Msichana Mdogo

Short view on life and such…

Cigarettes & Rum

Yesterday, a man walked past me and the smell of cigarettes lingered behind him for seconds and caught on my nose. I took it in a dizzy spell and smiled a familiar smile, as my thoughts ran  to a man I once knew.

I loved the smell of manliness on him. Cigarettes, rum and his cologne cocktail. So much musk. It promised of danger, teased me with adventure. This scent alone got me high. Every time we’d be together, I would playfully scold and moan about the inevitable residual smell of secondary smoke that would be stuck in my hair, even though secretly, I looked forward to sniffing it hours and even days later, all the while clinging to vivid memories of him playfully blowing smoke into my face across the table.  With time, this didn’t fix my addiction. I needed the real thing. So much so that I picked up smoking – only with him – so that I could smell of him when we parted. The head rush was one thing I never got used to. That coupled with sneaking long whiffs of his being just revved my engines to speeds I never knew existed.

He was all man.

He never thought it of himself I suspect, but his manliness oozed out of his pores, out of his every word, off his swagger and through his very being. His manliness attracted me in a way I cannot quite fathom to this day. He brought out the softer woman in me, which – come to think of it – could be why he worked hard at getting the more assertive side of me out into the world.

He was all man, and that did it for me.

Him and I would talk and talk for hours on end about everything and nothing at all. Another endorphin releaser. He worked my brain like it was a game. challenged and pushed it to limits.  He was immensely respectful of and to others. He believed everyone was entitled to an opinion yet in a very coy manner, he was able to sell you on his ideals and beliefs. Unless that was just me.

He was all man, and that did it for me. That’s about it.

I could bed his sense of humour, marry his wit and walk every day of the rest of my life with his intelligence. His kindness was all I longed to be wrapped in and his charm.. well that could keep us both warm in the cold months.

He was all man, and that did it for me, but that’s about all that I can say about him and so I’ll leave this here. He changed see? Unless I’m the one that did. Unless I never really knew him to begin with. Unless I never saw him past the cigarette smoke & rum.

He was all man, and he was only ever mine in my dreams.

Life happens 

…and when it does, it hits you with such might. 

Life happens when you least expect it. When you’re busy making plans and giving them years.

 Life is that prankster that comes around the bend bearing gifts you never expected, making you feel emotions you never knew existed. 

Life in its fullest, is that event that you woke up and found yourself attending. That stage you found yourself on, sans rehearsal. That piece you found yourself writing sans pre-sketch. That canvas you’re painting from scratch. 

It’s beautifully frightening, life. It’s horrifyingly beautiful. It’s changing. It’s immensely unpredictable yet captivating, all at the same time. 

You simply cannot ignore life. It’s narcissistic. Every damn thing you do is about it. It lasts a lifetime.  

It’s a bundle of paradoxes, a box of contradictions, a set of ironies. 

When life happens, you learn what’s irrevocably true. 

Life’s happening.

In this Nairobi, you find money on the streets… Guest Post by Lemaiyan

The notes were all over, some in front of me, others all around me and even a few behind me. I bent to collect them. I wasn’t nervous, but I was kidogo surprised. By the time I grabbed the first one, some dude nearby had also grabbed another; it was a 500 shillings note. I looked at him and saw beyond him, people’s legs coming towards us. Behind me, someone tripped and I turned to see other legs rapidly heading my way. Most were clad in jeans, manly jeans, but I could see a purse, bright yellow, distracting. I turned around, the dude with the 500 shillings made to extend the money to me, his eyes were fixed on the money around me, he wanted to strike. He wanted me to offer him a weak spot. I only had a meter between me and the approaching mob. I spread my hands over the notes, grabbing as many as I could, then I backed against the wall and slid into the supermarket.

Before I tell you how to find money on the streets, I shall admit that I absolutely love books. I read a lot, in fact, I read several books at a time. A while ago, I bought from a street vendor, the book, ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ and it turned out to be a bootleg copy. There were numerous typos, the text talked of diagrams I couldn’t see and sections of the text were missing. So I’ve been looking everywhere for the original copy. Another thing, I don’t like the CBD; I find it hectic, daunting, hot and eerily cold. Unfortunately, I sometimes have meetings in the city center, requiring me to hit it occasionally.

I work for an organization that does business with a book seller, with the arrangement that they provide learning supplies to schools in the slums and we pay them. Sometime orders change and so they have to offer us a refund.

Earlier today, I had a meeting with this book seller, and after the meeting, they handed over the refund, in cash! It wasn’t a lot of money, so I took it, even though I was expecting them to write us a cheque as usual.

And just as fate or whatever would have it, I found myself in a book shop and with money! I figured that I could always use part of this money to buy books that I absolutely need, then I could withdraw from my account and bank the entire refund amount. I ended up spending close to half of the refund, after which I went off to my bank.

Unfortunately, the bank systems were not working, so I went to a couple of supermarkets in search of ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ I did not find the book. I had another meeting in town and after it was over, I decided to look at one last supermarket before heading back to the office. For whatever reason, the guard at this supermarket wouldn’t allow me to access the premises with my back pack. The remaining money from the refund was deep inside my bag so I had to fish for it as I did not want to leave it at the luggage station. The envelope was caught on something, but I kept tugging at it. Finally, it gave way, prompting the remaining pesa from the refund fly and rain all over the sidewalk. The luggage attendant stretched over his little hole in the wall, peered at the money spread out on the pavement and gasped.

