A story of love, adventure, valor and hope set in Nairobi, Kenya. It follows two seemingly incompatible young adults on the day they meet to show you the different lives people live in this African city
“The witch hunt was about to claim another victim. Fiends at the ready, waiting to pounce on the small hut shrouded in thick shrubbery and undergrowth that they had found it hard to navigate long before they even laid eyes upon the target. Hiding deep in the forests of Gusiiland, was supposed to be the most powerful wizard in all Kisii. The Chinkororo cared less. They were not believers in dark magic and when they decided Old Mogaka in the forest was next, he was as good as dead.”
The novelist sat poised on his stool. His book in hand, his enchanting baritone reverberated across the room. He was having a free book reading, at the behest of the bookstore, and the rows of bookshelves were virtually devoid of the usual bustling of humanity that characterized business in the shop. Instead they sat in concentric circles around the god of the moment, the novelist, and lost themselves in the story he was bringing to life from his pages, conveyed to them in the tone with which he intended when he wrote it. His congregation held their bibles too, reading along as he did. The only other sound in that room that still afternoon was the whirring of the overhead fans and the periodic rustling of paper as the pages were turned and the story unfolded.
Yet among the shelves, making conscious effort to appear uninterested in the book reading, stirred a life. He moved slowly, eyeing the wealth of novels lining the shelves in the bookstore, but his ears were attentive to that charismatic baritone that had wrapped him in as well. He had seen the poster announcing the book reading a bit late and by then he was already within the store. Usually he came here just to wander among the shelves seeing as couldn’t afford a single volume on those shelves. The attendants were friendly and would let him in to just see the books and on occasion, allow him to read any available worn copies of books he was interested in. The other customers hardly ever noticed him. The boy relished his inconspicuousness when within the walls of the store. He would just mingle with the rest of high society and not once did someone seem to realize he was just a poor boy from an ordinary Nairobi estate.
Books had always been his sweet escape. They granted him a life away from his own grim reality, when he could lose himself in paperbacks for hours living with the characters and experiencing life with them. A first born, he had been thrust into responsibility after the death of his parents when he was only ten. He had had to fend for his two siblings when help from relatives was not forthcoming and eleven years later, he had learnt all there was to learn about surviving the hardships in the estate. But he had always wanted to do more than survive, he wanted to live. He had wanted to find more quality in life: to dine with accompaniments of fine wine, travel to exotic places and sweep a beautiful damsel off her feet. And despite having two jobs, schooling his siblings and keeping them fed, sheltered and entertained left him with nothing for himself. So he allowed himself to dream as he used to when he was still in high school and books ran aplenty. He would spend hours on end of his Saturdays enthralled by the realms authors built in his mind.
Getting to mingle with richer folk and not be frowned upon was just an added advantage. Perhaps it was the atmosphere, the wealth of knowledge stacked on the shelves that distracted them from him, or maybe they saw him just as a fellow reader and nothing more. Either way, he always felt that he belonged among them as he browsed book covers. And because he could not afford to crack the spine on any of the books, he had to make do with imagining what the stories within were like, until one of the attendants would notice and tell him they had an old copy in the back, would he like to read it?
That day though, he would have shunned the bookstore had he known that a book reading would be held there. He would have known he would look out of place without a brand new copy of the novelist’s new work. The man was celebrated, a darling among his avid readers and an enigma to those who only knew him from the newspapers. The boy would have rightly expected the attendance of upper class readers and given the store a wide berth. Too late now, he was aware of what he had stumbled into: a free reading of the novelist’s newest book which was already being rumoured to be courting a movie deal. The boy had almost turned away to avoid mingling with the privileged people but the reader in him wouldn’t let him. So now in the presence of the great author, the closest his inhibitions would allow him to get was wandering among the shelves while listening to the captivating words of the author.
The novelist came to the end of his reading and closed his book. They had been treated to just five chapters of the book but the boy found himself joining the rest of the audience as they snapped their fingers in cheer. The man was indeed talented and the boy hoped that by a stroke of luck, a worn out copy of the author’s book might be available for his reading pleasure soon. The novelist got up from his throne and acknowledged his applause with a slight bow. He proceeded to thank the turnout and then made his way to the autograph booth, his congregation in tow.
The boy was glad to see how he was not alone; enslaved by book pages. Around the novelist flocked star-struck admirers thrusting their copies of his book at him and the boy felt a stab of jealousy thinking he would probably be amongst them had he owned a copy. With that, he began to amble among the shelves again. Every once in a while, he chanced an admiring glance at the author, the kind of person who built the worlds he dreamt of. That was when he saw her.
