Monday, August 12, 2019

Slam Africa presents..

Another Tale on LGBTQ misfortunes..


My lover can only love me behind drawn curtains. The bed must not creak or the neighbours will hear us. On Friday evening, when her parents come to visit, my lover cannot love me because they want her to marry a man. We all sit at the small brown rectangular dining table beneath the high serving-hatch that opens to the kitchen. My lover and I sit on one side, her parents on the other. She sits facing her father, who is tall and meaty. He laughs like a big drum. He eats like a big drum too; his inside is large, empty and hollow. He is shoving big ugali mounds into his mouth.
I think that her mother must know, because mothers see the air that mixes between lovers. Her mother must know because she is studying me like a specimen. She narrows her eyes,
tightening her brow at the same time. Crow’s feet choke the mole next to her left eye. Her face is lined around the eyes, but is otherwise as smooth and deep brown as a loquat seed. Small grayish bushes peep from beneath her blue headscarf; hers is a good strong hairline, just like her daughter’s, one that extends far down into her forehead. I turn to my left, and my lover is making concerted conversation with her father, nodding, smiling, matching his raucous laughter, pouring extra words into the natural silences that occur in conversation, pouring her father wine and more wine until his speech slurs and his light brown cheeks turn pink and shiny with sweat, until his big-drum laughter grows and grows and threatens to swallow our little matchbox flat. 
We are eating ugali and creamed sukuma, with kuku kienyeji that I bought at the butcher’s for one thousand shillings. I know that my lover’s mother likes avocado, so I bought ten of them, each for forty bob. But my lover’s mother does not touch them, and neither does she touch the plate of food that I served her. 
When I first met her she was pleasant, jubilant even, because I had found her daughter a place to stay near the university. Over and over again, she had said, “God bless you.” After seven years, however, her genuine and earnest god-bless-yous had disintegrated into a liquid and guarded hostility, which now seeped through her narrowed eyes as she studied me. Three hours ago she had bustled in, just before my lover’s father, a dark blue mermaid kitenge hugging her hips and flaring at her calves, her hair hidden in a matching scarf, her arms laden with baskets of produce from the farm, hugging and kissing us on the cheeks and saying, “How are you, my daughters?” “My daughters, I have brought you cabbage and potatoes and peas…” “You look well, my daughters…”     
My daughters, my daughters, another person would have thought that she loved me like a daughter, but I had known otherwise. I had known because I had learned to unearth true intentions, gleaning them like long translucent bones buried deep within tilapia fish. My lover’s mother had not been speaking with her mouth, from which her many my daughters had fluttered out. She had been speaking with her eyes, which had refused to surrender to the smile on her mouth.
She is still staring at me, eyes equal parts curious and hostile. I think that perhaps she thinks that dreadlocks are unbecoming, even if I have pulled them up into a ladylike bun that make my eyebrows feel unusually high; even if I have clipped Magda’s dangling earrings onto my un-pierced earlobes. Perhaps she can tell that the black dress with a pink flower print that I bought for today was bought for today, and that I am not in the habit of wearing dresses.  I
wonder if she can see, with those narrowed eyes, that the dress is too small, that the fabric is cutting into my armpits, that I am sweating under my arms. The food is growing cold, and white Kimbo droplets begin to float on the soup. My mind is running here and running there, out of breath, offering me one reason or another for this woman not liking me. It is trying to convince me that I do not know what she is thinking, it is running careful circles around the truth, it is telling me that she hates me for reasons I can fix. 
But I know. I know what she is thinking even before the curiosity in her eyes evaporates, leaving hard hostility behind; before she flings heavy black tar into the air mixing between my lover and I, before she flattens that tar with a roaring steamroller, when she turns to my lover, smiling, full lips flattened against gleaming teeth, asking, “Mami, when you will get a husband? And a nice house?” 
The skins of the unwanted avocados shine like my lover’s father’s light brown cheeks. He is drunk. 

On Friday night, after her parents leave, we hold hands and pretend that we are outside. We walk in Nairobi. Our matchbox flat becomes the large sprawling city. The two bedrooms are the suburbs. We live in the bigger of the suburbs, the one with generous pavements and many trees. We leave home and walk along the corridor, which is the highway to town. The kitchen, found just before we get to town, is Fagi’s wooden Coca-Cola box-shaped shop. We lean through the serving hatch and ask for a one-litre Fanta Orange that we put in a paper bag. We hold hands again. We imagine that Fagi says, “What a lovely couple!”
Then we get to the Central Business District. The sitting room, which is also the dining room, is the CBD. The wall unit that almost touches the ceiling is the Times Tower. We look up and say, “How tall! How long did they take to build that?” 
At last we go back to our house in the suburbs after spending the whole day bumping into rough fabric sofas and smooth aluminium matatu chests, into polished wooden stools and grey concrete buildings, into sweaty people and dining chairs with proud long backs, all of these fitting, as if by magic, in the small CBD of our flat. When we get to our bigger room, we lie on the same bed. If our lover’s mother were to come in and find us, she would exclaim, “My daughters!” This time, her mouth would slacken, unable to smile. Her eyes would become round, un-narrowed, because whose arm was whose? Whose skin was whose? Whose leg was whose? Our body parts would be mixed up together like pieces of meat in a stew, in a sufuria without a lid, exposed because the lazy blanket had fallen off in the middle of the night. 

The next day, Saturday, Magda is gathering water in her palms and lifting it onto her body.
The wide blue plastic basin is perched on a stool, the whole arrangement a castle chess piece.
First she is gathering up only as much as a dog’s tongue because the water is cold, then she is gathering up more, then I hear no more water because she is scrubbing, and then I begin to hear larger and louder water as it pours over her body, and the thirsty drain, as it drinks it up. She comes out wrapped in a white towel and asks me if I have seen the nail-cutter, and I want to tell her that it is in the second bedroom, on the desk by the window. Keep your nails short:
school rule or lesbianology? But this is when Magda’s vibrating phone stirs us. It is a text from Thomas, our neighbour, to say that he is at the door. As Magda rushes to dress, I rush to mix the blankets on the bed in the smaller second bedroom, trying to make it look slept in, tossing some of the red towels that clutter the bed into the cupboard, throwing a pair of jeans onto the floor, opening the curtains. Magda and I scamper around our matchbox flat like rats; I think of green rat-poison pellets floating in a glass of Fanta Orange. I want to lie down for a bit, and cry for a bit, but I hear the sound of the door opening and I hear Magda saying loudly: “Thomas! Mambo!” 
And thus, Thomas has fractured our gentle reverie. Magda is louder now, fussing over him, very much like her mother, “Sasa wewe, what will we cook for you? Do you want tea? How is job?” Her crotchet-braid weave bobs as she rushes from the kitchen to the sofa to the dining table, reheating food and setting a stool before him.  “Tom, dear, how much chilli do you like in your food?” – “Maji ama Coke?” – “I’m sorry that this is taking so long!” 
Thomas glows under Magda’s uxorial light; he is smiling as he watches her shuffle about. Madga smells like Nivea body lotion, good food and three fat future children, two boys and one girl. Thomas, twenty-nine, wants to be with her, would marry her, on his thirty-second birthday, at the Holy Family Minor Basilica in town, him dapper in a black suit, her veiled in all-white, his family on the pews on right and hers on those on the left. I know all this because I trawled through the Whatsapp messages he sent Magda, all of them unanswered, arranged one after the other like rectangular stones on a stepping-stone pathway. He would marry her, but here I am. I sit quietly on the adjacent sofa. I know how to shrink myself to live. My father taught me how to make myself smaller. First, he taught my mother, then me, then my three little bald sisters, one after the other, each of us with big-big eyes yearning to be enough for a man who wanted a son but got four daughters, each next one with rounder eyes and a bigger forehead, foreheads made to look even bigger because any trace of hair was promptly shaved off. To look neat for school, my father had said, to keep boys away, my father had also said. My mother promised me hair as soon I finished high school. I and my egg head had made ourselves so small that our father could not see us. I know now that if I make myself small enough to almost disappear, I will be left alone to live. 
But Magda swells up, she is swelling up now, big like her big drum father, big like her afro weaves, hiding herself under loud layers, showy like her fabulous mother. When her parents are far away in Eldoret, when Thomas leaves, when I have fallen asleep, and when all the lights are off, my lover goes into the smaller bedroom. There, with the steady, solitary and painful focus of a chicken trying to lay an egg, she peels off all those layers. Perched on her red towels and locked away from me, she prays, shakes, and rakes razors across the skin of her inner thighs. 
There is nothing like Madga’s hair. It is the darkest of clays, which she moulds into many shapes. Buns, braids, cornrows, weaves, mixtures of two or three or all of these, shrunken tiny afros or picked spherical ones, wigs, hats, sometimes with her front hair showing, and finally, cloth hair – scarves twisted and bunned at the back. My hair is weak and fine, and can only grow long in dreadlocks, and even then, it never is voluminous. So Magda’s hair is even more beautiful to me, the good strong hairline, the many shapes, the balls of shed hair like cotton strewn all over the dresser. The only thing that I like more than her hair is her skin. It is darkest between her thighs, and there, on each side, I find short, black and precise scars, arranged like gills.  
On TV, a politician says that there is no space for gays in Kenya. Thomas says, “I support him. Can you even imagine a dick in your ass?” He takes a slow sip from the glass of Coke that Magda has set out for him, and licks his lips. With a prodding half-smile, he adds in a lower voice, staring straight at Magda, “But I support the L. That one I most definitely support.” He is the kind of man from whose mouth sentences slide easily, ropes curling into nooses encircling women’s waists. My jaws grow hot as I imagine him masturbating to lesbian porn. He adds, “But how many letters are there in that thing again?”
There is a stilted pause in the conversation. There is too much to ignore, even for Magda. Perhaps she is thinking that he knows. What would follow then would be to wonder what the implications of his knowing would be. In the end, Magda recovers from the brazenness of it all, strangling the too-long pause with a big laugh, flinging it under her loud layers, almost screaming-laughing, and saying, not even sarcastically, “Thomas you are so funny! Oh my gosh! How many letters are there in that thing!” 
Marionettes are sinister because they are controlled by strings that lead up to the devil. If I were to pinch a normal person, they would frown or slap my hand away or cry out or pinch me back. But if I were to pinch a marionette, its empty eyes would just stare back at me, wooden and smiling, dancing and clapping.
Magda turns to me laughing, repeating, “How many letters are there in that thing! Don’t you think that’s so funny?” Her eyes are clear and round, her mouth stiff and stretched into a smile, straight teeth arranged dutifully, kernels of white maize on a cob. Her voice is thick brown, millet porridge, rich and homely; sugary and buttery, but tinged with something bitter – very likely lemon juice, straight from the lemon. 
Underneath puppets’ veneers are knives that will slice your throat in your sleep. White wriggly maggots under a lush and pretty log. 
Thomas interjects, “Magda, you look so pretty when you laugh like that. Let me take a picture of you. Where is your phone? Mine’s just gone off.”
I am shrinking, crawling, deeper under the bed, Thomas’ words trailing after me. I am thinking of the night months ago when Thomas had banged on the door, speech slurred, I want to see Magda, I want to see Magda, how we had put off the lights and  tiptoed to the smaller bedroom, waiting under the bed for the banging to stop and for him to leave, how the thick puddle of low thrum anxiety nestled at the base of my throat had exploded into hiccupping panic as I had heard the door burst open, as I had clung to precious Magda, under the weight of her red towels, the dusty underside of the bed choking the both of us. How my mouth had remained sewn.
The next morning Madga had mopped up the muddy footprints that tracked from the door through the sitting room all the way to the corridor. He had not got to the bedrooms. I had gone out and found a serious fundi with a pencil behind his ear. He had fixed the broken door and added a new grill, with fat metal bars, standing tall and straight like askaris. 

