really desire to be a part of.

Currently, I’m reading A Certain Smile by the husband and wife writing team Judith Michael. Judith is the wife and Michael the husband, something I found very interesting. To be able to write a book with your spouse. The story is set in Beijing, China where designer, Miranda Graham, travels to on work assignment and finds love in Yuan Li, a Chinese man but with an American father he never met. I like this book so much because you get to experience China in the process.

So I just thought it wise, to include a cover image of the specific edition I’m reading, since I’m not really doing a book review as such.

Cover Image sourced from Goodreads.

To my readers, what is your earliest memory of reading and what are you currently reading? I could do with some extra suggestions 🙂

 

Sunday At 11 O’ Clock

Sunday service in church. Artwork of Winfred Rembert. Pinterest

Our neighborhood was laden with interesting characters. It was not a particularly posh neighborhood. Simply, a typical Kenyan neighborhood made up of individuals who could afford to get by, with an open, dusty space separating the houses on each side and a common gate. Nobody needed the gate anyway, since all the houses were further secured with stone or hedge fences and a personal gate of one’s choice. The children played in the open space.

Anyway, as I was saying, there were interesting characters in our neighborhood. Jonny from Mama Kibet’s house at the furthest end across our row of houses, was one such character. He must have been in his 20s or 30s, I’m not sure which because other people’s ages hardly concerned me, save for mine but he was one of her sons whom I don’t remember, ever playing with.

Jonny was the neighborhood drunk. On days when he had some money on him, we all knew. He would drink himself silly and hang around the shopping center, hurling expletives at passers-by. When he got tired of making a spectacle of himself, he would stagger home muttering to himself or simply blackout right there at the shopping center, sprawled on the pavement.

Jonny was also a thief. Nobody else in our neighborhood knew this, but I say this because I know what happened to the pastor’s new flat screen television. They locked up the cobbler for a week. He was known to possess a habit of taking things that did not belong to him, but I know he was innocent. The cobbler, after his cell stint, never returned to his usual spot outside the common gate, for fear of further victimization.

One quiet afternoon, after I had just been sent home for fee arrears by the headmaster, I caught Jonny jumping over the Pastor’s fence. He had a sack with him that had something with distinct edges inside. He gave me a menacing look and since we had never spoken before, I chose not to tell anyone about the incident.

Not even Njambi, the Pastor’s daughter who had the most sweetest, dimpled smile and the perkiest boobs I had ever seen in my 16 years of existence. That evening, I saw Jonny lying on the pavement at the shopping center in an obvious drunken stupor. The TV must have fetched him quite some good amount. I will tell you about Njambi after I have finished telling you about the other characters in our neighborhood.

Mama Kibet who is Jonny’s mother was one of those things my mother called Prayer Warriors. I am not very sure what that entailed but I know mum loved to pray a lot with Mama Kibet and other neighborhood women like Mama Odhis. Odhis was a short form for Odhiambo, who was still in lower primary with his sister, Atieno. I once heard mum tell the nurse who lived in the house across ours, that Baba Odhis was a womanizer and slept with the mboch. Then they had laughed and high fived as if they had just won a bet on SportPesa.

That online betting game that dad had threatened to chop off all of my fingers, if he ever caught me playing at Muli’s cyber. I am scared of dad and that is why I have never placed a bet on SportPesa. All of my friends at school regularly play these betting games but I never get near any computer. My father is not one to joke with. A retired civil servant, he is of the school of thought that sparing the rod spoils the child. Come to think of it, which African parent is not of the same school of thought?

Anyway, as I was saying, mum and the nurse were laughing at Baba Odhis for sleeping with the house help or was it Mama Odhis, for having a philandering husband. I was thoroughly confused because Mama Odhis, Mama Kibet, mum and the nurse all called themselves Prayer Warriors and prayed together most Sunday afternoons. I know they also prayed fervently for Jonny to stop drinking but it never seemed to have any positive effect on him. As a matter of fact, it was as if he was sinking deeper into alcoholism with each passing day.

Sometimes, I wondered if dad was also like Baba Odhis. Soon after his retirement, he had gone back to the village to his first wife. He only came once every month to see us in town and hardly told us about our half brothers and sisters, only mentioning to mum when they had just joined campus or secured employment. I wouldn’t dare ask mum about dad’s other wife lest she slapped me the way she had slapped my sister Sandra the other day, for losing money meant to buy gas for the gas cooker.

Like dad, mum could be strict. She was a secretary at a government office so we had to be disciplined and not embarrass her to her peers. Mum’s strictness however, could not stop me from pursuing Njambi, the Pastor’s daughter. The one whose father’s TV had been stolen by Jonny, the drunk.

