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THE MALAVA TRAVELLERS 014

Updated: May 28, 2022

THE road to Homabay was not all tarmacked. Some sections were under repair.


At Awach they left the road to Kisii and branched off to the right; passed Pap Onditi, Kendu Bay, Olare, Lwala--all part of Homa Bay County--and then arrived at Mbita, past 10pm.


A little town it was, with a gentle slope toward the bridge that joined Rusinga Island. None of our friends was asleep. The bus crossed the bridge, and entered the Island. Few meters after the bridge, the tarmac ended; and rough roads served the rest of the island. C The D parked the bus at a field, some meters off the road. Although they had tacitly agreed that the bus would serve as their bedroom, now Syprosa changed her mind. She desired to sleep in a hotel.

A shore of Rusinga Island | Photo By Afrilenstories
A shore of Rusinga Island | Photo By Afrilenstories

“What is wrong with the bus?--it is comfortable,” said Bruno, “--and the hotels here are expensive.”


They had exited the bus for a stretch. The island was hot. There was a home three hundred meters away. The field on which they parked belonged to this home. And there was a dog that had started growling. “This is someone’s land,” said Syprosa, “we cannot park here.”


“We haven’t stolen anything,” Bruno said. “Tomorrow we can pay parking fees if asked.”


“If you will not be easy inside the bus,” Lady G. said to Syp, “I can give you a tent.”


“You have a tent?” said Bruno.


Ignoring Bruno, Lady G. said to Syp, “What do you feel?”


“I cannot sleep outside,” Syp said.


Lodoviko had faded behind a thicket to empty his bladder.


When Syp declared that she wouldn’t sleep inside a tent, C The D, who was listening to our friends’ deliberations, caught her arm and gently pulled her away. She said, “It’s about the old fellow, no?”


“What?” said Syp.


“You want private hours with him--yah?”


“What would you know, driver?”


“Hah. I read faces. Look, the thing is not going anywhere. You can get it tomorrow--next week--next--unless you are--”


“Shut up,” said Syp, quitting C The D’s company. She returned to the group. If not in a hotel, she would sooner sleep in the bus than in the tent; she re-entered the bus.


Meanwhile Bruno asked Lady G. about her tent. In her travel bag, Lady G. carried three sleeping tents, big enough to house three nuclear families. Bruno would have cherished sleeping in one of the tents with Lady G.; but he suspected Lady G. would refuse his bid. C The D, who was standing next to the two, also entered the bus--to chat with Syprosa.


Re-emerging from the darkness, Lodoviko joined Bruno and Lady G. outside the bus. He gave Bruno a thousand shillings for dinner. Understanding that the money was meant for takeout, Bruno eyed Lady G. in a manner to request her company to a food spot; Lady G. crossed her arms. Bruno left for the mainland. He hoped to find a hotel or two still open at this hour.


Lady G. waited until Bruno’s footsteps dwindled in the distance. Then she looked at the bus's window, to verify that Syprosa was occupied by C The D; she repositioned herself right before Lodoviko, akimbo; and then stared at him for a full minute. Much as it was night, we shall get a glimpse of this look. It was a new look--and a strange one--dissimilar from all the looks the two had exchanged since this journey began in Malava Town. Lady G.’s eyes were hunting for some truth from Lodoviko’s face--for some assurance. Meanwhile Lodoviko assumed a questioning face--and defensive too, as if to say Lady G.’s scrutiny was groundless. When Lady G. did not break her inspection; by a side eye, Lodoviko checked that Syprosa was not looking from the bus; then he advanced his mouth to Lady G. 's ear: “It is nothing.”


“Better be true,” said Lady G., in an accent that was alarming--and more natural than the one she employed in addressing the others. “Don’t spoil this,” she said, and then entered the bus. Lodoviko, left alone, began to whistle in the dark.


*

WHILE we were listening to the party outside, C The D--inside the bus--had apologized to Syprosa for overstepping: if Syprosa loved Lodoviko, and needed his companionship any hour anywhere--that was her business.


The fact that Syprosa was religious in deed--had communed with her church mates, and even held a rank in the church’s youth group--did not render her any more forgiving than a pagan. She was bad-tempered naturally, and seldom smiled. So when C The D apologized, Syp accepted it in word, but not at heart. And C The D could read this on Syp’s face. C The D was however a chatterbox; and once she had contented her soul with the apology--Syp’s reaction notwithstanding--she narrated about herself. Syprosa had to listen:


C The D never went to college nor university. Her mother came from a rich family, but was nonetheless beggarly. She and her mother lived in Kisumu, in a small rented house--at Mamboleo. C The D could have attained college education at least; only, she was a delinquent--expelled by all the five highschools she joined. At seventeen she became a house assistant in a household at Kisumu’s Milimani. This did not last six months; for the woman of the house accused her of theft and engrossment with her husband. Thereafter she became a tout, and then a driver--an occupation she kept until she heard that her uncle’s bus had been written off; out of an accident. The very bus in which our Syprosa and she sat.

