Updated: Jan 1, 2021
THIS very morning a young man of twenty-four strolled the trails of Malava Forest.
Once a while he’d tour the forest to purify his mind, which was often upset by the anxieties of youth. When he tired from the walk he’d rest on a stump and read a thriller novel, or a book on geography, history or nature. He was a university graduate, not yet employed.
He was reading his novel this late morning when he heard a dog barking, and coming his way. He did not like dogs.
He saw a fluffy white dog come and stop at his boots. It was not an ordinary dog. The dogs he met at Malava market were street dogs, scrawny and tense. Against his habit, he did not kick this dog.
“Sss, ssss--simba, who is your owner?” He stroked the dog’s nose with his boot.
Then, in front of him, on the other side of the trail, the leaves rustled and a mzungu with soft and innocent eyes appeared.
The young man put his boot down. The dog ran to the mzungu:
“Oh, Small! There you are.”
The young man stood up.
A moment passed between them, when words would not come. The mzungu then said, “I suppose I should say thank you, sir.”
“Not a problem,” he said, “I love dogs.”
“Hundred percent. Maltese, Bichon Frise, Pomeranian.”
He saw that the woman was older than he; but with beauty that was greater than all. Another moment passed between them.
“Ah, Bruno. Great to meet you.” They shook hands.
Lady G. carried Small in her arm. Her camera slung over her shoulder. “Oh, Small.” She massaged Small’s nose. “You run away from your girl and come to stop at the feet of a handsome man.”
Bruno laughed. He had a box cut of his unkempt hair. He was plump, if not overweight. In height, they matched. Thoughts of thrill and thoughts of disengagement both danced in his head. Women like Lady G., at first sight, ruffle the sanity of many a man. He said, “You travel alone?”
“He is company enough.” Lady G. said of Small.
Bruno laughed again.
“And sweet, aren’t you?” She kissed Small’s head.
Whether to charm Lady G. or say goodbye he did not decide. Lady G. was older; but what of that? Anyway his words did not come. So Lady G. said, “What are you doing out here alone?”
Bruno raised his novel.
Bruno was not a talker at this moment; but inside his mind a contention continued, and showed on his face. He was pleased but nervous. And reading Bruno’s face, Lady G. then said, “Well, I do not have a guide but I am not alone. I have some unusual friends--oh, here they come.” Lodoviko and Syprosa approached.
COMING up to the two, Lodoviko looked at Lady G. in a manner to ascertain if she was fine. “I’m cool,” she said, smiling, “he is a sweet guy.”
To this Bruno smiled: he did not think himself a nice guy; a truth cemented by his grandmother. To be sure he drank a little and smoked weed and kicked dogs and rejected a job the grandmother had sourced and wooed girls the grandma despised but that was all. He had fine points besides. He loved flowers.
All right. Lodoviko then greeted Bruno and introduced himself. Syprosa, standing, knowingly, three strides behind, did not greet Bruno. She would not greet Bruno anywhere.
“Walk with us,” Lady G. told Bruno.
“Would hate to interfere with your tour,” he said, looking at Syprosa.
“No, you wouldn’t interfere,” said Lady G. “Right, Small? Yes, Small accepts. Come on.”
Bruno stored his novel in his backpack, which contained other books. The three of them then walked ahead; Syp followed from a distance. Lodoviko noticed this and waited for her. Syp would never greet Bruno anywhere. But why? She and he hailed from the same village.
It was believed in this village that Bruno’s bloodline was a lineage of witches. That even a devout Christian woman who married into the family would become a witch by adoption. That the family’s older members could cause boils in children’s eyelids and adults’ buttocks. Syp would not greet Bruno. But let us not stay on this so much:
Growing up, if Bruno did not stay with his grandmother, he’d shuttle between the homes of his step-uncle and step-aunt in Nairobi and Eldoret respectively, as he was orphaned at three. Having a curious and observant mind, he examined the lives of his step-uncle and step-aunt, which was middle class, and wondered if that was all. He was one of those people who say to themselves, is that all there is?
Anyway, now they walked in pairs; Bruno with Lady G., Syp with Lodoviko.
“First time in Kenya?” Bruno said. He had decided to chat with her regarding general matters.
“Haha. I have been around before. I have lived in Nairobi for some time. Beautiful city.”
“How did you know!” She slapped Bruno’s shoulder. “You are keen. People just call me mzungu.”
Bruno laughed aloud.
“Yes, Colombian. But I was raised in the UK. Lived in different countries. People find my accent not specific.”
Bruno said, “You are just a mzungu.” They both laughed.
As they moved, Bruno taught Lady G. the local and scientific names of the plants and birds and insects that caught her curiosity.
Behind, Lodoviko and Syp followed:
“Are both your parents walking this earth?”
“Are you their only fruit?”
“I have an older sister.”
