I have been yearning to read this book since I came across it a couple of months back. Back then I only read the first page and I was left with an unquenchable desire to turn the pages and run with Odidi. My imagination wraps itself around the cover illustration; it seems to mean something which I cannot, at present, point a finger at it and say ‘yes, that’s it’ so I shelve the thought with the intention of pursuing it later. Perhaps its meaning will reveal itself in the pages to come.
I am perched on this stool at a street corner in Mwembe Tayari, Mombasa town right across the bright red and yellow painted Yukay Chips Moto Moto. I wonder just how their chips are so hot that they have to announce it this loudly. KFA is a beehive of activity with skirts and tights and skinny over washed jeans swishing and buzzing all over the place.
A horde of a gazillion scents assault me;
Cheap and expensive perfumes.
Grilled chicken and stale lettuce.
Arousal. The warm Mombasa weather does this to you.
“Ngapi?” I ask.
“Hamsini,” the red eyed shoe shiner answers.
“Fanya Salasini,” I cajole.
“Hamsini boss wangu,” he says. He doesn’t give a rats’ ass about my bargaining prowess, or lack thereof.
I nod. He proceeds to untie my shoes which have a fine layer of historic dust on them.
I rest my gaze on Yukay. A streak of light brown chickens orbit the grill gingerly, coming out a shade browner every time. I want to concentrate on the chicken, try to comprehend their narrative, their story before they ended up on a grill getting a tan. They had a life before they made it to the menu, right? A life where they were probably called Broilers. Broilers who only felt the sunshine for six weeks. Six weeks only. Not even adequate time to fall in love and brood and see their kids get snatched away by ravenous birds of prey.
But I can’t concentrate on their sorry narrative.
Odidi is on my mind.
“Oya boss, niwekee saa hii!” a street boy with a dirty sack full of stuff he considers profitable interrupts my budding attachment to Odidi. He is dirty, this boy. He carries along the smell of a dozen dumpsites. Dumpsites that he also calls home. He shoves a stained plastic bottle the shoe shiner’s way.
The shoe shiner mutters something that only the street boy and I could hear.
“Basi si urudi baadaye, niko na customer!”
Then it dawns on me!
The shoe shiner is a peddler.
He peddles intoxication in form of glue or gum.
Not office glue of chewing gum. No. glue that he uses to stick shoe soles together. I tell you, I have sniffed stuff before but this particular glue is badass; hits your brain like a freaking jack hammer.
I go back to Odidi. He is running. His pals have died, but he keeps running. He is strong and resilient. Shifta the Winger keeps running. He thinks of Justina. Odidi will probably not see her again, I think.
The chickens emerge browner from the grill. I close the book and stare at the cover illustration. I think of the author, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor and of Odidi’s life when he was just an idea. I wonder how Yvonne may have felt assigning the character of Odidi and whether she felt a cord break when she let go of him into ‘nothingness’……..
Odidi is on my mind. Nyipir his father and Ajany his sister too. But most of all, my mind cannot let Odidi go!