THE MALAVA TRAVELLERS 010

Updated: Aug 29, 2021

FOR a short while, let us fly to Kisumu.


Our friends had visited Impala Park. Here they took the trail that weaved through the park. On account of speaking on phone, Bruno followed the rest from a distance. Lady G. waited for him at a junction.

“Who was that?”


“My girlfriend,” Bruno said.


“Is that how you speak with her?”


“It is my grandma,” Bruno said when he caught up with Lady G.


“What does she say?”


“Doesn’t matter.”


The sun’s rays had just penetrated the branches and leaves; and settled on Lady G.’s face with a pattern of shadows and light; and rendered the face with beauty unrivalled. He knew he’d never make her his. Still, for sport, he held an idea in his mind. Around he looked, and being satisfied that no one watched, he seized her face with both hands and--kissed her.


Lady G. did not find it unwelcome.


But this was a public place; and other Kenyans toured the park. It might be possible that no other Kenyans spotted them; yet, when Syp and Lodoviko, who were metres ahead, heard them talk--they had turned to look.


Syp appreciated the connection that she felt existed between Lodoviko and Lady G. She had thought it to be young passion. Yet it appeared to her that the tentacles of jealousy did not prod Lodoviko’s heart, anytime Bruno flattered Lady G. The kiss, which was long and passionate, at least for Bruno, now persuaded Syp that whatever link connected Lodoviko and Lady G., was not amorous.


“Look at them,” she said, addressing Lodoviko; but on turning, she saw Lodoviko’s back ten metres away. Up she hurried, to reach him. And when she did, she said, “What does she remind you of?”


“Who?”


“Gertrude.”


“What do you mean, Little Flower?”


“Your wife?--or your daughter?--who does Lady G. remind you of?”


“Stop.”


“I just want to know.”


Syp took his hand; he pulled it away; she took it again: he let it stay.


“You are a stubborn flower.”


Awkward it was for Lodoviko to hold hands with Syp in such a place. Naturally you’d think the two a pair of relatives; but guilt has shame and an inclination of its own; which is to imagine nakedness, even without a cause.

For Syp herself, she felt at ease. Out here where no one knew her, the petals of her behavior opened. What she could not do in Malava, where common eyes probed all-round, she could do here. Now she held Lodoviko’s hand with both of hers. She had a mind to touch his shoulder--or give him a peck, if he wouldn’t shrink from it. Having ascertained that no affection--of the sexual kind--stood between Lady G. and Lodoviko, she decided to meander towards Lodoviko’s heart; for reasons which we do not know yet.


But how would a man as old as Lodoviko answer, when presented with affection from a young flower? Excepting the narration he gave Syp concerning his woman of the years gone, we do not know about his dalliances any more than we might about alien existence. Yet Lodoviko is still a man, with desires and blood coursing in his system. There must be tenderness in a spot of his heart; where, with sharp aim, Syp might strike. A man could love a thousand women in different ways, in different times; but the well whence affection flows, never runs dry. Time will inform us then, if for Syp, Lodoviko’s well flowed the stronger.

A boat on L. Victoria | Photo by Afrilenstories

It was now early afternoon. The sun was friendly, the air was calm and fresh in the park. At a look-out spot they saw the lake yonder. They sat on the platform and bought drinks from a vendor. And Lodoviko, sitting next to Syp, told them another story. He told them about his family back in Burundi.


The whole family had perished in the war. And only he--the descendant of lineage--remained. Syp was touched. Lodoviko took the image of a man whom the world had whipped and robbed of all relatives; left to trudge alone in the journey of life. But the man possessed that quality which makes a person the token of hope. Despite his misfortunes, he had, over the years, found a motivation to face the next day. Across western Kenya, he would become the greatest sheep trader; and make himself a living, and his customers a happy lot too.


Lady G. however did not seem moved by Lodoviko’s accounts. What distracted Lady G. was the closeness between Lodoviko and Syprosa. Perhaps she worried about Syprosa, a fellow woman; a young woman who was developing an amorous bond with a man as old as a grandfather; only a few days after meeting him.


*

THEY left the park later in the afternoon, and boarded tuktuks to the shore of the lake, at a spot called Lwang’ni Beach--the beach of flies.


It wasn’t a beach as you know it: with clean sand and long shoreline and clear water; no. It was more of a trading centre by the lake--with a car wash, and tens of kiosks--where traders fried and sold humongous tilapia, which the locals called ngege; and other commodities.


As they alighted from the tuktuks, five waiters dashed to them; each urging our friends to visit his or her kiosk, which ostensibly offered yum-yum fish and ugali.


