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THE MALAVA TRAVELLERS 015

SYPROSA knew Bruno was hurt. She did not follow him to apologize; nor did she plan to. At the bank she lingered awhile. She sat on a small rock and tossed pebbles into the water. Her ears still vibrated. She looked around for an instrument to burst the water out. She did not find one appropriate--she could not use sticks. Her little finger could not aid either.


She stood up--and trekked all the way back to the bus. Each tread of her feet sounded like the boom of a drum in her ears. By and by, she got to the bus.


--Kids were amusing themselves around the bus. Some played hide-and-seek. Syprosa dispersed them. Any child who would return to the bus--or caper ten meters from it--would find his or her ear chopped away.

Rusinga Bridge | Photo by Afrilenstories
Rusinga Bridge | Photo by Afrilenstories

--But the bus was locked; and C The D had the key. How would Syp enter? She spied the windows all round. One window, where the back tire on the other side was, stayed open a little. On the huge tire she stepped--pushed the window open all the way. And by springing herself upon the toes, and pulling herself up by the little arms, she crossed her breasts over the sill; and then her stomach and waist followed with an easy wriggle--she plunged onto the seat inside.


Around the bus she scanned. And to the front she went. Here Lady G.’s travel bag reposed on the middle passenger seat. Syprosa hopped to find an instrument--like an earbud--which by she’d ease her ears. The side pockets she checked. Nothing--women things. Then she opened the main partition. Clothes and sandals. She imagined she wouldn’t find what she wanted. But on zipping up this main partition, she felt a lump on the roof of it. She reached it. It was a secret compartment.


She opened the compartment. She collected a casing that was stored there. And curiosity prodded her to open the little casing. Packed inside were six passports. To whom would they belong? She flicked through them all, examining the pictures. The faces were the same, more or less. Faces of a woman. But the hair, the pose, the earrings--the backgrounds--were different. She leaned against the driver’s seat. Her heart had started thumping. Her eyes, she closed; and inhaled one long draught. Then she opened her eyes and checked the names on the passports.


The names too, were different. One, which was prominent, read somebody-Svetlana-Katya; which rang Russian, or Eastern European. But the faces, as we have said, were more or less the same. The faces belonged to Gertrude, our Lady G.


*

WE now enter into a section of this true story, where strange things begin to happen.

People who’ve just discovered the betrayal by a loved one, get shocked; those who’ve witnessed an accident get shaken; those who chance upon multiple identities of a single person--their minds shut down. This is what happened to our Syprosa.


Syprosa had flopped upon the seat behind her. She let the passports pile on her lap; and her eyes gazed at the roof. Any person with different passports under different names is not a tourist. Syp’s frame quivered at the realization that she had, over several days, mingled in the company of an unknown woman, who might be anything from a thief to the devil himself. If she was a smoker like Bruno she’d have puffed on a roll of weed at this moment. No doubt Lady G. entangled herself in some dangerous enterprise, if not illegal. But no danger had befallen Syprosa nor Bruno yet; perhaps there was still time for Syp to extricate herself.


In hasty flashes the images of her sister and mother passed in her mind. With her life now potentially imperiled, the virtues of her mother magnified before her in a sudden manifestation. She appreciated that her mother loved her; only that the mother did not know how to show it. She vindicated her mother from the distaste she had held against her for long; but did not directly feel any remorse for her own misdeeds.


--Well, the kids who Syprosa had cautioned minutes before still played about the bus; and the din they created recalled her back to the moment present. The passports had dropped to the floor. She restored the passports in the casing and positioned Lady G.’s bag as best she could, for it to assume an undisturbed air. She did not extend her search for an earbud.

A dhow on L. Victoria | Photo by Afrilenstories
A dhow on L. Victoria | Photo by Afrilenstories

And now a snippet of awful thought sparked in Syprosa’s mind. Away she cringed from the bag. What if the bag housed terroristic paraphernalia? What if Lady G. was a terrorist agent on a recruitment mission?--But no. Lady G. could not be a terrorist; nor an agent of such; she was too pappy. Looking on the bag for over fifteen minutes, while leaning on a seat, Syprosa rationalized and streamlined Lady G.’s spectre into that of a tolerable evil. Eventually she settled on a scheme of thought which would govern her intercourse with Lady G.--or Svetlana-Katya--whoever she was--one that would shield her from the peril of Svetlana’s mystery.


She exited the bus through the window. And when the kids saw her, they fled.