On Sunday morning I wake up, and Magda is not next to me. I try to open the door to the second bedroom but it is locked. I feel faint, so I go to the balcony for some fresh air. On the street below, at the bus stop just outside our building, matatus snarl in the dust like wild cats. It is hot. There are hardly any trees or pavements. Then I notice that all the red towels are gone from the hanging line. I rush back to the second bedroom, and through the door I say,
“Magda, are you okay? Open the door, please.”
“Give me some time alone, please.”
Her voice is weak and watery, like strungi, poor people’s milk-less tea. Worry makes it difficult for me to reply calmly, “Okay. How much time?” 
No response. I coax some more, but not even the watery weakness reappears. I want to bang on the door. I want to scream MagdaMagdaMagda, but the neighbours will hear me. So I sew my mouth. But the trapped Magdas remain at the base of my throat, popping like fried oil. Then they are flowing downwards, still popping, burning the inner walls of my body, shaking me. I think that I should cook some tea that I will not drink, because perhaps the smell will calm me down. I am shaking as I cut open the plastic milk packet with a knife, and halfway through this, the packet slips and bursts on the floor. I drop the knife, I forget the tea, I am sobbing, sinking to the tiled floor, the hems of my heavy cotton sweatpants wetting with milk, like wicks. 

When Magda and I had talked about God, she had said, “You don’t understand. It is God who keeps me alive.” I had wondered where I could get some of this God of Magda’s. He had sounded like the beef cubes I add to potato stew when it gets too bland. 
Still I had not understood. This God business had outgrown me. It was like an old sweater I wore as a child, now too small and scratchy. My God was not gentle like Magda’s; my God was like my father, whose house breathed only after he had left. But now staring at the diamond patterns on the ceiling, crying-convulsing, with milk soaking my scalp, my back, my panties, my legs, I begin to mutter, God please, God please. It is now only me, and Magda, and Magda’s good God. 

My heavy cotton sweatpants are stubbornly wet, but the milk on my cotton T-shirt is drying and sticky on my back. I am no longer convulsing but I am still sobbing softly, kneeling at the door of the smaller bedroom and trying out each of the keys in the pile I found in a basket on top of the fridge. The sixth turns the lock. The door flings open. The room is dark, the curtains are drawn. There is a smell of zinc. I switch on the light. Magda lies naked on her red towels, her dark thighs a mess of red. I kneel beside her. She is breathing. 
But my lover’s mother will love her and will crush her. She will take her daughter’s heart and crush it between her narrowed eyes, between eyelids heavy and strong with love that cuts with the strength of diamonds. Magda, twenty-seven and weary of this crushing love, will grow louder and bigger to hide her crushed heart. Like an agitated turkey, her feathers will fan out, her face will fill with blood. Later she will think it unfair that a heart should bear this crushing alone. She will make her thighs bleed again. At least this is what I tell myself because even though she is lying there bleeding and barely breathing, I do not want to call her parents without her consent. But mostly, I am afraid that if they take her away, I may never see her again. 

It is like she has given birth to the devil. 

I mend her thighs. She leaves after two weeks. In the end, her mother is the person that she goes back to, tail between legs, heart in hands, wanting it soothed. After she cut herself, a quiet voice told me that it was my fault. That it was the thing that mixed up the air in between us that was cutting her. That it had grown too big for the only place in which I could love her. It had become too much, too raucous. It had swallowed us. It had shrunk me. And it had cut
her thighs, every year for three years, always a few days after her parents’ visit. I stopped meeting her eyes when I changed her bandages twice a day. I stopped talking to her, responding wordlessly to her needs for drinking water, the toilet, bananas, the bhajias fried in a shack directly opposite our building.
I expected her to leave. When the rain went and the sun came, my father did not fret that the rain had gone. It was time for the maize in the fields to ripen. And so after the scars had healed, like the rain, like a patient discharged, Magda put on her red maxi skirt and left with a small bag.
But the house is heavy with my beloved. I cannot sleep in the bigger bedroom because her hair is on the dresser, not to mention in the smaller bedroom, where she had given birth to the devil. I sleep on the rough fabric sofa, maroon with gold-thread flowers. I refuse to touch the mixture of towels, blood and red dye in the basin on the balcony. One day I feel that I do not want to see anyone, not a soul, not even a cockroach, ever again. So I call my boss to quit my PR job where I am obligated to wear short grey skirts. He tells me he has already given away
my job because I did not show up for three weeks and didn’t respond to his calls. I cook and cry. From the sofa, I begin to design websites for a living. When money gets tight, I take up Magda’s old job at a DVD shop a few minutes’ walk from the flat. 

One evening, two months later, I come back home from the DVD shop and know that Magda is back because the towels hang stiff and foul on the balcony, now a dull orange after bleeding out all their dye. I expected that she would leave, and now I accept that she has come back. She comes out of the kitchen. Her hair is gone, cropped close to her scalp. I am not sure whether her cheekbones had always been so high, her eyes so big, her irises so large, floating like cocoa beans in milk. It had been seven years of seeing only her hair. 
That night we sleep heads touching, breathing each other, arms around each other. I roll over to face the other side and Magda moves with me, her nose at my nape, her arm still wrapped around me. Even though neither of us had contacted the other, I had spent all this time expecting that she would come back. So I am glad that I no longer have to expect. But I am also stifled by the suddenness of her return. I know that it is the rain’s place to come unannounced. But I also know that Nairobi November skies tend to be heavy and cloudy like grey wet blankets, ones that mother spirits wring to drench the city. The question is: is the coming of rain in Nairobi in November expected or unexpected? 
It is perhaps a matter of weather in relation to climate. The weather is mercurial: in the morning it wants pink lipstick, and by noon it has decided that today is a red-lipstick day. Some days it ties its arms around me, and other days it cannot meet my eyes. If the weather is a yellow banana peel racked with black scars, then the climate is what is inside. It is the way Magda squeezes my hand under tables when I have sewn my mouth so tightly that I can hardly breathe. It is the certainty that is the great big engine that is her heart: how it runs on butter and Baringo honey, and how it warms me, melting open my stitches.
Therefore, if a particular Nairobi November day appears sunny from inside the house, then what do we say to someone who goes out to the salon to flat-iron their hair, expecting that the straightness will last for at least a week and a half, and then does not have an umbrella in their bag on the very day that the rain decides to come the way that Jesus said that he would, kinking their expensive straightness? Is the coming of rain in Nairobi in November expected or unexpected? We can say, yes, it is your fault, the rain was expected, this is November,
why didn’t you have an umbrella, you just go home and style your afro. We can also collect in a corner and decide that no, it is not your fault, the rain was unexpected, it has been sunny for the whole day, imagine, it only decided to rain once you stepped out of the salon, pole sana, let us curse heaven together. There are things that are both expected and unexpected, and the rain is one of these things. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Stares and Fright.

..but si when people look at me, they think me ni punk.

Yes, because you’re very pretty.

You giggle; it’s throaty.
Like a laugh that won’t grow up.

You want to talk. I want to stare.

Yeah.. but you know I don’t like it.

What? Being pretty or people staring?

You look daggers at me.

What do you think? Duuh! Silly. The staring.

You slap my thigh.
It stings.
I perish the thought.
Lucky me. My jeans are freshly scrubbed.

You sit beside me, thighs touching.

Yeah.. that’s why I pass here. My bro showed me this chuom here.

Haina usororaji.

True..this is better. I also really don’t like being watched.
Now pass me my blunt.

I dab silently, I’m thinking of you.

The chemical euphoria slowly gives way to a silent calm.

You know I’ve never had sex?

Waaaah!!  I’m patronizing.

You must know I won’t believe.
You feel you have to tell me, I listen.

I just feel like I should start when it’s right.

But I know Stoner chicks are kinda loose.

I don’t mean to be belligerent.
I assume you understand.

Haaaaar!! Not me, I hang out with these Campo-boys but I don’t screw around.

I know. I say sheepishly. 

I believe you lie.
I have trust issues.
I want to sleep with you.

You’ve got your hand on my lap, my arm's on your shoulder.
Friending.

I want to start the caresses that call so loud.
I begin.
Then I stop.

We dab in silence.
You love Shashamane, and I’m loving you because you love what I love.

But we are both afraid.
I was.

I fail to deconstruct you.
Sudoku maestro level.
I believe it’s because you get me flustered without even trying or knowing.

You said you pass through my place so that no one gets to witness your pretty.
I fail to understand.

You swipe right, left, up, down.
You want an Uber, I want you take a Mat.
You think that’s very resourceful of me.
I get the notion of sarcasm leaking through.

You took a Mat..

You headed to your Sister’s at Mombasa Road.
It was Sunday afternoon.
You said you'd be back in the night.
I didn’t wait.
I closed shop early.

You got resourceful too.
You found me.
You decided to sleep with me.

I’m still afraid.
You still hate the staring.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Haiku


This piece of haiku poetry is very personal. You’ve got to love the brevity that leaves so much to the mind. This is one of those that can be interpreted to mean something and everything.

The Need

Nothing satiates.
Voids unfilled.
These are the times.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Two Wives. A Short Story.

Misikhu, Bungoma. Western Kenya.

Aunty just came back from Makutano.
She asked about a long lost family friend who lived around Kitale.

'On your way to Makutano maybe, I don't know.'

I promised I'd try to get to them as soon as this pesky January rain abates. I'm also embarrased about meeting Ma'Dessy;  that long-lost-but-lately-found family friend who now resides around Kitale.Now I can’t go to her home without a lady I had bragged about being my wife.

Anyway.

I told Aunty Emily I'd marry two wives; so if one left I'd still have another to hold on to.

Aunty chuckled.

She does that when she's pitying my young naivete.

'Don't get more than one wife. It's all trouble. Juzi, I went somewhere to have tea but there was none...that's what they said.'

I cut Aunty midway through her session by reaching for the volume knob on the radio. Soon "Ivo Ivo Ivo" was blaring and my head was bobbing to the raucous hip hop.

