THE MALAVA TRAVELLERS 007

Updated: Mar 20, 2021

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IN the other tuktuk the two spoke little. Syp was wondering why Lodoviko would let Bruno cling to Lady G. so, if he (Lodiviko) loved or in the least liked Lady G. She did not ask Lodoviko this however. Instead she said, “They look nice together.”


“Who?” said Lodoviko.


“The two.”


“Mmh. --Where are we going, Little Flower?”


“Boss,” Syp then said to the driver, “do you know of a club that is not very noisy?”


‘Boss’ did not know. He said all clubs were the same, as far as he knew.


After a little while, Syp asked the driver to stop on the curb. They had arrived at Oginga Odinga Street. They stepped out. The other tuktuk also stopped, behind the first one, and Bruno and Lady G. came out. Bruno was holding Lady G. by the waist. Syp coughed in a low voice at Lodoviko. They paid the fares.


The street was bustling. They had stopped before a club that had a narrow staircase leading up to the first floor. The music, through the upper windows, was loud. And the lights were flashing, rhythmically with the beats, through the windows: blue, green, red, yellow…


“What now?” said Lady G., projecting her voice.


“Is this the place?” Bruno said to Syp.


Syp wasn’t sure now. If they entered the club--and should the others despise the place, they’d blame her. She shrugged her shoulders, saying, “Yes.”


Bruno had before read about a renowned club on Mamboleo Road, called Signature, but he did not mention it. Solving the uncertainty, Lodoviko said, “My friends, get in. Let us see what the night has kept inside.”


During the day Lodoviko had been reserved, but now his loud voice returned; and as he led them into the club, he grabbed Syp’s hand.


Lodoviko was the first to be frisked by the bouncer. The bouncer scrutinized Lodoviko’s face. And as Lodoviko was still holding Syp’s hand, the bouncer switched his probing look from Lodoviko to Syp and back again. Then he let Lodoviko wait on the side, as he said to Syp, “How old are you?”


“What do you think?” said Syp.


“She,” Bruno said, laughing, “is an adult.”


“ID,” said the bouncer.


Syp said she had not carried her ID. They’d not gain admittance therefore, said the bouncer. Lodoviko said to the bouncer, “She is a woman. A small woman. Look at her chest. Let us in.”


“You have no shame, old man,” the bouncer said, “what were you doing in your younger years?”


“He was being a refugee,” Syp said; the bouncer ignored her.


“Mr.,” said Lodoviko, “it is you who have no shame. The money we bring here is what pays you. Let us in.”


“This is a school girl.”


“No!” said Syp to the bouncer. And now she showed her ID. The bouncer snatched it from her, and used a torch to aid his confirmation. He returned it to her, and then allowed them to pass. He did not search Bruno nor Lady G. As our friends entered, the bouncer turned to look at them; he shook his head, chuckling.

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

*

SYPROSA had never been to a nightclub.


With her boyfriend, whom we mentioned in the beginning of this true story, she watched movies for leisure; and enjoyed music besides.


In this club, she could not enjoy the music; it was loud. And the flashing lights, the dancing crowd, the humidity, and the smell of alcohol, made her edgy. People danced at the centre. At the walls there were tall stools and couches. And a wooden platform affixed horizontally against the wall, made for a table (there were other standalone tables too). Lodoviko led her there. They sat on the tall stools. On the walls there was a steady strip of glass all round. Syp saw themselves here; their reflection. The reflection also revealed the faces that were watching her and Lodoviko. It did not bother her. A waiter would come.


Bruno had detained Lady G. at the dance floor. “Let’s dance!”


“Let’s get something first,” Lady G. had said. So they joined Lodoviko and Syp. They placed their orders when the waiter came. Syp would take Coke; the others, beer and whiskey--with ice, and a big bottle of water. Bruno was delighted. He had not been like this the whole day. He sat very close to Lady G. and positioned his mouth next to her ear. “How are you feeling?” he said to her.


“What?” The music was loud.


“Are you happy?”


“Yea. The place is good.”


“As happy as what?”


“Don’t be ridiculous.”


“Ever had a black boyfriend?”


“What?”


“An African.”


“Ha ha.”


“Seriously--”


--The drinks came. The waiter served them.


Lodoviko was murmuring to Syp. “What are the two of you whispering about?” Lady G. said to them. They did not answer.


Bruno laid his hand on Lady G.’s back and rubbed the place. “Don’t be fast,” she told him.


“What?” Bruno said.


“You are sweet, but don’t be in a hurry. It becomes a bore.”


Bruno released his hand from her back. She said, “I didn't mean it in a bad way. Don’t be ridiculous. You can touch me if you want.”


“Let’s go dance a bit,” he said.


“No, not yet. I want to get the heat first.”


They drank on.


