Africa · Childhood · Drunks · Kenya · Kiambu · Memoires · Short story · We've All Done It

A letter to Miki

Happy birthday Miki,

I remember when I turned 8, a long time ago.

I was a wee little thing, the smallest in my class. I loved my friends and school and laughed a lot. They called me fun-size! I didn’t say much to adults.  I learned not to attract attention and to try and stay out of their way. Children weren’t supposed to say much.

At the Four Corners that marked the halfway point of my long walk home after school was an open air market. Women spread out their  lesos on the red dirt and laid their wares on them, mostly succulent tropical fruit.

I carried a huge orange backpack that my brother Mick had given me and wore braces on my teeth. People stared at me and shameless women would say, “Look at that minikin with a massive bag and wires in her teeth.” One loud woman said it every day! She was enormous and wore a dirty wrinkled headscarf to contain and hide her lumpy unkempt hair, which stuck out the edges as though it was trying to run away from her.  She chewed on sugar cane and loudly slurped its sweet juice. She stared at me unabashedly and intelligently, the way a black cow stares vacantly at passers by beyond a fence as she chews the cud.

I would never buy sugar cane from her. Not this minikin! Her space was dirty and unkempt like her hair. She spit her dry sugar cane fibers right on the ground and the ants had a party. With the shilling that mum had given me that morning, I would buy a mango from the lady two lesos down . If Jane Munio walked home with me, we would stop at Mrs. Kimana’s grocery shop and buy a strawberry sweet to suck on the rest of the way home. We would lick our dry lips with the delicious syrup and slurp our sweet at the annoying lady.

“Greet you mother for me,” Mrs. Kimana would say with a warm smile when I stepped up to the worn concrete step, gawking and salivating at the row of pretty sweets in large glass jars. I stood on tippy-toe and streeeetched to hand her my shilling when I made my choice.  She gave me an extra sweet. A cheap one with no wrapping on it. I would eat that one first. Sometimes she’d say, “That’s a very big rucksack for a small girl.” I’d smile and cover my mouth in a futile attempt to hide my braces, that were as discreet as a highway billboard in my mouth. She never said I had wires in my teeth. I seldom remembered to greet  mum and Mrs. Kimana would chide me gently when she came to visit mum and learned I didn’t deliver her greetings.

Sometimes it would rain hard and Mrs. Kimana would let us shelter under the canopy at her shop. The monsoon rain only dumped for a few minutes at a time. Like a sudden plague of frogs, people would scamper in all directions, jumping over puddles that formed in the potholes in the street. Stylish women strutting down the road one minute, set aside all dignity at the first raindrop and scurried as if for their lives to find cover so their hair didn’t get wet. Some even took off their tight high heels and ran to join the crowd under a tree or Mrs. Kimana’s cover. I weasled my way to the back of the crowd to make room, though I didn’t occupy much, and to avoid statements like, “If that little girl didn’t have such a big bag we could fit two more people here.”

Jane and I would look at each with glee as we relished our sweets. Sometimes we took them out of our mouths and held them in our hands in joyful disbelief at their intense goodness. Such goodness as had to be tasted AND seen. We showed them to each other in wonder and studied each others. Sometimes we looked at each other knowingly, wide-eyed, and without words, traded the sticky mess in our dirty palms. More wide-eyed our jaws dropped at the intoxicating blend of flavors. We finished off the sacred ritual by licking the remaining syrup on our hands. That. was. amazing!

When the rain abated, we would thank Mrs. Kimana and attempt, unsuccessfully, to walk  lightly on the red mud and not get it all over our light blue and white checkered school uniform. Little rivulets would flow and we hopped over those and the puddles, giggling delightedly. I still remember the fresh smell of the charged air. Sometimes thunder would roll in the distance and Jane and I would scream and bolt when the loud lightning cracked.

We held sticky hands and crossed the busy road then unconsciously slowed our pace and stopped. We leered curiously at Mr. Washington’s property. At the front was a small butchery. The butcher hacked away expertly at the carcass that hung from the hook in the rafters, his long sharp machete  glistening like the lightning, and flashing back and forth as fast. His torn white coat was covered in black and red blood stains and he didn’t bother to shoo the flies feasting on the goat meat in the afternoon heat. The sticky tape on the ceiling was dotted with mostly dead flies, like raisins. Some were still buzzing, determined to get away from the trap if they had to leave their six legs on it.  He held a thin home-made cigarette in his mouth and sang loudly through the side of his mouth, like Popeye, accompanying music from a static-y bright green radio behind the counter.

Beyond the butchery was our real object of interest. Loud rhythmic music was coming from a bar. It was a large, dimly lit room from which the odious stench of stale beer emanated. It was a smell we knew was putrid but couldn’t help raising our noses to get a small whiff of. It was horrid, just like the day before. It was helped only by the waft of roasting goat meat.

We leaned in and saw people in various stages of drunkenness and ogled at what they were doing. We stretched our necks wondering who we might recognize. We were especially entranced with drunk women. Patrons staggered about, their eyes at half mast. We thought it was so funny to watch their bobble-heads lolling sluggishly over their limp bodies, their eyes tracking four seconds behind as they ordered yet another Tusker. Their speech slurred and incomprehensible like they had rocks in their mouth.