Njambi was the last born in a family of 4 daughters and the only one left at home with her parents. Her father ran the tented church at the shopping center. The one with a huge sign bearing a picture of him and his wife, Njambi’s mother. Mum once muttered that she found Njambi’s mother self-righteous. She was not even a member of their prayer warrior group. As for me, I was more interested in Njambi than what my mum and her mum thought of each other.

I knew Njambi liked me as much as I liked her but she was scared of her father. He forbade them from talking to boys and wearing trousers. But even in those long dresses that Njambi sometimes wore to church, I could see her boobs. The ones I dreamed of touching one day if Njambi allowed me to get that close to her.

At school, it was difficult to talk much for she was always surrounded by those pesky friends of hers. I tried successfully though, on most days, to walk home with her just to marvel at how her voice sounded and her beauty. We would split up when we neared home, to avoid raising suspicion or someone seeing us together.

Her father was rumored to have whacked the living daylights out of a neighborhood boy he had accused of preying on one of his daughters. They had just been talking innocently, but that did not stop the pastor from drawing a stick he kept for disciplinarian purposes. The poor chap had been left with painful limbs as a reminder to keep off the pastor’s daughters.

I did not want to end up like that boy but sometimes, when the temptation got too much, I would peep through a carefully hidden hole I had created at the back part of our stone fence. I was lucky most of the time to find Njambi hanging clothes outside to dry. Other times when I was sure her parents were not around, I would hiss her name through the peep hole. It had since become our secret communication zone.

Pato my best friend at school, had just experienced his first sexual encounter. I know this because he was dating one of those big bodied girls in our class and he had told me himself. I must admit that I was very envious of Pato’s encounter. Njambi would not let me hold her hand. Not even kiss her. She shyly shooed me away when we neared home, on those days we walked together. But I could not let Pato beat me to the game.

So after much thinking, I suggested that I had just got a nice movie which my ample research told me Njambi might secretly love to watch. We all knew the pastor was a tyrant who never allowed Njambi to watch anything other than Christian themed shows. But here was the catch to my plan, we could only watch the movie, when neither of our parents were around.

I must have done my research and convincing well because for the first time, Njambi shyly agreed to do something at my bidding.

“Sunday at 11 o’ clock.” She surprised me further by setting the timing.

“What about church service?” I was slightly uncertain, knowing that Njambi never missed church with her parents.

“Don’t worry, I will come up with something.” She assured coyly.

At that moment, I swear my heart could have leaped out of my chest. For the first time, I would have some private time with Njambi. I could have as well searched on tutorials of what to do with a girl when the two of you were alone. I couldn’t wait for Sunday.

By Sunday morning, I had crafted a clever plan to remain behind when mum and Sandra attended service. It was very evident that mum preferred Sandra’s company to mine. So when I feigned a stomach ache, mum did not press me much with questions. She only reminded me to wash the breakfast utensils when I felt a bit better. I could see the twinkle of glee in Sandra’s eyes. My 14 year old sister could be so selfish. And now she had all the time to talk about “woman things” with mum on their way to church.

A few months back, I had discovered in Biology class that the “woman things” Sandra claimed to talk about with mum, was actually the monthly period. But who cared what mum talked with Sandra? I had the house for a few hours to myself and Njambi was coming over. So I quickly washed the utensils, tidied the house, took a shower and counted the minutes to Njambi’s knock on the gate.

At 11 o’ clock, just as Njambi had promised, there was a knock on the gate. I quickly went out to welcome her. She was wearing one of those long, brightly colored, flowy dresses that she liked to wear on Sundays. And her boobs, oh, they were so near I could touch them. I was eager to get things started, so I plugged in the movie CD on the DVD player and we waited for the movie to start. In that short space of time, before the CD began playing, I found out that Njambi had feigned a headache to skip church. Perhaps she wasn’t entirely innocent as I had thought her to be, I concluded inwardly.

I decided to keep some distance from Njambi so that I did not make her uncomfortable. My plan was to move closer as the movie progressed and she got more comfortable in our house. Then I would equally have some juicy story to brag to Pato with, the next day at school. That is if my plan went extremely well.

It was a nice teenage themed movie which Njambi seemed to really enjoy. She even got comfortable and placed her feet on the sofa. The plan was working well. So I equally made myself comfortable and laid on my back at an angle where I could pretend to be watching the movie, when in reality, I was looking at Njambi’s boobs. The ones I was so crazy about. Were these the “raging hormones” that our Biology teacher Mr. Musonye mentioned and got the girls giggling in class, which made me literally lose my mind at the sight of Njambi’s boobs?

I must have drifted off to sleep because I later woke up with a start, a stinging pain in my arm. As I quickly recollected myself and made sense of the surroundings, there before me stood the pastor fuming, with his stick. Njambi was not in the room. She must have ran out on seeing her father leaving me to face the full wrath of the pastor.

