LEILA AND FEILA

This is a tale of tears that besemears the heart like a balladeer’s song of fears.

Leila walked down the sandy village lane past the mathenge thorn bushes to shallow wells. Her head was covered in a yellow hijab. But deep inside it was covered with a longing to see Feila her passion. She hadn’t seen him for two days-which was an eternity for her. Leila came to the giant tree under which they used to meet. Eagerly, she scanned the horizon looking for her Feila.Her heart sank as she sat down on the mat she had carried for their rendezvous.

Feila appeared from the other direction, his steps light like the evening zephyr. He carried with him a can of fragrant perfume in his hands for Leila and a token of vagrant emotions in his heart. His hair was like silvery wool, his gait was like that of the antelope.

He greeted her, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking. She looked at him and saw something no one else did, even if she did not know what it was. She greeted him, trying not to look at him, as if he were the moon, yet she saw him, like the moon, even without looking.

Leila was beautiful like a water nymph. People said that there were two stars in her eyes where pupils should have been. Her teeth were even and whiter than camel milk. Feila was tall and lithe, camels stopped to watch him walk when passed by.

You kept me waiting. Leila started. Women will always start the best things with a nag.

I kept you hoping. Feila answered.

She smiled demurely, twirling her fingers around his, like she was binding herself to him. Feila shot her with his soft fiery eyes. He was a warrior. When the clan needed someone to follow the Oromo cattle rustlers, Feila was the boy to do so. At the age of 22, he had overseen more cattle raids than most retired herders in the village. He had this Neanderthal charm not even the sheikhs daughter could resist.

Feila was powerful and lethal. Dangerous even. When he set his sight on anything, he never let go. When his clan’s camels were taken past the Ethiopian highlands by the marauding Oromos, he led a pack of 30 boys to recover them. He never trembled at the sound of the AK47, the dreaded gun that pastoralists guarded their flocks with.

But here he was trembling before a young slim girl who pierced his heart with a gaze of a thousand passions.

They talked deep into the night. When emotions overwhelmed them and words failed, they chatted in oommphs and aaahs which only them understood. They murmured impossible promises and uttered difficult words. Like I will never leave you. Feila rested his head on Leila’s bosom. She pretended not to like it, but her actions said she liked it.

He kissed her. But kissing was forbidden.Haram.They knew they would go to hell for that, but with this realization the kisses got cloying and run over their mouths like honey outpouring from  a beehive that badly need emptying.

One kiss is like the other, but I will never tire of kissing you. Feila whispered hauntingly.

What did my lips do before they met you? Leila asked.

I will never leave your arms. Feila made another impossible promise.

Leila was the desire, and Feila was his prisoner, chained by her touch. She was an ocean; he was a sinking man lost in her waves. Deeper and deeper he sank, each wave getting warmer and sweeter than the previous, all headed to inevitable explosive spasms. A hissing of primordial soups welled up in his hips like uncorked geysers. A maternal beckoning rose up in hers like a mighty wave.

Then, when the two ontological forces were just about to rapture forth, they heard Leila’s mothers voice calling for her incessantly.

I have to….I have to go…She said, dusting sand from her billowy dress.

Promise to see me tomorrow…

Before she could finish, their mother’s sceptre appeared in the soft moonlight, shouting Leila’s name again. She made haste and left Feila, not sure she would see him again, not sure she would again lay her head on his hairy chest, her home. It seemed like they had only met for a few minutes. When two people adore one another deeply, two hours seem like two minutes. When they loathe each other, the same two hours seem like two days.Einsten called it relativity. I call it the absurdity of the human passion.

Feila, I am home. Please remember me in your salah.

Leila whispered to the evening wind hoping it will pick the words and send them to Feila. Nature at times rescues two hearts longing for each other. After she was done with milking the goats, she lay on a mat and watched the stars autograph the skies with Feila’s name. Just about the stars grouped together to write her name next to his, her mother started scolding her. Something she did all night, like she had practiced it all day.

Earlier, when Leila had gone to serve the evening meal to his father in his dash, she had noted that they were three strange men who talked in hushed tones, and stopped when she came around. A camel bedecked with rich felt and gems that glistened in the moonlight was parked by their hut. After taking supper, the strangers stealthily rode their grunting camel into the night, just like they came. Feila knew all was not well. She was low, in the way women feel things will go wrong by their hearts. Her heart was troubled;it cried all night like a siren for Feila.

The wedding was held two days later. It was sombre and sad, with Leila’s tears going down to her heart and all the capital centers of her soul. She cried all her tear wells dry, leaving no tears for future sorrows.

As she left her mother’s hut to her new forced home, she sent a hundred messages to Feila through the wind, hoping he will pick them. When things decide to go wrong, they go wrong completely. That night the wind was flowing in different direction, and thus Leila’s messages went to remote villages up-stream. Love-struck lads picked them up, the way bulls pick  pheromones of randy cows in the air, but they didn’t decipher what the messages meant.

