The Fish Market

By ESTHER KARIN MNGODO
Translated from the Swahili by JAY BOSS RUBIN

Piece appears below in English and the original Swahili.  

 

Translator’s Note

I was drawn to “Soko la Samaki” by its rich variety of registers, and by its use of the second-person point of view, which in my experience is not so common in Swahili literature. I was also taken by the story’s close attention to class and gender dynamics, and the role of language, indeed languages, in interactions between men and women of different backgrounds and social standings. In my initial draft, I retained quite a bit of Swahili. As I began to revise, in consultation with both colleagues and the author, I was encouraged to seek out English that corresponds to not just Swahili meanings but Swahili cadences, especially when they play a role in one character trying to convince or gain entry into the world of another. The version here contains less Swahili than my earlier drafts, but the Swahili that is retained is more intentional. Of the handful of authors whose work I have been so fortunate to translate, my author-translator relationship with Esther Karin Mngodo has been, by far, the most interactive. In addition to drawing my attention to rhythm, Esther helped me comprehend some of the story’s slang and proverbial language, and she offered invaluable feedback and suggestions on how to render specific moments in English. Going back and forth in our comments in the margins of a shared doc, often when it was morning for me and evening for her, I felt like I was getting to collaborate with an author, editor, and fellow translator all at once. For that, and for the story itself, I am enormously grateful.

—Jay Boss Rubin

The Fish Market

The smell of fish at the ferry landing is so different than how they smell at home, stored away in the freezer, you tell your driver Ibrahimu as the two of you walk toward the fish market. The fish smell at the market here in Tanga, you tell Ibra, isn’t nearly as strong as the one you’re accustomed to, of the market by the ferry in Dar es Salaam. He asks you when you were last there. You think back, and realize it’s been a long time. You’re now used to only gagging on the smell from your car. Even with the windows raised and AC blasting, you admit, you still hold your breath when you pass. Ibra laughs. He knows you’re not the going-to-the-market type. When you’re at home in Dar, Ibra usually does the shopping with your housegirl. Sometimes, you send the two of them to the ferry to bring back fish.

Since you started your new job two years ago, as the Director of an NGO that raises awareness about issues affecting girls in education, your trips to the market have lessened even more. But your trips to different regions around the country have been many. Ever since childhood, travel has been part of your life in one way or another. You’ve spent time abroad, in England, where you completed your Education degree. Your parents and siblings still live over there.

Your coworkers act surprised at how a young girl like you managed to gain such a position. Sofia isn’t even 30 yet, Fiona said. She’s not even married, Mage replied. She had better get married, Frida opined, or else she’s going to end up an old maid. Everyone laughed. Hosea wondered if women these days even wanted to get married. You all say you don’t want men running your lives, he chided them. Okay, that’s your problem. Keep on studying, then, until your heads explode. We won’t marry you intellectual types anyway.

You heard them talking while you were standing in the doorway to their offices. You hadn’t intended to catch any gossip, you were just passing by on your way to the breakroom. But now the bucket has been kicked over. You can’t unhear their words, and you can’t understand why people spend so much time obsessing over the lives of others when there’s so much work to be done, work that could actually have a social benefit. Sometimes, it isn’t so bad to not be the same as everyone. Being different can be good. Your mother spoke those words to you. Now you say them to yourself.

You’re surprised to see a fish that’s blue. You’ve never seen such a fish before, let alone heard of one. You say to the fishmongers, “So it’s true, travel makes you new. I can’t believe how blue it is!” You’re told it’s called a Bluu Fish. Its color resembles the jeans you’re wearing. You part with fifty-thousand shillings, don your sunglasses with their coffee-colored lenses, and tell Ibra to wait for the fishmonger to scrape the scales because you’re heading back to your car. You don’t want your white blouse to get soiled, and also, the sun is ferocious—closing in on twelve noon. You tell Ibra to tell the fishmonger to hurry up; you need to get back to Dar. You fan yourself with the orange kikoi wrapped around your shoulders, and Ibra points out that the hot season hasn’t even begun yet. “Not to mention we’re here in the cool of town,” he adds. “Just imagine if I took you to Muheza to see your relatives,” Ibra laughs at you. He knows you’ve never been to your own village before. You’ve lived your entire life in Dar es Salaam and in England.