“You are the neighborhood boys who want to spoil my daughter!!!” He raged, bringing down the stick on me several times. Each time, delivering stings of pain on my arms and legs. He lifted me up from the sofa and gave me a whack on my bottom which landed with such force, it felt like I had just sat on hot charcoal. I couldn’t help yelling in pain.

“Who knows what could have happened to my daughter, had I not forgotten my church robes in the house and came back for them?!” He shouted. “I will teach you a lesson!”

In my excited state, I had forgotten to lock the gate when ushering in Njambi. And as if God had decided to punish me for lying to mum and Sandra on a Sunday, I had fallen asleep on the sofa. Only for the suspicious pastor to walk in wielding a stick, when he found his “sick” daughter missing at his house.

Mboch-Kenyan slang for househelp

The Drumsticks

Image courtesy of bettycrocker.com

Whenever Juliet’s father got his end month salary, chicken would be cooked in the house. Daddy’s salary always came on the 30th and the children automatically knew the accompanying delicacy. It was the only time of the month when they could afford such a luxury dinner.

Daddy worked for a rich Indian man who owned a school uniform shop and factory. He had worked for the Indian for many years. Each time any of the children misbehaved, Mummy would bark, “You ungrateful child! Do you think your father would spend all day folding school uniforms for nothing?!”

The children had since interpreted that to mean their father was making such a huge sacrifice for them by working for the Indian. Mummy was a house wife. With 4 active children to raise, it would have been impossible for her to go to work.

There was Hannah, the first born who was 12 and in class 7. In recent times, Hannah had started to act all grown up so she was not such good company nowadays to the younger children. Peter was the second born at 10 and in class 5. He was the cheekiest of the lot and the one who would always get into trouble with Mummy. And there was Juliet, the 7 year old in class 2.

Peter was basically her role model. The one who taught her many of the things like tying her shoe laces being one of them. He also looked out for her in school. Nobody could bully Juliet if Peter was around.

And finally, Michael. The baby of the family who was just 3. He had recently joined pre-school and sang all those silly nursery school rhymes at home. Whenever any of the children asked him to stop, he would only raise his shrill toddler voice and sing louder much to their chagrin. Only when Mummy barked at him, did he fall silent.

Come to think of it, Mummy was always barking at the children for one thing or another. She was a small woman for her age. Short, slim and very active. She did most of the housework by herself. Washing the children’s clothes, daddy’s clothes which comprised mainly of pale colored shirts with worn out collars and black and grey trousers, cleaning the house and cooking. On Saturdays, Hannah had started helping out with the laundry but sometimes, reluctantly. Yet another reason for Mummy to bark orders at her.

Theirs was a modest lifestyle. Daddy rented a cheap one bedroom house in a habitable environment and the children attended public school. It was what he thought best and could afford since the Indian did not pay him much. Asking for a raise at work was akin to asking for trouble which daddy detested at least for his own sanity. Besides, getting sacked was out of the question for him. Jobs were hard to come by nowadays and with 5 extra mouths to feed and take care of, he would rather make do with the salary he got.

At the Indian’s shop, he worked long hours but he was the most trusted of all the employees. Daddy was mostly a quiet man. Tall and equally slim like mummy. He towered above everyone else in the family. In the late evenings when he came home from work, he would always be tired. But he would switch on the TV, the one the children were forbidden to watch, had seen better days and had been a gift from the Indian one Christmas season some years ago. Then he would watch the 7 o’ clock news in Kiswahili as he had his dinner which mummy diligently served him.

Whenever daddy got really angry, it was because of something very bad that the children or mummy had done, so little Juliet had come to learn. One time, Peter had thrown a stone over the fence to the neighbor’s house and had accidentally broken a window. When daddy came home later in the evening, the neighbor, a big man with a huge stomach, had come to complain.

That was one of the few times Juliet had seen daddy get really angry at Peter. He had whipped her brother’s bottom with a belt. Finally, daddy had paid the neighbor for the damaged window. By then the children knew better not to play with flying objects. When daddy got that angry at the children, mummy did not say a word. She would silently listen as he quarrelled.

Another time when daddy got really angry, was when mummy had stolen money from his trouser pocket, while he was in the shower. This Juliet learned when their sister Hannah, who had been eavesdropping came to tell them. She was a sneaky one, that one. Always hanging outside closed doors or in the corridor listening in on other people’s conversations. It was a shame neither of their parents had ever caught her in the act. Mummy would have whacked all that sneakiness from her. Daddy would probably have quarreled her for her bad manners. He was rather soft with his daughters and the toddler as compared to Peter.

It was money meant for daddy’s work Sacco, Hannah had disclosed, that mummy had stolen. Their father was furious because he had realized this, when he was about to pay at the Sacco. Hannah had gone on to say that daddy had admonished mummy for getting him into such an embarrassing situation. In the morning, daddy had left without breakfast and mummy, as expected, was in a foul mood.

