Books

Why We Cannot Ignore The Struggling Writer

As I was scrolling through my Twitter feed sometime back, I came across a tweet. This already established Writer, felt that the only way you could support a struggling Writer, was by giving him/her money. I couldn’t agree more.

A struggling Writer many times, is one who has not yet started making any money from their writing and if he/she has, it may not be enough to rely on as their only source of income. A struggling Writer may not have any published books yet. A struggling Writer can also be an upcoming Writer, since he/she might be working night and day, to get their name out there. Something that may not necessarily be a walk in the park.

Every established Writer was once a struggling Writer. They once knocked on doors, trying to get published or kept sending in their work to Publishers, in the hope that their manuscripts would be considered. There is also that struggling Writer who did not even own a laptop because he/she could not afford it.They had to spend most of their time in cyber cafes or on borrowed laptops, working on whatever stories they were writing.

That struggling Writer, who would keep on salivating at relevant books on bookshelves, but knew that he/she could not afford them. That struggling Writer, that nearly hid their face in shame, whenever anyone asked the question, “what are you reading?” because they never seemed to find books to read and yet it was crucial for them to be reading, if only to write better.

We might take some things for granted, such as having access to book clubs and easily obtaining new fiction works in the market when in the real sense, there is a struggling Writer somewhere whose locality is challenged in the reading department. Let’s be honest here for any Kenyan who might be reading. When was the last time you walked into a Kenya National Library just to read Fiction works on the shelves?

Books on a shelf. Image courtesy of pusle.ng

There was a time, when our National Libraries were relevant but in recent times, not so relevant. Not to dispute the fact that some Kenyans still frequent them. There are people for sure, who walk into libraries and spend a significant amount of time there reading. As a child in Eldoret town, I was a Library frequenter for the longest time, thanks to my parent who thought it wise to preoccupy me with books. I was even a member and had that Library card but as I grew up and got to upper primary, then high school, then campus, that changed.

In campus, I read the books I found on our campus library bookshelves. Luckily, there was a well stocked fiction section, which I discovered one day when I was bored and didn’t feel like studying academics related material. I stumbled on autobiographies by Hillary Clinton, Wangari Maathai and Cherie Blair as a result (remember, it was the fiction section but there were autobiographies there too), which I read out of curiosity and was not dissapointed. It was in our campus library, that I found and borrowed “I dreamed of Africa” by Kuki Gallman.

However, how common is it to bump into books by Elnathan John, Akwaeke Emezi, Lola Shoneyin, Noviolet Bulawayo, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Binyavanga Wainaina, Yvonne Owuor, Mukoma wa Ngugi and the likes on our Kenya National Library bookshelves and especially in other towns and not the Capital? And that is why I believe, it is indeed very possible, for a struggling Writer to fail to read because they may not be able to find relevant books to read (not implying that other writers are irrelevant depends on what in specific they would like to read), may not know of any book clubs in their locality and may not be able to afford books.

It is imperative that we look at the challenges that a struggling Writer might be facing. God forbid, that such a Writer gave up because he/she decided that the odds must be against them and especially, in the event where they may be working so hard but failing to see the fruits of their labor. It is time that Established Writers became true to themselves if only to uplift those struggling/upcoming Writers who might look up to them for inspiration. Sometimes, what the latter needs might not only be money but for someone successful to sincerely say to them, “I was once in your position. I know how it feels to struggle, not to make any money and to have writing doubts.”

Advertisements

I Hate My Husband

“A house where a

woman is unsafe is not a home.”

Woman, Liberia

I’m playing with the kitchen knife in my hand. Running my forefinger back and forth the recently sharpened blade. The man with a turban passed by yesterday. He is a man of few words and often does his work silently. I do not even know his name yet he has always sharpened my knives.

I watched him pass the blades, one by one, on that spinning, metal wheel he uses, his foot on the pedal below, his brow furrowed in concentration. I then paid him 100 shillings for his services. The next time I will need him is probably after a month, when the blades would be blunt again from all the chopping, scraping and peeling I do in the kitchen.