The same place often appears different to someone who has been slapped by shock. The spot where the bus was parked, and the extent to which Syp’s vision could reach; all wore a tinge of maroon--though the sky was clear. The din from the kids, though far they played, sounded as though it happened at the core of Syp’s head. Neither Bruno nor Lodoviko--in Syp’s mind--were spared this impression: outright, Bruno was a sheep; unaware that he pastured in a thicket of wolves. But what of Lodoviko? Only two answers could be true of him: either he was a victim like Bruno, or he was Lady G.’s collaborator. And Syp thought the second answer truer.

Her amorous interest in Lodoviko delinked at once, and in place of it came suspicion, distaste and fright.


Away she staggered.


*

Meanwhile, C The D had traced both Lodoviko and Lady G. at a little clearing near the lake; she approached them from behind. The two were seated on the grass, and looking over the lake yonder. And they were whispering. At the fringe of the clearing a rustle was heard. Lady G. turned, and on spotting C The D, she cleared her throat, stood up and began stretching. Not a stir did Lodoviko make.


C The D had held the notion that the two had a discord. On finding them whispering, and seated together, she thought herself false, or the concern between the two, complex. Over to them she walked. She stood next to Lodoviko--who was still sitting--and surveilled his face. Lodoviko was downcast, but rapidly dressed a smile about his lips, when he sensed C The D’s watch.


“Beautiful view,” said C The D.


“Where are they?” from Lady G.


“She was still splashing in the water,” said C The D.


Just then Bruno appeared from the thicket. “You guys left us,” he said.


“Where is Syp?” Said Lady G.


“She went back, I think,” Bruno said.


“Back--where?”


“To the bus.”


“To do what?”


“How would I know?”


Lady G. said, “Call her.”


“I don’t have her number.”


--“Let’s wait for her here,” said Lodoviko, in a low voice.


You could feel that the air was tense.


From her pocket Lady G. drew a cigarette and stepped away. Down the slope she descended. Bruno looked about, and when his eyes met C The D’s--the latter rolled her eyes. Bruno was about to follow Lady G., but Lodoviko coughed at him. Instead, Bruno sat next to Lodoviko. Then Bruno started talking about the types of soil erosion which had altered the terrain around the lake.


It did not take long before Syprosa appeared, treading easily; she assumed a relaxed countenance.


Lady G. had not exhausted her cigarette. She flipped the stub into the thicket, and returned to the group.


“Where were you?” Lady G. said.


“Why do you ask?” said Syprosa.


“You have delayed us.”


“You don’t have to wait for me.”


Lady G. dragged her index finger along her lower lip, as if to wipe away the balm. “What were you doing?” she said to Syp.


Lodoviko stood up. Syp took a stride back. Bruno said, “What is going on?”


Syp looked at Lodoviko, then Lady G., then back at Lodoviko--he looked sombre--but she could not glean any information from his face.

“I was pressed,” said Syp, calmly, “so after swimming, I went to the bush.”


Bruno laughed; C The D giggled; Lady G maintained her gaze upon Syp; Syp said to her, “What?”


Lady G. then lifted her gaze and said, “We need to do everything together. That’s how we have fun.”


The morning was growing old; as well as the affiliation that gummed our friends together. Suspicion; this is what spun in Syp’s mind. For Lady G., she observed the apathy, which this morning flashed amongst the members. The journey would not hold, if Syprosa isolated herself; if Lodoviko dulled himself--and Bruno became confused by these switches. Lady G. therefore, restated her call: “People, we need to do everything together. Or else we will not have fun.”


At the end of her plea she looked at Bruno--and Bruno understood the import.


To the next site Bruno shepherded the group. Through the thicket, up the rise, against the breeze, they went--and gained the rough road at a curve. He could discern the tension that passed within the group; especially between Lady G., Syprosa and Lodoviko. This, he thought, must be the consequence of a love triangle; which, if it persisted, would handicap their journey.


But even within himself a turmoil spun: he recalled what Syprosa had said to him--that Lady G. pitied him. No man would want to draw pity from a woman who makes male hearts dance. He had charmed Lady G. for many hours now, as best he knew. And he was beginning to accept that he might not win her after all. --But he could keep her company, if not her love.


The trip therefore, should not be hampered.


On the rough road then, our friends hiked in silence. Behind, the clicks from Lady G.’s camera could be heard in the wind. She photographed the lake below, from the height of the road; the thicket marking the foreground of these pictures. Noon had come; and with her the sharp heat of her sun, whose reflection laid a mirage in the middle of the water--and made Lady G.'s pictures shiny but bland.


Now she hurried forth and reached Bruno.


She spanked him and caught his hand. And Bruno made a reciprocal act: upon his waist he squeezed Lady G. “What’s up?” he said.


“Nothing.”


“You can tell me.”


“Tell you what?”


“What was that about?”


“We need to stick together,” she said, detaching herself from Bruno.


“She and him--is that--”


--Lady G. backed up and took a snap of Bruno's side face. “Are you not having fun?”


