He took the mug in his hand and studied it. It was adorned with patterns akin to that of a Persian rug. Not that he knew what a Persian rug was. He had never been to Persia, this man, hadn’t even been past the country’s borders. Still, Madam had said the mug was patterned like a Persian rug. And she couldn’t lie, could she? He stopped admiring the mug and placed it on the tray he was carrying. It joined its brothers on the tray. Or perhaps they were females. His sisters. A family of mugs.
The dinner table was cluttered, the many plates and wine glasses, evidence of an extravagant dinner. Madam’s friends had just left; a gaggle of middle aged ladies with nothing better to do on a Saturday night than to gather at someone’s house and gossip about people they didn’t like. Today’s target had been Mrs. Munyakei. The girls, that’s how they referred to themselves, though the last time they had deserved that tag had been around twenty years ago, were pissed at Mrs. Munyakei. How dared she? How dared she snob their gathering circle? Did she think she was better than them, just because she had a Ph.D? Stupid woman, she. But Yusuf spat in disgust. He had always liked Mrs. Munyakei. She was the only one among madam’s friends who always said hello to him and asked about his health. But not today. Today, he hated her. Madam had said she was evil. An arrogant little evil bitch. And Madam couldn’t lie, could she? He spat again.
Yusuf finished clearing the table. The amount of dishes to be washed today was staggering; the girls had certainly gone all out to make him sleep late tonight. Everyone of them had had multiple courses, all on different sets of cutlery. Evil women. Not madam though. She was ever so kind. She had only used two plates, a mug, a wine glass, two spoons, one knife and two forks. Such a kind, understanding woman. He wondered how Sah had gotten her. He had nothing. Except a belly so large it reminded him of how nanny goats back home looked when they were heavy with child. And Sah’s face, oh, his face. To call it ugly would be like saying the sky is blue, or that Mt. Everest is tall: It would be true, but it could not capture it adequately.
Yusuf turned on the cold water faucet. He put his hand under the flowing water. He had always liked the feel of the cold water running through his fingers. It made him feel like a stone in the middle of a fast flowing stream. There was a stream nearby. Sometimes, when he was free, he would head to its bank and just sit there, feet in the water, feeling the fish nibbling at them, feeling the cool zephyr blowing through his hair, tasting the sweet air it carried. One day, he would bring a woman here. And they would become one, one with the nature and one with each other. Perhaps Madam would acquiesce to come.
Madam was not beautiful. Beautiful is how you might describe Beyonce, or one of those models who routinely featured on the cover of Vogue and such magazines. She also was not pretty. Pretty is how you might describe a schoolgirl, an innocent little flower yet to be exposed to the evils of the world. Madam was just pleasant to look at. She had one of those faces that made you think instantly of laughing puppies and kittens, and at the same time of strength and comfort, of solidity. It was hard to explain; one had to physically experience Madam’s person to appreciate it. Madam, her smile, her laugh, the way she tossed back her hair when it got in her eyes, the way she jabbed the air with a finger to stress a point, the way she waved her middle finger at Sah when she was angry at him, all of these aroused, in Yusuf, the same feelings aroused by the flow of water through his fingers.
The loud slamming of the front door snapped him out of his reverie. He turned back to the dishes, back to making the mug in front of him spotless, the same mug that sat with all its sisters. He smelled her fragrance before she entered the kitchen. Madam had a unique scent, rosemary with a whiff of coconut in it. She opened the kitchen cupboard and took out another mug. Yusuf watched her walk to the water dispenser and fill the mug. He watched out of the corner of his eye. He couldn’t look at her directly. He didn’t want her to know. At least, not yet. Yusuf watched her sip the water to the last drop. Her throat’s movements. The liquid flowing down her throat. The liquid flowing down his throat. Liquids flowing. Throats. Lips. The water from the faucet seemed to flow through his fingers with greater strength than before. He gulped.
Presently, he was through with the dishes. He wiped his hands dry on a hand towel and walked to his room. The servant quarters were just off the main house. He lived there with Anyango. Anyango was the other help. She did the house cleaning. He, Yusuf, was in charge of the kitchen. That was his domain, his responsibility, his domain of power. Sometimes, he felt accomplished, because he had broken into a woman’s world and become king of it. He would make Madam his queen. Sometimes, Sah called Madam his queen. This made Yusuf seethe with rage. How dared he? One day Sah would regret his words. One day. Yusuf got into bed. He prayed to Allah to give him good dreams. He dreamt of Madam.