She had barked at the children for making a racket in the morning. “Don’t you know that your father left this morning without taking the tea I had prepared for him?! Do you want me to send you to school without tea?! Shut up and drink your tea!” She shouted.

The thought of going to school without breakfast scared the children and more so Juliet and Peter, who had appetites the size of a mountain. It always seemed like they were ever hungry and the daily ugali and sukuma they ate at home, was hardly enough. No wonder the joy and anticipation on the 30th when chicken would accompany the usual dish.

On those days, even mummy would be in exceptionally good moods. Smiling and laughing and looking bright. But there was a tradition in the house of how the chicken parts would be served.
Daddy would get one drumstick and a large piece of the chicken’s back. Mummy would get the other drumstick. The rest of the pieces were distributed among the children.

Since Hannah liked to help in the kitchen on those chicken days, mummy always rewarded her with the largest piece of chicken among the children. You can imagine the envy that would be written all over Peter and Juliet’s faces. Michael never seemed to care as long as he ate chicken.

He was too young to understand the importance of this occasion and always fell asleep before he had finished his supper. Mummy on the other hand, never trusted Peter to do a good job in the kitchen, even though he understood the magnitude of the offer and the accompanying rewards and many times offered to help. So much to Hannah’s glee, she was the most trusted of the children in the kitchen.

***

“Do you know what day it is?” Peter began brightly, one Friday evening, eyeing his younger sister, Juliet on their way home from school.

“Friday!” Juliet replied feeling all important that Peter preferred her company this evening, to that of the naughty boys from his class.

“Friday alright silly, But it’s the 30th!” Peter announced, puffing his chest. “The Indian pays daddy on the 30th!” He continued, reminding Juliet of this auspicious occasion in their home.

She could already feel her stomach start to rumble.

“Do you think we will eat chicken again?” She inquired hopefully, wide eyed.

“Of course we will!” Peter declared gleefully.

“I hope Mummy gives me a bigger piece than last time. She said I’m a big girl now.” Juliet murmured, wondering why she always felt hungry. “Hannah always gets the biggest.”

“That’s because she’s the only one who helps with the cooking. But I’ve got a plan this time round.” Peter remarked thoughtfully.

“What is it? Oh do tell me!” Juliet immediately grew excited.

“Wait till we get home then I will tell you.” Peter promised skipping ahead to join his friends who were kicking an empty can in turns as they walked.

All evening, Juliet wondered what plan Peter referred to. They had taken a shower and done their homework and still Peter had not told her what it was. Michael was wailing for mummy’s attention and she kept barking at him to keep quiet. Then daddy had finally walked in earlier than usual, with a telltale black paper bag. Peter knowingly nudged Juliet.

As Hannah and mummy began preparing dinner in the kitchen, Peter took his sister to the back of the house and told her of his plan. The plan was to sneak into the kitchen when Hannah and mummy were not there and steal some pieces of chicken from the sufuria.

“What if we get caught?!” Juliet immediately sounded horrified although her mouth was beginning to water at the thought of getting more chicken tonight.

“No we won’t silly! We’ll sneak in when the ugali is cooking. They would have left the kitchen by then.” Peter assured.

And so while pretending to be engrossed in a game of sorts, the two mischievous children lingered around the outdoor kitchen area, waiting with bated breath, for mummy and Hannah to leave the kitchen. Eventually, they could smell the steaming ugali and Peter tiptoed into the kitchen, careful not to make a sound as little Juliet followed closely on his heels.

Taking the wet cloth they used to wipe the table with, Peter opened the lid as quietly as possible. He was immediately accosted by the delicious aroma of the chicken stew and in his urgency, shot his hand into the sufuria aiming for a drumstick. The hot piece of chicken burnt his fingers in the process.

“Ouch!” Peter whispered fiercely, blowing vigorously at his fingers.

“Get me a serving spoon quick! And a newspaper. Don’t just stand there!” He hissed.

Juliet turned to do as she had been told. Her stomach growled with anticipation as she quickly handed her brother a serving spoon and crumpled newspaper. The only one that she could find which mummy used to light the jiko with. She could not wait to dig her teeth into the delicious chicken piece.

Quickly, Peter placed two drumsticks on the newspaper, quietly closed the lid and wiped the serving spoon clean with the underside of his t-shirt. As he hurried out of the kitchen through the back door, almost running, he collided with the last person he expected to see.

Their older sister, Hannah.

“What are you two doing in the kitchen? Mummy only left me in charge!” She began suspiciously.

Juliet could immediately feel her face growing hot.

“We wanted water to drink!” Peter retorted defiantly.

“Wait, what’s that you are hiding?” Hannah was not one to be easily fooled.

