Celebrating East African Writing!

The Mystery of Cents

Written by Richard Oduor Oduku 

No one told me about this when I was growing up. No one! Not my mother, not my father! No one! No one ever told me that money was a dragon, a miser, and a dictator. That money could eat or starve at will, but never die. That money was rich. That money was poor. That money chooses where to reside.  Sometimes it chooses tin shacks; sometimes golden castles. No one ever told me that money could build a diamond palace in a sea of molten glass, not even the sea liners that dot our coast line with broads glistening with shiny necklaces and meticulously curved ivory bangles. Never once, did I know that the beasts that hold their hands as they saunter daintily across the sandy beaches were favored because they had it. They had the cents.


All I ever knew was that golden castles could only be built using gold, while sea liners and shining necklaces were basically shaped metal. As for ivory bangles, everybody, even my slender sister knows that they come from an elephant’s tusks. After all, Daddy used to be in the business of hunting down the gigantic wastes of flesh and cutting off their horns. What I never knew was why he had to go through all that sweat only to give the curved and heavy nonsense to the red short man with a long nose and a funny accent. One could not even differentiate their language from that of the monkeys that shit on our tin shack.


Now I am not complaining. No, I am not even that ignorant. I am not complaining that these leafy forests had to be fenced off just to give these long tailed, black faced monkeys their rights. Yet, here we are. Dad, Mum, my slender sister Katika, and Me; a young man Katumbo, forced to share this little, one-roomed, toilet inside, bathroom inside, kitchen inside, play ground inside, paper and tin shack. I am not ignorant; in fact I think monkeys deserve a better life than us because they are animals but we are beasts.


“Katumbo, wake up from your reverie! Lazy son of Bwabwasa!” Sirisia, my barely clothed mother, screamed.


Now, it is not that my mother loves to dress scantily. No, I never said that. All I said is that she is barely clothed. Her Kikoi is in tatters; her shoes are old, patched leather 1970s ballroom dancing shoes. I am not sure about the ‘ballroom’ idea but that is what Mum says. Same to me, not that I like to leave my buttocks daring the cold wind. No, the wind is a monster and it molests my buttocks. But what can I do, who can I ask for a fresh pair of shorts? My Dad? No. He does not have a respectable pair of trouser himself because since I was born, he puts on one grey trouser and a mercilessly frayed brown shirt every Sunday morning. Through, every time I say the shirt is brown, I get the belt. Mum says that the shirt is white, or at least, it used to be white way back in the early 1990s.


“Katika my slender sister!” I call, at the top of my just-starting-to-croak voice.

“I am not slender. You always say that. You always say that to annoy me. You always say that to amuse yourself, my slender brother!” Katika throws her defense at me.

“Okay. I won’t say that again Katika. Now is the porridge ready, my slender beautiful sister?” I ask remorseful and trying to avoid calling her slender again.

“Slender! slender! You have said it again. You always say that to annoy me. You always say that to amuse yourself, my slender brother! You are a weak idiot; Mama said there is no porridge today. You have to wait until lunch time or join the street urchins and scavenge for food”, Katika rasped as usual


Now I would have been a Chokora a long time back but that was when they were the only kids who could buy sweets. Nowadays, they are abhorred and walk around shriveled and tormented. The pride of being a Chokora is gone. Everybody goes to school because the teachers say that education is the key to success in life. Now I’ll admit I have a shallow knowledge of the keys of life, but I definitely don’t like school. It used to eat up my leisure time. I also don’t like the feel of elastic tubes on my buttocks, though it looks like the other kids enjoy it and that’s why they are still going to school. Not me.


I want to be successful in life. I want enough food to fatten myself and my slender sister Katika, clothes to cover my shameful nakedness. Mum and Dad would do with a few clothes too. Especially for Dad, a fresh pair of grey trousers and a brand new white shirt will be heaven. Also, a good home will keep my egregious father at home. But all these successes can only be achieved by money and I don’t know where the hell I can get lots of cents. I guess I’d have to ask uncle Sombrero who visits mum, when Dad is away, with a white Chevrolet KVX something. I don’t like numbers, though uncle Sombrero likes them. He writes in his small brown soiled pocket book every time he goes to the muddy market to buy tomatoes. I don’t understand what he does with so many crates of tomatoes, we don’t buy them at home but my neighbor buys two or three fruits everyday. My slender sister Katika says that he eats them to become brown.


“Katika! Is that the smell of porridge I hear?” I rasp, feeling the drop of bile on my duodenum.


“Yes, my slender brother, but you have to wait till lunch time.” She added to annoy me.


“No problem, you know I always have a fat patience.” I added, obviously wishing the hours to fly a little bit faster. If I had the power, I would have deleted a few minutes in an hour, say fifteen minutes.

I have been sitting here since the sun came up. I can feel its hot rays on my dusty, itchy head. Every single morning, my friends go to Jua Kali but I don’t like the work because people don’t put on white shiny coats like the one the President puts on in a one shilling coin. I stand up and go for a lazy walk. I love lazy walks. Mum says lazy walks make one lazy but I don’t care. In fact, there is no way a lazy walk can make one lazy. Mum is a liar all the time. Moreover, Dad never cares, he never says anything. Not that there is anything to say. You see, I am a very intelligent fifteen year old son who knows what he is doing but mum says I am seventeen and we are yet to agree on my right age.


Now back to Dad, or Mr. Bwabwasa, as Mum and his red nosed friend calls him. Obviously there is never time to call him by another name so when he happens to be around like Sunday mornings, we simply call him Dad. Most of the time; he is never at home. He comes home when I’m curled up in dirty dusty blankets and goes when the morning cold begins to bite my bare buttocks. Mum says he works in industries and so I call my dad an Industrialist. But I read in the newspaper, or rather heard our neighbor Mapunda read aloud in a piece used to wrap Mandazis, that industrialists live in the adjacent estate with tall buildings, green lawns, and big dogs. But I don’t understand. I don’t understand the mysteries of cents so I go for my lazy walk till lunch time. I’m becoming a big boy now and nobody is telling me anything about money, the only thing I care about is lazy walks and more lazy walks.


©Richard Oduor 2011

This short story was submitted into the Storymoja Urban Narratives : No One Told Me… Short Story Contest. Please comment on the short story for the author’s benefit and then vote on the story. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being weak and 10 being excellent, please indicate where you rank this story. Points will be tallied on the 6th of August, and the winner announced on the 7th of August 2011.



4 comments on “The Mystery of Cents

  1. Bee Illustrated
    July 26, 2011

    I’m impressed by the tone used in this piece- it mocks yet at the same time it shows the butters of the character. I give it an 8


  2. Bee Illustrated
    July 26, 2011

    Pardon the typo in the penultimate entry. I meant to say it shows the bitterness of the character.


  3. Baru
    August 1, 2011

    i love this one…8/10


  4. kyt
    November 30, 2011

    more lazy walks for him, the power of cents which many dont have !!


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