The Legend of Creek Town

I am not sure why the story appealed to me. Ichabod Crane, the superstitious schoolmaster in the story, amused and irritated me. I was living in a town full of superstitious residents and their assortment of legends. Even at ten, the idea that an itch in the middle of my palm was a herald of coming wealth seemed totally ridiculous to me. I knew that people had to work to get money. At least my mother had to. As for Ichabod Crane, I was certain that if he had been smarter than superstitious he might have won the heiress, Katrina, whom he adored.

I preferred Brom Bones, the other guy who, though not as schooled as the esteemed Mr. Crane, was smart enough to up his game and win the battle for the girl. I would re-read the story for a few more years to come, every time I thought I was losing my battles. It always reminded me that it was up to me to be smart enough to survive. So I tried extra hard to be both smart and a survivor.

At ten, I had already fought a few battles. In fact, the kind Khalid Kassim had come into my life precisely because I had almost lost one particularly terrible battle just before my 10th birthday. On March 20, 1992, I was rushed to hospital after ingesting a few dozen quinine tabs – quietly lying down at a corner in the school playground, waiting to die.

After the initial treatment to save my life, the doctors turned to my mother in hushed frenzy trying to figure out why a 10 year old could be suicidal. At this point Khalid Kassim appeared. He was a pediatrician with an affinity for psychology. Dr. Khalid Kassim. He said I could call him Khalid Kassim. So I did – and still do. He took me up on a no-charge basis.

My bi-weekly trips to Khalid Kassim’s clinic in the Mombasa town centre were very much anticipated. The first time I went into the clinic I was totally fascinated by the wooden paneling and the pictures hanging on the wall. I was taken in by the hanged scenes of a pride of lions, snowy mountain peaks, still jade-blue creek waters and flowers in bloom. The receptionist at the clinic was a nice, matronly woman who wore a navy blue dress with pink flowers. She spoke kindly to my mother. I liked her.

Khalid Kassim was kind to me. I didn’t talk to him at first – not at the hospital where he visited me several times and not at his clinic for the first four visits. I just wasn’t talking to anyone, not even my mother. Khalid Kassim would sit in his chair and watch while I did everything but not talk to him. Everything my mother had taught me thus far about being polite and well behaved pretty much dissipated in Khalid Kassim’s clinic. I can still see my mother tense up every time I knocked things over. Khalid just watched and I guess they had a previous agreement not to scold me. Occasionally he would say something to draw me out. I had nothing to say. Not really.

I loved Khalid Kassim’s library. He had an entire wall full of books, everything from Puss in Boots to Mekatilili and Nancy Drew. The wall fascinated me. The first four visits to Khalid’s clinic were spent kneeling in front of the wall flipping through books, but not reading really. However, on the fifth visit, I found the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. So I spoke.

“Can I read it please?”

Khalid Kassim nodded, “Of course, you can. But you must do something for me in return. You must write a story for me to read next time you come.”

Khalid Kassim told me I could keep the little book. I did. After reading it several times over, I wrote him my story.

In my story, there was a little girl who lived in a sleepy town by a creek. The town was pretty with flowers in all colors against the beautiful jade colored waters. The women in the town made pretty mats and baked sweet pastries to sell to people in the next town. The men built beautiful houses thatched with palm fronds and then went out to fish for supper. The children played on the white sand and in the creek water on clear blue sky days. Everyone was happy until…

One blue-sky day, while everyone was busy having their mid-day meal of spicy minced meat on chapattis and hot bitter coffee, a little girl disappeared. Everyone noticed that she was missing but no one cared to go and look for her. They all went on baking pastries, building pretty houses and playing on the sand – all, except the little girl’s brother.

When he realized that his sister was missing, he went frantic with worry and tried to get everyone to help him look for her. No one, not even the little girl’s mother and father bothered to help. He searched everywhere… he even dove in the creek hoping to find something of her. He wondered at the frothy bubbles in the middle of the creek. Finally after 3 days searching, he emerged from the mangrove overgrowth next to the creek, paused to consider where to search next and saw her sitting at the edge of the creek. He ran to her yelling, crying, scooped her into his arms and searched her for any injuries. She seemed fine, so he took her home. But he soon found out what was wrong. The creek monster had taken her heart and kept it for himself, replacing it with an ugly empty box in her chest. Without her heart, she would not eat, play, or laugh. He was scared that soon she would die, too. Who can live without a heart?

