I am sat here listening to Otile Brown telling me he is crazy over me, asking if I still love him and begging me to shout his name in public. It is a little past 1:00 PM and today I will not be calling home or anyone. I don’t know what to say if I do. I have words stuck in my throat but I am not sure saying them makes any difference. I am in that state that I slip into every so often. Nowadays more often than before. Last you heard from me I told you that Khaled had saved me or something dreamy like that. I also promised to clean my room. Well, I did. That’s about all I did though. I still feel trashy inside but that’s okay too.
When I woke up today, I had yesterday’s Ugali for breakfast with cold milk and chicken. Clearly, I am doing the absolute most to live as closely as I can to the way I did back home. I resolved the other day to make an effort to do so because rejecting my immediate and obvious reality makes me feel good. Amongst other things, this resolve has meant that I go to the grocery store every evening to buy two tomatoes and one onion just like I would at home.
Every evening, I would go to Mama Esther’s kibanda and stand there as she serves everyone else before finally turning to me and acting shocked like we didn’t make eye contact when I first showed up. Maybe she thought I was twelve and twelve year olds have no business being included in the first come first served rule. I do look twelve though so we can’t blame her. Either way, she would have me standing there at the side of her kibanda next to the road as her sukuma wiki clients drove by, briefly slowing down to roll down their tinted windows for the usual quick transaction. Mama Esther on seeing them would smack Esther on her back sending her up and running towards the cars with a bag of pre chopped and packed vegetables. She would toss the bag into the car and grab her twenty bob as the Madam drove away shouting:
I always wondered why they made the transaction seem so black-market. It was done in seconds. No one driver ever stopped to actually buy things apart from the overly friendly rich woman. You know, the one who wants to know whether Esther had lunch or something along those pitiful lines. Perhaps it’s the fact that Mama Esther despite the public ban on plastic bags still had bounties of them stashed in between her generous bottom and the thin wooden bench she sat on. You wouldn’t know they were there until she hoisted herself to pull one out and stuffed your chopped dinner in it. Maybe those illegal bags are the reason it had to be done so quickly; tossing food into the speeding SUVs action movie style. You never know who is lurking about and watching people buy tomatoes and cabbage and hoping they have plastic bags. It might be the cops or some DCI folks. Who’s to say.
I didn’t have to come in a car or anything because mama Esther’s kibanda was really close so I walked there every evening with thirty bob in hand for that night’s vegetables. Here in New York, in place of Mama Esther, we have some Indian merchants who run a pretty huge grocery store in upper Manhattan. They sell one tomato at eighty shillings at their fancy kibanda. In there, I bought one of those metallic cups. You know them. The ones that attack your lips when you are trying to drink your hot uji. Yes. Those ones that come in a jungle green, teal blue, browny yellow and sometimes an immaculate white for the visitors. The ones that sing a song when you drop them. Those ones. I got myself one. It’s another of those things I am doing to keep me living like I am still in Nairobi. Well, we didn’t have the metallic cups at home but my grandmother did and that still counts. It’s blue and very metallic complete with dents on the side and on the blackened rim at the top. Turns out, you buy them with dents.
I also bought myself a glass soda bottle and emptied it to use as a water bottle. Which seems strange at first but hear me out. Well, you don’t come into contact with a lot of glass bottles here. In fact, soda comes in plastic bottles and so does everything else. Things are lightweight and cheap like that. So, as part of my rejection of my reality and my active pursuit of that thrilling feeling you get when your lips meet the cold glassy top of a glass soda bottle, I trashed my plastic water bottle and replaced it with this glass one. You never really know how good you have it until it’s gone.
The glass bottle has turned out better than I initially intended. It allows for me to contribute to saving the planet and simultaneously relish in the pleasure of closing my eyes and feeling like I am in those makuti thatched nyama choma places, sipping my Coke and waiting for my dry fry. Yes, those places with a chef squad of fury that chases after you with a knife in one hand and meat in the other- trying to trick you into going to their choma den. Where the waiter is definitely called Muthoni and this is only a stop over job for her. She will soon be returning to her salon business and you might not know it then, but your sending her back and forth for salt and more kachumbari is preparing her for greatness. Soon enough, she will be the queen of Nairobi Slayqueendom owning the largest hair business; her salon thriving Kyalo style. Anyway, this is not about Muthoni and her success or about my glass water bottle, or even about Esther and her generous bottomed mother, this is about the fact that the other day, as I was watching a movie and drinking my water, I did something:
It happened all so naturally and thoughtlessly it spooked me. Almost in the way you swat away a fly that wants to share your nyama choma with you. There I was with my eyes fixed on my screen, riding the waves of incredible storytelling and film; my chest tightening and my entire being getting tense. I needed to calm down. It’s just a movie. It’s not that serious. I’m always getting carried away in good stories.
