IT stands as fact that our attention hop from site to site in search of breaking news. Our phones never rest. Even now a beep might visit our devices with another quencher of curiosity. If other news should flash in the next ten minutes or so we must all ignore it, whatever it might be; until we have heard about the puzzle of The Malava Travellers. This is a true story.
FRIDAY is a market day in Malava, a small town in Western Kenya. On such a day, from dawn, buyers and sellers stream into the town to trade all kinds of merchandise. Whereas traders buy low to sell high, not every trader deals in sheep.
One Friday a sheep trader came to Malava for the first time. It was not known from which place he came. It could have been Kakoyi; it could have been Butali; it could have been elsewhere within Kakamega County, or beyond. Though it was not known whence he came, it was seen that he was an old man who wore a neat white shirt and black jeans.
He had expected to buy sheep low, but times were tough. And it was his standard that if he never sold or bought any sheep by 10am he’d close the day. Past 10am on this Friday therefore, he entered a busy, smoke-filled Kibanda at the edge of the market, to wet his throat with a bowl of soup; for besides being a tough time, the day was hot.
Not five minutes later the holed curtain that veiled the entrance of the kibanda was shifted by a gloved hand. Then, a young woman who looked like a mzungu peeped inside and said to the young man at the counter, “Handsome Kenyan, do you serve sheep soup?”
The mzungu, who had the voice of a singer, had spoken in a deep accent which the young man did not catch. “Come again?” the young man said. Just as the young woman began to repeat the sheep trader, from his table, clarified to the young man what the woman had asked. To this clarification, the young man shook his head at both the woman and the sheep trader.
Before the woman turned to go the sheep trader snapped his fingers at her and said, pointing at his bowl, “Come here, sunshine, and try my goat soup. It has chilli.”
The woman laughed. “Oh, sir.” Other customers in the kibanda looked in her direction. “You are sweet, but thank you.”
“The goats of this town have the strongest soup, come.”
“Thank you, but goat soup? I don’t do.”
“Do not refuse an old man. In these lands when an old man says tsk, you say tsk back.” Giggles arose from the customers, most of whom were young people.
The woman showed that smile which masks inconvenience, but entered the kibanda nevertheless, at a pace of peace. Her perfume came with her. The sheep trader jumped to the opposite bench, where the woman would sit, and slapped the dust off it. The woman touched his hand and said, “It is fine. I would still have sat if it was rough.”
The young man at the counter, who had observed the young woman glide to the sheep trader’s spot, appreciated that she was heavenly in the short purple dress; and had the shape, seen from behind, of an upright-sitting triangle with a wide base, and flowing golden hair. With her, she carried a small white dog, and a travel bag upon her back.
Once the young woman had sat, the two began to chat. The sheep trader spoke in a loud voice that everybody in the kibanda could hear, while the woman spoke in a soft and low voice that only few customers near them could hear. Moving his bowl to the center of the table, and asking for another spoon, the sheep trader welcomed the woman. She carried her dog in her lap and her bag rested on the bench. Two minutes more, the two chattered like people who’d known each other for decades. She laughed, and the trader and everybody else liked how she laughed. He told her he was Lodoviko the sheep trader; she told him she was Gertrude; and upon this he said he’d henceforth call her Lady G.; she laughed and shifted away a flow of hair from one of her eyes.
Note from The Afrilens:
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