Fiction

Scars from Coast: Fiction by Wafula p’Khisa

Image: Surian Soosay via Flickr (cropped)

The KQ B737-801 touched down at Moi International Airport, Mombasa, at 8pm. We let out a long sigh of relief. The long-awaited moment of glory had come. I would be lying if I said that we weren’t happy. The boredom and anger that had been birthed by the delayed flight and our unending fights back home became a thing of the past. Even those who were drunk sobered up immediately they were caressed by the warm sea breeze.

We got out and dispersed in different directions like fowls that had been confined in a cage for hours. Soto, the unquestionable Head of the Welfare Department for life, stood there, mouth agape. Since we left Lekita, he had developed the habit of ordering us around like school children. Most people at Sabina Education Centre for Young Saintly Souls do such thankless things to appear relevant and please Ednah, our boss. But she, like any other school head, is very difficult to please. Sometimes it looks comical when men disgrace themselves to please and buy her favour. But a man (working under a woman) doesn’t please a woman that way. There is a more natural one which would compel her to scream his name to high heavens and praise him until God feels jealous.

Ednah wears three different faces at different times on different occasions. A meek jovial face for Sunday Mass, particularly when receiving the body of Christ in edible form; a gloomy ugly face for end-month to avoid paying us on time and scare us from asking for advance or increment; and a very bright face when she sees the sight of a coin. What did money do to man? Throughout the flight, her moods had swung to unmanageable levels and she was cross with everyone. We avoided her by all means like a dreaded disease.

Although we had been urged to keep an eye on one another and stay together, walking alone was unavoidable. Most of us had other prime private missions which we couldn’t allow others to poke their itchy noses into. A man’s life, like sex, should not be known by everyone. Mystery is an integral part of one’s life; it makes it exciting when others work up themselves and experience horrible nightmares as they try to discover him.

”I’m the C. E. O. of my small N. G. O. which is my family at home,” grumbled Kawa. ”I need not a guiding hand like a child. I shall walk alone. What if I pounce on some of these juicy tits hawking their flesh-wares about? Wouldn’t these fellas announce it right from Gossip fm to BBC?”

We had just left the airport and were now heading to Ukunda. We would spend the night there and leave for Mtwapa the next day. I had heard from Gossip fm that Ukunda boasts of tasty and attractive girls, many as the species of birds on earth. I was therefore on a confirmation mission.

I had been to Mombasa last in August 2015. I hadn’t done much though. The time I spent there was as short as the time a cock takes to finish his conjugal business with a hen. However, I hadn’t left empty-hearted. A man shouldn’t leave a place with nothing to show for his toil. I had bumped into some babe while hopping from one club to another to distribute wealth. The girl wasn’t that beautiful like some of these women we see on magazine covers but, naturally, every man would admit that God didn’t waste his energy and soil on her. She was the kind that you could walk with during the day, proudly put your hand around her waist and walk in the middle of the road; people would move to give way without cursing and swearing. Don’t our people say that he who has a beautiful hat puts it on and walks tall for the world to see and admire?
***
There are thousands more drinking holes than there are shops in Mtwapa. I would be lying if I said that their beer tastes the same. You must taste it to grasp what I am saying, friend. Otherwise, this is purely rocket science and extra-mental hypermetroimaginasis (whatever that means). I wonder what the sweet poison is made of. Once you down two or three bottles, your throat itches, thirsty for more. Moreover, the cost varies. A beer in Lollipop Club and Lambada would cost ksh 450 and ksh 300 respectively. But in some filthy backstreet den, the same beer costs ksh 91. Whatever they do with that one shilling, only the devil knows. But with money, one has no time and energy to waste on silly things like comparing prices and bargaining. In fact, the code of conduct of the bottle doesn’t entertain that. You either pay to irrigate your throat in paradise or whistle yourself to sleep in hell.
***
It was while drinking and smoking away my life with the last coin in Lollipop when my eyes arrested a lone figure straining her muscles to respond to the noise booming from the many speakers around. Whatever the noise was about, it wasn’t danceable at all. I wondered why the screamer was allowed into a studio. I wondered why such nonsense is given massive airplay at the expense of conscious voices of some starving artists in the wild.

