It is Friday.
Eunice and Milka, sixteen and fifteen, are form-three students at Lamdiak Secondary school—a series of long dark wooden buildings that sit deep in a thick plot of soft Kikuyu grass in front of the Mau forest, one of the coldest places to live in Kenya.
It is five-thirty in the morning. There are already lines of girls washing in buckets at the end of their dorm. Form-four girls, cheeks burnt black with cold, have been up all night studying for exams.
The air is cold and foggy and smells of cow shit and charcoal irons and foaming Imperial Leather soap. When Eunice and Milka walk outside the cold squeezes them immediately, like two women holding the ends of a wet blanket and squeezing. For a moment it is hard to breathe. The throat is seized. Then heat and air bursts out of them, they puff out warm air from their bellies—it licks their noses, their cheeks.
They tiptoe slowly past the school security guard, a cantankerous old Gikuyu and Dorobo man, Josphat, who is paid thirty shillings by the school for each girl he catches sneaking out. Josphat is wearing a khaki overcoat from the 1950s. He is asleep, and so this is the best time to sneak out of school. Usually Josphat is up all night smoking bhang. During the day, he likes to sit outside the gate near the bus stop, sewing patches on his overcoat. The coat smells of old milk and old smoke.
When he catches girls sneaking out, he is usually satisfied with asking them to let him touch their breasts and put a finger into their panties. The finger lasts a few seconds. Then he’ll frown and say, “moto sana.” That is his nickname, Moto Sana.
Josphat was a tracker of Mau Maus in the 1950s, and talks of his days of glory as Sergeant Meeks’s right-hand man. He met Idi Amin twice, while they were hunting down Mau Mau. He sells very good bhang to students, and is popular for his stories—of tramping through the Aberdare forests, of elephants and the day Dedan was caught, of strange white men like Lord Egerton, whom he once worked for, and who would not allow any women onto the grounds of his castle, a few kilometers away.
The girls start to breathe harder, and shuffle faster. Wet, frosted grass slurps and slaps against their heels. A boy streaks past them, coming from the Senior Girl’s dorm, buttoning his trousers and carrying books self-consciously. Maina. His jaw is working, like most miraa chewers. He smells like strangled cigarettes, Big G chewing gum, and stale plant juice. He is a school legend—he can drink a whole tin of changaa, can study all night for three nights in a row if he chews miraa. He winks at them, and Milka winks back back. Eunice looks at the grass and hides her eyes.
They walk past the history teacher’s house. The girls can hear morning mood music on his general-service radio. Startling basses and the sound of old American railroads: NORTH! To Alaska! North to HUNT for GOLD. Mr. Simiyu is singing along. He likes to talk about his days studying in Manitoba.
Dark is unraveling quickly. They shuffle past the last guard post, past the little line of whitewashed stones, the large school sign, and into the small trading center on the main road to Mau Narok. Only a few miles from the roadless woods and wheat farms of Masailand, and the giant mountains of the Mau forest.
They have known each other since they were in primary school in Njoro DEB, five or so kilometers away. They were in the same class for seven years, but did not once speak to each other until they found themselves in the same dorm on the first day of school at Lamdiak Secondary.
Eunice is the shy one. Sharp bones at the top of her cheeks push her face forward. She has wide round eyes surrounded by what she calls her Rings of Satan, circles of darker skin that give her a feverish look.
Milka is short, round, and hard, with round hard breasts, and a round yellow face. One of her front teeth is cracked, and has a small streak of brown.
When she was nine, she cut off the legs of a school chicken and let it stumble and whirl like a dervish in the school playground, spraying gouts of blood. The headmaster, Mr. Gachohi, whipped her in front of the whole school with a long swaying stick cut from the tender new branch of a caterpillar tree. After three or four strokes aimed at her back and legs Milka took off running, twisting in between pupils and laughing. The prefects caught her before she got to the gate. She was brought back to the playground, held down, and whipped harder.
On the main road, three barefoot young men are unloading huge donkeyloads of giant carrots, brought in from guarded plots deep in the illegal regions of the Mau forest. Mountains of washed carrots steam by the side of the road, waiting for a morning lorry.
