Celebrating East African Writing!
I was 14 years old, too tall for my age, too lanky for a girl, and a little too busy reading and pushing my glasses over the ridge of my nose to notice the boys; except this one Mtwapa village boy. He must have been anything between 17 and 25, way too short, much shorter than me and he had dropped out of school at Standard 7.
He liked me; in his culture I was old enough to get married and have his babies. In my culture, er, in my mother’s house, I was still a baby and would never be old enough to get married and have babies. That was not the issue, though; the issue was that I didn’t like him.
I cannot remember his name, but I do remember that my family ended up calling him Vitamin C. That came from the fact that my mum always told us that we needed vitamins to grow. When I, in confidence, shared with my brothers that I never wanted to be with a guy who was shorter than me, they joked that the poor guy who liked me needed to take lots of Vitamin C if he hoped to ever have a chance with me. My older brother also threatened to kill him if he tried anything with me.
After the big incident, I realised that Vitamin C had tried to talk to me several times when I was coming home from school. We lived smack dub in the middle of Mtwapa, the village side, and my mum did not have a car, so everyday when I got off the matatu and walked through the village there was not much I could do to stop him from seeing me. To make matters worse, although our house was kinda fenced around, the gate was always open and pretty much every one believed that they could drop in anytime, so if he did not catch me coming home he could just come home when my mum and big brother were not in. When he stopped in or came knocking, I ignored him or talked to him dismissively.
Then came the big incident. One day I got sick at school; the teacher called my mum, who picked me up, rushed me to the doctor and then took me home.
I was diagnosed with Malaria. I was running a fever in the middle of the coastal hot season, so my mum laid out a mattress in the largest room, the living room, which happened to be very close to the main door. The fever had gotten so bad that my mum insisted that I take off most of my clothes and lie down with just a lesso around me. She then left the door open to allow the breeze to flow in.
Somehow Vitamin C figured I was home. As soon as my mum left for work again, he came knocking.
My head was throbbing, I was dripping sweat in buckets, I was sure I was going to vomit and here the guy was wanting to talk about our future. I told him to get lost or I would puke on him. How was I supposed to know that his mother was the village witch?
I didn’t wait to see if he was gone, I was too busy trying to get to the bathroom fast so I would not puke on the floor. Then I was too weak to do anything but lie down. I must have dozed off.
When I woke up I had a snake on my chest. I remember thinking in a rather dazed way that the malaria was getting worse. Then somewhere in the middle of thinking I was having a psychotic episode and falling back asleep, I remembered that I was really scared of snakes.
I woke up screaming and must have flung the snake away from me. Then I ran out, still screaming. I left the lesso behind.
The first person who came to answer my screams was the oldest mzee on the street. I don’t think he noticed I was naked. My mum had mentioned to him as she left that I was sick with malaria, and so he too was convinced the malaria was just getting worse.
I kept screaming about the snake and would not shut up, so he asked some of the ganja boys to stop laughing and get their butts from under the mkanju, and check my mother’s house for snakes.
Ten minutes later they came out with a green mamba, at which point a mama noticed my nubile nudity and covered me up with a lesso.
Mzee Omar, bless his eyes, had seen Vitamin C come to the house, and assumed it was just teenage love. But when he sat me down and asked me what had happened he was more than convinced that the village boy had planted one of his mother’s pets in the house.
The next day the village wazee sat down at Mzee Omar’s baraza and decided that Vitamin C and his mother were liable for a fine. They also told his mother that she must send him away. So the old men got their goat and the local brew mnazi; my mother figured it was time for us to move.
I remembered the incident when I watched the news item about a woman who called a mganga to heal her home. She had had 12 children and six of them had died. She was convinced that her in-laws had planted bad dawa which was killing her children.
Personally I figured there had to be some kind of biological, scientific explanation for the children’s deaths. Just as I am convinced that the village boy did not cause my malaria but just took advantage of the situation, and when I refused to listen he got so enraged he planted a snake in my house, which was attempted murder, since green mambas can be quite venomous.
But in a culture where superstistion overshadows all aspects of life, illogic seems quite logical. My family never once believed that I was bewitched. My mother refused to let me go through the healing rituals, and I agreed with her. But it remained a joke in the family ever since.
If a boy came-a-knocking my brothers would laugh and say, ‘If you don’t like him, at least be nice. We don’t want to deal with Cobras.’
And if I did something really stupid, they would say, ‘We should have let that mganga heal you of Vitamin C uchawi.’
I’ve come along way from Mtwapa, although recently another boy from Mtwapa found me in Nairobi and decided to come-a-knocking…
But on a happier note, a while later, someone told me that Vitamin C figured he’d have a better chance with girls if he got educated, so he’d gone back to school.
That’s right, his name was Juma.
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