the previous evening
Punda covered the distance in an hour, the seven kilometers or so from Lamu to Matondoni, a trip Ativa made at the end of every week encouraging the old donkey. It was not unusual for households to be fatherless, and it was Ativa’s mother that operated the small farm, but it was on the back of Punda that each round trip made a profit, and it was that back that bore the weight of overlapping burlap bags full of maize, cow peas, cassava, bixa, tomatoes and kale for Ativa’s aunt, and for sale at the market.
A coconut-sized conch shell reflecting pink-orange hues had washed up on the beach, quite a find for Ativa as she weaved in and out of the water’s broken edges on a solitary evening stroll. So now she stood there, pondering the vagaries of the sea, deep in thought about the precious find before her. Meandering about the mashwa and rough-looking assortment of hori and canoes she had reached that point where her own dhow lay dormant and neglected on the sand, the sail worn and weathered, a patchwork of thinned and thinning, hull propped up on stilts nailed to its ribbing …one day that sail …will be me as before, …sailing again …a sail she had labored so hard four years ago to fashion by hand.
If she had not been looking back over her shoulder at the curiosity of her own bare-foot prints back-filling with seawater she would have missed the shell completely. So in the end the shell was not placed before her, but rather behind, and as it rocked in time with the rhythm of the tide it was apparent that it was not the footprints at all, but a sweet melody woven within the lace of ocean breeze that had turned Ativa’s head. A melody as light as the scent of jasmine that had followed Ativa from Lamu to Matondoni that now seemed to be coming from the bite of the conch. Shells, shillings, needle and thread, she would be able to sell the prized shell within the square on her way to school. She would be able to repair her sail.
Ativa’s return to Lamu that Sunday evening was as the sun was setting and a shawl of lavender twilight cloaked the old stone town. Beneath that cloak, bone weary, soiled cotton skirts clinging to her calves, bare-feet padding silently in the wistful powder of dirt and manure that never seemed to leave the bricks of the main street, Ativa could only smile at the now familiar tune.
…that melody, again what it is …my imagination …Ativa did not bother to look back this time, but if she had she would have seen them escape the bell of the horn, the very notes, as they rang out in muted concert for the stars.
“Screee-aah screee-aah,” simultaneously bobbing and rocking a broken alarm clock of this way and that and side-to-side.
At the sound of the high-pitched cry Ativa looked up from the rust colored liquid that filled her cup, finishing that first careful sip, testing the temperature.
“Ah, there you are, I was wondering, wondering that it’s Monday.”
Observing Shakwe’s dishevelment from the baraza of her aunt’s house Ativa sat cross-legged in a corner beneath an open window sipping her morning tea and watching her younger cousin Iffat crush freshly chopped hot pilipili with the cold stone bluntness of mortar and pestle. Soon bajia would be sizzling in a pan of hot oil releasing the aroma of onion and garlic into the morning’s fabric, a warmed wealth of spices and fried chickpea flour would stitch the air. Before long Ativa would be on her way to market, a trip she made every Monday morning, on her slow circuitous march to school.