I am thinking about the exchange that I have just had with my mother as I wait for the shopkeeper to get to me. She was worried about my leaving the house past 10 pm, “Sai si ni usiku sana?” The estate shop closed over an hour ago otherwise she wouldn’t have worried. I’m not that keen on leaving the house either and on such a cold night, but we are out of eggs and needs must. Eggs, you see, are a staple in our house. For my gym-loving brother who in his quest for gains has mastered different ways of making the gains-giving food; from hard-boiled eggs to shakshuka, which I love but as yet don’t know how to make, much to his chagrin. And for my sister-in-law who swears by the egg yolk which can be mixed with anything for my little nephew’s protein needs. Not to mention for me, the lazy cook just looking for an easy way out. Though lazy or not, my egg sandwiches are to-die-for and also very nutritious– if I do say so myself. There is also my mum, whom once the eggs are in the house and being eaten, will decide that she too wants eggs.
“Naenda tu kwa ile shop ya Coca Cola.” is what I told my mum, referring to the shop across the road from our estate as I tried to allay her fears. “Lakini usipite hapo.” Clearly, my efforts didn’t amount to much. Now as I listen to the shopkeeper conversing in flowing Kamba with the couple that just came in – I’m assuming they are a couple; they look all coupley even though they are barely touching – I’m rethinking my answer. I should have told her, “No vaa”, that way even if I end up in town, it’s still covered. This line of thought and their continued conversation makes me think about my first year in high school.
It was there that I became Catholic in a fourth language as I learnt to say, “Asa witu ula wiituni” and “Ngethi Malia”. And where my crude self flourished as I learnt what “kitimba cha mbiti” meant just as the school principal, a nun who had lived in Ukambani for years and was therefore well-versed in the language, walked past. I got all three names, even the middle one which I rarely used. It was never just the one name with her. I had to go to her office and explain how when she had specifically tasked me with taking down names of Kiswahili (oh that vile language) speakers in the school, she’d then find me with no list to give her and using a language that didn’t even make the cut. And hyena’s butt? Definitely the last thing you’d want to be caught saying. “It seems, it seems that you have no shame,” tapping her forehead in exasperation as she repeated the phrase. “And the nun at your primary school spoke so highly of you.” She continued. What can I say? Puberty didn’t just bring about physical changes, it colored my language as well.
“Sema madam.” The storekeeper’s voice interrupts my trip down memory lane. I welcome the interruption. The digging and slashing that followed that office visit was not fun then and definitely would not be now, not even as part of my recollections. I keep a careful eye on him as he counts out the eggs from the trays that are stacked just outside the shop. Wouldn’t want him sneaking in a few dirty ones, now would we? Once he’s done and back inside the shop to get me my change, I take in my surroundings. The shopkeeper’s friends are long gone but some customers are waiting to be served. There are a few headlights as cars drive past and then there are the three boys who look like they are barely out of high school, awkwardly walking past the shop. It takes me a while to realize that the one in the middle is drunk and is being supported by the other two. “Usiseme ni tei.” One of the boys urgently says. I don’t know whether he’s talking to his drunk friend or the other guy that he’s with. I haven’t heard either of the other two speak. “Utashow mamako…” his voice fades out as they are swallowed by the dark. As I receive my change and head home with my eggs, I wonder what the boy is supposed to tell his mother and how they will hide the fact that one of them has been drinking from her. Saying it’s not alcohol is not really enough to do the trick, is it? But it looks like I’m not the only one with a mother to pacify.