Dry Season, 1979
Dust coats Cecily’s
face. Dust layers her, drifting off as she walks toward
the distant edge of Mombasa. Her hands, too, are dusty
from the hour she has spent pulling her suitcase, its small wheels
wobbling on the road’s rough surface.
Cecily resists wiping her face with her forearm, knowing sweat
will turn dust to mud. As it is, east Kenya’s arid
air dries dust and moisture into a thin crust that hardens and
breaks with every step. She’s feeling like some lost
statue come to life, her outermost dermis forming and cracking,
forming and cracking, while she walks toward Mombasa.
Reflecting on the cause of this situation, Cecily admits she should
have given that thieving taxi driver the umbrella when he demanded
it. Instead, because she was fed up to her eyeballs with
being hassled every hour of every day since landing on this continent,
she argued with him. Taking an outraged this-is-the-final-straw
position, Cecily refused to hand over that umbrella, which made
him angry, it did, and then she irked him even more by holding
on and making him struggle for it.
So, after taking her luggage and her purse with all her ID, including
her passport and travelers cheques, the driver also stole her
brand new collapsing umbrella, which she could really use right
now on this blasted road shimmering under near-equatorial sun.
Yep, she should have given up that umbrella and said, “Thank
you for wanting it!” Maybe then, after robbing her,
he would have driven her back to town.
Dusty and broke and sunburnt, she plods toward Mombasa, but the
Indian Ocean beach town seems to recede with every step.
Maybe she’s so turned around she’s actually walking
west toward a mirage, or maybe northwest toward Nairobi, a thought
that slows her to a dismal plod.
Her suitcase tips over, dragging along a couple of meters before
she gathers the energy to stop. Turning it upright, Cecily
knows she is lucky that cursed thief took off before noticing
her carry-on was out the door and on the road ahead of her when
she struggled out of his taxi. Ha! thinks Cecily.
Ha ha ha!
She suddenly remembers her tickets are inside the carry-on and
feels even happier. Thank all the gods cavorting at this
godforsaken latitude! At least she has a ticket out of this
dusty hell, even if she has no money and lacks proof of identity.
A truck blasts by, dust billowing. In the powerful tailwind,
the front and back of her skirt float up to her shoulders, then
droop again, clinging, hampering her progress. It’s
as if her skirt is alive and suddenly hostile. The poor
thing is grieving, thinks Cecily, for a wardrobe gone forever.
It punishes her by exposing her nethers to all Africa.
She shakes off this wariness of her outfit, all she now owns except
for clean undies tucked into the carry-on last minute last night.
Thankful for that impulse, she tries to rethink her last three
hours since landing at Mombasa airport. If she could go
back and make a different series of small decisions, boy howdy
would she, but how could she have guessed her taxi driver would
be a criminal? Were there clues she missed? He had
looked like all the others sitting there, and it did not occur
to her that a licensed airport cab driver would possibly rob her.
It had not seemed possible that he would drive her away from Mombasa
instead of toward it, but, come to think on it, she has a history
of taxi traumas, so this shouldn’t have been such a shock.
She should have been more alert to begin with.
So now she’s broke, and it’s her own fault.
Cecily trudges glumly. Just one more sign, she admits, that
traveling alone in Africa is probably not the way to go, especially
for an almost white woman from the USA.
This thought makes her recall difficulties in Calcutta last year,
and all those problems traveling south from that complicated city,
my god. Then she survived the discomfort of sailing west
from Sri Lanka past India’s southern tip and across the
Indian Ocean to Tanzania on that bloody toad of a viscount’s
yacht, which took forever. She’s lucky she’s
alive, and she will never, ever again trust a British sailor.
Then her flight this morning north from Dar Salaam and its curiously
on-time arrival at Mombasa’s airport. Not such good
memories in Tanzania either, her search for Beau proving as fruitless
there as up and down the east coast of India. She groans
at a particularly bad memory from an incident in Orissa:
if she never sees the Bay of Bengal again, it will be just fine.
