The Upcountry Look Essay
The Upcountry Look
“Lose it girl, block shoes are long gone,” came a sneer.
“And the voluminous, billowing gown with metallic threads should be spared for the evenings.” Those made me look up. A girl in jeans had thrown that one at me. I felt a hot flash of shame sweep throughout my body.
“Use a deodorant,” a handsome young man who stood next to me hauled that one as a fresh waft of perfume filled my nose.
I felt angry, ostracized and humiliated but I managed a chuckle, after all what you think is an embarrassment does pale into insignificance once you laugh it off.
Everyone looked so smart and jolly, uttering just the right words without mincing them. I knew I would flop but I had to give it a go. The premonition to be, I lost it. It was a job interview for news anchors in a highly rated local Television station. I lacked presence and charisma, they had told me with a dismissal. I swore to myself that I had to loose that look; dress right and pursue whatever counted in order to fit and belong. Meanwhile I had a bus to catch back to the village.
Two hours later the bus ground to a halt. I set off on the winding dusty road that led home. I felt low, especially when a flash of the incident at the audition room came to my mind, but I was looking forward to the look my sister would wear on her face as she drunk to every word I would use to describe the big city.
“The buildings tower high on the sky and stand erect without a sway even if a Manhattan wind came.” She would leave her mouth agape.
“The people move hurriedly without acknowledging each other.” I expected a squirm, it’s a taboo not salute anyone you cross roads with according to our culture.
“How are you, Mariamu?” I knew that voice. It was Mzee Bura an elderly man from our village. His back was stooped and walked with a hobble supported by his walking stick.
Never mind he mispronounced my name which is Miriam because every person I knew did that. My sister’s name is Grace but they called her Grathi. Mzee Bura’s right shoulder was stooping under the weight of a parcel. I offered to help as out traditions dictated.
My nose twisted involuntarily as a strong unpleasant smell of smell of smoke, dirt and sweat hit me with a revolting effect, but what to do. I went ahead with my pleasantries as we filed along the path exchanging a polite conversation although he did most of the talking. I felt tortured by the swift evening breeze which brought the murky odour to my direction. I wondered what the city people would have made of us then.
“Lose him girl, he is ancient.” That sounded like the most probable reaction from them.
We walked on and calling the journey a long distance is an understatement. Our village is literally at the other side of the globe. The learned would call it a sleepy village because of its lack of civilization but it was home. I loved it.
“Mariamu, you did me proud. Mzee Bura told me about your help yesterday.” I imagined my mother’s proud voice complementing me.
Darkness had fallen by then and there a comfortable silence between us as we trotted on.
A flickering light from a distance confirmed that we had indeed arrived in our home turf. A drunken man was shouting but although it happened all the time his words were cutting my conscience.
“ I sent my Mariamu to the city . . . aah . . . you’ve always taken me for a fool . . . the next time she comes to this village she will be driving a car.” That was my father’s slurred talk.
Apparently my mother’s token of gratitude ( to her husband for sending their eldest daughter – me – to the city) in the name of a drink was not a viable idea because my father was making a spectre of me in the village.
It made me fiery at the thought of facing questioning stares from the people the following day. He was yelling everything about his household to all and sundry and never mind he had counted his chicks too early when it came to me. I glared and hissed in the darkness to let go the turmoil inside me.
“Did you say something?” the old man’s hoarse voice enquired with concern. I held my breath. It was a spontaneous unpremeditated sound of annoyance. How could my father do that?
When I woke up the following morning I spotted my father immediately. He was lounging in our smoky kitchen holding a bowl of porridge. He was sober and it was hard to even think he had taken a drink of muratina, the local traditional beer, and last night. He looked a man so easy to be with, a man one can like or even admire as he spoke so eloquently on the normal issues which had nothing to do with the previous night. He appeared affectionate as he politely listened to my mother explaining what had become of my visit to the city.
“Mariamu, you should go to the river then come fetch me some firewood.” My mother instructed me.
“You should lose this river and firewood crap. It’s time to go tap and at least a charcoal stove . . .” I felt like telling my mother. I was bare footed. This look! I did not like it at all. I smiled at my mother and took a metallic jerican that has been with us for as long as I can recall.
My older brother is basking in the morning sun waiting for his peers to call him for a hunting game. Domestic chores are for women or so I was made to believe as I was growing up. It made me wonder why the masculine young man had no chore to attend to, yet house hold work is the hardest work in the word, but all the same that occurred to me was the reason they never help.
The morning air was fresh. I rubbed my calloused feet on the soft grass that still had the morning dew to give them a clean look, avoiding the foot path. The women were already in the fields singing their hearts out and swinging their hips with moves that increased the pace at which they worked. As they stood to salute me, I could see their faces were glistening with sweat.
“Do they use a deodorant?” I wondered.
The water was sparkling clean and I could tell that it had not been disturbed that morning. I decided to sit by the river bank and let my legs dangle in the water to rid off some dry grass that had stuck between my toes. The water felt warm on my skin and I decided to take my time. The sun started beating on me and the black nylon skirt started feeling like a furnace on my thighs. It was time to move on to the next chore.
The bushes scraped and scratched my skin as I weaved my way underneath the thickets searching for some dead branches which we used as firewood. The smell of green vegetation was overwhelming and it made me feel nauseated.
I had to lose this upcountry way of life, sorry, look.
That twenty something years ago and today from the high storey building where my office located, I glance through the window at the ever busy city and everything seem so normal but my first encounter with the city is unforgettable, and more so the ideas it gave me.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 19 March 2017