The room was still and dimly lit. And except for the occasional laughter of drunken men dragging their feet home, Ola village was as silent as a graveyard. Amara sat on an old couch with her legs spread before her, holding Monica Genya’s book ‘Wrong Kind of Girl’ closer to her face. She loved how the beautiful words composed a rhythm in her head and with every sentence that she read, her smile grew even wider. Her mother, a tall woman who now limped after hitting her small toe on a chair earlier that evening, showed up from her bedroom and scolded Amara for reading under the shadowy light.
“Can’t you wait until the power is back?” The couch she sat on lamented and sunk with her weight, “Or you want to be like your father who can not read even the boldest of words without his glasses?”
Amara lowered the book from her face and stared at her mother with a grin. She thought that her mother worried too much and that if she didn’t tone down with her worrying, she would soon die of heart attack. If Amara got lost in a book, she worried that she would spoil her eyes. If she was seen with any boy, including those she sang in the church choir with, she worried that she would soon fall pregnant. There was nothing about Amara that did not worry her even though she was always on the right side of the law.
“But you must agree that dad looks pretty awesome in his glasses, don’t you?”
Her mother waved her hand dismissively.
“You needed to have seen him when he was still a teenager and didn’t wear any glasses. His eyes and the way he looked at you made you want to follow orders, his orders. Made you want to ask him if there was anything you could do for him.” She crossed her arms across her chest and sighed loudly with her eyes fixed on the ceiling, “The number of women who fought over him was ridiculous.”
Amara tried to imagine her father back in the day, probably dressed in a two pocket shirt and striped flair pants, leaning against a tree, watching as two women pulled on each other’s hair and dragged their nails on each other’s face, just because of his eyes. Shaking her head, she asked, “What about you, mum? Did you also fight for him?”
“Nonsense! I was too classy for that. Besides, I didn’t like him at first. I did not like the way he walked as if his left leg was shorter than his right one. Or the way he dragged English words out of his mouth. Plus I was too busy turning down unsuitable suitors.”
Amara stared at her blankly.
“What, you don’t believe me?”
“I am just trying to figure out how you two ended up together then.”
Her mother’s face beamed with a smile. She shifted in her chair in a manner suggesting that she had been well prepared and eager to answer this question and that she had only been waiting for the right opportunity. Sensing a good story, Amara leaned forward, holding her cheeks.
“I was coming from the market one afternoon. . .” she started, but a knock on the door interrupted her. “I think it’s your father.”
“I will check.”
Amara sprang to her feet and reached for the door. Her father, a short man with a beer belly, which was going beyond unmanageable levels, stood outside. He was leaning against his walking stick and held his large black hat in hand. His eyes looked like they had tears dying to be cried, an indication that he had had one too many for the road that night. When he smiled, his set of white teeth showed itself and it surprised Amara how with all the beer and nyama choma that he ate, his teeth remained defiantly white.
“My favourite daughter, you continue to shine even in the dark just like your mother,” he said, and then added in a whisper, “When she was younger.”
“I can hear you, old man,” his wife said.
“Of course you can, woman, eavesdropping has been your greatest talent ever since I married you.”
It was always refreshing for Amara to hear her parents make fun of each other. As she stepped aside to let her father in and close the door, she said, “But I am your only daughter, so the argument that I am your favourite one does not make sense.”
“I am beginning to suspect that he has a secret family somewhere,” her mother said as she stood up to take the hat and walking stick from her husband.
“Now, both of you don’t start,” he said as he sat on his favourite couch, one which no one else but him sat on. “Despite my love for my African heritage and culture, I am not a man who believes in polygamy. Polygamy, my dears, is for those who wish to die sooner than God intends them to. Besides, why marry two wives? Is it not better to find your soulmate, like I did, and stick to them?”
The lights came back as soon as he said this and Amara noticed that his eyes were on her. She remembered what her mother said earlier on and tried to see if she could identify that thing in his eyes that made women fight over him. She couldn’t seem to find it. It seemed to be lost somewhere in the folds of wrinkles on the either side of his eyes.
“Finding your soulmate will be the source of your happiness,” he continued.
“I agree, father.”
“I find it hard to believe. Not when you have refused to see reason when I tell you that that boy you are rumoured to be seeing, that good for nothing boy who dropped out of school faster than he stopped suckling his mother’s breast, and who has no idea about anything else other than tilling the land his father left him before he died, is not good for you.” He moved forward and was now seated on the edge of the seat. “And I am not implying that he is good for someone else because that would be overstretching the truth. He lacks vision. He lacks ambition. I even have difficulties imagining what my daughter, a very smart woman, talks about with such a loser!” he fell back on the couch, hands slapping the either side of the couch’s arm.
