THE MALAVA TRAVELLERS 008

Updated: Apr 25, 2021

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THOUGH one thousand street lamps illuminate a city at night, never can we be certain about what passes in the back lanes, the dark corners, the hotel rooms, the dark gardens, the night clubs; behind buildings--and other quarters where the beams of light cannot reach. We are privileged to know what our old man and young girl were about; and where we had left them.


Let's go back to the club.


When they returned inside the club; Syp would have resumed her drinking if Lodoviko did not prevent her: never should she finish a drink left unattended in a public place. Consequently, they ordered for a new round, and relocated next to the counter.


People were still dancing. Those who were still dancing were the seasoned ones; those who’d intersperse their dancing with breaks of drinks or stories. More people were sitting now, and telling stories and drinking. Lodoviko and Syp were telling stories and drinking. No, Lodoviko was telling the stories; Syp was listening. She did not mind how loud Lodoviko was. They still drew curiosity, especially from the counter attendant, but Syp did not mind.


Lodoviko could tell stories about anything, if unchecked. Syp was interested in his history. She, therefore, between sips, asked him about his past. And this is what he told Syp:


He came to Kenya long ago. How long ago? More than thirty years ago. He was in a group that comprised hundreds of refugees. By this estimation, Lodoviko was about thirty five years old then. He however did not mention any familial relations: wife, children, siblings, parents--none.

Rather, he talked about what he did when he settled in Kenya. He put up with a group of fellow Burundians at Dagoretti Corner awhile.


“Do you know Dagoretti Corner, Little Flower?”


“I know it is an estate in Nairobi.”


They shared the rent amongst themselves. They were seven. Two women--young women; five men. At thirty-five, Lodoviko was the second-oldest. The oldest was a man of fifty. They were all strangers from their home country. They had never met before. The two women lived in an adjacent room.


They all worked to pay their rent. One mended clothes for Nairobians; one cooked and sold mandazi; another hawked belts and wallets and underwears; another vended water on a cart; one served in a barber shop...Lodoviko himself roasted maize by the roadside.


For Lodoviko, life became a mountain and life became a valley. One time he’d save thousands of shillings under his pillow, another time he’d borrow fifty shillings from his brothers for lunch. He later moved to Kibera, then to Kawangware; in Kawangware he could pay his rent. They started a financial merry-go-round, with other Burundians in the city, biweekly; and they contributed three thousand shillings in the turns. And so years passed. By the tenth year he had accumulated enough to buy an acre at Kakoyi--that small town centre in Kakamega County.


Of all the town centres in the country, why would he choose Kakoyi? Because there was a woman.


There was a strong but small bodied woman whom Lodoviko chanced to know when he lived in Kawangware. The woman lived in the opposite residential flat; and as she drove to work, and Lodoviko walked to his station, they would meet in the mornings and evenings, and exchange a wave or a smile. Affection overlooks status, tribe, or nationality. Let us record hence that at the end three years, after sharing the first smile, Lodoviko and this woman effectively became husband and wife. Lodoviko loved her. She was a jogger; she was hands-on: she would wear an overall and slide under her car to tighten a bolt; and she was a saver.


As Lodoviko narrated thus, Syprosa felt that the fog which had hitherto hidden Lodoviko’s true self, was beginning to lift. And she thought Lodoviko found her company friendly and relatable, because she, Syprosa, possessed a personality which somewhat mirrored Lodoviko’s former woman; and therefore, reminded him of the pleasant past.


It was with this woman then that Lodoviko agreed to settle in Kakoyi, four kilometres from Malava. Malava town was this woman’s maiden home.


Yet the lovely union did not last. It was not a matter of marital wrangles or domestic violence or infidelity; it was a matter of death. The woman was one fair morning driving on Nairobi’s Thika Road when Death snatched her from Lodoviko’s life, through a rear crash.


Now Lodoviko paused and drank for a while. He became sorrowful. Syp was sorry for him. She touched his hand and said, “That is life.”


“No, Little Flower,” Lodoviko said, “that is death.”


Syprosa then inferred that Lodoviko moved to Kakoyi anyway, to respect his woman’s memory.


“What was her name?” Syprosa said, later.


And Lodoviko said, “Her name was Syprose.”


*

NOBODY likes to muse on a sad past. Lodoviko spoke about happy incidents in his life for an hour hence; after which he said, “What about you, Little Flower?”


“Me?”