Approaching your Land Cruiser, you sense someone following you. “Sista, excuse me, sista,” you hear from behind. “Those fish back there aren’t fresh.” The voice is raspy and deep. When you turn around, you see a body that doesn’t match it at all. The sun is intense and you can’t see the man well, at first. The two of you are standing atop the small hill where you parked your car, him on the side you just came from. You see the market in the depression below you and, beyond that, the shimmer of the blue ocean.

“Eti ee,” you say, squeezing your purse between your arm and your side. Haibi kitu mtu hapa, you think to yourself. No one is going to rob you here in broad daylight. And yet you take note of the man’s distinguishing characteristics: he wears a single earring. His body looks wasted away, and his clothes unwashed for who knows how many days. Even he doesn’t know how many days, you sense. He is wearing black jeans, cut off at the knee, and a vest of indeterminate color. You see dark splotches on his skin and think, oh no—eczema! His feet are shod with thin-strapped sandals, also blue, whose best days are far behind them.

“Yeah,” he says. “If you would’ve brought your business to me, sista, I would’ve hunted down some fine fish for you. I know the ocean at least as well as that tall fellow knows how to drive your vehicle. Don’t you think that’s true, sista?” He smiles. Brown stains cover his teeth. If he moves any closer, you just know you’ll smell his foul breath. You pray to yourself he doesn’t keep approaching. It’s not just the smell that frightens you. He might have a knife, razor, metal bar, or something else he could hurt you with. Ibra uko wapi? you wonder.

“It’s no problem,” you say. Then, dismissing his offer politely: “Another day, kaka.”

“Have you ever been to England?” he asks you out of the blue, excited and pulling his hat back so you can see his face better. That vest he’s wearing is faded and frayed. His arms are covered in a menacing tattoo-scape—the head of a snake, along with an anchor, and other marks and symbols you don’t understand. You wonder if his job is just catching fish, or if there’s something else he does out at sea. You don’t ask.

“Yes,” you answer him. “I have.”

“Over there it’s freshi, ee?” he says, smiling and showing those teeth you’d rather not see.

“Yes, it’s pretty,” you agree. “I beg your pardon but I’d better get going.” You turn around so you can get into your car.

“My girl is in England,” he blurts out, as if this, this in particular is what he’s been wanting to tell you all along. You turn around and look at him anew.

“Your friend?”

“No, sista. Not my friend. My child, the fruit of my loins. She’s a girl, a girl like you,” he adds. “A pretty little girlie, eeeh. She’s just like you,” he says, his hands talking along with his mouth. You look him up and down, trying to believe what he’s just told you. You’re grateful to God for all your sunglasses obscure.

“Sista, I’m telling you, I’m not selling you. I’m not bloated or faded, and these words, they’re not exaggerated. I have a daughter who’s in England. Across the water in the land of Bush.”

You wonder if he knows Bush isn’t the president of England, that Bush is no longer the president of anywhere. “Do you mean Obama?” you ask him. But even this wouldn’t have been correct. The one he should have mentioned is David Cameron.

“Enhe,” he says. “That one … isn’t he the president of Western civilization? That’s where my daughter is,” he says again, opening his eyes wide. You realize they have some additional blackness to them. He’s outlined them with kohl. You think it’s the eyeliner that Waswahili call wanja wa kungu for the way the thick crayon leaves a foggy trace. He keeps gazing at you and you ask him why he’s done that to his eyes. He tells you it’s for beauty, is all.

He also tells you his name is Hassan. He went to school for a while, but he didn’t finish. He got as far as Form Two, he says, then stopped in the year 2000. You do the math in your head. Thirteen years ago you were in Form Two as well. You can hardly believe it—you and this fisherman are the same age. His skin is wrinkled; he has the face of someone much, much older.

