Wayward Eastlanders


He was happy that she had kept the receipts for the food as he’d asked. He recorded it all in his household budget book. In the afternoon, he told her to dress up. She looked up; he was wearing a jungle shirt with a matching trouser. In his hand was a bush hat.

“Where are we going?”

“To fish.”

“Oh”—she smiled—“Oh.”

It was then that she saw the fishing rods and the ice boxes. Gai. You didn’t tell me... but anyway, it’s just like you. I’m now used. She went to her bedroom and quickly put on a pair of tight-fitting safari trousers, pulled up high and belted around her tiny waist, and a
lacy, sleeves girly blouse with buttons that left her slender arms bare. She wrapped a jaunty green scarf around her neck, pulled on her boots and picked her hat. Don’t forget your sun glasses. They were in her bag.

She joined him in the sitting room. “Where?”

“Mtwapa. Here, help me with this.” He pushed one of the ice boxes at her, picked up the other gears and made for the door. “Twende.”

“Okay.” She picked the box. Hips swinging, she preceded him to the lift. In the car she was staring at him from behind her sunglasses. Love strapped to her heart, pulling her in all sorts of directions.

“My office colleagues all say I should thank you for a lovely evening,” she told him.

“Because of the beer and the nyama choma?” he asked.

“Not just the beer. It cost you quite a bit of money and yet you insist on keeping the kitchen budget.”

“It’s a balance, I have an entertainment budget that was over saved!”

“What do you mean over saved?” she asked.

“I’m a well-paid engineer, but not billionaire yet,” he told her. And my life depends on the Japanese project. If they pull out, I will be just a normal
consulting engineer servicing a loan and working for the next day.

“Ati?”—she laughed—“If I were you, I’ll account for the money I spent yesterday. I’m an accountant. Thinking of... Barack, I want to take over the kitchen budget,” she hesitated as if giving him time to digest. “I’d like to share in the budget, you already pay the rent.”

He kept a bland face, eyes on the road. “I don’t pay the rent; I own the flat. I inherited it from my father,” he informed her. “And since its value keeps rising, the flat is paying me!”

“Showoff.” She laughed. “Well, I didn’t know. Anyway, leave the kitchen to me.” She reached into her bag and fished out two Red Bull cans. She opened them and passed him one.

“I’ll do you a favour; I’ll let you have the kitchen budget as long as you keep a record,” he said.

“That goes without saying. Saving money is my job.”

He drank the energy drink. “You are a Nairobi girl, why did you sacrifice all your friendships to move to Mombasa?” he asked, as they
drove past Bamburi. “I keep asking myself.”

“The pull of Mombasa was stronger than my friendships,” she answered pushing her sunglasses to her forehead and looking out of the window to savour the beauty of this city she loved so much. And indeed, the view of the Indian Ocean was breathtaking.

Barack pushed the Mercedes to almost fly at 160kmph. “Then you better marry someone who shares your love for Mombasa.”

She looked at him adoringly. “I’d sacrifice Mombasa... for the right man.” She finished in a soft whisper.

“Don’t be making sacrifices like that,” he told her, “you’ll live regretting it the rest of your life.”

She turned her head and looked at him, pulling down the corners
of her mouth. “I will sacrifice anything for the man I love.”

“Best of luck.”

“You wouldn’t do the same for the woman you love?” she asked.

“If I ever find love, there wouldn’t be any sacrifices between us.”

“That’s impossible.”

“Let me give you an example. I work in Mombasa. The prospects look good. But one day I may be transferred or I may resign and relocate to, say, Juba or even Guangdong. We all look for good places to make money, but it would be unfair to ask someone who says she loves Nairobi to move to Juba or Guangdong,” he said.

“If she loved you, she’d do it,” she said.

“With me feeling guilty the rest of my life?” he asked. “I can

imagine her telling the kids ‘I loved Nairobi but your father brought me here.’ I’d rather avoid that.”

She twirled the drink in her mouth, mixing it with her saliva, and swallowed. “So what kind of woman do you want?” she asked.

“Someone who loves the world.”

She looked at him squarely, with awareness and understanding that felt real. “The world is too big,” she stated. And she felt like crying. He knows I want him but he doesn’t rise to my bait. And she closed her eyes in despair, ever more filled with some immense sexual secret which tormented her. There followed a long silence while they were engrossed in their private thoughts as he held the car on the road and powered it. He thought of Aminata and how much he hated Mombasa. She thought of Patrick and how much she hated Nairobi.

Barack said, “I look out at the ocean and all I see is water and yet if we were to travel in a straight line, we’d end up in Indonesia. The world is full of wonder and I love it.”

“What about the simple things in life?” A tear rolled down her cheek. She didn’t try to wipe it away, and he pretended not to see it.