The little girl had no idea what to do. He wanted his sister to have her heart back. But to do that he would have to find out where the creek monster lived, then approach it for a negotiation. First, he decided to set off to the other side of the creek where there was a Wiseman. He hoped the Wiseman would give him advice on how to go about the situation. The brother decided not to cross the creek by boat but instead to go around it, which was a journey of many days. Finally, he arrived at the Wiseman’s home. The Wiseman listened to the young man’s dilemma, and then offered his advice which was brief and simple.

“You must go back to the creek and fight the creek monster. If you kill it, you will get your sister’s heart back. If it kills you, both you and your sister will be lost.”

The brother went back to the Creek and goaded the monster into a fight. The monster killed the brother with one swipe of its ugly paw. From then on, the creek monster stole a child’s heart every year. Soon there was no child left who had a heart.

I still remember Khalid Kassim’s expression as he read the end of my story. He frowned. I thought his graying hair turned white. His eyes definitely drained of the burning emerald, turning grey and flat.

“Are you sure, Juliet? Are you sure that nothing can be done to stop the creek monster?” Khalid Kassim asked.

I shook my head, “No one can stop him.” I declared this sadly.

“What about the little girl?” Khalid Kassim demanded, refusing to give up like I had. “I think the monster left a tiny little bit of the girl’s heart in her chest. She can use that to defeat the monster. She just needs a little bit of help. The Wiseman can help, don’t you think?”

“Why should he?”

Khalid Kassim’s eyes filled with color, “Because he wants his heart back, too. He fought with the monster a long time ago. He knows how it fights, but he has just never been strong enough to fight it again. Now he can help the little girl defeat the monster, don’t you think? Besides if we let the monster keep stealing the children’s hearts, they will all grow to be monsters like him. We can’t let that happen can we?”

So it was that for the next three years, every Friday at 4.30pm without fail, I went to the clinic to plot with Khalid Kassim the best way to defeat and kill the Creek monster. In 1998, I won my first battle against the creek monster. He was jailed for 3.5 years. Since then I have discovered that the creek monster has relatives and friends of his species who also steal children’s hearts. Khalid Kassim and I still plot battles from time to time. I won my second battle in 1999 when I completed high school and a few more when I turned 18, 21, and then 25. I will be winning yet another battle in a few months’ time when I earn my degree in Early Childhood Development.

I still haven’t killed the species of monster that destroys children’s lives. I need a lot more help from everyone.

Yesterday, Khalid Kassim and I sat at a City Café, sipping coffee and laughing at some of my teenage antics. Dr. Kassim’s hair is white now and his back is slightly bent from 70 odd years of life. His eyes still burn with color and feeling as we talk about life. I get angry still and work myself into frustration. He placed his wrinkled warm hand over mine to still me. His éclair brown skin contrasts against my chocolate brown. He can hush me and make me listen just like he used to when I was 12. And now he smiles, gently, “Princess, you know by now that battles cannot be fought alone. Not all battles are fought the same way. Even in the same battle, there are different kinds of regiments; attackers, defenders, decoys, routers, medical aid and so on. In a regiment there are different kinds of roles for each troop.”

“I know that,” I say quickly. That has always been my flaw: thinking I could go it alone.

Khalid Kassim laughed softly. He knows me better than I know myself.

“You’ve come along way, kitten. Use the lessons you’ve learnt. Do your best but don’t do it alone. You need all the allies you can get, even if some of them just come along to make noise. Remember, the creek monster hates it when people make noise and talk about him.”

I remember. I guess it’s time I rewrote my legend. Khalid Kassim smiles, and the emerald floods his eyes.

 

 

Finish the Story Friday

She Blossoms...:

Calling on Black Women Writers!

Originally posted on Storymoja:

BWBL Slides-page-4 (1)

Storymoja and the #BlackWomenBeLikeSeries are pleased to present Finish the Story Friday - a series of the stories between the lines of stereotypes about black African women.

On the second Friday of each month, a new story by a writer from a country in an African region the #BlackWomenBeLikeSeries is celebrating will be posted on the Storymoja blog.

The second Friday after that, another writer from a different country in the same region will complete the story written by the previous writer, by adding 750-1000 words to that story. Extra bonus points for introducing a new lead character, connected to the previous story’s one!

This will continue bi-weekly and regions are celebrated quarterly. All the stories written in each three month period will come together to make one nuanced story about the black African women of that region.

