‘Do you speak Kenyanese?’ he’d asked. ‘Yes, I do speak fluent kenyanese. And I also sleep next to lions back at home,’ I’d added. I have learnt over the years that if someone brings ignorance to the table then you dish yours too, twice as much. Of course I didn’t speak Kenyanese, not that it existed anyway. But when you are in a foreign country where you seem to be the one who is odd, such things are bound to happen. ‘Aren’t you the same lot who practice FGM?’ ‘I heard that there are people who still wear animal skins’ ‘There are wild animals everywhere?’ I had heard enough of such ludicrous questions. I found it fascinating that these people knew so little about Africa when they boasted of huge libraries with books meticulously arranged. Even the little that they’d known was absolutely wish-wash; completely fabricated tales. ‘FGM is about to be washed-up’ ‘The shoe that you are wearing is probably made out of animal skin’ ‘And I fancy that everyone is wild in their own way so the world is full of wild animals, most of whom are actually here in the US.’ ‘Maybe you are one of them, who knows?’ Josh wasn’t expecting any of that by the look on his face. He looked disgruntled and uneasy that I was outsmarting him. ‘So what brings you here?’ Josh asked. ‘Exactly the same thing that brings you here,’ I’d answered. He shrugged then walked away.
This was my first month in the US after securing a scholarship. It didn’t help matters that I’d come during winter. I had not been used to such extreme low temperatures. I would wear three t-shirts, two sweaters and a very big jumper to top it up just to shove away the devil called disease and all its forms. I would laugh at myself every other time for looking like an inflated balloon. It did help that we all looked the same; a bunch of inflated balloons. At the time Josh was walking away, I was entering the library to skim through my notes and also to do a little bit of research. The scholarship rules were very clear; You become a knucklehead, we deport you, You get jailed for anything, petty or otherwise, we deport you, You get caught in any form of scandal, we deport you, Last and most important; you fail your exams, we literally kick you out. Kicking sounded worse than deporting so I’d made a roster for attending library. I wasn’t going to end up being a knucklehead, that’s for sure. Not after having had a disciplinarian father whose cough alone would make me start shaking. Getting jailed was something that was never going to happen. Being in a cell and caged, I’d learnt from experience, was as bad as having stage-four cancer. A scandal is something that I wouldn’t have ruled out considering I had a weakness for anything in skirt.
I was skimming through so that I could rush to my other casual job and get extra money to send back home. Most of the casuals I was working with were Nigerians. No surprises. Nigerians are everywhere. When God told man to multiply and fill the earth, you’d be tempted to think that He was probably speaking directly to Nigerians. Or maybe it is their country that is not big enough to accommodate the whole lot of them. The Pidgin English that I had to put up with was the annoying bit, though. ‘Oga a go beg na’ for I am begging. ‘A yu go com aran na’ for are you going to come around now. It was irritating but I’d take their English any day of the week than work with a bunch of white bellends who would occasionally throw in racist slurs. Condescending racist slurs and the irritating Pidgin English at any of the work stations were much better nonetheless, than staying jobless and being shredded into nothingness by the torrid job market in Kenya.
‘There’s this girl from Congo, I think you’d like her,’ Okwechukwu had intimated. ‘Are sure that she wouldn’t start a fight out of the blues?’ I’d asked. ‘Maybe if she has a white friend who’d incite her,’ Okwechukwu shot back. Congo was constantly at war because of minerals. War triggered by what many Africans believed was a scramble for minerals by the white man. Is there anything bad in Africa that the white man hadn’t triggered? ‘I hope this girl is just as endowed as Congo is with minerals,’ I’d said, smiling. ‘She has everything my guy. Oh, wisdom is perhaps the only thing she lacks. That’s a preserve for Nigerians,’ he said as we got back to working. Girls were the least of my concerns. I had exams to pass and money to make. I would probably have created time for flings but nothing more than that. Time is an expiring currency.
