I racconti del Premio Energheia Africa Teller

The language_Caroline G. Mbuthia

fame 3_Africa Teller 2007.


We silently watched between us as her marked beauty and cologne interrupted

our feckless, dreaming surroundins. Kimende’s stew stained

shirt was the only thing that audaciously competed with the ladybird’s

marking. But its haphazard artistry paled next to her spotted symmetry.

The interlude was a welcome one, as I needed to let my statement sink.

I also wanted to watch Kimende a while as I hardly ever saw him in

thought. It actually seemed like he had borrowed a young philosopher’s

face, that he may wear it for a day and it looked very uncomfortable

on him.

“What do you men leave your past? Kale! I know your name means

‘the past’ but do you have to go so far in the name of a joke? Why not

just change your name and leave the jokes to the comedians?”

If it wasn’t for the ‘borrowed look’ expression that I had witnessed a

few minutes earlier, I might have been offended at Kimende’s trying

to make light of the matter, but I realized that it was fear masquerading

as jest.

“It’s just something that I know I have to do. Don’t ask me how, it’s

laid deep in my heart. I can’t go on like this. I need something new.

Something different”.

Kimende paused a while then remarked you are sounding weird maybe

you need to go to the land of ‘todo’. it’s the only place I know with

peculiar people.

My interest was piqued and I perked up my ears.

“The only thing is, it’s said to be a mythical land. Some people say it

exists, some say it doesn’t. They say you can only get to it by foot and

that only those who believe in it get there”.

I was a man who had reached the edge and was ready to believe in anything,

something I could cling to. Anything… something… a thing.

I was sometimes known to be impulsive and this was one of those times

I proved true to my character. I packed a backpack and left late afternoon

with the little information I had. I was sojourner and sojourners

were brave pioneers. Didn’t Kimende say this place was seen by those

that believed. Well, I had put mind where my heart was.

I journeyed for two days through the woods asking several people

whether they knew anything about ‘Todo’. Few had heard of it and those

who had laughed it off saying it was all utopia. It didn’t exist. Some said

they had never heard anyone go there and come back speaking about it.

On the third day, I was getting weary, but I still had enough money so

I was not worried. I was determined. As dusk was approaching, I saw a

middle aged man with a long brown coat and a steadfast look coming

my way. His gaze seemed fixed forward as if there was something he

had to get to soon, yet his eyes were open toward me. There was something

else I read there, I couldn’t be sure but it looked like kindness.

I instinctively stopped him and asked him if he knew of ‘Todo’ or the

people. He never spoke, only smiled at me and turned back and walked

me in the direction he was pointing. Towards the skyline where the horizon

looked so peaceful. He walked me a mile then gave me his coat on

noticing that I was cold. I had a jumper on but I shivered through it. The

wind penetrated its fabric.

Before, I could protest, he was off leaving me touched by the mute

strangers act. I walked for three days, when I came to a quiet part of the

woods where the bushes were cut and the grass was short. The forest

had cleared out into what I realized was an open area much like a camp

where tents were pitched up, woodsheds abounded and hammocks hang

from trees.

My heart beat in trepidation and excitement. Could I have found it. As

I drew close I saw many children who saw me too and came running.

Several people stood in the field. I tried to look for a place to duck as I

saw a dozen young children run and jump at me, causing me to fall and

us all in the joyous process. Where they really happy to see me or did I

look like someone they knew?

As they helped me up laughing, they led me to the elders who embraced

me heartily, while the women shook my hand. In all the excitement, it

had taken me a while to realise that everyone here too was mute. Much

like the kindly stranger I had met earlier. They made me sit on the grass

and fed me first then they ate. I was then taken to a constructed thatch

surrounding to have a bath.

I was overwhelmed by the hospitality and didn’t say no to anything. Besides,

these people seemed to be mind readers, they knew everything I

wanted even before I wanted it. So much for language!

