It took her a few minutes to gather her wits together and enough courage to venture out of the room she had been pushed into last night. Now she knew the compound, and remembered the time she had spent here.
It was not the traditional Swahili homestead; in fact, Talik did not consider himself Swahili at all. It was one of those old colonial homes left to the servants and henchmen of the colonial masters when they (colonial masters) left Kenya. It wasn’t quite Victorian, but rather a sprawling mass of 12 bedrooms, a huge family room with a dining room attached and placed smack in the centre of the home, and a Kitchen that was obviously meant for servants to work in and to be out of the way of the masters. The homestead also had another 12 rooms in the compound, 3 close to the house, one of which she had been placed in last night, and another 9 spread out the main compound. If you wanted to, you could also count the 7 other homes outside the main homestead but inside the acreage Talik owned which extended all the way down rocky meanders of land for nearly 5 kilometres and onto a private beach cove.
When she stepped out of the room, it was to run into Bi Faridah. She was Talik’s youngest wife, only 23 years old. Between her and the oldest wife Bi Saida, were at least 9 wives, 6 of whom had been divorced [including Mary Anne Kruger] but whose children were very much part of Talik’s family. The male children [sometimes with wives and children] were part of this or the other homesteads that belonged to Talik across the coast. 6 of Talik’s sons had chosen separate lives, 2 in Nairobi, 2 in Dubai and one in London and one in Boston. And those happened to be the total sum of the smartest sons who could possibly inherit their father’s empire. The rest [11 sons in all] were vagabonds, drug addicts, petty thieves who brought their father more shame and grief than he had ever been able to bear.
Although Zohra did not really count herself as part of Talik’s household, she still found herself running into her ‘family’, and finding out things she would rather not. Such as the fact that Bi Faridah was actually having an affair with Omari, Talik’s youngest son by Bi Saida, who was always in and out of jail and was now spending an extended period of time under the hospitality of the Shimo la Tewa prison. Rumour had it that Bi Farida’s 7 months along pregnancy was in fact courtesy of Omari.
Zohra came to a halt just outside ‘her’ door, and the woman who obviously felt more legitimate in her presence greeted her with a smile that was more of a sneer than a friendly overture.
Since Faridah was married to Zohra’s father, therefore her stepmother in spite of the fact that she was younger, Zohra was required by tradition to greet her with the formal ‘Shikamoo.’
And the woman was obviously expecting it since she planted herself right smack in front of Zohra and waited. She would have murmered something incoherent on another day, but she was not going to get away with that this time, not in her father’s absence. That much was clear.
So she swallowed the bile, and with none of the humility she was supposed to feel, held out her hand.
“Shikamoo.” No way in hell am I going to kiss that hennaed hand. God knows where it has been!
“Marahaba, mwanangu.” And Zohra could see the venom in her eyes. Faridah pointed in the direction of the kitchen, “Haya nenda kule, dadako ashapika chai na mahamri yako kabatini. Ukimaliza uende na wenzako kisimani.”
Zohra resisted the urge to snort. I’ll go have breakfast, but I am not going to fetch water for you. The house had piped water, but because it cost quite a bit in electricity to pump water into the tank that supplied well water to the house, Talik’s dictates had always been that water for household chores like washing clothes and so on had to be fetched by hand from the well.
It never really made sense to Zohra, especially because other precautions, like fixing leaking faucets could minimise the waste and expenses. But his wives and children always obeyed him.