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THE MALAVA TRAVELLERS 011

Updated: Oct 10, 2021

JOANA had prepared dinner and served the family at the table.


Let us remember that Joana is Syprosa’s elder sister, and the mother of the whining little one.


The family at table comprised the little one, Joana herself, the mother--but absent the man in the home. The mother, who initially was not troubled by Syp’s absence, now did not find flavour in the beef stew--her favorite-- that Joana had made.


African food | photo by Denis Chiedo on Afrilenstories
African food | photo by Denis Chiedo on Afrilenstories

She paused her eating. “Have you called her again?”


“Mama,” said Joana, feeding the little one, “I have called her more than fifty times since morning. Mostly it is off, the phone. When it rings, she does not pick.”


“Mhf!” said the mother. “What is wrong with this child?” she said of Syprosa. “Where is she?”


“I heard that she was seen with Bruno at the bus stage.”


“Which Bruno?”


“Bruno of Mama Pelela.”


“The witch?”


“Yes.”


The mother clapped her hands. “Mah! When did you hear? Why did you not tell me?”


“Mama, I have just heard a few minutes ago, while I was cooking. Somebody from the church sent me a text message.”


“With Bruno--of Mama Pelela? Mhf! Where were they going?”


“They were seen going to Kakamega. And let me surprise you more. They were with an old man--”


“An old man?”


“And a beautiful mzungu woman who had a dog.”


“Mah!”


*

OVER Kisumu City the night had fallen, but there was a crescent moon illuminating our friends as they strolled away from the lake.

Kisumu City | Photo by Denis Chiedo on Afrilenstories
Kisumu City | Photo by Denis Chiedo on Afrilenstories

“Do not touch my things again,” said Syp to Bruno, when they happened to move side by side.


“I shall not,” he said.


After a brief silence, she said, “Where are we going?”


“Rusinga Island.”


“Now? Is it not far?”


“It is.”


“So--”


Syp’s phone rang. It was Joana.


“Why don’t you answer it?” said Bruno.


She did. It was her mother on the line.


“My daughter.”


Syp stayed silent. The mother apologized for lashing out at her the other time; but maintained that, that alone could not be a reason enough for Syp to flee home. Whether Syprosa should roam the wide wide world, never would she find a home as homely as the one she and her father provided.


“Return home, please.”


“I will,” Syp said.


“When?”


Syp did not say.


“Are--are you with Bruno?”


This startled Syp; how did the mother know? Syp was now trailing our friends on their walk from the lake.


“I hear you are with Bruno, an old man and a mzungu. What are you doing together?”


“Nothing.”


“Nothing?”


“Nothing important.”


“Can I talk to Bruno? Eh..?” said the mother.


“I’m cutting the call now.”


“Wait, wait. Listen to me, it is not bad. They may be witches, but it is not bad.”


“What is not bad?”


“If you have decided to run away with Bruno, it is not bad. But what about the other boy? The one we know--”


“Ma.”


“--forget it--what matters is, you tell us that you are well--whatever you are doing. Can you tell me that?”


“I am well.”


“Are you telling me the truth?”


“Yes.”


“Come back home.”


Syp disconnected.


After the disconnection, the mother, pushing her dinner plate away, said aloud: “What a child! Mah. I scold her for leaving my grandson unattended, and what does she do? She runs. She makes our hearts run. Why can’t she be a normal child? What an egg”--to Joana--“she has taken after your father’s people.”


“Mama, don’t burst your heart,” said Joana.


“Eggs! Eggs! Eggs...”


The mother went to her bedroom, and began to cry.

 
 

*

WHEN Syp rejoined the group, it had been decided what was to be done this evening.

The call from home had unsettled Syp; and upon joining the group, she hung on Lodoviko’s arm.


“Little flower, what is it?”


“Nothing.”


Our friends would travel to Rusinga Island tonight. What they still deliberated on, was the means.


Yet Syp did not endorse the decision. She wanted to rest. She asked Bruno if he knew of a movie house she would visit with Lodoviko--could they not return to the hotel instead? Must they travel this night? She leaned on Lodoviko’s arm--could they not visit a restaurant and unwind?


--Lodoviko held her by the arms and made her face him. “Little flower.”

