Celebrating East African Writing!

The Cat’s Meow By Se’ydou Mukali

Tracy was angry. She folded her arms over her chest and walked faster down the chilly Nairobi Street. It was a cold afternoon, and everyone around her was dressed in coats, sweaters, jackets, scarves, gloves….anything that would beat the chill, save for the occasional suicidal early twenty-somethings who wore t-shirts and spaghetti tops. She grit her teeth and increased her pace. Her black high heels met the pavement with an almost monotonous click, and these kept her going, almost as if she was creating her own thriller soundtrack. She wore black stockings, and a tight fitting skirt that was just shy of knee-length. Her hair blew in the slight wind, bobbing up and down to her determined gait. She was a woman on a mission, and her fiery eyes said as much.


“Hey, what the hell do you think you are doing? Can’t you see the road?!!” a burly man was shouting from his car window. The smell of burnt rubber stung the air.

Tracy had frozen her hands in the air as if she was just about to be arrested, and her mouth and eyes gaped in ….well, it was not horror. It was rage. Rage that the world, personified by a crazed driver, was out to get her. She was livid, and walked to the driver’s window. The burly man, seeing she was not looking like a weak pedestrian he could beat down, wound up his window and sped off. Her angry shouts did not reach him.

She turned on her heel and went on. People turned to look at this whirlwind of a woman….She bore down a street and got into a building whose sign read: “Starlight”. Up the stairs, she emerged into a bar and restaurant. It had a few revelers, but most of the tables were empty. A dance floor was positioned towards one end, and tables around it removed to create more space. Tracy walked straight to the bar counter.

“A warm Stoney.” She said, planting a note on the counter top. The bartender looked at her, slightly taken aback by her brash tone. The Stoney came, and she downed it in one swig. Clearing her throat, she took off the coat she was wearing, and headed for the dance floor. She slowly began doing steps in her heels, seemingly in tune with music in her head, for there was no music playing at the restaurant.

Tracy wanted to sweat today. She knew if she oozed out pools of sweat, her body would relax. So she had to dance. It was only 3.30pm, and she would ordinarily be at the office making clients happy. But not today – her boss had decided that she was to work without pay for three months. This would not be as odd as it already was except she was the only employee subjected to it, and the fact that she hadn’t thought his office couch was cozy for both of them to share when no one was looking. She quit.

She was taking rapid breaths, her body fighting the chill and heating up. She was meant to attend an evening class at the university, but she would skip it. As her necklace jingled on her chest in tandem with her swaying movement, she remembered…

“You have the gift of your mother.” Her father had said to her on her 12th birthday. They were having a small party at home. Her father was amazed when he saw the young, baby-faced Tracy out-dancing every other child in the room. The young girl had a grace and confidence beyond her age.

“What do you mean, daddy?” Tracy had asked.

“Your mother was a great dancer.” he said

“Wow! When are we going to see her?”

“We will go once school is closed.”

They never went to see her mother on any holiday. In fact, Tracy had never known who her mother was. After enduring her piercing questions many a time, when she turned 16 her father told her how her mother had died when she was born. It was not the usual ‘she’s working up in the north in a nice, warm house, waiting for us to visit’ story. He described it vividly, as if it was yesterday. Tears rolled down his cheeks. They cried in each other’s arms, and she cried on her own for four days after that.

“Tu eres la rueda, yo soy el camino/
pasas encima de mi dando vueltas…”

Salsa music suddenly blared from the speakers in the restaurant, and Tracy’s body was soaking up every beat. She did not wipe her tearing eyes; she let them flow. Other dancers were getting onto the floor; she loved dancing with other salsa enthusiasts. Though she hadn’t been here far too long, her dance moves came naturally, and flawlessly. She moved close to a male dancer who took her by the waist. Their bodies moved in synch, step by step, turn by turn, eyes locking fleetingly, a hint of a smile on the edges of lips. He spun her around and received her after the turn….then she hit him.
Tracy’s smack was so fast and so resounding, it almost floored the guy and made everyone else pause for a few seconds.

“There’s more where that came from if you don’t get out of my space right now!” she seethed. The guy slithered into the shadows to recover. Cheers went all round, mostly from men, applauding her probably, but most likely happy she was dancing alone again – they saw opportunity.