Mbita Bridge | Photo By Afrilenstories
Mbita Bridge | Photo By Afrilenstories

This story, delivered at a fast pace, gripped Syprosa. C The D had to be a survivor. And all survivors inspire.


“You said you repaired the bus yourself?” said Syp.


“Yah. Very easy. Engine is the deal. Fix that--good to go,” she said, clapping her hands.


“Do you carry passengers to Nairobi--or Mombasa?”


“Nah. Not regular trips. That’s boring. I transport for weddings. Funerals. Or like this--you going for tours and all. You feel me?”


“Why did you charge us so low?”


“Told yah. Needed the dough. Tough times. Work is slow.”


“And--”


Lady G. came in.


“Girls bonding,” Lady G. said, breaking the conversation in effect. C The D now rose to exempt herself from this company, but Lady G. detained her; and a little discomfort settled on C The D’s face. The trio then spoke of the evening’s trivialities, to fill the interval before supper arrived.


They were speaking about Bruno’s weed in the bus, when Bruno returned. He entered the bus alongside Lodoviko. Bruno bought what the hotel could offer. And the hotel could offer only what had remained. There was brown ugali; there was fresh fish; there was cabbage--and fries. Apart from the rest, Syprosa grumbled about the limited alternatives, and ate but little. She converted her displeasure into condemnation against Bruno; the latter deflected it right away, back to Syp, saying, “Do you think if you went yourself you could have found different food?”


After the nourishment, Syprosa did not raise the subject--on where to sleep--again. They would not require any blankets, as the night--the island--the season was hot.


--Lady G. then sprayed the bus with mosquito repellent. They closed all the windows. And then they retired to their respective beds. Bruno at the back of the bus; Syp and Lodoviko in the middle--on opposite sides of the aisle; and Lady G. and C The D at the front. But they did not sleep right away.


Both Lodoviko and C The D told their stories to the team. Lodoviko was loud, C The D was shrill; Lodoviko was moderate, C The D was fast; and both their narrations, though perplexing, excited admiration and sympathy.


Whenever Lodoviko spoke in his loud voice, C The D would engage Lady G., whom she had settled with at the front side of the bus, in a whisper. At one moment she said to Lady G., “What’s up with you people?”


“It was not going as I wanted,” said Lady G.


“We are two days late.”


Lady G. said, “Not my wish.”


“Is he or you, going soft?”


“For f***’s sake! Did I not tell you on the phone?” Lady G. was quite loud--she and C The D both coughed; and dropped the wrangle.

--Speaking of phone calls, was C The D the woman Lady G. called on the phone the night before?


*

OUR friends slept well. And Bruno, who was a heavy sleeper, dreamt that Lodoviko and Syprosa copulated at night in the bus. In the late morning, when all in the bus had awakened, Bruno saw that Syprosa was joyous and Lodoviko was relaxed.


The night had been warm; the morning was sunny and more than warm.


Lady G. stepped out of the bus first, spread a leso on the grass--and basked. She had a white t-shirt and blue denim shorts. Children who tethered their cows saw her; passersby who walked by saw her; and women who carried laundry to the lake saw her; Lady G. presented a classic look of a tourist. Beside her stood a bottle of water, which she supped now and then.


The island was dry but green; its weather resembled that of Mombasa--Kenya’s coastal town. A major rough road circuited the island. And the dominant means of transport was bodaboda. By and by, the rest of our friends exited the bus, to join Lady G. in the sun.


More than all mornings, Lady G. was stunning. And her beauty was Bruno’s ache. She was now lying prone--her face downwards--and she had crossed her arms to support her head, which relaxed on the arms by the right cheek. Bruno tiptoed to her, and spanked her lightly; “I know that hand,” said Lady G., laughing.


“I thought you were sleeping,” Bruno said, dropping by Lady G.’s side.


“I’m chilling. Sweet sun.”


Lodoviko, Syprosa and C The D came, and sat around.


Lodoviko caught Bruno spying on Lady G.’s buttocks. Bruno coughed and said, “What do we do today, good people?”


“Shh,” Lady G. said to Bruno. “What’s the hurry with you?” Then to no one in particular, “--I’m empty. Is there something to eat in there?”


“Let’s go to the hotel,” Bruno said.


“Which hotel?” said C The D.


“Island Lodge,” Bruno said.


“Island Lodge?” From Lady G.


Rusinga Island Lodge,” Bruno said.


“No,” said Lady G.


Bruno said, “It’s not far from here.”


“No.”


“It is the most beautiful place on this island,” Bruno said.


“Open places like this are lovely,” Lady G. said, referring to the spot where they had camped.


