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.