At Caren’s door, by the light in the corridor, I saw big shoes, the lecturer’s no doubt. I knocked upon the door and waited. A hand flipped the door curtain aside, so the knocker could be identified through the glass pane, on the upper segment of this metallic door. Caren looked at me though the glass, and then opened the door. She wore a white dress, and collected her hair in a cloth, shaped like a cone. In she ushered me, in atypical low and level voice; and her face betrayed little happy expressions, which I thought she wanted to hide (from me). This new temperament of hers, as of followers who approach a clergy for a sacrament or blessing may act, or as of a gentleman who meets the mother-in-law may conduct himself, revealed to me that indeed the husband had come, and she esteemed this fact.
I found myself touched by her demeanor, that I presently entered her house with similar air, of goodness and humility and controlled gaiety. I focused my sight at the couch, that I should see the man of the house. Instead, I saw a coat—his of course—laid on the back of the couch, a watch and a pair of spectacles on the table, and a black book placed on the arm of the couch, nearest the door.
“Karibu,” said Caren, in a lower voice than before.
I walked over to the couch; while Caren leading, picked the coat, the watch and the spectacles but the book, and went to the bedroom with them. I suspected the man of the house remained in the bedroom, attending to private matters. In the meantime, while Caren stayed away, I checked the cover of the black book, and read the title, Writing for Beginners, written by some foreign name I can’t recall now.
I felt quite nervous as I waited for either of them to emerge. I tell you, nervousness makes my palms sweat, and my mind travel far and wide. In general, I display my nervous condition by tapping on whatever surface my fingers and toes and heels can find, and whistle a little. These acts I did then, meanwhile. In the course of this, my mind travelled far and wide, to Jane—back in our house on the upper floor, and I hoped I’d find her asleep, at such time that this gathering should end; to my folks in Maili Tisa, and I wondered how they did, for I hadn’t called my uncle or spoken to his youngest daughter for a long time; and to work, there at River Road, and I schemed how I should approach Ken, my supervisor, in my desire to gain an increment.
Engaged thus, my right eye, through the corner of it, caught a misty image of a body, at length. For how long the body had stood there, by the bathroom door, I can’t tell, for I had, in the meantime, tapped the right arm of the couch, and rapped my heels upon the rug, and whistled a little. I jerked my head to this frame, and saw a dark man with a belly, wrapped in a bathing towel, from the waist downward. He looked at me, and I looked at him. In the eyes. As a show of respect, I wanted to stand up and shake his hand—the right or left—but in both, he held rinsed cloths, that I supposed underwear or face towel or something of that kind.
“Hello…sir,” said I, in a low voice. At this moment, I wished Caren could come, to ease the meeting.
He looked at me further, and made me squirm.
I thought I hadn’t spoken loud enough, in my original Hello. Hence, I said again, in a louder projection, “Hallo, sir.”
The man of the house responded not, but scanned my body further. I felt my palms wet and my heart beat faster. What if he thought me a rival and a threat to his dominance, and thereby caused havoc, as to break my neck or nose?
So at a loss I remained, wondering if the man of the house would ever speak.
Then, with no indication whatsoever, he broke into a laugh that his hairy black belly shook with each crack; shaking from side to side and up and down. Now the stories we told in campus, that some lecturers read so much that they became mad by and by, filled my mind presently; and I shifted to the other end of the couch, farthest from him, should he make an unexpected move against me; and so I stayed in a ready state for flight.
Again, with no indication whatever, the man of the house paused his laughter, and wore such an unsmiling expression on his face, as of someone who suffered a mighty migraine. Then he stepped forth once, during the course of which I readied my legs for any likelihood.
Now he said (to my surprise, for I hitherto thought he’d never speak to me), lowering his head and focusing his sight upon my head, “Are you of sound mind, young man?”
My dear reader, an urgent urge of laughter filled my throat, but I managed to turn it into a little cough in time. I looked at his eyes again, as I coughed with my hand over my mouth, and found them dark and deep.
“Mnh?” he said; and I nodded as to mean I owned a sound head.
“Good,” said he, “you know, young man, I have been standing here like a scarecrow for some time, and for all that time [I even coughed twice or more], you kept whistling and hitting your legs on the floor and hitting the sofa with your hands. Are you of sound mind, young man?”
I nodded again, looking at his old face, of fifty or sixty.
“Good. You know, young man, people can be mad without knowing at all. You should have a psychiatric evaluation—I have a friend at Nairobi Hospital, he could, he could—”
For the first time since I discovered his presence, I developed courage to speak to him. I said, “I am not mad, sir.”
“Good, good,” he said, nodding, “good. Then in that case”—he gave his left hand the cloth that the right hand had held, and wiped the right hand by the part of the towel over his right thigh, and presently stretched the hand to me, for a handshake—“in that case, how are you?”—I let his hand hung in the air like that, not by design, but because of uncertainty, for I doubted that he meant to greet me, or planned to withdraw the said hand when I stretched mine, and make a loud laugh out of the scene, and ask me if I had a sound mind thereafter—“I say how are you, young man?”