“I understand your point,” he said. “Some of us accept the world as it is. For people like us, the world is not enough!”

“I’m going to miss you,” she said with a sniffle.

“I’m still here for a couple of days.”

“Then you’ll be gone for two weeks.”

“After our argument, I think some time apart wouldn’t be such a bad thing, don’t you agree?”

She placed her head on his shoulder. “I hope we never argue again.”

“Which reminds me, Leo will be coming over with some men to clean the house,” he said. Immediately she understood what this was all about. Getting rid of condoms and panties.

They reached Mtwapa, and he branched off and drove towards the creek. The air was thick with the sounds of the morning commute from the highway. He turned off the main road and drove on the winding roads through the town and the lively elegance of hotels and lifeless flats and the teeming residential estates, towards the creek.

The sound of crashing waves could not be mistaken for traffic. I can tell she’s thinking about something very personal, he surmised. Maybe her boyfriend. Like me, she’s lonely. Aminata and I had made some of our best memories here, and I want her to have the same. The Mercedes slid down the rough road to one of the secluded beaches. He pulled to a stop under a freaky palm tree at the point where Mtwapa Creek breaks to the open sea overlooking Shanzu. Through the mangroves jungle, a half mile away, was a wide beach, and beyond it a lagoon, a blue circular basin in the coral formation and, through the coral gap, an
endless blue-green sea to the edge of the horizon.

He got out of the car and stretched. “We’ll fish in the pool,” he said. Then he saw she was preoccupied. She slowly got out of the car, opened the boot and hauled out the fishing gear. He looked at her oddly as he led the way. They skirted across awful-smelling mud and thick swamp grass until they reached what looked like a clearing in the mangroves in dense shades of fever green. The air was rank and heavy with rotted vegetation and dead fish.

“Here we are.” Barack stopped, trying to make sure they were in the correct place. The mud banks on each side had collected a dense covering of blown palm fronds and swamp grass and were latticed with standing fish traps laid by the local fishermen. On each side the dark masses of mangrove trees hedged in. The cry of the herons and the splash of mullet leaping in the shallows reassured him.

He removed his shoes, rolled up his trousers and dipped his foot in the shallow waters of the lagoon, which was a little murky with
spindrift and churned sand. A thought popped into his head, andbefore he could make sense of it, he blurted it out: “I want give you
some training.”

Wanjiru remained standing. Her frown loosed, and she balled up the Red Bull can. “What training?” She dropped the can. He couldn’t tell whether she was upset about his leaving or because she was thinking about her son. Freddy had told him everything.

“Come on, take a look at this place,” he said. “Fish in the creeks.”

She slowly lifted her head and scanned the beach. It was all coral reefs. The sounds of the rippling water curled around them.

“Will you try?” he asked. She didn’t answer.

He looked over at her face, in which affection, and something oddly speculative, battled. His features forming a question mark.

“Are you crying?” he asked.

Wanjiru knew she was getting emotional, but she hadn’t felt the tears slip down her cheek. She smiled ruefully. “Barack, I’m just feeling a little sad that you’re going to be away. I’ll be okay. Let’s fish.”

He took the fishing rod and stepped on the muddy sand. A crab was a few feet away, but was small and moving in the other direction. A sign of good fish. He stepped over it and waded into the lagoon towards the main reef. The pool was about four feet deep with a sandy bottom, probably created by sand blown into the pool by the creek.

The creek flowed over through the mangrove, over the rocks, into the main channel of the creek, which meandered over the beach. Wanjiru took her time, contemplating her next move. She reached the water’s edge and dropped to her knees on the black sand, letting her fingers run through the cool water. Then she stood, took a few steps in, waded after him, clutched him shirt and gasped. The water soaked into the fabric of her trousers making her feel the cold chill,
and she made each step with caution.

He handed her one of the poles. “Basically, we cast the bait. The baits are secured to the hooks.”

“I hope there are no sharks.”

“None, not in this shallow lagoon. Watch out for sharp objects underwater such as rocks, barnacles, shells, reefs.”

They waded a few feet out while she held her heart in her throat. After a few moments, her body relaxed, and the water felt less cold. He showed her how to hold the rod, which she did with some effort. The cast was a little trickier. It was a smooth motion where air collided with a floating line. The act was a sport that needed some skill, a bait on a hook held by a weightless line connecting the water and attracting fish. Getting it right could be tricky for first-time fishers.

Wanjiru tried several times, coming up short, the line flailing, the fly nearing Barack’s face. “Show me,” she said.

Barack grabbed her pole and cast out a few feet from where they stood. He was also out of practice. It had been a while since he tossed a line. He would have preferred to use a net, but using a line was more sporty and fun and, besides, he wanted to make this a special moment for Wanjiru to remember. He showed by demonstrating, casting from his shoulder, less from his elbow and wrist. She did the same, and kept doing it, each time her line landing neatly in one of those deep spots that had fish. But no fish bit the bait.

