Celebrating East African Writing!
It has been raining for the last five days. Heavy pregnant raindrops have been falling without cease to fill ever ditch and cranny available. The lucrative water vendors are out of business. Lazy men in the village have been forced to thatch their leaking roofs after a day or two of wet sleepless nights .The choking dust is no more, scattered, sticky, soft mud now lie complaining as my naked feet trod and danced to my favorite tune. (I can’t really remember the exact song now but all I know is that it involved a jinxed lover soothing his feeling by making fun of the girls’ features in a sarcastic manner.)
Rain. Rain. Rain. What was special about it? The numerous stinging drops especially on our bare backside did more harm than good in my life. A day never passed in the rain season without a beating either from my Mama or my elder sister. My childhood occurred in the sad era when dirt was not good, I was not lucky to have a TV commercial to help me substantiate why my clothes were dirty, as a result, the muddy rainy season offered a tricky period of either deciding to withstand the cane or enjoy the smooth local mud sliding competition. You can guess what I readily settled for and believe me that was not a misguided choice. The skills gained are handy in the present life, with the muddy slippery roads I have never fallen to the ground, although a big scar on my thigh was a big price to pay.
Every story teller will tell you that one inadequacy of one telling his or her own life story is getting carried away that one end up giving gratuitous information. Imagine we can’t help it, it’s just innate as mans’ polygamous proclivity, so the best thing you can do is to skip such part when u come across it. Another inadequacy that we face is not able to make a distinction between the past and the present events; this forces us to jumble them all and can turn to be a bit confusing, even to us.
The best remedy they say is accepting you have a problem followed with an apology and backtracking to the point where the rain started beating us and then blame others. Yes, I have a problem, am sorry for sidetracking while telling my childhood story but I blame it all to my elder sister who determined a lot at in my life. If my memory is yet to say goodbye to me, we were at a point where I was running in the mud to someplace while still dancing and humming to a forgotten tune.
The place I was running towards that muddy morning was home while the place I was running from was the village shop. The dew on the grass that paved the small path stung my barefooted legs and sent a shiver down my body. A held tightly to the parcel held on my hand as a caveat had been issued by my elder sister that if I was to fall on the way I better be the individual who gets the blunt of the fall but not the half kilo sugar I was to buy from the village shop.
Previous trips to the shop had been an occasion to behold. The running and the uncalled for acrobatics all in the name of imitating the movie stars that I saw In the village cinema halls made my days. The secret opening of the sugar packet followed by numerous licking of the sweet stuff was amazing, that is until my sister learnt of my despicable behavior. Need I tell you what the effect was? The trips to the village shop turned into trips to heaven the day my elder sister accompanied me to the shop as she believed I could not commit to memory the name of the jelly she applied on her shiny hair. It was her first time in the shop but I noticed something was erroneous, the never jolly shopkeeper could not keep his eyes from my sister, and for once he could even afford a smile and give me a pat on my back. Being born man is a curse, being born a man and a brother to a beautiful sister is a bigger curse, it is a taboo even to mention how beautiful she looks or that her breasts are glowing firmer everyday. Anyway, our shopkeeper was beauty struck and up to today I regret that I never took advantage of the cupid to the fullest. Believe me if I was half witty as I am now I would have convinced the man to put my name in his will as the sole inheritor of his shop, and I would keep the end of my deal and deliver my beautiful sister to him even if it meant doing so while her hands and legs are tied. Nevertheless, my only chance to inherit a shop might have slipped through my fingers but I never got out empty handed. From that day on onward I was ensured a free sweet, biscuit or a balloon every time I went to his shop.
My encounter with highly independent women whose decision is hard to change did not start with my present wife; my elder sister laid the platform for this. Her outright dismissal of the shopkeepers’ hand in love was eminent from the first day. I being a man believes that some members of this species are too proud to read within the lines and even when something is crystal clear wrong we pretend thing will improve. Some of us fail to realize that we should aim at reducing the number of times we go onto our knees; we know one involves popping the big question, while at church or when we are cornered by the riot police, though past experience has shown this does not reduce the fall of the blows. This group pleads too much and thus puts our macho manhood at risk. Our poor shopkeeper falls under this category, the guy insisted his love for my sister to an extent that I was warned never to buy goods from his shop, this rule had two dire implications; first I had to walk a kilometer further to find a second shop and most importantly I would miss my free goodies that came with every love note that I took to my sister.
There were times I blamed my sister for blocking my path to wealth, however, time is a perfect healer. I have slowly forgiven her though I am still waiting for a formal apology from her. As a love emissary I can’t blame myself for the failed cupid, I truly did the best I could, even passing in front of the shop when I had nothing to buy with the aim of being seen by the shopkeeper and thus delivering a love message. I can’t fail to mention the many beatings that I received from mother for arriving late from my delivery ventures. I can’t also blame my sister for saying no to the shopkeeper for an obvious reason.
