Celebrating East African Writing!
I curse the day I received his letter. A friend of ours, Jaffari, had come to visit his family after, being away for nearly four years, brought the letter with him. Jaffari had left behind his hoe; his farm of tomatoes, potatoes, maize and cassavas; his two roomed mud house he had shared with his wife, four children, six hens, two goats and three sheep.
Jaffari had arrived by the bus that stopped by the market place every Friday afternoon. He wasn’t the old Jaffari that we all knew. He was changed – he looked, walked and smelt different – he even spoke different, rarely speaking our mother tongue.
“Outside this place, nobody knows that dialect,” he had said with a twang later that evening.
Jaffari was wearing an elegant three-piece suit of a lovely apple-green shade when he arrived, the colour of the freshest leaves, and a pair of sunglasses. The only people I had even seen wearing suits and sunglasses were the government officials who visited once a year. His shoes were of real leather, like those government officials wore – with shoe laces, not the makubasi we were used to here. They were so shiny the children swore they could almost see their reflections.
Nobody recognized him when Jaffari got off the bus. We had all stared at this stranger – seemingly an important person. He had stood there for a while with his eyes closed as if taking in the late afternoon sun and the smell of the products that had been over exposed to the sun.
The market place stood still as we all watched. The usual noise and the commotion of the Friday market suddenly stopped. From the corner of my eyes I could see a few fat metallic green flies circling and landing my small mound of fish that had been over exposed to the sun – but I was too hypnotized to fan them away. I swatted at a big fat metallic-green fly that had landed on my wide opened mouth as I continued to stare.
“Ibrahim,” I suddenly heard him call out. “Ibrahim! Is that you Ibrahim?”
Quickly I looked around me as I was not sure as to whom this strange important government official was calling because of the dark shades he had on.
“Ibrahim! It is you! I don’t believe this! My goodness, you haven’t changed a bit!” He called on excitedly – and immediately started walking towards me.
I mumbled something unintelligent and kept on looking around me nervously – hoping someone will answer to his calls.
“Ibrahim,” he called out once he was in front of me, “it’s me Jaffari!”
It was always Jaffari, Alex and I – growing up, playing in the lush green fields or in the river; farming, herding, fishing, even finding wives – we were inseparable. But Jaffari then left – leaving everything behind. He never did look back when he left. But he did write – he wrote to Alex. Like Jaffari, Alex then left two years later, leaving everything of his behind – and he never looked back either. But he wrote. Alex had now written to me.
I curse the day I received the letter that made me leave behind all my belongings – like Jaffari and Alex did; left my home and my family for greener pastures. That letter that had promises of honey and gold.
“The houses are so big – one house can easily be as big as our whole village. The houses have washrooms inside. There is running water and electricity. There are so many cars and buses! Buses stop at bus stands everyday and every minute! Everybody here has a car! The roads are so wide and have tar on them and street lights. At night the streets light up as if lit by fireflies.”
The letter did not say that Alex had been in and out of jail cells as many a number of times he has been forced to steal for food an d survival – that it was only the year before that he got a job a mkokoteni pusher; pushing the heavy wooden cart laden with heavy goods for hours and getting paid so little by ill-tempered customers at the end of the day.
The letter did not say however that Alex did not have a car nor a house that was as big our whole village; that for a whole year he had slept at bus stands, markets and in alleyways; that it was hardly a year before after getting a job, did Jaffari allow him to share his crowded match-box room with him as yet another sub-tenant.
Jaffari did not stay long enough to tell me that the elegant three-piece suit of a lovely apple-green shade – the colour of the freshest leaves – the pair of leather shoes and a pair of sunglasses he had worn when he arrived had all been borrowed at a fee; that his job as cook at a chipsi vumbi shack did not allow him such luxuries and the few old t-shirts he owned smelt over fried cooking oil and dust.
I hold back tears as I sign off my letter to my cousin. He had asked about me I was told. I have written to him, telling him about the same things – the street light, the many cars and the big houses.
“Ibra, upo? Will you wash my car?” A lady asks as she parked her car in front of me. She is one of my regulars. Quickly I stuff the letter in my pocket before other washers steal my regular.
I just got another letter from someone else from my village – a cousin who had left before Jaffari. He is in another land across the seas. This letter promises the sweetest nectar and diamonds.
“The roads are as smooth as a new baby’s bottom. The buildings are big and so tall they can touch the skies. There are more cars than the flies back home. There are no mitumba – nobody wears second hand things here.”
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