Cartoon by: Bwana Mdogo
I pleaded with Suleiman for a ride on his bike and he refused. I ran behind him, trailing that black BMX, constantly begging him for a ride. Dude refused kabisa. Kumbe Mother Karua had been standing on the veranda of our house in White Gate Estate, observing how her son was being refused a ride. She called me, asked me to shower. That afternoon, Mother Karua and I, together with my siblings; Deogratias, Nimrod and Mariposa went to Yatin Supermarket in town, and came back with a blue BMX tied onto the top of the taxi.
We later moved from White Gate to Migosi Site. There, we were one of two families that had bicycles. This automatically made us demigods. I did to many people what Suleiman put me through. Do not judge me, absolute power corrupts absolutely. I came up with several excuses not to lend my bike to other kids. Mara sijui the brakes are not working properly. Or the chain is either not oiled, or loose on the gears. Or my mother refused that I should not lend it out.
It was therefore no surprise that I was not exactly the most popular kid on the block. The other household that had bikes was akina Samora. Theirs was black, like Suleiman’s. When the season for bike racing came along, the season that pitted our house against akina Samora’s, many kids cheered for Samora and his brother Ted.
This is how the cookie crumbles.
We organize our own Tour de Migosi. The rules are simple. Blue Bikes Team (our team) is to choose four people to compete against the Black Bikes team (Ted and others). In my team is Deogratias, myself, a visiting cousin and my best friend Asila – who is the only person allowed to ride my bike.
The other team comprises of Ted, Samora, and two other kids, one of whom is Davis. Davis is this boy who lived right opposite our house. He is huge, eats a lot when he visits a house, does not wear underwear and has two protruding front teeth. I meet his sister one too many times in private behind our house.
Rules of the race are simple. It is a relay. The first team to finish wins. Our track is a road that winds around our neighbourhood; circling Migosi Market, Wilrose Apartments and Migosi Hospital. It is not a good road. Craters of potholes bejewel it. But after riding on it for years, we know how to handle it.
The race begins. Our strategy is rather obvious. My cousin goes first, then Asila, followed by Deogratias, and then I take the last lap, since I am the fastest and most daring.
A whistle cuts into the air, flagging off my cousin who rides against Ted. Ted whoops his ass sawasawa. The boy was scared of potholes.
Asila follows against another kid from the rival team and bridge the gap. Then Deo takes the next lap against Samora. They tie.
Davis and I get the bikes at the same time for the final lap. We ride. Davis takes the hilly part of our track with all his rabbit teeth can muster, thinking that after beating me on that area, it will be an easy race. But he is acutely misled. I catch up with him and overtake him just as we get to the homestretch.
So we are speeding down the final stretch, which is like 200 metres of straight and occasional cavern, and I am in the lead. I get up from my seat and hunch myself over the handle bars, pedaling furiously to increase the gap. I look back to see how far Davis is from me. He is just right there, sniffing on my rear wheel.
The crowd at the finish line sees us approach. They are cheering. Deogratias is running towards me waving his hand and jumping up and down. I assume that he is urging me to ride faster. I add more power to my feet. There are no cars on the road. Then I spot my elder brother, Nimrod, approach. I know he is going to beat me up for racing again despite his earlier warning. But that does nothing for my resolve. If he is going to light my ass on fire after this, I would rather he does it on a victorious ass.
Then, with about fifty meters to go, it happens. Jealous Davis, a perennial sore loser, decides to knock my hind wheel with his front wheel. I lose control of my bike. A pothole is right in front of me. I try to escape it, but I end up swerving too hard to the right. And so I am heading right for the fence of Migosi Hospital. The fence is several layers of rusty Ng’ombe barbed wire. I try to bring it back to the road, but there is an anthill.
Then I am in the air.
“GEEOOORRGE!!!!” I hear my name as gravity struggles to keep me grounded. It sounds like Deogratias. But it could also be Nimrod. Gravity does not give me much time to decide who is calling me.
Then there is darkness.
My eyes flutter open. There is silence. I am alone. Everything is a blur. There is a telephone ringing in my eyes. I try to move, but I am trapped between a rock, tarmac and the metal of my bicycle. My front wheel is still spinning. My mouth hurts. I run my tongue over my lips. I encounter a depression. And that is when I taste blood.
Then there is darkness again.
I open my eyes again. This time I am in someone’s arms. He is running and yelling at Deogratias.
“Bike iko wapi? Go get that bike and bring it to the house NOW!” The ground is moving. My body is bouncing. Drops of red follow us on the loose sand.
Then there is darkness again.
I wake up on my bed to smell of methylated spirit and a stinging on my lips. Mariposa is wiping my face. Deo is sitting by the bed. I do not bother asking how bad it is this time. It is written all over Deo’s face.
“Nang’isi ni ing’is G mondo oslow down. But no. Wewe you went and urged him to go faster. Now look. You will explain this to mummy. Me I was not part of it.” That is Nimrod fretting.
