Celebrating East African Writing!
In The Beginning There Was Eve
Alem Neh sat in his study, which was arranged so that his big mahogany work desk faced the big window through which the sun streamed in unabashed but slightly reined in by the window netting. Through this window he had a spectacular view of his garden. He was immensely proud of his garden, skillfully landscaped so that stone and garden merged in one un-interrupted conversation and without the awkward joints of ineptitude to distract the eye from the beauty upon which it feasted. He sighed thinking how like his daughters this garden was. Abeba his youngest child was aptly named. She was prettier even than the white and purple Iris on whose fragrant countenance his eye rested. She was the flower of his life. He wished sorely that his eldest daughter would live up to her name.
Desta meant happiness in Amharic, his native tongue. His daughter was neither happy nor inclined to bring happiness into the lives of those she called family. He sighed again, albeit impatiently. Ever since Elisabeth his wife had convinced him to change their daughter from the Convent all-girls school she had previously attended, his daughter had grown horns and turned into a little monster.
“Little, my foot” he muttered aloud, “that girl is looking more like a grown woman each day!” His lips made a moue of disapproval. He felt so cheated by life trying to snatch his girl away before he was ready to see her as anything more than the little imp he used to bounce on his knee.
And Elisabeth was of no help whatsoever. His thoughts ran un-forgivingly. As if by some evil kind of magic the object of his thoughts flew into his study without even knocking.
“Father!” She began talking at once without even so much as a greeting, her face flushed with exertion, her blossoming chest heaving with the burden of a pent up fury just seeking a target to release itself upon. “Wedu and Abeba are not allowed into my room and to touch my things.” She paused to collect herself for a powerful vitriol.
Alem Neh was barely paying attention to the words of the irate girl standing hands akimbo before him. ‘My God!’ he thought in spite of himself, ‘she looks magnificent, like the Queen of Sheba and Jezebel all rolled into one.’ Having gained sufficient breath Desta proceeded to berate her father in high octaves.
Elisabeth was a worried woman. In the kitchen where she was busy preparing wot and injera, her hands stilled momentarily as she focused on her thoughts. ‘Desta iss going to bring trouble to my little paradise’, she thought sadly, ‘the clothes that child had taken to wearing, made her cheeks burn. One would think she was raised loose and scattered all over!’ She fumed inwardly and just then she heard raised voices coming from the study. She left her tasks and hurried to find out what was going on.
Elisabeth was just in time too, she found just when Alem Neh, unable to bear his daughters breach of etiquette had risen up from his behind his desk head lowered, seeming ready to charge like a bull. His face was flushed with anger and a fine film of perspiration dotted his brow.
“Desta!” Elisabeth exclaimed in a sharp voice, “You will leave the room this instant and go to your room. Stay there and wait for me.”
Not waiting for the daughter to respond, she grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her towards the open door. Alone with her husband she drew in a deep breath.
“Husband,” she began, adopting a correctly soft and pleading tone,” she is your daughter, our happiness; we must try to be a little patient.”
Alem Neh was done with patience at that particular instant, turning roundly on his wife he shouted,”Ba.leu.be.te (wife), I am tired of this nonsense. You stand there talking nonsense instead of busying yourself with the raising of your daughter. Don’t stand there and yap, go raise me a daughter that a man of my stature, a successful me.geb.seu.ri (businessman) like myself can be proud of! He finished with a look so fierce it brooked no argument.
Stung to the depth of her heart, Elisabeth left the study blindly and slowly mounted the stairs to her daughter’s room.
’My God’, she thought, ‘what did I do to deserve this? I have raised my children myself, dedicating my life to making a comfortable home and just look at the thanks I get.’ She sniffed loudly as she reached the top landing, then branched right and made a beeline to her daughter’s room into which she proceeded to open unceremoniously. Desta was sprawled artlessly across the bed weeping copiously.
‘Spoiled brat’, Elisabeth thought uncharitably, ‘if she would only stop for a moment to think about what her behavior is doing to my marriage, then she would weep for me instead.’
“Get up!” she snapped at her daughter,”go to the bathroom and wash your face and then we will go to the kitchen and you will help me to prepare your father’s favorite dish, doro wat but first you will change and dress like the good Ethiopian Orthodox girl that you are, eh?” Not waiting for assent, Elisabeth made her way quickly to the kitchen where she had left her preparations midway.
Desta watched her mother go with mixed feelings. She felt compressed, so tired of their conservative household.
