THE MALAVA TRAVELLERS 003

Updated: Jan 10, 2021

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SYP sat behind with Lodivoko, Bruno in the middle; and Lady G. in front as we have said.


If we should ask Bruno what he was about, he’d tell us he did not mind: he was drifting in the stream of life to wherever it went. The kind of friends he kept were more or less like himself: together they drank a little and smoked weed; but they also argued about the politics in Nairobi and The US; talked about philosophy; discussed unemployment, the businesses they’d start and the like. But in this current company Lodoviko was loud and shameless; Syprosa cold and distant; Lady G, something else. He however permitted himself to go with these people as far as Kakamega, and see what happens between him and Lady G.


Kakamega Town | Photo by Denis Chiedo on The Afrilens
Kakamega Town | Photo by Denis Chiedo on The Afrilens

As Lady G. laughed at the tales the driver told, Bruno scrutinized her nape. It showed a tattoo, which was a small, dotted arrow pointing downward. He wished she could only laugh like that with him.


At the back, on account of his height, Lodoviko did not fit. His legs didn’t find room; his head reached the roof; he had to stoop. And he had noted the variation in Syp’s enthusiasm when she entered the matatu.


“Little flower,” said Lodoviko to Syp.


“Don’t shout.”


But telling Lodoviko to speak in a low voice was like telling him to wear a dress.


“What shakes little flower?”


“What?”


“I am aware you do not open your mouth anyhowly. But the look on your face pricks my mind.”


“I do not know what you mean.”


“What disturbs little flower?”


“Nothing.”


Lodoviko looked at Syp in the face. Syp did not blink. Lodoviko maintained his gaze: Syp had a large nose, thick lips and faint eyebrows; thin forehead but wide cheekbones. Past her dull eyes (which were big) Lodoviko could see she possessed a vigorous spirit.


Syp still looked up at Lodoviko; and at the same time evaluated him. He was thin but athletic. The boundaries between the black and white of his eyes were beginning to fade; but the eyes remained intense. He had grey hair, naturally; but shaved low. Rectangular face with a sharp chin; small ears and nose. And cheeks not as hollow as you’d expect for his age. His skin was wrinkled, but smelled of cologne.


“What?” Syp said, staring at his mouth. He had soft and fleshy lips for his age. He was older than her father but stronger.


“Little flower,” said Lodoviko, placing his hand on her shoulder, “what does your heart desire?”


Syp broke the gaze and looked forth.


“Open yourself to me,” he said.


“I have nothing to tell you.”


“A heart desires something.”


Syp did not answer; and Lodoviko dropped the matter.


On the matatu cruised. The road was smooth and wide; with gentle bends. They overtook or met tractors hauling sugarcane; and many motorcycles and bicycles. Lady G. saw maize and sugarcane farms bordering the road. They passed the markets of Lubao and Shimalavandu. The matatu had carried people who’d all alight at Kakamega. Along the way therefore it did not stop to drop nor pick a passenger. Inside the passengers lost themselves to their thoughts or phones. Few would glance at Lady G. and the driver and eavesdrop on their stories.


All of a sudden, Syp told Lodoviko, “Do you like her?”


“What?”


“You heard what I said.”


Lodoviko began to whistle in a low pitch.


*

LADY G. loved the town--Kakamega, that is. They had been dropped at Total Petrol Station. She carried her dog; Lodoviko, her bag. The town, being the capital of the county, was not dusty--as Malava was; nor would they meet any children fetching firewood. Kakamega was green and pristine, having a smooth highway that passed through the town, and pretty little buildings.


Kakamega Town | Photo by Denis Chiedo on The Afrilens
Kakamega Town | Photo by Denis Chiedo on The Afrilens

“Where would you like to go first?” Bruno said to Lady G.


“Don’t be rash,” she said, “I have not tasted the air yet.”


Bruno suggested a stroll to Muliro Gardens, if she felt like resting. She said she wanted to first buy another bottle of water. From a street vendor? No, from a shop. To a line of shops before which buses and matatus packed, they went. Here, there were buses and matatu shuttles bound for Nairobi, as well as shuttles for Eldoret and Kitale. And there was a racket. Conductors and touts scrambled for passengers.


One lanky tout snatched the bag from Lodoviko and shot to a half-packed matatu, bound for Kitale. Lodoviko dashed after him. The tout swung the bag onto the rack of the matatu. From where she waited, Lady G. squeezed Small upon her bosom, saying, “Oh my camera.” Lodoviko required the tout to unload the bag. The tout said he’d lower the fares for the four. He and his companions weren’t traveling to Kitale, Lodoviko said. Where were they traveling to then? Not anywhere, Lodoviko said. They had a bag; that’s for travel. Lodoviko told him to unload the bag. The tout would reduce the fare by half. Lodoviko unloaded the bag himself. He called the tout a dog. The tout called Lodoviko the hip of his (Lodoviko’s) grandmother. Lodoviko slapped the tout in the face and hurried back to his party.


“They are all like that,” Bruno said to Lady G.


She said: “The ones we met in Malava were sweet.”


Lady G. asked Lodoviko to loosen up.