I blame the poor shopkeeper for being ignorant and failing to invest fully where it mattered. Truly, when will men realize that you harvest what you plant? Planting three maize seeds and expecting a number harvest is not only insane but also compared to feeding five thousand people with five fish and four loaves of bread. To simplifying it down; planting a few sweets, biscuits and minute balloons does not amount to getting love. How could he expect me to fight for his case when all he gave me was a sweet, a biscuit or if he was in good moods a small balloon? Furthermore, let me make it clear that the small balloons given could not be puffed up due to their tiny size. I am not the proverbial beggar who threw away coins hoping to be given more money but…even banks calculate interest based on the amount of money one has deposited in his or her account. Men of all the people should know this.
On top of that, our dear shopkeeper must have gone wrong in his love venture by the way he put down his feelings towards my sister on paper .(did I tell you that I used to open the sealed love notes meant for my sister?) I express regret for such inconsiderate behavior and intrusion of privacy; I am a changed man especially in my new post at the local post office. Therapy aside, the shopkeeper was appalling in writing love notes as he was terrible at choosing what to dress. Love life has taught me that the truth does not work miracles on its own especially when dealing with a sweet -sixteen -years -old. The vital truth must be knotted with embroidered fabrications in a way that it is hard to separate the two. In most of his love notes, the shopkeeper promised my sister that he would make her the darling of the village and make her the sole proprietor of his beloved shop. A good proposition but still feeble to sweep a sixteen year old off her feet.
Our poor shopkeeper was candid in a sinful manner and this coupled with his uncombed white hair that would send a shiver down a porcupine spikes made thing worse. Had I the chance to declare love to my sister I would write the same truth in a more flowery manner and maybe then my sister would not have burnt the many love notes. I would first promise to make her the darling of the city where we would be relocating the moment I marry her, instead of promising her the post of proprietor of an almost empty shop I would tell her of my plans of upgrading it into a supermarket the moment she is married to me. His love notes were either too long or too short, there were times I was forced to add made up word of mouth to either concretize or explain his ambiguous insinuations; all in all his imagination was inversely proportional to the loathing he received from my sister.
My pace turned into a race while my face beamed with pleasure. Home was in view. A huge rusty structure lay undisturbed by the cold on a prominent hill. Well trimmed hedges confined the cluster of numerous structures that formed our homestead. The creaky structure marking the gate noisily gave way as I zoomed into the compound. Dark sweet smelling smoke engulfed the kitchen thatch and it greeted my stinging nostrils as I entered into the dark cubicle. The warmth in the kitchen jolted me, the smell of the boiling tea enthralled me, and the sight of my elder sister reminded me of previous day scene that I wish I could forget.
By now my parents had got wind of the rumor going round the village that their daughter was in love with the shopkeeper and as a result my sister had received a severe tongue bashing. As if she knew not, she was reminded that even though she was in college now she still remained and the care and intense scrutiny of Mama and Papa. Her plea to be heard fell on deaf ear as the warning came that she should never be seen close to the village shop. Papa also promised to pass at the shop and deliver the same warning to the old bastard with a word of mouth something I doubted given that he carried his cane that morning something he usually never did. However, this was purely unnecessary as by the time Papa went to meet the shopkeeper the guy had left the village, not because he had planned so but because of my sisters’ act.
After the long tongue bashing my sister had acted normally until Mama and Papa had left home, convinced they had left for the better part of the day, my sister literary dragged me to our through the village straight to our esteemed shop keepers’ shop. If you have ever lived in a village setting, I believe you are conversant with a rough idea of a village trading centre. Structures built on opposite side of the road facing each other. Mine had one shop, butchery, posho mill and an ill equipped dispensary. The planner ensured that all this plus the informal market stalls faced each other and thus anything that occurred in one was witnessed by all especially the many village idlers who passed time seated on the dusty verandas. If you think being dragged by the ears across the crowded trading center by a sixteen year old into the shop was a spectacle, wait for what happened when we were inside.
My tribe has been for decades associated with the rare ability to speak in a shrill tone at a high speed and pitch that a purely normal conversation about the weather can be mistaken for a quarrel. Add the rant and rave of mad young black woman to this and what you get is a catastrophe, my sister turned the shop upside down as she explained to the helpless shopkeeper that should better die than let alone his hand touch her let alone love her. I watched as my rightful inheritance went down the drain. Soaps flew from shelves, loaves were smashed, knives and spoons clattered while I hid under the table. When the situational cooled down and I emerged from my safe hiding every soul in the trading centre had come to witness the scuffle. My sister straightened her dress, seized my small hand and marched out of the shop towards home. The crowd parted and gave way to the two of us as some clapped while others visualized how they would narrate the ordeal for the unlucky few who had missed a free film show. Rumor has it that the shopkeeper waited till night before he disappeared from our life. The shop remained closed for a week before another tenant opened it.
As I gulped the sweet, warm tea I watched as my sister prepared to report to college for her last year I envied the man who would marry her. The flames danced fiercely, its’ long yellow tongues licking the black cooking pot with precision in its attempt to cover ever inch of the sooty surface. The cracking brown wood cried softly sending countless popping sound into the air as the flame fought to engulf them. Soon, everything was dead quite. The flames were no more, the wood had vanished and what remained was the soft grey ash staring blankly at the towering black sky above it.
©Bosire Martin 2010
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