Milka and Eunice walk past the carrots. The young men barely glance at them, even though they have lived deep in the forest for months. These two lorryloads of carrots are the result. Their hair is long and wild. When the madams of the Nakuru market have paid them in cash, tonight, that hair will be cut, and beer and new clothes will be bought, and they will dance all night in the Gituamba Day and Night Club in Nakuru.
Boyi, all of ten years old and impervious to the cold, runs across the road in a torn T-shirt, bare feet, and navy-blue school shorts. He carries a red flask, two enamel cups, and ten chapatis wrapped in newspaper for the lorry men. He does this every day. They pay him to deliver tea and run errands and sleep in the back of the lorries, making sure no thieves sneak in and steal wheat. It is his plan, in a year or two, to be a turnboy—attached to a driver and adventuring all over the Rift Valley, wherever the lorry is called to work. He knows every lorry, every lorry driver, every license plate of every vehicle that passes by. He knows every car that took part in last year’s Safari Rally. He stops when he sees Eunice.
“Fit.” Eunice points to the three ringworms on his head. “You’re going to be rich.”
Boyi laughs and hands them a chapati before he runs off. The chapati, as big as the head of a metal drum, is still hot. They tear it into two and chew.
“Josphat’s son? Yeah, I knew his mum. She had a kiosk in Ndarugu. They’ve got three acres in Ndeffo, but Josphat drank it all when she died.”
“Call him back—maybe he can get us some.”
“Ai, Milka… With which money, now?”
They sit and wait for the first matatu. To their left are three more lorries, laden with seed, parked in the small gulley of hard-packed earth between the road and the short line of shops. As soon as the dew is dry they will head into Masailand, followed by a tractor in case they get stuck in the mud.
That first day of boarding school, the first day they spoke to each other, a freezing Lamdiak night, three thousand meters above sea level, the senior boys came into the dorms to visit their “wives.” Eunice lay frozen in her bed, in the dark, as she heard the giggles, the protests, the moans, the springs. A hand of wind slapped a door against a wall somewhere in the distance. The forest leaned over them, then leaned back with the swelling, surround-sound chorus of crickets. A cassette player was playing Boney M.’s “Rivers of Babylon.” She turned and faced the wall.
And then Eunice felt a hand on her shoulder. A hand lifted her blanket and a wet, hot tongue ran across her fingers. She almost laughed out loud when she heard the boy’s voice, forced down into his belly to sound deep, whispering, “Baby, you are my brown girl in the ring…”
Then the hand grabbed at her crotch, and squeezed. She shot up and turned, rubbing the saliva off her fingers with her pillow. The boy’s eyes were frightened, and standing next to him was Milka. She grabbed his ear and twisted, laughing.
“Kihii. Gasia. Come back when you’ve been circumcised.”
He staggered back and ran. Milka climbed into the bed.
She was singing the Boney M. song. Where she did not know the words, she made them up.
“Kitanda wiskey, blabbin’ is the way of si si si… and how can we play the love song in a straaange land…”
Eunice kept her body very still. She tried to keep solemn, but could not. Her chest started to shake with laughter. Milka’s wriggled and nestle in. Then she started talking.
“George Oduor—you know that guy from Plant Breeding Station? Who does private tuition for CPE? He was telling me Ugandans are bringing red mercury here. People are making millions selling it to the Americans. It is for nuclear. Twenty thousand for one suitcase. It’s wet, and you can see it in the dark, shining bright red.”
Milka’s cold hands slipped under her nightie and grabbed her breasts. Eunice gasped slowly. Her feet were very cold, and she reached them back to tangle with Milka’s. Soon they were warming each other up, and they slept.