“The lodge has an open place also, facing the lake. It is beautiful--you will see,” Bruno said.


--“Sunshine does not want to overwork her bones,” said Lodoviko. “If we are to swallow breakfast, it must be brought here.”


Bruno would not volunteer to bring breakfast, as he had brought supper for the team yesternight. Instead C The D would go. Lodoviko gave her the money. She went away, on bodaboda.


Syprosa, who had remained silent all this while, now made Lodoviko straighten his legs on the grass; she then laid her head on his knees. Then she found his hand and placed it on her head; and Lodoviko understood that she wanted him to stroke her dreads.

Water Bus in Mbita | Photo By Afrilenstories
Water Bus in Mbita | Photo By Afrilenstories

The sun was hotter, but still kind on Lady G.’s skin. Suddenly, Lady G. turned, and supported herself with the elbows. She found Bruno looking at her. She did not mind him though. What astonished her was Lodoviko and Syprosa’s pose. Lodoviko did not pause the stroking; he however evaded Lady G.’s eyes. Lady G. reverted to her former pose--face down, and let out a long exhalation.


Bruno discerned that she was disturbed. He lay next her, facing upward, and said, “What’s up?”


“I am empty,” she said. “Tell me something sweet.”


Bruno told her about the history of Rusinga Island and Thomas Joseph Mboya.


*

BREAKFAST came.


Lady G. ate fast but little. She was a light eater. The menu contained sausages, cut fruits, toasted bread, juice in plastic containers, three cups of coffee--two for tea, arrowroots and sweet potatoes. After a few swallows, Lady G. was full; she said she was. The others ate quietly, more or less. When they finished, there was a marked silence amongst them. Lodoviko was no longer loud; he did not tell his usual stories. Perhaps Syprosa’s lying on his knee sapped his energy. But all the time, Lodoviko endeavored to avoid Lady G.’s eyes.


Now Bruno filled this void. He told his stories; his were intellectual, if not historical or political. He told the rest what he had told Lady G. About Tom Mboya. About the subtle tension between South Nyanza and North Nyanza. About the prominent persons that ever lived in the entire Nyanza, quoting their villages and sub-clans. C The D, who was sprightly, found Bruno’s narration tedious. At once, she said, “My guys, I have an idea! Let’s do something!” and stood up.


Toward a shrubbery she went. She uprooted several curly stems, and knotted them into a long string. It was time for a game. Everybody stood up, on C The D’s instruction. She picked Syprosa and Lady G., and asked them to hold each end of the string by their teeth; and pull it taut. The two formed a two-meters space between them.


“Pull it! Yah?” C The D said, when the two had slacked the string. Lady G. felt that if she pulled the string tight, her teeth would fly off; she loved her teeth. She closed her eyes. But Syprosa did not close her eyes; neither did her lips nor her forehead nor her cheeks show that she struggled to grip the string with her teeth. She was a natural for this.


Next, C The D picked one of the coffee containers and placed it in the middle of the string. “It should not fall!” she said. A task was never harder. All the time, the container dropped. Syprosa criticized Lady G. for not holding tight. Lady G laughed at every fall. This pair failed. Then came Lodiviko and Bruno.


Bruno was steady. His end of the string was tight--it did not shake. Neither did he shift his head to balance the container; that was Lodoviko’s task. Lodoviko followed the container--with his head that is. He tweaked his head this side and that, like a dragonfly. The container balanced, for thirty seconds on end. “What a lovely magician,” said Lady G. of Lodoviko, as she snapped her photos.


C The D praised the pair. She would have proposed another diversion if Lady G. had not started walking away. Lady G. was walking away, saying, “Let’s go to the beach.” The rest had to follow. C The D locked the bus doors. Then they trailed Lady G.


Lady G. continued taking her pictures. On a rough road they were. C The D was talking the loudest; and hoped to charm Syprosa, whom she found distant from the rest, excepting Lodoviko of course. On the way they met the locals. The locals were either on foot or bodaboda. Some of the locals saluted Lady G. She was a tourist; you could see. One gutsy young man, who was riding bodaboda, said to Lady G. ahead, “Baby, you and I can get another Obama!” Lady G. giggled and said, “That’s right!” waving back at the man.

A dhow on Lake Victoria | Photo By Afrilenstories
A dhow on Lake Victoria | Photo By Afrilenstories

After a kilometer, Lady G. picked a path off this main rough road; the path which sloped toward the lake. There was shrubbery and rocks along this path; and sparse houses about. They could see the lake yonder, with boats on it. The sun was striking the water; and there was light haziness on the water--in the distance. Now the rest had united with Lady G. They descended together.

