“Keni, do you understand?”Mama asked.
She was completely at sea as she sat in their midst straddling a stool.Maukeni listened attentively but she could not make out what they were saying.Granted, she fumbled with the English language but she could, at least, construct meaningful sentences that got her by daily.Maybe this was a different kind of the English language .It was like gibberish to her.
Auntie Connie mumbled something under her breath again to Mama and smiled at Maukeni.The smile was a little too wide and reeked of mischief. Maukeni returned the gesture anyway with an awkward smile. Dr.Korku, the community’s only doctor whose good looks had won the hearts of many, young and old alike, always said smiling increased the average lifespan.If so, she was at no loss then. She didn’t mind smiling. But something was just not right.
“Anything to add?” Mama turned her gaze towards Maukeni.
“Me? o-oh no. I’m fine.I’m fine.” she said, clutching to ker knees.
“Then I will come for you tommorrow. The journey is quite long and we must set off early.” Auntie Connie said,grabbing her big handbag that doubled as a travelling bag.
“P-please, where are we going?”
Maukeni was sure to use the magic ‘please’ word. Mama said it provided answers to everyone,including sixteen-year olds.
“Ah? Weren’t you listening to us?” Mama asked wide-eyed. “She’s taking you to the city.”
“Big city?” Her eyes lit up.”What am going to do th-there? I don’t know somebody o!”
The two women looked at each other and burst out laughing.Their cheery laughter echoed the near empty, dimly-lit mudhouse.
“You don’t know anybody there,you mean? That’s why I’m taking you.There are numerous job opportunities there. We’ll find you one and soon, you’ll have enough to take care of Mama.” Auntie Connie said with the same mischevous smile. “Anyway, I must be on my way. Your mother and I have done all talking that need be done.Like I said, I’ll be here before cock’s crow tommorrow. It’s going to be an adventure.”
“Yes please.” she said ,nodding.
The thought of an adventure triggered the right juices in her. She loved the thrill and excitement it posed.Although the youngest of her siblings, she always devised the smartest means of stealing from Papa Nimo’s mango farm. His red-ripe mangoes had them coming back all the time. Perhaps, this was a the chance for a bigger adventure.When Mama went away,she ran over to share the good news with her boyfriend.
“Hold it there Keni! You agreed to this?” He said,shaking his head in disbelief. He was always in Keni’s house lending a helping hand.He helped fetch water, carry firewood, run errands and even helped Mama keep her balance before her walking stick took over. Mama was always excited to have him around and she knew everything about him.Only she didn’t know he was Keni’s boyfriend. If she did,she would not be entertaining him.He was quick to build a good rapport with Mama with hopes of marrying Keni one day. Now, he wondered what was to become of all his plans when Keni thought this was the best idea ever.
“Keni, have you considered all the dangers? You could die on the boat-ride.She may leave you homeless and stranded. If she doesn’t, what if she sells you over to sex slavery? Stories like this abound. Don’t you remember Pomaa, Aku and the rest? Keni open your eyes! She wants to do you harm.” He continued,scratching his head with both hands.He buried his face in his palms,deep in thought.
“You likes big big english too much. You want me to know you have go school,eh?” She said with a frown,folding her arms. “Nothing will do me. She said she knows anybody there. And I will come back and take care of Mama.And I can continue school and become like you.”
He pulled her close with one arm and said,”See, I can take care of you. You know I have a good job. I can see you through school. I’m just waiting for this month’s salary then I will come and formally introduce myself to Mama.Then you will be mine, my Keni-kente.” That was his pet name for her.He chose kente because it was a colourful cloth,beautiful but very expensive too. The royals were the only ones who could afford it. To him, she was more than royalty.She was his Keni-kente.The thought of being wed to him warmed her heart. She had been dreaming of that day since they met.
“So what do we do now? Auntie Connie say she will come back for me before it is morning.”
He leaned in and whispered into her ear,making elaborate hand gestures. He straightened up and said,”Then, I’ll be standing in between the trees by the river side waiting for you, ok?”
“I’ve hear you. I must go now. Mama would return soon.”
That night, Maukeni thought through the plan. Should she not go to the city, she could not be sure her boyfriend would honour his word. Should she go, the stakes were high on both ends. She could land a lucrative job,get rich, further her education and send Mama a regular stipend. On the other hand, she may be dirtied but make equally good lucre.It was a win-win.Keni must have slept off because next thing she knew, Auntie Connie was knocking on the door.
” Yes,we will pick up the Maukeni girl here. We can come back later for the others.” Auntie Connie’s authoritative voice loomed over. She must be with company, Keni thought.
“Mama!” Maukeni screamed. “Auntie Connie have come!”
But for Auntie Connie’s frequent glances at her fancy gold watch and her company’s toe-tapping, Mama’s teary goodbye would have lasted a lifetime. Auntie Connie whisked Keni away and soon, they were on their way to the boat yard.
The singing birds seemed not to care about Keni’s dilemma- To go or not to go. They sang away, flapping their wings across the bright blue skies. Maukeni starred at the skies.She looked down just in time to dodge a leaping frog.Her startling scream drew the attention of Auntie Connie’s friend, who she later got to know as Kofi.
‘Are you okay,Maukeni?”
All three continued in silence till they reached the boatyard. There,they hoped to rent a boat to the other side of the river, catch a bus then they were off to the “Big city”.
Keni looked towards the trees. Her boyfriend wasn’t in sight. Maybe he had had a change of mind and didnt want her again or he had another girlfriend,an educated one.She started her journey in a dilemma but now, she had no option.
They got aboard the boat and Kofi started rowing. She had completely given up on him midway through the boatride but she looked back anyway, and there he was. Standing between the trees like he promised.
Confusion froze her thoughts. She could not possibly turn back now.They had come too far. Going through with the plan now was too risky. She did not know what to do but she knew she didn’t want to be somebody’s “the Maukeni girl”. She wanted to be Dr.Korku’s Keni-kente.
So she dove into the river.