On Noon’s Morning By Nyankami Miroro Atandi Revised 10/19/06
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Sunset On Noon’s Morning
By Nyankami Miroro Atandi
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© 2005 Nyankami Miroro Atandi
‘[i]Fadhe…’ muttering, his voice trailed off; quivering towards the end of the word he’d just uttered as he sought his father’s attention on a really pressing concern he’d thought he could confidingly get his wise counsel on, the latter who’d been absorbed by his favorite Sunday paper as he nursed a hangover, quickly putting the daily on his lap while impatiently holding on to it in characteristic fashion as if he’d been terribly distracted from concentrating on some really important detail that was to save the world, rasply in a huff, presumptuously cut short the boy’s bothersome engagement when he irritably bellowed him down, ‘[ii]Nini!’ curtly. Ostensibly cowed by this, the adolescent froze in his tracks; assuming he’d summarily been dismissed like a naughty child, he turned his eyes downward from this angry stranger who was looking at him straight in the eye. Assuming the boy’s silence as denoting indecision, this stranger, with a note of warning in his voice, retorted, ‘[iii]Enda ukakunywe maziwa,’ and went back to the serious work he was doing. Fazed, the teenager dejectedly went to his room to battle with the raging demons inside him.
Standing on top of his bed, his sweaty hands on either side of him firmly were pressed against the walls, roughly equidistant from where they joined together in a horizontal, perpendicular junction. With legs shaking, his back rested on these walls, as his hands, muscles tense, acted as props from being pushed further back by some weird force he couldn’t fathom. Realizing that his bedside switch was across on the other side he widened his eyes, quickly darting his sight about the whole room in an effort to try and pierce the solemn darkness which he thought, perhaps, would enable him to catch in flight what it was that’d done this. His heart pumped wildly more with each passing dilated second of not seeing a thing; the window was still shut and, phew, the ceiling was intact. But, gasping deeply in fright, his heart stopped for a briefly long time when he suddenly noticed that his door was ajar, this fright feeding on a fear of what it was that could possibly be lurking in the compressive humidity of this heavy blackness. Growing up, his grandma used to tell him fascinating lore as she slowly rocked him in her arms, trying to get him to sleep. Yet a tabularasa, the innocent immaturity of his impressionable mind absorbed with unquestioning sincerity as she spanned some of them with a gentle hue of menace, the morale of whose gripping whiff was to deter him from wandering out alone in the dark.
At the very moment just as he was about to let out a shrilling scream, he remembered his kid brother’s nightly exploits. Buffered by the comfort of this calming dip, slowly he slid down against the walls and squatted, placing his outstretched arms on his knees; he drew in, thankfully so, a deep sigh of relief as he did this, and then, getting off the bed, tiptoed to the door and quietly closed it; this domesticated tsunami, during his nocturnal adventures would find a bottle of milk left within his reach on the table in the sitting room that’d be empty by sunup. Contentedly assuring himself that that was what in fact happened, he switched on the light and wiped away the milk with a T-shirt he’d worn earlier during the day – the sudden coldness on his bedding woke him up as he was turning. At first, thinking that he may’ve wet his bed, he reflexively shot to the corner’s edge with all sorts of unsettling imaginations blazing through his mind; how, why; what was happening to me, he wondered in bewilderment. Actually, on thinking harder, before waking up, there’d indeed been a strangely warm, sweet and relaxing sensation that engulfed him triggered by the thunderous applause shortly before and when he crossed the finishing line but having no reason to doubt it, Tulizana had to be the only culprit he confidently concluded.
It’d begun as subtle ripples that he didn’t pay much attention to – at fifteen years, a lot of things happened, and were happening, which he didn’t seem to understand. And, boy, oh boy, didn’t he love horses! He’d fallen in love with these four-legged creatures since the first day his parents took him and his twin sister to the Farasi Jockey Club four years ago, while their last born had been taken by an aunt his father tailed after fourfold for the weekend. The freshness of that day came to be firmly etched in his inquisitive and impressionable mind, an incision whose depth and precision characterizing its lingering effects, was to be healed only by a child’s mesmeric awe at nature’s gracious moments. These, he saw as his father took the turn that led to the club’s parking area; as he drove along the tree-lined driveway that had a wire mesh fence about a meter and a half high on either side, beyond these, striding majestically as others suddenly broke into slow, beautiful and kindly trots at the sound of approaching vehicles, while yet others, as they just stood chewing and gazing into the distance as if brooding about the impending race or grazed in various places as the preparation mood all over geared up for the heat of the upcoming event, Mwanza thought that these fine animals with imposing heights looked grand and stately in their respective poises, more so against such a rich, verdant background.
The gentle spread of their mane on either side of their neck from the top of their head down their shiny, lush skins of varying shades and colors, as still some fluttered quietly in the soft winds breezing assuredly across the expansive willows of this enchanting place exuded a truly radiant and breathtaking confidence, qualities summing a kind of benign though imposing eloquent gait, beaming of the captivating pose of these gregarious beasts. And in his young, developing mind, he reasoned that whatever was capable of arousing such a diffuse plethora of vivid feelings of admiration and profound inspiration in him couldn’t be equated with the vile beasts of burden he saw depicted in movies and on TV. Alas! Indeed, only comparable to what the preacher compassionately taught during the weekend church service, the grandeur of these honorable animals could only be at par with that worthy in deed of, and for God. No sooner had the car stopped than he was out, sprinting towards the horses like he was bidding tomorrow goodbye despite his mother’s spirited call that he turn back at once.