Lodoviko stopped his murmurs to Syp; and began speaking in his usual loud voice. The three needed not struggle to hear him. He told them about his past; before he came to Kenya. He told them about the genocide in the 70s and the civil war in the 90s in his country. Burundi. He told them how things went; he did not mention his role in these turmoils. Syprosa wondered what might have happened to his family. She did not ask him again. She remembered Lodoviko had wept the other time she asked him about his family.


Lodoviko was loud. Nearby drinkers heard him. One man came over. He was young and muscly; looked like a gym-goer. Lodoviko thought the young man had come to listen to his tales. He was drunk a little, the young man. But he was not slurring his words. He said, “Who is the alpha in this group?”


“That would be me,” said Bruno. Syp laughed. Lodoviko paused his tale.


“Miss,” said the young man, turning to Lady G., “American? Spanish?”


“Take your pick,” said Lady G.


“We are having a private time,” Bruno said, “Mr.--”


Lady G. kicked Bruno’s foot.


“You look Spanish. ¿Te importaría un baile?” the man said: did she mind a dance?


“No. But I might be expensive,” said Lady G.


“What is the price?” he said.


“Could be your life.”


The man laughed. He extended his hand to Lady G. She received it. Bruno moved to stop the union. Lady G. squeezed Bruno’s thigh as she rose. She bent to his ear and said, “Be liberal.” Syp was giggling.


*

BRUNO now rotated his glass between his fingers.


Lodoviko resumed his tale. Bruno did not follow what Lodoviko narrated. With a side-eye, he kept turning his head slightly to spy on Lady G. and the man, dancing.


On an adjacent table, there was a group of girls--rather, young ladies. They were drinking and smoking shisha. They had noticed Syprosa; and she them. How they smoked through the pipe, and exhaled long columns of smoke fascinated Syp. One of the girls, when she caught Syp’s eye, shook the pipe at her; Syp shook her head. Lodoviko saw this, and nudged Syp. “No,” Syp said.


Lodoviko signaled to the girl with the shisha to bring it over. Syp did not wait. She stood and went to their table instead.


In comparison to the three girls, Syp was tiny. One of them pulled a stool for her. The one with the shisha drew her stool next Syp. “What is your name?” She had a bass voice, this girl with the shisha. Syp said her name was Claudia. The girl was Denise.


“Ever smoked?” said Denise.


“This? No.”


“Anything else?”


Syp shook her head.


“She is a virgin,” Denise said, and her friends laughed.


Syp said, “I am not a virgin.”


“I mean, when it comes to smoke.”


Syp snatched the pipe from Denise and put it in her mouth. The girls clapped and cheered. One long puff. Then she coughed until tears came. Denise tapped her back. The other two girls were laughing, but not Denise. “Sweetheart, sorry,” Denise said.


“I am fine,” said Syp, when the coughing stopped. Denise did not remove her hand from Syp’s back. Instead, she curved it round her small waist and pulled her closer. Syp felt Denise’s squashy breast against her shoulder. “I am so sorry,” Denise said again.


“Sorry for what?” said Syp, turning to study Denise’s face under the flashing lights.


Denise had dark make-up, and a piercing on the nose; and sharp perfume. “I am glad you are not offended,” said Denise.


“I told you I am fine.”


The ladies were Syp's age; but different. About them, the spirit of wildness hung. They appeared rich: the watches, the phones they had, the necklaces, the bangles...


Now Denise moved her arm, the one she still wound about Syp’s waist, up, up, toward Syp’s breast. At the same time, she kissed Syp on the cheek.


“Stop,” said Syp.


“You said you were not offended.”


Syp broke away--Denise was saying, “No! don’t go, come back”--and returned to her table.


*

LADY G. was still dancing with man. The DJ kept restarting this song: Kanungo Eteko.

“What does it mean?” Lady G. said.


He told her what it meant; something to do with the waist--or something below the waist.


“It is a hot song,” said Lady G.


“It is a hit song.”


“So, what do you do?”


The man was holding her waist. “Dancing with you.”


“Come on.”


“Right now, I do me--with you, baby girl.”


“Mm-h.”


“You are my boat, tonight.”


“A fisherman?”


“A fish-hunter.”


“Hah. Fish hunter, sir, what is hot in your city?”


“I could take you for a boat ride.”


“That would be wet.”


“You will love it.”


“They allow rides in the dark?”


“Glory to rides in the dark.”


“Don’t tempt me. Can we really go?”


“If it is allowed for a fisherman, it is allowed for a queen.”


“Ha-ha. What’s your name, my king?”


“Odiero.”


“Lady G. Me and my friends, we are travellers.”


“Even the old man, and the fat guy?”


“Don’t call him that. He is a sweet boy. --Do you have any friends around?”


“Why?”


“You can come with us. You and your friends.”


“The company I can die for is yours alone.”


“We are easy travellers. All of us--”


Syp came for Lady G. Bruno had staggered outside to vomit. He was sick-like.


