“Akinyi, you are such a good girl! Eh! Did you make these mandazi’s yourself?”
Akinyi watched as Aunty Ruth grabbed four mandazi’s at a time, and dropped them onto her red plastic plate. Her mouth hastily took a bite that saw half of one mandazi disappear.
“Yes Aunty Ruth,” she replied.
Aunty Ruth sat on the only single seat sofa in the living room, because it was the only chair that could accommodate her size. Akinyi forced herself to look away, and moved to serving the other guests crammed into the small living room of the Owino house.
“Mmm mmm mmm…” Aunty Ruth hummed, licking a finger. “You have outdone yourself today”
Today is Sunday, and every Sunday, Daddy’s siblings, along with their spouses, and children, congregated in the three-bedroom maisonette tucked within the ‘Meadowvale’ Estate in the East Lands neighborhood of Nairobi. Every Sunday they brought noise and need.
Aunties, Uncles, and cousins snatched the last of Akinyi’s already limited peace.
With a leso wrapped around her waist to cover the immodest shorts she wore underneath, Akinyi sidestepped her way through the cramped living room. One wall was occupied by a cream-colored wall unit that housed all the electronics, including a 30-inch flat-screen television, and all the fragile plates and cups reserved for non-family guests. The rest of the room was entirely occupied by mismatching chunky settees, a large wooden chest of drawers, a round dining table tucked in the corner, and a 6 piece pull out coffee table that filled the center of the room. Beneath everyone’s bare feet was a plush maroon carpet.
Outside, the rain hammered hard on the brown earth, and promised mud that would cake on everyone’s shoes.
Akinyi extended the tray filled with mandazis to Uncle Frank and his wife Beatrice. Each placed a modest two mandazis on their plastic plates.
“Akinyi, did you really make these yourself?” inquired Uncle Frank, trying to sound doubtful. He asked the same question every time Akinyi offered him mandazis during their visits. Even though everyone knew the answer.
“Of course she did! Akinyi is the only one that cooks in this house,” Mama chimed from her seat in the room. She was right. Mama’s two sons and Daddy never stepped into the kitchen, and Mama busied herself with church activities to avoid any domestic chore in the house.
So Akinyi cooked. Akinyi cleaned. Akinyi made the mandazis.
“Eh! Akinyi you’re such a good girl! Thank you!” said Beatrice.
Akinyi smiled and extended the tray to Aunty Mary and her husband Jeremiah. Jeremiah took two mandazis, while Aunty Mary took only one.
“I’m watching my figure my child,” she said, looking down at the lone mandazi on her plate.
Akinyi caught Jeremiah give Aunty Mary a quick side-eye before shoving a whole mandazi into his mouth. In the meantime, the shirt button over his belly continued to strain.
“Eunice, as we are enjoying the fruits from your kitchen, let me also ask if you managed to rid yourself of those rats you complained about,” asked Aunty Ruth, as she rubbed her greasy thumb and forefinger together to dust off the crumbs from her last mandazi.
“You know, I haven’t seen even one! They suddenly disappeared!” Mama ended her response with a shrug. “Does anyone want more tea?” she offered, hoping to divert thoughts from the subject of vermin in her residence.
Akinyi had finished serving Aunty Lucy, the only one without a husband or child, and was serving the second of the six children sitting on the living room floor, and the dining table. When she was done, she placed the tray with the remaining mandazis in the center of the coffee table. She was on her way out of the room before she was called back.
“Akinyi, can you make another thermos of tea? I think this one is almost finished” said Mama, shaking the thermos at Akinyi. Akinyi once again sidestepped her way through the room to collect the almost empty thermos from Mama.
“Joseph, I didn’t see you take a mandazi,” commented Mama, giving Daddy a concerned look.
“No no. The meal was sufficient,” he said, nodding towards the dining table where the serving bowls containing ugali, chicken stew, fish stew, and sukuma wiki still sat after everyone had taken their fill. A feast Akinyi had singlehandedly spent the better part of her day preparing. Only Akinyi knew that Daddy had helped himself to five mandazis before the guests arrived.
Why lie about mandazis, Akinyi thought.
In the kitchen, Akinyi rolled up the long sleeves of her black cotton shirt before rinsing out the Thermos thoroughly in the sink. She placed it on the stone kitchen counter to drip dry. She removed her leso to reveal bright green shorts that loosely fit her still developing figure. She folded the leso into a neat square, and placed it on the three-legged kitchen stool that sat in front of the gas stove.
She heard a cough, followed by a grunt.
Akinyi washed the few remaining dishes in the sink and wiped the stone surfaces so that the kitchen appeared clean and in order. Just the way Mama liked it. She heard a squeak, a scrape, and the sound of something heavy falling to the ground.
Akinyi opened the kitchen door and looked at the stone path that led to the one-room cement block that served as the ‘servants quarters’ at the back of the house. She calculated her movements, and crossed the short space in a few large steps to avoid getting soaked by the rain. Once inside, she sat on her thin foam mattress atop a metal framed single bed and toweled her bare feet dry. Behind her, the window let in light that illuminated a picture on the wall of a beach in Mombasa that she’d torn out of a ‘Safiri’ Magazine.
After a few minutes, Akinyi stood up, put on her green oversized gumboots, followed by her red faded ‘Chicago Bulls’ hoodie. She picked up her backpack filled with her meager belongings and made sure it fit snugly on her back. She opened the door and stretched one foot outside to gauge how quickly her gumboot would get wet. The rain had slowed down to a drizzle.
She loved the smell of rain.
Outside, she grabbed the door handle to her room with both hands and pulled it hard toward her so that it slammed shut. She once again stepped quickly through the rain to the kitchen in the main house. Once inside, she stopped to listen.
Still in her gumboots, Akinyi walked the short corridor from the kitchen toward the front door of the Owino house. Wet footprints trailed behind her. She stopped at the entrance to the living room, just before reaching the front door. She looked in. No one moved. No one spoke. Akinyi pinched her nose. “Phoo-phoo,” she said to herself.
Tik-Tik-Tik, she heard the clock, hanging above the entrance to the living room.
She stepped toward the front door and reached for the red and white Coca-Cola umbrella beside it. She walked out into the cool breeze that typically accompanied the ‘short rains’, and felt free. Outside the house gate, the estate street was empty. With the big umbrella sheltering her from the incessant drizzle, Akinyi casually walked until she reached the rusted paint chipped barrier of the main entrance to ‘Meadowvale’ estate.
Amos, the guard, sat in his single-seater wooden shelter reading a newspaper. She stopped in front of him and smiled.
“Sasa Akinyi! You’re going out even in this rain?” said Amos, lowering the newspaper to view Akinyi.
“Of course!” she responded cheerfully, waving goodbye as she adjusted the umbrella, and stepped through the pedestrian gate onto the road that led to anywhere.
“Sawa-Sawa! You’re such a good girl Akinyi,” said Amos, watching her small figure trudge along the broken pavement, and fade as the rain picked up in its intensity. He licked his finger and turned the page of the newspaper.
Akinyi did everything in the house. She cooked. She cleaned. She made mandazis. She killed rats.