My dream ended when my boyfriend took me to meet his parents. We were both fourteen years old at the time, young, innocent, naïve and full of love. Our attachment had a lot to do with growing up in the village under Mt. Kenya, where the community life dictated our way of life. While I came up from the river with my water pot, Kamau would be heading the cows downhill and we would stop to tease each other for a minute. The Friday night dances around the bonfire were my favorite part of the week because here, we sat and watched the adults wiggle their waists … here, we had our first stolen kiss.
“Come in Shiko,” Kamau’s mum invited me using my nickname. She was warm and I quickly took to her. “Have a sit and I will fix you some tea.” It was the African custom. Every homestead had a twenty-four hour teapot regardless of how hot Africa was. The metal teacup burned my hands and lips and I hurriedly set it on the dirt floor as Kamau walked in. Hardwood creaked as he sat his rugged shorts beside me on the stool.
“Hi Shiko, I see you already met my mum.” His voice was different… small… being inside the house and all.
I smiled at him. “You look good Kamau.” He looked fresh from a bath. He brushed me off with a hand gesture. It was two o’clock in the afternoon. The chirp of the birds outside was drowsy, the chickens, noisy as they walked in and out of the hut.
“What are you guys going to do?” Kamau’s mum asked as she adjacently sat down. I frowned and Kamau’s mum caught my look. “He didn’t tell you? Kamau is leaving for America in a week to join his father. Haven’t you guys talked about this?”
I looked at Kamau in shock and he bowed his head, afraid of my reaction. It got really quiet in the room and I couldn’t believe what I had just heard, Kamau was leaving me? “You are going to leave me Kamau?”
He hesitated. “I didn’t know how to tell you Shiko.”
“You are going to leave me!” I repeated, more to myself, digesting the implications, trying to understand the content.
“I’m not leaving you Shiko. We will write each other; call, and I will come visit and you can come and visit me too.”
My eyes were moist, my ears clogged with disbelief: I didn’t hear anything he said, I was too angry. “We were supposed to be together forever Kamau. Remember? How could you do this to me?” I jumped up and ran for the door.
“Shikoo…?” Kamau yelled.
“Let her go.” Mum’s calm voice.
I ran behind the house and vaulted over the wooden fence. I ran past the startled cows and into the gardens. Here, I sidestepped the vegetables and ran up the hill. Tears flowed down my face and thick air clogged my throat. I ran until my thighs burned stiff, and then I trudged the rest of the way up to the top of the hill… to my grandma’s homestead. She came out of her hut and I ran into her arms and cried relentlessly. She didn’t ask me a single question. She was the family’s cement, the sight of wisdom.
I stayed at my grandma’s for a few days and not once did she ask me what the problem was. For days I had flashbacks of Kamau and the good times we had shared: running down the hills, swimming in the river, hunting birds. I was going to miss him. Then I thought about a land far away from home – America. Thousands of Africans had gone to America to pursue a better life, thousands never returned home. Explanations were vague… their absence, a heartbreak to their families and friends. At night, I lay on the grass and gazed at the stars. Everybody on earth has a star specifically designed for him or her, my grandma had said. Was Kamau my star? I wondered.
One dawn, grandma brought me breakfast in bed and heard my muffled sobs. I quickly wiped my face as she set down a plate of roasted potatoes and sat on the edge of my bed. Silence. A cricket chirped in the corner. She sighed softly and I held my breathe in anticipation. And then for the first time in days, she asked, “Is it a boy?”
Tears resumed on my face and I blurted out. “Kamau is going to America grandma! How could he leave me behind?”
Grandma was pensive. “Have you told him that you love him?” She finally asked.
“What?” Her question startled me.
She repeated the question and I gawked at her. I realized with a sinking feeling that I had never told Kamau that I loved him. Our love had been one big assumption, a mutual feeling of two hearts beating as one. We were made for each other.
“Grandma?” I said. “I have to go.” She smiled knowingly and I gave her a warm hug before flying through the door. I had to tell Kamau before it was too late.
I plunged my way downhill grabbing the trees to slow my acceleration. I slipped on the dew and branches slapped my face and tore my dress. My hair blew behind me; folks often talked about my long hair, said that I was pretty.
