My trumpet friend is shining golden like the evening sun. He looks expensive. Perhaps Mother has sent him to pick me up. Showing off, trying to make me feel inferior?
The road show people are passing again. I wonder why they always have to disturb the peace of the neighbourhood this early in the morning, when I’m still asleep. My left leg bumps into the bed’s back frame as I kick the blanket away, and I wince in pain. I know Father will be standing by the door, face wrinkled like a guard. He will not ask me why I haven’t taken tea.
I’m not as tall as Father. Thank God I’m as handsome as him. Perhaps I inherited my wide ears from Mother. I know I will never keep long hair as my trumpet friend.
Our single room is almost half-full. I scamper past sacks of clothes as I head towards the door. When Father’s construction job pays badly, the little cash I get from selling the clothes help in feeding me, feeding him, and paying for my school fees.
Listen, I would have been Father’s loving boy if his heart was as handsome as his face. His thick beard is always trimmed at the edges, like a Muslim. He speaks with this sweet tenor voice. His drinking of chang’aa always retains his slender shape. And he walks in this cool swagger, a feigned straightness to avoid staggering.
Now, my friend plays the trumpet again. My lungs jump in excitement. I know I will be late for school. I will skip the morning preps. The principal will later tell Father how he thinks I may fail in class. How he thinks I may score a straight ‘E’ in the oncoming KCSE examinations.
Listen, my friend would have been as handsome as Father had he shaved or combed his thick mass of hair. But his voice is fine than Father’s – a strong soprano like the trumpet’s. I like that he doesn’t touch alcohol.
I wonder what happened to Mother. I came from school one day to find her gone. That meant she would no longer pamper me. That she won’t be bringing me chicken in school during visiting days. She wouldn’t be sneaking me out of the house to attend trumpet lessons from my road show friend.
Dad is a strong man. Too strong to love me, his only child. He keeps telling me that it’s only studies that will make our family better. That I should avoid hanging out with spoilt Kariobangi boys. When he sees me going out this early, he will suspect me and warn me again that Kariobangi is no holy place – you may even get shot by a stray bullet.
Coming from the bathroom a blue towel draped around my waist, I step on a cockroach. The poor thing’s body farts some colourless substance. I wonder whether my death would be accidental as the roach’s. Maybe Father will one day kill me for being disobedient? For refusing to become a Babadogo Catholic Church faithful because the choir sings in a boring tone, than my beloved Redeemed. For refusing to see the doctor when Father said I had breathing problems.
I know my breathing is not that good. My trumpet friend once told me that my lungs were almost shutting because I had not cried much as a kid. That Mother used to always breastfeed and lull me to sleep in my cot every time I caught a tantrum. But I didn’t believe him because he wasn’t present when I was born; wasn’t a doctor even. If Father told me such a thing, I would believe; half-half.
I put on my grey trousers, and tie it around my waist with a leather belt. When I pass my hands over my ears, a splitting sound of the trumpet comes again. I slip my white shirt on, and peep through the open window. Streaks of sunlight hit my eyes and I blink rapidly like a drunkard. From a distance, my trumpet friend is standing atop the road show bus, shirt unbuttoned – traces of hair strands visible from his chest. His fingers are holding tight onto the trumpet protruding from his mouth, small dimples gracing the sides of his mouth as he blows.
The bus must be going round and round the village. I really can’t tell you what they are advertising. Obama is not coming here. Even if our President was around, the trumpet man would have played the National Anthem, with the President’s voice on the background.
I met my trumpet friend while coming from school last week. My face resembled a crumpled note. I had collapsed during PE in school and woken up near a hospital-smiling nurse with clean teeth, clean like Mother’s, bending over me. Father was phoned and the nurse confirmed I had breathing problems; that my lungs would soon kill me if I continued resisting medication. Just after turning into the Kasabuni corner, my school bus dropped me. The driver said he couldn’t take me any further. I was sad.
Wiping dust off my ankles, a man joined me. He had this well-trimmed beard that I wished to have in future. Holding his shining trumpet on his lap like it were a baby, he asked me why I was angry. I felt like kicking him, and my breathing intensified. Then a Gor Mahia fan passed by – decked all green and this wonderful green feather cap – and he blew into his green vuvuzela. I grabbed the vuvuzela and blew into it, blew until I felt air escaping my body. My breath lightened, and I felt heaven in my chest. I kicked in the air. Hurrah! I shouted.
Now, I kick in the air. Kick at the door’s lower frame as I go out and shout “ouch!” I have been too anxious to see my trumpet friend. It’s now the second week since I began my lessons, and I’m happy with the progress. No wonder my fellow classmates call me Gen, as in genius. I’m also the best in Biology all over Ruaraka. My trumpet friend taught me everything about the lungs, about the human body and the environment. And I was mesmerized as he had earlier confessed he had never been past class eight. Perhaps he came from a wealthy family?