Women in large sweaters and marked cheeks—some marked with black coldburn, others with three thin parallel cuts from an old past—are unpacking produce to sell. They haggle with their morning customers, mostly owners of the nearby rickety teashops and restaurants. A tractor driver and two Masai men spill out of one of the shops, talking loudly and laughing, and climb up on an old Massey Ferguson, the two Masais sitting on each ear above the giant wheels. Metal teapots sit by the side of the road, gushing on charcoal stoves next to giant crisp mandazis. The first matatus are fuming up the street, some coughing, touts bellowing and rubbing hands. Eunice and Milka stay hidden in the courtyard of a wholesale shop, drinking tea and waiting for the right time to make their way to Milka’s home. Waiting for her mum to leave to go to the market in Nakuru.
When she was thirteen, in standard seven, three month before sitting the certificate of Primary school exams Milka became famous in Njoro DEB Primary school because she moved out of home to live with Mungai as his girlfriend. He was seventeen, then, and famous in Njoro.
Efantus Mungai Patel had smooth skin, soft Somali hair, and could do something with one eye that made him look like Steve Austin of The Six Million Dollar Man.
His father, a Masai from Ngong, was a Christian Religious Education teacher at Njoro Girls Secondary. His mother was the great-granddaughter of Patel Bao, whose father came to Njoro from Gujarat in the 1930s and started a sawmill. The original Patel Bao had a Bajuni wife, from Pate Island, but she fled to Kitale with a red-haired Scot called Rapeseed and their two daughters. After that Patel Bao famously paid forty goats to marry Sofia Kotut, the daughter of one of the first families of the Nandi nation to become a Christian.
In those days there was no Kalenjin. There were Nandi, Kipsigis, Tugen and other small and large nations that spoke related languages. It was only after World War 2, during the violence of the emergency that they came together as Kalenjin, as the political elites of Kenya jostled to create political and ethnic alliances that gave them more power, in the last turbulent years of Colonial rule. Mama Sofia opened a supermarket in Nakuru before she inherited her father’s farm. It was on that farm three generations later, that Mungai was born.
Mungai was famous even in Nakuru. He had his own pickup and a fleet of carrier pigeons and four hunting dogs, and he paid his own rent for a “cube” in Ndarugu. The cube was decorated with posters of Khadija Adams, Miss Kenya 1984, Pam Ewing of Dallas, and Bjorn Waldergard, the Safari Rally champion. In those days, Mungai was a golf caddy on weekends at the Njoro golf club, where he supplied college lecturers and senior management people with girls and bhangi. He’d dropped out of school in form three. His parents did not talk to him.
One day, near the main matatu terminal to Nakuru, twelve-year-old Milka jabbed seventeen-year-old Mungai’s forearm with a blue Bic pen. He screamed while blood trailed down his arm. That evening, after school, he caught up with her at the Njoro river bridge, near the Plant Breeding station. He dragged her down to the patch of thick grass, where young men washed cars on Sundays. With one hand around her hair, he proceeded to beat her up while students cheered from the bridge above. Eunice stood and watched, thrilled. Everybody scattered when they saw two Administration policemen running down the road, rifles on their shoulders.
After that first Secondary School night together, Eunice and Milka became friends. Sometimes they would out of school. They would walk all the way to the gate of Egerton Agricultural College to use the phone booth. Call random numbers and breathe into the phone and start laughing. Once, a man picked up, barking “Nani,” in a deep, hard, cigarette-and-beer voice.
Milka was quiet for a moment, and then she said, “Mary Wanjiru.”
Eunice tried to grab the phone, but Milka hung on.
“What do you like, Mary?” His voice was slurry.
His laughter growled.
“He babe. Haunijui.”
They kept talking, and talking, and soon, in self-defense, in the small voice of a girl, Milka turned to English. “No. I am mashure. I am very mashure.”
He said something to her, and she laughed shyly. As they walked back to school, Eunice leaned to the side and bumped Milka on the shoulder. “Mm? Uliniuthi… what’s his name?”
“Evans Ogutu. He is a soldier.”
Eunice and Milka walk up the road. They sing. And laugh.
“Hot banana with the morning sun! Daylight come, me and Anna go home. Hey! Dibeday, dibeday dibe-daaaayo…”
A Mau Narok matatu stops for them. Milka grabs the forearm of the tout and whispers something in his ear. He laughs and lets them on for free. And they enter the world of The Gambler, the driver in a stetson hat, Kenny Rogers knowing when to walk away and knowing when to run.