We’re presenting and looking for stories that challenge us and the current…

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Call Out For Submissions: Storymoja Reality Check! Series (Life Skills)

She Blossoms...:

The Reality Check! Series is a book series meant for teens and young adults (13 – 19 years of age).

Originally posted on Storymoja:

The Reality Check! Series is a book series meant for teens and young adults (13 – 19 years of age). Through entertaining and thought provoking stories, the series explores and demonstrates various life skills through teenage eyes and experiences.

The main characters are teens from East Africa who are facing contemporary challenges recognizable to teens living in Africa. The stories go beyond action and drama by forcing the main character to explore their emotions and grow.

Although the stories are fiction, they should be believable. The more the writer can tap into the their memories and experiences of being a teenager, and the more they use their senses to describe people and settings who seem real, the more the reader can identify with, be moved and learn from the story.

In the stories, ordinary youth face challenges that demand decisions and choices, some of which are life-changing. The characters in…

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Review: Cell

Cell
Cell by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the wake of watching shows such as The Walking Dead, Z Nation and The Last Ship, this novel makes you recognise Stephen King as the original master of the Zombie Apocalypse story. Only he goes ahead and makes the origin of the apocalypse something that we have all come to be so dreadfully dependent on that if The Pulse went out right now, pretty much no one would escape turning into a phone-crazy.

In the midst of it all, a tale of strong bonds of friendship formed in the chaos of simply trying to survive from one day to the next, highlight the humanity that we all hope would keep mankind alive. Of course, there are a few way-outers – Ricardi and Ray – because ‘this is no way to live’.

And idiots like Gunnah and his little buddy who go out of their way to perpetrate horrid crimes just because their egos have been bruised. There will be bullies under all circumstances.

Two things occurred to me as I read this deeply entertaining but thought provoking fictional story.

1. How would I really act in the middle of a crisis like that? Would I find my basic principles of humanity easy to shirk if it was choice between abandoning them and surviving, or would I hold on to them and try to survive with them intact?

2. How long would I fight to keep going, for myself, for my friends, for my family? Would I be among the first to lie down and die because ‘this is no way to love’? Or would I keep going until there was no more life to live?

I love books that throw me into existential mulling. We all need books like these.

So what have you read recently that has ‘given you a seat and asked you to think about your future’?

View all my reviews

October Short Story Call Out

She Blossoms...:

14 days to write up your story and submit it for the October Storymoja Writers’ Blog Showcase. Deadline Oct 21.

Originally posted on Storymoja:

The Storymoja Writers’ Blog is back! For guidelines on what, when and where to submit, please see our submission guidelines.

For October, please send in your short stories which should not be less than 1200 words; not more than 1600 words long. Send in your work in a word document attachment to blogs@storymojaafrica.co.ke. Subject Title of your Submission Email Should Be October Short Story.

Deadline: October 21st 2014.

Important Guidelines 

1. Always double edit your work before you send it to us.

2. Use 12 Point, Times New Roman Font, with 1.5 spacing to make it easier for the editors to review your work.

3. Always title your pieces, and make sure your story has author name, even if it is a pen name!

4. Language of your piece should be English. Occasional sheng, swahili and mother language allowed, with translations in brackets.

5. If you have…

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The drunk on the street via @sheblossoms

She Blossoms...:

My Guilt Trip. Where’s yours? Email to tcsmola@gmail.com and join us in our journey to #Sondeka the future we want.

Originally posted on Collective Inertia:

A few years ago, I got off a matatu opposite GPO and almost immediately ran into a little crowd just at the turn into Koinange Street. As a typical Kenyan, I stopped to peer through and see what was up.
I saw a middle aged woman who leant on the plump side on the ground. Her gray skirt suit was dusty and dirty and her weave wasn’t doing too well. She seemed to be trying to get off the ground but was unable to do so. Her words were slurred and didn’t make much sense.
The people around her asked and someone said: “Sasa, kama mama mzima kama huyu analewa chakari, hii dunia inaenda wapi?”
Someone else said, “Aibu gani hii!”
I was late for work, so I walked on thinking: Lady, it’s 7am. Why in the world are you going to be so drunk on the street at…

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How do I Look?

I never quite know what to expect when I attend an Ideagasm. There have been moments of surprise, disappointment, shock and even life-changing clarity at these ‘conversation’ events that have been running at Storymoja for a little over a year. The participants are generally different every time although we do have a consistent group of return visitors. My privilege as the organizer of Storymoja Ideagasms means that I have gotten to see how very similar human beings we are and yet how different we can be when we align ourselves with little cliques and collectives.

