By Wr. Dismas Okombo
I have just locked the door, headed past the crib and drawn back the green curtains. Outside, the evening is calm and chilly; the trees are still. The drizzles after lunch had held the false promise of a storm. But now, as I look through the windowpane, whatever tempest was to come seems stuck in the dark clouds. Intermittently, the sky rumbles like an old diesel engine. I sight a flock of crows in flight; their wings steadily stretched. When my conscious registers the tranquil harmony of everything in front of me, awe stirs in my heart. ‘Perhaps the purest form of poetry is written in nature.’ I muse.
Coming to this realization, and impressed by my poetic wit, I hastily retrieve my notebook and scribble down the thought lest I forget. If anything, experience has taught me that my memory is not as good as I often deceive myself it is. I then sit on the edge of the bed and attempt to extend the line of thought to a stanza. But thirty minutes later, the result of my efforts are three pages of crossed lines and muddled, unsatisfactory words. ‘Let me try prose,’ I say to myself and reach for my laptop from my bag beside the bed. Slipping into the duvet, I prop one pillow at my back and the other on my lap; onto which I rest the laptop. Before flipping the lid open, I notice oily patches against the dark case.
Faint sweetness fills my mouth and I recall how at dawn I had wandered into the kitchen, pangs of hunger twisting my intestines. The house was quiet. It seemed nobody had woken up. I headed for the fridge and retrieved a packet of milk. Intending to prepare coffee the Onugba way. [On the first day I met Onugba, while stirring a sugarless coffee drink, he had stressed with enthusiasm: “You must allow yourself to taste things. Feel things. If you add sugar to a coffee drink, it is the sugar you’ll taste.” Initially, I had reservations on his point, but later that evening I tried to add only coffee to boiled milk and the outcome proved a taste so close to bliss as any drink could get.] Possessed with only the taste of warm milk; I mechanically tore the packet, poured the milk into a sufuria and placed it on fire.
I was tiptoeing to retrieve coffee tin from the cupboard when I saw a basin of mandazis placed at the corner of the counter. It was their golden appearance, like an enchanting sunset, that first got my attention. Then, suddenly, I was conscious of a sharp aroma. All along I had been in the presence of the mandazis that were to render obsolete the mandazis I had tasted before. I picked one. It was like a ball of fire; with a rough exterior, tender insides and tasted like heaven. If heaven has a taste. From the first bite, I immediately forgot about the milk, the coffee and the fact that I was hungry. I munched slowly, ensuring to taste every bit of the bite.
On my third mandazi, I noticed the milk boiling over. It stirred no haste in me; I had found the world’s greatest mandazis. And so, at a leisurely pace, I switched off the gas cooker. Who could be the mystery chef? One by one, I eliminated the residents. Nzabonimpa, Hassan, Fiske, and Kola were all still upstairs in their rooms. If any of them would have woken up earlier to come downstairs, I would have known. My room is right next to the staircase. That left Twinomugisha and Muss. My gut went with Muss, she has proved to be an exceptional chef in the short period of our residency.
I contemplated going over to her room to compliment her skills, but on realizing that that would show I had eaten some before the official breakfast, I decided against it. [At the gentle insistence of Twinomugisha, we always take our meals together.] So, to obliterate my presence in the kitchen, I wiped the spilled milk and, with great care, returned everything to their initial place. Of course, except for the milk which I drank and washed the sufuria. Returning to my room, two more mandazis in my hands, I climbed the stairs in stealth. Later, when with feigned tired eyes I returned downstairs, I learned the mandazis were Twinomugisha’s efforts. I stuffed three more in my plate, poured myself tea and attacked them with gusto. Throughout the day it was a common sight to see any person with the ball of fire in their hands.
I look up from my laptop to the window. The ambiance that was before me has been replaced by approaching darkness and the rumbling sky is now still. Although I have failed to capture the serenity of nature in prose too, I have endeavored to capture the most ecstatic taste; Twinomugisha’s mandazis.
Wr.Dismas is an Incubate of Writers Guild Kenya. He is currently taking part in the PenPen Writers Residency Program. Emailemail@example.com