“Nothing!” Peter lied holding the newspaper with the chicken pieces behind his back, away from his nosy sister’s view.

Without warning, Hannah grabbed the newspaper from him and two chicken drumsticks fell to the floor just as mummy walked into the kitchen.

“What is going…” She began to speak only for her eyes to travel to the floor, where two exposed drumsticks and a crumpled newspaper lay.

The next look on her face was one that signaled, going to bed with sore limbs for the culprits.

Love Found On A Toothbrush

Sometime in October, Digibook Africa made a call for Short Story Submissions. I responded to the call with the following 2,415 word story which made it to the top 25 Shortlist, indeed a huge achievement for me in the Literary world. As a celebration of this achievement, below is the story I submitted that got me this far. Enjoy ❤

Image courtesy of Polar Dental

Musembi had a bad case of halitosis.

It is unfortunate that he was unaware of it.

Every time he opened his mouth to speak, the pong that emanated from it reminded one of rubbish, that had long been ignored by the rubbish collectors. It was something his poor wife had been forced to put up with for the longest time. It did not help matters that Musembi loved to talk. Breaking the news to him that his mouth stunk to the high heavens, was akin to dealing his esteem a cruel blow.

His wife Cecilia, had since taken it upon herself, to ensure that he brushed his teeth twice a day. Knowing his tendency to protest, whenever he sensed that he was being coerced, Cecilia masked these daily reminders with tenderness. She always offered to line the toothbrush with a generous amount of Colgate Triple Action, before calling him sweetly.

With a boyish grin on his handsome face, Musembi would always approach the sink, right outside the bathroom and do his wife’s bidding. But this, Cecilia had since noticed, only offered temporary relief. The next morning, as soon as he mouthed a “Good morning dear” to her, she would be hit smack in the face by the bad breath. By midday, the repugnant smell would be at its worst.

It was like a never ending battle and Cecilia sometimes wondered why nobody else noticed and told him about it. Perhaps the blow to his esteem wouldn’t be as cruel, as when your own wife communicated her displeasure, with your bad breath. On certain occassions, the assumption of a connection to witchcraft crossed her mind. She was however quick to dismiss it as absurd, coming from a christian background.

Musembi was a hardworking, young man running his own hardware business. He was equally, easy on the eye. Perhaps there were some jilted lovers who still held something against him. Even though Cecilia had never been to a witchdoctor before, she knew that there could have been a possibility of this issue with bad breath, being a ploy to draw them apart. What else could explain it? She often questioned herself in frustration.

Two years of marriage. No children yet. Their sex life had indeed suffered significantly as a result. She had since run out of excuses to give whenever her husband tried to get intimate. She just could not stand being kissed by him nor his panting over her with that repulsive breath. It was better that they just avoid the deed altogether.
************
On a daily basis, Cecilia would board a bus to town where she worked as a shop attendant, in a clothing store. Three days a week, it would be early in the mornings when she was working the morning shift. The rest of the three days, it would be at around noon when she was working the afternoon shift.

In the mornings, the bus was mostly quiet with serious faced, officially dressed individuals going to work. Nobody spoke to the other. It was as if the whole idea of reporting to work every morning did not appeal to them. Everybody chose to mind their own business just as Cecilia liked. Some would be snoozing while others, would be glued to their phones, probably going through their social media activity and catching up on the latest political news or celebrity gossip. It was rare to encounter someone, rudely peeking at your phone messages in the morning hours.

The radio would possibly be tuned to Classic 105, where the two popular breakfast show hosts, would be discussing whatever controversial topic of the day. It was mostly marital issues and many times, Cecilia wondered if she would ever have the guts, to call in and open up about her husband’s terrible breath and how it was affecting their marriage. As a matter of fact, she doubted if she would. Her love for Musembi could not allow her to air their dirty linen in public. Most of these callers did not even sound authentic.

In the afternoons, is when all the action took place. Quite frequently, there would be a preacher in the bus. Possibly a man, though there were some women preachers too, with a hoarse voice, vocal chords possibly damaged by all that frequent yelling, these bus preachers engaged in. The sermon would be on whatever religious topic the Lord had placed in the preacher’s heart that afternoon. Indeed, it was hard to tell whether some of these preachers were called by God or simply cons. Anything was possible in Nairobi.

Many, always tried to convince everyone, that they were not interested in offerings. Ironically, they would often end their fiery sermons with, “but if you feel the urge to give, you can do so.” Alighting commuters would then pass by on their way out, while dropping coins into the preacher’s hand. It was mostly coins, so Cecilia had realized. A number, would instead look out of the window and pretend to be deeply engrossed in their own thoughts. Cecilia was one of those who looked out of the window. She was on a tight budget and focusing on these bus preachers, whom you were not even sure of their spirituality, would only end up guilt tripping her into giving something.

