The Journey

Fatma Shafii

What do you do when you earn your first pay?

Abdi thought of saving the cash until he returned home so he could buy the things he and his mother didn’t have. He thought about getting back to school, but two years had passed and he wasn’t sure if he could remember anything of what he’d been taught. Now he could afford to fix their run-down dwelling or rent a room for himself and another for his mother. He also didn’t forget that he would have to set something aside for sadaqah.

Three times he counted it.

Seventy-five thousand, eight hundred shillings.

And it was only his second day on the job.

The youngest sailor on the fishing sailing boat.

He had begun his career just the day before, helping the captain set sail for the deep sea while asking the old man a question that troubled his mind: “Why are fishermen considered promiscuous?”

The old man only laughed.

Nyota Yangu sailed off to sea, leaving the coastline crowded with people waving at it, and children playing on sand. Abdi could only see the figures and their clothing. He couldn’t tell one person from the other. They were getting smaller as the boat drifted away from them. The people had come to bid farewell to the sailors and to entertain the fishermen, as they did every time the boat set off on a long journey. The songs and prayers played again in Abdi’s head. He had never felt this much love from the people of his town. It filled him with joy.

He wasn’t dreaming, he realised, and his heart was filled with thankful prayers and excitement at landing a real job. He had feared his quest for a job as a sailor would yield nothing, and even his mother had said he was small, that he couldn’t bear the troubles of the sea. But Old Maha, the captain of Nyota Yangu, said he was fit for sailing. The captain looked out for Abdi, and defended him when the crew overworked him on the excuse that they were teaching him new skills.

“Alhamdulillah!” Abdi said with a sigh.

With the sails filling, the boat cruised for hours on the waters of the Indian Ocean. Maha would do one tack, letting Abdi do another. The crew pushed him to do numerous tasks, and he began to feel something of the hardship of being a sailor. At one point he stood still, exhausted, one hand holding the mast. The way he looked at Maha reminded the old man of his earlier question.

“You asked rather too early,” said Maha, staggering to get close to the younger man.

Memories of earlier days flashed through Abdi’s mind. The captain was youthful man, back then. He would tell Abdi of his many long journeys of fishing and trade. He would bring Abdi presents from these journeys and tell him frightening tales of the ocean and how brave he had been. Abdi would ask Maha for a job, and the captain would smile, pat him on the back and say that the job required a man, not a boy. Being a man, in sailors’ language, had nothing to do with marriage. Maha was still a bachelor.

It meant something else.

“But why does promiscuity fascinate a pious boy like you, more than all the other things I have told you about sailing?” Maha asked and laughed like a drunkard. Abdi remained puzzled.

Only marriage is the cure for promiscuity,’ his mother always told him. He would tell her that he wasn’t ready and that he was poor. But he had admirers among the beautiful girls of Tanga. Those with afro-textured hair, pretty faces and skin tones praised by many of Abdi’s friends.

Abdi’s mother often worried that he would disgrace himself with one of their neighbour’s daughters. She was always telling him not to bring her shame, like some other grown boys along the coastal settlements had done to their parents. She even picked a suitable girl for him but he refused, saying he would marry at twenty, and he still had two years to go until then.

A rumour went around town that when he was a child, he had met a mermaid while swimming, and she warned him not to marry any girl but to reserve himself for her. Abdi now laughed at the new joke in town that he became a sailor in order to meet the mermaid at sea and marry her.

The fishermen sang often about mermaids, the beautiful maidens with fascinating tails sighted on the beach. Abdi never knew that being a sailor meant a lot of singing. Though he wasn’t fond of the guttural voices of the sailors, he loved the songs; and there was more singing on the boat when the tasks were hard, and when they were hungry. They sang about a captain that dropped a bag of money in the ocean to save his ship from sinking.

They also sang about a sailor that got lost at sea and broke his mother’s heart because he failed to say goodbye before leaving the shore.

The crew had songs about drinking, food, children, beauty – and they were at their loudest when singing love songs.

Abdi looked at the sailors, one after another, trying to remember which among them had a wife at home.

More than ten hours after Nyota Yangu left the coast of Tanga, the sky darkened and the ocean followed suit. To the amateur sailor that Abdi was, the sea had an eerie calm.

Abdi joined the crew in casting the net, almost a mile in length, into the ocean. He checked the metal plates placed at the lower end of the net and fixed the loose ones. They dragged the net to cover the area, all attached to the boat by strong ropes, and waited. Abdi then pulled out his prayer mat, found a clear spot and bowed to worship in silence.

Some hours later, Abdi joined with the men to pull back the net and unload the fish entrapped within it.