Immediately he came to one that was grazing with three black, coin-sized dots on its left flank and two on its right’s against a background of white, with a child’s innocence, he touched its head, lovingly caressing it. Fondly lifting its head up as it appreciatively wagged its tail, it neighed its acknowledgement thereby establishing an instant bond with this human stranger like a duck takes to water. Pulling him away from it was a fight, with his acquiescing to settle down only after his father threatened him with this being his last trip here if he continued to behave so. From his seat at the stands, he learned from the commentator that the horse he’d befriended was called Polka Dots. It was the final lap of the race, and he could see that his new friend was a close behind Silent Night, Black Beauty and Whispering Trot that were neck-and-neck. He got so enthralled that that he unknowingly clambered on his seat and mimicked his favorite’s jockey as he bucked it up. Cheering wildly, he was jumping up and down on his seat when, out of the blues, Polka Dots closed, then broke ranks with the three that were ahead of it. The exciting rush of honed anticipation coursing through him climaxed with ‘Hooray!’ as, flailing his hands up in the air in all directions in tandem with it, it courageously galloped to the finishing line. Sweating profusely, still standing on his seat, he was so wrapped up in the exhilaration of the moment that, beside himself with pride and joy, he didn’t notice as he tugged at all those around him, dying to relay the good news. All around, it was a flurry of activity as others, too, in unison, marked with enthusiasm, went about it with vigor, a din that drowned Mwanza’s with the raucous tide of its pitch.
Later, on their way home, the boy couldn’t stop recounting what had happened. With time, whenever anything triggered the memory of that glorious occasion, with crisp detail forth poured a total recall with definite alacrity as if the event had been over just a short while ago, with the yoke of its lively grip shattering in his mind in clustered seizures of rapturous sensations that spasmodically rent through his whole being in a spiral of massaging warmth whose tidal high made him feel like he was cavorting somewhere in the skies.
His father was a mechanical engineer at a plant that manufactured a wide range of consumer goods; his section was concerned with making margarine, where he was in charge of ensuring the processing line worked without a hitch. The position had enviable perks; allocation of a quota of the company’s shares; a hefty entertainment allowance; a medical insurance that covered his family of six with a ceiling of two million shillings per head; a maximum of two company cars, both fueled at the company’s expense; his kids’ education was no longer a thorn on his side…the company treated him, well, well, and he felt that he had a binding obligation to reciprocate in kind. Most of the time, he got back home only to find the others about to get in bed, if not already tucked in.
His parents, more so his father, and in deed a great deal of those gone way back before him, were unwilling proselytes of the tumultuous winds of change blown by the colonial monsoons. And loving as they were, nevertheless they first became rebelliously unbelieving spectators of brazen communal reconfigurations and the eventual subsequent hapless victims of the onward march of its inland batteries, smiting all and sundry with a spiteful glee as they cast spells of damning discrepancies that sought, as the ultimate goal, a completely reshaped outlook. In due course, institutions blossomed that charged at the past with a damning fury, wishing to purge its demonized, pagan soul with expiatory salvaging rites chronicling the journal entries of arbitrary missions of civility.
Indeed it’s an ill wind that blows no good. As Zaburi Tinega sailed through this contemporaneous life, its schools instilled in him its values adeptly so. Ever a man of few words, he’d worked pretty hard to get to where he was. He burnt quite a large amount of midnight oil poring through books and, at work, snapped at every available opportunity to work extra hours. This saw him rise through the ranks pretty much like the duration it takes time’s second hand to tick. On the home front, his wife of eighteen years since they’d met, and later married, was a housewife. An only one and motherless since birth, she only decided to defiantly change her status quo after a good twelve years into the marriage.
When they set off, there was plenty of love to go around, with their house overflowing with laughter and radiant joy - nothing was too big or a span too wide to be considered insurmountable for this family that seemingly always knew which magic word to utter each time to thus automatically open affection’s sesame. Many people she knew wallowed in moribund relationships, their once-luxurious and fertile fields now turned into mosquito-ridden marshlands of apathy reeking to the heavens a stifling stench of uncompromising decadence. Much as she pitied and wished them the best, apparently it looked like this death of cold was contagious; what with the little tiffs, which initially in ritual obedience, reluctantly she’d give in to, with time building up to be major rows as both sides firmly standing their ground, traded accusations. On his part, incorrigibly set in his mold, in the heat of those unfortunate moments, clicking his mouth, ‘[iv]Tchh,’ and thinking loudly as he gesticulated wildly like he was addressing some invisible listener, daringly in a booming tone of finality, he’d shoot, ‘huyu mwanamke ananiambia nini? Kama nani kwangu? Nini hapati?’ And akin to the abruptness of a snapped neck this, mostly, killed the conversation – in the wake of this metamorphosis of a courteous Jekyll into a crass Hyde, it was just a matter of time before she found herself united in grief with the rest of those she’d pitied.
Since he could remember, not once had his mother looked at his father straight in the eye when he was making a point, let alone utter even a fullstop back at him; this granite, unwavering astuteness…Nooo! No! No! No – it can’t be that! Gritting his teeth, he banished that line of thought from his mind hastily as it’d appeared, instead choosing to think of it as, this insubordination…Nooo! This abomination, where did his wife get it from that’d warrant her to backtalk him with tongue in cheek? Her dedicated iron resolve had apparently lurched repeatedly at the core flax of his sturdy phalanx describing his person and defined his outlook plus set of beliefs, in the process to ret the Daniel’s mirage holding his world together. This made him feel naked, weakly tiny and flaccidly irrelevant. Unlike his dear mother, who was a staunchly religious person never missing to take her children to church, unless otherwise due to some - God forbid! - really pressing emergency, sanctified by Heaven’s freehold resident, what did Sawati learn in church as she regularly trooped the young ones along with her, there? Hadn’t she by now gotten it into her…head, what entailed her role? Worrisomely brooding about it when he sometimes sat by himself, with his head in his hands, her pigheadedness surely perplexed him to say the least. Pensively still unbelieving, he’d slowly shake his head from side to side and deeply exhale; in breathtaking speed, where, where did it come fr…how could he not’ve seen it comi…tch, tch, tch, tch, tch…huhhh! Seemingly, the cock had finally come home to roost.
As the younger Tinega grew up and weathered the course of an upheaval that violently shook and reordered all social settings through which its merciless typhoons swept, less and less time was spent on imparting mores and rules of engagement that’d ensure a balance in interpersonal relations as had been in the system of old, values necessary for maintaining an overall equilibrium in the grand scheme of things; actually, time, which had appeared to span eternally, now seemed to be so little of it - the onslaught on communal norms and ways of life resulted in tides of rapacious competition among inhabitants as they tried, in their various ways, to adjust to the given dynamics; where ideas and values of old seemed to've a semblance of life, on closer assessment, would be found to be merely vestiges of their former selves reflecting the sorry realities of respective adjustments to given spurs. And those who felt the full brunt of this ignominious aftermath were the women.