“Oh, me?” said Bruno.


“You are having fun?”


“Absolutely,” Bruno said in a high tone. And then he laughed. Lady G. laughed too.


Syprosa’s attention was thus grabbed, and she turned round to look. She met two gazes upon her face, and suspected that the two chattered about her.


Anyway, our friends continued their journey. Lodoviko had stayed silent since they left the viewpoint; whereas Syprosa, who walked next him, laid a calm appearance about herself. Because of the injunction placed upon him by Lady G., Lodoviko would not bond himself with Syprosa--in the amorous way--in Lady G.’s presence. The latter walked behind, with Bruno. Syprosa knew, somewhat, that Lady G. did not approve of her connection with Lodoviko; although a day or two before, Lady G. had seemed not to mind it. That connection had now died in Syprosa’s heart, as we know it; from the moment she discovered that Lady G., and possibly Lodoviko, were persons far different from what they pretended. Syprosa nevertheless found Lodoviko’s left hand, and held it in hers: from the secret corners of Lodoviko’s soul a shudder erupted; and by a convulsion not his own, he attempted to withdraw his hand, but Syprosa stuck to it. He felt Syrosa’s palm sweaty and cold; yet her face remained the calmest.


Let us go with our friends to the places they explored in the remaining parts of the island.


Soon, a large signpost of Rusinga Island Lodge turned up beside a fence. And next it stood a wide gate. As it is with all premises in Kenya where security of the property and its persons is paramount, our friends registered their names and showed their identification documents to the guard; who then gave them admittance.


A field of short grass captured the foreground of this establishment; and you followed a narrow footpath that arced towards a smaller gate, which cut a portal in a circuit of bamboo fence. And as you entered, your first step was taken by a neat pavement of marble, which led into one of the serenest locales Lady G. had ever seen.

Rusinga Island Lodge | Photo by Afrilenstories
Rusinga Island Lodge | Photo by Afrilenstories

This place claimed a climate of its own, which was cool and fresh, separate from the rest of the island. A chirp would be heard now and then among the trees. At some place interior, a splash was heard followed by giggles and happy screams; for there was a swimming pool on the right-hand side. Our friends cleared a curve, and the administrative building appeared. And farther to their right they saw thatched units, which were the hotel rooms. All over, the grass was deep green.


When a staff approached them, Bruno spoke for the group: they were friends; they were tourists; they were good people who’d visited the island. If it would not bother the establishment, they’d stroll around--and have lunch at the end. This prayer was granted.


The compound was huge. “This is so beautiful!” said Lady G. To her right-hand side, the ground rose gently and was stopped by a fence of healthy shrubs and trees; and to her left, the view opened to the lake. Within the compound, there stood huge trees which offered shade to sets of wooden chairs and tables; and you’d also spot palm trees and trimmed lone bushes, decorating the place. And all over, the grass was deep green.


There was a red hull at the shoreline, next to a tall palm tree. Lady G. went--was drawn--there. She took pictures of the lake and the ibis and the herons; which foraged for fish in the shallow water. The place was quiet and peaceful, except for the soft lashing of the waves upon the shore. Lodoviko had sat on one of the wooden chairs; while Syprosa had roamed away to the fence. Bruno followed her.

Hulls at Rusinga Island | Photo by Afrilenstories
Hulls at Rusinga Island | Photo by Afrilenstories

Syprosa plucked little flowers at the fence and smelled them; but this was pretence. What she actually wanted to do; she wanted to--Bruno tapped her on the shoulder, and her body twitched. “Don’t do that,” she said.


“Why are you tense?”


“You crept up on me.” Syprosa paused her session with the flowers. “What do you want?”


Bruno grazed his palm on the leaves. “What is it?” he said.


“How do you mean?”


“You and Gertrude--is there--?”


Syp snorted, and stepped away along the fence. Bruno followed her. From the other end, at the bank, Lady G. was surveilling them, as she took her photos. “Wait,” said Bruno, “whatever it is--”


“Stop bothering me.”


“--you should drop it--”


“Drop what?”


“--whatever it is. You need to be nice to--”


“Have you told her to be nice to me?”


A stammer caught Bruno.


“You see? Why am I the one to be nice?” said Syp.


“What I meant is--”


“I don’t want to know.”


“We are on a trip. You don’t have to be difficult.”


“Difficult?”


“We cannot enjoy the trip if--”


“All you care about is this stupid trip. Have you never made a trip of your own ? You--”


“You are a difficult trip mate, you know that?”


“Ha.” Syp held her waist. “You are naive.”


“You--”


They both had raised their voices. C The D whistled at them from the centre of the compound; she wanted the two to place their orders for lunch, for a waiter had come.