Ideagasms do not have a moderator per se. Yes, an organizer, me, who selects attendees, sends invites and sit very near the fire extinguisher. I occasionally do stand up in mid-session to try and give someone with a soft voice a ‘hush room’ so they can get a chance to speak. But the general format of an Ideagasm is that it is an open forum and a safe zone within a free speech zone. My job is generally to try and maintain the delicate balance between free speech and total chaos.

Each session generally has a provocation. A provocation is a thought or idea meant to provoke thought and internalized perspective. Participants have the choice to air their views, challenge the provocation, or go off tangent into a related topic that seems to be more urgent. Usually, Ideagasms are held at Storymoja Offices, but once in a while we accept an invitation to hold an Ideagasm with a group in their own space.

This past weekend, the Ideagasm was a Storymoja /Sondeka Ideagasm held at Creatives Garage Offices. Creatives Garage is an organization which among other things also organizes the Sondeka Festival. The just concluded Storymoja Festival’s theme was Imagine the World. The upcoming Sondeka Festival’s theme is ‘Create the Future You Want.’ The Ideagasm’s Provocation was: Language and Self-Articulation.

It occurs to me that the Ideagasm started long before the actual session begun. When I first arrived at Creatives’ Garage, there was the usual mini-frenzy surrounding organising a festival. But at several intervals while I waited for the Ideagasm participants to arrive, someone or the other stopped to talk to me. I was offered coffee.

Then Shiru, worrying about the fact that everyone seemed a little late brought up the topic of the strange traffic patterns in Nairobi. It occurred to me that human beings worked like swarms and in cities like Nairobi, swarms whose general driving instinct is to avoid traffic jams. The only problem is that the swarm instinctual drive is what actually causes the traffic jams, frustration and general city road chaos.

Not long after this, Kip took a break from making tracking spreadsheets to tell us about his insane (but perfectly logical) early Sunday morning movie theatre fun. And then he showed us the book book ad. I wondered if in a few years it might not be quite necessary to tell our kids about book books as opposed to ebooks and other forms of books.

Once our little group of thinkers got together over the kitchen table at Creatives’ Garage with Sandwiches, Cake and lots of milk, the conversation did finally get started.

The question all men are terrified of came up. How do I look?

I laughingly recalled my mum’s answer: How do you want to look?

And in that a long conversation ensued about validation, choices based on other people’s preferences rather than your own and ultimately the woman’s right and choice to dress and look the way she wants for her own self rather than to please someone or to avoid being assaulted.

Somewhere in the conversation, someone brought up the issue of people who feel they have some kind of right to know and have a say in other persons’ choices. From the random guy in a room who suddenly inquires of another, “Are you bisexual?’ to the relatives who demand of their nieces at weddings, “So when are you getting married?”

Where are the boundaries? Who has the right to ask these questions? And why in the world do we ALL get defensive even when we are convinced that we have no need to feel defensive about the choices we make?

I am not sure at which point we switched over to a discussion on collective inertia. But somewhere in there the question came up about a recent case that has received way too much and the wrong kind of publicity on social media. Why did the people present not act immediately? To which someone responded, how do you know no one acted immediately? And someone else asked, do our reactions to bad things that happen give the perpetrators fame and deny the victims justice? Can you be absolutely sure that you will react in the RIGHT way when something that is obviously WRONG happens in your presence?

This led to confessions of times when we have found ourselves frozen in place and just watched perpetrations of injustice happen around us. We did try to console ourselves with the times when we overcame our fear and acted in courageous ways, some of which could almost certainly have resulted in our deaths in the hands of an insane mob. But our consolations were far outweighed by the responsibility each of us felt when we realised that more than once we have watched in shock or silence as something bad happened and we did nothing about it.

So, in the spirit of #Sondeka, we all made vows to right our Karmas by being more courageous, more aware, more true to the things we believe in. Join us in our bid to #Sondeka our Karmas!

 

What is Sondeka Festival?

The word ‘Sondeka’ is a Sheng (Kenyan urban colloquial) word meaning “to make” or “create”. And true creation comes when people are free to express themselves and that is what the Sondeka Festival is all about. It is three explosive days from 18th to 20th October 2014, of creation, curation, innovation, fun, games, music, dance, till you drop, just people expressing themselves freely. All events run concurrently at various venues within the Ngong Racecourse.

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