Aunty left.

Later…

'You know why I wasn't offered any tea?'

'No,' I confessed..

'She had urinated into her husband's tea.'

My jaw fell to my Adam's apple.

'They do that to be loved by the husband.'

There was more.

' I know a friend who went to a Mganga. Now as she ate with her husband; she'd rub her anus and then touch the ugali. The husband first thought it was simple ill-manners; but she did it more than twice...'

'Ehe...?' I was hooked.

'The husband locked the door and grabbed a knife...'

'Ehe...?' Aunty knows how to tell a good story.

'He told his wife he'd cut her up like a chicken. She started wailing and told it all. Now she's at her parents' home, for good.'

I laughed but I knew it was true, Aunty never lied.

There was more.

'Two wives would make you feed on filth. They'll sit naked on the dough before they make you the chapati, they'll pick the best cuts off that steak and keep it in their panties overnight; stew it then serve it to you...'

'All for the money?' I'm asking.

'Not really, she just wants you to spend more time with her and less with the other wife.'

'I'd like that..' I'm saying.

Aunty chuckles.

I still think two wives is alright.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Times


I remember correctly
How could I forget?
I know now why the silence
Hang loud in the air.

I hated that.

I was teetotaling,
Teetering, fumbling..
You sipped blacks,
I made do with the ciggies.

You hated those by the way.

He made you feel better
I hid my face
My room was messy
Roaches, butts, ashes.

I figured you hated those too.

I remember; don’t worry.
You were nervous, raw.
It hang in the air
These chemical concoctions out of our heads.

I hated him, I just couldn’t tell.

You know I wanted it
I knew you wanted it.
It was strange, this thing.
How you devoured them.

I hated that, Lord knows.
There was going to be three of us.
We did business
We couldn’t afford messes.

I drowned.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Assembly of the Former Heads, by Sylva Nze Ifedigbo.

