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.