Celebrating East African Writing!

The True Tattoo by Isaac Ndune Keah

Among my Primary School partial friends was Alphonse. He wasn’t my all round friend because we differed in many ways. He would often tail the class that I led in many exams. Unlike me, he was always a culprit in many situations: making noise in class, speaking in vernacular within the school compound, avoiding lessons, stealing stationery from classmates and and and…

Joining the school gymnastics club of which I was a lead member was Alphonse’s big dream. I would take him through many informal coaching sessions but his inability to grasp the flow sat him on the spectator bench, not without envy. What I liked about him were his adventures. Every Monday, he was full of stories about how eventful his weekend had been. Most of them were naughty experiences, but the enthusiasm of his narration evoked my imagination. I started hanging around him many times. I even reshuffled with a colleague and made Alphonce my desk mate! Soon, I had joined his circle of friends…

The adventures now beckoned. However, I was careful not to be trapped in the mix wherever this squad screwed up with disciple so I censored myself wherever I felt that they were going overboard. I chose the more “innocent” epics like finding fruits in the bushes, trapping wildlife, the childhood craftsmanship of making our own toys, venturing in the wild and enjoying a swim in the streams and ponds. All these activities wouldn’t go down so well with mom but need I say more, mom remains one of the heroes in my life who’s had to endure a lot in her noble determination to nurture a son.

She found me curled up quietly on a sofa one evening and inquired what was up. I was not presenting my normal self and so she suspected that something was wrong. When she lost her patience at my stubborn silence, she raised her voice with leading questions.

“Are you hurt? Did you trip? Were you beaten? What is it?”

“I have a wound”, I mumbled, with a retreat of my ego.

“Where are you wounded?” she inquired.

I rolled up my shirt sleeve and revealed the unthinkable. Something that mom probably never experienced in her childhood, here I was, peeling my skin. She slowly edged towards me staring at the wound, confused and perplexed as she tried to figure out what could have caused it. A scary red wound screaming “N” in the wake of a blood-spattered under skin.

“What happened to you? Was it fire? A charcoal burn? Or were you bruised?”

It was none of the above. It was Alphonce! He whose image I wanted to copy when I saw the letter A tattooed on his arm. I remembered very well how we had arranged with him on how I could also get the first letter of my name tattooed on my skin, but when the logistics of our appointment couldn’t work out, I and Baraka, my cousin, decided to do the procedure on our own, I can’t exactly trace the date but I know it was on a one particular weekend in the season of cashew nuts, in my sixth class of my primary school.

At the backyard of our house we didn’t have to climb the trees. The bountiful yield of cashew nuts weighed down the branches and we could reach them on tiptoe. When they’re raw, cashew nuts are soft and green in color. They contain a fluid that is an enemy to the skin. It blackens and softens the tissues in the upper layer of the skin and within minutes of its contact, it transforms it into a Gorilla-like skin. Baraka and I, had used it to smear our names’ initials on our arms, giggling all through the exercise, oblivious of the consequences.

Chemistry began to happen and when the pain became unbearable , instinct duped me into peeling off the “gorilla” part hoping to arrive at my original skin underneath. That is when all hell broke loose. The freshness of my bloody inner skin sent a cold shiver down my spine. I knew I had messed.

When mom finally came to grips with the events, she prepared some warm salty water for the first aid and early the next morning I was taken to hospital. I got the medication that included five consecutive jabs to be administered daily. I reported late to school that day and just as mom had instructed me, I was to avoid Alphonse’s company. No one in class knew what had happened to me. I was laying my trust on my shirt sleeve to drape the bandaged arm so from time to time I would pull its hem down, a habit that conjured up many curious questions.

“What happened to you, Ndune?” a colleague would question.

“Nothing”, I would lie.

Eventually, the truth came out and guys become loudmouths about it. I progressed on well with my healing and today, my shirt sleeve is the curtain that hides the tattoo on my arm! I chose to abbreviate “Ndune” my mother’s dad, whom I was named after, because it was the name frequently used at home while I was growing up, and even up to now in the circles of my close relatives. I now acknowledge this tattoo both as a souvenir and a heritage from some legendary lover of mine.

To Alphonse; you didn’t have to laugh at me when I got wounded. I was setting a trend. What I got more than half my lifetime ago is now craze of everyone in town. For five jabs, I got what every Tom, Dick and Harry is paying dearly for today. You wasted me, and this tattoo is the scar that resulted from our friendship.

To mom; when I look at this tattoo, I see a mark of your love on my body. You who healed me from this wound and from Alphonse, you are the true tattoo in my heart.

© Isaac Ndune Keah 2009

If you would like this piece to be the Story of the Week, please vote below on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being weak, and 10 being excellent. The numbers will be tallied on Friday and the story with the highest figure shall be Crowned Story of the Week. Be sure to fill in your name and verifiable email. You can include your critique/comment after the vote.


3 comments on “The True Tattoo by Isaac Ndune Keah

  1. Mercy Ojwang'
    August 26, 2009

    You killed it at the end with the post scripts, at least for me. You should have worked your thoughts to Alphonse and to your mother as a concluding paragraph. I think you started with absolute promise, then lost your train along the way. 5


  2. deniskabi
    August 28, 2009


    It ruins the credibility of a young writer when you repeatedly misspell the name of the central character in your story. (Is it Alphonse or Alphonce?)

    And I think young writers should try to first master the art of writing a story in correct grammar English before experimenting with slang.

    I vote 5


  3. Christine
    September 10, 2009

    I agree with Mercy. The end got messed up. A 4


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