They stop just before Njoro town and walk the two kilometers to Milka’s house. The main house is a simple wood cabin, built out of two layers of off-cut wood painted black, stuffed with cardboard and sealed from the cold with thick sheets of plastic. There are a few other scattered buildings—a pigsty, a milking shed, and a separate cabin for her three circumcised brothers.
They walk, sliding on the muddy road. Peter Ole Matu, Milka’s father, sees them and smiles as he shoos his sheep into a paddock. He heads toward them jauntily, three dogs following him, a menthol cigarette in his mouth—from where they are, it looks like his whiskers are foaming.
Milka’s mother is from a fierce Gikuyu squatter family back in Molo. She can hit a fleeing dog, a drunk husband, or a running child with whatever is near her with accuracy. Her grandmother, who died in 1970, was a Mau Mau enforcer. Two days after independence, in 1963, she flayed a young sub-Chief in front of everybody, flayed him with a whip on a patch of ground near the Molo junction.
Eunice gets along well with Milka’s mother. She fusses over Eunice, and knits for her. Eunice is the first friend Milka has brought home—the first female friend she has had. Eunice does not know this. She often spends the night at Milka’s; they sleep in the same bed. She cooks with Mama Milka sometimes, while Milka steams and sulks and spends the night in her brother’s room listening to reggae and smoking.
Peter is smiling. “Hey girls? Ah? You missed your mother. She left an hour ago…”
He winks. They laugh. He has clear, yellow-brown eyes, common among some Kalenjins. He is medium height, with a lean, whippy body and a large moustache, already graying and yellow at its tips from tobacco. He has a big gap between his front teeth, which lends some warmth to his smile. His hands are as flat and dry as old chapatis.
“Sasa, Eunice? What has my daughter been planning for you?”
Her chin points down, and left, and her foot starts to draw pictures. She still cannot understand how or why Milka’s father is so nice.
“We… we… came to get money for School Activity Fund,” Milka says.
His eyes crinkle, and turn to Milka. “Ai. More money? What is this activity fund?”
The day Milka got whipped in front of the school, her father paid the school a visit and beat up the headmaster, who fled to the chief’s office.
As a boy Peter Ole Matu wandered into a Masai boma in Tipis one night, crying and wearing a torn blue shirt and nothing else. He had a faded red toy car in his pocket,. He was not yet five years old. He spoke Kipsigis, which made him Kalenjin. They assumed him to be a victim of one of the Masai–Kipsigis clashes in the forest.
The family adopted him. His adoptive father, a land-and-cattle wealthy man, a prominent elder, sent him and a sickly stepsister to school. The old man had some contempt for the ways of the white man, and did not enroll his own children in colonial schools. They had something to inherit, after all.
Peter eventually got a diploma in Agriculture from Egerton College the same year as Eunice’s father. He worked for the Artificial Insemination Department of the Ministry of Agriculture for ten years before quitting to farm and plan a career in local politics, with his stepfather as a sponsor.
He is going to run for councilor in 1982.
They stay indoors, where it is dark and smoky and comfortable, and drink milky tea that Milka’s father makes for them. They eat thick chunks of bread with Blue Band.
“Ha,” he says, “I know how you students like loaf! I used to eat a whole one alone when school closed. Slowly, chewing each bite slowly. But we did not have Blue Band—sometimes I would put sour cream on it.”
He puts on the radio for the 8 a.m. news. They listen in silence. Immediately after the news, Milka looks straight at her father.
“Dad. I need the money. They sent us home to get it. They said you did not respond to their letter.”
He looks at Eunice, sheepishly. “Huyu ni mangaa sana,” he says.Then he stands, disappears into his room, and comes back with a sheaf of notes.
“I have given you some extra, for loaf and Blue Band and a soda before you both go back to school. And you go straight back, eh? Girls get pregnant from just wind blowing in this place, you know.”
“You don’t think he will tell your mum?” They are walking fast, back to the main road.
