Jemimah Kariuki is
‘Charity begins at work,’ she says
at every desk she stops at in her workplace, Domestic Revenue, ExtelComms Inspectorate. She licks her lips – a
nervous habit from childhood – trying to recruit members. A few have promised
to join the Chinese venture, Kianshi Multi-marketing, that she has just signed
up as an agent for: Mama Kitu, the Domestic Revenue manager’s soon-to-retire
secretary, who has a sausage and ‘Buru Buru free-range’ eggs business; Bob
‘just call me Bobby’ Onyango, who offers green card opportunities for a price, and
who starts asking Jemimah whether she can hook him up with red cards to go to
China – Bobby says he needs a new product and he sees potential in their
working together; Assumpta from Engineering. Then there is Silas, the intern
from Domestic Revenue, and Dennis Wafula from Wires and Cables, who needs
something on the side to help him pay school fees for his twelve children.
The MMT buses from Cape Coast to Kumasi run on time. Luggage is weighed and ticketed; seats fill up from the back; and flip down seats are added into the aisle space. The teenager sitting next to Lucy borrows her novel, Arrows of Rain, and reads it as fast as he can. Failing to finish it before they arrive, he gives the book back without a word. The bus stop in Kumasi is packed and chaotic. Vendors saunter gracefully, balance baskets on their heads containing small plastic packets of water, sweets, crisps, plantain chips, cashews and toenail clippers. The centre of the marketplace has been shifted temporarily while a new bus station is built. Lucy and Ben take a cab to the Presbyterian boarding house where they will stay for a few dollars in spartan rooms that at least have a creaky fan and mosquito nets.
Like any other morning, Zinu awoke from a sleep alive with colour. In his dreams he was in the classroom, seated at the front desk. The vague murmurs of the other children floated around him, but his eyes were trained on the shiny Bata shoes twinkling up at him. His gaze trailed up the black trouser legs of the man who wore the shoes like he had been born in them. The man turned and pointed a stick at something on the blackboard.
Today, I remembered your body.
I shut my eyes, and your face came floating in the dark. The silhouette wasn’t shaped like a heart. It was small. Small, not as in tiny and shiny, but small because it fit in my palms perfectly when I held it to kiss it. I remember how I could kiss that face the whole Sunday afternoon; and your earlobes, and your cheeks that would flush crimson. Giggles that escaped your mouth like crystal bubbles as I traced the bridge of your tiny nose. The lips were tiny too. Like white women’s. But they tasted of promise and a moment. And I would unzip them with the tip of my tongue. My tongue would dive deep looking for home. I would floss your teeth with the waters of my mouth. You would raise your body as an ocean wave meeting the moon. And then you would shudder. Like a small hurricane.
Wisdom passes two street boys enjoying a blunt behind Post Bank, paces to City Market, and sits on the empty steps. The stench of fish offal is overwhelming. He sneezes and curses, breathes in and curses the heavens again. He loves Christmas because it sends city folk to their ancestral lands. Toast stands akimbo, his back leaning on a column on the opposite side of the street. He sees Wisdom and motions him over. They meet midway, fist-bump and walk down Koinange Street.
“What you bumpin’ mate?” Wisdom takes the earphones off Toast’s ears and plants them on his own.
The word fed me, and I was made strong. You know what I mean. You open a book, any book, and as you read, you feel yourself growing, losing that see-throughness. You feel yourself sharpening your edges, rising like dough in an oven warm as your mother’s belly. You become a little less like cellophane, or spliced film; a little more like you. You’re something solid now, developing, a body with skin and hair and teeth. A person. You’re not invisible anymore, and now those men are asking if you’re made of glass, craning their necks to see the rugby game, ignoring the skill with which you balance their Black Labels on the tray, choosing instead to hurl at you a steady stream of abuse.