I turn the knife again in my hand. My husband lies sprawled on the living room sofa, snoring loudly, mouth slightly open. His lips are a garish red and swollen. The pungent smell of alcohol fills the air. I do not go near him. I do not even want to be near him.

A short while back, he was upon me with kicks and blows. I did not scream the whole time. I stopped screaming long ago when I realized that none of the neighbors came out. And if they did, it was not to my rescue, but to watch the spectacle unfold from their verandahs, for their next gossip session.

The women were the worst hypocrites. Pretending to sympathize and offer advice the following day when my husband was away at work. The men would avert their eyes whenever I bumped into them. Like they needed to carry the shame from one of their own.

I have received all kinds of advice. The most outrageous being to burn my husband with hot oil. I toyed with the idea of it for a while, then remembered my children. One 5 and the other 7. What would happen to them if I got jailed for causing serious bodily harm to their father? My in-laws would probably be too resentful to look after them in my absence. My parents are long dead.

And so I stopped screaming whenever my husband would pounce on me for the flimsiest of reasons. If I got any injuries after a beating, I would hide myself indoors until the wounds healed. It was the only way I could avoid drawing unnecessary attention to my already pathetic situation. When the women ask if my husband stopped beating me, I feign a genuine smile and say we resolved the issue. It always satisfies them.

Again, I turn the knife, wondering how many seconds it would take to drive it into my husband’s bare chest. Many times, he beats me without his shirt on. Like he is working in the quarry and I’m the stones he is supposed to be hammering into smaller pieces. Just what would turn an educated, enlightened man with a good job into a habitual drinker and wife beater? I often ask myself.

My husband designs buildings for a living. He is very good at what he does and very much respected at work. I have seen some of his completed projects. Marvels of architecture. He makes a lot of money too. It can afford us a decent life. But while he creates beautiful things for a living, he destroys happiness in his marriage.

Had I known the once loving, intelligent boyfriend would one day morph into a violent husband, I would not have said yes to his marriage proposal. This has been my reality for the past 6 years. Almost the entire duration of my marriage. Ever since he demanded that I quit my job as a secretary, saying I could not be trusted not to flirt with other men. I’m not even allowed to have friends. His reasoning, female friends are bad influence.

I place the knife on the kitchen counter then on second thought, decide to hide it in one of the rarely used kitchen drawers. There is just no point in committing such a heinous crime. I’m not a murderer. But then, I do not know if I can trust my husband with a newly, sharpened knife in full view.

Image sourced from tembisan.co.za

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.

A Calm Beneath Castles

By Gregg Savage

Treasure Chest buried in the sand. Shutterstock Images

“Digging! Let’s goooo digging!”

This was an adventure Claire knew she could do without. The dense, leathery aroma had all but vanished from the sofa, which had become her sanctuary over the past three months, yet she had come to associate what little smell there was, with almost meditative states of peace and warmth.

On the sixty-fourth day of cradling her writer’s-block, Claire completed the arduous task of shifting the three-seater chesterfield, so that the view of Winston Beach could be more easily ignored.

With the intimidating vista replaced by three abstract pieces of art portraying wavy,
white lines on red backgrounds, she had managed to create a space to curl up and let the dreams unfurl; where the only two things she had to struggle to control, were her thoughts or the muscles behind her eyes, as she engrossed herself into the world of her favourite dramatic novels, scratching for inspiration.

Today, however, her five-and-a-half-year-old son, Tommy, was demanding control. Claire gave in with a long, reluctant sigh.

“Why do you want to go digging, Honey?”

“Pirates have hidden the treasure and we got to find it!” He announced.

“Oh, have they now? Well, we can’t allow that treasure to go undiscovered, now can we?”

“Nuh uhhhh”, he conceded.