So I reached for my glass water bottle and brought it to my mouth. Then it happened. I skewed my lips to the side leaving just a little gap at the top right corner. Then I tipped my bottle upwards and allowed the water to seep into my little mouth opening. Then suddenly, it all hit me and I paused the movie to take it in.
Now now, you are wondering: “What’s up with that? And what’s up with you?”
Well, hang up your judgy coat and let me tell you.
I sat there amazed at how easily and seamlessly my drinking had mimicked hers. She who was Wambui before I was. See, she always drank her soda that way. Sat on her chair draped in yellow chair clothes, with her feet on her short footstool in the corner of her sitting room. I remember it being Christmas day and we are running around making a mess. We all eventually sit to have a meal and I watch as she reaches for her bottle of Stoney and brings it to her mouth, skews her lips to the side leaving just a little gap at the top right corner. Then she tips her bottle upwards and allows the soda to seep into her mouth; Leans back; satisfied with the way it tastes and the day in general. I recall making my own secret attempt to imitate her and spilling my soda all over myself. I also recall trying over and over again to drink my soda like she does; trying to be equally as quirky and graceful and after many failed attempts settling for just wondering how she does it and why.
Now, in my New York cat-box villa, I see her here with me. In the curl of my lip and the water on my shirt. I see her on the opposite end of the room. Agile and smiling. Her chipped tooth showing. Her skirt pleated and pressed to perfection. I see her in Kagwe; her bright white rubber shoes atop that footstool shining and majestic like the soil outside her door is not beetroot red. I see her the next day: Now sat on the same stool; a pot of boiled potatoes between her legs. A cooking stick longer than my legs in her hand. She is making dinner for twelve. I watch her smack the potatoes down to a paste and then mash them to a pulp. I know her mukimo will be good because it has always been.
I see myself in the dead of night, standing outside her kitchen; Terrified at the thought of going into that scary latrine; Considering using her old soap containers; once full of white omo with blue specks and now yellow stained and warm to the touch; full of golden yellow childishness. I see her in the morning standing outside, about to go into her vegetable farm to look for vegetables for lunch. I see her leaving the bathroom; fully clothed and with a towel on her shoulder. I see the way the skin on her face catches the sun and glows; The way her hair is covered even now as she walks into the house after a shower; soap at the heel of her foot.
I see her smiling in the afternoon, sitting next to the tank; talking with her friends; Playing with a blade of grass in her mouth. I hear her say “mmmmh” keenly; looking into their eyes and listening. Never interrupting; I see her many years before then; sitting behind the house; an overturned crate at her feet lined with a gunia and with bunches of bananas in it. She is half selling them half giving them away. I see her handing me a banana; her hands full of love and urging me to eat it. I see her laughing. Laughing from her belly and never hesitating; I see her asking me to count the people in the sitting room before sharing the food. I see her warming her hands over the jiko on colder nights.
Then I see her excited to see me when I went to see her; Asking me to accompany her to kambi, the little township. I see her telling everyone, including those who didn’t ask that I am her. Then, that I am her youngest sons’. I hear the pride in her voice; and the admiration in the women’s eyes. I see it in the extra carrots they hand me as gifts. They too know that I am fortunate to be her and to be hers. I recall now the way when she laughed, with a blue tropical sweet at the back of her mouth, her hands shooting to her stomach like it contained all her laughs and they were escaping.
I remember her sending me off with Kagwe tea to last till my next visit. I remember my grandmother, Wa KaMenja. Wambui. In her glory and beauty. Loving us; Oh just always loving us.
This fourth post is for Wa Menja.
Ritwa riaku ri handu hega.
Na nî ndîrîrîtîithagia.
Editor’s note – For more of Lymurit’s work (and isn’t she just fucking fantastic!) visit https://medium.com/@lymurit