After few days, Feila came to the tree they used to meet under. He waited for her but she never came along. He did this for several days, until his heart sighed with a thousand stinging emotions. Forest gnomes and fairies watched him as he wrote these words on the bark of the tree:

Leila,I need you more than  I need air to breathe.

The writing was in a language only the two of them could decipher. After a few days, Feila was going to the shallow wells to draw water. She read the message and answered back:

Feila, rescue me-like you rescued our thousand camels from the Oromo.

The following day, Feila knew there was a message for him written in the trees bark. He put on his best kanzu and fez. With a spring in his step and foreboding in his heart, he rushed to the tree, hoping to whet the longing in his heart with her letters scribble by Leila.When he went to tree of their secret rendezvous, it had been cut down. A gaping hole sat like heartache where the tree  used to be. Where do messages intended for a treasured one go to when they don’t reach him or her? The fighter in Feila didn’t give up. With a forlorn heart and firm stick, he wrote on the sand nearby:

A hundred times I long for you, A hundred times I cry for you.

An evil wind blew that night and erased everything from the sand. When Leila came to the place and found the tree cut,she blew some messages to Feila, but the same evil wind blew them to a herd of cows that were grazing around, making some bulls fan their ears and stomp their feet. Such is the energy of raw passion.

Then, Feila got sick. Each day he woke up with new pain, each stronger than the previous one. He developed into thin pencil of man; he couldn’t walk in an open field without a light  wind attempting to sweep him away like a dry leaf.

Leila was no better. She refused to eat, getting thin like an orphan fed grudgingly by its stepmother. Her rich husband sourced for the best doctors in the village, but with each treatment, she got worse.

Then one day, Feila’s eyes closed eternally. They buried him near the tree where they used to meet. After a short while, Leila eyes closed too, never to re-open again. Hearts go on working even when they are broken: souls go to sleep when they get broken. The imam decreed that she be buried next to Feila.

Two evergreen trees sprung up where the two were buried. When they reached the height of a teen and their barks got pimpled, their roots and tendrils and branches edged towards each other, finally embracing in a bond neither ax nor man could break. To date, the two evergreen trees stand, watered by some cosmic force, held in some eternal embrace, with birds forever singing madrigals to Leila and Feila.

 

Pssss…….

This was an experiment to retell an old love story without using the word ‘love’.

That said, do you have any forgotten folk tale that you would like to tell? Let’s talk about it.Get in touch with us at njambigilbert@yahoo.com.

Thenkyu.

 

 

KIMENDE

There are no better times to travel than when one is a bachelor. You can take breakfast of roasted yams in Nkubu,lunch at Gwa Kibira chicken joint in Kutus and take supper of waru and carrots in the one goat township of Kanyenyaini.All without a pesky wife asking ‘uko wapi?’ every two minutes. Bachelorhood without travel is a wasted one. When I was a bachelor, I drifted from one town to the next, like a child’s lost balloon, inhaling the fragrances of small towns, drinking life to the dregs. When I was too broke, which was often, I read books which took me places where my meagre pay couldn’t.

You see, there is no book like travel. Travel widens horizons and opens up fountains of knowledge. Failing to travel is like living in a corner of a room, like a toad, in a house full of a thousand rooms.

Fate has a mind of its own. When it noticed that I was always travelling solo and enjoying the buffets of travel alone, it sent me a person to enjoy travel with. That’s how one fair lady waltzed into my life like a prima donna. As young girls tend to be, she was dreamy-eyed and had this outlandish ideas about travel.

 My favorite place is Seychelles;will you ever take me there? She asked me one day.

My favourite place is in your arms, I answered her back. My pockets may have been empty then but my brain wasn’t.

Which is the most beautiful place you ever visited? She asked me another day. I knew this was a trap-if I mentioned some exotic place, she would ask me to take her there.

Your mind. I told her. This was an honest answer.

My fair lady wanted to go to exotic places with dancing lights and endless sunsets. But trust me-there is no creative person than a bachelor with a fair lady to please.  If the place she wanted to go to had a movie set in there, I would buy that movie which  would teleport her there and quench her wanderlust. You see nothing that romanticizes a place better than a movie. When she wanted to go to Bahamas, I got her Casino Royale which was big then and has scenes from Bahamas. When she said she longed to feel the sand pebbles of Waikiki with her feet, I bought her Raiders of the Lost Ark which is set in Hawaii. When she said she wanted to go to a place which they had not yet shot a movie in, I wrote poems that took her there.

Then one morning, around that time we were having that silly  bananas and oranges referendum on the new Constitution, I told her I will take her to Kimende.

Where is that Kimende whareva? She asked.

Some place with rarified airs where plums fall from the sky all day.I quipped.

What’s in Kimende?  She asked with a shrug of her shoulders since by then rolling of eyes hadn’t gained currency among girls like it has now.

I want to take you to places people don’t go to and thus see things people don’t see.

So? She asked. I had to work harder. Dating a fair lady is no joke. They come with attitude the size of Mt.Kenya.

We can watch the Great Rift Valley turn golden at sunset at the Viewpoint.

