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?”


“This is time for shopping.”


“I need an answer.”


“Nothing.”


“Nothing what.”


“You did nothing wrong.”


“Crap.”


“You don’t have to make a scene.”


Bruno cooled himself--and freed her hand. He started to walk away; then she detained him. “I was scared,” she said.


Psch.”


“Yes. We are friends--are we not? We are traveling together. I don’t want things to be tricky--you understand--Bruno?”


Bruno had pulled his hand away--and walked on.


They visited the first boutique, and then the second. Upon visiting the third shop, Bruno--who was edgy--said this should be the last; for a cloth was a cloth. But for Syprosa, she wouldn’t stop the quest, until she found the dress she wanted: a fitting, maxi dress. It is not that they did not find any maxi dresses; the case was, the sizes they found were large for her fit. After inspecting the wear at the third boutique on Oginga Odinga Street, the fitting dress was not found. For themselves; both Lodoviko and Bruno had picked casual shirts and t-shirts and jeans and underwear; and Lady G., a white hanky.


Well then, would they go to another boutique? “Yes,” said Syprosa.


“No,” said Bruno. He proposed a visit to Kibuye Market; for here, any cloth of Syp’s size must be found.


*

IT took them a walk of fifteen minutes to reach the entrance of this prominent market; which would be demolished and relocated, after some months--by the county government.


There were as many goods as you could count omena in a sack. And the place was colored partly by farm produce; and groceries--green, red, yellow, amber. A mixture of smells, some sweet, some odd. And there was a hall--Raila Hall, maroon in color--in which they sold fine furniture.


They walked through the passes, touching, smelling, asking for prices. They came to help Syp find her dress, but now the other three were nudged by the spirit of the place to buy a thing. Sellers looked at them and smiled; one lifted a cloth and said, “Fifty shillings!” Another displayed a pumpkin; another--a tie; a wig, a hat, a shoe, a pant, a yam, a bracelet, a mirror, a shirt; another, a fish the size of Lady G.’s thigh; another, a guitar--and this caught Bruno’s attention.


“How much?” said Bruno, when he reached the seller’s stall.


“I shall not sell it to you,” said the guitar seller.


“You shall not sell it to me?”


The seller picked the guitar from the hanger, dusted it off, talked to it, called it by a name of a certain grandmother in his lineage, and then struck a string once. And a sound soothing to Bruno’s soul rang. Bruno sat on a stool. Better than any words could do, the tune that the seller thence played lifted Bruno’s mood; and now he asked the seller why he wouldn’t sell it to him.


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

Upon hearing this question the seller returned the guitar where it belonged, and then sat on a short bench that was inside the stall. He clarified that he did not mean not to sell to Bruno in particular; but not to anybody who saw the value of a guitar in terms of shillings. The connection between a guitar, he said, or any other musical instrument--the connection between the instrument--and the player, was a bond--a covenant, that could never be juxtaposed with any sum of shillings!


If Bruno had instead exhibited his love for music; and yet had not a shilling in his pocket, the guitar seller would have given him the guitar for keeps--at no cost. Now Bruno stirred on his stool, and said that indeed he loved music far better than any other discipline the Kenyan curriculum ever provided; and that in school--secondary school--he took music as a major subject--and understood, in theory, the clefs and the notes and the pitches and the scales and the rhythms; only, he did not own a guitar nor a piano.


The guitar seller believed him.


Well, Bruno said he did not have a shilling in his pocket.


The seller did not believe him.


Bruno said he could empty his pocket for the seller to witness.


The guitar seller marked his price at fifteen thousand shillings.


“Really? What is the guitar made of?”


“Fifteen thousand.”


Bruno stood up, as if to walk away.

“You behave like someone who does not like music!”


Bruno turned back: “Eight thousand.”


“Nine.”


“Eight five, last price.”


“You want to kill my business.”


“Eight five.” Bruno sat back on the stool.


The seller looked for the guitar’s case.

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

Syp, Lodoviko and Lady G. were scouting for other items. Syp had already bought the maxi dress, together with other clothes and private things; and had them jammed in a shopping bag. Lodoviko got a flute for his diversions; and a pen and notebook besides. Syprosa too, bought a notebook and pen. Lodoviko would write the past entries of his sheep business; Syprosa, her poems and stories.


