Celebrating East African Writing!
It strikes me that I am sweating, so I stop, put down my sack of plastic bottles, swat the lone fly resting on my nose and look up at the noon sun. It’s a peculiar thing this sun. It just stares down at the world for the whole day, relentlessly. When it gets tired of watching one part of the world, it moves on to another place. At least that’s what Ms. Heather told me a long time ago when she caught me staring at the sun. I remember her telling me it’s not good to look at the sun with your naked eye, it might make you go blind. You can imagine my disappointment when the following day I took off my shirt and placed it over my eyes to look at the sun then she and all my classmates laughed at me.
I have done this before you know, having a stare down with the orange eye in the sky. She has never lost, I always blink first. But am getting better at it, and one of these days she will blink and I will win, you just wait and see. Damn it! I just blinked…discipline, focus and hard work; Ms. Heather used to tell us that’s how you get what you want in life. When a white person says something like that, you listen…
Maybe that’s my problem. I need to be more disciplined and stay focused, that’s the only way to win a contest with the sun. Pipi tells me my eyes look tired these days, that I should stop staring at the sun too much. When I see her today I will tell her those words, discipline, focus and hard work. The English will impress her but she won’t show it, she never does. The sun still hasn’t blinked, she never does, but everybody blinks, sometime. Next time. Next time I will show discipline, focus and hard work, just like Ms. Heather said.
I like those few seconds just after you look away from the sun. The little specks of light dancing around everything excite me. For a moment everything becomes a mass of swirling color and dust. The way the colors chase after each other this way and that way and then get chased back the other way, an eternal game…it makes me smile and then I blink and viola…the little clouds are gone. Just like that.
It is noon, that means I only have six hours to fill my other 2 sacks, time is of the utmost importance! Ms. Heather would say that when she was angry at me, I always did my best not to anger her, but she had such a temper that woman. I remember the day she was so angry she told me to remove all my clothes in her little office…but those are things I should not talk of, she told me not to tell anyone and when a white person tells you these things, you listen! Less thinking, more walking, I have sacks to fill.
It’s now 5PM now; I can tell by the sun, she is never wrong you know…just like she won the other 3 stare downs I had with her today. One day she will blink, one day. I just filled my last sack and all that remains is taking them to the Re-use factory and I will have some money to buy Pipi some ointment for her swollen leg, and hopefully a little left to buy some milk and bread, I haven’t had anything to eat the whole day. She has been using aloe on her wound ever since that dog bit her, I told her she needed more than just leaves, she shrugged her shoulders and said something about her grandmother who was mauled by a leopard and lived to tell the tale. This woman, she never listens.
That’s when I see them, 3 of them, walking towards me, laughing. It’s Thige and his ‘family’ that’s what they call themselves. I know what they will do, they will surround me, laugh and make jokes at how I never blink and then they will claim I collected the bottles from their side of the dumpsite, ‘The People’s Republic of Thige’.
I laughed the first time I heard that name, what do they mean territory? I have grown up on this dump! I have been here ever since the government took Ms. Heather, when they said such mean things about her. Can you imagine that, they said mean things about a white person! But I wish they had asked me…I would have told them the truth, that she only did those things to us when we made her angry, it was punishment and she only did it to correct us.
I still remember the night Thige came to my carton home and told me about his territory. He told me to either join the ‘family’ or keep off his territory. A boy, whose mother was my playmate those many years ago at Ms. Heather’s school, telling me to keep off the southern end of the dump! So I just laughed and he hit me. He hit me so hard and fast on my jaw that I saw those colorful specks of light for the first time at night. What had the world come to when a boy could hit an old man without the slightest hesitation? It still hurts you know, Pipi cannot hold my face in her palms these days, she used to enjoy doing that you know…but let’s not talk about those things. They are for the two of us to discuss.
Thige and his goons are close now; they will take my bottles from me and probably hit my jaw again. The rumor is he now wears a steel nuts on his fingers before he hits you…the ‘Jaw breaker’ I once heard the children chant when they were playing. I have options; I could run. But Pipi really needs that medicine, whether she admits it or not and my legs are not what they used to be, years and years of broken glass and jiggers have taken their toll.
I could stand and tell them to back off, tell them am twice their age, tell Thige I was there when his mother gave birth to him on this very dump and we had to take him to hospital because he could not cry. Which child does not cry when they are born? I could stand my ground and tell them this so called ‘Peoples republic of Thige’ is bullshit, as Ms. Heather would shout each time her land rover wouldn’t start and we had to push it; she said the most beautiful things that woman.
“The jaw breaker doesn’t listen,” Pipi once told me, “He breaks jaws, that’s what he does!” I always listen to Pipi, she has the best advice you know. It’s not worth the fight so I drop the sacks from my back and look at the sun which is now on the descent to the west. My chest hurts, Pipi really needs that medicine. I fondle the little paper in my coat pocket the good lad at the dispensary gave me when I told him about Pipi’s leg, he even told me my eyes looked tired and wrote me another prescription for them. He did not even ask me for money! I remember crying in his office. Crying because he called me sir like a white man, crying because he stood up when I walked in, crying because he left me in his office to go look for the medicine but found someone had stolen the drugs from the pharmacy, crying because he did not ask me for any money. When I told Pipi about the nice man at the dispensary she just shrugged her shoulders, she always does that when she has nothing to say.
The sun stares back at me as I walk away from the 3 sacks, a whole day’s rummage. I can hear Thige’s distinct deep bellow laugh as I walk away. “Walk away old man!” one of the thugs chides. Pay no attention, discipline, focus and hard work, I will get Pipi’s medicine money tomorrow. Tomorrow the sun will blink 1st. As I stare, the setting orange ball slowly morphs into Pipi’s face, twisted in a painful frown, she is rubbing her leg, her eyes water. I have never seen her like this before. She turns away when she sees me looking at her. I hear my voice ask her if she is in pain, she just shrugs her shoulders.
I love the sun. It’s a constant, you know that tomorrow in the morning it will be in the east, it will shine with the same merciless intensity it did yesterday and in the evening it will set in the west. The sun was there when they took Ms. Heather, it was there when I cried for days outside her locked house waiting for her, it was there before this dump site and it will be there tomorrow when I get Pipi’s medicine.
My thoughts are interrupted when I stumble on something hard. It’s a small wooden box…there is a padlock locking it shut. Padlocks have never been a problem, I always carry many pieces of wire in my pockets commonly referred to as ‘Funguo malaya’, they open anything and everything.
Soon the padlock is on the ground and I open the lid. Inside there is an old worn out looking bible, the kind I see carried around by those crazy people who walk around foaming at the mouth as they shout damnation and condemnation to all and sundry. I pick up the bible from inside the box, it’s heavier than it looks. The box I will keep for Pipi, she will love it I know. The bible I do not need, I cannot read. As I swing it above my shoulder to throw it back into the garbage, three small pieces of paper fall out from in-between one of its many pages.
I have stared before, but I have never stared like I do at the three thousand shilling notes on the ground. The last time I stared like that was when Ms. Heather baked a cake for me and made the other children sing happy birthday to me. They look too bright, I blink my eyes unbelievingly. I can still hear Thige and his thugs laughing as I pick up the notes from the ground. I will keep the bible too and maybe when Pipi’s leg heals I will bring her back here and show her where I found the box.
Smiling at the setting sun, I walk home remembering Ms. Heathers favorite passage from the bible, she made us recite it over and over again every evening in English; “The Lord’s my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me beside still waters. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me…surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” She was quite the person, that woman. If only she stayed long enough to teach me what they meant.
© Edwin Baru 2010 http://Lawschooler.blogspot.com
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