Yusuf woke up at 5 a.m. the next day. He woke up in a cold sweat. He had had one of those horrible dreams again. He usually had this type of dream when he was stressed about something. He had dreamt the house had been attacked by thugs. They had raped Madam then proceeded to stab her, right in front of him. Sah too had been attacked, though he had survived. However, he lost the ability to walk and Yusuf had to take care of him for the rest of his life. Yusuf shuddered at the thought of living alone with Sah, without Madam, for the rest of his life.
Yusuf heard a loud knock at his door. It was still dark. He decided to ignore it. The knocking persisted. Grudgingly, he got up and answered the knock. It was Anyango.
“Amka wewe. Unajua leo Mkubwa anasafiri Garissa asubuhi. Atahitaji kiamsha kinywa mapema.” Anyango spoke in a Coastal accent, far removed from her Luo heritage.
Yusuf did not care whether or not Sah had his breakfast. The fat bastard could eat rats and snakes for all he cared. Perhaps the snakes would eat the rats and reduce Sah’s breakfast thus. However, Sah could still eat the snakes, and the rats too as they got digested in the snakes’ stomachs. He did not give a damn.
Yusuf nodded politely to Anyango to convey the fact that he had received the information. Anyango slowly turned and went back to her quarters. Yusuf turned his head to look at Anyango’s retreating figure. She had a good enough figure, with curves in all the right places. Perhaps one day. No, Yusuf knew he could not. Not while Madam was still alive anyway. Oh how he loved her. Anyango had once asked him. It had been a cold night and she had been away from her husband for far too long. He had turned her down. Maybe she had imagined he would be an easy lay? Too bad for her. He looked at her hips swaying down the corridor. He gulped. Perhaps one day. It had been long. Waiting for Madam was not business for the faint-hearted.
The water in the shower was cold; the heater was not working properly. The icy water pierced through his skin, down to the very depths of his soul. Yusuf didn’t mind the cold water. In fact, he preferred it. The coldness reenergized him, rejuvenated his soul, regenerated his body back to its optimum level. Hot water, on the other hand, made him feel plain lazy. It seemed unnatural to him, this act of bathing with hot water. It pained him that the heater was controlled by a single switch in the main house. Luckily for him, today Allah had seen it fit to render it useless and give him the blessing of bathing with cold water. He felt happy, knowing that in paradise there would be no more pretentions like hot water.
Yusuf finished showering, got dressed quickly, as a man should, and went to his work station. Sah liked taking porridge for breakfast. Porridge and arrowroots. His was not the English porridge, which was made in milk, eaten from bowls and designed to make grown men weak. No, Sah drank porridge, real African porridge—Uji, made from millet and sorghum flour. He did not add sugar to it. He liked his breakfast natural. Uji and nduma. That’s what Anyango called the arrowroots. Nduma. Heavy emphasis on the last letter. It was pronounced ndumaah. Yusuf respected the man. At the same time he felt a heavy distaste at himself, for respecting someone he considered a rival.
Sah was resplendent in a dark blue suit this morning. Imported Italian, of course. Nothing but the very best for the rich bastard. The suit had golden cuffs that accentuated its colour perfectly. The tie was dark blue, adhering to the already established colour code. The white shirt was a bit too tight for Sah’s bulky frame, particularly around the stomach. Yusuf felt sorry for the poor buttons supporting Sah’s huge belly. Wallahi, the man was ugly. That is even without factoring in the heavy dose of furrows on his forehead and the receding hairline. At this rate, Madam would surely be his, sooner rather than later. Yusuf felt like laughing.
Sah looked at Yusuf and seemed to wonder what his cook was doing opening and closing his mouth like that. The boy looked like he was suffering a bout of constipation. So he asked Yusuf if he was sick. The boy shook his head.
As soon as Sah was done with his breakfast, Yusuf took the dishes and washed them immediately. He preferred doing things like this, rather than having to deal with a mound of dishes later. He wiped the table where Sah had had his breakfast and made sure the kitchen was squeaky clean. Through the kitchen window, he watched Sah get into his Toyota Landcruiser VX and drive off. The man had really deep pockets. Maybe that is what he had used to get Madam. He had really gotten lucky there. Money. Yusuf swore out loud. Or rather, he imagined he did, because no sound exited his mouth.
Madam was not going to work today. She was on leave. Working, or pretending to work, at your husband’s multi-million shilling construction firm had its perks. For one, you could pretty much award yourself leave whenever you lost the urge to go to work. Yusuf wondered what Madam would do today. Perhaps she would invite her friends over. Most of them had rich husbands too, and could pull out of work if they felt like it. Yusuf wondered whether Mrs. Munyakei would come. He hoped she would come. Yusuf liked her. At least with her, he did not feel like she was looking down on him.
