Let’s call her bonnie. She stands there, all 5 foot 4 inches of her. Her smile shines in the backdrop of her dark visage, her skin as dark as smoke dried timber. It radiates (the smile, not the timber). She looks at me with her clear glassy eyes. African eyes, just brown enough, just black enough; they follow me as I run through my mind, as I comb for stories, memories, jokes and her eyes dart around in my mind, picking each story and savoring it like expensive candy. Her smile follows her eyes, illuminating the dark caves that hide my sad jokes, she laughs nonetheless.
She has a 20 kilo backpack on her, probably half her weight, but she walks as if she’s carrying her womanhood, she’s tired but her countenance doesn’t betray her. She tells me things, jokes, anecdotes, thoughts; she speaks, a light lisp glazing over her words. She doesn’t stop, only to listen to my verbiage, and to occasionally take in some air. She gasps at the wind as a clarinet player would, methodically and deliberately. And when she laughs, its somewhere between a cry and a laugh, every chuckle carrying a certain amount of genuineness, and I laugh with her, learning how to laugh, how to be happy.
We stop every so often to take in some air and to drink water. She never stops talking or listening, and when she does, I know it’s time to sit. We rest on the road side, sitting on our backpacks as we sip water from our bottles. A few seconds and her glow is back. I watch her as she recharges, as she regains her energy, as she restores her womanhood. She stands up and puts on her load, I help her, she doesn’t like being helped (women!) so I watch her as she slightly struggles and when she’s ready I get my bag and we walk on, the peaks in front of us, like a carrot on a stick, inviting but always moving with us, away from us.
Later at the camp site, she will sit silent, alone, all dressed up in mountain garb. She almost looks like an Eskimo, almost. She nestles a mug in her tiny hands and stares at the nothingness before her, perhaps taking in the day’s activities, or pondering about tomorrow, or just thinking about nothing. Maybe she’s replaying my jokes in her mind… I doubt it. I go on with my business, talking to other people, playing cards and occasionally rubbing my bare knees (I wear shorts on the mountain, like a boss). At one point I look her direction and she is gone. I’m not worried, just curious, so I leave the table and take a walk, my eyes darting about, looking, searching. She’s seated alone, on a bench overlooking a valley. She stares at the hazy greyness of a cloud gently riding the wind a few meters away. Her back is gently arched as she sways gently to some abstract, unheard rhythm. I leave her there and get back to the banda.
It’s dark now. The valley is dotted with a thousand tiny yellow orbs. The banda is alive with bunter, song and movement. Spoons clink as they feed us. She laughs loudly down the table. She’s talking to some people, some wazungus. They stare at her and she stares back. Only later does she come to me and announce that they are British Army soldiers on training. She goes on to tell me a few more things and I only hear her speak as I feed on her excitement. Her words jump out of her, she goes on and on and I smile, not sure if she said something funny or it’s her joy running across my face pulling my lips apart, forcing me to smile. She has a thing for tall white men who can light a fire. I can light a fire, I think, maybe she’ll overlook the tall and white part, I muse.
4.55 am. I hate this life. I have to wake everyone up.
5.30 am. I am still waking people up.
5.45 am. I have to take my luminous green cap to one of the girls. I burst into the girls’ room and she screams. Well, they all scream but I only hear her. She’s seated on the top bank of the first bed, the one closest to me. She’s not dressed, well at least not completely. A dark leg sticks out of her torso and into a sock. I look away quickly and close the door.
We don’t leave the camp together. She is somewhere between the other hikers. I am ahead. I walk on occasionally looking back. A few people are tired, I rest with them. We talk, laugh, walk, I keep looking back. Later we will walk together, and she will tell me about her life, things she hadn’t told me, things she wouldn’t tell me and for a moment as she speaks, I stare into the eyes of the man holding the mirror beside me. He smiles, I look back at the mirror, at her, and I listen as she tells her story, my story.
We’ve been walking for hours. At one point she stretches out her hand. My thoughts stop my heart. She puts her hand down and wind comes rushing out of my mouth. I was a bit confused there, I say, she laughs, maybe at the awkwardness of the moment, maybe at this fool, maybe at the absurdity of having her hand held.
14 km and she is done. I can see it in her. Her eyes are fixed, her mouth slightly ajar, fighting for air. Her feet barely leave the ground and when she sits her neck droops. I increase pace as we get to a cliff-like climb. I walk on and leave her behind, never looking back. I climb faster and faster; I can feel my heart pushing through my chest in violent protest. I keep going. At the top of the climb I stop and take in some air, you are crazy, that’s what you are, a voice in my head declares. I take a sip of water and rush down the climb. I eventually get to her. She looks like a battered woman. She is pale, her skin looks like ashy timber. I take her bag from her, she protests. I insist, she gives it to me. I walk away, up, and I look back her glow slowly coming back.
10 hours later and we get to camp. She disappears, this time I let her.
Later she will wake me up to have dinner.
1.00 am. Somebody please kill me.
2.00 am and she is still dressing up…or whatever women do when they hold clothes but don’t wear them.
2.30 am we set out for Point Lenana. I can’t see her in the darkness, plus I have to stay behind and make sure anyone who can’t make it is taken safely back to camp. Two ladies have to go back. I walk on. We get to this lake, blue like a mzungu’s eyes. The sun paints the sky, colors I have never seen. Nairobi has never seen these colors on her sorry polluted sky. A few people decide they have had enough, a heart breaking thing for a mountain enthusiast. I try to motivate them but they have had it. They turn back. I am left with three people: two gentlemen and her. She insists on going on, but she is beat. I can’t ask her to go back, so I do the only thing left, hold her hand.
|It was really necessary...honest.|
She holds mine as tightly as our thick gloves will let her. I feel her determination in her fingers, little frozen twigs trying desperately to make it. My feet are frozen numb, my fingers are in pain, I long for my sleeping bag back at camp, but I can’t let her down so I push on. My hand gives her a sudden burst of energy, a hope, and she keeps going. I too have a reason to keep going.
When we get to the peak, I stretch out my hands and look down on the earth as it hangs off my feet.
She stares into the yellow horizon. She smiles, she looks at me then at the world. Her countenance is back. Her glassy eyes, her skin, her smile. She starts speaking, saying things, I listen to her, to the world, to my heart, to the mountain.
|In shorts, like a boss.|