The young man clung to Lady G.’s hand.


--No, she had to leave.


--No, her friends could care for the sick man.


--No, if he expected her to return to him, he should behave.


--No, once she left him at the dancing floor, he knew he’d not see her again.


She told him the hotel she stayed at with her friends; he could visit her the next day.


*

BRUNO had doubled up at the base of the wall outside.


He was sweaty and shivery. He had vomited on the pavement. Lodoviko was standing next him. They should transport him to the hospital, proposed Syprosa. That would be premature, said Lodoviko; Bruno only needed air. Lady G. asked him how he felt. He said he thought he was having alcohol poisoning. Lodoviko returned inside to bring water. Two sips, and he said the water aggravated the nausea. Bruno asked them to return to the club and enjoy the rest of the night without him.


No, they could not enjoy without him, said Lady G.


Bruno would board a tuktuk back to the hotel.


No, he should not go alone. Lady G. asked Syp to accompany him.


If Syp should accompany Bruno, Lodoviko would go too.


Oh no. Then let Syp and Lodoviko remain. Lady G. would go.


A tuktuk driver who had foreseen the business opportunity, had waited across the street, while our friends decided what to do. His engine was still running when Lodoviko whistled him over. Lady G. helped Bruno into the tuktuk, and off they went; as Syp and Lodoviko returned inside.


The night was older and the air was warm.


Bruno laid his head on Lady G.’s thighs. She spoke to him, but he did not hear what. On Bruno’s cheek she attached her palm. It felt hot. But the sweating had eased. His eyes were closed; his breathing was even; his breath was beer.


They got to the hotel and Lady G. aided him up the stairs. She guided him to his room, and set him on the bed; he lay on his back. His shoes, she removed. Then she sat on the edge of the bed and felt his forehead. The head was cool and the skin was not sweaty. Bruno opened one eye, and then the other.


“How are you feeling?”


“I’m getting better.”


“Can I get you anything?” she said, standing up.


“No, no. Just sit with me.” He pulled her back to the bed.


The wide window was open, and veiled by a thin curtain. The breeze that flowed in stirred the curtain gently. The power button on the TV was blinking red. They did not start the TV. Bruno was hungry now, but he wouldn't eat; the hotel did not provide food at such hours. And no eatables in the room either.


By and by, one of Bruno’s fingers became a tendril. It journeyed over the bedding and traced Lady G.’s hand, by which she had supported herself. The finger climbed on the back of the hand. Lady G. was talking. She was telling him about Odiero. Bruno was not listening. The finger climbed the hand. The hand felt the finger. The narrator did not stop. “He was telling me he is a fish-hunter. A fish-hunter, ha. That is what you guys call yourselves, no?”


“Mh.” Bruno was not listening.


The finger passed the elbow and trekked toward the armpit. Lady G. twitched and grinned. That was sensitive. Still, the finger did not disconnect. On, the storytelling went. The finger called the other fingers; and now allied, they leapt to the breast. And from the owner of the breast, a moan erupted.


It was time. Thought Bruno.


He pulled her. She came down at once, but supported herself with the elbows. Their noses would touch if she shifted. Her hair made a hut over his head, and supplied that small universe with scent. Their eyes locked. Of all the girls he had met, her eyes were the most puzzling: soft, wide, and innocent looking. But the centre of the eyes, the dark part, seemed to call him to a place unknown. He could not tell what she wanted.


“You are difficult to understand,” he said, in an unstable voice.


“You do not have to understand me. You do not have to understand anything in this life. Just be here, now.”


Shutting his eyes, Bruno raised his head to reach her lips; simultaneously she raised her head--the lips would not kiss; Bruno opened his eyes, and relaxed his head back on the pillow. Lady G. saw that he was discouraged.


“This is a horrible idea,” she said.


“I feel horrible.”


Lady G. sat back up. She touched Bruno’s beard. “Ever seen a ripe mango?” she said.


“What?”


“A ripe mango.”


Bruno laughed; then he said: “I have seen a mango tree with one fruit. Such mango trees are hard to find.”


“You see that the fruit is yellow and hanging low. Big, round, smooth. You want to eat it now-now.”


“I cannot keep chasing the birds and the boys from the mango.”


“The ideas walk in your mind. How will you eat it? Not with a knife. Just two fingers. With short nails. Take off the skin. Carry to your mouth with both hands. Your hands get wet with the juice. Eat it like a baby.”


“You understand me.”


“But when you pluck it, it is gone.”


“If you don’t pluck it, it will rot.”


She spoke to his eyes and smiled. “You are a fox.” She then sighed and swept hair off her face. “Do you have a condom?”


Bruno did not have it.


He rushed out, downstairs, to the lounge. He knew he’d not miss it. He was feeling all right now. He was healed.

Back up he came. Pushed open the door. "I'm bac--"


--But Lady G. was gone.


Next episode

 

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