By Fredrick Kang'ethe Iraki (Kenya)
Click here to send comments
Click here if you'd like to exchange critiques
Karimu was a genius. There was no denying it. He had passed all his examinations with frying corours, as people from his ethnic community would say. The latter makes no distinction between flying and frying. Never mind. So, Karimu, like all conquerors, went, saw and conquered Gen, a glamorous girl from Limuru in Central Kenya. The courtship was concise and precise. And that’s the way Karimu liked doing things. Even his academic dissertations had been concise and precise.
In those days, life was not expensive. With only a hundred shillings one could take a girlfriend to a movie, buy her a huge hot packet of Kinangop-potato chips and a bottle of Seven-up to wash it down. After the hearty meal taken on the soft grass of Uhuru Park one could then stroll to Snow cream joint and buy two lovely cones of ice-cream. Then the two-some would lick the ice-cream staring into each others’ eyes. For the more adventurous, a visit to Jockey Bar at the Hilton was a welcome idea. The Jockey Bar was a phenomenon in the City of Nairobi. First, the cosy décor and the lavish lights would create a very relaxing atmosphere. Then, ensconced in a warm leather sofa, one could enjoy a scintillating Tusker baridi as the ladies took to gin and tonic. The music was deliberately low and soft. The only thing lacking at the Hilton were the women with wide bottoms that electrified the lesser joints like Njogu-ini. These places had their time as the month wore on and the money rarefied. Every joint had its day of the month.
In these one-sided affairs the men provided generously and the women received happily. There was a tacit agreement between men and women that went: I buy you this and that, I take you to this and that place, and what do you do? You must accept to do you know what with me. This logic was prevalent and pervasive in Nairobi and it came to be accepted as the standard courtship procedure. In fact, you could prolong the courtship from a day to a week, a month or several months. But the steps would be the same: chips & seven-up, movie, ice-cream, Jockey Bar and then you know what.
Everybody played ball, as they say, but there were defaulters on both sides of the bargain. For instance, some men would cut corners. They would avoid the entire rigmarole and just do one item like buy chips and seven-up then ask for the essentials. Others would wait for somebody else to initiate the gamut only for them to cut in at the last stage and ask for you know what. For example after taking your girl out the whole day, a guy might snatch her from you at the Jockey bar and your entire investment is put at high risk. Similarly, there were rebels on the women’s side. Some would follow through all the steps only to “hoard” you know what when their turn to play ball came.
But strangely, some men invested too massively in the preliminaries and lacked the energy for the last stage: asking for the essentials. But this was not Karimu’s scenario. When he dated Gen the first time the conversation was crisp though friendly.
“Gen”, he mumbled as his hand snaked into his pocket to get the cigarette-lighter. He removed it, stuck a cigarette into his shivering thin lips.
“Yoooo.” She cooed.
“Gen.” , he resumed.
This time she looked up and her big eyes stared him in the face. He struck the lighter, once, twice, but there was no light. He cursed softly and removed the cigarette from his mouth and put everything back into the pocket.
“Mmmmh. What is it? It’s the second time you are calling me.” She lamented.
He now looked at her and her beautiful eyes appeared like an immense ocean. He could see his face in those big eyes as though they had already engulfed him. Be short and clear, a voice told him.
“Gen, I have not known you for long…” he cleared his throat noisily. Damn! He always wondered why his voice failed him at crucial moments. At other times he spoke well and loud and the voice never faded. Anyway, he pursued.
“Gen, I know these things need time, but I have to tell you one thing.” At this point the waitress smiled at him,
“Are you ok?” She enquired.
“We are ok, thanks.”
She walked away with the empty bottles of seven-up. Now, Karimu had no object to caress as he spoke. And Gen had no drink to occupy her attention.
“Gen, I have not known you for a long time, but the short time I have is enough for me. Gen, I love you.” He said in earnest, “And I would like to share my life with you as man and wife.”
Now he was speaking rapidly but clearly and in a confident voice.
“I do not know what you have to say. But take your time to think about.” He concluded.
He had unloaded and now felt greatly relieved. He cleaned his sweaty brow with the back of this hand.
She sat silent. She did not reply. She smiled instead. That was a good sign. She looked at him as if to examine his candidature and then said.
