My skyline is a view of unfinished flats: Cracks on the wall, jutting iron rods on the side, clothes drying on the line. Below the flats: clogged ditches and vendors selling all types of wares. Sukuma wiki, key-holders and sufurias. Young men are just opening their ramshackle sheds and putting up shoes and clothes. There are puddles of water everywhere even though the sun is up. The air is toxic with dust and the stench of broken sewers and broken dreams. My skin is hot and clammy.
Inside our bedsitter the baby is making a rumpus. It’s the kind that splits your eardrums. I will need to get back soon. Who is washing those sufurias that are on the floor to make porridge? The gas emptied about a fortnight ago—who is turning on the stove? Who is inhaling all that carbon monoxide? Funny that I have something of an education yet here I am. My life, a holocaust. My scenery hideous. My soundtrack the bellowing of a child’s lungs.
It’s true what they say. Wealth attracts wealth and as it happens, poverty attracts poverty. If I was born in suburbia this would never have been the case. I would have met a well-off, well-adjusted boy. All boys born into money are well-off and well-adjusted. It doesn’t matter if they are slothful and their favorite pastime is couch-potato with a side of PlayStation. They drive daddy’s Mercedes and live in daddy’s mansion and that would have been more than enough for a girl like me.
The fun may have been short-lived because that is the nature of fun. I would have gotten pregnant eventually and he would have turned his eyes to other women. Let’s not kid ourselves. A married man of means is getting some of his warmth elsewhere. What with hotels and various apartments in daddy’s name at his disposal. But that would have been the least of my worries. I would be in my rocking chair in a lush backyard, my ears full with the chirping of birds and my swelling stomach glowing because of the promising future ahead of it.
When I started blooming. When my breasts became fuller and my hips wider. When dresses started falling on my body a certain way. I thought a boy of worth would swoop in. Touts would occasionally whistle and the shoe vendors outside our house would look at me eerily, as if peeling the clothes off my body. But I always looked away with pride—a pride that said that this was reserved for someone better than you. Someone whose idea of a vacation was flying out, not visiting their grandmother upcountry.
I should have gotten better; I was on that path too. I went to a good high school and learnt words like ‘carbon monoxide’. I even made it to university. But I did not graduate. Not quite. I failed a unit, meaning I needed to redo the entire class. Mother asked, concerned, and I told her I was taking it online. She ate up my answer the only way people born before the internet can. I stumbled on an internship in radio and I thought my life was set. But life has a way of surprising you. After three months the internship expired and well, they didn’t confirm me as an employee.
I would say that it was those days of disillusionment that made me find comfort in the arms of low-hanging fruit. After all, my body was blooming and my thoughts were maturing. I was starting to develop certain needs. The need to feel wanted, the need to be told I’m attractive, the need to be touched, and the most inherent need there is—that of filling the earth like the good book insists.
Mother should have raised an eyebrow at the number of times I frequented the kiosk around the corner to buy mandazi because it was that that made my stomach swell. I don’t know why I liked him. I would say the endearment came because we grew up and played together. Just like I was turning into a woman, he was also turning into a man. His shoulders were broadening. His voice was deepening and a scruffy beard was encroaching his chin. He liked me; it was the setting we were in. I was among few girls who had gone to university and who had some semblance of fashion. He had dropped out in primary school himself. In that sense, he adored me. I was like a sparkling diamond among charcoal. Same thing but very different and people like different because they like to imagine that they are not commonplace like everyone else, and like everyone else most of them are wrong.
He was indeed commonplace. A small TV in his bedsitter which we latter sold for peanuts. Apparently children’s medicine costs money. A small bed, a gas-cooker and dreams of expanding his kiosk into a chain of supermarkets. Helium dreams if you asked me because after paying the rent for that kiosk, our bedsitter and shopping for food, all that is left is wind.
Our daughter cries louder and my thoughts are distracted from the enjoyment of the dilapidated flats and rickety kiosks tableaux. The air strangles my throat. Its hands big and masculine like a garrote, reminding me that I’m at the very bottom of the pyramid in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Perhaps I can redo that unit. Even with the stench of milk on my clothes. But with money from where? His chain of supermarkets?
I feel a hand on my shoulder. It’s a hand that I know very well. I have felt its touch many times before. It’s rough and yet at the same time soft. The person it belongs to is happier and more self-satisfied than I have ever seen him. He wakes up in the morning whistling or humming and opens his kiosk, no, our kiosk. He told me the other day that what is his is ours.
“Please, make baby breakfast. She woke me from sleep.”
Baby will have milk and mashed pumpkin but not mandazi. Never mandazi.
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I like to think of myself as a reader who writes, a Pan-African who thinks with the tips of his fingers, but when I'm not molesting the keyboard I'm usually destroying yogurt (not Frusion) or staring into the vastness of space.