Having bought the water, the party picked a backstreet route, behind the county market building, as guided by Bruno.


“Is your stomach calling for something?” Lodoviko said to Syprosa.


“I am not hungry.”


“We should eat something,” Lady G. said. Neither Bruno nor Lodoviko answered.


Bruno showed them the streets. Where they sold chicken. Where they sold mitumba. Where they sold cereals and other goods. A left turn they made, as if returning to the highway, then followed another street ahead. They reached the garden.


Kakamega Town | Photo by Denis Chiedo on The Afrilens
Kakamega Town | Photo by Denis Chiedo on The Afrilens

The garden was bordered by a street, the county offices’ fence, and the highway on the other side; it was shaded by tall trees; and its walkways paved. They sat on the grass (for the available metal seats were occupied), and bought ice cream from a vendor. It was cool in the garden; Lady G. was tired; Syprosa was quiet; and she sat away from Bruno.


For the first time, Syp’s eyes locked with Lady G.’s; but Syp dropped hers quickly.


Lodoviko told them a story. He was loud, but captivating. They laughed at his tale. He told them about the first time he was naked with a girl. Many years ago. The girl was older. He did not know what to do. They laughed. Bruno was conscious of his own laughter; it was contrived. Syp watched how Lodoviko’s lips moved.


When Lodoviko paused, Syp said, “What are you people planning to do?”


“I want to eat,” Lady G. said.


“I mean,” Syp said, “where do you people want to go?”


“Where do we want to go. You are with us,” Lodoviko said.


Bruno mentioned the Crying Stone, but it was not near; he mentioned Kakamega Forest, but it was getting late in the afternoon. Lady G. said she’d think better once she had eaten. She stood up.


Muliro Gargens, Kakamega | Photo by Denis Chiedo on The Afrilens
Muliro Gargens, Kakamega | Photo by Denis Chiedo on The Afrilens

Syp stood up last. She was getting bored. She thought about her aunt who worked at the general hospital. She’d visit her if this party turned her off. The aunt who’d call her mother though. Syp did not want to concern herself with her mother at this time.


Lady G. stepped toward Syp and without intimating gave her Small. Syp leapt back and let Small fall. “I’m not good with dogs.”


“Oh,” said Lady G.


Bruno picked Small up. “I love dogs.” He did not like dogs. But Small was clean.


A seat at Muliro Gargens | Photo by Denis Chiedo on The Afrilens
A seat at Muliro Gargens | Photo by Denis Chiedo on The Afrilens

They headed to African Cafe, on Bruno’s recommendation.


*

“I am sorry.” Syp addressed Lady G. as they walked.


“Aren’t you sweet,” said Lady G. “It is I who should say sorry.”


Syp waited for elaboration.


“We entered your home through the back. Bad mannered mzungu with a hard old man. Ha.”


“I was not offended. You were lost.”


“Then I drop my dog on you.”


“It is just--”


“Don’t sweat it. It’s cool. I hope you forgive us too.”


“Don’t worry. American?”


“Colombian. But I grew up in the UK, as I told the handsome Bruno.”


Bruno and Lodoviko were a few paces ahead.


“God, I love this country,” Lady G. said, “most welcoming and hottest people you’ll ever find.”


Syp smiled.


They entered the cafe.


Lodoviko, as they neared their table, whispered into Lady G.’s ear; that she should remember to ask for sheep soup. He was a sheep trader and she, a culinary tourist: a taster of sheep soup and other dishes. They did not offer anything sheep in this cafe. Then something traditional? Vegetables maybe? Mrenda? No. Managu? Yes. With tripe and ugali. But what are those? says Lady G. Wait until you taste them, says Bruno. The others place their orders too.


They ask for sodas afterwards. Lodoviko is there again with his loud stories. Other customers look at them; the four don’t notice they are catching attention. Bruno is next Lady G.; glimpses her chest once or twice. Syp drinks on. Lady G. is now lively; but her plate carries the biggest leftover.


“Ah! My strength is back,” Lady G. says, “Bruno boy, we can go to the--the stone place you said.”


“It is getting late,” says Bruno.


“I do not mind.”


Bruno leans back on his chair. “We start now?”


Lady G. touches his hand: “Which other places can we go to?”


“Around here?”


Lady G. illustrates with her open arms: “Around this region, let’s say.”


“I know of some places.”


“Tell me.”


“Not near.”


“I have the time, don’t we all? Ha ha ha.”


“Ok. I see.” Bruno nods severally, a beam settling on his face. “Kakapel.”


“That’s where?”


Busia.”


“Aha. Bu-si-a. That’s the border. Next.”


Samia Hills.”


“Aha.”


Yala Swamp.”


“Heard of that.”


“Kavirondo Rocks--”


“Kavir--you, just decide for us where to go next,” says Lady G.


“That is where you want us to go?” Syp says, not to anyone in particular.


“The man will tell us,” says Lodoviko.


“How many friends do you have around these places--and Ma-la-va?” says Lady G. to Bruno.


“A good many.”


“And you?” Lady G. to Syprosa.


“Why do you ask?” says Syp.


Lady G.: “Traveling many is fun.”