The fishermen cheered and started to sing.

But Abdi’s joy was tinged with fear. He feared the boat might sink; they had caught a lot of fish.

That didn’t happen. Abdi’s first fishing night ended at dawn, and the ride to the market began. Maha set sail towards the nearby island of Pemba. By midday, they had sold their catch on the shore. When the auctioning was over at the fish market, sailors with relatives on the island went to sleep in their homes.

Abdi went with Maha to look for a place to stay. Yet some other sailors collected palm leaves and started to build makeshift huts to sleep in. Abdi wondered what they did with their money. Couldn’t they rent rooms like he and Maha were about to do? He soon put these thoughts out of his mind and decided to enjoy his time off the boat. He whistled as they walked through crowded streets, counting the number of times Maha turned to look at the backsides of passing women. They eventually found a twin bedroom at the rest house, on the edge of the fishing village.

“Have you found the answer to your question?”

Abdi knew Maha wasn’t telling him everything and there was nothing he could do to force him. So he decided that if he wasn’t getting an answer, he was going to find out for himself. He dropped into his bed like a bundle, thinking life on the boat was tough and tiresome but rewarding. He ran his fingers on his bundle of money and fell asleep. His intention had been to take a short nap, then wake up and eat, but the sun was close to setting when Maha woke him up, and the two went out to find something to eat. They ate dinner in silence, and when done, Abdi pulled the bundle from his pocket, unwrapped it and felt the pleasure of paying the bill.

Maha headed away from their inn when they left the dining area, so Abdi followed. The air was calm with the distant hum of the ocean, but a faint sound of music grew louder the more they approached an open-air hall that was dimly lit and thatched with coconut leaves. A singer entered centre stage, twisting her waist to the tempo of a slow Taarab. A man turned a lamp and shone the light on her face. She looked young and beautiful in a sparkly dress, holding the microphone firmly while making dance moves across the stage. Abdi found himself in another world; he had never seen such beauty in Tanga, and he wanted to be with this girl. He looked at the stage in disbelief. How could such a beautiful woman entertain sailors boozing in a club? Abdi had no answer and didn’t care, but he was glad to be among her audience. Entranced, he couldn’t turn his eyes away. He continuously swept his eyes over her, adoringly, from head to toe.

He gasped when she finished her performance of the first song. Then he was enchanted all over again as she continued with the show, and with each song she sang. At the end, with other sailors minding their own business and engaged in loud conversations, Abdi walked to the corner of the stage where the girl sat alone and greeted her.

“I loved your voice,” he began, pausing in search of words.

“Thanks, but who are you?”

Her words vibrated in his ears, like the strings of a violin struck gently with a bow. Surely he had fallen in love with her voice. He bent forward and offered her a hand – she took it. The handshake made him deliriously happy. He wished it could last longer, and he thought the girl leaned a little, towards his arm. He looked into her eyes, and saw she was a year or two older or young than him. She looked down shyly, not like the bold girl who was singing a short while earlier on the stage.

“I’m a fisherman,” he said. “A sailor.”

The girl smiled. She accepted Abdi’s invitation to sit with him, and they headed to the table he shared with Maha. The old man rose to his feet without greeting the girl. He went to join the band of singing sailors, leaving the pair sitting side by side at the table. Abdi remembered the tales about Maha and the mermaid, hoping this girl wasn’t any of that. For a moment he realised they were both silent. So he gave her many compliments, calling her the singing queen. Then he asked her why, of all jobs, she chose to sing in a club. She said it was a long story. He went to the counter to buy her a drink. When he returned to the table, she began her tale.

Her name was Salima.

“One of my mother’s friends who was living in Saudi Arabia tipped off my mother about the many jobs available in Saudi Arabia,” Salima started relating. The mother borrowed money for a ticket, got a job as a maid with a rich family and that was when Salima’s troubles began.

“My mother has never told me this, but I got to know that her boss wanted to have an affair with her. My mother, a pious woman, fought against it. One day as the man pursued her, he pushed her and she fell off the second floor balcony.”

Although Mama Salima survived the fall, it wasn’t without injuries. She spent weeks in hospital. On the day of her discharge, she was deported with nothing but her clothes. “As my mother is still not well, the mkopeshaji who loaned her money for the ticket to Saudi Arabia forced me to work here to pay off the debt.” Salima ended her story in tears.

“Subhan Allah!” shouted Abdi. He struggled to remember a story more painful than that of Salima and her mother. He thought of the money in his pocket, but felt maybe it fell far short of the debt. When Salima stopped crying, Abdi brushed his hand on her cheeks. She let his fingers caress her skin, and clung to his hand.