‘[v]Hao wamesoma, ni balaa tupu,’ was a line that he’d heard since childhood more than he cared to remember; when he felt that he’d come of age, and so thought that he needed to settle down and raise a family, given the circumstances, he settled for Sawati. Meek and condescending, in her he saw the future mother of his children. It was upon getting a job after graduating from the state-run public university in the city, that he decided so. But, as if he had a bone to pick with some past, with some past…what? Upon assuming a differential aspect symbolic of the splintered, indefinite signs on life’s unevened road, he lost interest when his train of thought got entangled somewhere down the line, confusing him in the process about the meaning of this carrot on a stick that’d occasionally urgently dangle at the fore of his consciousness; he couldn’t understand why his heart paced for those women who seemed to make bold statements in their stance.
Yet this halo of mystery attributed them with an alluring attraction that got his testosterones working overtime. Sometimes, old’s precious; Samba Mapangala’s hit song [vi]Vunja Mifupa, this engineering student and his friends, then, whenever they were in a party mood, never ceased to enjoy dancing to it. And misinterpreting its theme, many were the times when they’d religiously go that extra distance without as much as batting an eyelid; ‘[vii]Iko nini; nyama kwa nyama,’ they’d say - veni, vidi, vici; pitifully blinded by this beguiling arrogance, allegorically it ensconced a virile self-worth battening of the security of a villainous virility and buttressed by the formalized ratifications of a biased schooling system.
During those college days, the relationships that he’d had, especially with the female students, to him, had the illusive semblance of a victorious aura of inevitability at having managed to tame the rage of a nonchalant voice echoing from some deeply dark recess within him seeking a kind of rebalance of perspectives with values he feared to face; one proceeds from the known to the unknown, so he reassuringly reasoned. This perception gave him the macho leeway he presumably needed, to, like a predator, home in on his opposite’s species, many of whom who got swept off their feet by the radiant confidence of this suave, assertive guy adept at treating them like ladies. And like a feather on the cap after a spirited conquest, sex, a subject given a wide berth as society redefined itself, swept under the rug of consciousness whenever it reared its head, was swift and quick. And the more he got to methodically do it, shorn of its passion and responsibilities, the more he felt like he needed to exorcise himself of the lust for them as he, at the same time, also basked in the glory of the skewed satisfaction accorded by the feeling of being on top, between the legs and – to cap it, so as to ensure that they don’t forget where they rightfully belonged - thrusting away therein with fanatic zeal. Brawn, sadly, came to substitute brain.
A fresher, when the hostel manager gave him the keys to his room, his sense of freedom and elation was only comparable to a bird’s; he could fly and perch as and when he wanted. Growing up in a two-bedroomed house shared by his parents and five siblings, upon reaching his teens, suddenly it started to feel like an expensive straitjacket. His father was stern and a stickler for rules when it came to matters of discipline – after generally spelling down the rules, he expected nothing short of a soldier’s obedience to them. Semi-illiterate, he’d worked for nearly thirty five years as a machine hand in an industrial complex seven kilometers to the south, outside the town’s limits. And daily he had walked to and from work save for them rainy days. As such, he left when the early birds’ were up and came back when everyone had gone to bed. His wife, illiterate, went to live in the country when the older Tinega realized that their second born, then in class five, could cook [viii]ugali for two. This created a unique situation where Mr. Sigara Tinega had to also double up by conveniently assuming the role of mother for his two daughters and four sons, during those times she away.
Flung in the midst of events whose shearing dynamics still astounded him with each successive passage of time, this whirlpool churn totally had him unprepared concerning certain aspects required of a father on the communication front in the rapidly changing setup he found himself in. With everyone frantically preoccupied with how they were going to fit in their niches and this, if at all they were factored in the equations spelling the unfolding dynamics before, as it was to routinely become, apathetically settling in for any that came along as dictated by the wits of sheer survival, people accordingly became less and less concerned about others’ problems, necessitating one to make do as best as they could under respective circumstances.
And as a new parent in an environment that was ever taxing for the group he was in that filled the constantly expanding unskilled bracket, when he did get the job that he was to hold for nearly four decades, on the rare occasions when he went out to socialize at the neighborhood pubs, he never forgot to pour libation to his ancestors acknowledging his gratitude for interceding on his behalf to the gods. It didn’t matter to him then his station; as long as it did put food on the table and enabled him to squirm through the bills, he was contented. And during those moments of reflection when a sense of helplessness paid him an unwelcome visit, the wild voracity of its appetite ate away at the heart of his soul like a gnawing hunger tormenting ulcerated bowels. And resounding of the walls of its hollowness with vampiric urgency, the discomfiting echoes of a rabid apathy furiously accosted him with a growing sense of emptiness that’d have him yearn for the days of old; ‘[ix]Maendeleo?’ he’d muse to himself.
And he loved every moment of his stay at the university. One day at night, alone in his room, as he lay on his bed looking at the ceiling and brooding about life, his mind flashed back; considering how he’d been brought up, how naïve he’d been during those first days! How hopeful and idealistic! But two and a half years on, caught in the vortex of what this ambience seemed to promise as he was entranced by its raptness, this mellowness was tempered by the crisp reality of its iniquities to sometimes doubt the educational policies. And it was during vistas of conscience like this that he’d find the atmosphere too thick for him to breathe freely as a dedicated student, a situation that made him feel like a mechanized contraption, an automaton. Was that actually what the great hierarchy wanted its prospective professionals to be; ‘Quietly eat your plate of ugali, and stick to the rules – for your own sake!’ Was that what why I am working so hard to get this degree for? Is that what I’d dedicate the rest of my life to? One day as he wrestled with these conflicts, Juana came to mind.
The previous day, he’d handed in one of the best Maths continuous assessment assignments of any student yet. From their lecturer, Zaburi learnt that however his record of achievement from other classes was barely passable; ‘He’s good-natured aside the fact that the only problem with him is his apparent laziness and slovenly work habits. Perhaps with a little extra help, and if he were willing to try, we might not only bring up his grades but also instill some measure of interest in him to learn,’ Professor Kwela told a colleague. Unbeknownst to the good Professor was the fact that Juana, the odd jobs he did to supplement the meager amount his parents gave him, exerted a heavy toll on his ability to effectively concentrate in class. Ever since the sudden introduction of fees in all national public universities, apart from it being extremely necessary to be ingenious to survive in what continued to be an ever hostile campus atmosphere, it also threw into utter confusion a major percentage of them. In a today fashioned haphazardly elsewhere yesterday, a daunting task it was indeed to eke a living.