“I got a schoolgirl pregnant back when I was going to school in Bongo,” he volunteers. “Dar, city of beauties. I was very bright. But then,” he says, looking you in the eyes, “trouble. By now,” he continues, “I would’ve been like you. AC to the max. My only task would be speaking Inglishi. Ticha yes yes. Ticha no no,” he demonstrates. You laugh. “Isn’t that what you learn in secondary ‘sku’?” he says, laughing now too. Yes, you answer him. English isn’t hard to master.

He recites for you all the words he’s able to recall: Gud Moningi, Hai, Hau a yuu? Okei, Noo, Yesi, Presidenti, Tudei. “What, you think I don’t know Inglishi?” he says. “What is Inglishi anyway, if there’s Inglishi here in Bongoland? If I, Hassan, can grasp it, what is it you are gonna tell me?”

“I have nothing to tell you,” you respond. You sense that Hassan has all of a sudden turned harsh. You scan the marketplace, trying to figure out what’s delaying Ibra. You take your phone out of your pocket and call him. He tells you he’s waiting on a bucket full of ice so he can keep your fish fresh; the men from the market are going now to buy it. You want to say farewell to Hassan so you can wait in your car, alone, but he speaks to you first.

“Sista Sofi, that girl was so fine,” he says with a chuckle. It’s like he’s remembered her, and he’s returned to the flow of his narrative. Her name is Mary, he tells you. Her parents were well off, and when they discovered their daughter had been impregnated by a poor boy like him—one who wasn’t even a Christian—they were prepared to press rape charges. “But who’s gonna wait to get arrested?” he asks with his hands on his hips. You notice his fingers are adorned with brass rings. “So I ran away to Tanga and I’m still here, I’m still here today. I’m just fishing. But Mary and I,” he adds, “we stayed in touch. She named the child Helena. She sends me pictures. She’s beautiful. Like me, eeh?” he laughs.

You’re still laughing along with him when, abruptly, his expression changes. The smile that was just spread across his face disappears. The look on his face now reminds you of a little cartoon character you once saw on TV, a scary one. He moves right up next to you; you’re frozen, dumbfounded. All the while, you thought you were becoming friends. Lo! He was just setting his trap. You squeeze your purse in your armpit as tightly as you can. Streams of sweat trickle out of you. You concentrate on what will happen next, whether he’ll tell you to give him all your money, or whether he’ll cut you with a little razor. If it’s a blade, you fear it was last used on someone with HIV. He digs his hand into his pocket. You feel like you’re about to pee your pants. He opens his mouth and, just as you suspected, a rotten-food smell escapes. You wish you could scream but your strength has all evaporated. Even if you tried, you think, no sound would come out.

“Let me have your phone, please, so I can call Mary.” Before you can answer him, he grabs your hand and presses something into your palm. Then he snatches your phone—your flip phone. Thank God your Blackberry is still in the car, inside your small purse. You look at your palm and see it’s money, not a razor, that he pressed against you. You haven’t been cut. But two-hundred shillings? Hassan tells you how badly he misses Mary. He hasn’t talked to her in over a month. He hasn’t had a phone to call her with; his is lost. You’re at a loss for words, so you say nothing. Your thoughts return to the harshness of the sun. Ibra uko wapi? Where are you, Ibra?

You’re amazed to see how quickly Hassan works the phone’s buttons. He tells you he had a Blackberry, once, that he bought for Mary. But some clever fellows who envied that fine item borrowed it without asking first. He places your phone to his ear and, a moment later, says “Halo” into the receiver. “Mary, it’s me, Hassan. Can you hear me? … Yes, yes,” he says after a pause. “I borrowed someone’s. I still haven’t gotten a phone of my own … You’re coming next week? … Okay, fine. Helena hasn’t—” He stops mid-sentence. “Halo … Halo … Halooooo….”