“I won. Nilishinda Davis, donge?” I am looking at Deo, unsure he can hear what I am saying. Maybe I do not ask him. Maybe I ask him in my head. But I smile at him, hoping he realizes none of this is his fault, as Nimrod would like to make him believe. We were just doing our duty. If I die, I die honourably. We kept the family name. We won that race.
Then there is darkness again, only that this time, it is self induced. I want to make them think I am asleep. I keep my eyes shut until they have all left the room, and I can hear them in the sitting room.
I creep out of our bedroom and sneak into Mother Karua’s bedroom. I stand in front of her mirror. It is a tall mirror, even taller than me. I stare into it. Gazing at the stranger looking back. The stranger is a boy. Almost my age. But he is not me. His mouth is swollen and there is a Great Rift Valley on his upper lip. There is a hole right in the middle of his forehead. And when he smiles, I see he has a broken front tooth. It is not broken kabisa. Just broken halfway. I wonder how that happened. I wonder how it is even possible that he is alive.
His clothes are dirty. He wears a black, faded Stone Cold Steve Austin t-shirt that has drops of red. His blue jeans are torn at the knees.
This boy cannot see Mother Karua like this. His goose is cooked. I laugh at him. Oh! He is going to get it!
I hear the gate open and run back to my room and then there is darkness again.
“George! George! Daddy luongi,” Deo says nudging me awake. I walk to the sitting room, and there is my father. He looks away the moment his eyes land on my face, and he hisses as if he is in pain.
There is a taxi waiting for us outside. It takes us to the Aga Khan Hospital. My father is standing right next to me when a bright light is put on my face.
“Open your mouth,” the doctor instructs me. A needle goes right into my palate. “Open your mouth again.” I refuse. The first one was too painful.
“Omera ng’am dhogi! Senji!” my father’s voice roars. I comply. Another needle pierces through. The pain shoots from my mouth and scatters all over my body. To my head, to my toes, to my head again. I clench my buttocks tight and let it consume me.
That night I arrive home with my father to find Mother Karua flaming with rage. “I will burn that bicycle! I swear it. You people cannot even take care of George, leave alone yourselves. Now I am done. I will burn it. Nyasachiel awang’e.”
That was in 2000. That is how I welcomed the new millennium. It is the last time anyone rode that blue BMX. It stayed outside. Turned from blue to brown for years before Karua sold it off as scrap metal. By then, the stitches on my upper lip and forehead had been removed, and the wounds healed. The scar on my forehead disappeared, but not the one on my upper lip. It has a bump that all my girlfriends have loved asking about every time we kiss. For some reason, they like it. I find it creepy.
The good doc at Aga Khan also filled my tooth.
For fourteen years I stayed with a half filled tooth until Billy Kahora invited me to attend the Kwani? Writing Workshop at the Tafaria Castle last year. We were sitting in the conference room in a semi circle one evening, and Moses Kilolo was reading his story to us. I was chewing the top of my biro pen when I felt something break in my mouth.
It was my front tooth. The filling came off, landed on my tongue and I spit it out onto my palm. Moses was reading. I was supposed to be listening so that I can offer my thoughts on it. But I was too unsettled. I excused myself and went to the washroom and examined myself. The strange boy in the mirror, the one from 14 years ago, reappeared was now a grown man, clean, with no wounds, but still with a broken tooth. I laughed at him and went back to my seat.
I turned and found Alexander Ikawah and smiled. Ikwah wanted to laugh, but he couldn’t laugh loud. He laughed in whispers. When Kilolo was done reading and after other people had given him comments on his story, I was up next.
However, as I picked my paper, the filling fell. I heard it bounce off somewhere. I looked around, but couldn’t find it. I did not want to keep Billy waiting so I walked to the front, where Kilolo was when he was reading his story.
“You look unsettled. What is it?” Billy asked and immediately Alexander Ikawah burst out laughing. The other writers in the room stared at me then at him, then at me. Confused. I chuckled.
“Uhm, I think I lost my tooth.”
They all joined Ikawah in his laughter.
This half tooth has its advantages. It saves me money because I now consume less toothpaste. People ask me if I will fill it again, but I say no. It makes goons scared of me because they imagine I am a fighter. Grrrrr.
However, I keep it because it reminds me of Migosi where I grew up, of Davis. Of that bastard Davis – how his sister and I spent many afternoons in our backyard, inside an unused water tank, with my shorts at my knees and her skirt around her stomach. It reminds me of Suleiman (I wonder where he is now), of my blue BMX, my ill-fated victory and the strange little boy in the mirror. Ride or die ondiek.
But most of all it reminds me of how mean writers can be. They cannot understand loss. Especially Alexander Ikawah.
We are all scarred. Or we know people with scars. Those scars are stories untold. If you would like to share your scar story, by all means, send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org (1200 words max).
Cartoon by: Bwana Mdogo