She took the last drop of her cider, a drink Abdi had never seen before. He then ordered two more drinks for her, to calm her down. It was then, as she drank, that she asked to hear his story. Abdi spoke about his mother – her love, care, and strength. He spoke about his father, a sailor he had never met. And about his Tanga, the place, the people and the food. He spoke about Nyota Yangu – her captain, the catch, the cash, and the onward journey to Mombasa on the next day. The only other person Abdi felt at ease talking to, like this, was his mother.

They spent the rest of the evening sipping cider and turning the hellish club with a cruel owner into their heaven. Abdi learned what to say to keep the conversation going. At one point, he placed his hands open on the table and she placed hers into his palms. He thought she enjoyed him touching her, he moved his feet into contact with hers. Before long, she slid closer to him, pulling him into an embrace. He felt the warmth in his body and his heart quickened. She lowered her head, buried her face in his chest and let him play with her hair. Abdi had never been this close to a woman.

“Tell me about your girlfriend,” she said softly.

“I’ve only had one girlfriend. I tried all I could do to make her happy, treated her like a queen. I can’t forget the day I found out that she was dating my close friend. After breaking up with her, I swore never to have another girlfriend.”

Abdi had never had a girlfriend.

Seconds passed in silence between the two. Each waited for the other to say something, as the club played soothing Taarab music with lyrics of love and romance. Salima swayed in unison with him to the music, holding him close as she patted his back; with her voice a delight to his ear, she whispered a word of love. Abdi found himself in another world. The more she spoke, the deeper in love he fell. Then suddenly, she pushed Abdi. Her face lost the smile and she backed away like she was seeing a ghost.

She spoke in a cool voice. “I’m afraid you’ll leave tomorrow and never come back.”

“I’ll come back for you,” he said.

She went back to leaning on him, patting his back gently. She asked him to visit her home; she wanted to introduce him to her mother. He didn’t hesitate, and with no questions asked, he accepted the invitation. She led him past big and small houses, under tall coconut trees, walking side by side as the path became wider. She put her hand teasingly around his at one point, waking up those strange feelings he was getting for the first time.

Then he got a sinking feeling. He was leaving Pemba the next morning, and could not think of any convincing reason that would allow Salima to sail with him to Mombasa. He almost bumped into a wall before realising they had arrived. Salima knocked and pushed the door.

There was a smell of soil in the little room. A woman sat on the bed. Salima kissed her hand in greeting and invited Abdi to do the same. Mama Salima asked her daughter if she had brought food. Salima jokingly replied that she had brought her a visitor instead. The two of them could have been mistaken for sisters, the way they joked and laughed with each other. Abdi was told, once again, about Saudi Arabia – the fall, the wicked men, the boss and the mkopeshaji. Feeling saddened again, he touched the money in his pocket, deciding quickly to ensure that Salima would leave the servitude of the club. He looked at the miserable face of her mother as she lifted a lantern to show him her scars. He turned to look away.

In the silence that followed, Salima put her hand around his waist, pulling him gently towards her. He felt her fingers traveling down his back, sending electric current running through his whole body. He held her, amazed how he could do that in the presence of her mother. And then, as if he just remembered something, he put the other hand into the back pocket of his trousers. He unwrapped the money slowly and handed it over to Salima’s mother.

“Don’t make a mistake, Salima,” said her mother. “Take this young man for a husband because I don’t think you’ll find another man better than him.”

“He leaves tomorrow, and he doesn’t know when he’ll come back.”

“You will go with him.”

“But mom…”

“I can’t give you away like a parcel,” she told her daughter. “I’ll see the Sheikh before midnight, and at dawn he will wed you.”

Abdi had to stop his feet from jumping with joy. His prayers were answered quicker than he thought. Yesterday a big catch in the sea, and today he found love. He felt nothing but the excitement of becoming a husband.

He would return at dawn, they agreed. She then walked him out so that they could spend more time alone. He had never known the moon to be as beautiful as this night. Salima’s hand in his, he walked with her towards the harbour where Nyota Yangu was anchored. He had no money left for drinks or bites but wanted to treasure his new girlfriend, or fiancée, with a gift.

He stepped into the water and climbed onto the boat. After a few moments’ search, he found seashells he had collected for his mother and gave them to Salima. His Salima who would be his wife by dawn.

When they parted and he returned to the club, he discovered that Maha had already left for the night. The bunch of drunken sailors – noisy and naughty – teased Abdi, “How much did you pay?”

“Welcome to the club!”

“What a sharp and quick sailor!”