Arafu?  When a lady asks you this, she is telling you are dumb and need to up your game. I did.

Arafu we cherish the music of the wind because musical notes blow in the air there like some golden dust.

She smiled. I was headed somewhere.

Wi na ma? (Oh really?)

God one. I swore, knowing too well I was lying.

Ok, take me there and promise we won’t stay. Game shot.

The following day I called my old pal Mwaura who lived in Naivasha and told him we meet up at Kimende the following Saturday. We had suffered under the same bell together in high school. We had shared the same room in campus and hadn’t met for 4 years after clearing campus. So the trip was more about us catching up and seeing how life was treating us and less about the fair lady drapped in my arms. It was also to get endorsement from a friend about her. But she didn’t know all these-all she knew was that we were going to a magical place where musical notes hung in the air like golden dust.

Kimende was one drab place then. Not that it has changed much. The only thing that differentiated a day from the next was the alternation of the mist.  There were folks sitting beside jikos eating waru snacks and folks selling leeks and carrots and potatoes by the bucket There were folks squinting  from quaint shops looking up the Nairobi Nakuru highway as if they were waiting for something big to happen which didn’t happen but which still they hoped will happen.Those folks are still there.Thats the thing about small towns.

How can one love such a cold windy place? Asked my fair lady when we landed in the cold town.

My fair lady, like Queen Getrude in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, did complain too much. She came from the plains where it was warm and flat. She expected Kimende to be some warm flat place too. We all carry a piece of where we come from to where we go.

If one can love this place, you can love anyone. I told her.

Travel teaches you about love. I pushed on. Shoulders shrug.

You see, there is someone who cannot leave this place because his heart is forever held by it, I waxed philosophical.

Why? The fair lady asked me.

Because they got fond memories buried in here.The place is the mecca of their childhood.

So we had our meeting with Mwaura in this quaint pub that looked like it had its last customer before the fall of Berlin Wall. Soon we were chatting happily about life like the long-lost buddies we were. Pubs are like churches-folks tend to unburden themselves and bare their souls. And if they offer accommodation people bare their bodies too but that’s not what brought us there that day.

I could imagine how humdrum life in Kimende can be-days hanging on to each other and joined to the next by some frosty cold. To compensate for the cold, the locals are warm and full of time old-time camaraderie. The shopkeepers smile to customers and give them avocados when they cannot get coins to return change. Or plums.

Why are these people giving us avocados? My fair lady asked me.

They are symbols of fertility. Wink. When she got the joke she giggled then shrugged her shoulders.

We had a long chat with Mwaura as the butcher – a cheery fellow called Mbugua-prepared some tumbukiza for us to ward of the cold. We reminisced about our days at Njiiri School and KU.Of course embellishing some parts. We talked about our campus days omitting the more scandalous parts. Campus life was one continous scandal.Then Mbugua served us with a big mountain of meat with an even bigger mountain of ugali.When we ate and didn’t belch to show the we had taken enough, he added us more meat till we belched in unison and couldn’t take any more meat.

I am beginning to like this small cold town with great meat. The fair lady said.

I never take you to places you won’t like.She giggled.

Afterwards I told her that it was getting late and we couldn’t get to the Viewpoint where music notes hung in the air like golden dust. This meant that we could come again and partake the yummy meat at that joint. We bade Mwaura goodbye and boarded a matatu to Nairobi.

We sat at the driver’s cabin since the other seats were close to the back where sacks of leeks and onions filled the area with unholy smell. The driver was an affable Mukorino guy with two missing front teeth which gave his Gikuyu a happy French lilt. When we started discussing how Kimende people are generous with meat and how exotic it tastes, he interjected.

Whith buthery were you eating meat at?

‘Ponda Raha Bar and Butchery .The problem with Central Kenya is that bars and butcheries have names that can make you lose appetite for life.

Hio ni nyama ya funda direct .He said without  as much as looking at us, his eyes squinting into the mist ahead.Akorinos don’t lies we had been eaten donkey meat.2kg of it all.

My bowels opened up. I puked all the way such that by the time we came to Kangemi, I had puked out my liver. The heart came out at Westlands–together with the pulmonary arteries responsible for loving.Lawd! I hated Kimende-how could I even love when the parts of my heart responsible for loving had come out? Finally, at Khoja stage, I puked out the aorta and the parts responsible for hating. Now, I could now neither love nor hate. The only thing vital thing that remained in me was the soul which I couldn’t puke out since it’s indestructible.Or maybe I didn’t have one.

The following day Mwaura called to ask whether we go home safe .I narrated to him how I had vomited out almost all my vital organs and soiled the fair lady’s white dress. Which she had pointed out that I hadn’t bought.

Is the fair lady still with you? He asked me.

Yes. She is here with me making some pancakes to nurse me.

Mundu, get some wazees, send them to her folks to report that you are taking her as a wife.

I did that the following week.

The fair lady who withstood my puking from Kimende to Khoja stage is making pancakes for me as I write this.

She is my wife.