As she peeled the upper part of her body away from the sofa, she couldn’t help but draw a loving smile on her face, while watching him try to manoeuvre his body, despite the baggy board shorts, in an attempt to dig up piles of imaginary sand.

Tommy’s matted, black hair contrasted that of his father’s, showing all the signs of a boy who was not yet old enough to be fussing over his looks every day. If Tommy remained convinced of his illusion for long enough, maybe the two of them could stay here for as long she wanted.

He sang a song while he dug:

We’re going on a treasure hunt, X marks the spot, three lines down with a dot, dot, dot.

After repeating several verses, Tommy stopped singing but kept his arms swaying. He looked up at her with his hazelnut eyes and communicated without a word that he knew this was make- believe. They locked eyes just as they had always done and sat in silent conversation. Her legs like weights, Claire released the rest of her body from the grip of the couch and just out of reach of its comforting scent.

It was time to go.

The two of them stood contemplatively at the rear entrance to their modern home, surveying the building layer of clouds diminishing what chance they had of an enjoyable afternoon. Claire’s only swimsuit, exposed more of her skin than she felt comfortable with and as she unfolded her arms, to drape the hair blowing against her face behind her ear, she looked down at Tommy whose enthusiasm had altered into a more solemn reluctance.

This time taking after his father, he pressed his lips together, unsatisfied with the one option Claire presented him with and she followed him with her eyes, as he defiantly marched with his bucket and spade down the sandy track.

It had not escaped Claire that Tommy’s reluctance, was due to their beach trips never being able to live up to those he had experienced with his father. She also knew that conveying this understanding to Tommy, in his own language, was futile. Explaining to him that his father was never coming back was an impossibility.

The situation reminded Claire of the baby herring which had naively trapped itself in their house last summer. Unable to see the link between their actions and its freedom, the bird ferociously resisted the loving help persistently offered from its would-be saviours. In the same way, Claire thought, Tommy was unable to connect-the-dots between lowering that box in the ground and Daddy never taking him out in the dinghy again.

As far as she was concerned, Tommy might only show slightly more excitement than usual were his father to unexpectedly arrive home after-dark tonight, Chinese food in one hand, bottle of wine in the other, nothing short of love for his small family.

It was when the two of them went on their weekend father-son fishing trips that Claire got most of her writing done. It provided the perfect opportunity to sit at her desk and write her novels uninterrupted. And, when it pleased her, she could look out of the study window and watch the two of them fish, taking comfort in imagining them smiling and relaxing together.

Somehow, they always managed to make at least one impressive catch and it was unavoidable, that Tommy would eventually run dripping-wet through the house, ripping Claire out of her make-believe world by triumphantly proclaiming that he had caught their dinner.

On the afternoon of her most recent birthday, Claire was on a roll (or, ‘in the zone’ as she described it) and had immersed herself so thoroughly in her writing; had become so absorbed by the characters unfolding before her, that she inevitably lost track of time. It was a noiseless lightning strike sharply filling the night sky that eventually alerted her to the dreadful realisation that there had been no distractions. No interrupting, triumphant proclamations of dinner being caught that night.

We’re going on a treasure hunt, X marks the spot, three lines down with a dot, dot, dot.

Claire lethargically carried herself around the remainder of the golden sand dunes, bordering the man-made track and finally exposed herself to the beach. The threatening clouds pervading the sky and the exposed mud-flats clogging the horizon, possessed their private section on Winston Beach with an unpleasant air of desolation. Tommy had ventured far enough, away for it to take a moment to decipher which way he was facing but there was no urgent need to summon him back; she could watch him well enough from the path’s end.

Claire hesitated to set herself up on the beach and instead stood silently watching her son. What caught her attention wasn’t so much what Tommy was doing, but rather what he wasn’t doing. She squinted enough to notice his dense hair was unable to get into full sway in the wind and confirmed that instead of digging like he ought to be, Tommy was looking back at her.

