Two yesterdays

Yesterday 1: A herpes Tuesday

Right now, I’m very jealous of the guy up on that carpeted stage. He’s a bespectacled slim fellow with swift-looking feet. He’s holding the microphone with a bony hand and he’s dancing this way and that, supplying the small choir with some vocal power. Sometimes at the chorus he lifts up a finger and points upwards and bends his knees and busts a move that makes me smile a little with all its jolliness. Jesus! A boy can dance.

When he does this happy dance of his, he alters his voice a bit, it comes out pinched and it’s the funniest thing you ever heard.

I’m in chapel, again. And you can almost see the spirit working in this guy’s limbs. He’s working the crowd, more people are on their feet, and many more others are clapping. This guy’s voice fills the large hall and my feet are aching to dance like him. (By the way I’m sorry for bringing us back to chapel. I feel like there are too many things about church in this blog).

I’m jealous of this guy’s confidence, really, to dance and sing like that in front of all these people. But I’m mostly envious because he doesn’t have to contend with a throbbing wound on his upper lip. He doesn’t have to bear with a constant cracking sensation playing about his mouth. And he doesn’t have to face the obvious and annoying question of all: “What happened?”

I have herpes.

And it’s becoming worse. Last week it was just a small fleshy bump on my lip. This week it’s a ghastly sore that won’t even let me eat properly. And the thing with this kind of herpes is that you can feel it coming the day before. It starts out as an itch, which gets worse the more you scratch and before you know it a small pimple has formed. At this point you’re advised to put something cold against the lip to stop it from swelling some more. And you’re meant to hold it there for about six hours for it to work. My sister swears by this method but it never works for me, not least because I get tired holding up the ice.

So on Friday last week I would be found bent over the bathroom sink with a tiny needle, a bottle of antiseptic, and some cotton wool. The pimple had become soft and it looked like it contained a little pus. What I thought I’d do is, I would prick the thing and squeeze out the fluid. Then I would clean the residue with warm water, the skin would close up, and I’d be back to normal by Sunday.

Only, I wasn’t.

Two more of those pimples appeared the next day, and one time I forgot and clawed away at the itch. I bled for a few seconds before running to get some ice.

Now the pimples have boiled down to a large open wound, spread out to the side of my mouth. It looks as though someone punched me a good one, which is what I tell anyone who asks. Makes me look tough, I think.

But back in chapel I can feel everyone staring. From the corner of my eye I can feel people turning their heads to look at my ravaged upper lip. The sore is burning and I have a piece of crumpled tissue in my pocket which I use to dab the tiny drops of pus that ooze out from time to time. My whole face hurts and part of my mouth feels foreign and Green Day’s Wake me up when September ends springs to mind.

The last time I had herpes this bad was when I was in class six. I had just transferred to a new school and I quickly became known as the new guy with the huge dark spots on his lip. One of those spots was herpes and the other was an injury I got from playing football. The ball hit me square on the herpes thingy and it got further infected. Everyone would stare, making me feel like I was from another planet. My self esteem got buried and it was about two months before I completely healed.

As the choir filed out of the stage, someone behind me cheered loudly, which made everyone else turn around to see who it was, and what this did was buy people more time to stare at my sad upper lip. I heard someone else click his tongue and say, “Boy anachoma rada bana.”

And I almost wanted to turn to him and say, “Manze!”

I don’t know how long it will be until my mouth goes back to normal. I have a feeling I might wait for a bit longer, in which case: Wake me up when September ends.


Yesterday 2: No thanks, madam

Right now I’m trying –rather painfully- to enjoy my lunch. In my hand I have a roll of chapo, folded into a thick pouch that holds a warm smokie which is smeared with diced tomatoes and watery chili sauce. A chapo smokie. 40 bob a pop. Tastiest 40 shillings you can have.

