The Fire That Never Dies is The fire of Love

Love

Crisp dry leaves on the backs of dead twigs rustle and roll on rusty iron sheets. It is a discordant clangour. Grotesque sooty walls and blank glass window frames suck in a groaning of trees swaying in wind. This is in the skeleton of a palatial house, scattered within its many rooms are all assortments of eeriness; egregious windings of spider webs, pellets of cigarette butts, queer animal skulls, pieces of snakeskins and shreds of women lingerie.

“This world!”

“Tape recorder what about this world?”

“Sinbad Olwika you will not believe.”

“In riddles?”

“He did.”

“Did what?”

“Achando Achungo.”

“The charcoal elfin butterfly.”

“Butterfly!”

There is fire in Echoka’s ‘butterfly’.

“Yeah, the one who left school last year, the one who sells in her mother’s beauty shop.”

“She was done?”

“Yes.”

“That one?”

“Your African butterfly.”

Silence. Then.

“I called her that?”

“You called her names.”

“What?”

“Your fire. She was found.”

“I told you I lost fire.”

Echoka had lied to his friends that Achando Achungo had not replied to his advances and he had moved on, but she had sent him a terse spite. And it was crisp- YOU ARE NOT MY TYPE-it snapped in boldness.

“Your words are not speaking your spirit.”

“Onditi you don’t know my spirit.”

“I know you don’t know girls.”

“So you know girls?”

“Somehow.”

“Somehow?”

“The floor was blood you would have thought a ram had been slaughtered for a Kalwoto rite of cleansing.”

“Which floor?”

“She was a virgin.” an intervention of two voices collide into the question.

It is the other two; Ogina the supreme leader in a chequered skull cap and Etole the inventor of new worlds in a t-shirt emblazoned with the statue of liberty at the front and the Eiffel tower at the back. The supreme leader gets out a packet of Embassy cigarettes to light up the mood. The inventor of new worlds gets out a Kiko box of matches.

“Eh! Tape recorder.”

“What?”

“Is that a snake licking your head?”

Onditi scampers.

“Onditi aka tape recorder.”

“We are blood and flesh!”

They burst in laughter sitting on sooty bricks blowing clouds into their ensuing pensive mood.

“This is no trivial matter Ogina,”

“Who said it is?”

Echoka the upright man has mentally drifted. He wanders in a memory. Could something he is thinking …?

Happy and laughing she strides from that dot in his mind that is the gate from her home, last evening-

She must have been smiling suavely in a sleeveless dress and clanking open shoes that slapped dust onto her calves. Her hair was definitely unmitigated by any plaits or chemical makeover and it stood Afro-defiantly straight in the surge of inescapable Friday evening hubbub-as her traditional fashion. She was humming like a tuned guitar, Backstreet Boys; the American RnB boy band’s, Drowning, song. The song heaved her chest pushing her full breasts proudly in rhythm. He couldn’t hear the words though she kept dashing glances at him. He was just beside her, though invisible. No. He has imaginatively planted himself there now, but it was then. He can imagine in her mind something must have told her he was there walking along with her. She was going to the butcher’s shop, or was it the duka first and the butcher last, as her mother had instructed? In her hand she clasped a plastic bag. You are not my type- Finally, she lip-synched the words that tasted lemon and had left a coarseness in his mouth. Finally, she declared squeezing hard on the plastic bag and smiling not that suave smile but a new one in its place. He must have smiled back. Her other hand ruffled a neatly folded paper from her pocket. The flowers in red and blue he had crafted forming a beautiful chain of love hearts around the words he had written. She smiled again. That young man is smart, his invisible ears must have heard her right, and she must have said that. He is jobless but smart and handsome too. He reads lots of books to write such romantic things. I like his goatee, his white searching eyes, his dark skin and big arms. I guess he has a six pack. I wish I could put my lips on his and my head on his shoulders. His handwriting is good- I like his and g. How come I am beginning to think about him? Love- He must have answered her in his overexcited voice that couldn’t cross the two invisible worlds. Her clanking camouflaged into gentle strides. She was getting fairly close to the duka. She shoved the note back into her pocket- If he writes again, she must have said…If he walks up straight to meBut why hasn’t he put up no fight…I will do it Achando, he must have tried to get the message to her again- in his undetectable voice.