This business of ordering for food had required our friends to assemble at the foot of the tree where Lodoviko had sat; and so after the waiter withdrew, the rest of our friends sat with Lodoviko on the foldable chairs, around a circular wooden table. And Bruno and C The D chatted on behalf of the rest, while the leaves of the tree that shaded them, swayed in the breeze.

Rusinga Island Lodge | Photo by Afrilenstories
Rusinga Island Lodge | Photo by Afrilenstories

Occasionally Lady G. would throw in a comment, or elicit one from Lodoviko or Syp. But Syp distracted herself with her phone--and this is what she had intended to do over the fence--she now searched online, furtively, for any details pointing to Svetlana-Katya, which was Lady G.’s name on the passport; the passport she had seen in the morning. Lodoviko too did not escape Syprosa’s stealthy investigation.


Perhaps Syprosa’s search was upset by her need to be discreet--or there was nothing to be found online about Lodoviko or Lady G. Food came in about thirty minutes later, during which interval Syp had not unearthed anything: not a name, not a location, not a picture relating to the duo. But she would not stop. Her head had bent upon the phone in her hands, and her face told all the eagerness that propelled her desire for truth. Lady G. called her. Syp heard the second time. “Keep the phone away,” said Lady G.


“What?”


“The phone,” Lady G. said, smiling, “It’s lunch time.” Food had been served, and the waiter was waiting for Syprosa to pick the wet towel from his tongs.


The food was savoury.


Few words passed among our friends while they ate. At the end of their meal, Bruno outlined the next itinerary within the island, after which they would leave for Nakuru. And now it was time for them to begin their afternoon hike, when Lodoviko requested an audience from his mates.


A long preamble he gave, which was almost a formal speech, in which he exhorted his colleagues to be united, and patient with one another. Then he reiterated the purpose of their journey--themselves being strangers essentially--to enjoy the company of each, and to cherish the beauty of the country. He reminded them of how they met in Malava Town, and how their trip started; he hoped, and wished the rest shared his desire, which was to have each one relax and enjoy every activity henceforth. As usual, he would finance the trip for everyone.


His speech drew a slice of empathy out of Syp’s heart. For Lodiviko’s age, and for all the distress he underwent in his country of birth; Syp felt that he deserved to wear a smile. She was willing to contribute to making the journey jolly, only she was not certain whether the two--Lady G. and Lodoviko--were who they claimed to be. Somewhat, the address eased the tension that had begun to build amongst our friends. And this gave Lady G. a window to propose a rule, which Syprosa resisted immediately.

It was this: that all the members surrender their phones to one person; and that person would keep the phones on silence, or power them off altogether, so that the members could focus on enjoying the trip. Syprosa would not surrender her phone. For Bruno, he had a convincing justification for not surrendering. Let us remember that he had broadcasted on social media about the trip; and therefore would need to constantly update the interested newcomers about the trip. We also know that he anticipated some young people to join them in Nakuru. From C The D: but they could agree on a specific time, either in the evening or morning, when everybody would be allowed to check their phones.


Through discussion, our friends could not reach a settlement. Lady G., who had not stated her position on this debate, now suggested a vote. Syprosa knew she’d lose. And so without the actual voting, she surrendered; and Bruno followed. All through the debate, Lodoviko had worn a countenance that Syp could not understand. He appeared split between accepting Lady G.’s rule and refusing it, the result of which was silence afterwards. If Bruno (or Syprosa) was keen, he would have noticed that as soon as the rule of ‘No Phones’ was set, Lady G. pursued Lodoviko’s eyes; but he looked in all other places except Lady G’s face. And then he fetched his flute, rushed it to his lips; and blasted out of it a melody that was unintelligible.


Time to tour the more had come, and they all surrendered their phones to C The D; with Syprosa having shut hers down. Our friends left the cool establishment, dragging themselves to the hot outside weather. Lodoviko was still blowing his flute: and what curiosity did this excite in the villagers? “Stop it,” said Lady G. to Lodoviko, for they were not a caravan of singers, but private tourists.

Direction to Tom Mboya Mausoleum | Photo by Afrilenstories
Direction to Tom Mboya Mausoleum | Photo by Afrilenstories

Bruno and Lady G. were talking, as they headed towards Tom Mboya Mausoleum. At this moment his mind became critical, and he wondered what Syp might know, that he did not. He recalled that Syp had labeled him naive. Add this to the rule of No Phones, and Lodoviko’s generosity--and it led to one thing. Doubt.


For the first time, Bruno questioned the purpose of the trip. “What is in your mind, boy?” said Lady G. to Bruno.


“What?”


“What are you thinking about?”


“My grandmother.”

 

Next episode coming soon...

 

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