Mutiso has just caved into our house. He was fixing the roof, and he didn’t know the roof was made of clay. He has created a big hole in the roof, and mom is laughing uncontrollably.
Chagrined Mutiso is still in shock. It happened so fast, but he’s unhurt. Dad has a side smile. He is forced to buy new mabati to seal the hole, and they spend the whole day with Mutiso mending the roof.
I just came back from school, and I’m panting. I had to ditch my friends. They say we live in a shanti and that we are poor, and I feel bad when they say that. The houses are crammed together. Some are made of cardboards, others of mud. Ours is made of timber, and the ones who are well off have theirs made with mabati.
Mom sells mtumba on the roadside, and she is calling me to help her man the shop, but I don’t want to because my friends will see me and laugh at me the next day in school.
Nyuguri has a black scary mask. It resembles a chimpanzee, and he tells me to wear it because when I do they won’t recognize me. I go to mom’s mtumba shop wearing the mask, and the kids see me, and they still know it’s me. Mom is mad, and she pinches me till my ear burns like hot ugali. Kanyambu comes to help me man the shop while mom goes to the market to get vegetables for supper.
Kanyambu looks like a mzungu. She is yellow, yellow like a banana, and her hair dances like Koffi Olomide around her shoulders.
People in the shanti say her dad is Italian. Others say he is British. Her mom sells vegetables in the market, and I hang around their house because they’re only two in their house and their food is rich with lots of flavors unlike ours. Mom floods ours with water, and it’s tasteless. Kanyambu tells me she will be having a dad soon like everyone else, and I wonder what she means.
Mom comes back, and we start putting the mtumba into gunias. We have to do it quickly because the rain is approaching fast. The sky has grown dark and scary. The big duvets won’t fit into the gunia. I have to jump on them playfully, so I soil them with my dirty feet in the process. Mom is mad again and rings my ear till I style up. The rain starts pouring. We enter the house, and dad has placed buckets strategically around the sitting room. The roof is leaking everywhere, and he is trying to seal it with soap. I go to our bedroom which also doubles as the kitchen.
Water is dripping on my bed too. My bed that has a headboard full of chewing gum stickers and around which are tangled Christmas tree lights that I power with dead batteries from our radio. The same batteries that I bite till they start working or put them out in the sun till they’re good as new. I rub my legs together to remove the dust and the dirt and jump into bed. Beside my bed is my sibling’s double decker. I climb on it and fix the hole with chewing gum. The water stops dripping.
It is morning and our neighbor is frying meat. Dad says he’s a bad person because he has alienated himself from his family. His family of three children and a wife who live in a separate house opposite him and eat bread with water while he fries meat and watches the news in the evening on his great-wall TV. When he notices neighbors have stopped chattering and they might be listening in, he kills the sound and the whole shanti is quiet like an exam room, besides crickets and croaking frogs in the river. She also has a beautiful daughter called Shiko. Every morning I call her to show her ants, and we go behind the public bathroom and show each other our urinating thing and giggle sheepishly.
We have a clique of friends. Me, Shiko, Kanyambu, Mercy and Jere which is short for Jeremiah. Jere and Mercy’s parents are very strict. Their mom has sinuses, and she wakes up in the morning and makes ‘Kwaaaa’ noises with the roof of her nose till we all wake up. Their mother is tall and foreboding. Their dad is short and grounded. Sometimes we hear their mom being beaten by their dad. We hear her crying, and I can’t help but wonder how such a big woman gets the cane from such a small man. Dad says you should love a woman and not beat her. I agree with him.
Jere and I are playing bano while Shiko, Kanyambu and Mercy play kati. We’re filthy afterwards. Since Jere and Mercy’s parents are not around we decide to bathe together. Jere and Mercy boil water with their stove. We’re soon in the public bathroom outside their mabati house. I pee in the water. Everyone is disgusted and starts screaming at me. My big sister hears the ruckus and bursts into the bathroom, the door of which is a tattered gunia. We’re butt naked, and she later tells mom we were doing bad manners. I wonder what bad manners is? Mom rings me like a bell, and I swear never to do bad manners again. Mom tells the other parents, and we don’t see each other for a week.
Kanyambu looks different. She is usually cheerful and laughs a lot and tells me stories. But today she is sulking, and she has bags under her eyes. I ask her what’s wrong, and she tells me she hasn’t been having much sleep lately. She is yawning, and she curls up on our tattered sofa and sleeps almost immediately. I hear my parents whispering that she got a new dad, and her mom stopped working, and he is using all the money from her market stall to buy cigarettes and the drink. I don’t know what the drink is. Mom says that Kanyambus’ mom was lonely and needed a companion, but she got the wrong one.
After school I, go to their house under the pretense of looking for Kanyambu, but I really just want to eat their undiluted food. I enter the one-room house and scan around. There is neither milk nor fruit like there normally is. There is no food either, and Kanyambus’ mom is staring at the roof. She has lost a lot of weight since she got her new husband, and she looks like a bag of bones. I invite Kanyambu over, and she runs behind me like there is danger behind her. We eat mom’s githeri that she calls stew even though it is baptized with water. Dad is telling a story. We’re giggling and laughing, but Kanyambu is dozing off.
The next day after school, I ditch my friends like I always do because I’m still lying about where I live even though it’s not a secret. I don’t want to be living in a shanti. I have a spring in my step because it’s Friday. My mom cooks Chapatis on Friday, my favorite. I am happy even though I know she will warm my ears because I fell on the mud during break time and soiled my shorts and shirt.
As I approach our house, I notice a big crowd outside Kanyambus’ house. Her new dad is naked, and a bunch of angry violent people are all over him like white on rice, throwing stones at him and beating him with sticks. Someone is screaming “weka yeye tyre,” at the top of his lungs. Kanyambu has a leso wrapped around her, and she is sobbing. My mom goes next to her and pulls her away.
Someone brings the tyre, and the crowd is chanting uncontrollably and nobody can stop them. Dad pushes me away and tells me to go to my mother. I am leaving when I see Kanyambus’ mom running towards the crowd wailing and telling them to stop, but it’s too late. Her new husband is already raging in flames.
My mom tells me not to look, but I see Kanyambus’ mom sink to her knees and weep and throw herself on the ground with a lot of force.
Later, I hear my mom saying she was weeping for her new husband, for her daughter and for herself.
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