I know Father will slap me. He will insist bad company is spoiling me. He will maintain he knows about my relationship with the trumpet guy. That if I don’t cut off the whole shet, he will be teaching me from the house. He will remind me that he is my mother and father. He will remind me that I should obey him.
I’m in the truck now. The truck opened on one side. My friend and I are standing there. He is playing a low tune from the trumpet, his face bright; his mouth going up and down and sideways with the tune’s rhythm. I am carefully observing his slowly-moving fingers. Diamond is singing on the background, straight from the driver’s booth. The morning sun has become angrier, burning fiercer. I smell of sweat and I feel like bathing a second time. My friend’s exposed armpits are also sweating, young sweat. He seems unbothered. Knocks me in the head with his knuckles, and I concentrate back.
If only I could substitute Father with my trumpet friend! The latter’s facial expression is now brighter. He catches me when I’m about to trip over the truck. He is my peace. Father is always angry at me, seems he doesn’t recognize me as his child, he keeps telling me to stop the trumpet thing – that it will only kill my lungs. I don’t care how he knew about my trumpet lessons. He obviously wants me to die.
At Riverside Stage, the long truck turns towards Babadogo. I marvel at how it stops other vehicles coming from town. My friend hands over the trumpet to me. I smile as I blow into it with all my energy. My lungs smile as they lift up and down, as the tunes seeps in and out. As the tunes give me a peace Father will never give me. Looking up, I see my friend grinning. I’m sure he is happy I’m learning pretty fast. He wipes his sweaty face with a brown towel. The writing on his blue shirt; this boy will go far.
I’m too busy with the trumpet to wonder whether this boy could be me, the trumpet held steadfast into my lips, my body rocking with the direction of the tune. I know Father hates me too much to realize I can change his life for good. That if he bought me a trumpet, I would blow my lungs into fitness. But he thinks I’m a crazy adolescent. That his doctors know everything.
The day drags to the end. Getting back to the house, it’s five in the evening. I wash my clothes, cook rice with cabbages. By the time I finish mopping the house, the rice on the previously cooking stove has gone cold. I warm it and eat it, and drown it down the stomach with a cup of water. Crickets colour the night with their beautiful melodies. Father is yet to come home. Perhaps he is somewhere drinking, or even caressing the waitress’s breasts at Silent Bar. He will never know that my friend gave me a hundred bob to buy supper.
He will come back home perhaps while I’m on my second dream, tonight.
Three weeks later, I can almost play the trumpet on my own. My friend now wears this expensive-expensive suits and shoes. And I start wondering whether he had been send by Mother’s people to take me home. With his shaven hair, he looks almost as handsome as Father and me. He tells me that God or Christ or the angels visits us through people and things. I don’t ask him to explain all that shit. Keep quiet.
Father is no longer monitoring my moves. But he keeps warning me about bad company. I wonder whether he will ever see anything good in me. He will shout at me as usual. But I will simply keep quiet, and perhaps nod to satisfy him. Talking back at him will only hurt my lungs more. I may even perhaps laugh like a madman. Laughter combined with more trumpet-playing would perhaps further strengthen my lungs.
I have this crazy feeling. I will never stop playing the trumpet. Since my friend began teaching me, my lugs have been quietly joining into the music, slowly coming back to life. I will become a great trumpet player. And I will start a school for other youth and children with breathing problems like mine. Will start a trumpet school for anyone looking for fun.
The following day, my friend comes to me smiling. He is dressed in a more expensive suit, a silver lace hanging down from his neck. In the evening, he takes me to Silent Bar. Sitting on a tall stool, the sweet smell of chapatti being baked at the corner hitting my nose. The smell of beer is intoxicating, and I salivate at a waitress’s exposed red thighs as she passes by our table, as her voluptuous ass bubbles towards the counter. My friend nudges me at the elbow. I focus on the Sony Television fixed on the wall. Practically gaze at it, since I never watch TV.
Then during the nine pm news, there I am! A thin chap dressed in school uniform and a rucksack strapped to my back. Blowing into the trumpet, my cheeks full of air like a balloon. In the truck with my giggling friend sitting beside me, like an expert. Then the Health Minister in this dazzling suit announces I will be The Teens’ Health Ambassador. He congratulates my trumpet friend for following his orders. A clink sound hits my ears when I discover everybody in the club is toasting for me.
Father will become loving. I will buy him a posh house in Runda.
About the Author
Peter Ngila recently attended the 2016 Short Story Day Africa Migrations Flow workshop in Nairobi, moderated by Muthoni Garland. He graduated from Mount Kenya University last August, where he was studying journalism. Peter’s short fiction has appeared on Jalada Africa (Kenya), Praxis Magazine (Nigeria), Brittle Paper (Nigeria) Lawino Magazine (Uganda), Prachya Review (Bangladesh), Story Zetu (Kenya) and Daily News (a Tanzanian Newspaper). He has attended the Writivism Creative Writing Workshops in Nairobi (2014) and Dar (2015), participated in the Writivism Mentoring Process (2014 and 2015) and attended the 2015 Writivism Festival in Kampala.