Anayngo was washing clothes outside. She was bent over some water troughs with piles of clothes beside her. Yusuf walked over to where she was. He could do with her company, rather than sitting in the kitchen alone waiting for Madam to come down for her breakfast. He approached Anyango quietly and sat down on the ground next to her. She didn’t seem to notice him; she kept on washing. Yusuf didn’t mind this. He preferred this, this silence with someone, instead of random pieces of conversation just to be polite. Sometimes, he felt that people mocked him by trying to initiate conversations with him, knowing all too well that he could not respond.
Anyango wore her standard work attire: an old leso from her waist down and an old T-Shirt for a derelict TV Campaign. Pika Blue Band na Ugali. Yusuf could tell that she wore nothing underneath by the way her breasts shook as she washed, and by the light that filtered through the leso. Anyango looked up suddenly and caught Yusuf in the act of admiring her body. She paused for a moment then grinned broadly at him, as if encouraging him to go on with his perusal. Her yellow teeth repelled him. Why couldn’t she be like Madam and go for teeth whitening? Every year without fail Madam went to the dental clinic to have her teeth whitened, even though, as far as Yusuf could see, they were perfectly white. If only Anyango was more like Madam. Then perhaps…
It always astounded Yusuf how lovely Anyango’s coastal accent was.
“Yusuf, let me finish this washing then we get finished with our business, okay?” She leered at him.
Yusuf did nothing to indicate that he had heard her speak. He looked at the grass.
Anyango spoke again, this time with venom in her voice. “So you ignore me, eh? Do you really think that you are one day going to get Madam?”
Yusuf looked up quickly, startled. How could she know? He had never told anyone, had he? Anyango looked smug at the expression on Yusuf’s face.
“So you thought I didn’t know? Do you think I’m stupid? I’ve seen the way you leer around Madam like a goat on heat. Don’t think I haven’t noticed.” She paused, then continued. “You know you are never going to get her, yes? You have nothing to your name. She won’t consider you at all. You should be like Sah. He has done me a couple of times. Yes, him with the wife. Sometimes, I wonder whether you are a man. I have offered myself to you so many times I have lost count. I wonder whether you are even a man. Are you a man, Yusuf? Are you even half a man?”
Yusuf rose. He felt the blood rise to his face. Anyango went on washing, oblivious to the rage flowing in him. This stupid woman! How could she…how could she assault him so? He would teach her that he was a man. He raised his hand in mid-air, preparing to hit her. Suddenly, he stopped. He felt ashamed of himself. Was this what Anyango had reduced him to? Anyango watched him lower his hand. She laughed. She had known all along that he wouldn’t do anything to her. This dumb man was weak! Yusuf glared at her, angry that he couldn’t even say anything in reply. He cursed Allah. Oh, why did he send him into this world unable to speak? Of what use was a man without a voice?
Yusuf hurried back into the house. He found Madam in the kitchen, pouring herself a bowl of cereal. She greeted him, and he nodded in return. She was still in her nightdress, her untidy hair all over her head, looking like a naughty school girl. She was enchanting. Thoughts raced in Yusuf’s mind. He thought of how he would profess his love to her. He imagined the two of them running away together, eloping, to start a new life together. He wished to tell her his true feelings there and then. He would speak out of love. If only he had not been born dumb…Then maybe…
Laura looked at her cook carefully. He seemed stressed about something. She had not liked him initially, the dumb cook. In fact, had it not been for Mrs. Munyakei, she would have fired him the moment she had discovered his condition. However, Mrs. Munyakei had talked sense into her. She had convinced her that lack of speech was no impediment to ability. To be honest, Yusuf was a great cook. She had grown to respect him, like him even, over the years. At least he could write. That is how she communicated with him. Laura looked Yusuf in the eye and asked him what the problem was. She pushed a piece of paper and a pen to him.
Yusuf stared at the pen. The paper was white, blank. Should he, or should he not? He clutched the pen in his hand and turned it twice. In one swift motion, he brought it down. He started writing. Madam watched him write. Anyango continued washing. And Yusuf felt like a smooth rock in the middle of a flowing river.
Carey Baraka(@careybaraka) is a student of Literature at a Kenyan University. Growing up, he wanted to be a writer, a cartoon or James Bond. As he can neither be a cartoon nor James Bond (at least not yet), he chooses to write. Writing is his way of setting free his thoughts from clouding his mind. He has a blog, as does every other person with a phone and internet access. Catch him spewing his random thoughts and musings at careybaraka.wordpress.com.