‘If only I was born somewhere else where people know how to relax and live’, she thought cynically. She walked slowly to her dressing table and surveyed herself critically in the full length mirror. What her parents found so offensive about her dressing escaped her notice entirely. “I look hot”, she whispered softly to herself, “if only Mum and Dad could catch up to the real world, that this is how people my age dress like!”
With a loud sigh she went to her closet and searched with savage fingers for a prudish frock that would kill her to wear but would definitely mollify her father. Her fingers caught a white spurn cotton dress with classic Ethiopian embroidery and she tugged it off the hanger and disconsolately removed her ‘hot’ garments for what she considered to be a sexless, drab dress devoid of all personality. Nonetheless, she put it on and hurried after her mother.
They worked in silence, mother and daughter, each lost in their own thoughts. Making wot was a task requiring concentration, roasting the onions on a hot skillet free from oil required vigilance or else burnt onions would be the result and one could not use these as the entire taste of the end product was achieving the right balance of flavor. Soon, however, a feeling of closeness engulfed the two and Desta, forgetting for the moment that she hated being a conservative Ethiopian girl was caught up in the joy of good cooking.
Elisabeth sighed; she was glad that her Taita background had prepared her well in the art of home making and an innate love of good cooking. She was proud of her kitchen and her ability to master even difficult Ethiopian dishes. Alem Neh was a suave businessman outside his home but within the walls of his fortress he was most traditional and conservative. He liked things done in the way of his homeland. Soon the two had put together a delectable meal, layered the injera (National Ethiopian bread) one on top of the other in a round woven basket with wot arranged on a large tray like platter.
Mealtime traditions were strictly observed. The basket of injera was placed upon the table and the wot servings placed beside it in an eye catching manner. When all were seated, Alem Neh said Grace in low sonorous tones. After this he broke off a piece of injera and ate it thus signaling that the meal could begin and all could eat…
After clearing up at the end of the meal Desta escaped to her bedroom. She fished her cell phone from under her pillow and called Terry. Terry picked up instantly as though she had been hanging on just waiting to grab the very next call.
“Hey!” she quipped, “Wuz up girlfriend?”
“You are so lame Tee,” Desta chortled, immensely pleased to hear Terry’s vibrant voice. ‘Terry is so alive’, Desta thought in an instant of uncontrollable envy, the blasting music in the background seemed a true testimony to this. “Tee, don’t your parents make a fuss when you blast away like that?”
“My parents have their own space and I have mine,” Terry replied nonchalantly,” we try not to get into each other’s hair. Anyway, parents are boooooring!” She yawned tellingly in Desta’s ear, “I hope that’s not what you called me for?” she asked, with ill-concealed impatience.
“Oh no!” Desta exclaimed, eager to please and desperate incase Terry thought she was infantile or worse dry and dull. “I was calling about Nigel”, she continued hurriedly, “he wanted to come and practice some music at our house but the old man’s around and hell bent on staying put. Can you just conceive the thought? Ooooh, I wish I could fly far, far away and never see that Ethiopian man again!” Desta had mastered melodrama.
“Hey, your Dad’s kind of cute, a hunk sort of. I think he is cool. My old man has a belly that gets stuck in doors. Sometimes I feel like taking a gun and going ‘pop’ straight at that bellee. Yeesh, he so makes me mad!” Having uttered such convincing drama Terry felt like she was hosting a talk show, she arranged herself so that she could see her reflection in the full length mirror on her bedroom wall. She made a moue with her lips, checked out her lip gloss, and twirled her manicured fingers with nails painted a shiny black. “He is just too old, I wish he would do gym or something, even my Mom thinks so.” Desta giggled, delighted by such irreverence, though if she was honest the thought of her Dad being described as ‘a sort of hunk’, did not make her feel so good. She brushed the feeling quickly aside, mesmerized by Terry’s capacity to say the most brazen things. She puffed herself up a little, wanting to feel a little older, more sophisticated, and capable of saying that her Daddy was droll.
“Terry, could you get Nigel to come to your house at 4 pm tomorrow? I will ask Mom to drop me off. That’s if you are okay with that.” Desta added quickly.
“Oh that’s fine by me,” Terry replied.
“Ok see you then Tee!” Desta knew the only way to get out of their house was through her mother and to get her mother to take her to Terry’s she would have to be the tamest; most decorous and respectful Ethiopian orthodox girl there ever lived and dressed captivatingly like a nun to boot. She set to work and the effort paid off, her mother was only too happy to take her to visit at Terry’s house.