A week later I’d meet Okwechukwu who were together with Anangi, the girl from Congo that he’d been telling me about. ‘Husband and wife I’d presume?’ I asked after I’d met them. Okwechukwu pulled me over, placed me next to Anangi and walked away after shouting, ‘My job here is done, see you at work tomorrow.’ Maybe that was how it was done in the US. I have seen this girl or boy who suits you, a meeting is planned and boom, both of you are left to figure it out, just like the old times. It didn’t take me much time to figure it out with Anangi though. ‘So this is how it feels like to be in a foreign country. Being left out in the cold so you can learn how to find your own warmth. Coffee perhaps?’ I retorted. ‘It is winter, coffee a must,’ she’d said with a smile as we walked to a nearby restaurant.
It was a simple restaurant; wooden floor, double-hung glass window panes and a beam ceiling. Simple but sophisticated. But then again, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. It was the kind of restaurant that can make anyone be drawn into a musing and instantly get nostalgic. The waiters were African. No surprises. It was the rush with which they served customers with that surprised me. ‘Chicken and waffles ma’am,’ a gentleman from the back had shouted. It was met with a very quick, ‘right away.’ ‘Corned beef,’ someone else had said. It was again met with, ‘right away.’ I imagined that the qualification for the waiter’s job was being able to say right away as fast as you possibly could. ‘Anangi, don’t you think it’s time that we ordered something?’ I’d asked. ‘Right away,’ she’d answered. ‘You’re hired,’ I’d responded. We both smiled. The ease with which I’d managed to tease my way around with Anangi was making me uneasy. Christ, I wasn’t ready for another relationship. Love is one of those things that is never planned though. It just hits you and hits you hard. You go for a few dates, text every now and then and before you realise, you’re in it hook, line and sinker.
‘Cappuccino for two ma’am.’ We’d settled on taking coffee for that day. Maybe in subsequent dates, if there were going to be any, we’d go with the fancied Cajun cuisine or Macaroni and Cheese. ‘Congo girl, how did you end up here in US?’ I’d asked as I had my first taste of the coffee. It was heavily scented but above all, it tasted good. In Kenya, it seemed the coffee that I used to be treated to was washy coffee. Funny considering Kenya is one of the main exporters of coffee. I found it unfair that Africans were left to scavenge on the debris of crops that we’d planted. Anangi seemed to have broken into a musing before finally responding with, ‘The tale of how I ended up here is the same old tale, the same old tale.’ ‘Only Jesus is allowed to speak in parables Anangi, so speak up,’ I’d stated. She took a gulp of coffee before beginning with her narration. ‘I was twelve years old, barely a teen, when I heard gunshots. I could hear the cries from the confinement of my bedroom. I could hear women and children wailing. I heard explosions. I could hear young men chanting war songs and feeling bliss for killing and maiming. In over a month, I was caged. No movements, no nothing. You see this heart of mine (pointing at her chest), had been shattered into smithereens. Only after I came here, did I begin to recover. It is war that brought me here,’ she crumpled her handkerchief in her hand and wiped off the tears that she seemed to have been fighting. ‘It is okay to let it out,’ I intimated. ‘And you, how did you end up here?’ she’d asked after recollecting herself. ‘Scholarship. Unlike yourself, our problems back home have just been fireworks, not the actual fire,’ I’d added.’ ‘Ours were fireworks at first and then slowly it spiralled into a cancerous and disastrous fire,’ she’d interjected. ‘Is that how you caught fire Anangi, because I think you’re fire,’ I digressed. She smiled.