I lifted this jewel of a short story from the all famous kalaharireview.com. Where the funkiest African stories are told. “Gentlemen, we must move forward.” The Speaker said, hitting his gavel on the table repeatedly. He was screaming but his voice was drowned by the argument in the hall. “Order!” He screamed louder, rising to his feet and striking the gavel harder. The dull sound of wood landing on wood finally got the attention of members. The din receded gradually until the hall became silent. “Gentlemen” He began after allowing a whole minute to pass. “I don’t expect this kind of behaviour from you. If Celestials are acting this way, what makes us different from mere mortals?” He paused for a few seconds again, moving his head from one end of the room to the other, trying to make as much eye contacts as he could. Most of the heads were bowed low as if in guilt. “There must be something that differentiates us as Celestials.” He continued. “What do you think The Master will make of us if he sees us screaming like children over such a flimsy issue?” His eyes met with those of Celestial Thomas who was one of those leading the commotion and he let it linger there for a bit. “Gentlemen, we must proceed now. Members like I said before are free to use whatever name they prefer.” “Mr Speaker” Celestial Thomas who felt the Speakers lingering gaze was some kind of accusation had jumped to his feet. “The main issue here is that Celestial Muammar is being very unreasonable. His allegation was derogatory and I demand that he withdraws it before we proceed.” There were acknowledging shouts of “Yes! Yes!” “I will say it again because it is the fact” Celestial Muammar said jumping to his feet too. He was a tall man with a silk turban loosely tied around his head. “All of you who retain colonial names remain stooges of the West, full stop. Tell us Celestial Thomas, why did you change the name of your country from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso in 1984? Was it not because you wanted to exert your sovereignty as a nation? What then stops you from exerting your sovereignty as an individual and use a real African name like my friend Celestial Mobutu who did not only change his country’s name but also discarded the meaningless name the Whiteman gave him when he was a baby?” The murmurs and arguments started again. “Order!” the Speaker screamed. They were quite a handful, the members of the Assembly. When he first arrived from the other side just over three months ago, he had been shocked to find that the African Assembly Hall was under lock and key. It had been so for over a year. The Master, he gathered was angered by the member’s inability to agree on anything and had ordered the Hall to be sealed preferring to share African matters between the European and American Assemblies for deliberations. The Speaker thought it was unacceptable that Africans could not deliberate on their own matters even on this side of life, so he led a team of two other respected members, Nnamdi from Nigeria and Julius from Tanzania to the Central Palace to appeal to The Master for the reopening of the Assembly. The Master gave one condition, that he Nelson would lead the Assembly and become responsible for ensuring peace in the House. The Speaker had accepted the task, confident that after surviving twenty seven years in jail, there wasn’t much else he could not handle. Even more, most of the members revered him back on the other side and would rally round his leadership he thought. Now, as he watched them screaming at each other, ignoring the gavel which was landing repeatedly like a carpenter driving a nail into dry wood, he wondered if he had not made a mistake taking up the position. “Order!” he felt his longs squeeze against his rib cage. The hall quietened a bit. “I have made my ruling on this matter. Members can use whatever name they chose. You all know, I used Nelson all through my life time and it did not make me any less African than any of you here. That is my last word on this matter.” He paused as if to dare anyone to speak again. No one did. “Now gentlemen let us proceed.” He began to read from his note pad “The main item on our Order Paper for today is this letter from The Master that requires urgent attention.” Before he could resume his seat someone screamed “Point of Information” The Speaker was reluctant but the House rules said Point of Information must be observed at all times and he did not want another long argument. “Yes, Celestial Kamuza” “Thank you Mr Speaker for addressing me properly” Kamuza said a mischievous smile on his face. “Yes, it is Kamuza now, not Hastings. All documents here and in the world before including Kwacha notes with my face, remain valid.” There was laughter and cheering in the room. “I want to quickly make a clarification to the House” He continued after raising a fist in the air as though he was acknowledging cheers from supporters at a campaign rally. “That future female member of this house who was defeated in the election last weekend is no relation of mine. We only happen to share the same last name....” Laughter greeted his comment, interrupting him. “No, no, seriously, I have to say this because some people have been coming to condole me saying Celestial Bingu’s brother defeated my daughter, some said she is my daughter in-law or whatever, making it sound like I am a failure. I have to correct this impression before it tarnishes my image and reputation. Even in death, I remain invincible.” A section of the members began to cheer again. The Speaker looked up from the pad on which he had been taking notes. Celestial Kamuza was one of the pioneer members, the senior Heads, who sat on the front row in the Assembly as a mark of respect and who were permitted to address the Assembly while sitting. Even though Kamuza had maintained full diplomatic relations with the apartheid regime in South Africa, the Speaker still liked him. The black bowler hat he always had on and the way he spoke, slowly like he controlled time, made him very likeable. It was this effortless grace about him that had made it difficult for many during his lifetime to decide if he was an African hero, or a tyrant. “So I guess congratulations are in order to Celestial Bingu” The Speaker said deliberately shifting the discussion away from Kamuza’s comment. “O, yes Mr Speaker” Celestial Bingu jumped to his feet all smiles. “The good people of Malawi spoke resoundingly last weekend. They showed the great love they have for me even in death. By enthroning my brother, Peter, they showed how angry they are at how that Banda woman was rubbishing my legacy, making Malawi look like a pauper’s enclave. Now the world will see we are not half as poor as she made us look. We will start by buying a befitting Presidential jet after that woman sold mine and used the money to purchase those heaps of cloth she always carries on her shoulder.” There was another round of laughter and cheering in a section of the Hall. Celestial Bingu shook the hands of those around him jubilantly, before taking his seat. “Alright, let us move forward” the Speaker said feeling some guilt for chuckling at Bingu’s comment. The lady in question, Joyce had delivered a moving eulogy at his final memorial service in Qunu for which she got a standing ovation. She was someone he was very proud of but he had always known that the forces that had tried to prevent her from becoming President after Bingu’s death were going to ensure she did not retain the seat after the elections. “As I was saying, there is a letter here from The Master.” He waved a brown envelop in the air then he stood up, put his glasses on and began to read. The letter was about the approaching football World Cup. The prayer unit of The Master’s office was being inundated with requests from people of the five countries representing Africa, requesting that their country makes it to the semi-finals. The Master was willing to grant this request but wanted the Assembly to decide on which of the five countries should be chosen. “So gentlemen, the task is simple.” The Speaker said after reading the letter.“This is a fantastic opportunity for an African country to reach the World Cup Semi-finals. I would have loved that it happened in 2010 when we hosted but all the same, it is never too late. So we are to decide on which among Algeria, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon and Nigeria should be chosen.” He took off his glasses and dropped them on the notepad before him. The murmur in the room had resumed. Celestial Julius was the first to indicate interest in speaking. “I listened attentively to the names you read out Mr Speaker, did you say these countries are representing Africa?” The Speaker nodded. Celestial Julius cleared his throat loudly. “I don’t know much about football but I am at home with Geography and from what I know, that does not seem like a fair selection to me. The West alone has three or four countries. What happened to the Center, What happened to the South and the East?” The murmurs had now grown into chatters. There were more hands up. The Speaker pointed at Celestial Levy but the more boisterous Celestial Idi who was sitting behind him jumped up instead. “Mr Speaker, I am honestly not comfortable with the list too, particularly about Nigeria. Everything goes to Nigeria. Largest population, Nigeria. Largest economy, Nigeria. Richest man, Nigeria. Everything, Nigeria. The Master is playing partiality. Why don’t we see Uganda anywhere?” Voices rose. The Speaker landed his gavel repeatedly to quieten them. “Gentlemen” he said rising to his feet even as the chattering continued. “I need to make a clarification here. The countries on the list were not picked by The Master or by anyone else. These are the countries that qualified. There was a qualifying round earlier. So please members, we must choose from them.” He pointed at Celestial Felix on the front row to speak. The man turned to look at the other members behind him in the room like you would at kids making noise in the yard while you listened to the news on a transistor radio, as if saying can you little ones not see I have been pointed to speak? His demeanour amused the Speaker. Not many people knew that long before the Nobel committee decided to honour the Speaker and former President De Klerk with the Peace prize, they had both won a Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize instituted by and funded by Celestial Felix who was known then, as the Sage of Africa. “There shouldn’t be much argument on this matter Mr Speaker.” He said gliding from side to side. “Cote d’Ivoire is the best team on the continent, no questions about it.” The room was silent but it was not the kind of silence that implied concurrence but one that suggested they had not heard what he said. The first to react was Celestial Ahmadou who was sitting right next to Felix on the front row. “Mr Speaker, I believe my friend Felix here is a little out of touch with reality. Who knows Cote d’Ivoire in World football? Do we not all remember the exploits of Roger Miller at the World Cup? Cameroon was the first to ever reach the quarter finals. We should be the natural choice here.” Somebody in the back rows screamed “Nigeria!” “No! Nigeria should focus on finding the missing girls” The sharp retort was by Celestial Muammar. The Speaker frowned at him. “Please indicate you want to speak by raising your hand” Celestial Muammar jumped up with his hand in the air like a school boy. The Speaker smiled at him. They were good friends so much so he named one of his grandsons Gadaffi. After his release from prison and becoming the first black President of South Africa, he had rejected pressure from the West to sever ties with Libya. In one televised interview he had asked all those irritated by his friendship with the Libyan leader to go jump in the Atlantic. “Muammar” The Speaker acknowledged. “Yes, Mr Speaker, I was saying Nigeria has no business even going to the World Cup especially when their army have failed to find the school girls abducted by the rebels in their country. The disgrace they have brought to us is too much, we should not even be considering them on the list.” Several hands shot into the air. There were murmurs of disagreement. Some members were on their feet pointing in the direction of Muammar and speaking angrily. One of them was Celestial Nnamdi who also sat on the front row. The speaker pointed at him to speak. “This goes beyond a pot calling a kettle black Mr Speaker.” Nnamdi’s American accent was still rich after all these years. The room was suddenly quiet. Nnamdi was one of the most respected members and when he spoke, everyone listened. “I take serious exceptions to characters like Muammar standing up here and opening their buccal cavity to speak all sorts of calumny about Nigeria with the intent of ridiculing our great country. Need I remind him that it is arms from his war ravaged Libya that is being used to fuel insurgency on the continent? Need I remind him of how he failed woefully to save himself from dethronement despite boasting of being powerful and entertaining the United Nations with his rambles. I expect to hear him apologising to Nigeria not insulting our sensibilities.” Muammar jumped back up, but the Speaker eager to avoid another round of arguments asked him to sit down. Surprisingly, he obeyed without arguing. There were three other hands in the air. Two of them were regulars, Celestial’s Frederick and kwame. The Speaker was pleasantry surprised by the third hand. Celestial Sani was a reclusive figure who rarely spoke nor betrayed any emotions. It was hard to tell what was behind those dark goggles he always had on. Words had it that he was still very bitter at the way The Master cut short his reign just when he was preparing to take off his army khaki and become President for life. “Yes, Celestial