THE MALAVA TRAVELLERS 009

Updated: Jul 4, 2021

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AS our friends continue their expedition across the western part of Kenya, we shall not forget where two of them, Bruno and Syprosa, came from.


Now, let us return to Malava for one more person.

IN the interior of Malava Town there was a retired policewoman who had retained the bodily fitness of her profession. Straight she walked. Fast she ran. She observed an ordered routine in her day. At six she awoke, milked her cows, swept the compound, arranged furniture in the house, ate breakfast of yams or sweet potatoes accompanied with millet porridge; at ten o’clock she’d sit at the verandah with a newspaper in hand and spectacles in the face; and as she apprised herself of the goings-on in her county she’d call the grandson, whom all the time she’d find still asleep. Her grandson was her remaining relation.

A trailer hauling sugarcane | Photo by Denis Chiedo on Afrilenstories
A trailer hauling sugarcane in Malava | Photo by Denis Chiedo on Afrilenstories

Any day she called, she never failed to find him; for he would always return her call if she’d missed him. But two days had passed--and she had not heard from him. So now the distress which afflicts grandparents knocked Mama Pelela; this was the name of our grandmother. On the third day she could not observe her routine; her porridge tasted bland; when she read her newspaper she did understand a word; and her hands shook.


Grandmother and grandson could have lived in the same house--the house had two bedrooms; they could have lived in the same homestead--the compound was wide and homely, neat, and dotted with guava and avocado trees, and bound by lantana fence; they could have lived together, but the grandson, a year after being circumcised, had insisted on living in his own simba; which he erected on the upper slope of their ancestral strip of land.


The truth was, the grandson found the grandmother rather combative. Many a time he grumbled about how she addressed him, as though he was an inmate at Kodiaga Maximum Prison; and she, the warden.


Anyway, when she could not bear missing her grandson on the third day, she scurried along the boundary of the ancestral land, where the two of them had forged a path, upslope toward the grandson’s home. On this land maize and sugarcane had grown to such a height that from her home, the grandmother could only see the roof of her grandson’s house. The grandson is someone we know quite well now: he is Bruno.


*

THROUGH the back of the fence Mama Pelela entered Bruno’s compound. She found Bruno’s cow tethered to the roof’s rafter; the cow had cleared the grass within the arc which the tether allowed. The cow was dehydrated; a sign the cow had not been nursed for days. The worst of apprehensions hit Mama Pelela: she imagined that her remaining relation had overdosed and died in sleep. To the front side she ran, and was relieved to see the door padlocked from outside. Bruno was away. But where? She had called him a hundred times now; sometimes the call rang but was not picked; other times the phone was off.


She knew Bruno’s friend; and to his home, which was a kilometre away, she flew.


The friend, who was just waking up, told her that it was he, in fact, who had tethered the cow a few days ago, on Bruno’s request. Shocked he was, that Bruno had not returned.


Mama Pelela penetrated his eyes.


“I am not lying,” he said.


“Was he smoking inzaka that day?” Bhang, she meant.


“I do not know.”


“Was he drunk?”


“I do not know, grandmother.”


“Was he with girls?”


“He only called me. I did not see him.”


*

IN this town there was a girl whom our grandmother disliked; but whom with her grandson mingled. Many grandmothers dislike girls who wear skimpy outfits; especially if these girls mingle with their grandsons. But if anybody who’d know the whereabouts of Bruno (aside from Bruno's friend) it would be this girl. Shall we accompany Mama Pelela to this girl’s home?


Malava Town | Photo by Denis Chiedo on Afrilenstories
Malava Town | Photo by Denis Chiedo on Afrilenstories

It was a calm and sunny morning; the birds were chirping; the neighborhood was undisturbed. As it was, schools were closed; the school-going children had begun their morning games in the homes--of football and hoopla-loops and rope-jumps and hide-and-seeks. They hid behind the cow-sheds, behind the houses, under the fences, and at the corners of the neighborhood’s paths.