‘[x]Zab, leo ni Sato; ukimaliza mshibo, twende nikakubaie moody. Kalua anakinda poa sana,’ his buddy, Sambili, told him in Sheng’. Most of them conversed in this constantly dynamic dialectic fusion that was an adulteration of Swahili and English, languages they were taught in at school. Having been brought up in the city’s largely cosmopolitan environment, in order to be able to maintain a cross-cultural rapport this linguistic restandardization bypassed ethnic barriers. In fact, Sheng’ came to slowly replace a lot of mother tongues as kids turned into adults speaking less and less of the latter and more of the former practically everywhere. And finding it the mode of communication, conveniently subsequent progenies’ve continued to modify it to mirror the respective exigencies prevailing, its usage being a kind of didactic symbolism whose sublime excitement rather loosely bespoke a rebellious defining enchantment on going against the grain.
Like one shaken from his slumber, from his reverie he responded, ‘Mmm?’ Sambili looked at him for a brief while, and then asked, ‘[xi]Nini unawaza – kwani ulitingana libo? Maliza, twende nikuroge na moody.’ Zaburi was at the campus’ lunch hall, having a plate of rice and beans. This was the cheapest meal, and he was running out of cash. The prospect of where to get it was causing him sleepless nights when his friend burst his bubble of thought. ‘[xii]Mimi niko waya,’ he replied. Reassuringly, Sambili patted him on the back, and said, ‘[xiii]No noma.’ Impulsively, raising his head with a concerned look on his face, between a mouthful he asked his friend, as he held another spoonful in midair, ‘[xiv]Ebu niku-ask – huku, by the way, ma-facilities extra curricula zilizama wapi?’ Sambili dismissingly, retorted back, ‘[xv]Wacha ufala; niulize vile nitachomoa meno, bana. Anyway, simezei. By the way, ni lini maboys walidu orako seriously hii yadi?’
And thus, during those times that he felt like he wanted to unwind precipitated by the likes of an impending exam, the storm of a raging turmoil within or generally matters like running low on his finances juxtaposed by the dim prospects concerning their ever-thinning sources, he’d look for either Ukapi, a Bachelor Of Science student, from whom he’d purchase several rolls of [xvi]ndom that’d last him some time before restocking them again, or Kalua, a Commerce student and a [xvii]cham bootlegger, in her unofficial capacity. Before joining university, back in the neighborhood where he grew up, with his peers they’d made a makeshift gym where they whiled away most of their time after working out. But as he came to gradually culture a thick skin regarding some of the mores he’d been brought up in, ‘[xviii]Chwara haina gwang’ design ya frututu,’ he’d reassuringly find cold comfort in it but did his best to avoid constantly being seen around Ukapi’s turf, which, he reasoned, would raise eyebrows unnecessarily.
At any rate though, much as it appeared that everyone was deeply engrossed with issues relating to their individual lives while caring less about others’ affairs, this perception was grossly misleading. What was thought to’ve been done so furtively sometimes vociferously echoed back to the concerned as if the deed had been graced at a public rally. Actually, he came to realize that a sizable chunk of the student population, feigning surprise whenever they chanced to bump into each other at the aisle leading to the peddler’s cubicle, somehow each seemed to wear the same troubled facial expression as his; haggard, jittery and as if on some cataclysmic edge. And with time, slowly these revels on the fast lane were to subsume him, their thrills wooing him with a hormonal rush that seemed to edge to the realms of obscurity the need for conscious thought.
Similar to those first nostalgic days, like a rookie who occasionally forgot where they were and forlornly slept like they were still snugly in the sheltering comfort and warmth of their homes, during those unfortunate moments as he snored away without a care in the world, one’d think that Mwanza, after a long, tedious night had just gotten into bed that morning; for the ayah, worried to death whether this high school first-year and his other two siblings would be up and ready for school in time, the task of waking them up was a military drill. On those instances when he didn’t have this dream which lately had began to recur almost daily, and with an unnerving force, he’d sleep soundly and be up in time to prepare himself as well as ensure that Riziki and Sawa were also up. And luckily, sometimes, two and a half-year old Tulizana would still be sound asleep in his cot in their parents’ bedroom by the time he’d left; if it happened to be one of those rare days which, by the way, he’d smilingly consider fortunate, where he’d play practically the whole day distinguished by widely spaced periods of short naps in between – and that with a big if – his eldest brother, when he saw him start to yawn after uneventfully having his supper, like the sequel of a little baby book, knew what’d follow next.
‘Sawati, I can see that your daughter loves so to study – between my two girls, I wish I could say the same of Twara; one’d think the youngest’s actually the eldest,’ her good friend and neighbor once told her, after making a careful observation of this little girl. With a heavy heart, reflexively she also put in emotionally, ‘How I honestly wish that Sasura were here!’ Affectionately patting her friend on the back, Mrs. Zaburi jokingly quipped back about the diligent youngster, ‘That’s tomorrow’s Wangare Maathai.’ Ever meticulous in her work, always making sure that she’d totally completed her homework assignments first after taking the four o’clock tea followed by a warm shower, immediately Sawa finished her supper, she’d excuse herself from the table so that she could arrange books she’d need the following day and then lastly sit down to watch her favorite cartoon programs. Settling into the warm, big sofa she was used to, it was just a matter of time before she coiled herself and slowly, dozed off – ‘[xix]Hako kameenda kucheki lullabies.’ Having been used to seeing this routine, visitors who got transfixed by the actions of this cuddly, cute creature would be assured that all was Ok by their hosts. A short while thereafter, following in tow, Tulizana would join his sister in the comfort of the seat, where locking in embrace, they’d sleep away like, well, the beautiful children they were. And that night, everyone would sleep in peace that’d seem to last forever.