Tracy was a looker; as someone would say, she had all the curves where they needed to be, and in the appropriate measure. Her now sweaty blouse was enhancing her ample cleavage and the tight fitting skirt not only gave her great legs room, but introduced the world to unrivalled hips. Allow me not to indulge you in further descriptions of her looks, as we may lose focus.

The male dancer went too far by grabbing her full bottom like a hooligan. The men at the place ogled, but none other dared come close, most likely waiting for her to cool down. But she had decided she would dance alone all the way, so woe unto him who imagines….. She ignored the cheers and went on twirling her body to the sensuous music, trickles of sweat now enticingly going down her shoulders and chest, visible due to her low cut white blouse.

Going back to her fantasy world, she didn’t like the anger pent up inside; she was tired of lashing out. Her steps grew more fluid, energetic, and faster. She was one with the music, and everything else did not matter. She was letting it go! She was oozing out her recent breakup with Bruce; he had no idea what he had left for that floozie. She was letting go of her worries about father’s health; she would come out stronger, and he would get better. She was telling God to fix her life, and hoped he was hearing her heart, because it was dancing a prayer too. Saying it in words too painful, her graceful moves spoke for her.

She only remembers she slipped, but how he got there before she fell she cannot tell. He was not even dancing, but he was there anyway. In a brown felt hat, a jacket, and dark trousers. The stranger smelt like a fresh breeze, compared to her sweaty self. Regaining her balance, she thanked him, and before walking away he whispered to her:

“That’s a great move…but be kind to your ankles. Try doing it without the heels.”

She had astoundingly pulled off not breaking an ankle. She hesitated for moment, obviously knowing he had been watching her all the while, then took them off.

“Do you mind..?”

She smiled properly for the first time that evening. She gingerly raised the shoes to him, expecting a No. He obliged, took them to his seat and went on sipping his drink. As she went on dancing, now less inhibited, she found her eyes trailing back to where the man was seated, and it was not just to make sure the shoes were still there. Her body movements slowed with the music, and relaxed, the music moving through her curves to create a union set in the heavens. And with each glance they shared with the man, she drew him into her world and he was dancing with her.

His eyes were burning with the fire of action, their movement in synch with the music and with her body, his eagerness suppressed in his seated frame. His finger tapped to the music, his feet itching to get on the floor. He was passionate about salsa as she was, but he did not rise, and instead went on sipping his drink. It was half an hour later when Tracy, drenched in sweat but lighter in heart, found her way to where the man was seated.

“You are a great dancer.” he said. In between breaths, she managed to let out a “Thank you.”

He ordered a drink for her and sat there, watching her. She took a few minutes to regulate her breathing, before sipping her drink. Still, he did not speak. Finding the silence between them unnerving, she asked:

“So why didn’t you join me?” He paused for a moment, before responding:

“The beauty of your dance is not in who you were dancing with. It was in why you were dancing. That was your dance, and I think you got to the place you needed to be.” He replied, smiling wryly. With that, he rose up, and dropped some cash on the table.

“It was nice meeting you.”

As she showed surprise with her baby eyes, he clasped her right hand with his, leaving a folded piece of paper. He walked away, his scent lingering with her for a moment. Scribbled on the piece of paper: ‘Make the world dance with you, for You Are the Cat’s Meow’


(Se’ydou Mukali is a young television producer/director at a Kenyan production house, working on TV and Radio programming. He particularly enjoys working on talk shows, documentaries and films. Away from sets and cameras, he is passionate about the performing arts, visual arts and writing.)

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.


6 comments on “The Cat’s Meow By Se’ydou Mukali

  1. Mercy Ojwang'
    September 2, 2009

    I love it. Simply captivating. 10


  2. Gitura Kihuria
    September 3, 2009

    a captivating narrative with an enigmatic ending without the usual..and they lived happily ever after.

    For me it’s a 10.


  3. Rachel
    September 7, 2009

    Quite a refreshing read, make your pen ‘dance’ more often.


  4. Claudette Oduor
    September 7, 2009

    it was an awesome read.. quite fast-paced… i loved it. i have a question for you, though. in the sentence “…Allow me not to indulge you in further descriptions of her looks, as we may lose focus…”, was that a style in writing? i felt as though the author was interfering with the audience. i was deeply engrossed in the story, but when you said that, you reminded me that it was only just a story. maybe it’s just me, i don’t know. but wonderful job.


    October 8, 2009

    That is very interesting!!!


  6. 06mickey
    October 13, 2009

    That’s a 10 right there!!!


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