Other times, it would be a sales person in place of the preacher. These ones took advantage of the traffic jam to hop into commuter buses, a small bag in tow, packed with a handful of whatever products they were marketing. Unlike the preachers, they rarely yelled. They would instead deliver their sales pitch in their normal tone of voice or slightly louder for everyone to hear, then proceed to walk down the bus aisle, urging commuters to purchase. It could be a herbal product, deworming tablets, picture books for nursery school going children or a sticker with those funny Swahili and Sheng’ quotes. The ones that matatu drivers and touts loved to stick in the interior of their public service vehicles.

“Madam, this herbal toothpaste is the real deal and it only goes for a hundred.” One such sales person convinced Cecilia, on a random afternoon in the bus.

She had been listening to him a couple of minutes ago, droning on about the benefits of the toothpaste and had particularly paid attention to the part where he mentioned that the herbal toothpaste, got rid of stubborn, bad breath. Musembi had never tried using a completely natural toothpaste before. Perhaps this could help with his halitosis.

“Did you say it gets rid of stubborn bad breath?” Cecilia now asked the sales person.

“Completely!” The man replied emphatically.

“What if I use it and don’t get the desired results?” Cecilia challenged, just to get the man’s reaction.

“Did you save my number?” The sales person immediately countered.

“Yes I did.” Cecilia lied. She had been partly absent minded, while the sales person mentioned his digits, then repeated for emphasis but she did not want to seem dumb.

“Then call me if you have any complaint through that number though I doubt there will be any. None of my customers has ever complained.” The man obviously had a healthy dose of self belief.

Cecilia would end up purchasing the product.
*************
That evening, she called out sweetly to Musembi, the new light greenish in color toothpaste, generously lined on his toothbrush.

“Yes dear.” Musembi answered, approaching the sink. He brushed a hand across her lower back as was his habit, whenever she called him to come and brush his teeth.

“Ah, what do we have here?” He sounded surprised, at the sight of a different colored paste from the usual triple stripes.

“It’s a new herbal toothpaste I bought today from those sales persons in the bus.” Cecilia offered, honestly.

People who had stayed in marriages for a lengthy period, usually said that in a healthy marital union, there was bound to be something unique about your spouse, that endeared you to him or her. Cecilia often wondered if this teeth brushing ritual, had become so repetitive, that it was now that very unique thing, that endeared Musembi to her.

“Herbal products are good.” Was all Musembi said, before dutifully brushing his teeth.

That night, he was surprised that his wife agreed to love making, after a lengthy period of rejecting it. She even let him kiss her unlike those other times when she had gently declined. The next morning though, Cecilia would be instantly disappointed, when her husband turned to her to say “Good morning dear,” and it was like she had not put in any additional effort the previous evening, in ensuring his bad breath was kept at a minimum. It even smelled worse than previous mornings, when he was still using the Colgate Triple Action.

She was thoroughly convinced that she had been duped by the sales person and was not even going to waste her credit calling him to complain about the issue. That morning, Cecilia’s moods were totally dampened. It did not help matters that she had enjoyed wonderful love making the night before with her husband.

A friend noticed her bad moods at work.

“Cecilia, are you really okay?” She questioned.

“Clearly I’m not!” Cecilia retorted. For the first time, she let her frustration with her husband’s breath get the better of her and narrated to her work mate, the struggle she had been having with it and how she had bought a herbal toothpaste, only to end up disappointed that morning.

“When you are getting married, they never prepare you for some of the small issues you will have to put up with.” Her friend murmured sagely, when she was done. “My husband used to have the smelliest of feet. I tried everything from ensuring he wore clean socks to work every day, to airing his shoes outside, to advising him to powder his toes and it never worked. Funnily enough, he never seemed to notice it himself.”

“Then one day, I decided never to let it bother me again. I simply carried on with the routine I had since gotten used to of ensuring his feet hygeine was maintained. Then as if by miracle, the bad smell disappeared. When I asked him eventually what he had done, he told me that he had equally started to pay attention to his feet hygeine. We have never had the issue since.”

At the revelation from her workmate, Cecilia did not know what else to add. Her friend had a valid point, so she realized. Perhaps she had been focusing too much on Musembi’s bad breath, to the point where she had let it affect her marriage. Maybe she just needed to keep on ensuring that her husband brushed his teeth twice a day until by miracle, the problem was solved. But her friend was not done yet.

“I think you should tell him about his bad breath. It might be possible that he does not smell it himself.” She adviced.

“To be honest, I have lacked the right words to break the news to him.” Cecilia confessed.

“Tell him when he is in a good mood. That way, it will be less offensive.” Her friend offered.
**************
The following month, Cecilia missed her period.