But when this last of them happened to’ve his forty winks during nearly the course of the whole day, emphasized by the stillness of the night, his carry-ons would sound like the wildebeests’ transmigratory stampede as they crossed the Limpopo. At those times, he’d wish…he’d wish…he’d wish…on considering his tender age, Mwanza, in his bed, would calmly smile at their family’s lovely gift’s sweet, redeeming innocence as it went about its wonderful stupidity turning the entire house upside down, in the morning to be found happily in the land of Nod in some corner of its chaos with a thumb in its mouth while the other hand clutched a rag doll close to its chest. And, before falling asleep, as he stared out the window at the cloudless, starry sky, for the umpteenth time he’d inwardly tell himself that he’d never wish for the world in his stead.
Later on his way to school, feeling bubbly and elated that a smile would be conjured up on his yet kiddish face, he’d wave to a neighbor here, greet a school- or, quickening his pace, he’d try to catch up with a classmate. Generally overflowing with optimism he’d marvel at the scenic surroundings as he leisurely strolled and bathed in the radiant glow of the rising morning sun trying to understand and appreciate in his own small way, how things worked to maintain such a sense of perfect balance.
One day, his parents in the heat of their argument, completely absorbed in it, forgot that they were actually within their eldest son’s earshot who was studying, as he always did after completing his housework. Hating every second of it, he went to bed thinking about it and fell asleep wondering when this maddness’ll ever end. And he’d come to notice that whenever he mostly repaired for the day with his head in such turmoil, it was during those times that he’d not only be restless, but would be tossed and turned in the swells that never tired in attempting to sabotage his favorite horse’s gallant victorious finish with the ferocious tenacity of their menacing swirls.
This timely and sudden insight that all along his dream revolved around Polka Dots, surprised, as it at the same time, filled him with a profound sense of relief and elation although why he dreamt about it nor what it meant, he didn’t know or still, understand.
‘Polka!’ ‘Polka!’ ‘Polka!’ reverberates the chorus in unison - what tremendous thrill it is as the excited crowd wildly cheers on as the jockey with one hand holding the rein, his body’s arched forward that the seat of his pants is barely touching the horse’s back save for those quick bucking movements as the free hand spurs on this valiant horse on to a chivalr…but wait – the cheering dies down somewhat as Sky Blue seems to be giving Polka a run for its money as they both approach the finishing line with Sky Blue clearly appearing set to make a clean break for…The fully packed club, in one miraculous instant, falls dead quiet at this impending prospect. The howl of the winds from among the surrounding trees, across the race track and onwards wherever can be crisply heard in this razor-sharp stillness. At that moment, Mwanza woke up sweating like a broken faucet, his heart pounding furiously like a ten-year old’s fully, hard-pressed bladder. Sitting up for a brief while orientates him and he gradually regains his composure as he eyes around the room, specifically at nothing. [xx]Nafikiria ni poa nikiuliza mbuyu, he thought before going back to sleep.
‘Po…Polll…Polll…kaaa Dots; Polka Dots has broken with the rest and is triumphantly going for the finishing line…Believe it! Yet again, Polka Dots has won!’ after which the jubilant crowd enjoins the commentator with, ‘Ehhhh!’ Caught in the fascinating rush of events as the spectators cheered him on, Mwanza was so excitedly carried away in mixed bursts of emotions as he made the enthralling dash for victory, not wanting to disappoint his fans while also aptly enjoying the pleasurable intensity of this captivating game. Just as he was crossing the finishing line, overwhelmed so was he by the myriad of riveting, wonderful sensations whose ecstatic fireworks appeared to originate from a moving centre located somewhere deep in his mind in cascading successions of rippled detonations that fired through his entire synaptic network to end in voluptuous spasms; immediately woken up by the rhythmic trigger of these euphoric convulsions, in a series of involuntary jerks this induced sense of valiant achievement culminated in an engulfing karthasis whose letting go, felt serene.
Puzzled by he was facing down and tightly clutching the bed sheet with both his hands which he noticed he’d pulled close to his chest, he also realized that his body was hot and sweaty. One thing he definitely knew was that he’d never slept in this position ever. As he rolled over to bask in the glow of this sweet, relaxed feeling, he noticed that his crotch area was wet, as was where he’d just been in. Shaken by this phenomenon, like one backing up from imminent danger, in a panic he jumped out of bed, nearly falling back as he reached for the light’s switch. Fully awake, as he was taking stock of the situation it desolately occurred to him that he couldn’t remember at which point he did start to dream again. Cautiously approaching the bed as if lest it might smite him, timidly feeling it, he came across a moist, slippery and milky substance that confounded him further – his heart in his mouth, ‘[xxi]Tulizana alituna mbele yangu, leo. Kwani niwhot inanihapenia?’ he apprehensively mumbled to himself. Pulling down his pajama trouser, he was shocked to find the same smeared around there. And upon touching his penis to examine it, it became daringly erect. Not having an inkling as to why, resulting of a motor reflex action analogous to what he always automatically did whenever he’d suffer a bump on the forehead or a superficial bodily injury, he tried to caress away the pain that’d accompanied this stiffness but thrown off balance by the surprise turn of events, in a powerfully explosive sensual release, he thrust forward severally as he staggered in the process before finally managing to hold on to the bed for support.
Coming to, on the edge of the bed and a short distance from it, spellbound, he looked at the warm, milky whatever he’d just squirted, in consternation. His mind in utter disarray, he cringed in a corner and began to softly sob; although unsure of what to make of the ensuing confusion acknowledging the subsequent sense of peaceful gratification that filled him, he nonetheless felt lost and alone. [xxii]Kama nilifil hivyo vipoa, mbona sasa nafil vizii; holding on to some semblance of courage with the mere tips of his fingers as he mulled over this burning question, he dozed off.
