Emily is old now. There are wrinkles on her face that she doesn’t know how they got there. Her once full cheeks have caved in. She smiles at the mirror. Four teeth smile back at her. Her hair is grey and her back is bent. It’s strange, she has aged yet she feels like she’s still a girl.
She turns on her radio and dances to the music. She spins, jumps, and bends all in her soul as she fixes herself breakfast. After she is done with her mashed pumpkin and black tea, she puts a bowl of milk on the floor for her cat. It meows before its face disappears inside the bowl and slurping sounds follow.
Emily’s soul is electric. She moves her hips and allows the water to drench her. In her single-room house in Kangemi, the warm water from her sufuria makes drip, drip noises on her hand towel, as she begins to wipe herself down. Her skin has become too delicate and her bones too frail for the downpours she loves but that doesn’t mean she can’t enjoy them. Her waist moves and she allows the water to drench her again.
She slips into a blue dress, she feels the fabric hug her skin and she spins in front of the mirror. It rises like a carousel swing before it settles. Her back is so bent that only a teenager’s dress will fit her now. She complements it with a green woolen sweater and supports herself with the furniture around her house before plopping on one of her old sofas, next to her cat. It purrs as she picks up a photo album and begins to go through it.
Her husband was the first one to go, then her son followed and his wife after him. Looking at a photo of her husband leaning on his black mamba bicycle, it feels as if he is still here with her. As if he just went off to sell his newspapers and he will be back in the evening, asking what she was cooking for supper and looking at her in that way she did, as if she was the only girl in the world.
A tear rolls down her eye. It’s the dust, she decides as she turns the page on the album and there she is in her 20s holding her 5-year-old son. She is transported to that time when she was both happy and worried about him. She looks at the door waiting for him to visit the way he would with his wife. The door stares back at her ominously and another tear falls from the other eye. They both meet on her chin and fall on the album with a plop.
She flips the album: Aunties, uncles, cousins. All gone. Yet it feels as if they never left. The cat meows again and Emily realizes she had dozed off. She glances at her Kabambe phone. It’s heading to noon. She serves herself mashed pumpkin with bean stew, before giving the leftovers to her cat. She supports herself on the sofa, picks her walking stick and kiondoo, and prepares to leave for work.
As she packs her radio into her kiondoo, she notices her ID card. It says she’s 93 years old but she knows she’s older than that, because she took it when she was in her teens. The identification card is wrong and she is wrong too, she thinks. Because she still feels like a girl.
She closes her door with a Tri-Circle padlock and walks slowly to Kangemi market, her cat following her from behind. She gets to her station, where her mtu-wa-mkono has set up bananas on a rented mkokoteni. She sets up her radio as her cat rubs itself on her leg and meows. She sells her bananas while listening to her radio and chatting with the mama mboga’s around her. Their stories about boyfriends and husbands make her giddy.
Everyone buys from Emily. The young, the old, the tall, the short, the wide, and the narrow. Some do it because they want bananas, others do it because they prefer her selection, and some out of pity. She sees how they look at her with sad eyes, eyes that say she screwed up. Eyes that say she’s badly off.
They don’t realize she’s just trying to make sense of the world, just like they are, only, she’s doing it in an aged body.
By evening, Emily’s mkokoteni is empty. She pays her mtu-wa-mkono, packs her essentials back in her kiondoo, and heads to a nearby kibanda for supper. She feeds her cat the leftovers and they head back to her house. She hums to the music on her radio as she changes into her nightgown, gargles some salt water, switches off the radio, and retires to bed. She will do it all over again tomorrow and wonder how she got to look so old when she feels so young.
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