My mention of the word scholarship had brought back the memories of when I was doing my visa interview. I recalled being asked why I wanted to study in the US. Throughout the interview, I remember my body shaking and sweat oozing from my pores. Welcome to the US before the US had been the opening remarks. No word-niceties, no nothing. I remember stammering as I tried painfully to come up with perfect answers. ‘I hope you are not one of those people who will go and then refuse to come back,’ they’d stated. Of course I was planning to come back, but to pay visits only. Most people who went to the US never used to come back. I figured that they’d rather wash bosoms of old white people than come back to wanton negativity from friends and foes alike. Oh, you look good, have money but without beards, sorry. Oh, this cannot work. Oh, this and that. Enemies I’d learnt, were better than friends. At least an enemy showed disdain. A friend on the other hand, could smile with you then scorn you behind your back. I’m not sure how I’d passed that visa interview but it didn’t matter because I was now with Anangi, the Congo girl.
‘So where do you work?’ I’d asked her. ‘I work as a receptionist at Tekiways, not too far away from here,’ she’d responded. ‘Not bad considering there are some of our kind who wash bosoms of grannies to pay their bills,’ I said. I wanted to find out how she felt about that and the kind of jobs that Africans did. ‘So long as you make your mama proud back at home,’ she’d said. ‘Is that so huh, anything as long as you make your mama proud. Would you do anything?’ I quizzed. ‘Just about anything except putting a price tag on this body. Look at me, I’m priceless.’ ‘Refreshing to know that I am not going to incur any charges,’ I said. ‘There’s a first time for everything you know,’ she said, making me spill the coffee that was in my mouth because of laughter. ‘You should consider becoming a politician because it seems that you are a master of double-speak,’ I said after I’d drawn a serviette to deal with my mess. We talked about life, about how hard it was to make friends, about the problems that faced Africa, and added to it a blend of a lot of nothing; my favourite meal, my best colour, my favourite football team and a whole lot of other nothings. ‘You support Arsenal?’ she’d asked. I’d nodded in approval before she’d added, ‘Such a classy club.’ And then we’d walked out holding hands, stood at the entrance of the restaurant and hugged as if it was the last time that we were going to see each other.
At the library the following day, all I could think about was Anangi. I remembered her face and the tears rolling down her cheeks. There was something about her; her smile had reminded me of my childhood sweetheart Olive, now married to a guy from Tanzania who could barely speak English. I recalled telling Olive that I’d marry her one day. It turned out that things sometimes don’t work according to our plans or wishes. She’d sent me the wedding invitation but there was no way that I was going to honour it. On her wedding day, I’d decided to surprise my liver with cold whiskey. It was the first and last time that I’d gobble alcohol down my throat. Last because the pride that I’d end up having could no longer have allowed me to sleep in a ditch. Anangi’s face reminded me of my late granny who’d prophesied that I’d become powerful and wealthy. There were no indications that I’d end up becoming either, but life is full of surprises. Every single day I woke up hoping that her prophecy wasn’t going to end up being a bluff. On the day of her death, while lying in a hospital bed at Yath General Hospital, a swarm of bees had invaded her boma and stung her cow, which was grazing in the boma, almost to death. Word in the village was that it was either the cow survived or she did. Unfortunately, it is the cow that would end up surviving.
Anangi talked with poise and looked every bit like the type of girl that I’d wish, in my long usual dreams, to marry. But I wasn’t in the US to marry. I’d travelled miles to study and look for money. If I had to digress, then I’d have preferred marrying a white blonde for nothing other than citizenship. Worse still, relationships tended to follow what my lecturer Umpati from South Africa would call the law of diminishing returns; starting and reaching the levels of charms, pompous and flowery verbiage, then slowly deteriorating into trashy garbage or worse still, no communication at all.
In the evening when I’d met Okwechukwu, I told him of how I’d liked Anangi, gave him details of how our date had turned out to be cool and what not. ‘What did she tell you she does for a living?’ he’d quizzed. ‘She said she is a receptionist at some company that I can’t recall the name,’ I’d responded. ‘And you believed her?’ he’d asked. ‘Is there something that I should know Okwe?’ I’d sought to inquire, surprise written all over my face. ‘There are many things that you should know. This na America na oga, not Kenya.’