There’s a new girl at the shop today, this one has a delicate face and tiny lips. Her head is wrapped inside a white kitambaa and her eyes show a bit of boredom. The chapo smokie shop sits on a pavement lined with many other shops; bread, fruits, burnt corn et al. For the –nitakulia hapa- customers, there are wooden benches and blue plastic seats that overlook the busy traffic. Two uniformed policemen are having fruits on the next shop and there’s a guy with a cap sipping a steamy cup of tea close by.

In my head I hear the old zilizopendwa tune: Sasa ni lunch time tufunge makazi, twende kwa chakula, tuje tena saa nane.

So after New Girl hands me my meal I take a seat on one of the plastic chairs and start to watch the construction taking place on Ngong’ Road. I’m seated next to a middle aged woman; everyone is minding their own business. Every time I open my mouth to take a bite of my chapo smokie I can feel the herpes stretch and a searing shoots all over my face. The air smells like tar and three trucks are rolling over the fresh tarmac. There’s a red kiosk close by, and at some point a young boy will come and tap the counter with a coin while he shouts the name Oti.

Tap tap. “Oti.”

Tap tap “Oti.”

Oti doesn’t answer, and the kid runs off.

I try to take another bite but this time I’m stopped by the woman next to me. When I found her there, she was eating a boiled egg and chewing fat with the guy in the next shop. She has ugly brown shoes and is dressed in all black. Her head is covered with thin braids and she’s telling the shop keeper about her day.

“Nimefika asubuhi mapema ata sijakula.”

And the shop keeper goes, “Eh? Kwani ulikuwa wapi?” You can tell he’s not very interested.

“Nilikuwa mbali sana, karibu three hundred kilometers away.”

“Wapi huko?”

“Nilikuwa pande za uko kwenu.”

And when she says kwenu I get the feeling this might be an interesting conversation. So what I do is, I take out my phone and start recording. So the shop man asks,


And she goes, “Aii, kwenu ni Kisumu?”

And with the silence that follows you can feel the eagerness of everyone else, they’d want to know where she was but they’re quickly running out of patience. The shop owner starts to arrange loaves of bread in a neat row. I turn back to my lunch. I chew a small piece of the chapo. Then she says,



“Huko kulikuwa na chapati mingi sana ata staki kuona chapo ingine.”

And I think, Bloody hell.

I get the feeling she wants me to turn and look at her, but I don’t because she strikes me as one of those ones who always want to be the life of the party, and that she wants to rope me into her story. I take another bite instead. And the thing with this woman is that she seemed to get louder and louder and at one point it felt like she was speaking right into my ear. I wondered if all this was to get my attention, maybe she wanted us to talk about chapos. In which case: No thanks, madam.

A little while later a man in a suit comes by. He has a round face, a blue tie, and he wants to sit further behind. The woman’s legs are blocking his path. He looks at her and says,

“Excuse kidogo nipite.”

“Oohh, nakuzuia? Kwani nini iko huko nyuma?”

Someone chuckles. And then she says, “Unajua iko mahali pale Nairobi Hospital wanauza pombe? Nyuma ya duka kama hii?”

The man in the suit is making a fatal error. He’s looking at her, listening to what she’s saying, stoking her fire.

“Mimi nimekaa hapo vizuri alafu naona vijana kama hawa wakipita nyuma.

I feel her looking at me again, and I think, Okay lady, what now?

By this time the chapo smokie has turned tasteless (kinda like this post?), and I just want to get a move on. So I quickly finish my lunch, give New Girl her 40 bob and walk away, thinking perhaps I should go look for the liquor den that she was banging on about.

I wondered about the woman, though. Was she as loud in the house? And what of her kids, do they know their mom makes a lot of noise in public? Does she use the same voice as she goes over their homework? I imagine she’s the type to say things like ‘mathematic’. Does her husband find her annoying sometimes? Does he even know she was in Bungoma the previous day, eating a lot of chapos? I’m probably being unfair. Maybe she’s a completely different person at home. Maybe she’s as gentle as a lamb and the most loving wife or mom. Hell, she might even be exceptional in bed. But I cringe at the thought. In which case: No thanks, madam.



2 thoughts on “Two yesterdays

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