Odiero!” said a male waiter. It meant, 'white person.'


“Come, baby.” He grabbed Lady G.’s hand and pulled her along. Lodoviko and the others had to follow.


“Have you ever eaten the eye of tilapia?”


“No,” said Lady G.; she was giggling.


“The tail?”


“No.”


“The gills?”


“No.”


“You have never eaten fish. I will teach you how.”


Into a kiosk they entered. It was roofed with old iron sheets. No walls did it have, on the customers’ side; but poles to hold the roof. They could see all round. There were tens of kiosks; one erected beside another, and the one behind the other. The place was full of people and din; a voice here placing an order, another there asking for change; the sizzling of fish on tens of frying pans; and a little into the lake--the splash and spray of car washing. Thirty vehicles stood in the water, and were cleaned. To the left of their view, into the water, there were fishing boats and ride boats.

Nam Lolwe, Kisumu | Photo by Afrilenstories
Nam Lolwe, Kisumu | Photo by Afrilenstories

Meanwhile the male waiter served them soft drinks.


“Shall we take a ride?” said Lady G.


“Afterwards,” said Bruno. He was hungry.


In fifteen meetings the waiter delivered the main orders, in two rounds. “Oh!” Lady G. said; her fish equaled the length of Syp’s arm. The waiter then planted himself next to Lady G.’s shoulder, and began to furnish her with the tutorial about the dismantling of tilapia. His voice was loud; Bruno would not tolerate this: he dispatched the waiter for salt; and when he returned with it, he said to him, “That is all.”


Lodoviko and Syp sat on the same side of the table. “This ugali is very tough,” Lodoviko said, and Syp: “This is how it should be.”


Syp’s fish was bigger than Lodoviko’s; but she, out of--we don’t know what--extended her hand to Lodoviko’s plate, snapped off the head of Lodoviko’s fish, and transferred it to her plate. By the side she eyed Lodoviko to mark if the act offended him. However, Lodoviko relished his dish to care for the head.


Never had Lady G. eaten such big fish. She praised its deliciousness; and asked what the locals called it. Bruno said that it was properly called Oreochromis niloticus, and thereafter gave a history about it.


*

WITH their stomachs full, a ride on the lake became a preference.


They ambled along the shore to a shallow point from which they’d embark. The boat could fit all of them. Still, Bruno proposed that they board two boats, a pair each. He did not share with the others why he suggested so; but this was a typical instance of ‘spreading the risk’: in case of capsizing. Yet in spite of his proposition, the others outvoted him, with Lady G.’s sway.


A rider waded into the water, untied his boat, and then pushed it ashore for our friends to board. It was a motor boat. In pairs our friends settled on the benches that crossed the boat; and the rider, sitting high behind, started the engine, and navigated offshore. “Wear it,” Lodoviko told Syp, who had not worn the lifejacket.


The lake was calm. The water was grey. And Lady G. loved the ride. Into the water she inserted her hand and felt the current. Once or twice she scooped little water and flitted it upon Bruno’s face. “Come on," she said, "don’t be tight!”


Bruno was rigid in his position. He held onto his lifejacket with both hands. He longed for the ride to end. More than thrice had he heard about boats capsizing in this lake. Upon this information he, like many others, attached a superstition. That: those who had drowned never rested in the afterworld; but their spirits hovered above the water all time, and would instigate an accident on a fit vessel, operated by a competent boatman or sailor; and thereby, out of the casualties, recruit a team of fresh spirits into their realm for comradeship.


What a thought to have on a picnic.


Anyway, they made a wide arc over the water. To their left, across the water, they saw the buildings of the exalted city of Kisumu. And very far off, if they should sail, they’d cross international borders and enter the territories of the republics of Uganda and Tanzania. Geographers, and geography enthusiasts like Bruno knew that the lake--Africa’s largest--was the node of East Africa. The lake was unquestionably a blessing to the people; yet over it disputes erupted from time to time. Far, far into the lake a tiny island stood; whose ownership both the governments of Kenya and Uganda contested. Bruno hoped that in the end, the island, which was called Migingo, would be retained by his country.


The rider did not go far in. Now they changed course and rode toward a site where hippos convened, near the shore. Syprosa had never seen a hippo before, except in pictures and books. She was captivated; Lady G. took photos; Bruno gripped the bench to support himself against the sways of the boat; and Lodoviko lost himself in thought.