He had eventually found the meaning of my type he must have tried to whisper to her. She walked into the duka then to Inyama butchery shop where she got three pounds of beef. She was finally set to return to those gates in the dot in his mind.

But the man must have called her just as she was almost going by the SMT-she of impeccable beauty must have hesitated, startled. His invisible self surely saw it but she couldn’t see it. How could she not? But what he didn’t know was that she was the sweet Fanta orange soda obedient girl and not the headstrong Tusker beer –I am not your type defence mechanic. The angel who lain trust in all people she perceived were reasonable.

This man in a churlish bushy curly beard with a comb in it hadn’t she told him to back off? She must have gone over it in her smart mind. Of course he had made passes before. He was actually his father’s best friend and contemporary, three decades older than her with a thick neck that swallowed sweat. What reason was there for him to nag a twenty-year-old? Wasn’t he a humorous, soft spoken man of reason. Never unkempt and always in a flannel shirt with sleeves upturned, some gorgeous faded khaki pants and brown Timberland boots? Sharp for this place and his age. That must have been what she thought when the man beckoned her.

The man must have caught her arm. Probably caressed her cheek or even forked his stubby fingers through her hair distorting its straight Afro pride.

All sorts of imaginations can be forgiven.

“Princess I want you to help me carry some things to your father’s house.”

Her modesty preceded her.

Time has the life of a shot. Achando Achungo, she reckoned nothing was unworthy of modesty.

This time on this Friday just about that time the man usually closed down his premise, the SMT (Sinbad Movies Thieta). If she felt strange why was she not fleeing? The man must have to lead her in and shut the door. He, as, Echoka the upright man now imagining must have fought invisibility. She must have screamed for his help. Then she must have lost hope. Then…The scowl on his face drops a hot spiky lump in his throat.

When the door was opened she was found sprawled in a pool of conjugal blood-so Tape recorder is right. Her virginity sucked into the dust on the concrete floor which feet that enjoyed the films, the feet of questionable and unquestionable walks of life had trodden. The sun was hardly up. He the upright man was lost in her tears. Bound in her screams and lost in her repulsion this moment.

She is wrapped in his preoccupation this morning in the light blotting out the dot in his mind from where she first appeared on her way to the shops. The dot has grown into a blurring pool of blood. Are you alright my type? The question is like a hot nail hammering in his head.

“After an overnight search, they had to break the door there at Sinbad’s to find Achando early this morning lying unconscious.” Onditi kills Echoka’s mental trip.

He has told the sad story. The cigarettes have dimmed, the butts are strayed on the floor on top of the queer animal skulls, pieces of the snake skins, those shreds of women lingerie and it is all clear. Everything is clear-But for the question like a hot nail hammering into his head.

“We need to find Mustafa he will lead us to Sinbad. We need to do it fast.” Ogina the supreme leader dissolves uncertainty.

“He wasn’t arrested?”

“Etole are you from a remote island in the Pacific?” Echoka scoffs.

“Achando has been taken to hospital. Mustafa was picked and questioned just questioned and set free. But Sinbad is missing. He has gone into hiding. I am sure we will find Mustafa. He is the road to any answers.” Onditi assures them.

“We will find him at the SMT but we need a road map.

“No time for roads and maps Ogina. This is an emergency, a straight forward thing.” Etole sets them on track.

In a unanimous body of four musketeers in search of the truth they trudge into their Sinbad finding mission.

A clattering of metal meets them before they see him. Flashy eyes Mustafa, Sinbad’s handyman, is perfumed with the smell of cheap plastic bottle spirits when they find him at SMT. Okumutu the notorious mad woman sits at the foot of a broken cowhide chair a few meters away unnaturally silent and in a brooding heap her eyes following Mustafa’s every move. Flashy eyes Mustafa holds a claw hammer and some three-inch nails trying to repair the Sinbad Movies Thieta’s splintered door. He catches a glimpse of the young men over the raised hammer disinterestedly. Echoka the upright man goes over and peeps through some chinks in the door over Mustafa’s shoulder but he is blinded with rage to imagine a trace of her could still be lingering somewhere inside this place he has lately been such an avid patron.

“Poookapaka ping! Ping! Go way your ways young lions no showsday note today and ever for evermore amen to Sins kill- Sinbad. Nowdemhuntin de grwond here for him.” he splutters shards of saliva in his nonsensical welcoming speech.