Titititit, tiiit – the hourly alarm of his Casio wristwatch woke him up. Rubbing his eyes, he looked at it; it was four in the morning. Before picking himself up, he looked inside his trouser just to be sure. [xxiii]Eish, sioti! he thought. Gathering the bedding and donning a new set of pajamas, he headed straight for the bathroom where he washed them and hung them out to dry in their backyard, before taking a shower. Wondering what this racket was all about, his mother startled him when, from the doorway as he about to undress and jump into the shower, she asked him what the problem was. He replied that it was nothing to worry herself about which, though, she took with a pinch of salt as she went back. It was his father’s impatient knock as he called out his name that got him out; ‘[xxiv]Kijana, kwani ulikua unasugua ngozi na brush?’ he wondered aloud when Mwanza opened the door. ‘[xxv]Ala! Ulikua uaosha sabuni!’ he exclaimed in surprise at the sight of the little piece that’d remained, from behind him - feeling fouled, he’d gotten consumed in cleansing himself of stains that he apparently perceived as nothing but the soil of a damning moral sin.
On some of those tumultuous days, starting with the eldest, Wingu would pull them out of their cozy world and serially bundle them into the bathroom as they haplessly pleaded for just five more minutes before eventually becoming fully awake and settling down after the warm shower to calmly have their breakfast. Mwanza’s mind would fret about some unfinished something, which would see him take quick peeps at the clock in the sitting room, above the TV set, to avoid being late. Of course, unperturbed by the conscious strays of what could be the meaning of the images he’d dream of he’d happily embark to face the day and spiritedly go about his duties unlike where, upset and grumpy as a creaking bed he’d merely drab through the motions, the verve having been sapped by the whirring, dry and dusty winds carried by a dullness fanned by petulant imagery.
Rukia Sasura lived a few houses away from her classmate. Three months younger than Mwanza, she got her first bicycle when she was eight. Since then, mostly in [xxvi]tumbo-cuts and tight-fitting bikers, she’s always been riding them if not doing something else. And now, a birthday ago her mother bought her a Walkman; wherever she cruised, she could be seen listening to it. Neat, outgoing and vivacious, she also liked mingling with her friends whom she’d tell to come over to their house or invite them to go to the movies in town accompanied by Twara. The two very close, Rukia, with eyes open wide, always marveled at her mentor’s stories and exploits who never seemed to tire of punctuating them with sexual expletives, in English. And whenever excited or upset, would accentuate illustratively, the point more so powerfully hammered home if she happened to be in her favorite, suggestive clad of hugging tops and pedal-pushers that revealed her thongs. Her figure complimented what she wore and didn’t she love it when she was ogled at! And how many times did her admirers pucker their lips and whistled excitedly, if not in appreciation, at the girl in the snug miniskirt, flauntingly walking down the street! On those whiles when she felt like having what she called a good time, making sure that her mom wasn’t at home but caring less about what the neighborhood thought, with one of the many boyfriends she’d, they’d lock themselves in her bedroom and the stereo’s volume would be turned up.
Their father, an actuary, had been shot outside their gate as he waited for it to be opened one late evening. The thugs then sped off with the car he’d been driving after dumping him beside the gate, fighting for dear life. Unconscious upon reaching the hospital, he died a fortnight later after lapsing into a coma. This was one and half years ago. Immediately the dust settled, his distraught father brought all of them under his fold after being granted permission by his daughter-in-law. This kindly soul who began raising a family at twenty years, having retired around the time of his son’s death into relative comfort, four months later at his farewell party, the company, among other things, offered him the chic Mercedes he used to’ve as a parting gift but which he humbly turned down stating that he was too old to’ve another child; in addition to his two lovely granddaughters, it’d be expensive maintaining it. Such was his self-effacing simplicity.
As he was settling in to the new countryside life, he immediately got consumed in it. Used to having a busy schedule back in the city, he soon found himself unable to be ‘Idle,’ as he called it and got immersed at once in the myriad activities of his new calling. And pressing he found them to be. So much so, that he’d come to the city if there was a family emergency, but mostly, if anything, owing to something connected to his new responsibilities. In between sorting out what it was that’d brought him to the bright lights, he’d steal a few moments to pay his late son’s family a visit. It was on one of these particular days that Paukua sought his audience concerning matters that were really troubling her. No sooner had she started to narrate, first, about her girls, than he cut her in and said, ‘Oh, the girls, the girls, the girls; what beautiful flowers they’ve blossomed to be! Anyway, am sorry, but I see no harm in the way they seem to dress though as if by installments. Don’t worry yourself over it; with time, they’ll outgrow it and move on.’ – Kengele Sasura, even on those times that he could afford to see them, was too engrossed in his own world to notice the profound changes his grand-daughters were rapidly undergoing nor how his daughter-in-law was falling apart due to being unable to cope with the exacting demands that’d come with her new responsibilities.
It was second term’s mid-term, and he’d finished the few assignments he had on the holiday’s eve. Some, partly in school during the last free lesson they’d before the bell rang and they broke for home while the rest, he completed after supper. The next day, he woke up at nine to a beautiful, sunny morning. Nobody else was at home except Wingu, who was busy about her chores. Without a hurry, he opened his window and whistling a popular tune, made his bed and tidied the room. Suddenly, as he reached for a new change of clothes that he wanted to wear after showering, like an old record, he stopped and in bated breathe, just to be sure, pulled the elastic of his pajama and heavily breathed out a sigh of relief. Picking up again, whistling, he went to bathe. A habit he’d had since he was a kid, immediately he’d finish cleaning himself, he brushed his teeth as he would again after meals. Then, changing into the clean clothes he’d carefully laid on his bed, downstairs, sat down to’ve his breakfast. In the thermos was brown porridge made of a mixture of millet and sorghum flours in milk which he had with two buttered slices of brown bread, two boiled eggs and a banana; undeniably, Mr. Tinega was unflinching when it came to his family’s dietary requirements. And he never ceased to be amazed at why his eldest son, never skipping a meal unless otherwise, wasn’t in the slightest obese given that his taste buds were his first love. By the time he was through with what he was doing in the house, it was eleven thirty. Outside could be heard the din of kids frolicking.