“Are you about to start cutting corners, Dr. Karimu?”
“By no means! I just wanted to have it off my chest”
“Off yours and onto mine?” She raised one eyebrow as lazily and as sexily as she could.
“Well, it’s a figure of speech.” He added lamely.
Although Karimu’s style had been unorthodox he won Gen’s heart with his first attempt. She knew the chips-movie-ice-cream-jockey bar-you know what formula, and it had been used on her by other men. The only step that she had managed to eschew was the last one. But Karimu’s short-cut was original and almost crude.
What followed next was a series of 10 routine steps that all Africans know:
Karimu was no exception. When they moved together into the middle-class Buru Buru Estate in Nairobi, they wasted no time in indulging in step 1. After two years of intense and almost desperate sexual activity, no child was forthcoming. Karimu reduced his moonlighting activities and only worked at the National Hospital. He stopped doing rounds in private hospitals. He just focussed on doing you know what. But nothing was forthcoming.
As a doctor and a rational man, Karimu had no illusions about where the problem lay. But his African culture pushed him to believe that Gen was the problem. She could not give birth. She was sterile. She did not lie down properly. Her womanliness was destroying the seeds. Yes, she just can’t hold them in! So how can she get pregnant?
But what about him? Had he ever made a girl pregnant? Although he knew he had never made anyone pregnant his mind told him that all efforts should turn to Gen. She must be helped to get pregnant. She must be helped.
“So when am I seeing my grandchildren?” Their parents would ask and Karimu would respond politely that everything had it’s time. He reasoned he had not told his parents when they should beget him, so they should just let him be. In the night, Karimu would pester Gen.
“I think you should see a doctor about your condition, sweetheart.”
“I will, I will,” she would respond.
“Soon, honey,” was the cool answer as she adjusted herself and opened her legs for him to have her.
“I think I’m wasting my time…”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Never mind,”he answered and plunged into her.
The act was perfunctory now with no gusto. He performed it like a duty and no more. He was out of her in less than three minutes and he turned and snored loudly after ten minutes. She pulled her short night dress down to cover her nudity and thought, He must be helped. He must be helped.
Karimu soon lost interest in everything. He avoided his friends and kept to himself. He started losing weight. Should I get another woman? Should I be bold enough to do a test? No! He knew his manhood was big and throbbing when excited and that’s what made a man. He could give several orgasms to any woman. So what the hell was going on here? Orgasms and no issue? Finally he decided to give her until December; in the New Year he would take on someone else.
In the meantime Gen was relaxed and as beautiful as ever. She blossomed under intense stress. Pressure makes diamonds. Today, for instance, she would make chapati for him, since African men would kill for the dish. So, she sauntered to the charcoal man to buy charcoal and chatted with him. The man looked very much like the charcoal he sold: dark and lifeless when cold but very hot when excited. He was tall and heavily built. His lips were red and very thick. His ears were large and his chin split in the middle. She liked teasing him about his dark complexion.
“Where did you get such a dark complexion. You look like the inside of a Devils’ horn!”
“Madame, but black is beauty. Actually, I was born at night. That’s why my name is Otieno.”
“I don’t believe you. I’ll ask my luo friend at work. Anyway, let me have two tins of charcoal.”
“Asante sana.” He poured two tins into her basket and added, “You know, the skin is dark but the heart inside glows like the sun”
She laughed at this. “You should have studied poetry.”
“And who would sell charcoal to you?” he laughed as he added two handfuls of charcoal into her basket.
“And that’s bakshish.”
That night the chapatis were lovely. Karimu ate badly and grumbled most of the time. He volunteered to examine Gen himself although he was not specialized in the field. But Gen insisted that everything was alright. God would provide at the right moment. Karimu did not share in this optimism and so stuck with the December deadline. Now, they had six months to go. But what if I’m the problem? Oh no! Perish the thought! What about sneeking into a clinic for a quick test? She would not know. These questions tortured Karimu day in day out.
“I have something to tell you, honey.” Gen started. But he was not listening. He was busy adjusting the television set in their master bedroom. “Honey, I’ve missed my periods for three months now.”
“They will come soon.” He answered nonchalantly.