Sani?” The man stood up slowly, his body language smirking of arrogance. The Speaker disliked him very much. The man was responsible for his biggest foreign affairs blunder, an incidence he continued to regret until his death. In 1995 human rights activists had begged him to openly condemn the man’s murderous regime but he had chosen instead to speak to him in private hoping to convince him not to go ahead with the execution of human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight comrades on trumped-up murder charges. They had a long phone call and the man promised to see what he could do. The very next day on November 10, Saro-Wiwa and his comrades were taken out of their cells and hanged. “Mr Speaker, in reaction to the accusation by Muammar, I want to state for the records, that the army of which I was once Commander in Chief is neither incompetent nor an embarrassment. Our military is renowned for their exploits since the Second World War. When our neighbours needed help, I sent them to Liberia and Sierra Leone and they excelled. In fact, we all know that this kind of rubbish could not have happened under my regime. I would have smoked those criminals out a long time ago and taught them a lesson of their lives. But that is not the issue here Mr Speaker. The real issue is that we have sufficient reasons to believe that the entire Boko Haram or whatever they call themselves insurgency is a covert CIA operation. Just in the same way they sponsored my death by recruiting those prostitutes and arming them with poisoned apples. The CIA has been doing these things in Africa. They were behind the removal of some other members like Celestial Patrice and my big brother Kwame. The whole thing is orchestrated to weaken my country and cause chaos so as to pave way for Western occupation of our land. Their eye is on our oil. This people are not comfortable with a stable Nigeria. I believe this is an issue The Master must look into urgently.” “I am sorry Mr Speaker but describing this as a CIA operation, will that not amount to stretching logic?” Celestial Jomo interjected without waiting to be called on by the Speaker. He was also one of the front row members who could speak while sitting. “The issue of terrorism is a global challenge. It is about the clash of ideologies. Some people are bent on spreading their ideology of fear and hate and they are strategic in their approach. See what they did in Mali. Look at Somalia. You are aware of how they embarrassed my son Uhuru and the peace loving people of Kenya in the Westgate Mall siege last year. Mr Speaker, blaming it on the CIA will be living in denial. This is Al Qaeda we are fighting.” “We are saying the same thing.” Celestial Sani who was still standing responded “Who is Al Qaeda in the first place? Who trained Osama bin Laden? Is it not the same Americans?” Some voices rose in the room. The Speaker rose to his feet again. “Celestial Mobutu can you please sit down” The Speaker said. Mobutu made to protest, and then changed his mind, grumbling inaudibly as he adjusted the leopard skin cap and sat down. “Celestial Emmanuel or is it Kwasi now, you have the floor” “I prefer to be addressed as Kwasi actually Mr Speaker” “Alright Kwasi, please go ahead” “Thank you Mr Speaker. Mine is a clarification. I want to react to an allusion made by Celestial Sani about the CIA involvement in Ghana. I have said it before and I will say it again, I was not working for the CIA when I and my comrades decided to execute Operation Cold Chop to free Ghana from the corruption and misrule of politicians. I think that point has to be made.” “Point of Order Mr Speaker” Celestial Kwame screamed jumping to his feet even though he too could speak without standing up. “The last speaker is deliberately trying to distort facts and create an alternate history of his own. The whole world knows that he and his gang of usurpers truncated by their act of malfeasance on 24thFebruary 1966, one of Africa’s earliest democratic experiments and strangled in the process, our brightest chance at creating a Pan-African state through the help of the CIA.” Many members rose to their feet, hands in the air, voices rising in argument. The Speaker knew it was no use trying to stop them. He stood and watched. Celestial Kwasi and Kwame stood facing each other, pointing and screaming into each other’s faces. The sight reminded him of how they used to argue in the ANC on tactics, how he used to insist that there was no alternative to armed and violent resistance. He felt like Sisulu must have felt, moderating some of those meetings, trying to accommodate all divergent views while subtly voicing his own. Back then, they would lock themselves up in the thatched room in Liliesleaf Farm and shout themselves hoarse. But it all stayed within the walls of that room, their disagreements. Outside, they were one united front against apartheid. “I am ruling Celestial Emmanuel, sorry Kwasi, out of Order” he said when the argument finally died down and members resumed their seats. “The issue you brought up is one that is personal and clearly outside of the topic being discussed. Members must keep all personal differences out of our sittings. May I remind us that The Master depends on us to guide him on decisions that will affect over a billion people back home and when we come here and waste all the time arguing over little things we are doing our people a disservice. It is bad enough some of us here failed them while alive, we should not fail a second time in death.” An unusual silence descended on the room. The Speaker knew he had struck some nerves. It was a guilt most of the members lived with, the knowledge that back on earth, the people did not have fond memories of them. It was a sharp contrast to what they always believed while in power, that they were loved by the people, that they were truly respected by their foreign friends. The Speaker allowed some minutes to pass before speaking again. “Now back to the agenda of our sitting. What is our resolution on the request from The Master?” Celestial John’s hand was the first in the air. They called him The Prof in reference to his long career in academics before his foray into Politics. He was known to have completed his doctoral thesis in taxation and economic development at the age of 27. The Speaker pointed at him. “Without sounding biased, I will pick my country Ghana for obvious reasons. Ghana has a long history of successes in football. You will recall Mr Speaker that at the last World Cup in your country, we missed the Semi-finals by a hair’s breadth. I was President then and I knew how painful it was for my people. Getting to the Semi-finals this time will heal our wounds.” The three hands that went up after Celestial John’s passionate appeal were all Algerians. They all did not speak much on the floor. Their preference for the newly formed Middle East Assembly was well known. But the topic was football and all three of them had something to say. “Celestials Ahmed, Houari and Rabah. It is good to see all three of you are very African today.” The Speaker said chuckling. There was laughter in the room. Celestial Ahmed who sat on the front row did not seem to share the joke. His protest was drowned by the din. The Speaker tried to calm things down. “Alright Celestial Ahmed, let us hear you out” “There is a good reason why we should settle on Algeria Mr Speaker. Besides the fact that we also have a rich football history, all the other countries on the list are in the West. So we are a good compromise.” “Clearly we all have our biases so I suppose we have to put it to vote” The Speaker said after the jeers and cheers that followed Celestial Ahmed’s contribution receded. He was making to rise up and conduct the vote when Celestial Idi’s hand went up. “Yes Idi?” “Mr Speaker, I have a question. “Go ahead” “Why Semi-finals, why not champions or is The Master saying Africans are not good enough to win the cup?” The Speaker thought it was an intelligent question, something rare for Celestial Idi whose comments were always either narcissistic or aimed as an insult at another member. “I thought of that too” the Speaker said. “But The Master said it is so because that’s what the people are praying for. They are all asking just to get to the semi-finals.” Celestial Idi shook his head. “You see why this slot should go to Uganda? In Uganda we do not tolerate inferiority complex. They know what I did to all of them white people in Uganda. As Field Marshal I made the Queen bow down to me, that is why I have CBE at the end of my name, Conqueror of the British Empire. Black people should be proud and conquer the world not fighting for fourth position.” “Celestial Idi should stop this Field Marshal nonsense.”Celestial Laurent was fuming. He had not waited to be picked by the Speaker. “When real soldiers talk he should not even show his face there talk more of claiming to be a Field Marshal. We all know how he ran away like a coward in the face of defeat in the hands of Celestial Julius, a civilian leader.” “Like you would know anything about being a Soldier” Celestial Mobutu countered rising to his feet too. “Were it not for the support you got from your Tutsi brothers Yoweri and Paul, I would have exterminated you and your rebels in days.” “Look who is talking. Same person who could not withstand my gallant ADFL forces. Are you not ashamed that you died in exile?” It was Laurent again. “And you lasted for how long? Four years. Just four years. Such a weakling you are. Which African leader lasts for just four years? Even your son, Joseph has lasted far longer than you. And you say you are a soldier?” “Enough, gentlemen!” The Speaker was on his feet. “We are derailing once again. All personal issues must be kept out of our sittings. Please sit down Celestials.” He paused as Mobutu and Laurent reluctantly sat down. “Can we now have our vote?” Another hand was up. It was Celestial Murtala. “Mr Speaker, are you not going to allow us make our own case? Or is Nigeria no longer on the list?” The speaker was shocked. “Sorry about that. Our brothers from Nigeria are yet to make their case, we must allow them do so before we vote. Will you be speaking on behalf of your country Celestial Murtala?” The man who the International Airport in Lagos was named after was pleased by the opportunity the way he beamed a smile.“You see Mr Speaker” he began, “there is no need for long stories on this matter. As we say in my country, the god of soccer is a Nigerian. We do not even need to waste time voting. I am sure that if you check well, you will find that some of the people from these other small-small hungry countries on the list are actually rooting for Nigeria not their own countries. ” Celestial Murtala was stirring the hornets’ nest and he knew it. No sooner had he finished speaking and several members were up on their feet pointing at him and screaming in disapproval. The Speaker felt pressed. He raised the gavel and dropped it. There was no point. The argument was not going to end any time soon. Like children defending their mothers cooking. So he decided to sneak out to the restroom hoping that perhaps when he returned, it would have eased out. They did not notice him step down from the dais and leave the room. As he neared the door of the rest room The Master’s messenger, Gabriel who apparently had been lurking around the corner, approached. “Greetings Madiba” the messenger said smiling “I see it has been a busy afternoon.” The Speaker shook his head in a way that indicated frustration but did not speak. He was shocked to see Gabriel and was worried because his appearance meant there was an important message from The Master. “The noise from here is heard all the way at the Central Palace.” Gabriel said gliding across the space between where the speaker stood and the door of the rest room.“The Master has not been able to take his siesta because of it so he has asked me to tell you to end the sitting immediately” “But we are yet to reach a decision as requested by Him” “He knows. And He is not happy to have lost the bet either” “How do you mean? What bet?” “Well, this was just a test, to see if you people could be united for once on an issue. We had this argument at the Central Palace. Some of us said Africans could never unite on anything. The Master argued that you could agree on football. So we made a bet.” “But...but we’ve not failed to agree yet. The sitting is still in progress. We were just about to vote” “A vote is hardly the kind of resolution we are talking about here. Votes don’t inspire unity. It numbs it instead and for a people already divided like you are, a vote simply puts a knife through the weak string that still holds you together.” There was a loud bang from inside the Assembly Hall, like a table crashing to the floor, then the scream of someone in pain. “You better hurry back there now before someone gets hurt.” Gabriel said adjusting his halo. The Speaker made to dash off in the direction of the Hall. “One more thing Madiba.” Gabriel said, “I thought you should know that The Master does not fix the outcome of football matches. The Speaker’s eyes widened in disbelief. “But..but, our prayers before the matches, what happens to it? Gabriel hissed. “Well, they all end up in the waste bin and are incinerated the next morning” The Speakers mouth hung open in shock. “Yes. No one attends to them. We are unable to save many dying of war and sicknesses and you think we will waste our time on who wins a football game? We watch them though. Whenever there is a game, we all gather around the large screen in the Central palace with our packs of pop corn to watch like mortals do.” “So why do some teams win and others don’t” Messenger Gabriel smiled. “There are certain things you should really not bother yourself about. Go now and stop the madness going on in there before someone dies a second time.”