He looks at the phone then looks at you. “Why did she hang up on me?” He calls his girlfriend Mary again. You hear a woman’s voice saying, from afar: I’m sorry. You have insufficient funds to complete this call. Hassan looks saddened. He hands you back your phone and, right at the same moment, your driver returns and asks if everything is alright.

“Salama?” Ibra says as he heads toward the back of the car, along with the person who sold you the fish, carrying it in a yellow bucket. You disarm and unlock the vehicle by pressing on your key fob.

“Let’s go, let’s leave,” you answer him quickly.

“We aren’t even going to say goodbye?” Hassan asks.

You get in the car without answering him then wave from within. Ibra gets in, turns on the ignition, and the two of you leave. You search the car for your little handbag with the Blackberry in it. You find it, along with a gold necklace with a cross for a pendant. You remember your mother, who gave you the necklace when you were twelve years old. The day you told her you first got your period, she gave you the necklace and told you to hold onto it as a reminder to wait until you married.

Ibra asks you what’s going on, and you start to shake. You take off your glasses and turn to him. Tears flow from your eyes.

“I can’t call them,” you say, your voice atremble. You’ve never cried in front of Ibra before. You see the manner in which he quickly becomes upset.

“Who do you mean? Why can’t you call them?” he asks. He gives you a handkerchief so you can wipe your tears away. You dry yourself with your kikoi instead. “You mean you can’t find your phone? Did that guy steal it from you? Should we go back?”

“What number would I dial?”

“To call whom, Sofia? Are you trying to confuse me?”

“Are there mobile phones in the afterlife?” you say. You raise your voice at him: “How would I place such a call?” You’ve never spoken to Ibra this way—with harshness, with anger. Silence settles between you and reigns, for a few seconds. Then Ibra speaks.

“Sofia, love,” he says gently. “That fisherman is what made you think back on all this? But a whole year has passed since we—” Ibra pauses. He turns toward you and sees how your light complexion has become flushed. He pulls over to the side of the road so he can give you his full attention. “What did he say to you, mpenzi?” Ibra stretches his arm forward so he can hold you. You narrow your eyes at him, reminding him not to do that unless you’re alone together, in your bedroom. 

“I can’t call our child on the phone. I can’t, Ibra.” You place your hands over your stomach and turn toward the window. Outside, two children are playing. Tears flow out of you. You don’t restrain them any longer.

 

Soko la Samaki 

Harufu ya samaki feri ni tofauti sana na ukiwa umeshawahifadhi kwenye jokofu, unamwambia dereva wako Ibrahimu huku mnatembea kuelekea kwenye soko la samaki. Unamwambia Ibra kuwa harufu ya samaki katika soko hili la samaki jijini Tanga siyo kali kama ile uliyoizoea kwenye soko la samaki la Dar. Anakuuliza ni lini mara ya mwisho kwenda kwenye soko hilo. Unajaribu kufikiria na unagundua kuwa imekuwa ni muda mrefu. Umezoea kusikia hiyo harufu ukiwa unapita tu kwenye gari, vioo vikiwa vimefungwa na kiyoyozi kikiwa kinapuliza kwa nguvu. Lakini bado unashindwa kuhema ukiwa unapita kule feri. Ibra anacheka. Anajua hujazoea mambo haya ya kwenda sokoni. Mkiwa nyumbani Dar, Ibra huenda sokoni na msichana wako wa kazi. Na mara nyingine huwa unawatuma feri walete samaki.

Toka umeanza kufanya kazi mpya miaka miwili iliyopita kama Mkurugenzi wa shirika lisilo la kiserikali linalohusiana na kupigia debe maswala ya elimu kwa mtoto wa kike, safari za sokoni zimepungua. Lakini safari za mikoani zimekuwa nyingi. Hata hivyo, toka utotoni safari za mbali zimekuwa sehemu ya maisha yako kwani umetumia muda mwingi masomoni huko Uingereza ambako umemalizia Stashahada ya maswala ya Elimu. Wazazi wako na wadogo zako wanaishi huko huko Uingereza.