“You have somebody who makes your heart soft?”


And after a few objections, Syp told him about her boyfriend. She liked him, she said; for he understood her, and treated her as a young, respectable woman; not a foolish little girl--as did her own mother. But, at present she and the boyfriend were not speaking. Why? --As we had reported in the beginning of this true story, something had happened. And it was not the little concerns that pause the connection between girlfriends and boyfriends for three days. No. It was something profound which had for two months now warped Syp’s mind with flashes of guilt. And this, Syp would not reveal.


Well, there are secrets that follow their owners to the grave. We must check our expectations therefore, and accept the possibility that Syp may never tell us what her heart knows.


And so their conversations on other matters continued.


It was the hour of the cocks when Lodoviko and Syp left the club. Syp insisted that they stroll to the hotel. She had counted at least seven bottles which Lodoviko had drunk; yet, unlike Bruno, he was reasonably sober. He spoke sensibly, he saw clearly, and he walked steadily--all the same she held his hand, in case he tripped.


She told him that he was a weird old man, likable nonetheless. He said she was his little flower. On they walked, in silence.


Syprosa knew that Bruno idolized Lady G.; but in return the latter pitied the former; while, between Lady G. and Lodoviko, Syprosa sensed a bond of some kind. For sure she could not say which; but above all bonds, she suspected a young passion. If we could talk directly to Syprosa, we would have asked her what kind of bond she herself desired to have with Lodoviko. Anyway, on they walked.


At a corner on one of the streets, they saw a beggar sleeping on the pavement. After passing the beggar by some paces, Syprosa turned back and dropped a hundred shillings in the beggar’s tin. She could not discern if the beggar was male or female, or a masquerade. Then on they went. Lodoviko did not remark about the act. “Was that nice?” Syp said, after a while. She had the heart of an infant--pure and humane; said Lodoviko.


They continued, hand in hand. When the hotel came into view, she released Lodoviko’s hand, lest Lady G., happening to be awake, spot them from the balcony. --To say the truth, Syp’s precaution was wise; for indeed, at this very moment, Lady G. was at her balcony, smoking, and pondering about weighty matters. Let us fly to the balcony, where she is.


*

BUT we all remember that when Bruno rushed back to the room last night, with his condoms, he did not find Lady G.


In fact, as soon as Bruno had left the room to fetch the condoms, Lady G. sprang out of Bruno’s bed, and sneaked out of the room. To her room she hurried, and locked herself in. She did not flick on the lights; she did not sit on her bed; she slipped through the other door to her balcony, with a cigarette and phone in hand.


She did not smoke right away. She heard Bruno knock on her front door; heard him whisper her name. No answer did she supply. Two hours dragged away; and when she believed Bruno had slept, she lit her cigarette, and then made a call. We would have known if Lady G. had called Lodoviko or Syprosa; were we not with Lodoviko and Syprosa the whole night? She did not call either; she called an unknown woman, for one hour.


After this, she called the lounge downstairs, and requested for two bottles of wine and one glass to be brought to her room. She settled on a chair at the balcony, raised her legs between the rails of the baluster, and drank and smoked. The lights upon the city shone for her; and as they twinkled, heavy matters twinkled in her mind. Let us hope that we shall, by and by, discover what matters these were; and even the identity of the woman Lady G. called.


It is now dawn in Kisumu City. Lodoviko and Syp have returned to the hotel. But where is Bruno? --Safely asleep.


*

IT had been our friends’ guarantee, in Syp’s favor, if we recall, that this morning the party will, before doing anything else, scout shops and markets in the city for clothes.


After breakfast therefore--and check out--this endeavor began.


Boutiques about Kilimani--Kilimani being a plush estate, which housed the hotel they spent at--sold their wear at tall prices. Now, they boarded bodaboda, and went to the city centre.

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

It was a new day, but the memories of yesternight had not escaped Bruno’s recollection. He was not too drunk to remember. And earlier at breakfast, when he searched for Lady G.’s eyes across the table, she looked away. What did he do wrong? Did he say something--or do something that angered her last night? He’d only know if he asked.


They window-shopped all right. When Lady G. happened to remain a few steps behind, Bruno slowed and said in a low voice, “What was that about?”


“What?” There was honking in the street.


“Yesterday night, what was--?”


Lady G. made as if to bypass him; he grabbed her arm. They eyed each other. She had the shades on. He could see her eyes still. “What did I do?”