They watched each other long enough, for Claire’s lungs to begin begging for their denied breath and at once, she simultaneously gasped and began battling both wind and sand to make her way over to him, nearly collapsing when she discovered tears freely flowing from behind his eyes.

“My little baby what happened?” she asked in panic, kneeling to place her hands on his tiny shoulders for comfort.

“This storm’s going to bring rain, Mummy, and that means I have to go.”

“Well, where are you going precious?”, Claire forced down the familiar lump in her throat and stroked Tommy’s hair, “You’re scaring Mummy, Baby”.

“Got to find the pirate’s treasure – don’t want to, but got to.”

“What if we just head back inside, Honey? Would you like to play our pirate game in the
house?”

Tommy forced a chuckle through his tears as if to tell her she was being silly, “Treasure’s not in the house, Mummy. It’s buried in the dark.”

Sensing the imminence of the growing storm, Claire’s temperature and concern rose
considerably.

She pleaded with him as she wiped his face with her towel, “I know this isn’t the way you and Daddy used to play Sweetie, but I’m trying, Baby.”

Tommy suddenly dropped his bucket and spade and threw his arms around her. Shocked by the impulsive action, Claire delayed hugging him back. Eventually snatching him into her arms, she scrunched his small, blue shirt in her fists and let her own heartache free. The sounds of their grief gradually succumbed to the increasingly violent waves breaking in the distance.

Tommy spoke first.

“We caught you dinner, Mummy. It’s buried in the dark”.

Claire’s face immediately, lost all emotion and she slowly pushed herself out of their embrace, to examine him as if for the first time. Distant thunder tumbled towards them as Tommy used his hands to wipe his eyes. Claire saw him give an affectionate smile before bending down to pick up his bucket and spade.

Knowing that Tommy was now in control, she began following him along the shore, towards the Eastern cliffs of Winston Beach. Cool, light rain began to fall as they walked, the contrasting feeling on Claire’s skin causing her to close her eyes and breathe in deeply.

They reached the entrance to a small cave, where the overwhelming scent of salt-water mixed with seaweed and rotting fish forced Claire to swallow heavily. She protected herself from the foul intrusion with her towel and followed Tommy inside. Enough dull light crept into the cave, letting the layers of history forming its walls gradually become known to her.

Tommy set the bucket down beside himself and presented the spade to her in his outstretched palms. Outside, the rain drummed against the sand and rocks, forcing a bracing chill into the cave and Claire wrapped the towel around her thin frame, in a vain attempt to get warm.

Tommy failed to shiver.

The two of them looked into each other’s eyes and a dreadful emptiness replaced the eternity that had forever accompanied these moments. As the sadness travelled up her throat and into her eyes, she grudgingly picked up the spade from her son’s hands.

Claire sobbed through her tears, “I’m going on a treasure hunt”.

She dropped to her knees, drew the little, red spade back, drove it into the moist sand and struck something solid.

 

Gregg Savage is a Children Stories’ Writer and trained Teacher from Townsville, Australia. He currently posts a new tale everyday on his WordPress Website http://www.greggsavage.net. To read his 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.

 

7 Things Every Upcoming Writer Should Know

Photo sourced from Google Images

So you have been writing for God knows, how long. You are hoping and wishing for that big literary break someday. It’s normal. Every upcoming Writer hopes and wishes to one day have his/her books lining the bookshelves or a bestseller(s) or to win a writing award or simply to get their name out there, but for some reason, it’s always a (lengthy or not) process not entirely devoid of challenges.

What therefore should an upcoming writer know?

1.Writing is not easy

There is the all too famous writer’s block or those days, when you don’t really feel like writing anything and can’t quite put a finger to the cause. Do not be fooled that it doesn’t happen to the established writers. I bet it does but over time, they have learnt effective ways to overcome it. A common advice that has equally worked for me, is to develop a culture of writing frequently or every single day.

