Open 2020, Short Stories - Cynthia Abdallah



By Cynthia Abdallah 


It was that time of the year again when Mlimani battled it out with Idunya PAG. These contests were taken very seriously amongst churches in Musasa and this time, Idunya was determined to slay Mlimani. They had won the title too many times already. It was their time now.


It was customary for churches to participate in the annual marago event that was held on Christmas day. This event gave churches an opportunity to mingle with other churches in the vast community of Musasawhilst sharing the good that the lord had done for the community that particular year. The rules were simple. Churches were required to memorize a verse from the bible andcome up with an entertaining celebratory dance.


The judging was done bya select group of pastors from a different district and the winning teamreceived two 40kg bags of beans for their church and the coveted title of Marago warriors.


So wegathered all of our cousins and every evening for the next two weeks walked with meaning to our church grounds for ourdailyrehearsals. These meaningful walks were made even more meaningful by the village kids who were always eager to see us again after months of being away.


My family lived in Nairobi but December wasalways reserved for family gatherings and marago.We were always excited to see our cousins, our friendly village neighbors and guga and nyanyabut mostly about the impending marago event. The walks to Idunya PAG were filled with euphoria. Wejokedwith the village kids about the trips to the kidaho,the crazy little woman Gariamma and her quick and hurried walk and they made fun of our Nairobi way of carrying 20 litre jerry cans of water on our backs rather than balancing them on our heads with the ingata.


They called us, vana va mutaoni, meaning children of the town, stressing the V in both words(vvvvana vvvvva mutaoni)in a comical manner that filled our journeys to the church grounds with surreal laughter and joy.


Wearrived at the church every evening and as usual mytall aggressive cousins shoved us all into two straight lines to begin our singing practice. The lines had to be parallel to each other and the boys had to pair up with the girls for a uniform look they insisted. The lead conductor had to shimmy her way to the judges to receive the order of performances while everyone else chanted the slogan usirudi nyuma pasita (do not waver pastor), to signal the start of the proceedings.


My cousins had also declared themselves lead soloists and the rest of the crew did not think to question it lest you be shoved to the back of the line where none of us wanted to belong. We did as wewere told and soon practice began. Onzere, one of the village boys, did not quite enjoy their bullish ways and he stood in the corner alone with a rather disappointed look on his face, his head tilted towards the laterite roads that led back home as if to say he would rather go back home than sing with us. He would later make it known to them that he was a boy and not a girl to be bossed around.


Then theybegan to sing with their mouths wide open, their faces beaming with joy at the sound of their own voices, their tall frames swaying from side to side. The rest of us chimed in, the tenors and the altos taking a life of their own while the basses quietly harmonizedthe melodies in the background.


I must admit that despite their overbearingness, their voices soundedangelic when they sang the songKimalaika and every time theirvoices got louder, we danced harder, bending down further,closer to the ground, our shoulders shimming, our backs bobbing, our bodies moving from side to side. Memba’s drumming complimented their high pitched sopranos carrying with it bewitching soundsthat rose and fell prompting us to move in one steady rhythm and direction.


Days passed and finally the D day came. We had spent the entire night fantasizing about this contentious Sunday and acting outdifferent celebratory reactions should we come number 1. Memba suggested that the boys carry the girls on their shoulders, while the girls thought it was better for the boys to drum all the way home instead. After much debating, we all agreed on drumming all the way home should we clinch the title the next day.


We woke up earlier than usualand as always set off on our daily chores. The competition was set for 12 noon and we had to mop the houses and prepare our lunches before setting off for Jeptulu. Some of us hurried to the kidahoto fetch some much needed water while others bathed the children on the field outside our mud house, scrubbing every inch of their bodies with makonge while scouring every single inch of dead skin on their feet on the marble rock outside the house. It was one happy moment for all of us.

We soon departed for Jeptulu dressed in the little white gowns that we had been baptized in the previous year. These gowns denoted a purity of some sort:a purity that proclaimed the desire to please God and to compete for him. They also fit the occasion perfectly as our celebratory song required us to dance and look like angels.


The time came and just like we had practiced, the conductor shimmied to the judges to receive our order of performances as the rest of the singers chanted usirudi nyuma pasita in loud tones. The crowd turned around with looks of awe adorned on their faces, a sign that we had started the proceedings on a fairly high note. We then lined up in two straight lines under the military leadership of the Khabei’s and waited anxiously for our turn to showcase our dance.


Mlimani did as Mlimani always did. Their well dried out drums beating at a steady rhythm, their dancers moving steadily in their striped white and purple costumes. Their soloist gave us one single look as she began to sing the song Kurendenda while the rest of the team sang along,their faces lined with defiant assurance. When their performance ended, they trotted past us, bragging about their brilliant performance in loud voices so we could hear them.


Then, our moment arrived. Memba drummed ferociously to signify to the judges that we were here and everyone turned around to pay attention to the bewitching sounds of the tom-tom drums and to the angelic voices that were belting out the tune of Kimalaika.


The grounds felt lighter under our feet, and our voices resonated with the sounds of the drums. We sang for ourselves but mostly for Idunya PAG. Our bodies swaying from side to side, our faces shining with unmatched glory. (Natucheze kimalaika…. natucheze kimalaika……Kimalaika kutoka Idunya aaa….) When the singing and dancing ended, we recited, John 3:16, with conviction and quietsupplication and then confidently matched to the seating area on the left side of the field where the other nine churches had been sitting patiently. Onzere yelled out a final Usirudi nyuma pasita that got the pastors giggling and beaming with joy as he sat down.


The applause said it all. The sounds of men dressed in oversized suits chanting hallelujah and women in white gowns and white scarfs ululating and giving praises to Nyasayesignifiedthat they had enjoyed our performance. It was all for the glory of God they said and when the results came in and we had taken number 1, the crowds burst into untold frenzy with shouts of Amen filling the already charged air.


They were happy for us and We were happy for ourselves and mostly for Idunya PAG.


The journey back home was filled with the sounds of the tom-tom drums. I was quietly elated. Little town girls had come to the village and given Idunya number 1.


• Idunya: Name of church loosely translated to mean….be sad.
•Mlimani: Name of a local church loosely translated to mean…. the hills
• Marago: Christmas carols
• Kimalaika: Like an angelMakonge: Sisal
• Kidaho: river
• Nyanya and guga: grandmother and grandfather


Cynthia Abdallah is an emerging writer from Kenya. She writes poems and short stories and her desire is to contribute immensely to the growth of African literature. Her poems have been published by The Ake review and last year’s Bodies and scars anthology. “December” is her second short story


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