As I bathed, I recalled the past few events and things I had noticed. This

place didn’t seem to have a particular tribe or race. They seemed to be

an amalgamation from all the corners of the earth. They dressed differently-

some like the nomadic mountain tribes in skin cloth, others wore

wooden clothing like I did, but most wore long gowns that almost

reached their ankles.

Yet they were all one in their unspoken language. I didn’t think that this

was what I was looking for but since I was here I decided to treat it as

an adventure and see how long I would last.

Every evening, the people would gather round a campfire when the moon

was out and gaze at the stars and marvel at the heavens. They would

each mutter themselves or the skies but I could not understand. It was

all mutterings.

A funny thing they would do is that they would play drums and hit metal

lids together while clapping, and rejoicing. What a cacophony that

made but it was melodious to them. Therefore, I too danced and rejoiced.

There were different living and sleeping agreements too. Some would

lie outside, others on their hammocks beneath the stars and some in the

wooden constructions which I couldn’t really call houses. They were so


In all things, I had become frustrated at trying to ask about anything,

the ‘Todo’ didn’t seem to appreciate language. Whatever I wanted to do

or learn I just had to observe and then do. As the weeks went by, I found

that I had little use for most of the things that I had carried in my pack.

None of them seemed to matter here, not even my watch. People marked

time by the tasks that lay ahead and events and seasons.

I gave out most of my clothes and jumpers but I still kept the coat. I had

grown attached to it. It signified something a transition. An ushering into.

Whenever anyone got angry, sometimes they would click and this

showed their anger. As soon as one realized it, he would put his palm

over his lips and repeatedly pat them making a ‘wa-wa’ sound. (Much

like what we do with babies sometimes.)

This meant that he was sorry and was asking for forgiveness. The offended

party would then cover the ‘clickers’ lips with his own palm and

stop him from the ‘wa-wa’ process. That meant pardon had been given.

As the weeks turned into months I realized that the music ‘cacophony’

was no longer that. It was starting to have rhythm. I was learning to listen

with my heart and not my ears. I too realized that I enjoyed talking

less and less and preferred this language of demonstrations. You could

call it acting, but it was real. These was no myth. This utopia was real.

I was living it. I was in it!

With the passage of time, I became comfortable and fitted right in this.

This was now my home, I had left my past. I had realized my dream, I

was happy.

But no sooner had I began to think like this than the elders realized it.

Like I said, the ‘Todo’ were mind readers. They motioned for me and

explained that this was a transition land. I had to leave. I had got the experience

I had learned enough to go out and teach others who needed

to know. It was now upon me to teach the ‘Todo’ language.

Somehow I understood. I knew it from the bottom of my being and the

feeling didn’t bring any sadness with it. Just a clear sense of peace and


There was much rejoicing at my learning that gave me a sense of ‘déjàvu’

was it just a year ago.

I knew not where I would go, neither did the elders. But the stars would

lead me as they did the others. Had I not learned how to read the time.

Wasn’t it all clear in the skies?

The time had come and the place would follow.

It was all in the seasons. A season that was and a season that would be.

I was in the between. Between the coming out of and the coming intolay

the find. I had found, and now I needed to walk. The transition was

about the walk. I had to walk the walk. But then a question came to my

mind, could I talk the talk?

And the answer was so clear on my lips and it brought no contradiction

with it. I no longer knew how to speak it. I had lost my language. Try

as I might, I could not form the words. I too like the others had come

out not speaking.

The ‘Todo’ had transformed me. I was no longer the same. I had left my

past, I had a new identity!

As I walked into the city, in the whistling cold, I saw her standing before

  1. Interrupting my vivid clear surroundings in her starched grey

dress upon a clear blue day.

“What is your name?” She inquired.

I could only point behind me.

“Where are you from?”

I could only look at the stars. My past did not matter. ‘Ya kale ni ya kale’.

Only where I was going. Only what I was to do.

As I began to walk, I gave her the coat. I had moved on and I hoped that

she too, would follow.

She to… to do.