As the girls with ringing voices came on stage one by one, Lini did not see them. Some had high and pitchy dainty voices but she did not hear them. One performed with a low and drooling voice but she too was just a purr for her and a blur before her eyes. Well made-up girls with faces clear of spots. Girls, and sometimes boys, came out in turns to explain why they thought they were stars. The audience clapped for them. Sometimes, the clap sounded like it could lift them to heaven to kiss the stars. Lini only had eyes for the young male judge in the panel.
There were the girls and boys trying to be stars so enthralled by being on stage, but hers was different. She was always on the stage of her life. Her own stage. Her own audience. Her own acting and singing. As the curtains rose and fell and stars drawn on the ground seemed to follow their feet as in a hall of fame, Lini was exiting backstage running like a night spirit. She had already played her part and got her reward. She had run on to the judge’s podium, been on stage and was back doing her math. She was as blithe as the little girl with an empty balloon for hair that looked like pom pom drawn on the cover of all her exercise books made in Kenya.
Ma Lini looked up from the magazine she read and right there was her little girl staring at a math book and turning her pencil between her fingers like a ring between one sum and another. Right there, as she put aside her green math book covered with polythene paper to prevent dog ears. She read her composition and gave a little yelp starting to sing… and run with her imagination.
She had stared at the famous man-judge for many years. She wondered who could reach his heart, this man as tough as an algebra formula. She loved him from his stage appearance. When he sat in the panel of judges to listen to many young men and women sing out for talent scouting and he did so every year, she never saw anyone else. Somehow, she would find herself behind the judges’ podium all by herself and yet she was at home with books in front of her. She would do things that are only usually done by hairdressers and barbers.
She would slowly stick out her middle fingers, and start with his eyebrows following them as if she was drawing with a pencil. She was sitting there with her Mother watching TV, but stroking his eyebrows, brushing them and then immediately disheveling them all over again. She would try to rest her fingers on his temple. Then she would talk to him in her daydream. She would flip out all her fingers, thumb and all into little fans. She would put her fingers over his entire eyes. Holding him tightly there so that he could not see her even if she turned around, she giggled. Two palms spread across his eyes from two hands behind him and when he tried to look, turn his forehead up and lean his head behind, she would feel great as the back of his head pressed her tiny tight belly which she held out as she walked. She would hold even tighter and then when she thought he might keel off his seat, she would let go and run quickly backstage where no one saw her performance. And then she would suddenly giggle doing her homework. Twice her Mother had asked her what the joke was and she had timidly answered there was none.
And he never saw her really but she felt him. She smelt the rising tingling fresh drink in his glass every time he lifted it up on the screen. And she watched his lips twitch and his knowing smile. Sometimes he looked at all as if he had just taken a mouthful of vinegar that must have tasted like the bitter gall in the Bible.
That night her dream was long and sweet. She thought it lasted the whole night. She did not see us but she says we were there, watching her. She finally stood before the man she loved on the screen. She sang her song. She had come to sing to him and win his heart. She often thought of him and all those girls singing their hearts out before him. She etched her voice with its tinkles in every word that left her mouth. She pushed in bubbling googles into parts of the notes in her song. She sang to him.
He listened with delight written all over his face. She warmed up the note before it became a yodel and holding it with her lips put it in his ear the way she put in her earphones before she went to sleep, tucking them right in there. She gave him many notes. Some were for his heart, others for his mind, and some for his lips and many for his ears. She finished and pressed two kisses on the closed eyelids of the judge she always loved. She sealed his eyes with two warm kisses. In her dream, she did not press his eyes with the palms of her hand and run. She stayed to hear our clap. She said we were there but we did not see her in her dream. And then her Mother tapped her lightly on the shoulder, “Wake up! You are getting late for school! You have a hard exam to sit!”
As she thrust her broom under the Lini’s bed mid-morning, a little rasp of a sound came straight to her ears. Ma Lini tried on her knees to get it out but first, it moved away. She was almost giving up when it came out… It was sometime since she had advised Lini to get off Facebook as she said it wasted so much time. She would explain to her that rural girls did not have so many distractions but it seemed that Lini could just not get her act together. She pulled out the paper on which some hearts drawn in red biro tips and connected with curvy lines framed the page. And a title was there, “Send me your pillow, so that I can lay my head on it and dream ….”
And Ma Lini could finish off the rest for herself. Why, it was so very like her own favorite song when she was a teenager. She felt her heart beat fast. How could it be that her 12 year old girl was already writing romance letters? She knelt down on her broom which she did not feel and prayed.
I am in distress
These are feelings I can’t repress,
Whatever happens to her,
Do not let it be to a married man!
Not a married man, dear Master.
In class, the English teacher read out all marks. She had started with Amba Mwendwa, 75% and now she was on Vonnette Akinyi, 85%. Xhosa Uno, 83%. So, congratulations Lini Osu, you scored the highest as usual, 95%!!!
© Praita ‘Api
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