The rider navigated his boat close to the hippos, so that our friends could view them clearly. Bruno, notwithstanding his fear of the lake, composed himself; and then educated the others about the gestation and lifespan of the hippo.

A hippo at Nam Lolwe | Photo by Afrilenstories
A hippo at Nam Lolwe | Photo by Afrilenstories

Eyes are our portals into scenes. It happened that at a location where the water extended into the land--which we might call a bight--several women and children bathed. In his reverie, Lodoviko was the first to see them, and he locked his gaze there, even as the boat curved for the return ride. Syprosa knocked his knee. And now the rest had to look. The rider laughed, and said that there was nothing strange about it.


Off the water they got.


It was early evening, and the sun was beginning to be tender-hearted. Soon, the hour of romance would arrive.


*

OUR friends had not stipulated what they would do in the evening after the boat ride--specifically, Bruno had not, on behalf of the group. Awhile they lingered at the shoreline. Lodoviko had sat on a rock and was blowing his flute; the one he bought earlier at Kibuye Market (former). He played the flute in such a manner that Syp believed it to be a part of his body. And the tune thus produced resembled the sweet song of an African thrush, if not some rare bird. The golden sun, the melodious music, the genial weather--united to bound our friends in a pleasant atmosphere, away from the raucous backdrop of the city centre. For some people, such an ambience has a way of fertilizing the mind, and turning it into a mother; ready to birth. Painters, writers, photographers, singers...and even poets like Syprosa would readily upvote this truth.


Now sat Syprosa on an adjacent rock; and from her pocket she pulled out her notebook. The spirit of Shakespeare overtook her, and while her body faced the beautiful lake--made so by the 'oranging' sun--her pen jigged upon the pages.


Nor were Lady G. and Bruno left unstirred.


Lady G. was snapping photos of the lake and its things; and Bruno was reading while standing. Though reading his thriller novel, Bruno would still distract Lady G. with his stray questions: had she ever heard about readers’ block? Heck, does she know what kind of organisms lived in the lake? Does she know what constitutes the Milky Way? And--what count of red blood cells could a woman like her possess?


While Syp wrote her poem, she would turn to observe Lodoviko; whom the fluting consumed. Lodoviko was in a state otherworldly. And Syp could note upon his face, a disharmony she could not classify. On Lodoviko’s eyes, though he trained them far into the lake--if not into his own soul--appeared the likeness of dread, desire, regret, affection, callousness, sympathy, vengeance, benevolence, brutality--and commitment--all at the same time…


--Syp touched his shoulder; and Lodoviko shuddered--stopping the tune.


“What is it?” said Syp, in a whisper.


“What?”


“I did not want you to stop.”


“It is gone now,” Lodoviko said, standing up. He restored the flute in the pocket. --Into what world had Lodoviko flown, with his fluting? Syp found him the more stranger; and that oddity raised him to the rank of the enigma.


Lodoviko was standing a pace into the water, with his hands upon his waist. Now he stretched himself and yawned, and in a loud voice said to all of them, “Now what?”


Syprosa stepped toward him, slowly; forgetting her notebook on the sand. The hour of lovers had come, and the big orange sun had touched the water, yonder; and the air was restful. There and here they saw fishermen’s boats, rowing forth and back. Syp took Lodoviko’s hand.


Bruno, as well, had stopped his reading. He observed the affinity that was developing between Syp and Lodoviko, which he thought weird. Comparing-to-what weird? Kenya was a free country. Anyway, Syp had left her notebook on the sand; and Bruno had seen it. He went for it.


“Hey!” said Lady G., as to caution Bruno. What for would he need a girl’s notebook? “Why don’t you play your guitar?” No. Bruno did not heed. He picked the book.


Syp had turned on hearing Lady G.’s voice; and she saw Bruno. She darted toward him; Bruno ran away, reading aloud. As we know, Bruno is plump. He might run but he would never outpace the tiny Syprosa. She caught him in seconds--pounced onto his back--Bruno tumbled--knocked his mouth on the sand.


“Stop!” Lodoviko said.


--The book had fallen into the shallow water. Syp recovered it--only the cover was wet, not the pages. Bruno was still on the ground, now sitting. His lower lip was cracked; and was bleeding, a little. Back to him Syp stepped. With the book she slapped the back of Bruno’s head three times, as to flick the water off the cover. “Ah!” said Bruno, “You are violent.”


“Stupid,” said Syp, walking away.


And from the stanzas he’d read in the notebook, Bruno noticed something. Syp’s poem was brutish, full of blood and death.


Next episode

 

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See you next time for another episode, Kwaheri!

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