Once inside the supermarket, I became paranoid. I assumed the money hungry crowd would also follow me in or idle outside in wait. I called the company driver and went to browse the book section as I waited. They also did not have the blasted book.

Almost 20 minutes later, he showed up, and carried my bag to the car. My fingers were bruised and I was delaying counting the money. I kept looking back in traffic imagining that we were being trailed.

At the office, I counted the money, and surprisingly, I had only lost Ksh. 1,300. It’s still a loss, but I did not count is as a significant loss. I’ve lost  much more, I guess we all have. Actually one time my brother and I wanted to hire a car, so we replied to an ad in the newspaper, sent the money and yeah, we lost the money.

Consolations aside, I had a brief period of self loathing for being so stupid and pulling the money out so carelessly. Then I shifted the blame to the sordid town, because this was the second time such a thing had happened to me. The first time I was leaving the bank and city council fockers picked me up on charges of being a ‘Somali hawker’

I kept thinking that in more civilized settings, like the burbs, people would rush in to help you collect the money, then they would jokingly admonish you for being so careless, and finally buy you a coffee or a beer to calm you nerves.

I decided to share my story with my book club and while most were really supportive and understanding of my predicament, others exclaimed how they would have been shoving people out of the way in the rush to collect the money. One actually asked me ‘But did you die?’ While another seconded the question by sending the meme.

Chang

I was able to salvage a pretty large amount from the close to 20K that had fallen, and that is something. I vowed never to again walk the streets of that town, but 4 hours later, I was back for another meeting. Damn you Nairobbery!

Read more of Lemaiyan’s work here

Let Me Live

I grew up in an extremely protective family. The Kadzitus did things others never did. All 8 of us would clean up in the same bathroom. Some getting bathed as others brushed their teeth..all oblivious of our obvious nakedness and gender differences thereof.

The Kadzitu girls were most protected of all. There was no playing outside with friends..what friends? Your sisters are sufficient. Play indoors. Our dress code reflected the staunch Christianity and conservative Giriama-ness of our folks. Dresses. Skirts. Shop bought with frilly lace and floor sweeping hemlines. We were African-Amish. I exaggerate of course. The one rule that we sought with all might to fight was the “Pant Ban”. Kadzitu girls never wore pants. Not trousers,culottes,shorts..not pants of any kind. For sports: skirts.

Now having grown up that way and finally given the chance to dress as one would wish (albeit modestly), I cherish the ability to express myself in how I dress. I cherish the choice I have in dress now. It means more to me than you would know. My upbringing keeps me in check of limits. To this day, I have been unable to wear hot pants inasmuch as I have admittedly wanted to once or twice. Not even in my rebellious campus days,where no one from home would see me, would I dare.

I hope I am not losing you here. I need you to understand what growing up as a girl in a conservative African family then living as a grown woman in Nairobi (2014) is. My dressing isn’t a trivial matter. It’s a deeply seated part of me. It has become my identity. Jeans,short dresses and skirts (a couple of longs ones because a certain someone likes me in them) make up the bulk of my wardrobe.

Recently, I have trouble deciding what to wear. I am growing more and more afraid of the street bullies just laying in wait.

I am aware of their baiting mechanism: Catcalls, a greeting, a snarky comment about how I am dressed, veiled compliments like “Mrembo”. As if beautiful is the only attribute that can be assigned to me.

I am aware of the variant reactions that will set them off: silence, a look away, a look of utter disgust and anger -a true reflection of exactly what’s felt.

I am aware of the possible outcome: insults, jeers, shaming, stripping, assault,rape.

I am aware and and I am saddened by my present reality.

All because I am being me. More because I am expressing myself freely. Even more because I refuse to acknowledge leering and unwarranted  attention and aggression.

What is it about my 5ft frame that threatens you? Is it my soft,demure curves? What is it about my femininity that irks you so?

Why do you forget that just like you, I am human? Why do you forsake the fact that being human means I deserve life, in it’s abundance of rights & freedoms?

Afford me one thing: Let me live.

A Taxi, an Old friend & Valentine’s day

She hitched her skirt higher and put out her cigarette with the tip of her red bottomed heel. The nausea was finally passing. “Cigs always work”, she said to herself.Walking away from the stub, she replayed the scene from moments before.

It was as though he didn’t recall who she was. She’d recognized him the moment she lay eyes on him. He hadn’t changed much from the guy she sat next to in high school. Still handsome, soft eyed and white teethed.

She’d sat in the back seat of his taxi like she did in every other cab she rode. He kept glancing at her in the rear view mirror. She stared on. Touching up her lipstick.
“Do you mind hurrying up? I don’t want to be late”, she asked him politely when he slowed down unexpectedly. The ride picked up speed and she silently thanked him. Every minute counted,especially tonight.

They got to her stop and she got out. She strode over to his window and signaled him to roll it down. Her hand darted in and down the front of his sweatpants shocking the softness out of his eyes.

“Sorry hun, no spare change. I hope this will do for my ride”, she said. All the while, he swelled in her palm,barely leaving space for her hand’s motion.She looked him in his eyes, bewildered at how young he still looked. She felt him tense up and as though she’d planned it, said something he didn’t hear as he found release in her palm.

“What did you say?”, he asked, as she wiped her hand on tissues from his dashboard.

She exhaled saying,”I said, everyone needs a little loving on valentines day”

“Well, thanks ma’am. I could swear I have seen you somewhere before. I know! Your face was next to my dad’s high school yearbook photo”, he responded as he re-started his cab and drove off, leaving her mouth agape watching him leave.

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