Because of the dense smoke – patrons smoked like factory chimneys – I couldn’t study her fundamentals clearly from the dimly-lit corner where I was seated. I had rejected numerous advances from the strippers that ran to every newcomer like flies to a fresh mound of shit. You see, you would feel important when you are given a romantic and sexy welcome as they rub their bare buttocks against your steamy and hungry manhood, and beg you to caress their ever firm and lovely breasts but you would pay through the nose. Nothing is there for free. Even Jesus healed and exorcised in return for trust and more disciples to preach his word. Doesn’t the Good Book argue that heaven is there only for the poor, and, as preachers say, those who give their lives to Jesus Christ in the pretense of salvation?

So when you smile widely at the strippers in Lollipop, you must buy them drinks, pay them to twerk and let you finger them. They would then infect you with the stench from their beer-smelling mouths and induce you to wet your pants. They would ask you to pick a girl outside to cut your hunger and leave for a new catch. That’s how they build the nation. You would be lucky if you laid one.

”You look lonely,” the girl said as she pulled a stool next to me.

”Uh, not really. I’ve a loyal companion here,” I replied, showing her a bottle of Guinness.

”Sounds interesting. How can that be?”

”A man only trusts the beer in his hand, nothing else.”

”I see…”

”You lie. You can’t see in this smoke.”

”Can I join you?”

”Sure.”

She started gulping my hard-earned beer even before I could welcome her. I quickly borrowed a loan from M-shwari and ordered more beer. It’s a crime not to spend on a beautiful woman who has left everything to be with you.

”I’m Satrine,” she said after a loud silence.

”You’ve a wonderful name.”

”Thanks.”

Silence. Smoke. More beer.

”Don’t you have a name?” she asked.

”Call me Absent.”

”Abu…what? Is that a name?”

”Go ask my mother.”

”Well. I guess you’re new here. Is it for business or adventure?”

”Is it written on my forehead?”

”No. But you don’t look like a Coasterian…”

”And you, why are you here?”

”Work,” she whispered, pointing at some girls parting their thighs on a table for men to touch and marvel at their public parts.

”What kind of a job is this? Can’t you find something better to do?”

”It’s the best I can do. It pays too.”

”Bullshit. Go sell potatoes or work in a saloon.”

”I like what I do. Don’t despise a person’s source of income.”

Silence. Smoke. Beer.

”What do you do?”

”I’m a teacher.”

”Wow, that’s cool.”

”Not as you think.”

”You mean you don’t like it?”

”Maybe.”

”Why?”

”I’m given wrong students, most of them unteachable. I’m overworked and underpaid.”

”But why did you go for it?”

”It just came. I actually wanted to be in the military.”

”Then what happened?”

”I was thrown out and told to join university and be a professor…”

We had drunk quietly until 4am when the club closed.
***
It had been long since we saw each other. I longed to have her. She was the reason why I was in Mombasa. She had offered to welcome me into her for free. I had even toyed with the idea of electing her to be my wife. What is impossible anyway? If a teacher can marry a student; if a police officer can marry a criminal; if a beggar can marry a tycoon; if a preacher can marry a witch; what’s wrong when a teacher marries a stripper-cum-prostitute? Such unions form great homes and bear children with exceptionally desirable qualities. It is the marriage of opposite and unlike entities such as heaven and hell, God and Satan, Islam and Christianity, Europe and Africa etc. that would bring peace, and restore order and sanity in the world.

I couldn’t wait to leave Ukunda. It was very dry. People looked hungry and food was extremely expensive for nothing. So I drank and smoked for breakfast, lunch and supper. I tasted my first real meal in Mtwapa two days later.

Mtwapa is one of the busiest towns on earth. When its residents sleep or worship is a pure mystery. I wonder if National Environmental Management Authority has ever visited it for the harm the Mtwapans do to the environment is worrying. The air is a concoction of beer, cheaply cooked meals, shit, sweat and raw sex. Unless you have a lion’s heart, you can easily faint when it invades your lungs. In spite of this, Mtwapa is one of the few places on earth that brings heaven and hell into a firm embrace. Most people from the countryside arrive there in buses but leave while tied on top of the buses in caskets. It had happened to my uncle. The poor fella had gone there looking for something to sustain him. He neither communicated nor returned home until he retired. We buried him.