By and by, by the motion of a chameleon, I issued forth my hand, meanwhile looking into his face, for me to change course if he changed his. At length, our hands closed the gap, and he shook the tips of my fingers. “Good. This is good. What is your name, young man?”
“Taifa,” said I.
“Mnh, that is a good name. Taifa. An African name. Is it a nickname?” he said, raising his head and looking about the ceiling.
“No, sir. It is my real name.”
“This is good. This is very good. Taifa who?”
“Excuse me, sir?”
“What is your other name?”
“Mkenya. Taifa Mkenya.”
“Very very good. This is good—from where?”
“Maili Tisa, sir.”
“Maili Tisa?” said he, looking at me now, but still standing there bare chest (where in the house had Caren gone!) “Near Eldoret, right?”
“Mnh. This is good. Maili Tisa. Near eldoret. I have been there”—at this last word, he walked over to the couch and sat facing me. I saw his undergarments held in his left hand, but this didn’t bother him. In a seated position, his belly distended more towards the glass table—“There was a time, many many years ago. There was I time I taught in a college within that region”–said he, drawing a circular impression in the air, using the index finger of the free hand. “And…and I really enjoyed life there. You know what I mean, young man?” said he, smiling. I lied that I knew what he meant. “Mnh. This is good. Very very good.” He then looked down on the rug, and presently entered a session of internal thought.
“And sir, what is your name?” said I. He did not hear me, on account of his musing, I supposed. We remained so, in that state of silence. By now, I had stopped my tapping business, and even my palms had dried.
“Young man,” said he presently, and I looked at him, “how—how did you meet her?”
“My wife of course—who else could I possibly mean?”
“Oh, of course. I—I met her through”—as I said this, he focused on my face, as though he wanted to catch any traces of lies thereon, and this discomfited me—“I met her through a friend.”
“Mnh,” said he, in a tone that I thought suggested I should keep talking.
So I did:
“Yes, I knew her through a friend called Jane, who is in my house even as we speak—”
“Yes, and we have been good friends since. She even helped locate the house I live in now, on the upper floor.”
“Mnh,” he said, nodding.
“Yes, she is a good friend of mine. She even encouraged me to learn how to write better, and said that you may be of assistance to me—”
“Mnh. This is good. This is very very good.” He looked at me again, in the eyes, and continued: “Have you started writing anything, young man?”
“This is not good. Not good. You cannot say you want to become a writer yet you haven’t written even a love letter to that Jane. Or my wife.”
Upon this relation I looked at his face again, for I felt he issued a subtle warning that I shouldn’t extend my association with his young Caren, beyond the zone of friendship that I’d so far related. To say the truth, this thought had never crossed my mind before. Anyway, I told him that I loved reading interesting accounts of events, and so would remain obliged to him, if he taught me how to write such stories. Upon which he replied, that if I ventured into writing for mercenary reasons alone, I’d never get any farther than writing a love letter to Jane or his wife. He said, with more emphasis now, that writing has been, and forever shall remain, first and foremost, intended for the purpose of entertaining the reader, and making him laugh under a tree there in Maili Tisa, or making him happy while he rested on a couch somewhere in the city or elsewhere, as we did here in Caren’s house, at Dagoretti Corner. He said again, that some writers write by talent, while others improve the craft by practice. He asked me into which category I thought I fitted, and I said I thought I fitted into the second one, of learning by practice, and would remain much obliged to him, if he taught me how to write interesting stories.
The man of the house then said, while looking at the black book on my side, which I mentioned had the title Writing for Beginners, that he preferred the method of teaching me this craft by practice, over any other. I listened so. He said, he’d permit me to write a passage of a hundred words or so, and email to him every evening, and he would by that means, discover my weaknesses, and provide a solution thereby. To this arrangement I agreed, and said it fitted me so.
We spoke more—he spoke more, as I listened. The conversation now took another turn, and ventured into the history of Kenyan and African writers that he knew of, and met some, in person. I remember he mentioned Ngugi Wa Thiong’o and Marjorie McGoye and Elechi Amadi and Wole Soyinka and Ayi Kwei and Nuruddeen—or a name like that, and so forth. He then lost me somewhere where he employed some literature terms, with the general gist bearing the state of African writing and writers.
He would have gone on for sure, with his lecture; however, Caren appeared from the bedroom, in a different gown, and her hair set backwards over her shoulders, and a scent sweet to the nose, preceding her. The man of the house stopped his narration, and stood to embrace his wife, as I looked on.
The good man of the house, with his mouth behind Caren’s neck—and Caren’s face behind his neck, smiling—said to me, “That’d would be all, young man. Leave with Caren your email tomorrow—and carry the book with you.”
I wanted ask him what he called himself; but, seeing the preparation on my face, Caren shaped her lips, as to communicate, ‘no, go, go, now’, a call to which I heeded.
#To be continued…
A week goes and languages grow; my stories so.
[The typer of these words is a breaker of English. Creator of words. Attempter of waggish things. Marveler of nature. Enjoyer of life. Lover of strangers. Taster of cultures. Author of Tom James. Editor. Snap-shooter. Storyteller. Future husband. Teacher. Learner. Soon a traveler]