“A small group is better,” says Bruno.


“Small is not always good,” says Lady G., “I love grand things.”


No more talk on that. Syp would not invite any of her acquaintances to this party; she wanted to escape the familiar; she had accepted tolerating Bruno: but no more. As for Bruno, he set his pulse on Lady G. He supposed Lodoviko liked the woman; no matter. Loviko was old. What was that talk about expanding the group?


Syprosa had fifty thousand shillings in her Mpesa account, part of which the government had loaned her for tuition. Never had she traversed the western region of the country for safari; excepting the times her highschool trips took her to a few places about the country: for games. Debating briefly in her mind, she allowed herself to spend some amount on this adventure. She capped her expenditure at twenty thousand, after which she’d return home.


“Let me,” Bruno said of Lady G.’s bill, when they had finished. Lady G. said that if he volunteered to pay for her, he could as well pay for the pack. No problem, Bruno said. Syprosa insisted on paying hers; Bruno paid for three then. They left the cafe.


*

THE evening was coming on by and by.


Having been assigned the duty of deciding the group’s itinerary, Bruno thought they’d sleep in the town, and start early the following day. Only Lodoviko agreed with him. “Small, did you hear him?” Lady G. consulted her dog. “Says we sleep here. Can we sleep here? Small has refused.” Syp did not speak, but her face showed it. She wanted to leave the town. They were standing outside the cafe, under the canopy of the petrol station adjacent. The votes were two-two. Lady G. said Small’s vote must count; Bruno objected. Lady G. left with Small. She went to buy cigarettes across the street.


It was late to travel, Bruno argued; they’d find the sites closed anyway.


Syp was standing in the path via which vehicles came in to refill. She was absent-minded. At once, a matatu quit the highway and arced into the petrol station, looming upon Syprosa from the rear. Either the driver did not see her, or did not bother. He did not honk. A warning came from an attendant, but Syp did not hear. --Bruno leapt and yanked her away by the arm. Said the driver to Syp, “Do you want to die? Watch it, stupid!”


Syp was alarmed but she did not shake; she was grateful but she did not say. Instead, she said, with her eyes tense and, speaking fast, “So where are we going?”


“Until tomorrow,” said Bruno. “Are you OK?”


Syp nodded.


Lady G. had gone to buy cigarettes from a shop next to a hardware outlet that was manned by an Indian woman. Lady G. smoked; let us know now. The shop was crowded. Bodies squeezed her. She held Small by the strap. Small was on the floor, yelping and tugging at the leash. “Come on, Small. Wait.” She bought the cigarettes all right. And then stepped away from the shop, pulling Small along. But the leash was heavier than usual.


She looked at Small; it wasn’t Small. The leash was Small’s however; she hadn’t let the leash off her hand any second at the shop. But the dog wasn’t Small. It was a scrawny brown dog, the kind Bruno kicked around Malava market.


*

“No! Where is my dog?”


She dropped the leash, and the scrawny dog scuttled into the back streets.


“Where is Small!” The Indian woman at the hardware outlet shook her head at her.


“Where is my dog!” A bodaboda man said he did not see her dog.


“Where is Small!” Bruno overheard and sprinted across the street: beep-beep! You! Look where you’re going! A driver said.


Lodoviko and Syp followed.


“Gertrude, what is it?” said Bruno.


“Somebody took Small. Oh, no, Bruno. Oh, no.”


Have you seen a white dog? Bruno said to the bystanders. No. Have you seen a white dog? No. Hair like sheep’s, but curlier. No. Tiny body. Big, short tail. Large ears. Have you seen it? No.


“Shit!” he said. With hands on his head, he spun about. Lodoviko’s voice awakened him. “Her dog is gone,” said Bruno. “These thieves!”


Lodoviko looked at him. Bruno understood he should relax Lady G. first. She was leaning on a power pole; arms crossed about the bust, weeping. Bruno drifted to her. Laid a hand on her shoulder. She shook his hand off: “Oh, no. Bruno...Bruno…how--”


“Come here.”


“--my Small. Why--?”


“Shh…”


“I--I--can-not--no--”


“I will find him--”


“He is gone!”


“Shh. Come here.” He hugged her for five minutes.


And then Bruno shepherded her back to the cafe. “Hot tea, please. For the lady.” He sat her at the nearest table from the door. Lodoviko gave Lady G. his handkerchief; said it was unused. He said it was a bad way for the sun to set. Said he’d get her another dog. Lady G. did not want another dog. Lodoviko asked her to cool down; she told him to go cool himself.


Bruno remained standing.


Syp sat next to Lady G. She did not know what to say to her. She placed her hand on Lady G.’s leg. She did not like dogs; but she empathized with Lady G. If she herself had lost a pet, she wouldn’t weep. She would not weep if she lost a person either. Of course she would pain and sadden inside the heart, you understand? That’s how she would grieve.


Without telling them, Bruno hurried out of the cafe to look for the dog in the streets. He searched for Small until dusk.


A man not eating maize | Photo by Denis Chiedo on The Afrilens
A man not eating maize | Photo by Denis Chiedo on The Afrilens

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