At the foot of the slope, it was flatter. The earth here was covered with shrubs and short grass. The bank of the lake was just meters away. But our friends were not alone. To their left, a few meters away, there was a group of women and children, who were washing clothes and cleaning utensils. Farther from them, into the lake, there was another cluster that was bathing. Bruno asked Lady G. to capture those who were bathing--with her camera, that is; instead, Lady G. captured those who were cleaning their things. Because of the distraction, they could not stay here. They relocated to another spot, devoid of naked people. In the new place, they could only see boats in the lake, and hills beyond. Here they sat. The rest settled away from the water, but Syp dipped her legs in the water; and rocked her feet back and forth. The water lapped her legs in tiny waves; and it was cool.


Water--of a lake or the sea--lapping up the shore, gently or violently, possesses a quality similar to that of nature--like a forest--of enchanting souls. Syprosa became a victim to the enchantment. Her awareness soon escaped her--no notice did she pay her friends who spoke and laughed behind her nor the water that washed her feet. Her thoughts drove themselves back to her home.

Of her mother she thought. She must be distraught, the mother. Syprosa did not feel a tinge of remorse. She did not weigh her deeds on the scale of right and wrong. What she thought she did--she thought she made her choices as a free adult; and hoped her people would stop worrying about her. She would return home when she wanted. Now, only travelling with Lodoviko interested her.


But Lodoviko had been circumspect in his association with her. Any other man would have plucked the fruit already. Was she not appealing to him? Was she juvenile in her manners? Or Lodoviko was an old tractor? --Lodoviko--and Lady G. and C The D--were seated behind Syprosa, three meters away. Bruno had left the gang; to pee in the thicket.


--Syprosa removed her blouse; and then her jeans and bra--and waded into the water, slowly. Our three friends, who were talking and laughing--stopped. They all watched Syprosa drift deeper into the water. “Oh,” said Lady G. Lodoviko did not hear Lady G. If a guava dropped on his head he would not feel. Syprosa, when the water had covered her waist, plunged in--and stroked her way forth.


There was no doubt in Lady G.’s mind that the look Lodoviko bestowed upon Syp was not fatherly nor grandfatherly. She slapped him on the shoulder, and Lodoviko roused himself, and coughed. “I am going to warm up my legs,” said Lady G. She stood up and climbed the slope, into the thicket--in the opposite direction from the one Bruno took. Lodoviko knew Lady G. was infuriated.


C The D pretended not to have observed anything. She lay on the grass, facing the sky. Then a mighty struggle arose in Lodoviko’s mind and heart: if he should follow Lady G. to pacify her, or wait for Syprosa to finish her amusement, and then present her with her clothes. He would not have decided which, had C The D not guided him: she said, “Go talk to Gertrude.” Lodoviko left after two minutes, and as he went, he looked back at the lake from time to time. Syprosa, who swam deep into the lake, did not notice him leave.


And now C The D left too. She tracked both Lodoviko and Lady G; to conciliate them--if mediation might be needed. But why would the driver of our friends mediate between Lodoviko and Lady G.? Anyway, Syprosa remained alone in the lake. Soon she distinguished the quiet that ensued at the shore; and realized that the others had abandoned her. Back to the shore she swam. And as she was about to quit the water, Bruno returned and stood by her clothes. “Where is everybody?” he said.


“You tell me,” said Syp; as she stepped out of the lake. But Bruno picked her clothes; and for every advance Syp made, Bruno retreated by a stride. Syp stopped at the bank and said, “What are you doing?” She stood straight; she did not cover her small breasts nor flinch at all. There was no calmer woman by the lake at this time. She penetrated him with her eyes. Bruno could play no tricks on her. “Give me my clothes.”


“Can’t you be nice to me?”


“What?” Syp had water in her ears, which vibrated with any shaking of her head.


“You are friendly to him but not me.”


“Give me the clothes.”


“Who loves an old man?”


“Bruno, what is your problem?”


“Is it for the money?” Then in a whisper: “Of course--it is always for the money--”


“What?”


“Have you f****d him?”


“Don’t talk to me like that. My clothes, now!” Her voice was laden with rage. Bruno tossed the clothes at her chest. She dressed herself without a hurry.


Bruno was now walking away, to track the others. He followed the trail which he supposed they took. It wasn’t over with Syprosa. She said behind him, “And who loves an old woman?”


Bruno stopped: “She’s only like...five years older.”


“Older, old, no difference,” Syp said. Bruno did not respond; she added, “You follow her around as if she is your mother--she doesn’t like you.”


Bruno turned around. Syp’s face was flat; she wasn’t angry anymore. “At least I do it for love,” said Bruno.


“Ha ha! For love. How blind you are.”


“It is you who are blind.”


“You are not her type.” This wound Bruno.


He said, stepping closer, “It is your type that does not exist!”


“See that. You know it yourself, don’t you? She pities you.”


“F**k off.”


“A man would rather be hated than pitied by a woman,” said Syp.


Bruno turned and plodded away.

 
 

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