We know that Syprosa studied commerce in the university, yet she had an inclination toward literature. For the fun of it, she wrote poems and short stories on the back of her school books; so deeply did she experience serenity in poetry that, whenever she found herself in the facilities, with a pen in the pocket, she’d tear off four parts of the tissue paper together, fold it twice, and scribble thereon what stanzas her mind could compose, while her body, present and absent at the same time, discharged the natural business.


With the guitar strapped across his shoulder, Bruno then went from one stall to the other, searching for what mtumba shirts and jeans he could get at good prices. Those who have bought mtumba know that sometimes you get a cloth which is as good as new. So it happened with Bruno. He picked two short-sleeved shirts, two t-shirts, polo and round-neck; and one black jeans. He stuffed all these in his backpack, and now went to find his party.


Lady G. spotted Bruno coming through a throng, and an urge to say “Yay!” filled her when she saw the guitar; but she did not, as she felt that Bruno still bore a grievance against her. She tapped Syp’s shoulder. The three of them were standing at the end of the market, eating pineapples.


“So you sing,” said Syp, when Bruno joined them.


“Having a guitar isn’t singing,” he said.


Lady G. would have loved to touch the guitar.


Syp said, “What now?”


“I will play it.”


“I mean, what next?”


The group still relied on Bruno to guide on which places to visit; --first, they went to a restaurant, in the city centre, for cold drinks; for the late morning was hot. They took juice and ice cream.


Bruno then proposed a visit to Impala Park, and thereafter a visit to the lake.


“Where is Rusinga Island?” said Lady G.


The island was a spot over a hundred kilometres away (by road), accessed through Mbita town or Luanda K'Otieno Pier--both locations standing on the shores of Lake Victoria.


Bruno said, “It is far.”


The itinerary was thus arranged for the day, with the exclusion of Rusinga Island.


*

THEY finished their drinks all right; and Lady G., to tempt Bruno into conversation, asked him if he would pay the bill; --Bruno said no. To Lady G., this was testament that Bruno still held a grudge; but to Bruno, this was, shall we say, expenditure reduction. The guitar he bought, and the clothes, substantially reduced his money; and if the trips should continue, he wondered how he would fund them. This unease registered on Bruno’s face; and while the two women did not notice, Lodoviko did.


Each person paid his or her bill.


Bruno, having paid first, exited the restaurant and waited in the street for the others. Here, Lodoviko joined him next. With arms upon his waist, Bruno was looking on into the street; he did not count the vehicles; he summed what might have been left in his pocket and mobile wallet. When he felt Lodoviko by his side, he immediately meant to say, “I do not think I will continue on these trips,” but instead said, “I am loving this, are you?”


Lodoviko looked at him, and nodded.


Then, Bruno removed his wallet, and pretended to count the notes therein.


“Your pockets are empty. Your words are dry. She doesn't want you. She wants your guitar.”


“Shut up,” Bruno said.


“You look like you are dying.”


“Old man--”


Lady G. and Syp came.


Lodoviko said, “Bruno wants to go back to Malava.”


“No, no!” Bruno said.


“Why?” from Lady G.


“He has no coin,” said Lodoviko.


Bruno’s hand got to his mouth; he dragged the hand down his chin, looking away.


Lady G. reached his arm: “Hey, that should not be a topic.”


“I’ll pay for you,” said Lodoviko.


“See?” Lady G. said.


“No,” said Bruno.


“I’ll pay,” said Lodoviko.


Bruno looked Lodoviko in the eye.


“If Little Flower had no coin, I would have paid for her too,” Lodoviko said.


“In exchange for what?” said Bruno.


“Nothing.”


“Nothing?”


“No, nothing. You are my family. All of you.”


Bruno laughed.


“He means it,” said Syp, of Lodoviko.


To make Bruno believe him, Lodoviko continued:


Never had he found a group of strangers so familial. If he should die from a crash or some illness while on these trips, he would, without a will--and contentedly, cede all his earnings from the sheep business to the three. Therefore, if their pockets should tighten up, only a word to his ear would suffice to thicken them again.


Bruno was relieved in his heart, but he did not show it on his face. He said, “God bless you abundantly, old man.”


And now they would board a tuktuk to Impala Park. As two tuktuks approached, Lady G. turned to Bruno and said, “Are you still mad at me, sweet boy?”--and Bruno laughed aloud.


Next episode

 

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