At the gate, he remembered that the previous day he’d borrowed Rukia’s Maths book. He went back for it, and rescheduled his activities for the day to start with passing by his classmate’s residence. On his way to call at his neighbor’s house, apart from the kids who’d surface and disappear just as quickly, the place looked deserted. Parents were at work while the rest of the grown-ups at home, were indoors. At Rukia’s place, on the second knock, he was about to give up when the music from the radio went up a little bit. Taking it for a sign that there were people in, he knocked again and waited. The peephole couldn’t tell much from outside. Glancing at his watch, he realized that two minutes had passed after his last knock. As he was turning to leave, from somewhere in the house, he heard movement. Then the door opened at an angle and Rukia stood next to it in a [xxvii]leso, and wearing a transparent top. ‘[xxviii]Uhhh, sasa Mwanza,’ smiling, she coyly said as she adjusted the leso’s wrap, her eyelids drooped. ‘[xxix]Karibu,’ she continued as she reached for his outstretched arm. As she held his hand for a lingering while, he noticed that they were unusually soft and warm. ‘[xxx]Fiti sana Ruks. Asante; nilikua narudisha booo…’ – before he could complete his sentence, she’d pulled him into the house.
On his way in, he couldn’t help but hurriedly breathe in heavily, at once fixated by the wonderfully gentle scent that fleetingly massaged his nostrils which pervaded of her; it was reminiscent of the one that’d sometimes lift him in its wings of fancy as it enticingly wafted from his parents’ bedroom on those times he happened to pass outside there in the morning when the door was ajar, having been forgotten by one of them like that as they attended to something or other in the course of that morning. Otherwise it stayed closed when both were in. He couldn’t explain it yet, but all he knew was that this fragrance, whatever it was, pleasantly tingled him as it confidently routed through him in an unstoppable arousal surge of fiery putsch that’d excite him tremendously. In the slow-motion moment when his body was still partly out, as he was angling his way in, their bodies softly touched in an arc instant whose sparks raked her body in a shudder. Being of light skin, her cheeks became flushed as her teats became sharply outlined by her top as her arms got goose bumps. Mistaking this for signs of fright, he hesitated on whether to leave or stay.
Sliding the door shut with her left leg, she tenderly put her hands on either side of his head, pulled and kissed him; biting his lips in light brushes at first, sensing the symbolic responsiveness of his rapid breathing, longingly continued so as she, slowly gyrating, pressed her crotch against his. Instinctively taking the cue he pulled her closer while spontaneously caressing her as he ran his fingers down her spine in flicking motions. In synch, tightly embracing him while running her tongue across his eyelids and earlobes strongly punctuated by the freshness of her hot, deep gasps knotted in fervent sighs this simply blew the top of his mind into a deluge of a thousand desires that cascaded through him in lustrous avalanches.
Gleefully exhausted, they lay there contentedly holding hands with wide grins written all over their youthful faces as Mario crooned his hit song Let Me Love You in the background. Reflecting, she wondered whether Twara wasn’t actually wrong – she’d told her that during her first sexual encounter, being a virgin, as she was enmeshed in the quivers of its excitement, immediately her hymen was being broken, there was going to be an instantaneous shot of inconsequential pain if her lover was sensitive and gentle in the way he handled the whole affair; anyway, not delving much deeper into the reasons why she didn’t feel any, satisfied, she counted herself as among those few lucky ones. And, boy, didn’t he feel incredibly light on his way home – ‘[xxxi]Hizo janta zingine, nitazidu kesho,’ he thought as he gleaned over the events that’d taken place.
Mouth agape, obviously seething with mounting rage, she vigorously shook her head from left to right as she also waved her right hand and cut their longtime friend short before she could finish what she’d just said – ‘What’re you telling me! No way; you must be seriously mistaken!’ she shrieked as she shot up from her chair opposite Mrs. Mwanisa as her handbag fell to the floor from her lap, scattering its contents in all directions. With arms akimbo, in utter disbelief, she firmly demanded in a quaking voice, ‘Are you absolutely sure?’ A simple nod confirmed what she was dreading to accept. After a brief moment that seemed like eternity to her confidante, this lead weight having finally sunk in, through clenched teeth, she then hissed, ‘The guts of that blighted scoundrel! How wrong we’re in thinking that they might - at least - show some little measure of appreciation considering how we wholeheartedly sacrifice ourselves for them! Does that little twerp’ve any shred of an idea what that’s going to do to my reputation…my family’s social standing? The cheek of it…’ unable to control herself, she pounded her friend’s desk as she continued her tirade, ‘What irredeemable stigma his foolishness’ll cast on us! My good Go…’ At this juncture, Mrs. Mwanisa angrily cut in with an emphatic single wave of her right hand; having preferred to keep quite as she understandably sympathized with certain aspects of her friend’s dilemma, immediately the moralizing took a personal, conceited turn she felt that enough was enough.
Harshly stepping in, ‘Stigma? What - with this boisterous attitude, indeed we’re victims of our own stigma!’ she forcefully remarked. Stupefied by the sheer wantonness of this apathetic anesthesia vocalized with such carefree abandon, Mrs. Mwanisa was numbed by the stum swiftness characterizing the dense casualness exuded by her friend in willing to entertain, let alone mouth, such a profoundly debilitating thought with such horrifyingly self-righteous indifference.
With eyes wide open, shrilly she continued, ‘Sit down! [xxxii]Nakumiri mono; nyabhere sana – keri ndathebhe ng’a chinsa chinde small minds get excited by small things. With…waaah!’ and then stopped. As she slowly exhaled, simultaneously did she tap her gathered lips with her right forefinger as she slid to the back the left hand. With burrowed brows, she mentally ordered a careful choice of words after which she lifted her head to look at Mrs. Tinega, managing to finally say, ‘Irrespective of their magnitude, there’re certain things that’re able to convey to us much deeper meanings of existence without even attempting to do so. But if we’re to go by your tactless outburst, then, with all due respect, the only thing that man’s cursed with is abject stupidity! That wonderful young man’s a poor victim of circumstances – in this regard, he just unfortunately happened to be on the wrong side of right…’ Pausing, she intensely empathized with this lot. Fragile as they were, their eagerness to explore precariously exposed them to terrifying dangers that lurked in all directions as they timidly groped about seeking answers to questions which they were within their inalienable rights to know. And mostly all alone as society rallied behind the banner of progress.