I looked down and saw Kamau’s mum watching me… as though expecting me. I couldn’t read her face but as I got closer, I dreaded her words. “He’s gone Shiko, he left yesterday for Nairobi. His flight to America is today.”
I stared at her and simultaneously tried to catch my breath. My whole world was crumbling around me and I couldn’t do anything about it. I ran all the way home and past my surprised mum. I ran around the house to the dog’s kernel and it was here that I sobbed as my dog Moja licked my face. Kamau was gone from my life and I never got to say goodbye! Never told him that I loved him! A shadow beside me … a cough. I looked up and saw my mum. She handed me some money and I stared at her in confusion.
“Nairobi is two hours away,” she said. “When you get there, take a bus to the Jomokenyatta International Airport. Hopeful you can catch him.” I couldn’t believe my ears. I had never been to Nairobi before. For goodness sake, I was only fourteen years old! My mum stood me up and looked me in the eye. And then she said something that I will never forget. “Shiko, if you are ever going to fight for anything in life, let it be love.”
A cacophony of noises invited me into Nairobi: cars honking and hawkers yelling. Unlike my village, Nairobi was hot and dusty and my yellow dress endured the full wrath. Incandescent light bounced off the burning skyscrapers and nicely dressed men whistled as I walked by. The thought of seeing Kamau surpassed the beauty of the city and everything good in it: the nicely dressed folks were a blur as Kamau’s face dominated my every waking thought.
I took a long bus ride to the airport and arrived at three o’clock in the afternoon. I asked around and was pointed towards the departure terminal where groups of folks huddled together to say goodbye to their loved ones. I walked through the glass doors into the cool building and joined a crowd of folks who had their faces against another glass wall, staring inside, waving. Only passengers beyond this point, the sign read. The presence of white folks created a classy ambience and their expensive deodorants perfumed the air in a pleasant way. I knew I was far from home: the sweet smell of country air and cow dung.
I put my nose against the glass and searched for a little boy, a glimpse of Kamau. Everybody was dressed fancy, carrying luggage… black, white and Indian folks. And then my heart froze when I saw a young boy appear from between the legs. Could it be… yes it was! Kamau wore a suit and strutted on the red carpet like he was born to. He looked good too and by the time I recovered from my shock, he was facing the opposite direction headed for the airport boarding tunnels. “Kamauuu!” I yelled at the top of my voice. He stopped as though he heard me. But he didn’t turn around, he continued walking through the tunnel. “Kamauu!” I yelled again, and this time he didn’t even pause. I watched in horror as his coat vanished around the corner, and then, he was gone. Just like that. “Noo… nooo…” I cried. This wasn’t happening. I didn’t know how loud I was, I didn’t know how much of a scene I was creating, I didn’t care. I fell to the ground and almost fainted. I had travelled a long way to say goodbye, to tell him that I love him. It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
“Somebody help the little girl!” The voices around me were fuzzy … distant. I heard footsteps and then saw a blur of faces staring down at me. “He’s gone,” I said. “I didn’t even say goodbye!” The girl in me came out and I cried like someone had died as I pointed towards the tunnels.
“Come with me,” someone said and yanked me to my feet. He was in uniform. “What’s his name,” he asked.
“Kamau,” I said.
My eyes popped open with renewed hope as the man pulled out a security phone and within seconds, I heard his voice in the overhead pager. “Kamau, please report to the departure terminal. You have a visitor!”
Silence. The drone of a plane in the distance. The man in uniform paged three times … and then I looked up and saw Kamau running through the tunnels towards me, his face beaming with joy. He waved at me and I waved back. And then he slowed down and walked calmly through the glass door.
“You came.” He said as though in a trance.
I walked up to him and touched his clothes, then his face. “You look like an American already,” I said and he laughed.
And then we just stood there and stared into each other’s eyes. And for one whole minute, against all odds, we were back in the village running up and down the hill… giggling… until suddenly, the overhead pager brought us back to reality.
‘Flight 747 headed for America will be boarding in the next ten minutes!’
Off to AFRICA
My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.
The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen
Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...