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Women Poets International Announces Woman Scream International Poetry Festival 2015

36 countries confirmed participation on Woman Scream 2015 Women Poets International Movement based at the Dominican Republic, announces the first list of participating countries confirmed to join Woman Scream International Poetry and Arts Festival (March 2015). Male and female poets and artists get together to raise their voices against women violence on different cultural manifestations. The Woman Scream festival is launched in November, to celebrate the anniversary of both projects, and to commemorate the Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (Nov. 25th). WS will have a special connotation that year. It’ll be dedicated to Mirabal Sisters (The Butterflies) using the theme: “Women of Light” to honor them. Hundreds of institutions, literary groups, poets and artists, take part of the Woman Scream worldwide chain of events simultaneously, starting March 1st to 31st (with over hundred events coordinated). Among the participating countries confirmed so far there are: Dominican Republic (SEDE), Porto Rico, Argentina, Spain, Mexico, USA, Canada, Colombia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Guatemala, Curacao, Portugal, Brazil, Italy, France, Greece, Morocco, UK, Australia, Georgia, Kosovo, Russia, South Africa, Tanzania, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, India. Haiti, Luxembourg. This list is expected to grow gradually until February 2015, when general venues calendar will be published. Many activities are included to celebrate Woman Scream and Women Poets International 5th and 6th anniversaries, in addition to the launching of Grito de Mujer (Woman Scream) International Anthology of Female Poets, Spanish edition, where 243 poetesses of 20 countries take part, with poems allusive to what a scream is all about from a female point of view. This volume, has been well received among MPI’s followers, and can be obtained on the websites: gritodemujer.com, gritodemujer.org, or visiting WS blog: womanscream.blogspot.com for a contribution amount. Women Poets International Movement, have been active since 2009, and ever since, it has counted on the support of many, to achieve its goal and spreading the mission of this necessary cause.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Why Husbands Who Love Their BMWs Should Avoid High Hairstyles By Muthoni Garland

(Manisha – the Hindu god who symbolises intelligence and desire; also symbolises state of being – where you mind is, there your heart will be also). We are driving home from a party when my teenage daughter Zawadi points, “Look, Mummy, Daddy’s new car….oh, oh,…” and then starts to fidget with my skirt, trying to distract me. It is 9 PM. I slow to a crawl. Sure enough, there sits my Lucas, in his beloved-above-all-else black BMW. He’s smooching a High Hairstyle. A style where wet hair is saturated with ultra-gel before a bushy horsehair chignon is plonked on top. When it dries, the hair is so hard it can dice unwary fingers….or lips. Nasty hair. Obviously nasty woman. Up to nasty business. Lucas took me to a place like this. Once. It is the kind of lowlife joint open 24-7-365 where you’re greeted by the happiest party of houseflies in the world. You then walk past the bar to a counter to select your chunk of raw meat. Behind this lies an enclosure euphemistically called KITCHENS. God forbid you should ever study the hardened miniature stalactites hanging under the wire mesh over barbeque fire pits inside. Or see the dank water used to wash utensils that is collected in plastic buckets from the slum bathtub of a Nairobi River. Or hope to enjoy the aroma of roasting meat over wafts of toilet stench. Or listen to resident drunkards shouting over an asthmatic jukebox spewing Lingala tunes that clash with the Willie Nelson classics favoured by those in neighbouring joints. Wealthy patrons, like my adulterer-husband Lucas, wait in their cars overlooking the River. Attendants bring out the cooked meat spread on a wooden board, along with a plated wet mess of kachumbari salad, and white anthills of maize-meal ugali. It’s held out for lengthy inspection, as though you could recognize the meat, and you want to ask, ‘Hey you shrivelled up carcass, are you really the same juicy specimen I selected raw?’ Said attendants balance the board on the window ledge and then with knife flying a hair’s breath from your earwax, flashily slice this lump. Voila! The grand picnic is ready for Bwana and his Mistress. The pain is expected, but the coldness of my anger takes me by surprise. I drop Zawadi home, reassuring her that all is fine, fine, FINE, then double back and find the BMW. But Lucas and his High Hairstyle have gone inside – possibly to check on their germy meat, possibly to use the stinking toilet, possibly to rent a filthy room. Don’t get me wrong. I am an all-Kenyan, educated and hardworking woman who met political-degree student Lucas Githinji at New York’s Syracuse University. He was the activist head of the African Student’s Council who was going to bring democracy ‘back home’ to the ‘motherland’. At our white wedding in Nairobi’s All Saints Cathedral, I promised to be as obedient as he promised to be faithful. Sixteen years later, money and power from within the establishment and all its attendant flattery had changed Lucas into a womanising, hard-drinking, pot-bellied, Alfa-male icon of our modern African society. Not that I’m perfect, but I’ve played the role expected of me. I’ve maintained a clean home, raised two children, kept in shape. I’ve lowered my expectations and raised my threshold for pain. When he beats me in places that don’t show, I sulk in a way that only he knows. When he says, like his father and his father’s father before him, “Women are called atumia because they are supposed to tumia (shut up)!” I choke down my anger with extra strength paracetamol. For him, I’ve kept my legs open and my mouth shut, in other words, I’ve been a GOOD Kikuyu wife. But this stinking business being played in front of me is the virus-laden straw that’s breaking my back. I open the door, my open-toe kitten heels sink into the mud that passes for lawn. It has not rained in months, but I force my mind not to dwell on the source of the squelch that makes it way between my toes, the toes I polished pink just this morning, like a million years ago. The Nairobi River doesn’t even pretend to run. It is a black mirror broken into uncomfortable fragments by its own effluent. The past, present and future stares me in the face. My mother. Myself. My daughter. Lucas’ car is just as shiny, winking at me. My keys are in my hand, the heavy-metal-cow-mascot- -bottle-opener Lucas bought me at the showground pointing straight up. “Karibu madam.” A waiter is heading towards me, wielding his tray and hearty voice as though he were my long-lost uncle. “Mume tutembelea leo.” It is not a question. This man imagines there is A LUCAS waiting in my car, and that I am another of those nasty-hair girls come to visit our home away from home. I wave in the general direction of my car, and the waiter adjusts his direction away from me, to follow what he imagines to be the true scent of what matters. Money. I stalk Lucas’ black car, my keys in my hand. I touch metal to shiny black metallic. It’s not enough. What Anybody could do is meaningless, impersonal. The window on High-Hair’s side is greasy with gell and germs, and is a little bit open yet again confirming her to be a dangerously lazy and dirty so and so. I slip my key-ring-cow-mascot into the gap and use it as a lever to push down. Grunting, I rest my weight on it as though my life depended on it. It slowly gives. Reaching in I pull the lock and open the door. I gently pull the door after me. The seat feels like a throne, brushed creamy leather, so soft and plush and generous. What comes to mind sitting in my husband‘s beloved black BMW is the memory of a hard pimple on my chin. A gentle rise of skin that felt, when probed, like a hard knob. When it began to ache in a low-key manner, I couldn’t keep my hands off it. Tingles of anticipated pain kept me from forcing the issue. But one evening I psyched myself to deal with it, to exorcise this irritation once and for all. A long steamy bath to open the pores, my face almost kissing the mirror, I placed two tissues on either side of this blight and pressed the little hard knob, hard, harder. I did’nt stop and it didn’t give and didn’t give. Tears flowed, nose running over. The pain, oh the pain. Unbelievable. Unbearable. But I bore it, just as I did child birth, three times. My whole face throbbed before I gave in. Next day I went to hospital where they operated to remove what the doctor concluded was a mole before adding in an accusatory tone (and actually wagged his finger) that it might have been a cancerous growth, that it is not safe to go around dredging one’s own skin. I am sure he meant well in his fatherly doctorly way, but I left wishing I’d used my kitchen knife to butcher the thing in private. I tenderly touch the area now. I want to describe it as deceptively smooth but really there is nothing there to show for the pain it caused. Just like my outside shows none of the corrosion going on inside. “Ala, na hawa wamepotea wapi?” The waiter calls in a confused but still friendly voice, like ‘we’ the missing couple are pranksters playing a trick on him. He is leaning against my Toyota, smoking a cigarette. I filter him out of my mind. I smell grease in this car that drives us to church on Sunday mornings, to visit the in-laws every last Saturday of the month, to school events at ends of term, to Mombasa Beach for a holiday every August. I zero-in on the fuzzy glass where High Hair rested against the window when she was doing what with my husband? I smell Lucas in the polish, and in the smooth leather of the steering wheel, and in the white handkerchief now no longer home-pressed crisp but scrunched into the rest between the two seats after it wiped what? It whispers a dirty idea. I find out that no matter how generously proportioned a car, it is difficult to squat on a seat, especially with my shoes on. I persevere, my kitten heels poke into the leather for traction. My head brushes the ceiling which too is creamy, padded and soft, thank god. So much silence in such a noisy place. Country music winning over lingala in the always-open-for-business buildings ahead. Closer, I hear the waiter again, moving around. Obviously looking for ‘us’. I spy him from the corner of my eye looking in between cars as though we might be lying there overcome. Or maybe it’s dawning on him that we might be a security threat. In a city nicknamed Nairobbery, anything is possible. The waiter is not a young man. He has probably seen too much in this life. He is peeking into cars now, discreetly and with a ready smile just in case their lawful owners are in situ and not exactly in the mood or position to order more meat. Balancing in a gymnastic move that I’ll never again be able to replicate, I squat and gather my panties to the front noting while I do so that they really are too big. From barely a car-length away, the waiter stops, turns in my direction. He catches my eye and shakes his head. But it is too late. Too much has built up inside me and it time to let go. Steam rises. It’s not enough. It’s not even the right thing to do. But it’s a start.

