Celebrating East African Writing!
Wind and grass. Vinegar smell of open crisp packets. Scattered trees and shrubs and windhowl storming in through open car windows and mirage lakes forming ahead on the hot and grey tarmac. Anjlee’s toes scrapping my jeans, car movements making them swing ever so slightly and I feel the jeans tickle my leg hairs and this is satisfying. Blue sky, almost cloudless, fire-sun screaming over everything. The car smashing through the windhowls.
It’s an empty stretch. We are past Voi and Mtito Andei, shaking off Mombasa disco. This is not the holiday season so the traffic is thin. In front and behind, ours is the only car. Brown shrubby hills and Tsavo anthills let and right, Swaying green grass and shimmering yellow grass left and right. It’s just us.
He is driving and she is sleeping in the front passenger seat. At the back it’s me and Anjlee.
Out of nothing:
“I think you are the most beautiful girl who needs to be told about the birds and the bees but more importantly about the cows,” I say.
“What are you talking about?” She says.
“About bones, skulls, horns,” I say.
“What?” She says.
I want to move my face in wind blown hair (and let hair scatch my face softly and let hair come to my lips like ery thin and very slippery black spaghetti). Move my face into her like the way my dog Timmy does – snout first into the mud around where his favourite bones are hidden.
Anjlee throws her black hair away, trying to control wind and speed.
“You know things like bone of face, all this white bone stuff moving past us,” I say.
“I think they are dead Zebras,” She says.
Watch her turn. I say watch her throw the black hair away and show the full exposure of her Gujurati brown face. Call it brown, chocolate, shade of cacao from the deep Cote D’Ivoire jungles, call it the colour of roasted nuts in her grandmother’s Porbandar bhel, brown sucrose, the colour of the inner bark of the one leafed acacia.
“Twisting and funneling horns,” I say.
“You see, not cows,” She says.
The car speeds past wildlife skeletons, the grass looks blurred close up. Our eyes can remain only half-open in the force of the half-blinding wind.
In the back seat our talk makes us align diagonally towards each other like an incomplete V.
“Why is this road empty? It’s only our car here and I know why,” I say.
“What’s with the birds and bees thing?” She says.
“That was just for effect. I didn’t know what to tell you. You know, to start of things,” I say.
“Start of things?” She says.
Yes, it started when he (driver) swept you off your feet and I became jealous. This was at the car park with all of us just walking to the Nyali Cineplex and he bent suddenly but smoothly and put one arm on your back and with the other hooked your back knee and swept you off your feet. Then you put your arms around his neck, for better balance. For your mid-air horizontal pose in his arms. It was clear this was the first time it had happened to you and you were pleasantly surprised weren’t you. And he wasn’t even your boyfriend. And neither was I but I had no idea you could be swept off your feet.
“Have you ever seen a crowd of cows, something on an epic scale, Like those wildebeest migrations, say in front of you, approaching…” I say.
“That’s how things start of?” She asks.
“By the way I love you,” I say.
“Yah, yah. Ok, you’re weird,” She says.
I watched you on the night beach yesterday. New Year’s night. We were all four of us sitting on the sands and your phone rang. You walked away from us and to the edge of shore-lapping Indian Ocean. The tide was low, the fireworks joined the stars in the sky, there was twinkling ship on the horizon and your boyfriend was wishing you Happy New Year even though he was not there on the sands.
Earlier on, before we headed for the disco and the movie, we were, the two of us, on your bed in your hotel room, all dressed up. You in some flower kind of skirt and I have to tell you your legs are beautiful, just beautiful, and I was in simple trouser and shirt, and you were doing a puzzle book and I joined in. We were sitting on the bed, our heads looking down at the puzzle book. After a minute you told me my aftershave smelled good. She (passenger seat) caught the whole thing on video camera. I think I was so caught up in the moment I didn’t know she was sitting on the chair video-tapping.
“All right, I am saying this road is empty because the cows took away all the cars.” I say.
In the wind she tries to figure out where I am going with this, her half-open eyes becoming quarter open now.
“Like those cows came in a stampede, like wildebeest, you’ve seen those things? They came from front and took the cars away. You know they like bent down so that they could hook their horns into the fronts of the cars and the whole force of them, the power of how they were running, the cows in front supported by the force of all the cows behind, they took all the cars off the road. They were on their horns,” I say.
Whilst you wonder, Anjlee, let me tell you I hated it when you came back to us after finishing your boyfriend call and then sat down on the sand behind where he was lying flat on it. He took his hands, his fingers, and wrapped them around your calf muscles. Tightly.
“The initial impact with the cars killed the first cows and that’s what you see around you on the roads. Their skulls. Impact so powerful they lost their skins very fast and the only thing left of them, very quickly, was their bones,” I say.
“And where did they take the cars?” She says.
“Remember the ship we saw on the sea at night? It was like a little far away but you sensed it was a big ship and we could see the lights on it, I say.
“Yes,” She says.
“And you know their horns? Those twisting things we can see going past us very fast? They used those to swim. Like snorkeling. The top of their horns had holes so they swam underwater and they were breathing, like letting in the air from their horns, their four legs each kicking underwater, cow submarines” I say.
“How did the cars inside the people breathe?” She says.
“That I don’t know. I only know about the cars and because the lights on the ship were fully on, the people and the cows reached there and they all had a party,” I say.
Now only the wind remains. The story is over. Anjlee looks at me and the entire power of sunshine reflects from the small corners in her eyes. For a few minutes we say nothing and return back to what we were before – Anjlee foiling through a crisps packet, and myself looking to my left, and out to the grass and different hills, through the open window that lets in windhowls.
I feel a head slump to my right shoulder. It’s Anjlee’s head. She wants to go to sleep with her head on my shoulder. She takes it back up and asks as I turn:
“Is it ok?”
I say ok. The head comes back to my shoulder. I remain frozen in the pose I am in for the next hour. I don’t want to disturb her and I don’t want to wake her up with any sudden shoulder jerk. Her hair blows onto my face all the time.
©Mehul Gohil 2011
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