The attendees had formed a queue to the novelists table and were all around chattering about whatever. But she stood at the back of the line with her white earphones tucked in her ear and nodding to the music. She was hugging a jacketed hard cover copy of the new novel and that perhaps was the only sign that she was actually interested in the goings-on of the bookstore that afternoon. Her hair was tugged back in a ponytail, accentuating her flawless face adorned by a coy smile that lingered on her lips. The boy was breathless for a moment: forgot where he stood and beheld the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes upon. He wanted to hear the music she was silently nodding to. He wanted to hear her voice as she told him what she thought of the book at her bosom. He wanted to stand close to her and smell whatever flowery perfume she must be wearing. He wanted to know her name and sweep her off her feet as they shared piña coladas in a gazebo on some picturesque island and watched the sun set beyond the pacific. He wanted her to know his name.
He wanted to be content with staring but he couldn’t pull his eyes away. She stood there nodding to the music and looking every part a snobbish uptown girl that just happened to love reading. It was in her rich fashions that betrayed her form. It was in her jewelry, the heart-shaped nose-ring she wore, her colourful bangles stacked halfway to her elbow, her necklaces and elaborate beaded ring. It was in the way she seemed distant from her surroundings. It was in the way she hugged the book, almost as if it were someone she was longing to see. And the earphones made it apparent she wasn’t interested in conversation.
She appeared cocooned on her own vanity but there was a magnetic attraction her admirer felt as he watched her ̶ he looking every part just another broke Nairobian. For the first time while within the bookstore, the boy became conscious of his lack of affluence. But he dared to hope that she was humble enough to entertain his banter. He felt nervous still. Even as he thought about what he would say, he could imagine his throat seizing up and his voice squeaking out a greeting. A lot more worries…
She may be embarrassed to be seen talking to me.
She may be angered that I actually thought I had a chance with her.
She might embarrass me.
But oh, he hoped she would greet him back and talk to him without realizing how lost he was in her eyes. He would pick her brain on his favourite reads and she would tell him how much she enjoyed reading them as well. He would make her laugh and show her his favourite spots in town. Then he would walk her to her home and she would ask to see him again. The dreamer dared to hope and with the crowd was growing thin, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o would have to wait.
Freddie Mercury’s beautiful poetry was wafting into her ears. She was enjoying the melodic call-and–answer as a poor boy from a poor family was being condemned to death in a powerful orchestra performance that was just a crescendo of musical genius. In her head she could see the scared little boy at the gallows, with his legs shaking as he had to listen to his sentencing with no one asking him why he would kill a man. And then he was making a Faustian bargain with Beelzebub for his freedom. A musical story as it were.
Suddenly from the corner of her eye, she noticed the handsome face she had noticed hesitate at the door and then disappear among the shelves and hide from view. He was striding towards her and for a moment she wasn’t sure she was the one being approached. So she turned to see if there was anyone else standing beside her that probably was the handsome boy’s mark. Or maybe he just wanted to meet the famous author and wanted to get in line behind her. So she cast her eyes back down and pretended she hadn’t noticed him.
The boy almost lost his resolve then. She had seen him but before he could even smile at her, she had looked in the opposite direction then at her feet. He wanted to just walk right by her to the opposite side of the room and browse the non-fiction section but just as he was alongside her, and he stopped.
“Hi there,” he heard himself say. “I’m Ty.”
His voice was soft but calm but it made her heart skip a beat. His eyes were intense with a boldness she was instantly attracted to. He was smiling at her, a striking smile she just had to smile back. Promptly, she snatched the earphones out of her ears accepted the hand he had extended to her.
“Menza,” she offered back.
“Any relation to the ‘mad witch’ of the Giriama uprising?” he joked.
“I struck fear in the hearts of the British!” She proclaimed with a matter-of-fact face before the smile crept back to her face until she started to laugh. Her laugh was contagious and sure enough Ty started to laugh along with her.
“Pleased to meet you, freedom fighter,” Ty chuckled. Laughing had set him at ease.
“Uh… you enjoyed the book?” He asked, casually pointing with his chin at the book she was hugging.
“Immensely,” she countered. “Have you?” She showed it to him.
“Read it?” He rhetorized, taking the book from her. “Can’t say that I have… unfortunately.”
“Oh you just must!”
Ty was already lost in Menza’s brown eyes as they began to dwell on how exciting the author’s book reading had been.