He drives a nail hard into the loose latch of the door below the Sinbad’s Movies Thieta advertisement sign done by Sinbad’s Arts and crafts sign writers Inc. Half of the steel goes in and the other half he twists between the claw before hammering it onto the metal of the latch and the door post plank. He repeats this action for other four holes in the latch.

“Poookapaka ping! Ping! Boombaclan rasta never travel to America Los Angel’s Mustafa?” Ogina the supreme leader tries his tricks with a twist of something between English and comic relief.

“NoRas go Babylon no evin Nu, York, no evin London. I don wan you and all clever and demons.” Flashy eyes Mustafa brandishes the hammer in their faces.

“Catch one Mustafa.”

Ogina the supreme leader sticks the packet of Embassy Kings in his face. He grabs it. He plucks a stick out and rolls it between his right thumb and index finger. He so plainly is in high spirits. It might as well be a clever trick to fool them. He roughly tucks the packet with the rest of the cigarettes into some secret pocket of his greasy trousers stealing a suspicious glance at the mad woman and cautious ones at the four.

“Poookapaka ping! Ping! Rasta never dem die but dem sofa. Embarrassy Kings. Boys, customers boys smoke high. Kings dem for Babylon. Gottya call puolicehelyicopter?”

The friends trade glances. Echoka the upright man begins to doubt their unanimous intelligence in considering flashing information out of this indubitable pyramid of nonsense in the name of Mustafa is a sure road.

“Poookapaka ping! Ping! You tiefingdem from big popa’s duka, youtiefing from yopopa.” He turns his red eyes after a finger right in Ogina the supreme leader’s face. Ogina’s father owns a duka and it is true he has been stealing the packs from his father’s duka.

Etole hands him the Kiko matches. He lights a stick and puffs into the questions that are barraged at him like a doctor listening to patients with a terminal illness.

“Where is Sinbad?”

“Did the police find him and arrest him?”

“Are you hiding him?”

“Mustafa are you playing monkey tricks?”

He looks at Echoka and his friends before puffing a further irksome chuckle.

“Poookapaka ping! Ping! Money key tricks? Which question wan me dem answer quick?”

“All you Poookapaka ping! Ping!  idiot!” Echoka growls and falls short of grabbing his collar when Ogina steps in his way.

Okumutu is startled and sits on the chair. It topples with her sending a stifling stench wafting in the wind and flies scattering before they settle back on her dirty rags as she picks herself up. She then breaks into screeching laughter that replaces her brooding.

“So small lions, customers boys chasing something or something chasing boys. Done me last job with hammer ‘n nails boy child. Don’t want. Rat fire smaller than cat fire.”

His arm muscle taut he claws a nail out of a rickety hinge unfazed.

“I wish it was his coffin you were nailing. Achando Achungo the girl he raped is a girl I loved Mr. rat fire and cat fire!” Echoka growls again.

He the upright man has grown irreversibly impatient with this Poookapaka ping! Ping!  lunatic. His friends seem to have cleverly embraced the wisdom of silence. Flashy eyes Mustafa jolts from his hammer and flashes his eyes. He brandishes it fiercely and drives a nail in the rickety hinge his lips firmly shut. He grabs his tools and walks past the friends having finished his work. The door has been repaired and firmly shut. Whatever they want is none of his business. His business with this place is finished. Okumutu stands like a grotesque apparition. The white of her eyes all out. The flies scatter a new and buzz around her. Her hands gather her skirts and she raises them. The young men are not ready to partake of her ritual and they seek for an exit except for Echoka who defiantly stays.

It is an approaching noisy crowd that stops them. Three men wield old lorry tires, several boys have hatchets, women, and their headscarves tight on their heads and lesos tight on their waists have cudgels and dry twigs, other men have iron bars, and three men among them swing three five-liter Quencher juice plastic bottles of petrol in their hands. Sinbad is strapped to a screeching wheelbarrow. He looks like a bundle of rubbish. His face is bloody. Okumutu releases her rags and storms into the crowd. She grabs one bottle from a man, sprinkles it over Sinbad and does the same using the other two. Nobody stops her. She gets a match from somewhere in her rags and strikes it. Sinbad bursts into screaming flames. An inferno rages in Echoka’s heart and climbs to his face in a savage grin.

First published here