THE MALAVA TRAVELLERS 004

Updated: Jan 27, 2021

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BRUNO never found the dog.

A street dog | photo by Denis Chiedo on The Afrilens
A street dog | photo by Denis Chiedo on The Afrilens

He returned to the cafe and stood by the door, his shoulders sagging. It was dark outside; but the streetlights were on. Lady G. saw him first; and knew he hadn’t succeeded. She had calmed herself now. To him she went; and embraced him. “I did not get him.”


“Thank you for trying. You are so sweet. --you are cold.”


“I’m OK.”


“Have something hot.”


“Let’s go.”


“Where?”


“Let’s get out of here.” Bruno snapped his fingers at Lodoviko and Syprosa; then beckoned them. “Let’s go!”


Lodoviko carried Lady G.’s bag.


Lady G. took Bruno’s arm with both of hers. The party then walked away down the street.


*

THEY would go to Busia now. Bruno had decided. It was late for an express matatu to Busia; so they’d hire a taxi. They did; for five thousand shillings, after bargaining with the driver. Bruno would have paid for this if Lodoviko had not insisted on paying himself.


Lady G. and Bruno settled at the back; Syp and Lodiviko in the middle.


Syp and Lodoviko stayed silent as they started, while Lady G. reminisced to Bruno about Small. Small was ten years old. He’d been Lady G.’s best friend. They traveled together. Played together. Small knew her secrets. Bruno listened.


The car was racing in the dark. The driver played soft music. It was cold outside. Thin fog layered the windows. Syprosa sketched marks on her window.


Lady G. was leaning on Bruno’s shoulder. Then she dozed. After a while, she roused at a nasty bump. She wiped drool off the side of her mouth. “Oh,” she said. “Where are we?”


“Still far,” Bruno said.


She kissed Bruno on the cheek and then leaned back on his shoulder, and slept on. Bruno felt proud.


He was happy for having comforted her. He wished she could see him as an older man. He hoped he’d inherit Small’s place in her heart; and learn all her secrets. In parallel, he thought about home. His friend had not called him. But he trusted the friend to care for his vegetables and cow meanwhile. He did not worry about when he would return home. At the moment what counted was Lady G. He wanted to make her merry. He believed he needed money therefore.


He did not possess as much of it as Syprosa. Even though he had offered to pay for the taxi, he did not have much. He carried six thousand shillings on him, total. If they should travel for days, that wouldn’t hold. What he did now: he fetched his phone (as Lady G. napped) and accessed one of the four loan apps he had installed, and borrowed fifty thousand shillings, due in one month.


*

SYP continued to draw marks on her window as soon as the fog had erased the old ones. Then she started sneezing.


“What is it, little flower? bad smell?” Lodoviko said.


“No,” she said.


“It must be the cold,” Bruno said from the back. Lodoviko asked the driver to warm the car.


The car was speeding; away and away from the homes of the two: Syp and Bruno. Speaking of their homes, let us probe what was happening at Syprosa’s home.


By evening, Syp’s household had learnt that she never visited her boyfriend. The boyfriend said he and Syp hadn’t communicated in weeks. When nightfall came, and Syp hadn’t returned, the elder sister told the mother that she was bothered. The mother told her to let the matter rest; that Syprosa would return. It was now approaching 9pm when the sister called Syprosa.


Syprosa did not accept the call on the first round, but third. “What?” she said.


“Where are you?” said the sister.


“I am fine,” Syp said in a low voice: Bruno at the back could not overhear.


“Are you in a vehicle? I can hear it.”


“I am fine, Joana.”


“Are you on your way ba--?”


Syp disconnected.


“Who was that?” said Lodoviko.


“Nobody.”


Syp and Joana were not close, as we had said in the beginning. Syp believed Joana received favor from the mother. When a dud in their hometown impregnated Joana, the mother did not yell. Were it Syp, the mother would have rowed and tore the skies and expelled her from the home: Syp believed so. But Syp did not exactly hate Joana. She only considered her the mother’s third arm.


She knew her family would worry; and the worry would spread to the neighborhood and the church; and her friends in the youth group, wondering why she disappeared, would pump her phone with text messages and calls; but she did not worry herself about it. She’d withdraw some cash from her Mpesa once they got to Busia, and then switch off her phone.


They had passed Korinda Junction; they’d arrive in Busia in few minutes.


*

BUSIA was a narrow and dusty border town; and on the sides of the main road, trucks lined. The trucks must have been in the hundreds, as the stretch of the trucks covered more than a kilometer. These trucks carried oil, and other goods bound for Uganda and other countries beyond.

Busia town | photo by Denis Chiedo on The Afrilens
Busia town | photo by Denis Chiedo on The Afrilens

As Bruno searched the internet for hotels in the town, he received a welcome message from Africell Network, which was the mobile carrier on the Uganda side of the border. He chose Hotel X: four thousand shillings a room; bed and breakfast. The driver dropped them at the parking lot.


They got to the reception desk. Bruno said to the attendant: “We are Kenyans, and she--”


“We are all travelers, madam,” said Lodoviko.


How many rooms? Bruno said two; Syp said four: she’d pay for hers. Lady G. looked at Syp and smiled, to persuade her. “Two is fine,” Lady G. told the attendant.


Would they want food? No. Soft and hard drinks only. The attendant followed a flight of stairs appearing behind her desk, to check out the rooms on the first floor. The four waited on the couches, which arced about the reception area.


But who would pair with whom?


Lodoviko caught Bruno’s eye. He signaled to him to pair with Lady G. Bruno cleared his throat and said, “Ger--Gertrude.”


“What’s up?”


“You and me?” He sounded as if he was speaking while running.


“Bruno boy, you are dirty,” said Lady G., laughing.


