A Similar Gaze and Similar Teeth

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A Similar Gaze and Similar Teeth Photo by DJ

‘What exactly does that boyfriend of yours Nkedi do?’ Chao asked her big sister.

They were both wearing blue jeans, though the attire similarity ended there. Lala’s top was a black T-shirt, with the word NO emblazoned at its front in bright blue colours.

Chao was donning a sleeveless garnet tank top. She liked buying clothes with complicated colours so that she could casually say to her friends statements like, ‘this garnet colour was the only one remaining in the shop...’

Slender braids were tumbling down her generous bosom. She had a love-hate relationship with this bosom of her. Sometimes it was a source of great pride but there were times when she wished she could deflate the boobs just a little so that they could be a ‘normal’ size.

They were seated in the second row of the left side, in an Easy bus coach, on a rare trip to their father’s ancestral home in Mumias. Mumias literally means Mumia’s named after Nabongo Mumia, one of pre-independent Kenya’s last supreme traditional kings. It is now more famous for its sugar. However, this sweetness had turned sour over the years. Just ten years earlier, nearly every farmer in Mumias was planting sugarcane. Now, almost each one of them was uprooting them.

Like India and Brazil, Mumias had been a powerhouse of sugarcane for a long time. But unlike India which still produced an average annual cane production of about 350 million tonnes, Mumias’s had plummeted faster than a rock falling down a cliff.

When Wanguba, Lala’s uncle, her father’s oldest brother visited them in Nairobi the previous year, he had said solemnly during the sumptuous meal of Mama Lala’s soooft chapatis and ndengu, ‘our sugarcane farms have become graveyards of our dreams.’ Said in the Wanga dialect of the Luhya language, these words sounded even more absolute yet pleasantly poetic.

It was Tuesday in July, so the bus was half full; it would have been a quarter full but a group of ten Americans were going to Mumias for a volunteers project so they were occupying most of the seats on the right side of the bus.

‘Look at that one,’ Chao whispered in Lala’s ear, ‘the one in the third row. Dios Mio! He is absolutely yummy.’

The yummy brother had a rather shaggy brown beard and according to Chao, beards gave men a lion’s look. They made men even more of men and she loved a man with a capital A in the man. If he had a ‘sweet beard, rough romance, smooth words and a wide, wide chest’ he stood a fat chance of sitting opposite her on a date.

Lala was seated in the window seat, as she planned to devour every sight that they would hurtle past. She was particularly excited about Kericho’s scenic tea plantations. She didn’t know that Kenya was actually the world’s largest exporter of black tea and that it had earned Kenya Shillings 112 billion from tea back in 2012, her third year of employment.

All she knew was that, ‘oh my God my dream is to do it in one of those totally cute tea plantations...’ Her best friend Nduta and all the other three members of her inner circle had heard her voice this dream on several occasions.

‘He is an entrepreneur,’ Lala ignored her sister’s smitten comment about the bearded American and instead answered Chao’s question about Nkedi’s profession.

‘Just because Obama came for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi,’ Chao paused to type the words, nktest, into her Sony phone. She always wondered how life had been without whatsapp.

The person on the receiving end of the ‘nktest’ was Clive, another member of the bearded club.

‘Just because Obama came and preached about entrepreneurship now everyone wants to sell stuff.’

Lala smiled, her teeth instantly leaving a patch of white on her ebony face: it occurred to her at that moment that she also wanted to jump onto the entrepreneurship bandwagon.

As if reading her mind, Chao probed further, ‘do you also want to start farming because of Barrack’s golden touch?’

The last two words reminded Lala of ‘golden touch’, a song by the British rock group Razorlight. She started humming some of its words:

I don’t give away too much; someone will need your golden touch.

If only Nkedi's touch was more golden... She thought ruefully. He is okay but.. she sighed.

The bus ground to a halt. It was time for a bathroom stop in Nakuru. Lala watched as the young lady in front of her, probably three years younger than her, Chao’s agemate, literally sprinted out of the bus. Must be the chips and sausage and chicken and kebab she had devoured even before the bus left Nairobi’s chaotic traffic jam. Her unspoken prayer was that her guardian angel would come and unclutter this jam in her life so that it could flow smoothly.

Her own life felt like that chaotic jam. An impossible-to-figure-out boyfriend who was crawling slower than a snail in advancing their relationship; a job where three newer colleagues had overtaken her within a year of their arrival, rumour had it that their promotions were horizontally powered; a lukewarm relationship with God or was it with her Anglican Church?

Thankfully, there was no jam between Nakuru and Kisumu. The two sisters slept so soundly that they missed Kericho’s tea plantations. It took a lone, stubborn fly to jolt Chao from her sleep. She in turn elbowed her sister.

‘We are almost in the land of our ancestors,’she said as her ever present phone was swiped open, and the green whattsapp button pressed. There were seventeen new messages and none of them was from a lady.

Before the bus screeched to a halt in Mumias town ten minutes later, all the messages had been replied.

This is how the air was meant to smell. Lala thinks as they alight from a boda boda, public motor-bike, into the waiting arms of uncles and aunts whose teeth are as tiny and dazzling white as theirs. The hips of the aunts are as ample as theirs. The brown eyes of the uncles as probing as theirs, it’s as if they are constantly looking for something more than what are actually seeing at that particular moment.

Their blood flows in this land of Mumias, the land of their ancestors. Not blood spilt in warfare but blood birthed in heaven.

A small vibration; the smartphone is flushed out of the dark jeans pocket and swiped. Chao’s warm smile reveals those teeth that are whiter than white and evenly arranged, as if mounting a guard of honour for Obama. He has replied. He will send the money. The fool thinks his money will finally convince her to ‘pliz just come over for dinner this Saturday. Just sent u the 5k.. enjoy babe!’

That Saturday, which is tomorrow, she will be having dinner with people who have teeth and a gaze like hers.

DJ Bwakali

Words can inspire action and change the world

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