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Last Man loses village sweetheart

By Makau Kitata

I had a primary school flame. We called her Musuke, because she had plaited hair when all the other village girls sported scissors and razor blade shaves. When she joined us in upper primary from the city, her mother had convinced the headmaster that if her hair was cut, she’d suffer severe health complications.

If Musuke passed along the road and you failed to turn, you must have been suffering from a stiff neck. I liked to study with her. I’d touch her hair and wonder how long it would grow before our next meeting.

When we meet during term break, your hair will reach your shoulder,” I said, tapping her back to measure the length. Other boys kept away from us. My cousin Kajuma once remarked, “Last Man, you may graze the animals and think they belong to you. But it is the owner who milks the cow.” I laughed off this comment as the words of a jealous boy.

Musuke was admitted to a girls’ boarding school while I grudgingly joined our nearest mixed secondary day school. There, she would meet other boys from other schools, especially during inter-school visits. 

The end-term holiday was a time to catch up. My father declined to build me a cube after my cousins who owned these small boy cages failed their exams. And so, taking a girl home was beyond my imagination. My undertakings with girls remained unintentional and pedestrian.

Meanwhile, holidaying boys from boys-only boarding schools started hovering around the village. Knock-kneed Mulandi was my tall and bony agemate. We never liked him on our football team because of his clumsy run. He would walk our village roads with a group of other punky-shaved boys, like an army of dogs that had sniffed a female in season. I once ran into him on his evening forays and dismissed him as a mediocre rival. He had a sweaty nose and a nervously shifting gaze when he talked. 

Knock-kneed Mulandi had met Musuke on a school visit. When he approached her in the village, he stammered as he wiped off sweat from his nose, “I will take you to the ridge where no flies venture. No one will ever see us there.” With that, he had convinced her to join him in the evening. All she needed to do was sneak out for a short walk that often ended in his cube. Here, they would dance to rap and genge music and exchange cassettes. Meanwhile, they chatted away from the prying eyes of keen villagers, I supposed. 

I met Musuke on this August school holiday and asked: “Why have you stopped walking around with me?”

And where will our walks take us?” she shot back.

Her forthrightness shocked me. She sounded more mature and decisive. As I wondered what had happened to my friend in such a short time, she continued, “I am tired of walking around with people and becoming the subject of gossip in the village.” I stopped bothering her.

Back home, I pulled a table by the corner of our sitting room and sat through the holidays, self-absorbed and reading. In the evenings, I’d visit the village coffee-drinking dens. There, less romantically inclined lads met to play draughts and exchange James Hadley Chase novels. Recently, I watched a football game with my friend, Tom. The TV camera focused on a skimpily dressed girl holding aloft a “Ronaldo is the GOAT” placard. I protested that Ronaldo was getting all the praise for the game. 

 “All he did was tap the ball in after the dribbling magicians overwhelmed the opposing defenders,” I grumbled.

It is not the wizardry dribble artists who own the game,” he replied, “It is the guy who finally scores the goal.”

As the stadium stood and roared, “Ronaldo! Ronaldo! GOAT!” I remembered Kajuma’s words about the herdsboy and the milk. And that hushed the whining boy in me.

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