Celebrating East African Writing!
Written by Moses Kilolo
We are on our way home. And beside me on the back seat the jetlagged girl leans her head on my shoulder.
I place my right hand around her shoulder and rock her a little. I touch her smooth black hair every now and then, feeling for its light texture. We do not see such kind of natural hair in Nairobi, even though my mother has often dressed herself with Indian human hair imports to look half as good.
She is not from India, this girl. She is from way further, in Thailand. She speaks English worse than a kindergarten kid from the village. She does not understand it much either. And at moments like this she understands only the language of silence. Cast upon a still world where feeling and desire reign supreme. And so she listens as my heart beats increase by the moment.
Mombasa road has sufficient traffic to cause an irate and impatient driver an earth shattering migraine. The city in the sun has awoken, and movements run parallel with little regard of each other. So she awakes only to its visual joys.
“Wow, you is a beautiful city!” She says.
“You are awake,” says my sister Koki.
Koki only obtained her driver’s license recently. She was more than willing to chauffer us home from the airport.
“I am sorry I sleep, the flight been long and we had a delay in Bangok.” says the girl.
She turns to me and smiles as if to apologize. I smile back to let her know she need not to. She has arrived at the moment for which a lot of sweat has been shed. Six months of hard, engrossing work so that every single shilling is saved to facilitate this moment. And my sister Koki pretends that she does not understand.
Koki is a tomboyish eighteen year old girl whose swimming genius has taken her around the world. In the water she transforms herself into a fish and glides like she were an aquatic incarnate. But in the world she has so far cared little for the finer feelings of romance, and she laughs at me every time I sit at the computer for hours waiting for this girl to answer to my skype call. Because she has been such a wild success, and money brought with it the blessing of peculiar opportunities, Koki decided to treat her only brother to a trip six months ago. She was participating in a Norwegian tournament, taking a three week holiday as well. And she brought me with her. While there I met this girl and spent all my time chasing after her.
Koki has not yet forgiven me for that trip. She yelled at me for letting her spend a full three weeks in the awful company of a trainer that wanted to train her into loving him. But now she looks at the girl beside me and nods to me in silence.
The girl is unaware of the transformation she has caused in our lives. Across thousands of miles, at the click of a button, she has made me into a believer of shared tenderness. The medium and premise for all this has been words written and spoken across machines. The simple words of greeting, expressions of love, tender wishes of a safe sojourn in this life in which we live. All shared through infinite distances. But close hearts. Until we meet again.
Koki watched from a distance as my world took shape, colored by an admirable state of focus. She too began to look at herself from the point of the loved, though when men asked she let them into her world with a hesitant smile. But because her standards of a vibrant soul were such high, she found most of them seminally lazy. None did manifest a living and flaming desire for life and love as she saw in her brother. And so she envied me, with a pat on the back to encourage me on. She could not do anything else to me other than love me, after all this was the true order of nature. And unless she went against that nature she remained chained. In the purity and intensity of that love her only expression was unconditional support for what made me happy.
Koki drives slowly across town. The girl insists that she must experience the city for a moment.
“We will come back later,” I whisper to her ear, “now we have to get home before Papa leaves for work.”
“I want now is the good time,” she says.
“Don’t worry; we will have all the time in the world in the evening.” Koki adds, “we might even stop briefly at the Sarit Center and do some quick shopping now.”
“The shopping mall which has been terrorized?” says the girl.
“No. The terrorists attacked a different one, and this has been a long time now. So we will stop briefly and then head on home.”
“I don’t want to stop briefly.” she says to me.
“I don’t want to stop briefly,” she says again, as though the sentence is memorized.
“What’s wrong with her?” Koki asks, seemingly amused.
I know the girl to have a temper of sorts, the kind that you cannot fully comprehend over a digital space. But for this moment I am confused. I do not know what she means. And I am afraid that she does not know either.
Is it that she does not want to spend a few minutes in the mall, as opposed to a leisurely tour? Or is it that she does not want to stop at all.
I have been her supplementary English teacher, and phrases have often confused our romantic talk and turned them into cyber fights. One time she did not talk to me for a week because she thought I had been rude, and I had only told her “don’t be silly.”
Now is not the time for semantics. She should be prepared enough for a seamless integration into our society even just for a few days. I am afraid that she will not know how important it is to go with the flow, to pretend that you understand, to assume that the host is right, to say yes even when it is not in her favor to do so.
Koki drives through Moi Avenue and joins the University way with a cautious speed. She has always been a slow and fearful driver. And when she turns to our hushed fight at the back of the car I kiss the girl and soon she is melted into a loving, submissive, foreign, possible bride. For a moment I feel like I have bribed her into allowing the flow, but when we get to the mall she refuses to step off.
“I will wait right here,” she says, “I am still tired a little.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Koki tells her, “we will be back in a second.
“Do you want me to come along?” I ask.
Leaving her behind is like tearing a small piece of my flesh. Though it is a small insignificant piece for which the rest of the body can easily survive without, the pain is much the same. Sharp. Intense. Except in this case I would prefer to say confused and hollow. Which is why I look back and wave, blowing a kiss to tell her I would be back in a second. When Koki wants you to do something, I have learned that my options are severely diminished against her kind of steadfastness.
I pick out a Delmonte juice pack and throw it into the shopping cart. I pick up fresh fruits and a bottle of wine and a piece of cake and soda and a travel diary, and this and that till Koki says stop.
“What’s the matter Kyalo?” She asks, “isn’t this the same girl you spend a week of perfect harmony with in Oslo?”
“Of course.” I say, turning away.
“Then why do you look like a ghost has invaded your world?” Koki asks, standing in front of me and searching my face with her eyes. “relax, soon you will see that this is the same girl you skype with every night.”
“I know. It’s just that her actual presence, after all that we have talked about and the entire world that we have built across a medium, now looks real for the first time.”
“Then be happy.”
“I’m just afraid.”
“That I will find that she is not the picture that I have shaped in my mind.”
“Bro, you have two weeks to figure that all out, without a damn lying medium. She is here, she is real, and she got a temper.”
Papa is seated on a lonely chair under a shade in the compound when we arrive home, reading the Daily Nation. He smiles and puts away his paper when he sees us. He pays a special interest in our guest as he does all of Koki’s foreign friends. But in his eyes I see that he knows that this guest is different. When he says welcome, he does so as he always does to others, with a warm smile. But there is a hidden suggestion that being welcome does not mean overstaying the welcome. And later, as the girl joins mama and Koki in the kitchen, he asks me about Nyambura. Why has Nyambura not visited in so many months? That fine little girl, he murmurs to himself. That fine home girl.