Milka laughs. “Oh, no. Mathe is like a ninja with money. He will never say anything.”
Peter watches Milka walk away. He sits and puts on his gumboots and a thick sweater as shrapnels of thoughtlets tiptoe behind his sinuses. He kicks the back of the boots firmly against the table leg, stands, and walks outside. He decides not to worry.
He can remember his mother firmly. A ring of harsh pink flowers on a pale blue enamel cup, wet flesh slaps his forehead, a little node of memory bursts, milk streams, and he is dozing gently in and out of oblivion, inside a bus, a bright bright green sweater scratches him, a faint grey road pulls away.
One day, after college, he was posted for a few months in Kipkelion. He was standing next to the back of a thin grade cow, two small legs were poking out of its back, and he was ready to help pull the calf out. An old thin man, the milker, stood behind him with a bucket of hot water and a blade of grass in his mouth, some missing teeth. The man had put the bucket down when the cow started to kick and wail. He rubbed the neck of the cow, first whistling from the side of his mouth, then singing softly, something in Kalenjin, to the cow in pain. Just then, spurts and sprays flooded Peter’s mind, tributaries of his first language, and Peter started to sing the same song. His Kalenjin has grown. He even made a short speech without notes, in Kipsigis, at a farmer’s retreat a few years ago.
Whenever Milka looks at him, from those hard round eyes, he is weak. It has always been that way. He does not know why. Nobody else feels so essential.
They walk to the railway lines and pay five shillings each for a hot comb, done by one of the freelance railway women who plait and comb on a patch of grass between two straight lines of old stone Railways housing. Then they change their clothes behind a forgotten train carriage and take a matatu to Nakuru.
They had agreed to meet him at 7 p.m., at Tipsy restaurant. It is bright with fluorescent light and smells of India. They order. They do not talk when the food arrives. They shovel in the masala chips, the sausages, the Cokes. Both wearing new midi dresses, matching earrings, their hair oiled and hot-combed, rollered and fluffed up. Milka has cut her eyebrows and drawn a new line to replace them. They both have lipstick on.
Every few minutes Eunice looks at her friend, lifts her eyebrow, and says, “Eh?”—then watches Milka’s new thin, high semicircles respond involuntarily. It makes Eunice burst out laughing.
Two men dressed like Abroad sit at the table next to them. One an Indian, one probably a Luo. Yes—he is called Washington. They both have Afros, and open shirts, and fat, high shoes and wide-bottomed jeans. They have stretched themselves out slouchily, their legs sprawled and comfortable. Eunice and Milka fidget next to them, suddenly stiff and shy.
Washington sits back and speaks in London television hiccups.
“So tha( )’s the story. Take it or leave it, brover. And I have somefink else for you. Read i( ) la( )er.”
The girls burst out laughing. Washington is quiet for a moment and Milka turns and glares at him. He stands, walks toward the table, brushes past them, smelling good, and lopes towards the urinal without looking at the girls. When he walks back, he wrinkles his nose at them. Immediately, Eunice can smell paraffin, cheap soap, polyester, and small towns in her clothes.
Evans walks in a few minutes before six.
He drives a brown Citroën, that droops back like a tortoise. It is parked next an old stone wall. The back of Rift Valley Sports club. Members Only. They both sit at the back while Evans argues and jokes with the street kids who are trying to wash the car. The inside of the car smells of hot nylon, the seats are a yellow orange velvet and so deep and so soft it is hard to find a way to sit.
Milka came to Rift Valley Sports Club once, with Ndirangu who was already drunk. He disappeared into the Men’s Bar and left her on the patio watching a battalion of white men playing cricket. Next to her two oldish women dressed in flowery white farmer’s dresses sat reading newspapers and drinking tea. She was so afraid, she wet her panties. When the waiter stood next to her in his white uniform, and gave her a menu and a receipt book, she shook her head, stood and walked out, she was crying when she got to Ogilgei matatu stop. The next day, she stabbed Ndirangu, and walked home.
