THE MALAVA TRAVELLERS 006

Updated: Apr 3, 2021

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FROM the roundabout next Ambwere Plaza, they walked up the street to meet the Kakamega-Kisumu highway. Bruno helped Lodoviko with the bag. Lady G.’s bag.

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

“Be careful,” Lady G. told Bruno. She did not want anybody to snatch the bag and pressure them to board a matatu they did not want. Bruno remembered the incident with Lady G.’s dog. Without telling her, he examined her mood. Lady G. looked fine. He did not remind her about it.

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

But a tout who spotted them from the highway came running. They were now passing in front of the county offices. Bruno gripped the bag’s handle. Were they going to Kisumu? Bruno said no. Anywhere along Kisumu-route? No. They were home already, said Bruno. The tout relented.


They crossed the highway to board from the other side. At the stage there were four matatus, all honking and revving up their engines as if they were leaving. They were not full. Not almost full. The touts and conductors pestered them. Bruno said they were not going anywhere; they were waiting for a 'fifth' person. They couldn’t travel without the fifth person.


Then another matatu came up blaring. It braked behind the line of the four and swirled up some dust. It had three passengers. The conductor of this last matatu announced that his wouldn’t delay. And to verify his word he slammed the roof of the vehicle and whistled; and thus instructed the driver to move it. The driver moved it. They passed the other four matatus. The conductor clung upon the door, his head above the roof; and with one arm beckoned at our friends to come because he and his driver were moving it.


“I think we should go with that,” said Lady G. Bruno said they should wait for another, with more passengers. The conductor who was moving it saw that Lady G. was ready. His matatu stopped two hundred metres away. He stepped down and whistled at our friends and clapped his hands at them, saying in English, Hurry up!


Our friends hastened to him. He ran to meet them midway, and to help Bruno with the bag. He set the bag in the boot. Our friends boarded.


--And then the driver made a u-turn and sped back into the heart of the town to hunt for more passengers. Lady G. started laughing at the trickery played upon them. And as she was jovial, Bruno did not get angry. Syprosa was annoyed. Lodoviko did not care; he had settled at the back window-seat, and let his thoughts pass with the passing images outside.


*

THROUGH the backstreets the matatu passed, stopping at junctions. The conductor still clung to the door, scouting for passengers. By and by the matatu filled. --And off they set.


Our friends dropped at Ilesi forty minutes later than they should have. It was a small market centre, Ilesi, met by a junction of gravel roads, extending on both sides of the Kakamega-Kisumu highway. Right behind where they alighted, there was a display of stylish pottery, produced by the potters of this place. The Potters of Ilesi, they are called.


“Oh, my goodness!” said Lady G.

Pottery at Ilesi | Photo by Denis Chiedo on The Afrilens
Pottery at Ilesi | Photo by Denis Chiedo on The Afrilens

The potters invited our friends to examine their display. There were black cooking pots and grey cooking pots; there were clay vases--green, brown, yellow; there were plant pots; there were candle holders; there were bowls and plates; there were birds; there were animals--giraffes, lions--all colorful; all clay. “Oh, my,” said Lady G., examining the artifacts:


“I will take this, and this.” Lady G. picked a lion and a flower vase. “What about you?” she said to the others.


Lodoviko took a little bird. He was not as enthusiastic as Lady G.


Bruno asked if they had bookends. Made of clay? No, they did not have bookends made of clay. Did Bruno live around the place? No. Could Bruno come another day for a bookend of clay? Perhaps. Like Lady G., he took a flower vase, a tiny one though.


Syprosa touched a number of the artifacts. She held them in her hands, turned them against the light; and stressed some parts to see if they’d break. A seller believed Syp would buy a pot at least. You could not tell if Syp liked the items or not. Her face was flat. She returned the last item that she had been viewing, and said to the seller, “Asante.” She stepped away from the pottery.


The others concluded their trade and off they came. The bodaboda men by the roadside who’d earlier badgered our friends for a ride, now started their engines. Each of our friends took his or her bodaboda. Lady G., for stability, circuited her arms about the stomach of the rider, while Syp grabbed the shoulders of her rider. They rode to the site. Which site? The Crying Stone.


No--the bodaboda could not transport them to the very site. There was an entry point; some sort of a makeshift gate, whereat the fees was paid. From this point all visitors proceeded on foot.


Our friends paid a hundred and fifty shillings each--the entry fees for adults. They were receipted. Then they walked on along a descending path. There were houses and gardens on the sides of the path. After a corner, they continued toward a little stream.