At the agreed time Elisabeth dropped off her Daughter at the Ndetu’s House in Lavington. Desta and Terry fell into each other’s arms giggling in that high pitched mindless way that girls at their school thought was so hip, traipsing through the huge villa that was the Ndetu’s home and chatting away like monkeys.
Nigel was the next guest to arrive and he sauntered to the patio, carelessly swinging a jacket over his shoulder, where the girls lounged carelessly slurping ice cream noisily. He did a dramatic pose, smiled dreamily, “Wuz up, you guys are having a ball I see. Hey, can I have some that?” Without waiting for assent he grabbed Desta’s bowl and attacked the ice cream with relish. Desta suddenly didn’t know what to do with her hands and she lowered her eyes bashfully.
When she recovered some poise, she glanced at Nigel from the corner of her eye. ‘He is so good to look at,’ her eye lingered on the broad athletic shoulders which tapered to a slender dancer’s waist, ‘My, he’s hot!’ Desta’s thoughts made her cheeks burn and suddenly she felt out of breathe like she had run a marathon or something. Perspiration suddenly stung her under arms, she squirmed uncomfortably. ‘Oh Lord just what I need, to have a sweating fit!’ Desta thought frantically.
Nigel was of a dark chocolate complexion. He had a flashing white smile and a hint of a dimple in his left cheek. He knew he looked good and he worked it, secretly enjoying the effect he was having on the two girls. Even Terry who was normally not one to let others hog the spotlight when she was around was quiet. She had a stupid dreamy look on her face. Nigel walked over to Desta and sat on the thin iron arm of the garden chair. It must have hurt something but you wouldn’t know it for the charm he turned on. He draped a careless arm on Desta’s shoulder and looked down into her eyes. He felt the slight trembling of her shoulders.
‘Yes!’ he thought excitement racing through his veins. “Hey Des, you signed up for music club but you never picked up the music. I wanted everyone to check out the video clips before our next club meeting.” He gave her shoulders a light gentle squeeze, leaning forward to catch a waft of the light fragrance she wore. Nigel definitely liked this girl and he thought she was hot too, an Ethiopian or something. Maybe she would be his girl. He could just imagine the other dudes drooling with envy when he announced that the hottest girl in the school was his.
Meanwhile Desta barely heard a word. She thought she would get a heart attack or something from the heat of his closeness. He turned his attention to Terry who was beginning to frown; one thing Terry could not stand was being ignored.
“Terry I almost forgot. I wanted to invite you to my house next Saturday. I’m having a bash and you can’t guess who will be performing live.”
“Who? Ebu tell just now!” Terry exclaimed forgetting her irritation.
“Gilbert Mwadilo!” Nigel exclaimed unable to stop himself. “
Waaat, oh man. How did you manage that Nigel? Of course I am appearing!” Terry shrilled. She got up and did a dance, aping Mwadilo’s hit songMpenzi, very convincingly. Nigel jumped up and joined her singing some of the lines and dancing provocatively. Desta forgot her shyness and dissolved into a fit of laughter. Nigel came to the chair took her hand and pulled her up. Wrapping his hands on her slender waist he sung to her as though the song was written for her. Desta threw her head back enjoying the moment and danced with Nigel, matching him move for move. Then panting and breathless the three flopped down on the floor. Nigel stretched his tall frame on the floor and gazed up at the blue sky. They talked about Mwadilo’s music and time flew. It was getting late and promptly at 7 pm, Desta knew that her Mom would be there to pick her up.
“I best be getting ready, guys, my mom will be here anytime now.” She stood up.
Nigel stood up too, took her hand and said,” Des, promise me you will be there. It will be my birthday y’know and I so want you there.”
“I will try”, Desta replied.
“I want you to promise me”, Nigel said earnestly squeezing her hand tight.
“Okay Nigel, I promise”, Desta said unable to think of an excuse, she would ask her Mom and hopefully her Father would be persuaded to consent.
Breakfast next morning was business as usual.
Then Alem Neh fixed a sharp eye on his daughter Desta, “What is this your Mother tells me that a boy has invited you to a party?”
Desta almost choked on the scalding hot tea. Confusion reigned in her mind. Her father did not give her time to answer but continued in a tone Desta knew so well and hated.
“Well, my answer is no! No party, no boys! I don’t want my daughter running wild like some of those girls I see in Nairobi these days. No, that is the end of that matter!”