Wafanyakazi wenzako wanashangaa binti mdogo kama wewe umewezaje kuwa na nafasi kubwa kama hiyo. “Yaani Sofia hajafika hata miaka 30” alisema Fiona. “Tena wala hajaolewa” alidakia Mage. “Inabidi aolewe, ama sivyo atakuwa ajuza” alisema Frida kisha wote wakacheka. “Lakini nyie wasichana wa siku hizi, mnapenda kuolewa kweli? Mnasema hamtaki wanaume wawatawale. Haya shauri yenu. Nyie endeleeni kujidai mnasoma mpaka vichwa vipasuki. Hatuwaoi nyie wasomi” alisema Hosea kwa kejeli.

Uliwasikia wakiongea ofisini kwao, wewe ukiwa umesimama mlangoni.  Haukumaanisha kua mbea, ulikuwa unapita tu kwenda jikoni. Lakini sasa maji yamemwagika. Umeshayasikia mawazo yao. Unashindwa kuelewa kwanini watu wanatumia muda mwingi kuchunguza maisha ya watu wengine wakati kuna kazi nyingi za kufanya zenye manufaa kwa jamii. Wakati mwingine si vibaya kuwa mtu wa tofauti na wengine katika jamii. Kuwa tofauti ni vizuri. Mama yako alikuambia maneno hayo. Sasa unajiambia mwenyewe.

Unashangaa kuona samaki wa bluu. Hujawahi kumuona wala kumsikia. Unawaambia wale wauzaji: “Ama kweli, tembea uone. Samaki wa bluu!”. Unaambiwa anaitwa Blue Fish. Rangi yake inafanana na rangi ya jeans uliyovaa. Baada ya kulipa Shilingi elf hamsini, unavaa miwani ya jua yenye rangi ya kahawia na kumwambia Ibra asubiri muuzaji apae samaki, wewe unarudi kwenye gari. Hutaki blauzi yako nyeupe ichafuke na pia jua ni kali sana, inakaribia saa sita. Unamwambia awahimize kwani inabidi muanze safari ya kurudi Dar. Unajipepea kwa kutumia kikoi chako cha rangi ya machungwa ulichojitanda. Ibra anakuambia kuwa joto mbona halijaanza. “Tena hapa tuko mjini. Nikikupeleka kule kwenu Muheza sasa?” anakucheka. Anajua hujawahi kwenda kijijini kwenu. Umeishi maisha yako yote mjini Dar Es Salaam na Uingereza.

Ukiwa umekaribia Prado yako, unahisi kuwa mtu anakufuata kwa nyuma.

“Sista samahani, wale samaki sio freshi wale” ni sauti nzito ambayo inakwaruza kidogo.

Unageuka na kuona kiwiliwili cha mtu ambaye hafanani kabisa na sauti ile. Jua ni kali na humwoni vizuri. Mmesimama kilimani ulipopaki gari huku yeye akiwa amesimama upande ulikotoka. Unaliona soko kule bondeni na bahari ya bluu inang’aa kwa mbele yake.

“Eti ee” unasema na kuibana pochi yako kwapani. Haibi kitu mtu hapa. Tena kijana mwenyewe amevaa hereni sikio moja. Mwili wake umedhoofika sana na hujui ni lini mara ya mwisho alifua nguo zake. Unahisi kuwa hata yeye hajui. Amevaa suruali nyeusi ya jeans iliyokatwa magotini na kuwa kaptula, pamoja na vesti ambayo rangi yake haieleweki. Unaona weusi weusi kwenye ngozi yake, ni ukurutu! Miguu yake imevaa kandambili za bluu zilizochoka sana.

“Ndiyo. Ungenitonya mimi sista ningekutafutia samaki wazuri. Hata mimi kuijua bahari kama Yule tolu anavyojua kuendesha gari lako, au unanionaje sista?” anatabasamu. Unaona rangi ya kahawia iliyotanda katika meno wake. Unajua akikusogelea karibu zaidi, utasikia harufu mbaya ya kinywa chake. Unaomba kimoyomoyo asikusogelee. Kwani sio harufu tu inayokuogopesha. Unahisi kuwa anaweza kuwa na kisu, kiwembe, nondo, kitu chochote ambacho anaweza kukudhuru nacho. Ibra uko wapi? Unawaza.

