I Need a Cigarette

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I have a nasty strain of homa. It’s taken me down. I expel sneezes that drain all my energy, leaving me nothing more than a pitiable object whimpering for life. The sneeze comes from my lungs, gathering momentum, faster and faster. My chest heaves. My face cringes. My eyes shut as I try to suppress it. But its will is stronger than mine and its exit, a reflex action. Like an orgasm. Nothing can stop it. It comes out, forcing its way past my tongue, past gritted teeth, raging out in a burst of fury, spraying the air around me with droplets of spittle. In its wake it leaves a thick clumpy deposit of okego –phlegm- at the base of my tongue.

This summons water to run out of my nostrils. Water that rolls out slowly like a leaking sewer pipe. But then I suck it all back into my nose, noisily, into my throat, and down my gut. Despite this leakage, my nose is still bunged up. No air can pass through. I breathe in large shallow gasps from my mouth. They are rapid gasps, like an asthma patient overdosing on his inhaler two seconds too late. Now there is water in my eyes. The salt in my tears scalds the whites of my eyes until the reflection from my bedroom mirror shows they have taken on a red hue.

This whole process repeats itself a dozen times. And that is just round one.

In between rounds, I am spent. This is more draining than sex. With a lazy woman. Droplets of sweat form on my forehead. My body warms up, and I fart. Not the noisy kind that have personality. No. These are slow farts. They creep their way out of my asshole like secret service agents on a highly confidential espionage mission, and then clog my duvet.

She lies next to me, naked, pretending not to notice the occasional waft of fecal spray colonizing the air.  Once in a while she lifts her eyes from the pages of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, turns to me and places the back of her palm on my neck and forehead.

“You have a fever. Your temperature is rising,” Jaber says.

The pain in my chest hurts more than heartbreak. I am heaving loudly, my towel in my face. I blow my nose into it. And then grunt as I draw back the stubborn mucus that only manages the journey halfway. My orange towel is stained with greyish-white slime and spots of red. The next time I blow into the towel, the red is more prominent. I hide it away before she sees it.

I curl myself up facing away from her, only my back and ass trying to get her attention.

Another round of sneezing. I need a cigarette. Somehow a cancer stick always puts me out of this misery.

She puts Lola Shoneyin down.

“Do you have any T-shirts?”

“No. I washed them all. But you can ask Mukundi.”

She dresses up, walks out of my bedroom and into my housemate’s, comes back with a yellow T-shirt and helps me into it. But what I really need is a cigarette.

I know she wants to scold me, but she is waiting for the homa to go away. I should not have done it. I should not have washed at night. If I wanted to do any cleaning, I should have waited for the warmth of the daytime. Otherwise, the moment my body gets into contact with the cold, this sneezing business begins. Of course my hard head has refused to get checked for whatever my infirmity is. For a while Flugone helped, but after popping them more than a reckless campus ochot with too much oestrogen pops ECPs, those tablets don’t work anymore. At least not for me. Now they are like sweets.

That mama mboga who has a stall outside my gates also moonlights as the water regulator for my block. She is supposed to open the water for us every morning. But she only listens to Mukundi. My half tooth must really scare or annoy her to the marrow. The last time I asked her to open the water for me was some time in December. I went to her stall, asked her politely to open water for me so that I could shower, because I had a meeting. I remember asking politely, saying tafadhali, but she told me she was leaving for a chama meeting, and therefore couldn’t open it. Ati there would be nobody to switch it off.

“Sasa I should just call off my meeting, or show up smelling of night sweat because you are going for a chama meeting?”

Then I suddenly felt guilty for using the term ‘call off’. She probably didn’t know what it meant.

“Wewe utafanya vile utafanya.”

I know I should have just walked away. That is what Jesus would do. But then there is a problem. Two actually. First, I am not really a man of the cloth. And two, I am a true son of Karua. My mother does not give two fucks about whoever crosses her path. There was once this female neighbor who gossiped about her to the watchies, saying how she was the one responsible for a theft because she does not lock the common gate after her. That woman got it. Even the watchies couldn’t restrain her. I couldn’t help her either. I just stayed in the house listening to the spectacle unspool. My brother and I call it kunyang’anywa network. We have been on the receiving end of it one too many times. She tried to feign innocence but we all knew it was just smoke and mirrors. She was got it good. Waaah! A dressing down that was punctuated by Karua telling her “Piss off, motherfwaken idiot!” with the same passion that Jesus said “Get thee behind me Satan!” Karua always speaks in English whenever her hackles rise. I assume it is a default setting, so that you understand each other clearly.

Said female neighbor scampers into her house every time she sees Karua coming her way.

With these genes, the most logical thing for me to do was to nyang’anya mama mboga network. I don’t know if I did. I don’t know if I knocked the radar off her receiver. I might have said something about the way her big stomach guides her walk the way a dog leads a blind man. I might have muttered something about how big and unattractive her sukuma wiki are – how they remind me of Ebola. How her sodas are never cold and her avocadoes are too ripe. How her eggs are usually rotten, much like her attitude.

I don’t know if anyone has ever told her, but shame forgot what this woman looks like.

I am not sure I said these things, but I am sure I clicked so vehemently, my tongue almost tore  in half  as I stomped back home, annoyed that I would have to bathe passport. I remember grumbling even though deep inside, I was relieved that my bottle of Chris Adam was not finished yet.

Sometimes Mukundi, for something small like Ksh.300, gives her his clothes to wash. But I cannot. By now you should understand why I wouldn’t even trust her with rinsing my mop. I could have given Mukundi my clothes, and asked him to give them to the mama mboga under the pretext that he owns them. But I refused. My hard head said fuck it, I can wash my own clothes. I can handle a little cold.

I am handling it alright. With a slimy towel that I will have to soak tomorrow. With a headache. With beads of sweat forming, evaporating, and forming again all over my body. With a naked woman blessed with breasts that stare at me, taunting me, knowing very well that I won’t bite them despite their silent jeers. With the terrifying thought of what Karua would do if she ever saw me here like this.

I still live nonetheless, which is more than can be said for the son of Baba, who CKPT (Certified Keyboard Pathologists of Twitter) claim was murdered by the opposition so that his father could gain political mileage. Lit to ok chwer remo ne nyikwa Ramogi.

The storm in my chest has calmed down. My right nostril has opened up. My eyes still burn and water. A drop rolls out, but doesn’t make it far before it dries up. I sit up on my bed and read Stanley Gazemba’s story in the Africa 39 anthology. An ominous tale of talking money in Kakamega. Exactly the kind of story you shouldn’t read after 7 pm, especially when darkness envelopes the world, and something is rummaging through your trash, whining as you read.

I hope to write in an anthology like Africa 39 someday. I remember talking about it to a lady friend earlier in the day on Facebook. Somehow the conversation went on a tangent, me confiding to her how young, freelance writers like myself do not make money. We have brief flutters of fame. We make points. We make sense. But we barely make money.

I do not know how we got here; to me talking about small writers and money, but I still hope to someday write side by side with the tall names in Africa’s lit scene.

And to Fidel Odinga, nind gi kwe mand kwach. Lo! There do I see your grandfather. Lo! There do I see the line of your people back to the beginning. They bid you to join them in the halls of Polo – where the great may live forever.

Now, about that smoke.

Have a better year this time, folks.


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