Desta trembled like a leaf caught in a storm. She looked askance at her mother, her eyes pleading. Her Mother avoided her gaze. She got up and fled from the table and in the sanctuary of her bedroom she knew exactly what she had to do and Terry was the one to help her flee from this Orthodox prison she called home. She called Terry and the two conspirators planned a grand escape from the bondage of the prison of orthodoxy. She pushed a few things into a duffel bag and sneaked out of the house and saw Muka in the garden. She beckoned him and he came wearing a puzzled expression on his face.
She pressed a two hundred note in his hand and whispered, “Muka, I need to go somewhere and I don’t want them knowing about it just yet. All you have to do is get me past the Watchie and don’t tell anyone that you have seen me.”
Muka started to shake his head in the negative and Desta quickly added a shiny new 500 hundred bob note. He swallowed noisily.
“Basi njoo haraka sana, twende”, he said pushing Desta conspiratorially in the direction of the SQ. He opened his door with shaking hands and pushed Desta inside. “Wait there for me”, he commanded and went out closing the door behind him. He walked to the gate whistling nonchalantly.
“Sasa Chief” he greeted the gate Askari. “Eh, you would like some tea for drinking? The Madam, she brought me a big kibuyu there in the garden kaseebo (gazebo). Mani, I cannot drink all thata one. Eishh it will make me sleep in my job then the Mzee will become a lion on me.” He laughed. “Just go there fast and drink quick, I will hold the gate for you.” He offered generously.
“Kweli jamaa ya kwetu! Aki kiu cha niumiza. Asante bwana.” The Askari made his way to quench his thirst quickly in case the offer was rescinded. Muka watched him turn the corner and disappear from sight then he went back speedily to his house and told Desta to follow him to the gate.
“Hide there down ” he said pointing to the gatehouse. Desta meekly obeyed. Within a few minutes her phone rang. It was Terry, she was in Taxi waiting at gate 1687, Grevilla Rd.
“Fungua gate and give me my bag.” she told Muka who was just as eager to be done with her. She sped down the lane and sighed with relief when she saw the white taxi cab with a yellow line. She got in the back and settled herself without a greeting to the occupants within.
“Let’s get out of here” she urged the taxi cab driver. Once on Waiyaki Way, caught up in the rest of indifferent traffic, Desta began to relax. “Can you put me up at your house?” she demanded of Terry. Terry did not even waste a second pretending to give it a thought, she had already made up her mind and had even started plotting the scenario way before while they had waited for Desta outside that place. She wanted to be in on this drama from beginning to end.
She turned to her friend and said sweetly, “My house is your house, girlfriend!” then she dissolved into excited giggles. “Turudishe nyumbani,” she told the driver.
Safe at last in Terry’s bedroom, Desta proceeded to give the low down on her parents.
“Uhuh.” nodded Terry sympathetically suddenly grateful for her pot bellied father who was too busy with his life to find the time to meddle in her own. “Of course you are so going to that party!” she exclaimed indignantly. “Don’t worry your pretty head about anything. My parents rarely bother with me. We talk only when we must and for me that’s to recharge my credit card. They won’t even notice you live here trust me. I have lived with them my whole life and they barely notice me.” Terry finished serenely. True to their daughter’s expectations, the Ndetus never knew they had acquired a resident guest and Desta got her wish; she went to Nigel’s party looking sensational.
Nigel lived with his parents in a palatial home in Old Runda. Nigel was so happy to see his two friends and his party was rocking. Gilbert Mwadilo seemed hell bent on outdoing every one of his previous sterling performances. The party just took a life of its own and Desta felt like she had finally found wings with which to fly, high, high above.
Gilbert Mwadilo knew when he was killing it and today was definitely one of those times.
Then he saw her, a girl who looked like the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti. His heart started hammering inside his chest and he could feel the swirling of a misty darkness gathering from the periphery of his consciousness. He felt a surge of adrenaline like when he got a fix and he knew with uncanny certainty just what he was going to do to this girl, who even at that distance was teasing his senses so unbearably with her beauty. The fact that she was utterly unaware of him and that he did not know her himself was to him a potent aphrodisiac.
‘She does not need to know me anymore than I need to know her. No, what I am going to do to her tonight has no need for that,’ he thought excitedly. He sang and worked up his audience with a controlled finesse, secretly working himself up to the moment he was going to create with that nameless Nefertiti.
©Nyambura Kiarie 2011 Read the rest of this urban narrative.