“Hamna shida. Siku nyingine kaka” unamjibu kwa upole.

“Umewahi kwenda Uingereza?” anakuuliza kwa msisimko na kuvuta kofia yake juu ili uuone uso wake. Vesti aliyovaa imefubaa na kuchakaa. Mikono yake imechorwa tattoo ya michoro inayotisha – kichwa cha nyoka, nanga, na alama zingine usizozielewa. Unawaza kama kazi yake hapa baharini ni kuvua samaki tu, au kuna kazi zingine. Huulizi.

“Ndiyo, nimewahi”

“Kuko freshi ee?” anasema huku anatabasamu akikuonyesha meno yake usiyopenda kuyaona.

“Ndiyo ni kuzuri, naomba niende sasa” unageuka ili uingie ndani ya gari lako.

“Mimi mwanangu yuko Uingereza” anasema ghafla kana kwamba ndicho haswa alichokuwa anataka kukuambia. Unamgeukia na kumtazama tena.

“Rafiki yako?”

“Hapana sista, yaani mwanangu wa ukweli. Tena ni demu kama wewe vile. Mdogo mdogo yaani kama wewe kabisa, eeeh” anakwambia huku mikono yake ikiongea pamoja naye. Unamwangalia juu mpaka chini ukijaribu kusadiki yale aliyokuambia. Unashukuru Mungu kua miwani ya jua uliyovaa inaficha mengi.

“Sista, nakwambia hivi, usinione niko hivi mwanangu mwenyewe, au sio? Mi sijalewa mimi. Sijalewa wala nini mimi. Mi n’na binti yangu yuko Uingereza. Mamtoni kwa Bush” unawaza kama anajua kuwa Bush sio raisi wa Uingereza na wala sio raisi tena. “Unamaanisha Obama?” unamuuliza. Lakini hata hilo sio sahihi. Alipaswa kumtaja David Cameroon. “Enhe… Huyo huyo… Si ndo rais wa Ulaya nzima. Mwanangu yuko huko huko” anarudia tena huku akirembua macho. Unagundua kuwa macho yake yana weusi wa ziada. Amepaka wanja kuzunguka macho yake. Unahisi ni wanja ambao waswahili wanauita ‘wanja wa kungu’ kwani haachi kurembua. Unamuuliza kwanini amefanya hivyo, anakwambia ni urembo tu.

Kaka huyo anakuambia kuwa jina lake ni Hassan. Amesoma, lakini hakumaliza shule. Aliishia kidato cha pili mwaka 2000. Unapiga mahesabu kichwani, miaka 13 iliyopita wewe pia ulikuwa kidato cha pili. Unashindwa kuamini kuwa inawezekana mnalingana umri na kaka huyo. Ngozi yake ina makunyanzi na uso wake unaonekana kuwa kama ya mtu mzima zaidi.

“Nilimpa mimba binti wa shule, enzi hizo nilikuwa nasoma Bongo, Dar mji wa warembo. Nilikuwa nina akili mimi wewe. Basi tu, shida” anasema huku amekuangalia machoni.

“Mi s’sa hivi ningekuwa kama wewe vile. Kiyoyozi full full. Kazi kuongea kingreza tu. Au sio? Ticha yes yes. Ticha no no” anasema kwa vitendo. Unacheka. “Si ndo mambo ya sekondari sku hayo?” anacheka. Unamjibu ndiyo, Kiingereza sio kigumu hata kidogo.

Anajikumbusha maneno yote ya kiingereza anayoyakumbuka mbele yako. Gud Moningi, Hai, Hau a yuu? Okei, Noo, Yesi, Presidenti, Tudei.

