What it left behind was the real definition of happiness. It had this magic about it that filled me with glow and spasms of joy. It was almost as if it said, “I’m leaving, but I’m doing so with love.” And true to that statement, the sun really did set with love. I didn’t know what love was. I had never felt its magic, but I was sure as hell that the sunset came close to me feeling it. Feeling love permeating through my skin and reverberating through the very roots of my system.
I was standing on the shores of Nam Lolwe. The name we, natives, used to call it before the white man came and called it Lake Victoria. Yeah, the blokes came and told us that you know what, we don’t like the name Nam Lolwe, and so we’re just going to call it Lake Victoria. And just like that, it stuck, and so did many other naming’s that they came up with in various places in the country. Their word was final unless of course, you wanted a bullet drilled through your head. It was either you were a Yes-Man or a Dead-Man, no two ways about it.
The waters were still, joining in the ambience. In that magic, the birds also joined in with their sounds, sounding like musical strings. No one wanted to be left behind. Two hundred metres from where I was standing, along the same stretch, were women bathing with their ‘tiddies’ and ‘hoohays’ out. Not too far away from where the women were, men were also reeling in the awesomeness of the sun, bathing with their ‘dogs’ out. The first time I had seen that I thought to myself, what a bunch of uncultured swines. But these were my people. Neck-above and ankle-below, I was a son of the same soil, who like many of my kind, had been lost in the city’s daily violence and indoctrinated not only with the culture, but also beliefs of the white man. In my eyes, and hiding under the screen of class and modernization, I saw and thought of it as being immodest and archaic.
“I’m not going to look at that direction again,” I told myself. Normally, if it wasn’t in the village, I’d hide somewhere and peep through to enjoy the sight. I’m not the type to deny myself simple pleasures in life. But this was the village where everyone was related. Either closely related or distant related or very distant related. Bottom line was, we were all related. And when you’re all related, it is awkward to admire someone’s nakedness. It feels weird and dirty and everything negative. The sight and feeling of the sunset were good enough for me. And the island that was directly adjacent to where I was standing. It was called Mfangano Island. Native name. The Brits must have slept on their homework on that one. So unlike them, the lot. Mfangano Island looked beautiful. I pondered how the Islands in the lake had come about. God must have said, “You know what, lots of water here, so land here. Lots of water here, so land here.” It must have been nice to have such powers, you know.
There was a heavenly aura everywhere. The sun. The birds. The water. The laughter and chit-chat from the bathing women. It was magic rolled into one. But then the whites came and dismantled this, making us build confines which they told us were called bathrooms, where you went in alone. And we not only embraced it but also ended up labelling those who bathed by the shores of the rivers or lakes, obnoxious little twits. In fact, I’d thought they were exactly that myself until I realized that my grandparents and greater grandparents, and everyone before them, did exactly that-bathe by the shores. And I’d absolutely hate it if someone dared to foul-mouth my ancestry. At least not because they found bathing by the shores cool.
I puffed out my cheeks and deflated the air inside, my left hand caressing the top of my head. I had missed the magic for years. The water. The ambience. The life. The village made me feel like I was living again. Like I’d morphed into a greater being but with evangelical zeal. I was with my people, living life just like it was meant to be lived; like the old times. All my attempts at visiting the village before then had been shrugged with a very tired, “We will.” I’d sulk every other time that I was told that. So I always had this period of sulking where I wouldn’t speak to anyone because I was being a nag about going to the village. I couldn’t help it. And it did suck that I did not have money to take myself. That is the problem with not having money. People always have power over you. That’s basically how the rich trample on the rights of the poor. Standing on the shores, I felt not only gratification but also a victory. My pestering had borne fruit. I was a champion.
The sun’s magic had now disappeared, but the afterglow was still thick and fresh in the air. I could see it on the faces of the men and women who’d now just come out of their bathing zones. It was time to go home and enjoy the company of close relatives. But I stood there like a lost child, staring into the nothingness of something, my mind wandering back-and-forth. It felt great to be reunited with the village. I might have disappeared into the city’s savagery, but it was evident that our umbilical cord was never cut. And that, home was definitely where the heart was. Granted, I would have chosen to stay put and watch darkness devour light but I chose not to. Darkness is almost always never associated with good things. So I turned back and began walking home.
Along the way, I met with a young man who was taking livestock home. From my estimation, he looked like he was in his last teenage years. Eighteen or nineteen, thereabouts. I could see that he was in a hurry, probably rushing to make sure that darkness finds him at home. He was tall and muscular with big scary eyes. It made me wonder who would have the balls to piss him and his livestock off. His eyes were enough to shake anyone to the very core of their bones. Maybe he was rushing because he couldn’t use them as a defence mechanism at night. “Hey man, what’s up. Can see that you are rushing,” I called out. He didn’t stop, so I decided to approach and walk beside him. “Yeah, a bit late today. There are no street lights here, so moving with livestock in darkness is asking too much of yourself,” he answered back. “Are all these yours?” I asked. “Not yet, but we don’t have any land. This is the only inheritance that I have left, so technically yes. But my old man’s still around,” he said. I could see that he was always keeping his eyes on the livestock. It made sense why he seemed to value them.
“This is all you do all day?” I sought to inquire. “Well, yes. But I’m joining college next year,” he said. It was exciting to hear that he was joining college. He sounded like a bright chap to me. A chap who deserved to be doing more with his life. “What do people here think of you when they see you doing this?” I asked. “I am joining college next year. I am ambitious. I am only doing this now. Tomorrow it’ll be a different story. So it does not matter what anyone thinks of me now. What does, however, is what I think of myself.”