Syp looked at him in the eyes. The lights from the street (for our friends had gained the streets of the city centre) lit his features. Concern sat on his face. “What is it?” he said. Syp plonked her head on his chest, and joined her arms around him for a long embrace. Lady G., who was waiting with Bruno on the sidewalk, rolled her eyes and signaled Bruno that they should walk on. They did, toward the bus station.

Lake Victoria | Photo by Denis Chiedo on Afrilenstories
Lake Victoria | Photo by Denis Chiedo on Afrilenstories

If we recall correctly; it must have been yesterday or yesterday but one, when, while in the hotel there in Kisumu, past 11pm, Lady G. had called an unknown woman, for one hour. Now, as she and Bruno walked, the woman called. Lady G. slowed her pace, so she could speak away from Bruno:


The woman said, “What takes you so long?”


“Hello sweetheart--did you have a sweet day?--is that not how sweet girls start a call?” said Lady G.


“Cut it, Yellow-yellow,” said the woman.


“Don't be sour.”


“When will it happen?”


“Tonight.”


“Yellow-yellow,” said the unknown woman, “I hope so.” --And she cut the call.

But who was this unknown woman, who nicknamed Lady G., Yellow-yellow?


Come, gentlemen and ladies; let us cling upon the tail of this true story; and sway with it wherever it swings; and in reading between the lines we shall, by and by, discover the identity of this woman--as well as other matters.


Lady G. then hastened to reach Bruno.


*

DAYS had now passed without Bruno smoking his cannabis. In his backpack, in which he carried books and clothing, there were two rolls left. Like the thirst that seizes a cigarette smoker, Bruno felt the hunger to try a puff. They had entered the bus station; he and Lady G. a pair, Lodoviko and Syp following. He thought of telling Lady G. about it; only he did not know if she’d judge him a druggy.


A tender tout approached the two: “Where do you go?”


“Rusinga Island,” said Lady G.


“Mbita,” Bruno said. Lady G. looked at him; Bruno explained that to reach the island, they’d make a circuit about the lake to Mbita town, and then swim to the island. Lady G. laughed.


They’d not get an express matatu to Mbita at this hour, said the tout.


Syp and Lodoviko now joined them. What then would they do?


--They’d pick a taxi, as they did while traveling from Kakamega toward Busia. That'd be expensive. They’d bargain. Still, expensive. Lodoviko would pay alone. “That is not fair,” said Syprosa, in favor of Lodoviko. “I had promised,” Lodoviko said.


The tender tout helped them to scout for a taximan who’d charge affordably. No taximan would accept anything less than ten thousand shillings. “That is high but fine,” said Lodoviko to the latest taximan.


“No,” said Syprosa, “let him reduce it.”


“Little Flower--”


“No.”


Because of Syprosa’s unbending position, our friends would not travel on a ten thousand shillings taxi.


They sat on a bench under a canopy, and contemplated their next step. Syprosa found the more reason for them to stay the night in the city; Lady G. and Lodoviko would rather travel sooner. Bruno did not concentrate on this discussion; he did not have the money to contribute to the fare, and thus no voice on the matter. A whiff of weed reached him from someplace. Somebody was smoking somewhere. But out here he would not smoke his roll. A plain-cloth police would nab him. Right.


If we happened to be present at this bus station during this very hour that our friends sat on the bench; if we happened to be here, though at the edges of the station, we would have noticed that at one dark corner stood a young woman. And this young woman, who had dreadlocks and the lips of a chain smoker, had been, all this time, watching our friends with a curious eye.


*

THE young woman had been smoking.


Now she stubbed her cigarette with two fingers, dropped the butt to the ground and crushed it under her boot. She then approached our friends, walking as if she owned one shorter leg--but that was her style.


“What’s up guys?” said the woman, giving each of our friends a fist bump. Lady G. did not pay the woman attention nor courtesy. The woman looked like an idler, if not a parasite. The others returned the greetings.


“So--you guys are bouncing?”


“Yes, we are traveling,” said Bruno.


Lady G. nudged Bruno in the ribs.


“I see you have no means. I can help you.”


“--we have means,” Lady G. said.


“I mean--no driver wants to go where you wanna go, right?”


Lady G.: “They are willin--”


Bruno said, “Are you a driver?”