“You are the one they leave at home to sing for the child.”
“Are you a sheep trader or an anthropologist?”
Lodoviko smiled. “You are quiet but inside you have a fire.”
They walked in silence.
“Where will you take her after this?” Syprosa then said.
“Sunshine wants to go to Kakamega town.”
“Sunshine goes where she wants.”
“And you follow.”
“I am a kind host. I have an old but big heart.”
In an hour and half the party concluded the tour and assembled outside the entrance. Bruno would lead the guests via another route back to the market.
“Little flower,” Lodoviko said, “it is a great pity you cannot come with us. Come with us, up to Kakamega.”
“I have a child to look after,” Syp said. In truth, if it wasn’t for Bruno’s presence, she would have escorted them to the market. She refused Lodoviko’s thank-you money. Lady G. then thanked her and they separated.
Syprosa was five hundred metres from her home when she received a call from her mother. We have already established that Syp regarded her mother as a tyrannical, quarrelsome parent. On any other instance the mother would have contained her temper and waited for Syp to return. This time, something had happened. The little one whom Syp had calmed with wine had rolled off the couch and dislocated his shoulder; and was groaning in the grandmother’s arms when Syp was called.
Given the chance, Syp would have apologized--and even volunteered to carry the little one on her back to the dispensary, and met the cost of it all. But all through the mother dominated the call. She suspected Syp had run off to meet the boyfriend. Syp had not spoken to the boyfriend for weeks, as we know. The mother said between the boyfriend and nephew, Syp had chosen the former. Couldn’t her flames wait for two more hours? She charged Syp never to come, but rather returned to her bang-smoking boyfriend, until her ‘adolescent’ fire was gratified. She called Syp a slut. Syp cut the call. “Whatever.”
THE other party was ambling on and would reach the market in ten. Lodoviko followed the two.
“If it was the season, you’d have seen the bullfights and cockfights in Kakamega.” Bruno was speaking with Lady G.
“It is hot to see bulls knock it. Oh, it heats your body.”
“Big time. Could visit Ilesi.”
“The Crying Stone.”
Lodoviko said behind them: “There is no such thing there. If there is, he has to show you himself.”
“I am not coming with you guys,” said Bruno.
“What a pity,” Lady G. said.
At the market, Lady G. went to a shop to buy water. Lodoviko and Bruno waited by the main, tarmacked road.
“Do you have to run home now?” Lodoviko said. He carried Small.
“It is already afternoon,” said Bruno.
“Do you have chickens to look after?”
“What if I have chickens? Old man, the way you yap.”
“Look at that sunshine.”
Bruno spied Lady G. at the shop. Her golden hair flowed to her waist; and she was blessed.
Lodoviko said, “Have you not seen that she smiles like a little girl when you talk to her? Use your head.”
Bruno had kissed girls from Malava, Butali, Lubao...Kabrengu; and at the university he had socialized with girls from Kisumu, Nairobi, Mombasa...all who were younger than he. What about Lady G.? She was older; but she made his blood twirl.
Now Bruno stepped away from Lodoviko to call his friend. He asked the friend to untether his cow from the field in the evening if he should delay; and tie the cow to a rafter of his isimba. Then he went to a kiosk to buy mint.
He found Lady G. and Lodoviko waiting for him. The three together headed for the bus station, which was by the roadside. The matatu that would leave next had only two passengers. It would take a while to fill. Bruno boarded to wait from inside; Lady G. and Lodoviko stood outside, chatting with the conductors. The conductors addressed Lady G. in English. They asked her name; the name of her dog; if she would sell them Small; if she liked the place; if she had a husband--she said Lodoviko was her ‘husband’--they said no way, he was Small’s attendant: and she enjoyed their friendliness and laughed at their jests, now and then working her hair. Through the window Bruno watched her.
By and by passengers entered the matatu. Counting both Lodoviko and Lady G. who still talked outside, only one seat would stay vacant. The conductor of this matatu allowed that they’d begin the journey, and fill the seat en-route. Lady G. sat in front with the driver; she had Small now. As Lodoviko stepped into the vehicle, he heard his name called out.
He stepped back out, blocked the sun with his palm, and looked in the direction whence the voice issued. Running to him through a crowd was a small bodied person; but since he could not see far with his weak eyes, he could not tell who. He waited. When the person drew close, Lodoviko said, “Little flower!”
Syprosa was sweating and panting. She had searched through the market, asking anybody if she or he had seen an old man with a mzungu woman who had a white dog. Lodoviko helped her into the matatu. She had supposed that Bruno would return home once he had conducted the guests to the bus stop. Seeing Bruno inside dispirited her, but she did not exit.
The engine roared, and the driver played this song; which he translated to Lady G.; at which she laughed and concurred with Small that the song was grand:
So the strange journey of The Malava Travelers started.
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