Her Name (Part I)

Villagers say they can see my young dark face beneath Mama’s rough wrinkles, hear my voice in the belch of her belly on a hot afternoon. Mama’s presence can be felt everywhere in the house. She is cooking in the kitchen, but I can hear the noise from my bedroom. I can hear her pounding yams for lunch. I bet she is still in her red kikoi, the one that she ties around her waist and hides a Somali knife beneath. She shouts and calls me. I answer quickly. I haven’t moved out of my room yet but she starts giving instructions. She updates me on what is to be done today. She says I should be in the shamba digging. She says I ought to go cut fodder for the cattle. I know what she means beneath these set of instructions. She means that it is time for me to marry. She cannot understand how she has hit seventy years with no grandchild in sight. I’m the youngest, only sober male, at least for the moment. My elder brothers and father are busy discussing how they have ten wives and large tracts of land while under the influence of ten shillings packets of alcohol. All my sisters are married too. They married early, in search of more peaceful pastures. Who will help her carry water when she gets old? I really do not enjoy seeing her carrying water from the river. Her bones might break. Or let’s put this correctly, I really do not want to have more scars. I do not know how to avoid them. I have had scars earlier in my life and I can tell you there is nothing to laugh about here. The first time to get a scar was after losing some fore skin in the river. It wasn’t the traditional circumcision, but Tambaya medical clinic is located near Gura River. Don’t ask me whether it was painful, I’ve heard more painful moments. Moments whose anesthesia could only be telling stories through writing later. Moments like the ones I am about to narrate to you.

I thought I had become a man and found it wise to take my new girlfriend, Njoki, to the river so that she could see where she would be fetching water for my Mama when I marry her. I was that serious in dating. Shiny stars scattered the sky between the forest clearing by the river, the crickets sang soft choruses and the water flowed smoothly over the rocks making soothing music. Damn nature. Couldn’t all those things see what I was about to suffer and make louder uglier noise.

“Sweetie.”

Only her lips moved, the stars in her eyes didn’t twinkle. She had never called me by that name. She must have been impressed by me taking her to the river. The rush of the reeds by the river bank in the evening breeze had started scaring me. It was getting dark.

“Let’s go back. You have seen the river, but you have nothing to fetch water with right now.”

She hesitated then turned. I curled my hand around her slender waist as we began to slowly lift our feet to the path that would lead us back home.

She suddenly turned back and squatted.

“I actually have a container from which I can fetch water from your river.”

She knelt down and pulled closer to my feet.

“It will be more pleasurable for both of us.”

She looked up from where she knelt at my feet, her hands wrapped around my thighs.

“You must be joking Njoki. I have never heard you say anything like that.”

I tried to lift her up. She was now pulling my legs.

“If you can show me the river to fetch water for mama this early, you should also show me the pipe from which I will be fetching my personal water.”

I was jinxed. Any man would be.

“How can you claim to be serious on one matter and deny me the other, yet both involve the plans of us getting married in the future?”

I had heard people say it is impossible to win an argument with a woman. I kept quiet.

“I have agreed to your request and now you want to deny me mine?”

My mind was still searching for the right words to answer her.

“Isn’t that gender inequality? And you know how good Nyeri women are at-”

“Or bad depending on which end you are looking from-”

“Fighting for our rights-”

“And wrongs too-”

Her hand started fumbling with my zip.

If this doesn’t convince you as to why I had to agree then you should get to see Njoki. Her hour glass figure beamed in the dim moonlight as if full of gold with only her skin preventing her from full luster. The light shone most in her eyes. Charcoal black hair hugged her shoulders like the long mountain grass swept flat by a strong wind. She gleamed in my eyes too. Now here she was, pulling a Wangari Maathai on the tree in my Karura, and the underground tubers too.

Her hands are careful, like those of a farmer nurturing young plants. She massages slowly then accommodates her one eyed idol into her mouth. I had read about this feeling in stories. The feeling of a river of joy released. The river inside that would never make me happy unless I shared it with the rest of the world. But I never knew it would be anything like this. I begin moaning softly, a soft hiss of the wind that softly caresses the leaves bush just before dusk.

A heavy object hits me from behind. I scream.

Njoki sucks harder. She must be thinking that I am just about to deliver the water of life. The pain is much from the hit, but so is the pleasure.

Another heavy object hits me from behind.

This time the pain is too much. I don’t scream, but sharply turn. The water of life pours onto the ground from my black tree, dangling from an open zip. I see her, the intruder, standing next to a pile of stones on one side and a water pot on the other. Her face slowly dawns on me.

Mama.

I stand there, transfixed. I can see where she is looking, at the sausage dangling below my stomach, but I can’t dare remove my eyes off her. She bends down to pick another stone. I recover, sharply turn, and run over Njoki into the trees.

Now every time I see Njoki at the shopping centre I have to change route. Woe unto me if I don’t see her and we meet face to face. I have to run for my dear life, with the whole town bursting in laughter. I am considering enrolling for the next available marathon, I think I’m fit enough by now to take position one. Njoki should be in it too, she will give me a better reason to chase for the prize and run away with it, literally.