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EUGINE KABASA

The Good Woman

                                                       

Likoni. Darkness is slowly replacing the daylight. The
sweltering heat of the coastal town is baking my skin. Beneath my feet the
ground is spreading into the sea so blue and turbulent. Slowly and gradually
the town is lighting up with street lights popping up one after the other. The
highway to Ukunda is almost empty save for the vans ferrying tourists to Diani
and Vanga. From the balcony of our one-bedroom storey apartment I see the sea
of Humanity crawling and pushing to catch the Jambo Mombasa ferry leaving for
the island. Men carrying luggage on their backs, women with children tied to
their backs with lessos, tourists
with cameras, lovers holding hands and heavy laden Lorries are trying to get an
edge over one another into the hooting ferry. Across the ocean the island
outdoes the Mainland with its towering buildings. Ambalal house is lighting up
casting a tall shadow over the ruins of Fort Jesus. The shoreline castles and
hotels of Nyali send their lights far into the depths of the sea rolling into huge
tides beneath them.

The hustle and buzzle remind me of the long day I had earlier.
For more than decade I have been part of the madness at Kongowea Market where I
toil to make ends meet for my family here in Likoni. For all that time I have
had to wake up before dawn, catch a ferry to the island and then endure
deafening music in a matatu to Buxton where I cross the Nyali Bridge on foot to
Kongowea. Every morning the sight of bare-chested men drawing carts laden with
every commodity from potatoes, shoes, fresh fruits and much more to Kongowea
greet my eyes. Motorists dodging speeding trucks, women in hijabs crossing dangerous highways and vendors spreading their
merchandise inches away from the wheels of speeding Lorries ferrying cement
from Changamwe make my memories too.

Before the Government constructed the foot bridge to help
empty the crowded open-air market of Kongowea, crossing the highway to Nyali,
now Fidel Odinga road was a death wish. Many pedestrians most of whom were
hawkers had lost their lives trying to cross that busy road. For the past ten
years I have been part of the crowd of busy hawkers flirting with death selling
my mtumba from the sidewalks of the
highways.

                                                              
**********

The crowd scrambling for the ferry reminds me of the bad day
I had endured earlier. I had just sold a ripped jeans to a beach boy headed for
Diani to kick start my day when a light blue pick-up van pulled over and
belched out armed county officers who come to clear the sidewalks of hawkers.
Before the officers could cross the two-way highway to Mtwapa the sidewalks
were clear of everything and every hawker had disappeared into the noisy crowd
saving their valuables. The hide-and- seek had been a norm in our business and
the stalls sidewalks would be full again as soon as the officers disappeared
from sight. I didn’t sell anything else and had to use the fifty shillings I had
sold earlier to catch  a three-wheeler at
Buxton to Mama Ngina where I found the old ferry on the verge of leaving. I
came to the house with nothing.

                                                                                 
*********

As I draw my gaze across the vast streets of Likoni in my
head I’m trying to figure out how I was going to tell my wife I didn’t sell
anything. That I don’t even have money to pay the seven thousand for our rent
that is due tomorrow. It is the third day that we have been in darkness since I
cannot pay the power bill just yet. It has been a week of dry taps and thirst
and my wife has had to carry full cans of water to the fifth floor all the way
from the only running tap on the ground floor. And now we are about to go to
bed on empty stomachs. My wife had taken a babysitting job with for the couple
that stays downstairs who also happen to be the house owners but her pay is
readily deducted to pay the rent. I have to hide my face in shame. My wife’s
soothing voice awakens me from the world I am engulfed in but I still can’t
face her.

“What is it my husband? I have always listened to you when
you need someone to. I am here to do exactly that. There is nothing that should
trouble you without my knowledge.”

She is stroking my back gently and her voice is causing me
some delight her comforting words only sting deep into my flesh. I turn my face
away so that she doesn’t see the tears rolling down my cheeks all the way down
to the ground five floors beneath. Sumaiya has been more than just a wife to
me. She has given me hope and reason to keep striving even in the most trying
of times.

“I heard about the incident at the market in the morning, is
that what worries you?” She is now looking me in the eyes stroking a finger
across my flooded face wiping away my tears.

Yes, she is right. The county officers ruined my already bad
day but there is more to this depression that she doesn’t know and probably she
shouldn’t know. She doesn’t know that I am guilty of causing her so many
problems from the day I married her to share in my wretched life. A court
inside my head has made a verdict that someone like me who lives from hand to
mouth doesn’t deserve a woman of her decency. I am a let-down. Sumaiya is too
good a woman for me. Every time I look at her I feel she deserves better,
perhaps a decent apartment somewhere in Tudor or Nyali and a chauffeured van
coming with a working husband. I can’t afford anything better than a dark
narrow room with cracked floors and a faulty toilet on the fifth floor of an
old slanting apartment that is on the verge of collapsing into the sea.

She doesn’t know that I have apprehended myself from time to
time for plucking her out of the good-to-go affluent family she was born into
to my life that knows all the ugly faces of strife and poverty. Her father had
apartments, a fleet of boats in the Indian ocean and a nightclub in Ukunda
town. I have alienated her from all these and that I what is eating me from the
inside. I thought I would work my way up to the good life that Sumaiya deserved
but being a hawker can help so little.