“Kwani unadhani mi sijui kingreza? Kingreza kitu gani? Kingreza bongo? Kama mimi Hassan nakijua Kingreza, utaniambia nini we sista?”

“Sina cha kukuambia” unaanza kuhisi kuwa Hassan amekuwa mkali kidogo. Unaangalia upande wa soko ukijaribu kuona ni nini kinamchelewesha Ibra. Unatoa simu yako mfukoni na kumpigia. Anakuambia kuwa anasubiri barafu na ndoo ili kuwahifadhi samaki wako, wamekwenda kununua. Unataka kumuaga Hassan ili urudi kwenye gari lakini anakuwahi.

“Sista Sofi, msichana yule alikuwa mzuri huyo” anasema huku akicheka. Ni kama amemkumbuka na amerejea mtiririko wa simulizi yake. Anakuambia kuwa jina lake ni Mary. Wazazi wake walikuwa na uwezo na walipogundua kuwa mtoto wao amepewa mimba ya kijana masikini, tena ambaye sio Mkristo, walikuwa tayari kumfungulia mashtaka ya ubakaji.

“We, nani aende jela?” aliuliza huku ameshika kiuno. Vidole vyake vilikuwa vimevalishwa pete za shaba. “Mi nikakimbilia huku Tanga. Na ndo mpaka leo, niko hapa, navua. Lakini Mary tuliendelea kuwasiliana na mtoto akamwita Helena. Alinitumia picha, mzuri huyo. Kama mimi. Eeeh” anacheka.

Ukiwa bado unacheka pamoja naye, ghafla unashangaa ametulia. Tabasamu lililokuwa limejaa usoni mwake linatoweka. Sura yake inakukumbusha kikatuni ulichokiona kwenye runinga, kilikuwa kinatisha. Anakusogelea kwa karibu sana, unabaki umeduwaa. Ulidhani mmeanza kuwa marafiki. Lo! Kumbe alikuwa anakupigia mahesabu tu. Unaibana pochi yako kwa karibu sana kwapani. Jasho jembamba linakutoka. Unawaza ni kipi kitakachoanza, kukuambia umpe hela zako au kukukata na kiwembe. Unahofia kuwa kilitumika kumkata mtu mwenye ukimwi. Anaingiza mkono mfukoni mwake. Unahisi kama mkojo unakubana. Anafungua mdomo wake na kama ulijua vile, inatoka harufu kama ya chakula kilichooza. Unatamani upige kelele lakini huna nguvu. Unahisi hata ukijaribu, sauti haitatoka.

“Naomba simu yako nimpigie Mary”. Anakushika mkono kabla hujamjibu na kukupa kitu kwa nguvu kisha anakunyang’anya simu yako.  Simu uliyokuwa umeishika ni Nokia Tochi. Unashukuru Mungu kuwa Blackberry yako iko kwenye pochi ndogo, kwenye gari. Unaangalia mkononi na kugundua kuwa ni hela, na sio kiwembe. Mkono wako haujachanjwa. Shilingi 200? Anakuambia kuwa amemkumbuka sana. Hajaongea naye kwa muda wa mwezi sasa. Hajapata simu ya kumpigia. Simu yake ilipotea. Hujui cha kusema. Husemi kitu. Unaanza kuwaza jinsi jua lilivyo kali. Ibra uko wapi? Unawaza.

Unashangaa kumwona Hassan akibonyeza vitufe vya simu yako haraka haraka. Anakwambia yeye alikuwa na Blackbery aliomnunulia Mary. Wajanja walimwonea donge wakaazima bila kumuomba. Anaweka simu sikioni na kusema ‘Halo’ baada ya muda mfupi.

‘Mary, ni mimi Hassan. Unanisikia?’ . . .

‘Ndiyo, ndiyo. Nimeazima simu. Bado sijapata ya kwangu’

‘Unakuja wiki ijayo?’