“Honey, I’m pregnant!” She screamed joyfully.
“What?” He was incredulous. He held her tummy but there wasn’t much to see. He rubbed her stomach in disbelief. “There’s something in here?”
“You must do the test tomorrow!”
“No need. I have the kit right here.”
And she did the test right there and the result was amazingly good. She was positively pregnant.
Karimu’s subsequently livened up and sought his friends out. He now claimed he enjoyed an occasional beer or two with wazees. His mood was upbeat at work and he picked up consultancies here and there. He needed money for the baby, he argued. Life had its spark back and Karimu became a lovely and dotting hubby to Gen. She relished all this and said a small prayer. Thanks, Lord, for saving my marriage.
December 1st came and a bouncing baby girl was born to the family. The Karimus were ecstatic. As good Christians the analogy with the birth of Jesus was used very often to explain the sanctity of their daughter’s birth. Karimu quickly named her after his mother according to Gikuyu tradition. She was Wanjiru or more affectionately Shiro. And now Gen was free to choose her Christian name, and she chose Nightingale or Nightie.
As per the African life scale, step 1 would have to be repeated since the first birth was a girl. Karimu was extremely confident in his manly capacities and so he resumed step 1. Bed Bed sheets after bed sheets were destroyed in the endeavour but nothing came out of it. Gen’s tummy was as slim as an envelope. Beds and positions were changed but still nothing happened in the way of a pregnancy. And now Karimu was sure, more than ever before, that Gen had developed a problem again. Was it that she was having fibroids in her womb that were frustrating his seeds?
To prove that he was still a virile male, Karimu stormed Dr. Muniafu’s office one chilly July morning and asked for a test. Since Muniafu was an old college friend he joked with her about his wife’s small problem.
“What do you want a test for, you nut?
“Max, if Gen can’t give me a kid, I’m sorry I’ll have to fill the earth with someone else.”
“Well, you are taking Abraham’s message too literally,” he said as he handed him a small vial.
“I swear, what is a woman for if she can’t give birth?”
“Take it easy and let’s look at this together tomorrow.”
“Damn, you can’t do it now with all the technology you learnt in Hong Kong!”
“Wacha maneno, I need time to pore into your seeds. Tomorrow at 10 a.m.”
“Ok. Say hi to Mama and the tiny guys.”
That night Karimu was nervous. Although he was confident that everything was ok he still was unsettled about something. What if…no…but is it possible? He looked at Gen sleeping and decided to go and see the girl. She was a beauty, sleeping tightly with her tiny hands. She now had small teeth and when she smiled she filled his heart with immeasurable joy. I will send away Gen but Shiro remains here. The next woman can take care of her, he thought almost loudly. He went back to bed and pulled away the bed sheets. There lay Gen. Naked. He looked at her body and felt no desire for her at all. Is this the same woman whose mere handshake had given him a hard-on before? He wondered whether he should not consider sleeping in the guesthouse in the future. He put his hand between her legs and she instinctively opened her legs for him. He removed his hand quickly and pulled back the sheets. He lay next to her as a total stranger. Her days are numbered, anyway.
Dr. Muniafu was quick with the results. Karimu’s sperm count was far below what can possibly make a woman pregnant.
“Are you sure those Chinese machines are ok?”
“You can do the tests elsewhere to confirm.”
“But how come I have one daughter already!”
“Wonders never cease. Maybe last year you were eating a lot of pumpkin seeds.”
“Seriously, what do you think, Max? Should we have Gen tested?”
“Well, you know there’s no need. At least you have one child. Thank God for that!”
“Damn you, Max. Anyway, thanks. And I’m not paying for bad news.”
“You will pay with some beers another day.”
That night Karimu was quiet but not aggressive to Gen. He ate slowly thinking about his luck. Yes, at least he had Shiro. It’s good to count your blessings, sometimes. He ruminated about the previous night’s thoughts and felt sorry for Gen. She was ok and he was to blame for the lack of a second child. After eating he took Shiro in his arms and tickled her sides. She smiled widely showing her tiny sharp teeth that contrasted with her very dark skin. He noticed her chin had a dimple in the middle and her ears were too big for her size. God’s wonders!