Right before the stream, they found a group of old women sitting on the grass, and chatting. The women asked for tea. Syprosa did not stop; but the others did. Bruno said they did not have any money on them. The women would take anything our friends had. Lodoviko issued a hundred shillings note. The four women would share. Grateful they were.


At this spot they could sight the stones, within a rocky and raised landscape. They crossed the stream, which was bridged with rocks; and the water was glassy and shallow.


--And now there came sprightly little children--between ages ten and thirteen, as far as Syprosa could tell--and the children offered to be guides.


"Which class are you?" said Bruno to one boy.


"Seven," said he.


"Are you not supposed to be in school?"


"We are not in session," said a girl.


"Which subject do you enjoy most?"


"Maths. Kiswahili..." said the kids.


The ascent was steep. The children accompanied our friends. And even without the guarantee of compensation for their guidance, they educated our friends. They told about the caves under the stones; where Luhyas hid during their battles with Kalenjins--long time ago; before the British came. And what cultural import the stones meant to the community. The main stone--The Crying Stone itself, was called Ikhonga Murue (Murui) by the locals.


They got to the base of The Crying Stone. And this was it.

Lady G. took her photos. And then they rested for a little while.


*

IT was a few minutes past five when they left the stones; having compensated the kids. On reaching the main road, they jammed in a matatu to Kisumu.


The road was wide and smooth. But inside the matatu they squeezed. Lodoviko and Bruno sat on a sambaza, a wooden piece that the conductor provided to bridge two opposite seats on either side of the aisle. It was stuffy too.


Whenever they neared a police roadblock, the driver would decelerate; meanwhile the conductor would slide open his window and lean outward. His left arm would hang outside, and his right hand would fix itself in a manner to reach the armpit of the left arm. When the matatu stopped at the police check, a police officer would inspect the vehicle: saunter to the driver’s side...perhaps ask for the license...check the insurance stickers on the windshield...circle to the conductor’s side--move very close to the body of the matatu...peep inside via the conductor’s window--release the matatu.


Sometimes the police officer was a man, other times a woman. This stoppage happened three of four times. And the conductor would always lean outward, and fix his right hand under the armpit of the left arm. Lady G. observed this pattern.

Anyway, on they went.


They passed Mbale Highschool, whose gate neared the highway. Students were playing out in the field. It was a boys boarding school. It nevertheless reminded Syprosa of her days in her boarding school. Hers was a Catholic school in Western Kenya. They prayed every morning at six-thirty. She wasn’t Catholic herself; but everybody had to attend those Masses. When she completed highschool, she stopped attending her home church for five months.


The journey was going on smoothly.


In the farther stages some passengers alighted. More room was thus created. Bruno shifted from his sambaza and sat next to Lady G. Lady G. was looking out the window. The sun was becoming orange. It wasn’t cold. The journey was going on smoothly.


They began to descend.


The road was smooth and meandering. A hill this side, a valley that side; covered in dark green--for dusk was coming. Lady G. was fascinated. Down yonder, in front, they could see a basin, flat; as far as vision could go. It was not a cloudy evening; but observing through the distance the basin looked grey. Upon the basin there was a water mass curved out. The orange sun reflected off it. You could see buildings at the fringes of the water mass. There were little lights glittering on the buildings.

Kisumu City | Photo by Denis Chiedo on The Afrilens
Kisumu City | Photo by Denis Chiedo on The Afrilens

This was Kisumu; and that was Lake Victoria, said Bruno. Lady G. was excited. She said she liked rivers and lakes. She had read that Lake Victoria used to be called Port Florence. No, said Bruno. It was Kisumu town that was initially called Port Florence; so named by the British. Kisumu was now a city, he said. ‘Lake Victoria’ was a British name too, he said. The locals called the lake, or used to call it Nam Lolwe. Or just Lolwe.


Now their slope downward was steep. And there was a thin valley to their left. And on the ascending side of this valley there was a home. It was the only home in this terrain. A stunning home on a steep slope. Lady G. loved it. It was bound by a wall that stepped up the slope like staircase. And in the dusk now the home was lit. The light gave the home a bright focus in a darker surrounding.


And then they made a turn to the right. Murmurs in the matatu made Lady G. realize that on the left side, into the valley, a bus had rolled. Police had come. There was an ambulance. And people had crowded by the roadside. Someone was being carried on a stretcher into the ambulance. It was all red. Outside there were murmurs and groans. Lady G. covered her eyes with her hands. People in the matatu were talking.