‘Sawa basi. Helena haja –‘

‘Halo… Haloo… Halooooo…’

Anaiangalia simu kisha anakuangalia wewe. “Mbona amenikatia simu?” Hassan anauliza. Anampigia tena mpenzi wake Mary. Unasikia sauti ya mwanamke kwa mbali.

Samahani huna salio la kutosha kuweza kupiga simu hii’ Hassan anaonekana kuwa na huzuni. Anakurudishia simu yako. Dereva wako anafika wakati huo huo na kuuliza kama mambo yote yako salama.

“Salama?” Ibra anauliza na kuelekea nyuma ya gari huku aliyewauzia samaki akiwa amebeba ndoo ya njano. Unafungua gari kwa kubonyeza ufunguo kutoa alarm.

“Twende, tuondoke” unamjibu haraka.

“Hata hatuagani sista?” Hassan anakuuliza.

Unaingia kwenye gari bila kumjibu chochote kisha unampungia kwaheri. Ibra naye anaingia kwenye gari, anawasha gari na kuondoka. Unaitafuta ile pochi ndogo yenye Blackberry. Unaiona ikiwa pamoja na mkufu wa dhahabu wenye kidani cha msalaba. Unamkumbuka mama yako aliyekupa mkufu huo ukiwa na miaka 12. Siku uliyomwambia kuwa umevunja ungo, alikupa mkufu huo na kukuambia uutunze kama kumbukumbu kuwa utasubiri mpaka utakapoolewa.

Ibra anauuliza imekuwaje, unatetemeka. Unavua miwani na kumgeukia. Machozi yanakutoka.

“Siwezi kumpigia” unasema huku sauti yako inatetemeka. Hujawahi kulia mbele ya Ibra. Unaona jinsi alivyohamaki.

“Nani huyo? Kwanini huwezi kumpigia?” anakuuliza na kukupa leso ufute machozi. Unajifuta kwa mtandio wako. “Kwani simu huioni? Amekuibia yule jamaa? Turudi?”

“Namba yake ni ngapi sasa?”

“Nani Sofia? Mbona unanichanganya?”

“Huko ahera kuna simu? Nampigiaje?” unaongeza sauti yako. Hujawahi kumuongelesha Ibra kwa ukali wala kwa hasira. Kimya kinatawala kati yenu kwa sekunde kadhaa kabla Ibra hajakujibu.

“Sofia mpenzi. Yule mvuvi ndo amekukumbusha yote hayo? Mbona mwaka sasa umepita toka tu-“ Ibra anasita. Anakugeukia na kuona uso wako ukiwa umekuwa mwekundu sana. Anaamua kupaki gari pembeni ili akusikilize vizuri. “Amekuambia nini mpenzi?” Ibra ananyoosha mkono wake ili kukukumbatia. Unamkazia jicho linalomkumbusha kuwa hapaswi kufanya hivyo mkiwa nje ya chumba chako.

“Siwezi kumpigia mtoto wetu. Ibra siwezi” unashika tumbo lako na kugeuka upande wa dirishani. Unawaona watoto wawili wakiwa wanacheza. Machozi yanakutoka, huyazuii tena.

 

 

Esther Karin Mngodo is a writer, editor and feminist publisher living in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. She was the winner of the inaugural Ebrahim Hussein Poetry Contest, which began in 2014. Her creative writing has been featured in The Goddess of Mtwara and Other Stories: The Caine Prize for African Writing 2017, Imbiza Journal, The Citizen and other publications. She is the author of the poetry collection Jinsi ya Kurudi Nyumbani (How to Return Home), and the founder and publisher of UMBU, an online literary journal for women who write in Swahili.

Jay Boss Rubin is a writer and translator from Portland, Oregon. His translations from Swahili have been published by Two Lines Press, The Hopkins Review and Northwest Review. He was the recipient of a 2022 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant, to enable the completion of his translation of the novel Rosa Mistika by Euphrase Kezilahabi. It will be published in Spring 2025 by Yale University Press, as part of the Margellos World Republic of Letters series. He is a proud graduate of the Queens College, City University of New York’s MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation.

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