Mawili Matatu…

We all have things, or people, that we’d rather remain in our past than have them sprout in the future and blindside us. You know, it sometimes feels like we are still the same people we were years ago but, are we really? Well, probably your favourite dessert hasn’t changed in the last decade, but again, human beings are complicated. I might still like my meal the same way I liked it when I was fifteen, but trust me when I tell you that 15-year-old me wouldn’t recognize me if we met today.

“On a scale of 1-10, how surprised would you say you were?”

“Aaai,an easy 10, ata naeza sema 11…”

“So technically she was the last person you expected to meet again, ever…”

“I froze for a second or two when I saw her, unajua ile feeling ya ‘naona vitu zangu ama’…”

“Did she recognize you too?”

“Zi, not at all, the last time aliniona nilikuwa class 8, I was still a kid…”

Humphrey had bumped into his sister in one of those lines at archives that stretch from here to Kinoo. And of course meeting your sister in town isn’t weird, however random it may be, but if the last time you saw her was when you still wore shorts as uniform then yes, that is a little out of the ordinary.

“What about her surprised you the most?”

“She looked old man, too worn out for her age. I think she’s turning 31 this year but when I saw her, alikuwa anakaa at least 40, and that’s me been nice…”

It was mid-morning but the sun wasn’t out yet, so my house felt like a tiny freezer, and I wished more than once that I’d have made myself something hot before starting my zoom call with Humphrey.

“And what was her reaction when she eventually realized that you are her brother?”

“Haha, alichoka tu, as if tulikuwa tumepanga tukutane na mimi ndio nimechelewa. That kinda hurt because I feel like if she had any grudge with my parents, it would be unfair to project the same attitude on me”

“So it was nothing close to what family reunions look like?”

“Haha, yea, you can say that… she gave me her number though”

Humphrey’s the last born in a modest family of four but there were always relatives from ushago that came over to their place. He remembers strolling around in their neighbourhood, his tiny hand in his sister’s most of the time.

“How close were the both of you before… everything?”

“We hang out all the time…I liked being around her because she got me all the snacks a kid my age wanted. We even had a specific day for ice cream…”

He’s lucky it was never this cold or else their ice cream Thursdays would’ve been coffee Thursdays.

Things changed when Halima finished high school. They lived in Mombasa so the parents had a knack for Swahili names. Their sibling dates thawed into thin air because she began hanging out with this Tanzanian dude that was friends with one of their cousins.

“She hang out in the house less and less, but I didn’t mind because I was also hitting puberty, so hanging out with my sister wasn’t necessarily on my To-Do list”

“Where were your parents at this point?” I asked, genuinely curious.

“My Dad’s a doctor so he was never really around, and my mum had a lot of church activities going on so it was basically our cousins and us…na house help labda”

Not sure if it was his height or his Swahili accent but Halima fell for the guy worse than the unga prices have dropped. When she wasn’t out and about with him, she was giggling on her phone behind their house and plucking leaves that had no business been plucked. Their father once found her chilling at the local pool base and hell almost broke loose that day. It was all chaos and pandemonium at their house.

“That was the first time I saw Halima shouting back at our parents… my mum was so shocked she went mute for a week”

“And how was your relationship with her at this point?”

“We pretty much just lived in the same house…tulipitana pitana jikoni but that was about it”

“What was his name, the Tz guy?”

“Can’t remember and never bothered to really ask her…all I remember was him coming at our gate and telling me ‘niitie dada yako nina mawili matatu nataka kumweleza’…”

That cracked me up. Only Tz guys can get away with having ‘mawili matatu’ as part of their vocabulary. And to think Humphrey also met his long-lost sister kwa line ya matatu.

She eventually eloped with her Prince Charming. The happily-ever-after their young love promised was too good a deal for Halima. It was the kind of thrill that convinces you to denounce your family and leave, aiming for the stars the supposed love of your life has promised you. Her parents turned Mombasa upside down looking for her. Their father became a patient in the hospital he worked at and the mother lost a bit of her sanity looking for answers in all the wrong places.

“So they snuck to Tanzania and started living at the guy’s family home… they had it good for a while. The guy set up a small hotel for her and he got a motorbike for himself that he used as a taxi…then shit hit the fan after he hit a cow…it was dead in the night… everyone thought amerogwa because who hits a cow in the middle of the night, especially after they’ve just brought a young wife home”

Halima’s ride or die was now bedridden. He had punctured lungs, and broken ribs but all of these were nothing compared to the severe damage his spine took. She nursed her husband as her uterus nursed new life in her. 7 months later and her small family of 2 got a new member.

“She named the baby Wakio after our mother…”

“Was the baby born at night?”

“Yea, just like me…we’re offsprings of the dark, haha”

Most cults would give an arm and a leg just to have that as their name.

Humphrey paid his sister a visit sometime last week. His niece is a big girl now. She thinks he looks a lot like her mum, his sister. She told him stories you’d never hear unless you lived in Tanzania. Her Tanzanian dad’s death didn’t shake her as much as it shook Halima, partly because he spent most of his remaining time at the hospital and not around her. They went out and ate ice cream together, just like in the old days. He’s not sure how to break this news to his parents though. But he promised to. He even took his sister out shopping, you don’t go see your parents empty-handed.

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