Right from the day I knew my wife life has served me with
joy and grief in equal measures. I had completed a two-years’ vocational course
on masonry and plumbing and was working the days way to reciprocate the efforts
of my aging parents. We installed indoor pipes inside bungalows in Bombolulu,
Diani and Tudor before my promising career was halted. While we were working on
some Mr. Abdulrakhman’s premises in Ukunda she brought along her daughter
Sumaiya to help supervise the laying of tiles we had just completed. That was
when our eyes met for the first time but our hearts felt as if we had known
each other over many years. Sumaiya had slightly raised eyebrows and a rare
cute smile on her flawless face. Her long dark hair flowed lazily across her
petite back shyly touching her narrow waistline. Not even the bui bui she was
in could conceal her stunning figure within its bounds. She smiled and before
we knew it we were having late dinners and rendezvous. When Mr. Abdulrakhman
found out what was going on between her only daughter and a hands-man plumber
she talked my boss into firing me. He warned me to keep a perfect distance from
his daughter , besides, she was Muslim and I traced my roots to a catholic
family.

“If I ever see you bring your filth near my daughter you
will wake up and find yourself under the Nyali bridge.” He threatened.

For a good duration we had lost touch with Sumaiya. I had
started hawking since I had lost my job as well. I had also moved into the
house in Nyali where we still live. It was about two months since I had last
heard from Sumaiya and her dad when the worst came to the worst. She showed up
at my door with a handful clothes and a green paper bag. She had come to stay.

“I have made up my mind. I am not listening to my father
anymore. This is what we had always wanted.” She said this with an edge of
decisiveness and conviction. Her eye had it all, she had made up her mind
whatsoever.

“Are you crazy? Your dad will kill me! Besides I don’t have
anything to impress a woman like you. I don’t even have a job for Christ’s
sake!” I protested. I knew what taking Sumaiya into my house meant but I also
knew my heart, body and soul had been secretly yearning for this moment.

“It doesn’t matter. Riches and wealth are not all we
need.  We need happiness and happy is
what we are together. We will find the wealth in time, together.” Her words lit
up her face creating a conviction in my mind. I swore to keep Sumaiya at any
cost even if it meant ending up under Nyali Bridge a corpse.

                                                                     *********

“Get in the house my dear. It doesn’t solve a thing when you
cry. You are strong and able. Let’s thank Allah for life and pray we wake up
tomorrow. We shall beat this thing together.” Sumaiya is leading me into the
house, her hands in mine. I feel what has remained of her soft and supple palm,
now hard and cracked from the toil. As I sink into the dusty couch she had
bought at Marikiti three years ago , the only couch in the house I see the huge
rills that have invaded the soles of her fee that were soft until she moved in
with me. She sits on the can opposite me then speaks.

“Look here Samuel, we have been through this and even worse
before. Sometimes there are ups and downs but somehow we have seen through it all.  No reason to feel down.” The more she tries
to calm me the more I sob. A breeze sweeps across the room shaking the flame of
the tin lamp between us. Amidst sobs, I start to speak stumbling on words and
wiping my face.

“It’s my entire fault. I can’t face you after all these
problems I have put you through. Poverty is your new identity all thanks to me.
Losing you is painful but watching you suffer right in front of me is far much
more painful. You have a decent family, rich and influential to go back to.
Please save yourself from all these, you are not worth it.”

Sumaiya moves to the couch and leans on my shoulder holding
her hijab across her face to wipe her tears. It is her turn to sob. Silence,
sobs, silence then another sobbing and a repeat. Nobody is speaking a word all
this while. Then she breaks the silence.

“When I made this decision I knew you quite well. I knew you
were poor but I also knew no condition is permanent. I knew you had lost your
job and in a way I caused you that. We have been together for close to ten
years now and we have seen all the upside and downside together. What changes
your mind now? Is it because I haven’t borne you any children?”

The mention of children shakes me to the core. We haven’t
been able to have any kids yet but that had not bothered me until this moment.
How can she think that I want her back to her parents because she hasn’t borne
me any children? I’m looking at her in total surprise and she is not moving her
eyes way either. She needs an answer. I begin to fumble a reply.

“But… but that was not what I meant. I have nothing against
you…” She interrupts before the last words leave my lips.

“I was ready to walk with you through all the tough and good
times. I didn’t care if you are the poorest man in the whole wide world. I
thought you wanted that too…” She pauses to swallow the bitter peel of sorrow.
Her eyes are now red with grief.  She
resumes. “I’m leaving if that makes you happier.”

She says the last words as she walks out. I feel crushed,
wounded and maimed. I didn’t know that we would end this way. I rise from the
couch to go after her. The dark sky is low and the streets are empty and
silent. I can’t see Sumaiya.  I rush down
the fleet of stairs calling wildly and loudly but no one answers. I run down the
lane towards the ferry that is hooting alerting anyone who wants to go to the
island. Sumaiya is running barefoot on the tarmac into the ferry and the doors
close behind her splashing the sea water into my eyes as I step into the
shoreline. She is gone.

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