Milka tries to sit up straight, but that makes her feel too schoolgirlish, so she leans back, lets her body falls into the nauseous cloud of soft Citroen sponge, and turns to look at Eunice, who is sitting up and straight and still and looking out of the window, her ringed eyes never say anything, big brown pupils sit close to the roof of her eyelids, like a half moon, they never seem to move much. When Eunice turns to face her, eyes cool, Milka is suddenly shy.
“ Let me tell you of a feeling…that is spreading through the land….”
Eunice giggles, and they both sing, “ It will give you good vibrations. It will help you understand. Boononoonoos, that’s boonononoos.”
They are quiet for a second as they gaze out of the window. That bubble-popping sounds of night have began, some men and boys are gathered around Mombasa Stores, all in white-ironed kanzus, ready to go to the mosque. Sometimes Milka looks at Eunice’s mouth and it seems like the bottom lip and the top lip are one, like they can stay closed forever. Eunice follows Milka everywhere, sings the songs Milka suggests. She rarely introduces her own ideas. They have great timing for each other – sometimes Milka notices something silly and looks across and Eunice is already rising to a giggle. This happened from the beginning, without rehearsal or preparation. But – if Eunice does not like something she simply stills – she does not fidget, does not say no, does not say yes her eyes do not flutter or look for approval – it is as if she has a shiny tingling world of night inside of her where she can stay until you call her back. Over the past two weeks, both of them have taken turns talking to Evans on the telephone. When he sat next to them this evening, he looked at them both fully, eyes warm and teasing, “So who is who?”
“That is for you to find out,” said Milka. They had decided that he would pick the one he wanted.
Black and white crows are circling, soon hundreds of them will all gather on the dead eucalyptus tree just next to Eros cinema which has small studs of light all over its high ceilings, like stars. They can see the disco-lights of Gituamba Day and Night Club start to twinkle. From where she is sitting, Milka can see the swell of his belly button – ha! – that one was not born in a hospital she thinks, he has a tight red t-shirt with faces from the characters of hey hey heeey, it’s Faaaat Albert. His arms are big and veiny and he flaps them around a lot when he talks. He takes the little jar of glue from the streetkid, and knocks the kid hard on the head with a knuckled fist, then thrusts a note into the kids pocket and the kid is laughing as he walks around the car, his finger wagging, she can’t see his face. It is dark and wall of screaming night crickets surrounds them, like a waterfall of sequins. Bononoonoos, she thinks, little bit boonoonoonoos.
He does not come to her side of the car. He pulls Eunice’s door open, and asks her to sit in front. He takes her hand. Eunice’s face is still, she doesn’t turn back to face Milka. His face leans in and looms at Milka, smile wide, his scratchy voice like short-wave, “Back left is for VIPs.” The Citroen starts and rises and swells slowly on its hydraulics, Sundowner, on the radio, splutters on, jus’ tha thaught of yeew, trrns my whole wrrld misty bluu; and Milka finds that if she hums along, she can keep her disco tingle alive.
They are at the party. In Section 58. A smart, small house, next to a long row of smart-looking identical houses. There are other women here—older woman, with Afro wigs or raffia plaits, and a lot of makeup. Laughing and dancing. Eunice has managed to finish the bottle of Kingfisher cider she asked for. Milka is quiet, and looking down into her glass of Cinzano Bianco. They both have a picture, in their heads, of a woman in a long, sequined dress, sitting in a piano bar lit by the lights of skyscraper teeth. She has a fluted glass in front of her, and a cigarette with a filter. Underneath her it reads, Cinzano bianco!
“How is it?” Eunice asks.
Milka looks at her, and they giggle. They are sitting on a half-sawn-off log. There are seven or eight other logs like this. On the wall are two giant framed parallelograms made out of colored strings and small nails. By the large window facing the veranda there is a large silver music system, several layers mounted on top of each other.