Personally, I do not write on a daily basis but I do write frequently in a week. I have also began ensuring that for every single piece I embark on, I have to bring it to completion. Unfinished stories or manuscripts have a way of deceiving a writer, that they just haven’t got it in them, to come up with something worth reading. A finished story or manuscript has a way of boosting a writer’s confidence that they can do it.

Writers like Gregg Savage over at http://www.greggsavage.net have since mastered the art of daily writing with great results.

2.Rejections will be many

I remember meeting up with a magazine editor in late 2015 and feeling like the biggest fool on earth after the meeting. I had been blogging on other non-fiction related topics, for over 2 years then and I really believed that it would not be that hard, contributing for a fashion magazine. The look on the editor’s face when I met her and had not even perused the said magazine, prior to our meeting made me conclude that I’m better of ditching writing altogether. It did not help matters that she gave me like 5 minutes of her time before I got dismissed.

Had I dwelt on that particular rejection or others I have encountered in my writing journey, longer than I should, I probably would not have been here, offering tips on what upcoming writers should know.

Once you begin to put your work out there for people to read, sending in manuscripts or whatever fiction or poetry, you are bound to encounter a few rejections. It’s never personal. Use every rejection as an opportunity to improve on your writing.

3.Beta-Readers are equally important

You need to have those people you give your finished pieces to read and they give you constructive feedback in return. Constructive feedback includes the positive and the negative stuff you need to change. As a writer, I know how scary it gets sharing your work with others. You are never too sure what they are going to say, if they will even read it or whether they will even like it. Of course there is bound to be those dismissive types, who scan through your work and quickly point out a list of negatives about it. Crushing, right?

However, there is that reader, with a writing background or who has a passion for reading or has studied something literature related who will sit down, read your work then break down to you a couple of things, you need to change or improve on and equally point out the positives. These types, I have come to realize, are the best beta-readers to have.

4.Books are expensive

Sometimes, I like to walk into bookshops especially in Nairobi. There’s one at Yaya Center and another at Sarit and many other places I may or may not have been to, but find the one at Yaya personally, being well stocked. My mission is usually to scan the latest books by African writers available on the shelves and I’m never dissapointed. Of course the prices range from 1,500kshs to around 2,500kshs. For an upcoming writer, who may equally be financially challenged or working on a tight budget, this can be expensive and can even put you off the whole idea of shopping for relevant books.

However, do not let that deter you from reading. One question you will always encounter when you begin identifying yourself as a writer is “What are you reading?” It always gets embarrassing when you have nothing you are reading at the moment. It sounds absurd trying to explain to people that you might not be reading, though you would really want to because you find books expensive.

To avoid this, make friends with ardent readers whom you can frequently borrow books from and please ensure you always return the books you borrow or alternatively, join a book club. You are bound to meet with persons who might be in a position to also lend you some of the books they have read. Hopefully, with time you can afford these books and begin purchasing them for yourself.

You can only improve as a writer through reading.

5.There’s lots of fiction online

In relation to the above still, nowadays you can find lots of fiction online in the form of short stories or excerpts. Online literary magazines/websites such as http://www.afreada.com, http://www.brittlepaper.com, http://www.addastories.org among many others, have taken the initiative to feature amazing stories from both upcoming and established writers, which you can read and learn from. Good news is, you don’t have to spend money to access these stories.

6.Learn your style

No writer is the same. After reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The thing around your neck” and “Americanah” and a certain short story of hers which appeared on Harper’s Bazaar, I found myself getting surprisingly, used to her specific writing style. I’m sure if I were to continuosly sample a particular writer’s work in succession like I especially did hers with those three, I’m bound to discover yet another writing style exclusive to that writer. As you embark on your writing journey, always keep it in mind that you are uniquely you and work on perfecting that you.

7. Comparisons will kill your writing career

As an upcoming writer, the temptation to compare yourself to other established writers or writers you think write better than you, can sometimes be too much. However, the surest way to demoralize yourself is to constantly look over the fence and begin coveting what that other writer supposedly has. In our writing journey, our paces are different. Never forget that.

 

 

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.