Now this happens the moment she arrives in Kenya while following
another clue about Beau’s whereabouts and/or destination.
She’s always a week or two behind him, always just too late,
a thought that has Cecily suddenly reconsidering the necessity
of being in east Africa. The discomfort of the moment has
her rethinking her need to find Beau and wring his neck, a visceral
compulsion fueling this wild, year-long journey.
Such a thought stops Cecily in her tracks. Her suitcase
still rolls forward, pushing her arm up her back and whacking
into her Achilles tendons, causing a brief buckling.
Cecily winces. She breathes deeply, coughs on dust.
She brushes down her wayward skirt, almost spanking it, turns
it straight at the waist, at that moment realizing her coin purse
with all her cash is in one deep pocket. Rummaging around
in the other capacious pocket, she discovers her bandana and pocketknife,
lipstick and gold pen, and, best of all, her big Italian sunglasses,
which explains why the sides of her skirt did not fly up in that
blast of air. After shoving on the sunglasses and inspecting
the other precious items, she counts the pounds and dollars, rupees
and Tanzanian shillings in her green leather coin purse, all adding
up to a surprisingly large sum. Cecily feels a bit better
about her present situation.
“Well, hallelujah!” she exclaims to a trio of vultures
hulking on the bent branches of a nearby, dead looking tree.
Another big truck, this one filled with gravel, whooshes past,
and she is inside a maelstrom of tiny flying rocks. Grimacing,
she covers her face, her skirt luckily protecting the back of
her head. When all settles again, she finds trickles
of blood running down her legs. As she watches, dust coats
these red threads, which dry and turn brown, giving her calves
a textured look like stained plaster on an old wall.
Nope, she maybe shouldn’t be here. Cecily looks at
the perfectly flat horizon stretching around in a vast, hazy circle.
Three vultures continue perching in the one bleached tree, thin-necked
opportunists waiting for road kill and eyeing her with interest.
Cecily boldly eyes these birds right back, until body hair abruptly
stands up and ripples across her skin, a foreboding which has
her anxiously searching the sky for a bird much more dangerous
than vultures, a bird that has stalked her before and even dive-bombed
her in the recent past: swans!
Cecily turns in all directions, her skirt swirling around her
thighs and clutching on. This intense inspection reassures
her that no swans fly the sky over Kenya. Not one swan,
thank the local gods, not like in Kathmandu, so maybe after all
she can spend some time here, if it stays this way.
Reviving herself by sucking on a mint she finds stuck to the coin
purse, Cecily begins to reassess her desire for revenge on Beau
[last name]. He did do her wrong in so many ways,
yes he did, but is revenge worth a moment like this? Is
revenge on Beau worth a year of moments like this particular one
of walking on a hot, dusty road in east Kenya, robbed and abandoned
by the first person she meets?
Cecily squints toward the distant town, shading her eyes with
her hands, but finds it no closer. Swinging her suitcase
flat, she kneels and unclips the latches and pries it open, retrieving
her Kenya guide book. Re-closing the carry-on, she pulls
it upright and wheels it ahead of her for awhile. Rolling
and walking and reading about Kenya, Cecily tries to organize
a plan of action should she ever actually reach Mombasa.
II. [Chapter Synopsis]
Open with a group of uniformed seven year olds asking, “Mrs
Havenshack? Mrs?” She comes back to her self to find herself
in charge of a classroom. Cecily is substitute teaching at an
English curriculum Catholic School, one of several part time jobs
she has obtained in Mombassa.
Flashbacks and vignettes of arriving in Mombassa and surviving,
settling and adjusting are scattered throughout the chapter/s.
Later, walking home after school, chased by a flock of pigeons
almost half a block, she thinks maybe she sees Beau in the marketplace.
She is unnerved. Bad memories, both personal and international,
visit her dreams. Talks herself out of actually seeing him, then
she glimpses him again and is now off balance with a bad case
of the jitters. Now that she has maybe found him, she’s
completely off balance.
Cecily deals with conflicting urges to rend Beau’s limbs
or run back to the hills.