Evans and his army friends are standing at the door to the kitchen, laughing loudly and talking. Faces slick and gleaming with excitement. He is very tall, muscular—and light-skinned, which was a surprise. All the men have uncomfortably short hair, and they are all fit. Their clothes, even now, are ironed and tucked in. Evans’s jeans have been ironed, and the line shows. He has changed. His pink and green shirt is unbuttoned, and he wears a gold chain. He has hair on his chest, another surprise, and large, very dark lips, charcoal and ashy like a heavy smoker’s.
Bhangi-lips, whispered Milka, eyes shining, when he had gone to piss at Tipsy. Eunice had watched him stride past Washington’s table, had seen Washington’s eyes try, then fail to meet Evans. Evans didn’t even notice him. Eunice kicked Milka’s ankle under the table. Milka turned and caught Washington’s eyes, and winked.
“Come on— tuwa-join.”
Milka grabs Eunice’s hand. She stands up, and they make their way to the kitchen. But there, the other women are laughing laughing, everybody seems to know each other. Evans winks at them, then continues talking to his friends. The stand around for a while, then walk back to the living room.
Later, they are standing outside with the men, smoking a seed-ridden joint, as the men light a fire for the meat. Faces in and out; Evans’s teeth, as he laughs up and loud. Milka is jabbing at her waist with three hard fingers.
“Wewe. Ah. Pslp. We acha,” she whispers hotly.
She moves a little away from Eunice and tries to compose herself, bending down and covering her head with her arms tight, eyes shut tight; inside she is burning silver and rust.
Evans is beating a piece of firewood with an axe. She can hear the saliva sluicing back, over, and then under his tongue as he pulls; then a hiccup as he reaches the back of his throat; and then a cough, as he lurches forward suddenly and breaks into laughter. Meat falls onto the flame and starts to smell immediately, and a laughing group of people make their way to the fire.
Then his arms are around her waist, and a warm, wet snail moans between the cables of her neck. She is looking at the tips of the inner tubes of his nose above her; they are glowing, red and wounded. She moves her water-heavy head from side to side, thick sheets of starlight rolling quickly all across the sky, then settle back into small, mean glares. Where is Eunice? She pushes him away, and bursts into the living room.
Shadowed and cold, she stands by the door. A blurred man mumbles something and takes her hand. President Moi mouths something on the television screen, and she wants to salute. She tries to move, and stumbles, and hears her breath slap hotly against her cleavage. She stands and leans back against the wall. She hears Eunice laughing, standing with two tall men by the silver stereo. Her words cartwheel across the room and spin back and settle thickly under her tongue.
“Papapa papapapapapaaaa. Papapapaaaa.”
Milka’s legs jolt forward. She grabs Eunice’s hand. They have danced to this song so many times in the dorm. As if she has left herself, Milka can see her limbs lurch to the center of the living room, her skirt bursting with color and soft wind between her legs as they circle each other. Little bowls of living-room light are spinning gently around her as she turns, arms around Eunice’s waist. She can name each of her organs, which sit spinning inside her like hot rocks peeping out of a creamy pool that reaches out to lap and lick.
The trumpets slow down. Flared skirt-sounds ripple, then fold, and then stand still. They both stop.
Milka leans forward and says into Eunice’s ear, “Umelewa, baby.”
They jump to the side and face the guys and the older women standing at the stereo. They bend up and down. Strumpets in military formation, leaning down, bending up, leaning down, fingers pretending to play the trumpet as they bend and rise.
Then, Eunice’s face is right there, her eyes burning. Eunice’s nails are cutting into her wrist. Tears streaming. Eunice’s mouth is screaming in her ear.
“Are you? Are you my girlfriend?”
Something clutters and Milka is on the ground, her leg tangled with a fallen chair. Glass screams, and beer foams and hisses on the floor and snakes its way around a heap of fallen goat ribs.
There is silence, and she can hear Evans outside say, “What?”
Then they are running down the straight low road into Nakuru Town proper. The men follow, shouting, Hey, hey, but eventually they turn back to their party. The girls stop, and pant.
The night is bright, the moon is fat, and they walk and talk all the twenty kilometers back to Njoro.
Binavanga Wainaina(@BinyavangaW) occasionally wears tutus and finds sometimes that fiction disappears completely from his mind.
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