Amara, who was holding her head in her arms, felt a sob rising up her throat.
“Listen, my daughter. All I am asking of you is you be careful the kind of people you associate with. You and I know that that boy has a bad reputation in this village. Morning will find us here if we try to count the number of times he has been involved in fights over flimsy reasons”
“I have heard you, father.”
“I have never doubted your hearing ability so you must have heard me alright. What I want is for you to understand what I am saying because to be honest, I will not accept that boy for a son-in-law. Not in this life or the other.”
With her eyes feeling like they had been sprinkled with pepper, the admiration that Amara had for her father was gradually changing into dread. Her lips were trembling and her mother, who all this time was standing at her bedroom’s door listening to her husband speak, called her out. “Go to your room,” she said when she looked up. Amara grabbed her book from the table and sprint to her room. By the time she was letting herself collapse in bed, tears were rolling down her cheek and a sharp argument had ensued in the living room. Her mum, though did not approve of her choices, sometimes, did not like it when her father raised his voice on her.
In the stillness of the night and darkness of her room, she thought about Masai and their first encounter over a month ago. A towering man with a well-built body, and whose main undoing was his temper, which was shorter than a pessimist’s expectations in life. His mother died a day after he was born. Many blamed him for her death till at some point he started thinking they were right. His father, the only person who never blamed him for his wife’s loss, passed on when he was barely thirteen years old. With his relatives treating him with indifference, he mostly went through life alone. Naturally, he had to be tough to survive. And people confused his toughness for rudeness. He had been involved in more fights and he always emerged the winner. A few people liked him. And at first, Amara was among the many that did not like him, until fate brought them together.
She was heading home from Choir practice one windy evening, the wind was determined to lift her loose skirt up and she was determined to hold it down with her left hand when she stumbled on this Goliath of a man. Looking up, she came face to face with a grinning toothless chap in baggy clothing.
“Sorry, I should look where I am going,” she said, stepping to the left. He followed her to the left. When she stepped to the right, he again stepped to the right.
He kept blocking her way and none of her many threats seemed to be working. At one point, he seemed to be walking past her only to turn around and spank her ass and without hesitation, she slapped him.
“You just messed with the wrong person you bitch!” He quickly wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her into him. She tried to free herself from his hold but he was too strong for her. She tried screaming, but his other hand was covering her mouth. All the hair in her body stood alert and her heart threatened to break free from her chest. Then almost suddenly a voice, a firm voice that thundered and echoed around the thicket, shouted, “Let. Her. Go!”
The defiant look on the face of Amara’s attacker disappeared faster than a lie in the presence of the truth when he came face to face with Masai. He quickly let go off of Amara and when Masai started walking towards him, he fled. Holding her chest in relief, Amara eyed Masai with gratitude and surprise at the same time. His face was expressionless, though. He fiddled with the machete in his hand and just when Amara thought he was going to say something, he turned around and walked away. She remembered she hadn’t thanked him yet so she quickly followed him.
“Thank you,” she said when she caught up with him.
“You shouldn’t be walking around the village at such a time dressed like this,” he pointed at her skirt. It was one of those skirts, which when the wind blew, could as well have acted as a wind sock.
“Why do you have to be so cold even when someone is trying to thank you for what you have done for them?”
“All you needed to say was ‘You are welcome’.”
“If you say excuse me one more time, I will hit you.”
She made as if to hit him with her hand but he ducked and then smiled.
“Okay, Amara. Thank you for saying thank you. Are you happy now?”
“I am just surprised that you even know my name.”
“Who doesn’t?” He stopped and turned to him. “Boys whisper your name all over, praising your eyes and legs and,” his eyes dropped to his hips, “Yeah. So I know your name. And just to ensure that no one else bothers you again, I will walk you home.”
“You don’t have to, I will be fine.”
He chuckled, “It wasn’t a suggestion.”
They didn’t talk much on the way but the little they said was enough make her know that deep down, Masai was a considerate and kind man. Even as darkness clouded them, she still felt safe knowing she was with him. She did not admit it at first, but there was a tinge of disappointment when he didn’t linger after saying his goodbye. And that night, the memory of him turned her head into its playground.
“There are better ways to deal with such situations, treating your daughter like she doesn’t have a mind of her own is not one of them,” her mother was saying with a raised voice now. She hated it when her parents fought and she was the reason why. To drown the noise, she took her pillow, covered her head with and cried herself to sleep.
Aaaand, we are back! Plus we missed out on BAKE AWARDS this year but there is always next time, donge? Also, subscribe to get new episode of this story every Monday.