That Part Of Me by Lynda Chiwetelu

The day it happened dawned normally. Something should have warned me, I should have gotten an omen of sorts, maybe an owl hooting, or a dead lizard- or dropping the hot pot of Okro soup I was taking off the stove on to the table- or, hitting my left foot against a stone solidly buried in the ground. Anything. I remember clearly the first time I met her. I was eight years old and waiting for a quick breakfast of spaghetti and tomato sauce which Mama was preparing, before I could go to school. Papa looked at me over the top of the sun newspaper which he was devouring. ‘Sandra ’He said ‘Get me my glasses. I can’t read some of this…this thing they print these days. My eyesight is getting worse’. I quickly went to his room to do that. The drawer where Papa kept most of his prized possessions was the location and I opened the first partition as soon as I got there. I saw the case where he kept the glasses. The familiar fading coffee-brown colored case which beckoned at my hand. I almost had it when my eyes caught something else. A wad of crisp naira notes. Some had fled the little string that tied them together and were lying apart. Others strained to get away. She came then, suddenly, shocking me with her arrival. One fifty-naira note found its way into my palm, got squeezed and eventually ended up in my school bag. That day at school, Mrs. Dupe, my teacher eyed me warily when I went on a spending spree with my three best friends. “My Daddy gave me some money because I missed breakfast” I told her when she inquired. It was so easy I almost cried with joy at the discovery. She got me Yoghurt, Cakes, Sweets, Dolls, Fancy rulers. I could have everything a kid wanted and I didn’t have to ask my parents and be refused them. I used to wonder then why Papa never suspected me, or why Mama never guessed that all the missing change she accused herself of misplacing, was actually in my school bag. I eventually stopped wondering as well listening to my conscience. I stopped listening also to Uncle Femi my Sunday School Teacher. She was my best friend all through junior and Senior Secondary School and I promised to exile her if I gained admission into the University. I didn’t. Emma my roommate discovered. She noticed the missing earrings, the reduced milk in the tin, the sudden change of clothes, and the occasional hot heels which appeared on my shelf, out of nowhere. By then I had realized that I was cursed with her. I couldn’t leave her or make her leave even if I wanted to. One day, a Sunday, after church, Emma called me aside. She was a slim fair girl of nineteen who had the most amazing eyes. They were probing and piercing as well as beautiful. She fixed them on me and said quietly and ambiguously. “Sandra I know. I know what you do” I stared at her, wondered which of the two things she meant and eventually decided it couldn’t be one. Denial rose in my throat but died there. Half of me wanted help. The other half, well, the other half was her. I didn’t reply and she continued. “I don’t know why you do it.I can’t understand it. I mean, your parents , they are not poor… right?” . I shook my head. I wanted to explain to her. I wanted to tell her about the thrill and unbearable urge she brought out in me to pilfer, take, steal. I wanted to make Emma help me get rid of her. But still I said nothing. Emma held my hand. She said nothing for a while. “I am not going to tell anyone but you have to promise me that you’ll stop stealing. Can you do that?” Her voice was earnest . Emma was nice and right then I wished I was not the girl her sweetheart Dayo was cheating on her with. Tears spilled and I promised her I’d stop. For five whole days after I was clean. The sixth day, she came back, with vengeance in mind. It was Saturday and I had gone jogging. The school stadium was my destination and I was almost there when I realized I had to catch my breath. Slowing down to a final halt I leaned on a nearby fence and tried to imagine a break-up scene, with me and Dayo as the main actors. A thin girl passed me. I’d seen her approaching and actually wondered why she bothered exercising. She was actually as fat as a single broomstick. She wore a white t-shirt, white shorts and white trainers and was sweating awfully. She had a headset on and didn’t notice her phone fall out of her pocket. She kept jogging. Quick as a flash, I walked towards the fallen phone and saw it. It was a very cheap phone - the kind you would be ashamed of holding. I bent down. I had already picked it up and was standing up when I heard a shrill HEY!. I turned. “what do you think you are doing?” Thin girl had materialized and I was caught. “Helping you of course.” I snapped. “Here” I thrust the phone into her hands quickly. She grabbed it and spat out “I’m sure you were. Helping me.” I started out towards the opposite direction, my heart in my hands. Being caught had never represented an iota of threat for me but I thought that was mainly because it had almost never happened. The worst moments I’d had were those like thin girl’s episode. ****** The wedding planner arrived and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. She was about two hours late and had really gotten everyone up-to-their-necks-deep in the worry ocean. Emma was to be married in three hours’ time and I was there as her maid of honor. I don’t believe she did it to spite me because like I said before, she was a nice girl- but I don’t think it was totally innocent since she had found out about me and Dayo from him. I tried to make myself useful and tried hard not to hear the voices of the gold and diamond bracelets, necklaces and rings left lying carelessly- calling my name and begging me to have them. I went into the make-up Chamber and admired Emma. She looked really beautiful and deserved every bit of the happiness I was sure she felt. “Have you seen Dayo yet?” I asked and immediately regretted it. “Of course not.” she replied and giggled while the make-up artist by her left tried to fix her lashes. “You know, the normal crazy rule of the groom not seeing the bride before the wedding.” “I am happy for you” I lied. The three make-up artistes turned to look at me. I saw in their eyes that they knew about me, Emma and Dayo. I left the room with a diamond coated hair pin and tears in my eyes. Dayo signaled me with his eyes and we met in a corridor. There was an open room close by so we entered and he shut the door. “I’m sorry Sandy. I know this must be hard for you.” I looked at his face and felt the pin’s edge dig into my slightly flabby stomach. “It’s okay. I’m over us. And you love her right?” It was not actually a question. “I…I mean I do ….” I knew what he was going to say next. He was going to tell me how he felt guilty about us. How he was trying to make it up to Emma by marrying her. How, anyways, she was pregnant and he had to do it. I placed a perfectly manicured finger over his lips. We hugged and his hand brushed against something hard. The pin. I went rigid for a full minute but it was pointless. He either didn’t notice or didn’t care. We parted and I saw a glimmer of tears. ****** She was with me even in the primary school where I taught social studies- the history teacher’s pink scarf, the headmistress’ pen, the English Teacher’s wrist watch and a few others. Little Sonia was caught with her classmate’s sandwich which was meant for the latter’s lunch. The community of class activists brought the matter to me. Their small eyes demanded justice. Nevertheless, I set Sonia free with a warning of something not as lenient if she repeated the action. That evening I went for Confession at the Catholic Church beside my house. The priest had a kind voice and I wished I could make him see her. Instead I confessed a sin and got reading the whole chapter 119 of the book of psalms as my penance. I had stolen my gold-pink-cover bible from a young woman I shared a bus with and did not fulfill my penance. I remember going home a week before last Christmas. Mama’s Diabetics was acting up and Papa’s was away on a campaign. He had a new love-politics. Three days after I arrived she and i caught a stray hen and I prepared dinner with it. Mama paused in between each spoonful and tried to catch up with her only child’s life. I chatted with her and tried to imagine how the farmer would react when he found out that one of his hens did not come back home. I saw him go to their shelter, nod imperceptibly and turn to retire. Then, turn back when it finally registered that the white hen with three black feathers was not present. “The meat is so hard” Mama complained and finally gave up trying to eat it. I wanted her to ask me something. Anything, to which I could give the answer, ‘I stole it’. The day ended without no odd event but somehow I cannot forget it. ****** I met Jide at an auction and we exchanged phone numbers. I didn’t love him or I would not have done it to him. I only prayed she would not be revealed in any way that would hurt him. We had a quiet wedding in Grace Chapel and had two kids three years later. I named the boy Honest and the girl Honorable. Two days before the day it happened, I had a distress call from home. Papa had a heart attack and was recovering. I spoke on the phone with Mama for three hours. She was hysteric and told me how she had met Papa. “I saved him from a mob who were about to lynch him” she sobbed “I don’t want to lose him now” “A mob? Lynch?!” She told a weird story that for some reason I wished I knew a long time ago. She had prevented an angry group of market women from seriously hurting Papa when he was caught stealing apples. “I wondered why a well-dressed man like him would be doing that and lay on top of him to prevent the blows…” Mama recounted the story of Papa’s struggle with kleptomania and how he overcame it. “We fell in love and got married” She continued like I didn’t know. “I don’t want to lose him now. I’m too young to be a widow.” I patiently sat through her lamentations and assured her Papa would be fine. She let me get off the phone when I promised to come home that weekend to see them. The day was a normal day. I took Honest and Honorable to school in my car. Teaching my pupils that day was as frustrating as it always was. I dealt with all the usual. Ahmed trying out his newly found karate skills on Chris who got hurt- Bisi and Naomi abusing each other’s mothers- Eight year old Hassan, sending love notes to Blessing - all these while the lecture was going on. It was a very tired me that got home that evening. My kids were back and in Bed. I heated the Okro soup I had prepared the day before and took some to eat. I didn’t bother trying to make Eba because I simply lacked the physical energy. I saw the onions when I went outside to bring in Jide’s clothes, which I had washed the day before. I knew Bola, my neighbour had put them in the ash tray, under the sun, so that they could lose their moisture and therefore last longer. I saw their robust round shapes, glowing purple skins and salivated. The tray was placed on top of the dwarf fence that separated my house from Bola’s House. I had a lot of onions at home but I had none as succulent. I felt the familiar pull and the accompanying adrenaline. I didn’t hear Bola approach. I didn’t notice her bring out her phone. What I noticed was a flash. I looked up in time to see the camera eye staring at me, from the mobile phone which Bola held. “Today I have caught you. Red handed” she hissed in pidgin English. “For a long time now, I’ve known that you are behind it.” Behind what? I wanted to ask in defense. I was mute. “Behind all the things that disappear when I keep it outside.” She did a mock victory dance and while I still stood foolishly, holding the suddenly-heavy onion bulb in my hand. Bola whistled and called the attention of the other neighbours. I could easily have dropped the offending weight a long time ago and denied her allegations. Instead I waited, still and not bothering. She came with her husband later that night to our house. Jide begged me to deny it and I didn’t. I guessed that this was my medicine. I needed the shame to make her go away forever. He apologized to Bola and her Husband. That night I was awfully quiet. Honest and Honorable were quieter and I did not look them in the eyes. I left for my parents’ house the next day. That next day is today and I am sitting on the front seat of a mass transit bus en route my parents’ home. I look out the window and wonder what Mama is going to say when I tell her the truth. Even if I suspect she already knows, I intend to. I bring out something from my bag. It is Mama’s necklace which I took a long time ago. Ivory gold, it is at once old and beautiful. She thought she had lost it at a party. I put on the necklace with a little difficulty. I think it will give me a starting point. I am trying not to think of the Blackberry phone charger in my handbag which I took from the old man in the waiting hall. I do not own a blackberry phone.