“The best in the city. Ask around. I’m Celestine. They call me Cele The Driver--Cele The Dere.”


“Cele The Dere,” said Lady G., mockingly.

“Yah. --C The D,” said the woman.


Let us also call her Cele The Dere--or C The D.


Syprosa had not spoken to the woman, but she studied her: C The D was lighter than Syprosa in complexion. She had a thin nose; small and open lips--as her front teeth, slanting forth, kept them so; high cheekbones, a long neck--and eyes that hid something. She dressed like a man: in a tucked-in shirt, a trouser held by a manly belt--and police-like boots. Her gray bra could be seen; the top two buttons of her shirt were open. She had small breasts, on a straight and medium body; a necklace; and an armband and a watch at the wrists. And smelt of cigarettes.


When C The D said that she was a driver, our friends looked one at the other. “How much would you charge to Mbita?” Bruno then said.


“How much you got?”


Bruno did not answer.


“Three thousand,” said Syp.


C The D studied Syp’s face for a second or two: “Five thousand.”


Syp looked at Lodoviko, Lodoviko looked at Lady G, Lady G. shook her head.

“Sunshine,” said Lodoviko in a low voice to Layd G., “let us go.”


“With her?” Lady G. said.


“Why not?” said Bruno, “She’s is cheap.”


“Cheap is not good,” Lady G. said.


Lodoviko stood up; Syp and Bruno stood too--Lady G. had to.


--C The D clapped her hands: “All right! Let’s bounce, people. Follow me!”


Out of the station the pack went; C The D leading. Through dark streets and corners.


“Where is she taking us?” said Lady G.


Another lane, then a longer street with one lamp. “Madam,” now said Lodoviko, “--where is your taxi?”


“Right here.”


It was a shabby sixty-four seater bus, parked at a dark spot.


*

LADY G.: “A bus?”


Bruno: “Oh, look at this.”


Syp and Lodoviko waited behind. “A bus at five thousand?” said Syp to Lodoviko.


Lodoviko, referring to the driver: “This one is honest--”


Syp walked to C The D, who was smoking by. “Why do you charge low?”


“Tough times, I need the dough,” said C The D.

Kisumu City | Photo by Denis Chiedo on Afrilenstories
Kisumu City | Photo by Denis Chiedo on Afrilenstories

“Is it yours?”


“Hah! Big wish. My uncle’s. It made an accident. Finished twenty people last year--”


Syp’s heart twitched; but her face did not betray the dread.


“--they put it in the yard. I tell myself, ‘If I can repair it, I can use it.’ I carry people, I carry things. They pay me. A girl gotta hustle. You feel me?”


Bruno and Lady had entered the bus; the inside was neat, and the chairs were comfortable. “We don’t need this,” said Lady G.


Bruno tapped her on the shoulder. Lady G. was ahead of him along the aisle. Lady G. turned and Bruno said, “You asked me to bring my friends for the trip--maybe this--”


“No, no--”


“--listen. She charges what--five thousand--”


“--that’s ridiculous.”


“--we can retain her for the other trips.”


Lady G. looked around the bus. The power plugs--the windows--the floor--the inside was first-class; unlike the outside. Then she exhaled. “Is this what you want, sweet boy?”


“Not what I want. Did you not say more people would be grand?”


“Oh boy. I was joking. We are sweet the way we are--”


“Let’s ask him and Syprosa.”


“--fine,” said Lady G., dropping her shoulders.


Tapping upon one of the windows, Bruno signaled the two to join them in the bus. They came.


“You tell them,” said Lady G.


Bruno, with passion, glorified the old bus which looked new inside. It would be a grand experience. Sixty-four seats. Other travelers could join them--oh yes: they could charge the newcomers some amount--to cover their own expenses. They would sleep in the bus. No more hotel bills. They would find a way to bathe. They’d bathe in open rivers--like those people they saw in the lake. They’d traverse all the roads in the country. It would be grand.


Lady G. remained unimpressed.


“Little Flower, what do you think?” said Lodoviko to Syprosa.


Syp did not mention that the bus had killed twenty last year, as apprised by C The D. Answering Lodoviko, Syp said, “Fine, we can use it.”

 

Thank you for reading! But before you go:

 

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