I saw Satrine during the day and watched her strip for men at night. I did this until I became jealous of any man that touched or smiled at her, forgetting that no man ever claimed to own a whore. It is painful to have a harlot for a lover. She is like a public swimming pool; any man can swim and urinate therein and go. I must have been madly in love or something. One night I smashed a bottle on the head of some obtuse fella fondling her nipples. I had just sucked them a few hours before and the sight of someone feeling them made the worm in my head to turn. I nearly puked. But it is right for a man to fight when someone eats what that man is supposed to eat. I put reason aside and sprang into action.

”Don’t touch her again,” I shouted as some strong hands grabbed me.

The music and dance stopped. Patrons who were burning in the presence of naked girls became cold instantly. A few of them, who couldn’t stand the sight of blood, gulped their drinks and left. Friend, nobody wants to die. Isn’t it true that cowards live long anyway?

For a moment, my victim mourned his beer, oblivious of his bleeding head.

”What the hell’s this, devil? That drink cost me a fortune. With all the money swallowed by the state looters, don’t you think I really toiled for it?”

He stopped talking when he saw himself red. He rolled up his sleeves and charged. I freed myself and countered. It was one of the scariest and bloodiest showdowns in Mtwapa. Deadly but worth my time and energy. It’s better for men to fight over a beautiful woman than tear each other over a cigarette or ksh 200 thrown by a politician during campaigns.

The bouncers, who had apparently been enjoying the fight, threw us out. Satrine followed me, crying big waters.

”I told you not to come. Now you’ve poured my flour…”

”I’d to, dear, I’d to…”

”Stop endearing me. What sort of a man spoils things for the woman he claims to love? You’ve embarrassed me, Absent.”

”I’m sorry…”

”I don’t need your sympathy. I don’t need you too. Umeniharibia kazi… Sasa nitakula nini…”

”I told you that’s not a job. I’ll fish you out of these dirty waters and find something dignified for you to do…’

She forgot that she had denounced me. Women forget things fast except their birthdays and other days that a man is to spend on them. She picked me up and took me to her house. Treated my wounds, bathed and expertly guided me to slide into her warm bottomless abyss. I could only say oh… uh…uuh…oooh as we danced the night away in paradise. Indeed, these women at the coast know how to treat men. No wonder those who go there do not easily return to their boring nagging wives in the countryside. Only a fool leaves the glories of heaven for the bitterness of hell.

”What the hell happened to you, boy? Were you hit by a tractor or something?” Soto asked. We hadn’t seen each other for the past six days.

”I fell…”

”You fell? Nonsense. Don’t tell me you’re running after a prostitute… Teachers don’t run bwana.”

”But should I just stand there to be mugged without putting up a struggle?”

He didn’t speak for a while. He just gulped his beer and ordered for another crate. Soto is a strange fella. He is a failed priest and a master of disguise. At Sabina, he’s saved. But there are things he cannot be saved from: beer, women and money.

”You ignored my word… Anyway, I’ve no sympathy for you except a drink. Karibu.”

Drunkards are very generous. They can buy you beer and women if you want. But you can’t have their money.

Everyone was surprised to hear that I was returning home with a girl. I had only whispered it to Marumbu, my drink mate. However, because of his loose tongue, he announced it to everyone.

”What does she do?” some asked.

”She’s an employee at the Kenya Ports Authority,” I lied.

It’s good for one to speak good about what is his. Engoso ya khwitakho sabeyakala ebandutawe (an itching boil on a buttock isn’t scratched in public). They had to believe me. We were at Lambada for dinner on the eve of our departure day.

However, the devil chose to pay me an impromptu visit that night. I had been uneasy throughout the dinner party. As I negotiated my way through the busy human traffic to Satrine’s abode, I felt my hair standing. “I’m being followed or something,” I thought.

She had finished packing when I arrived. We were to leave early the next day. But as she came to embrace me, the door flung open and three gigantic men stormed in. Before I could open my mouth, one of them hit me hard on the head.

”Who the hell do you think you are? Think you just come and spoil biz here?”

”Leave us alone…” Satrine screamed. But she was quickly silenced with a hot slap.

”I’ll kill you bastard,” I swore.

They descended on me with thunderous blows and kicks until I passed out.

I woke up in a hospital three days later. Everyone was there except Satrine. They neither smiled nor talked to me. Except Ednah who wore her usual gloomy face, the rest were expressionless. But I knew that deep inside, they had something begging for answers. I closed my eyes to hide from shame.

—————–

Image: Surian Soosay via Flickr (cropped)

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