At the thought of her three teenage children, she morosely continued, ‘Society’s moral anemia’ll surely sentence these poor souls to lifelong miseries as they try to find an identity, sense of belonging and not to mention, of purpose.’ Disconsolately slumping in her swivel chair, worry sharply written on her face that’d witnessed some of the worst of medical’s hell in her two decades and a half of practice, faintly, almost as if in monologue, she whimpered, ‘The sun’s veritably setting on the promising mornings of these fragile noons with an uneasy calm, while we, with our heads befogged by an illusory cool induced by a Sahelian ignorance, fallaciously presume that they’ll weather the odiousness of the impersonal storms ahead despite their frailty. Those that do emerge at the other end of this horrendous mill – because that’s what it is! - at what individual and collective price?’
Heaving heavily as she laid her nape on the headrest, she finished, ‘All our contemporary mainstream institutions - mind you, notwithstanding their prologue - positing an audacious vehemence as they advocate for chastity, abstinence and other social values, conveniently blind to the grounded realities, unfortunately dearly’re unrelentingly tooth and claw in their fight against masturbation and condoms as amongst other viable safe-sex options also that really could help save lives!
‘Well, if you ask me, uncompromising’s bred on hard-lining that flourishes on misconceptions thriving on insecurities that, in the first place, cultured the hard-line stance. So, considering the excess energies abounding subject to our assumed lifestyles, and with all due respect to the bleeding avenues available, the burning questions’re, first, how really available are they and, what’re the rates of their effectiveness? Sadly, on the latter I could say that plumped in the safety of our achievements is the snaring shroud of its perfidious comforts; a furiously jealous deity at whose feet we ardently worship day and night.
‘[xxxiii]Oyo nka, ne profit [xxxiv]yoka, omosubhati o’minto - and nothing else! – that’s the altar at which just about all else’s sacrificed; indeed the complete genre of ethics and morality because if we certainly’re progressing, let’s also cast our eyes askance at the cumulative consequences of our Midas touch! Progressing to where, from where - alluding merit to God doesn’t have much credit, here; God didn’t create poverty; willfully avaricious, man did - it’s man dealing his fellow man, a dirty hand!
‘Mwanza, it’s not so much what he’s done at his age as it is what it portends; urgently and sincerely, we ought to ask ourselves: [xxxv]Ng’ai embura yachakera ghothotuerera? I am afraid that in this instance, this boy’s the grim, apathetic epitome of the indifferent triumph of ideology over sound reason - simple as that!’
Once beaten, twice shy; several days later, during short calls he noticed that on top of his straining, in tandem’d be a throbbing, penile pain. At first thinking it’d go away on its own volition just as it’d come, he brushed it aside as inconsequential. When he later began to experience occasional stinging pains that’d spread outwards from the tip of his penis to cover the front pelvic area with a burning sensation, then, worriedly, did he begin to wish it away like it was acne. But each passing day became painfully unbearable that his mother in a neighborly chitchat across the front picket fence separating their two houses, observed, [xxxvi]Vijana wa siku hizi, wamenishinda – hebu angalia huyo vile ameteremsha long’i na huo mwenendo wa kuchekesha!’
She only thought it odd when a day later Mwanza came home from school and, looking gloomy, went straight to bed forgoing his evening tea and, later, supper. The following Friday morning, seeing that everyone else was up and bustling but him, in a prenatal position under a blanket she found her first born shivering and drenched in sweat while running a high fever. Steeped in fright, he’d kept mum about what ailed him. Presuming it to be malarial, she took him to Mrs. Mwanisa; the length of time these two families had known each other had eaten away into the need to always refer to her by her vocational name.
And as he sat in the car outside auntie Mwanisa’s clinic waiting for his mother, so many things ran through his mind concurrently making him realize that he literally was at the crossroads on what to make of the saga. His father, with eyes open wide shut was too busy fending for his family. The soft plops of a bird’s droppings hitting the windscreen woke him to see a short distance away, the two women engrossed in conversation. His mother looked deeply attentive while his auntie elaborated on some point; ‘Take it easy…Both of you, relax. The injections that I gave him’ll bring down the temperature while that medication,’ gesturing at what she was carrying, ‘will see him hopping about like a rabbit in a few days. The worst part’s over and, by the way, thank your lucky stars as there wasn’t a single trace of the big disease with a small name.’
[iii] ‘Go and drink some milk.’
[iv] ‘Tchh, what’s this woman telling me? In my house, like who? What’s it that she doesn’t get?’
[v] ‘Those very much educated’re problematic.’
[vi] Used metaphorically, this title means enjoy life while you still can.
[vii] ‘What; meat to meat.’
[viii] A meal made of maize flour.
[x] ‘Zab, today’s on Saturday; after you finish eating, let me treat you to some moody. Kalua’s among the best.’ Moody’s one of the many names a locally brewed spirit goes by.
[xi] ‘What’re you thinking about – or did you get some girl pregnant? Finish, so that I can rock you with some moody.’
[xii] ‘I am broke.’
[xiii] ‘No problem.’
[xiv] ‘Let me ask you – by the way, around here, where did the extra curricular facilities go to?’
[xv] ‘Don’t be silly; ask me how to remove an aching tooth my friend. By the way, when was the last time boys seriously went to the gym around here?’
[xviii] ‘Moody has no problem unlike weed.’
[xix] ‘That one has gone to watch her lullabies.’
[xx] I think it’d be a good idea if I asked my dad.
[xxi] ‘Tulizana slept before I did, today. What could be happening to me?’
[xxii] If it felt that good, why am I now feeling sad?
[xxiii] Eish, I am not dreaming!
[xxiv] ‘Young man, were you cleaning your skin with a brush?’
[xxv] ‘Alas! Were you washing the soap!’
[xxvi] These’re T-shirts that’ve been cut to expose the navel, down.
[xxviii] ‘Uhhh, Mwanza, hi.’
[xxx] ‘I am fine, Ruks. Thanks; I am returning your booo…’
[xxxi] ‘The remaining tasks, I’ll do tomorrow.’
[xxxii] I am very surprised; please do forgive me – what I can say’s that sometimes…
[xxxiii] This line from the Kisii language’s comparable to ‘My dear, it’s…’ in English. It actually means, ‘One from our homestead, it’s...’
[xxxiv] Still in Kisii, this line means, ‘only, my dear lady…’
[xxxv] Ditto, ‘From where did the rain start beating us?’
[xxxvi] ‘The youths of today’ve completely baffled me – just look at the way he’s sagged his trousers and walking funny!’