We lived to see a drunk person staggering out of the building and maybe falling. Or to hear one attempt to give a speech, their wagging forefinger pontificating in slow motion. This was to punctuate a very important point which they surprisingly forgot partway through their discourse. They stood in a stupor, leaning too far to one side and swaying dangerously,  hoping the important point would come back to them. It never did. “Anyway,” they would say, their heavy head suddenly jolting forward, opening their eyes very wide and staring at their hand that was still in the air, as though wondering what it was doing up there.

“What are you looking at?” the butcher would shatter our shenanigans, scaring us out of our skins. We screamed like school girls and ran, scared silly, as though all the drunks were chasing us, and I would think, “I really need a smaller bag.”

I wonder what kind of mischief you’ll get into on your short walk home. Eight is a wonderful age. Cherish your friends.

I love you dearly,

Aunty Hannah.

In memory of my precious bosom buddy Jane Muniu who died too young. I thank God for your sweet short life.


Christian · culture · Faith · Humor · language · Mishaps · We've All Done It

Burying the Cat I

JD is sitting on my porch at dusk and my husband and I are howling with laughter. I only catch half of what he is saying. I miss the second half of what he is saying because of his exaggerated Mexican accent, and the other half because he won’t pause for his audience to recover from laughing. Wait how many halves was that?

Anyway, he sets his Modelo down, which is his signature gesture for another good story; all before we even catch a breath and recover from the last one.

He’s been in the States for many years but loves nothing more than telling tales about growing up in Mexico or his experiences in the States. He’s an amazing landscapist with many clients who love him and have used his services for as long as he can remember.

About 5 years ago he was sitting in church trying to keep his stomach from growling. He folds over, bear-hugging his abdomen and trying to be inconspicuous. See, it’s a tenuous task finding the position that settles a sonorous gut. The louder it is, the longer it takes the priest to wrap things up. Just when you think you have it under control, you move a millimeter too far to the right which makes the entire intestinal tract trumpet like a dying elephant.

People beside you shift uncomfortably and clear their throats as though that’s any help. The teenagers in the pew behind him started snickering and couldn’t stop. The young mum in front of him turned around dramatically and, glared at him while smacking her gum. As though THAT was any help. “So sorry,” he mumbled, making the sign of the cross and trying to look anywhere but at her. Of course he was sitting in the middle of the pew and would have had to disrupt 30 people to get up. He closed his eyes tightly and prayed that the Living God would slay him. Or slay all these gringos around him. Something. Anything.

Presently the system settled down and he leaned back with tentative relief, grateful that no one was going to have to be slayed. He leaned back on the blue metal chair on my porch and took a swig of his Modelo. He set it back down on the concrete and lunged forward to continue his story.

“Then, I’m sitting there when the rosary starts and my phone begins to vibrate. Holy chit!” He muttered under his breath and instinctively grabbed his stomach then realized that was the wrong number. He went for his left front pocket, shooting his leg out like a viper, and swatted at his phone as if to kill it. The whole pew was vibrating and he noticed several people also going for their pockets. But his zipper was vibrating too so he knew he was the culprit. He finally smacked the right button and it stopped.

He stared forward, now cross-eyed, his heart racing. He could see a blurred priest gesturing, “In the name of the Padre, and the Madre,..” and the phone started to vibrate again. “Hijo de…” he started to mumble, his chest heaving and his hands now so shaky they couldn’t find his pocket.

Bubble Yum in front of him whirled around and said, “Oh my gosh!”

“So sorry.” He repeatedly automatically, beads of sweat and blood falling from his face as he stopped the phone. He grasped his rosary trying to keep up with everyone else. “Santa María, Madre de Dios, ruega por nosotros pecadores, ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte.” Just before he said Amen, his stomach AND his phone went off at the same time and he didn’t know which one to go for first.

He would have launched his phone through the opened stained glass windows onto on-coming traffic if he could reach it for all his fumbling. Or at this irritating woman in front of him who was still glaring icily at him.

By the time he finishes this story he is writhing on the little blue chair that’s threatening to fold on him.  His right knee is on the floor and his left leg is jutted in front of him as he reenacts his desperate attempt to reach  his  phone. The husband and I are wiping tears from our eyes and trying to catch our breath as he reaches under the chair for his Modelo and drains its contents.

“That’s why I don’t go to church anymore, man.” He concludes as he pulls himself back onto the folding chair and grabs another beer.

Humor · Poetry · travel · We've All Done It

I’ve Had it!

I’m watching myself run away.

Down the dusty dirt road I go.

Stomping with vexed resolve,

I’ll never come back, oh, no!


That’s the last time they dismiss me…

I don’t have to put up with this…

They’ll miss and appreciate me now…

I left with nary a kiss.


I overstuffed my favorite backpack

With pain and my precious essentials.

I’ll never even think of them again.

O wait, I forgot my driver’s license!


Humor · Poetry · Uncategorized · We've All Done It

Ten Second Lag

Careful now!

I cautiously stick my big toe into the shower

to test the temperature.

Too cold.

I jerk my faithful harbinger out and

turn the knob counterclockwise

ever so slightly.

The second testing proves only tepid.

I turn it up again and inch my way into the stall,

I unwittingly touch the cold wall

and breathe in sharply.

How long is the lag

between adjusting and results?

The seconds, how they drag

in this temperature precipice.

One would think that

One wrong move will be the death of me.

I step in confidently to embrace the warmth,

“Aaaaarrgghh, turn it down! Turn it down!”