She was slightly reluctant to believe that she was indeed pregnant lest it be a false alarm, until the pregnancy test she took confirmed it to be so. She knew that Musembi would feel elated at the news. He had always expressed his desire for a large family with several helping hands. She also suspected that she had conceived that very night, she had brought home the new toothpaste and made love to her husband.

Cecilia had followed her workmate’s advice to be more tolerant of her husband’s breath. She still routinely lined his toothbrush with the herbal toothpaste, twice a day. Somehow, she could tell that there was a slight difference. The breath was not as pungent as it had been before and she was equally not as impatient about it as she had previously been.

The night she disclosed to Musembi that she was pregnant with their first child, he gave her that look of utter surprise then broke into the widest grin she had ever seen on his face.

“I cannot believe that we are finally going to have a baby! We need to start thinking of names!” He gushed and Cecilia decided that now was the best time, to address the issue of his bad breath with him, seeing that he was in such good moods.

“Er, Musembi, there’s something I have been meaning to tell you but always lacked the words to.” She began, uncertainly, still not very sure how her husband would take it.

“Go ahead, I’m all ears.” Her husband was eager and unsuspecting.

“Have you ever wondered why I always made sure you brushed your teeth twice a day?” Cecilia inquired softly. For a moment, Musembi was thoughtful.

“Not really. I have never thought much about it before. I always assumed it was out of love and care.” He finally spoke up. “Or was it because of my bad breath?” He suddenly surprised Cecilia by offering.

“Um_Yes. I just did not know how to tell you without offe…..” Cecilia began to explain but her husband stopped her mid sentence.

“Is it still as bad?” He instead questioned.

“Not as bad as it was before.” Cecilia was honest. “I think the herbal toothpaste I bought helped even though I did not believe it would at first.”

“And never once did you think of leaving me because of my bad breath?” Musembi was still quizzical.

“Of course not! How would I leave my husband for something as trivial as bad breath which can be sorted?!” Cecilia was suddenly offended by Musembi’s question. Leaving him had never crossed her mind even when the frustration from his bad breath got the better of her.

“Then I think we found our love on a toothbrush, as mundane as it seems. This child you are carrying must have been concieved the night you brought home that herbal toothpaste. I can never thank you enough my wife, for being so tolerant of me.” Musembi now murmured, gathering her into his arms.

As Cecilia lay on his chest, listening to his heart beating rythmically, she couldn’t agree with him more.

Sheng’- Kenyan Urban Slang
Matatu-Public Service Vehicles in Kenya

Playing Hide And Seek

African American Art Posters-Pinterest

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.

 

 

 

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.)

 

 

Strange Obsession

Man and wife were at it again. Isaiah could hear them bickering from the outdoor, communal bathroom as he scrubbed himself clean. They were frequent in their arguments and loud enough for the voices to be heard in the next plot. Sometimes, it was about something that had been kept where it shouldn’t. Other times, it was the woman complaining about how much she slaved away and just how much the man was unappreciative.

A quick glance into their compound, through the barely there wooden fence, that was almost collapsing and you were met with a neglected compound. A sense of misery hung in the air. No wonder they were never peaceful.

“Argh! Usiniletee!” The wife shouted.

She wanted the man to cease with the provocation. Today, for once, the man fell silent immediately afterwards.

Isaiah knew the man. He was one of those estate drunks who downed illicit brew and proceeded to rant about whatever was on their mind. It could be scandalous, words that needed to be censored, funny or incomprehensible. As he poured water all over his body to rinse off the soap, he wondered which sane woman, got married to a drunk.

Once he was clean, he patted himself dry with the towel he had previously hung on the portruding nail behind the door. Tying it tightly around his waist, he picked up the empty bucket and the soap dish and made his way carefully, out of the bathroom to his single roomed house.

Isaiah also knew the woman. She was petite and might have been once attractive before the ravages of an unhappy marriage, had transformed her into a somewhat, tired and frustrated looking individual. There was something else too about that woman. Whenever Isaiah, went behind the toilets and bathrooms to brush his teeth, he could always see her just standing there, looking. It was a look of curiosity. Never suspicion.

One day, she had shouted a greeting. Isaiah, surprised at fast, had only replied politely. She said nothing afterwards but made no attempt to leave her usual spot. He was tempted to conclude that she did it on purpose, but instead of causing him irritation, he found himself equally wondering whatever was so interesting, with someone brushing his teeth. As a matter of fact, Isaiah was not the only tenant. There were others who occupied the 10 single rooms in the compound, shared the toilets and bathrooms and of course, brushed their teeth at the back.

It was not like Isaiah particularly enjoyed this sharing but this is what he could afford at the moment. Sharing could be inconvinient sometimes. Sharing meant enduring the unmistakable smell of urine on the cemented bathroom floor, courtesy of those people who urinated while taking a bath. An annoying habit, he had since concluded, seeing that the toilets were just next door and everyone had a key to whichever of the two you shared with others.