“Is this working?” she asked, getting frustrated.

“It’s a sport of patience. Keep trying and be firm.”

“I didn’t know fishing was this tiresome in dangerous waters. You have to pay me for this.”

“You’ll just sell the fish and pay yourself. Or cook it.”

She kept trying, repeating the technique, and with each cast, she improved, her line showed promise. And though she tried to hide it, he saw the satisfaction in her throws when she landed the perfect line. Effortless as if she had been practicing her whole life. Fast learner.

We have both lived through stressful week with our jobs and our private live, she reflected. No wonder Barack brought us here—to regenerate and replenish, baptize ourselves in the water and renew ourselves. Affections, even if they are real, can always be managed on a long drive, under the sheets, in a water infested with sharks. Any place in nature is sufficient to redress what troubles the soul. The cold water was a release, like fresh air or orgasm, or a smitten lover seeking affection and understanding, a cure for whatever pained.

“I have a son,” she said.

“I know.”

Silence. She was getting the hang of it, and she felt a gush of confidence that she persisted.

“He’s five years old. His father died.”

“Freddy told me.”

“Is that why you reject me?”

“Let’s catch fish.”

“He’s a sweet little boy. But I can’t stand him,” she said. The joy in the cast was slipping away without a bite. She was slipping off, and he alarmed her. “Watch the fly or you’ll lose the fish.”

She waded a little deeper and casted again. Even as she laboured, she wasn’t herself; she was full of remorse, blamed herself. He watched her with worried eyes and thought of casting his line. Not yet, he was training her, teaching her a new sport. Sport of casting a bait and catching a prize. As she persisted, so did her spirit, so did they sink into a deeper conversation, told jokes and laughed until she forgot her problems, and they found comfort in the sea, and his encouragements buoyed her. They were so much in it with ease that she didn’t notice her line tugging and pulling.

“He’s called James. Jamo. I love him with all my heart,” she said.

“He’s a cute boy.”

“I’ve met him. He’s a very active boy.”

She stared at him. Her line dipped rapidly beneath the water and something mighty pulled her.

She screamed. “Gai!”

“Hold it!” He called out. “Set, Shish! Kaza!”

Her heart yanked in her chest, instinctively she pulled up, and luckily, she pulled at just the right angle. There was a fish on the end of her line, a really big one, and her pole was bent and she was screaming. He waded fast to her side. “Reel it in. Reel it in.”

The fish on the hook was thrashing around underwater and twisting her line as she reeled. A line twist formed in her line. He held her and instructed her, and the fish was flapping and flapping. She kept reeling and he was shouting and she was screaming, and the fish flew through the air and hit Barack on the head and he fell in the water. She screamed and held on to the pole not knowing what to do. Barack popped up with water rippling and grabbed the pole
from her. He took over and grabbed the struggling fish.

They waded out of the lagoon. She sat on the sand to catch her breath. She was soaked through, droplets of water sticking to her eyelashes, and her braids sparkled and her eyes shone.

It was a big fish. Barack said, “It’s a shoal. Very big, very tasty.” He grinned at her. “You did it.” He went to put it in one of boxes.

Wanjiru smiled triumphantly. Her skin had developed goose bumps from the chill. “Do you want to dare me to do it again,” she asked him.

He shook his head. He dropped the rods on the sand, rolled down the legs of his trousers and went for the net. Wanjiru stood up and waded
into the crisp water. It was even colder on the shore, but she didn’t notice. She waded in until she was waist high, intent to conquer her
fear of the water.

She saw something move under the water. “Barack!” she called. He waded fast and was by her side. He saw what had scared her. There was a swirl beneath the water surface. The sun reflected the colour of copper and scarlet. He knew the fish. He flung the net and it spun high with the swishing wind and ballooned out, and dropped covering a wide circle over the mullet and the blackthroat seaperch. He pulled the drag line and closed the net over them trapping six big
fish wiggling and thumping in the wet woven fibers.

They waded with their catch out of the water. She fetched the ice boxes and he stuffed the fish in them.

Wanjiru laughed gayly. “Gai! I’ve really enjoyed this. And I feel I have survived in a water infested with sharks.”

“If you were lucky you would have seen a mermaid.”

She made a face. “I will tell everyone about this. How I fished.”
On the drive back Mombasa, she was chatting away, and he give intermittent “oh yeahs, oh reallys” now and then, only partly listening. They stopped for takeaway at a Tamarind grill and got home in just enough time for Barack to play ‘Aminata Na Zangi Visa’ on the stereo, take a shower and head out to meet Leo.




Novel, 416 pages
Published by Oba Kunta Octopus


Click to read an excerpt