But Syprosa was not talking. Through the window she watched everything going on at the scene, as their matatu inched away slowly on the road made narrow by the traffic. It was hard to know what Syp thought or felt. Her face was flat.


Once they had escaped the traffic the driver regained speed. The passengers stopped talking. Bruno jolted Lady G. to open her eyes now. He began remarking about road accidents; against which Lady G. said, “No no no,” shaking her head, with her palms upon her cheeks.


Then traffic started to build; for they had passed the outskirts of the city. And the din about increased: from bodaboda and other vehicles; honking in the bright night lights. There were hawkers. There were many pedestrians. Some passengers alighted in the traffic. Our friends waited to reach the stage. The matatu crawled in the traffic.


Both Lodoviko and Syprosa were quiet. Lodoviko’s face looked calm. Perhaps belonging to this group made Lodoviko content. He’d told Syp that he was a refugee. We may say that traveling with this group, even without a clear destination, gave him community. And that was sufficient a reward.


Syp’s face was flat. One of those faces you could never study. And whenever people cannot study a face they say the owner of the face is strange. Strange. This earns you a label. Should we label Syprosa? No, we should not label Syprosa. We may call her Little Flower, as does Lodoviko.


They entered the large bus station, by and by. Bodaboda came. Bruno instructed the riders to ride them to Hotel X in Milimani. He carried Lady G.’s bag. They went away to the hotel. Milimani settled on a raised part of the city. You saw the whole city from there, and the lake. The city was happy; her lights twinkling beautifully.


They checked in at the hotel a few minutes to eight. They paired as they did in Busia. They reunited at the lounge for supper, which was on the second floor, once they had checked out their rooms. Again, Lady G. forgot to request for sheep soup. Bruno reminded her this time. They did not offer sheep soup here. From then henceforth, Lady would not ask for sheep soup; but anything local, or traditional; she said.


They spoke about the day. Although they had not mentioned it, the prevailing understanding was that they’d retire to the rooms after eating. But the night was young, said Bruno. What do you have in mind? said Lady G.


They could walk about the city and find out what the city did at night.


Syprosa: no, no, they may not like what they’d find. It was better to sit at the hotel’s balcony and watch the city dance. That would not be thrilling, said Bruno. Why watch if they could participate in the gyration? Why not sample the nightclubs? Yes, sample the night clubs, he said.


That was all right, with Lady G.; with Lodiviko too. Lodoviko would go along with any decision the young women and man made. But Syprosa would not go. Why would she not go? Did she want to count the twinkling lights of the city from the balcony?


“Little Flower,” said Lodoviko, “come, let us go and shake the hips. Your hips will get old tomorrow.”


“You go alone,” Syp said.


“Wherever we go, we go together,” Lodoviko said, “whatever we do, we do together.”


“If you people want me to join you in your night walk, you will go to the place I say.”


They waited for Syp to say what place she had in mind. Then Bruno asked her to name a joint she knew. She did not have a recommendation. She said she’d find out on the move. Then she added quickly, “And tomorrow the first thing we do is buy clothes. No doing anything without buying clothes and other things first. You must listen to my suggestions. All of you.” She observed their faces, waiting for their reaction to this stipulation. No problem, they said. Covertly, Lady G. smiled.


Out of the hotel they stepped--after supper.


There were tuktuks (rickshaws) outside the gate at the ready. They boarded two for two. Where to? The city centre, said Syp.


Kisumu City was not cold. Lady G. had a patterned spaghetti dress with a long slit. She smelled like honeysuckle. She and Bruno were sitting at the back of their tuktuk. Syp and Lodoviko’s tuktuk was leading. The air was warm and the city on this night was alluring.


Bruno's heart was racing on the peaks and valleys of affection. Two days he had spent with a stunning woman. As yet he did not know whether she'd accept him or not. In other spheres he’d be told that persistence paid off. In this present matter he thought persistence would make him look miserable. But Lady G. was hot; older than he and hot.


Bruno did not like uncertainty anywhere, in his heart or elsewhere. The economy was complicated enough. While the tuktuk passed through the streets, the debate happened in his mind. He did not think that his weight nor his age disadvantaged him. Girls had loved him before. Girls from Malava. Then again these matters were never as factual as science or as rational as philosophy.


His heart was racing.


--He jerked his hand from the pocket and curved that arm about Lady G.’s shoulder, pulling her in. And Lady G. obliged.


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