Sharing meant rushing to the toilet when pressed, only to be met with a huge lump of excreta sitting on the stained toilet bowl, as if daring you to ask how it got there. Somebody who was uncouth enough had of course seen no need to pour water to sweep it away after the deed. Sharing meant ignoring all these inconviniences and acting as if you were satisfied, when deep down, you wondered when your turn of blessings would reach.

Isaiah dressed quickly, eager to make it for his evening shift on time. He worked as a Cleaner in the Housekeeping department of a 5 star hotel. He had been assigned the hotel rooms. Fancy spaces that could certainly not be compared to his one roomed, modest house but there were still guests who were unreasonable enough, to leave the toilets and sinks dirty in the rooms. Status it seemed, did little to change some of these uncouth habits, that some people picked up.

The pay at the hotel was reasonable and the random tips a welcome surprise, but he still had two other siblings to take care of. Their parents were dead so that made them orphans something that Isaiah rarely shared with anyone. His siblings resided with his grandmother in the village. He was the only one in the city and quite determined to ensure that they all got secondary school certificates. Were it not for his secondary school certificate, he doubted whether he would have been working at the hotel.

After he was done dressing, he looked at the time on his phone. It was 4pm. He had to hurry if he was to be at work by 5pm. Luckily, it was just 15 minutes away by matatu.

“Heading to work?” The woman’s voice startled him, the minute she spotted him at the back, retrieving the doormat he had hung behind there earlier, to dry.

She was standing there, like she always did on countless occassions and Isaiah might have jumped in fright, had he not been used to this strange habit. It was also the second time she had made an attempt at conversation. The first being weeks ago, when she had greeted him. For a moment, Isaiah wondered how she had guessed right that he might be about to leave for work.

He contemplated whether to reply to the question or ignore it altogether and quickly settled on the latter. Dusting his mat, he walked back to his house, wore his socks and shoes and locked the door, checking a second time to ensure that the padlock was indeed secured in place.

Evening shifts were not as busy as morning shifts but they often dragged and by the time Isaiah was closing his at 11pm, the only thing he could think of was his warm bed. He was lucky that the hotel van dropped off people, who resided near their workplace, at their respective homes. By 11.30pm, he was already alighting at his usual spot a bit further down the road from his house. There was this thing about hoteliers that made it inherent for them to protect their privacy and especially where one lived.

This was just one of the downsides that Isaiah had quickly realized about his field, being in the industry for close to 3 years already. The fact that you spent a significant amount of time, surrounded by hotel luxury and serving wealthy guests made you subconsciously conclude that, you needed to hide where you lived from your colleagues and particularly, if it was something you knew they would not deem fancy. He had been alighting at that same spot from as far back as he could remember. He doubted any of his workmates knew the exact house he lived in.

Making the short walk to the gate, Isaiah was grateful that another day at work was over. The stretch though dark had always been safe, so he was never particularly afraid walking alone at this time of the night. Sometimes, he wished that he had a wife to go back home to, but he had since shelved any plans of dating seriously until his siblings finished school. These city girls could not be trusted and the last one he had dated, had this annoying habit of always asking for money.

He could make out a figure in the distance as he neared the gate, but dismissed it as someone else coming home from work, until a voice spoke up.

“Why do you ignore me?” It was a woman’s voice and Isaiah instinctively knew who it was.

A chill ran down his spine, just as the neighbor’s wife came into view. Unlike those previous days when she was always dressed modestly in a skirt and buttoned up blouse, tonight she had on a short, pink dress revealing her shapely legs, that fluttered lightly in the night breeze. Her hair that was always hidden in a headscarf, was now combed into an afro, which framed her face beautifully. He had been right all along, that she might have once been a beautiful woman, but this was no such time to admire what he thought strange.

How had she known that he came home from his evening shift at this time? Why was she waiting for him, dressed in such a manner? He had no desire whatsoever to get into trouble with that drunk of a husband she had. As he fumbled with the gate latch, not answering her question, he realized that his hands were shaking from fear. Everything about this woman made no sense to him and now she was forcing conversation with him.

“Why are you running away?” The woman persisted. She placed a warm hand on his. Isaiah quickly moved his away from her touch.

“T_This, Whatever it is you are trying to do is not right.” He stammered, eager to get away from her. The gate was now open.

“What is not right about a woman loving a man?” The woman questioned, a look of hurt on her face.

“Go back to your husband!” Isaiah ordered, trying hard not to loose his cool and draw unnecessary attention from the plot, to them.

“But I don’t love him!” The woman protested.

“Just go!” Isaiah repeated for emphasis.

“Come with me. Don’t be afraid.” She said reassuringly, her arm outsretched. It was all that was needed to break Isaiah’s resolve and as if in a trance, he found himself following her into the dark.