Monday, November 3, 2014

"Chicken" Efemia Chela

It was a departure of sorts, last time I saw them. Or maybe not at all. I had left sigh by sigh, breath by breath over the years. By the time my leaving party came, I was somewhere else entirely. From this place, I watched fairy lights being looped low over long tables and rose bushes being pruned. The matching china came out with the crystal glasses. The guards in our gated community were paid off to pre-empt noise complaints, as were the local police. Our racist neighbours were invited in time for them to book a night away. A credit card and a note on the fridge told me to go and buy a new dress (“At least knee-length, Kaba!!”). The entire dusty front yard was swept. Forthright, our maid, swept it once from the middle to the left and once from the middle to the right ensuring even distribution. She minced around the edges of the yard until she reached the right spot. Then she lovingly gave the earth a centre parting, like she was doing the hair of the daughter she seldom saw. Deftly, she made concentric circles with the rake, making certain not to be backed into a corner as she was in life. Paving would have been more in line with the style of the double storey house, the stiff mahogany headboard in my parents’ bedroom and the greedy water feature in the atrium. “From the dust we came and to it we return,” my father said cryptically whenever anyone asked why. Our relatives whispered in covens that BaBasil should have gotten ‘crazy paving’. They were adept at spending money that wasn’t theirs and would never be, due to equal measures of indolence and bad luck. The same relatives called me down to some new-found duty. I slouched my way to them and despaired again that these women would never know me as an equal. Instead, I was a comedic interlude breaking up days of haggling in markets, turning smelly offal into scrumptious delicacies, hand-washing thin and dim-coloured children’s clothes, and serving dinner to their husbands on knees that could grate cheese. I pitied them too much to be truly angry. Celebrations transformed them into long-lost gods and goddesses. We enticed them with Baker’s Assorted biscuits, school shoes and endless pots of tea. They descended from the village and came to town. Sacrifices were made; I kissed most of my haircare products and magazines goodbye. But it was worth it even though they were near strangers tied to us by nothing more than genetics, a sense of duty and vague sentimentality. Who else could pound fufu for hours without complaint until it reached the correct unctuous and delightfully gloopy texture that Sister Constance demanded? Uncle Samu, my mother’s brother had driven away his third wife with a steady rain of vomit and beatings. As the family’s best drunk he could play palm-wine sommelier. His bathtub brew was mockingly clear. Getting drunk on it felt like being mugged. And by midnight he and Mma Virginia, who according to family legend were kissing cousins in the literal and sordid sense, could always be counted on to break out ‘The Electric Slide’ to the entertainment of everyone watching. My aunties’ voices rang out from a corner of the garden that had escaped my mother’s plot to turn it into a suburban Tuscan nightmare. I weaved between the tacky replicas of Greek statues I had studied at university. The statues bulged like marble tumors from the lawn. A brown sea snail slid round The Boxer’s temple. A rogue feather blew past Venus in the wind. Sister Constance smacked her lips against her remaining teeth in disgust, “You took so long. They spoil you-o!” I didn’t reply and just contorted my features into what I thought was penance and respect. “Let them have this,” I thought. “They’ll let me go soon.” After all, my mother, if she heard I had been too insolent, was far worse than all of them combined. They told me to kill them – three plain white chickens. Expressionless and unsuspecting, they pecked the air while I shuddered above them, a wavering shadow. I searched myself for strength and violence while rolling up the sleeves of my blue Paul Smith shirt. “I guess I’ll have to kiss this goodbye too,” I thought glumly. I was about to look like an extra who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time in a Quentin Tarantino film. I curled my sweaty fingers around a knife that someone had pressed into my right hand. I remember thinking how blunt it seemed; inappropriate for the task ahead. But then I grabbed a chicken and felt its frailty. “Wring and cut, Kaba. Wring and cut!” someone shouted. I was too queasy an executioner. My shaking exacerbated the death flapping of the fowls and their blood spurts. I kept going. One. Two. Three. Gone in a couple of minutes. I barely heard the meat hitting the silver-bottomed tub. I was roused from my trance by the glee-creased face of Aunt Lovemore. As I tried to make my way to a shower, one shirt sleeve dripping, my mind emptied and all that remained was something someone once said to me or maybe... I couldn’t tell where it was from. I still can’t tell. It was: “so much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens.” The feast was that night. I looked at myself in the back of a serving spoon that had some stray grains of white rice smeared on it. No one would need it. Who could be bothered with Basmati when there was kenke to be unwrapped from wilted banana leaves like a present? When nshima so soft and personable was at the serving table in a large white quivering pile just waiting for some kapenta and an eager palate to come by? No, the Basmati would be given to the beggars who came by in the morning and expected nothing less from one of the town’s richest families. Our generosity fostered expensive tastes. My parents’ cross-cultural marriage made for an exciting culinary event. From my father’s side came slow-cooked beef shin in a giant dented tin pot. Simply done, relying only on the innate flavour of the marbled red cubes of flesh and thinly sliced onion getting to know each other for hours. It was smoked by open charcoal fire and lightly seasoned with nothing but the flecks of salty sweat from nervy Auntie Nchimunya constantly leaning over the steaming pot. Mushrooms were cooked as simply as Sister Chanda’s existence. Fungi was hoped for in the night and foraged for at dawn. My favourites were curly-edged, red on top with a yellow underskirt and fried in butter. My lip curled as someone passed me a bowl of uisashi, wild greens and peanuts mashed into a bitty green mess. Little cousins cheekily defied their rank and begged for the prized parsons’ noses from the grilled chickens. My chickens. Their shiny mouths indicated they’d already had more than enough chicken for the night and their age. Tauntingly, I popped one of the tails into my mouth and refused to pass them the crammed tray. My mother, desperate not to be upstaged by her husband, reminded us all of her issue. The Fante chief’s daughter, swathed in kente brought kontombire. It was a swamp-like spinach stew flooded with palm oil, thickened with egusi, specked with smoked mackerel and quartered hard-boiled eggs. It was carried to the table by three people, in a boat-shaped wood tureen from our mezzanine kitchen and the ancient forests of Ghana. Even her mother-in-law was impressed. She unwrinkled her forehead and loosened her fists a little, revealing her fingers stained so yellow by the sauce. From behind my thick pane of one-way glass, I saw my uncle had a bit of red garden egg stuck in his beard, but munched along cheerily, stopping briefly only to push round glasses up the bridge of his Ampapata nose. He was ignoring his side of waakye. I was tempted to take it and scoff it myself but then I looked down, remembering the chunk of succulent grasscutter that I’d pinched from Ma Virginia’s bowl of light soup, still slightly hairy with a bit of gristle dangling from it. She was busy scanning the party for Uncle Samu’s characteristic beaten-in black fedora. Grasscutter, fried okra and plantain. Now that would be tasty. The chair to my left was empty but I preferred it to the barrage of information about my 30-year-old cousin’s upcoming wedding, courtesy of our great-grandmother on my right. “Bridget is off the shelf! Ow-oh! “Praise God! The glory is all yours, Jesus! “She’s so fat and in all the wrong places. Oh! And she insists on this mumbling. Gah! And the boys just weren’t coming, you know. So many weddings she had to see and cry at but no one was crying for her. “Ei! You know you guys, you’re just like their parents. You go abroad to these cold places where money is supposed to grow on trees. Even though there is no sun. You marry these white girls and boys who would die during our dry season, they are so thin. All bones. You get kept over there and we just hear news. Small-small news. And that you’re making it big out there, with our name. But never come back. Oh God! “But luckily this one never left. Just did what he was told to. A job, at least. Nothing much. But in the government, filing papers and not even important ones. So he will never get on the party’s bad side like my brother did in the 60s. Eh-eh! No we can’t have all that trouble again. Even though, God-willing we would recover. “Now I can say all my girls are settled. Uh-huh! I can die now. Someone else is responsible for them now. They will do as I did. They will live as I lived. I have made them so. I have taught them well. They will never lose themselves. That is enough. Yes. That is enough. What other claim does a wife have?” A chitenge-covered desk beside the second buffet table was for the DJ. There was a stack of records and the glow of a MacBook illuminated my older brother’s face. He played eclectically, switched from computer to record player. Computer to Supermalt. Supermalt to record player. Mostly high life, with Earth, Wind and Fire, Glen Miller and Elton John. The musical liturgy of the family. Everything he knew would please. Near the bottom of the pile of records I saw a tiny snail that had escaped being stewed, creeping slowly upside down on the underside of a WITCH LP. The fairy lights doused everyone in a soft glow. I think I was happy dancing with my little niece in the dust to the music; my heels forgotten by the hedge. Our yard was crowded and noisy until the sun came up. When I woke up in the afternoon, the noise echoed and resonated within me. It had embossed my inner ear. I’d captured it all. My brother had mentioned once that the earth was a conductor of acoustical resonance. If it’s true, maybe the same goes for people. The night played over and over again. I was there shrouded by night. I looked around the garden with moistened eyes, a bulb of white wine condensing in my hand. I saw growing piles of soiled dishes whisked away by staff. Cutlery gleaming like silver bones under the moonlight. The people, the scale, the grandeur. It wasn’t really anything to do with me at all. II I never wanted to admit it to anyone, but times were tough. I’d just left university with a distinction no one asked about. I barely managed to convince someone to hire me. Employers thought eight years of tertiary studies had left a gaping hole where experience should have been. In the year that the markets crashed, I was assured that the crisis would have sorted itself out by the time I entered the job market. It was nothing like that. I probably should have studied something more practical, but stubbornly I believed in my research. That there was really a place in the world for what I believed in. I rented a room in the bum end of town and there I plotted my future. I played clairvoyant, gazing over my neighbours’ corrugated iron roofs into the cavernous eyes of the mountain. Those were abrasive mornings. I tried to ignore the strangers in the abandoned lot opposite my window. Girls returned there the morning after the fact, looking for their dignity in the dirt or lost plastic chandelier earrings. Boys sprayed their scent on the crumbling wall, eyes on the lookout for scrap metal. The train rattled by, creaking as if each stop would be its last. Sometimes it was. I was late to work often. Gaudy prostitutes swooped indoors like vampires at first glimpse of the rising sun and the garbage men, part-time fathers of their children. My relationship with my parents festered. I could expect disapproving text messages and automatic EFTs into my account. They sent me a pittance for rent and over the years had made sure to cultivate the kind of unspoken relationship that meant I wouldn’t dare to ask for more money. Every ping in my inbox signaled another accusation. They told me that I was still young and there was still time to start a law degree. I baulked; their alms lessened. I tried not to let their unpleasantness taint my days, curdle the sea I swam in or sharpen the wind. That coastal wind, a blustering soundtrack to my days in that seaside city. It pranked me in public, lifting my skirt. I, and undoubtedly others, got used to a flash of my thigh and untrimmed hedge creeping just past the edge of my briefs. I wasn’t having enough sex to be greatly concerned with my appearance down there. Nothing in my top drawer could be rightly termed lingerie. In a town where everyone, through lies or privilege, was cooler and richer than you, I felt like I didn’t even have to try. It was liberating. I went where my heart led me. Took tables for one. That’s not to say I was starved for sex though. Every so often things would happen. Like at this party one weekend. The party went down at a formerly whites-only pub that had been reclaimed, much like the word ‘slut’ had been some years before. “Oh my god! Eb! You little slut! I love you!” shrieked my friend, Alice, all arms and legs. And at this moment, her arms were wrapped around the neck of her polyamorous boything, Eb. His real name was Ebenezer, I think. I was embarrassed by black parents who still handed out Dickensian names to their children as if it would advance them up the hegemony. Though kudos to those kids too dark to blush called Aloysius and Enid for rebranding themselves as Loyo and Nida. The colonial pub, all flakey gilt frames and lined beige wallpaper tempered by dark woods, was full of them. Of us, I mean. Another generation tasked with saving Africa, yet ignoring the brief. Overwhelmed, we sought to please ourselves as best we could, whether that meant siphoning profits off family businesses, accepting scholarships overseas and never looking back or being assimilated into the incompetent state. Laughing, talking, smoking and dancing we could have been young people on any continent. A girl and a boy sat down beside me and, after a perfunctory hello, asked me to join their threesome. Rather a forward approach, I thought, but then the boy backed out after I feigned some interest. He ran off. “I think he’s spooked. Sorry. I–” she said, trying to salvage the situation. I raised my eyebrows in response and she leant towards me in a way that could only mean one thing. She led the intrepid exploration of my mouth with a gentle suction that left me gasping at once for air and more of her. I gripped her side. We ended up in my single bed. I wasn’t dogmatic enough in my desire to be a lesbian but I liked the symmetry of being with a woman. Breast to breast. Gender didn’t matter really anyway. I talked to Alice over coffee about it. I remember saying, “Boys. Girls. Whatever. We’re always just two people searching... fumbling towards something.” Before she awoke, I surveyed her half-covered body. I was in awe as I always was when someone wanted to have sex with me. And then I saw it. Holding down her bottom lip with a finger, I tried not to wake her while getting a better look. It was an inner lip tattoo. God, it must have hurt – an egg. A single egg. I didn’t have time to ponder what it meant. She woke and instantly seemed embarrassed. Not by her fevered cries that split the night or the way she had gushed a little between her legs when her body was racked with pleasure. She was embarrassed by the window edges taped shut to keep out the cold. The suitcase instead of a dresser. My crusty two-plate stove that I made nshima and beans on every day that it didn’t short circuit the whole floor. She dressed in silence, turned away. When she did turn back, she looked at me, her eyes softened by pity. A bite of the lip said she hadn’t realised what happened last night was a charity event. She scuffed her Converse on the rough floor as if trapped and bored. “It-it was lovely,” she said haltingly, trying not to meet my eyes again. It was quiet for so long after that I nearly missed her squeak. “You might need this more than I do,” she said, leaving R100, like a bird dropping, crumpled on the blue crate I called a nightstand. I didn’t leave my room for two days after. The sheets trembled. But after my grief, I smoothed out what she thought I was worth and went and bought myself some fancy gin. After that I worked harder at work than ever. I was one of 100 unpaid interns at the bottom of a global firm. Our only hope of getting hired was archiving gossip and evidence of affairs or theft amongst our superiors and using them as leverage once we became brave enough. I regret not being braver. My days went down the drain as I alphabetised contact lists and took coffee orders. I filed things. Then retrieved them for executives a couple of days later. Then was told to redo the filing system. One night I was given orders by one of the art directors. She was having a crisis, she said. Meaning, she was on a deadline and her cokeaddled brain had no vision for the client’s product. It was two days to the big pitch and she needed to “cleanse to create” so I had to rub all her erasers until I reached a clean surface on every inch of all 30 of them. Grumpily, I walked to her desk. First, I checked the pockets of the fawn-coloured jacket draped over her chair. I rustled for snacks, change or something to pep me up. Rustle. Rustle. But nothing. Except a business card. Rectangular and rounded at the edges, it read: Karama Adjaye Benin, Chief Recruiter, FutureChild Inc. The ovum bank you can trust. III I envied people who talked in certainties and absolutes. In plans and futures. I felt like I had nothing. Whether doubt, anger or hunger gnawed at my stomach became irrelevant. I set aside time at home to cry. I used the internet at work to find more jobs, but I was already stretched thin on that front. Sleep was for the in-between moments, wherever they fell. I lied my way into focus groups and market surveys for products I couldn’t afford. My heels wore down. My gait changed. I saw myself in the blacked-out windows of a skyscraper en route to somewhere. At first I didn’t realise who the hurried girl with the hunched back was. I looked again. She looked hunted. I had to stay home trying to keep warm or risk having to party sober. I could coast through end-of-the-month weekend when everyone was generous at the bar or people threw parties at houses with cellars and drinks cabinets. Sometimes at clubs like The Pound, I let old men call me a doll and dribble nonsense in my ear over synth beats and the squeak of pleather. I listened, smiled and was intermittently witty, but generally I only spoke to say, “Double Jack, please.” They were men who lived on promises. I starved on hope. This was fourthwave feminism. I considered prostitution quite seriously after that one night stand with Ananda. The concept didn’t seem so far-fetched any more. In a way, the business card was my chance. Their offices were in an innocuous looking building not far from the CBD. It was difficult to know what to wear, but I wanted to look like someone who deserved to be reproduced. I looked nervously out the window at the wet mist blurring anyone who had the temerity to leave the house. I picked my most ironed dress and a smart jacket and took a hardback book to read. This choice too was the source of some anguish as it needed to be big enough to hide my face in case I saw someone I knew, but also had to double as a tool to intrigue and impress the recruiter. My father had always said Ulysses would come in handy someday. I was angry that he was right. The chrome chair felt sterile and sharp against my body. I looked around at the waiting room, gooey with pink branding about ethnically diverse angels, mama birds and dreams. All the framed stock photos were rosy assumptions of family life. I tried to concentrate on filling out the form handed to me. It was the only truth I had dealt with in a long time. I found it refreshing. I couldn’t fail here. I was qualified to do this, to be a donor. I would get a bonus for every year of post-graduate study I had achieved. Checking all the details, I was glad my natural mediocrity had its uses – healthy, black, 65kg, brown-eyed woman. A non-smoking, 24 year old, with regular periods and taking no contraceptives. A little girl with pigtails and a pinafore smiled up at me from my lap. These photos would complete my personal zine, to be handed over to the agency for consideration. The girl was blissfully unaware of what was happening, just smiling shyly like she always would. I turned her over. Why were the blank lines so easy when life was so hard? I looked so different on paper. Broken down into sections, I barely recognised myself. I felt that I had only ever heard of this woman, had never met her. I fake-read my book, which gave me time to really mull over what I was doing. I was sure it didn’t matter. The eggs were just lying around inside of me going to waste on the twelfth of every month. From what I remembered from school, I had thousands of them in reserve. I was a veritable mine of genetic material. This is was nothing to cry over. I signed my contract while lying on my back, during one of several ultrasounds. Injection by injection I began to think that it was meant to be. Maybe it was the hormones. The red-headed woman doing the extraction sacrificed congeniality for professionalism. I gathered that she wore all white, even outside work. The only thing that differentiated her from a robot was her revelation that she had also been a donor, albeit in her thirties. “I was just young enough. I had a lot of bills. I wanted to give the gift of parenthood to someone less fortunate,” she said, as if from a script. To convey emotion, she punctuated her speech with weird bobs of the head. To make awkward conversation while doing my scans, she asked about my degree. I sensed misunderstanding. Sometime after third year, I had learnt to let the confusion pass without comment or justification. They’d see. “Your ovaries are doing well.” A few months later I was forced to look up at her like I had several times before. Her whole face was like clingfilm, wrapped fast across sinew and bone. I squinted up, then dropped my head down, away from the scrutiny of the powerful lights. My neck slackened as I breathed in the gas. I lost consciousness counting backwards. “You’re a hero now,” said Karama as I stumbled out, still a little woozy and anaesthetised. Trying to be kind, she crushed me into her body. I didn’t feel like anyone’s saviour, even though there were two red stigmata in my knickers. My phone beeped somewhere at the bottom of my bag letting me know that I had been paid. I ignored it. After the extraction, I felt less lost. I knew exactly where I was and where I was going. I went home and climbed up the rickety fire escape to the roof, holding on fearfully to the rail afflicted with rust, making it wart-like to the touch. The cold mist cloaked me in damp as I stepped onto the crunchy pigeon shit roof. I stood motionless looking down at the swaddled city. I knew what was hidden below the mist. Shacks slanted with uncertainty. Sixlane highways and car ads clinging to billboards beside them. Wide boulevards bordered by alien trees and thin housewives in cafés. Narrow byways lined with needles. Underfunded primary schools with middle-aged men parked outside trying not to eat the sweets they used as bait. Cold modern apartment blocks; all light, expense and lack of privacy. Secret leisure houses cowering behind high walls. Leaning road signs waiting to be stolen by students. All of these places. I would never know where my child would be. No, I would. I would always be beating paths for it to follow. It would wind its way around my brain. I’d stage shadow puppet shows on the walls of my skull, playing out its careers, hobbies and loves. One director, one spectator. I didn’t want the child to be sheared between two lives, two minds, two imaginations. My own and its own. I pleaded to no one that they would spare it, not rip it apart. I hoped my ghost would not smother it. That my wishes would not hamper it. I prayed it wouldn’t be pained. Or nagged by the phantom limb – the gnawing mystery of my existence. I wanted its parents to take all the credit. I hoped they would never tell it. That my donation would just be fiction.

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