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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Killing two birds with one stone

It was the third time that the cock raised its irritating crow. A boy of about twelve stirred in his sleep and gave a wild yawn. He wanted to crawl out of his small wooden bed but his sleepy bones would not let him.

Outside, he heard soft raindrops smooching the rusty iron roof and was convinced the heavy downpour had calm down. He had crept into his bed late the previous night; wet, tired and cold after filling jerrycans of water with rain water. He had to do this every time it rained before Njima, his aunt knocked his head on the wall.

Sighing, he turned in his bed again and felt a sharp pain in his left rib. The mattress on his bed was nothing but an old mat and a worn-out woolen blanket. Such beddings could hardly give him the comfort he so longed for.

Tooto, for that was the boy's name, had been told that his mother lived in the big city. He longed for a little mother's love because Njima spent her evenings pinching his ears and pulling his hair.

"I'll kill you. I'll crush you to pulp. I'll kill you boy," she stuttered often when she returned home drunk and staggering. And poor Tooto, hungry oft, let tears down his eyes as he thought about all this.

"O cruel world, why dost thou treat me so," he cried and buried his head under the dirty old blanket.

He was dozing off again when the cock crowed more. He sat up on bed rubbing his eyes. Once dressed, he tiptoed to the front door, taking the caution not wake his aunt and the man she had returned with last night.

Outside, Tooto yawned again and stretched like a rabbit. It was till dark but he could see that Saturday morning was first breaking. It was dump and all was quiet now.

Looking at the sky, he spotted a lone shinning star swimming alongside the hazy moon: "Orion," he exclaimed in remembrance! That was the name of the lovely star! Teacher had said so. And Orion was his best friend. Indeed every time he looked up at the sky it winked at him. He winked back and felt happy. Somehow, this lone star reminded him of the mother he never had seen but a mother he would seek and find when time came.

Tooto thought of this as he got busy preparing to scoot down the little roaring river near his homestead for a fishing spree. The biting cold almost had him sneak back in his bed to sleep but he knew he was a big boy now.

Not only was mudfish so rich in proteins, but Tooto naturally liked fishing. That morning, he hoped to take his catch to the nearby market because he needed the money for that future mission of tracking down his mother. Several times he had dreamt that he was in the big city but somehow the dream always ended before he found his mother. But he had hope. What mattered now was to amass as much money as possible and read hard. Such was his masterplan.

As he stood in the shallow part of the water whistling and baiting the mudfish to come catch the worm fixed on his hook, Tooto was already in a jolly mood. The other evening he had pushed his fishing basket in the deeper ends of the river and like Simon of the Bible, hoped that Jesus would have mercy and tell the mudfish to fill itup.

Indeed when it came for it after failing to get something on his hook, he bubbled with merry to find his basket heavy with the catch. Among the booty was the biggest, the longest mudfish he ever caught! It looked like a helpless little shark as it defiantly beat its tail on the edges of the fishing basket.

Quickly, Tooto fastened his catch on a long stick, for nothing excited him than the sight of the mudfish. He could swear he was the best fisher in the whole wide world. With a satisfied smile, he was soon on his way back home.

Avoiding the small path, he slowly hit the main road with the sole purpose of showing off his scoop. Not even his dirty, tattered shorts could coil him nor the fact that his buttocks hang in the open.

He was about to branch into the small path that led home whe he saw a magnificent lorry approaching. He paused a moment to see and read the words: 'Tourist Travels!'

"So this was it!" he said recalling how teacher had once told them about tourists who flocked to the Pearl of Africa to watch and bathe in the sunshine.

"Some of them have never seen sunshine," Mbuga had said. "They pay pots of dollars to come here just to enjoy the sunshine."

The boys had laughed. Remembering this, Tooto smiled as the lorry halted just in front of him. Two gentlemen and a little girl, almost the size, height and probably age of Tooto, jumped out. Smiling, the toothless of the two said, "Good morning?"

"I'm very fine, thank you sir," Tooto greeted back, as he had been taught at school.

The man on hearing a little 'bush boy' speak English looked impressed. He asked again: "What's your name?"


"Where did you catch that?" the little girl joined in eagerly pointing at Tooto's scoop.

"Kamabare river," Tooto said.

"I'm Ganesh," the man said. Then holding Tooto by the shoulders, the little girl took their picture. Then she gave the camera to the man [who probably was her father] and she too rested her hand on Tooto's shoulders as the flash went off.

Tooto was delighted. The bazungu who later said they were from Germany thanked him profusely and gave him a thick wad of money before moved on. The little girl waved and he waved back till the tourist lorry disappeared around the corner.

Tooto looked at the brand new notes in his hands and smiled. His dream to go to the city had been answered. Happily, he ran home!

--The Sunday Monitor, Sunday, October 15, 2006, page 23