“I mean it.” His voice was clearer now.


“I just want to sleep.”


The attendant returned. The rooms were set.


Lady G. rose, and held Syprosa’s hand: “Come, you with me. Girls alone.” She winked at Bruno.


Bruno was blunt; he wondered if this was his undoing; or if Gertrude thought him too young; or if she did not just like him. Lodoviko requested him to transport Lady G.’s bag to the girls’ room, and use this pretext to press his craving upon the woman, but Bruno declined. He retired to the boy’s room.


*

THE room was decent. It had double beds.


Bruno picked the bed by the window, which happened to be away from the bathroom door, and without unclothing himself or removing his shoes, flopped upon the bed on his back.


A sharp pain climbed his spine from the waist to the neck: he had a back problem, which tortured him often. He closed his eyes, and let the pain subside. When it did, he reached his backpack, which he had dropped on the bedside chair, and removed his thriller novel. He opened the bookmarked page; yet he did not follow the passage. His mind was full of Lady G. He lay on the bed again.


Lodoviko came in with the drinks.


Bruno did not want to talk to him. Rather he would sleep, if he could not read. But Lodiviko did not have the mind to perceive people’s tempers, nor did he care about aptness.


“If I were you,” Lodiviko said when he had sat on his bed--he was undressing, “the land would have been ploughed tonight. Ears in the street would hear.”


That was a foul thing for him to say, Bruno said. Bruno was sipping his Tusker, his head raised against the bedhead.

“If you want to get it, do not behave as if you will fall sick if you do not get it.”


“Shut up.”


“The language we used in our time, is the same language you boys should use.”


“You are so stupid.”


“It is you who are stupid. That thing never changes. For little flower or for sunshine or for any other woman. It is the same. You cannot see that?”


Bruno faced the other side.


“If you want to get--”


“Have you slept with Gertrude?” Bruno said.


“I cannot tell you about that.”


“I know you want to sleep with her. You are like her grandfather.”

“That is the itch for your mind. If you want to--”


“Stop talking.”


“--if you want to taste--”


“Shut up, for God’s sake.”


“--I will teach--”


“You have a filthy mind.”


--Let’s cross over to the girls' room:


Gertrude stood in the middle of the room and unclothed herself down to the panty. Lady G. was magnificent, so far as feminine anatomy went. Syprosa, who was sitting on her own bed, grasped herself and looked away. Lady G. then climbed onto her bed. On her part, Syp lay on hers and pulled over the covers.


“Do not be shy,” Lady G. said.


“What?”


“You are sleeping with your clothes on.”


“It is cold.”


“Not in here. We are both women.”


“Even at home I sleep like this.” It was not true.


After a brief silence, Syp said, “Do you like him?”


“Bruno?”


“Lodoviko.”


“Oh, he is ok. I have not seen an old man who is as entertaining as he.”


“Bruno admires you.”


“He is a sweet boy.”


“But you do not like him.”


“I like each one of us--won’t they be dying to hear from you?”


“Who?”


“Your people.”


“They are asleep now.”


*

BRUNO thought he was dreaming when he heard a voice whispering at dawn.


It was Lodoviko.

Lodoviko had woken up and knelt in the middle of the room. When Bruno recognized that Lodoviko was saying the Lord’s Prayer, he returned to sleep; for it was five o’clock. At the same hour, Lady G. sat on her bed and stretched her limbs and torso, in that style of yoga. Meanwhile Syprosa was snoring; and she had lain across her bed and thrown the covers to the floor.


Before seven they all cleaned up, and thereafter converged at the breakfast room. Lodoviko had Lady G. try millet porridge. Lady G. was this morning high-spirited. She had forgotten about Small; or maybe not. Bruno told her she was elegant. Her perfume was potent. Syp asked the waiter who was serving them if he knew a nearby market or shop from where she could buy clothes. Lodoviko told Syp that neither he nor Bruno had changed clothes. If Syp accepted, Lady G. would offer her clean clothes. No, she would not welcome Lady G.’s donation. Bruno suggested that they shop for clothes after they returned from Kakapel.


Who would pray for the journey? Syprosa did, on Lodoviko’s urging. They then signed out of the hotel.

Busia open-air market | photo by Denis Chiedo on The Afrilens
Busia open-air market | photo by Denis Chiedo on The Afrilens

The matatu they boarded would go to Kakapel via Malaba, which was another border town. They started out at 7:03. It was still cold. The vehicle’s engine was old; and it was whining. However, the speed was good. The road had old and dusty tarmac, which was intermittent. And it was narrow.


Our friends did not talk much; neither did the other passengers. There was music playing in Iteso dialect, from an FM radio. It would be a clear day. Flashing past were houses, grass-thatched, iron-roofed, corrugated; light green flora, of sugarcane, maize, cassava...; and the sun’s rays which side-lit the windows. Now the sun was sitting on the horizon.


Bruno had never gone to Kakapel. But he knew there was a monument. He read about it now on his phone.


At some point the tarmac ended--and they pitched onto gravel which was bumpy. The motion whirled up red dust, which soon coated the seats in the matatu, and the hair and eyelashes of the passengers; so that they acquired a natural make-up. Syprosa began to sneeze. Somebody said, close the windows! Somebody else said closing the windows would trap the dust inside. Somebody closed his window anyway. With a handkerchief, Syp covered her mouth and nose.


The road was bumpy. There was a descent toward a bridge. A small river ran under. And after, there was an ascent. On the right side, along the way, they saw--or rather Bruno told them about Amagoro Hills, which ranged on that side of the road, and blocked some of the sun's rays. The cold of the morning then started to dissipate. Bruno told them that once they passed Malaba town, which was another border town between Kenya and Uganda, they’d reach the destination in thirty of forty minutes.


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