Soon a signal was heard from one of the children. And the signal was this: Soldier!


Upon this cry the children aborted their games, and scampered to hide behind their houses. But what was happening? Mama Pelela was coming. Mama Pelela and the children had the relationship of cat and mouse; we shall discover more about this awhile.


Our grandmother stamped into the home of the girl. All the children had hidden themselves. After a few minutes, out came the mother of the girl. Let us recall that Bruno’s grandmother was supposed a witch in this neighborhood. Nobody cherishes a visit from a witch, morning or night.


“What brings you here?” said the mother, looking up at Mama Pelela.


Our grandmother was tall and slim, with a long neck; the mother of the girl was short and plumpy.


“Where is your girl?” said our grandmother; and in saying this, a droplet of saliva sprang to the woman’s face; the later imagined that Mama Pelela had initiated a spell upon her. But Mama Pelela missed two front, upper teeth; so she spoke with a slight lisp. Under her breath, the woman summoned Jesus. Then she said, “What for do you require my daughter?”


“She knows where my grandson is.”


“No, she does not.”


“Where is she?”


The girl in this talk had already breakfasted, and bathed, and perfumed herself for the day. At this moment, when Mama Pelela interrogated her mother, she had designed to step out of the house and saunter to town, to mingle with her male friends. Out she came, and met our grandmother’s face which usually carried shallow cheeks and wrinkled forehead and disappearing eyebrows; but this morning bore the look of hostility.


Meeting this look, the girl retreated a step, and leaned on the door’s frame. “What is happening?” she said.


“Where is he?” said Mama Pelela, before the girl’s mother could elaborate.


“Where is who?” said the girl.


“The witch claims you have her grandson.”


“And keep him where?” the girl said.


Mama Pelela stepped closer.


The girl: “I have not seen him recently. Have you called him?”


Mama Pelela would know when the two last met.


“Two weeks ago.”


Our grandmother pointed her finger at the two, and then issued an ultimatum. She’d return home, and await word from the girl or the mother about her grandson; and if they should fail her by dusk, they’d not sleep in their home, but Malava Police Station. The mother spat upon Mama Pelela’s trail, and swore that if our grandmother should return to her home, she would slash her with a machete; whether she had the immunity of local police or not.

The road through Malava Forest | Photo by Denis Chiedo on Afrilenstories
The road through Malava Forest | Photo by Denis Chiedo on Afrilenstories

Though retired, it is reasonable to believe that Mama Pelela still had friends in the police service. She returned home.


Her dogs could discern that she was unsettled. The dogs had learned to shun her when she was like this. The dogs, all three of them, went to the garden that stood behind the homestead, and lay in the shade of the passion fruit and tomato plants. Mama Pelela sat on a chair under a guava tree in her compound, and waited as the day passed.


Her mind rode into the past. And she recalled a juncture when Bruno was yet a third year student in the university. So it happened that one weekend, Bruno, in the company of fellow students, both male and female, engaged in an orgy. It would have passed unnoticed; only, Bruno overdosed himself on cocaine and drink, a consequence which required medical care and rehabilitation for weeks. By his grandmother’s influence, both monetary and network-wise, did he elude expulsion from the university. The use of cocaine Bruno stopped hence; but as we have heard, he still utilized bhang.


Such a sad conflict it was for Mama Pelela, that her grandson should become an emblem of lowlifes, vulnerable to the thrills of crime; the set of people she hunted in her day as a policewoman. Often she excused Bruno’s conduct on his being an orphan; and wished that his parents yet lived. Perhaps the tenderness with which a mother and father cover a child, would have shaped Bruno’s qualities genially. Other times she thought it a curse on the lineage, as both her husband and son, Bruno’s father that is, were both druggies whom the vice had hauled to the grave. But what do we, ourselves, think of Bruno--as we know him so far? Let’s suppose him, meanwhile, as a young man, exploring the landscape of life.