He left them, whistling a sailor’s tune, striding along empty streets, trying to locate the rest house. At first, he didn’t know whether to tell Maha about Salima, her mother and the marriage right away or in the morning. Then he reasoned that maybe he should wait till morning when the old man would be sober. After all, he needed Maha’s permission to bring Salima along on the boat.

Abdi caught a sharp smell of booze when he opened the guest room door. He had awakened Maha with the pull of the door.

“Ho ho ho, fishermen are promiscuous!”

“But this is different, Maha!”

“What is the difference?”

“There will be a wedding in the morning by the seaside…”

“What type of marriage where dowry isn’t paid, and the elders do not meet from one of the promiscuous fishermen’s side?” Maha asked, laughing.

Abdi saw no use arguing with the drunken captain. He turned to the wall side of his bed, switching his mind to the sweet voice of Salima. He was madly in love, bewitched.

Now that he had tasted the honey, he desired the beehive. Night was long, but he probably wasn’t going to fall asleep; he lost himself in the fantasy and imagination that Salima was around him. He wasn’t sure whether Maha was awake or singing aloud in a dream.

The crackle from the loudspeaker of the nearby mosque woke him up, groggy, but the call of the muezzin reminded him of his wedding.

Abdi rolled out bed. He didn’t know how he had managed to fall asleep as it seemed he’d been thinking of Salima the whole night. Although he hadn’t brought his best clothes, he thought he looked nice in a white kanzu, the only one he packed for the voyage. Maha was attentive like a patient father, listening to Abdi’s plans for married life as they walked to Pemba’s shores, where fishermen were already loading their nets into the boats.

Maha spared Abdi from the morning tasks. The captain was busy collecting fares, as the Nyota Yangu was ferrying some passengers to Mombasa. Crewmen gave Abdi funny looks as they whispered among themselves and with the captain.

Abdi looked out from the boat. No sign of Salima, her mother or the sheikh. Nobody was coming. He jumped into the water and wandered ashore, murmuring silent prayers, his wedding attire drenched. The other sailors seized the rope, pulling the anchor back to the boat. Nyota Yangu was ready to sail again. Abdi could hear the sailors laughing, Maha the loudest of all. He knew the captain had told them all about Salima and him. The sailors averted their eyes whenever he turned to look at them.

Abdi took one more view of the island, his heart miserable, his pockets empty. He believed he did the right thing the night before. Maha’s words played in repeat in his mind: ‘What marriage for which dowry is not paid and the elders don’t meet?’ On the calm ocean, the boat pulled away, already in deep water. Abdi dived in the ocean and swam across. The crew men sang a song of love, their voices at odds with Maha’s, who was laughing.

The sailors lowered a rope. Abdi climbed aboard.

They gave him a task to do. Maha’s laughter stopped.

Published in Swahili as ‘Safarini’

Utafanya nini ukipata pesa yako mwenyewe kwa mara kwanza?

Abdi alifikiri juu ya kuhifadhi akiba yake hadi aliporudi nyumbani ili aweze kununua vitu ambavyo yeye na mama yake hawakuweza kununua hapo awali. Alifikiri juu ya kurudi shule, lakini miaka miwili imekwisha pita, hakuwa na uhakika kama angeweza kukumbuka chochote. Sasa walau angeweza kumudu ukarabati wa nyumba yao iliyochakaa, au kukodisha chumba kimoja kwa ajili yake na kingine kwa ajili mama yake. Hakusahau, alipaswa kutunza kiasi kidogo kwa ajili ya sadaka.

Mara tatu sasa, Abdi alihesabu tena.

Elfu sabini na tano na mia nne.

Na hii ilikuwa siku yake ya pili tu kazini.

Baharia mdogo zaidi katika jahazi la uvuvi.

Alianza kazi yake siku moja iliyotangulia, akimsaidia nahodha wake kupandisha tanga kabla ya kuelekea bahari kuu huku akimwuliza huyo Mzee swali ambalo lilisumbua akili yake,“Kwa nini nyinyi mabaharia mnasemekana kuwa wazinifu sana?”

Mzee Maha aliangua kicheko.

Ndani ya Nyota Yangu, jahazi maarufu kijijini Tanga, Abdi alisimama sehemu ya juu ya omo. Ilikuwa majira ya saa tatu asubuhi ambapo Bwana Shamsi tayari kasabahi janibu za Mashariki. Palikuwa na vidau kadhaa vilivyoegeshwa ufuoni. Abdi aliichanua mikono yake kama mbawa za ndege anayeanza kuruka, au kama vile alitaka kuikumbatia bahari iliyotanda mbele yake. Kamwe hakutaka kuangalia nyuma, kwenye ufuo wa bahari, walipokusanyika adinasi lukuki asubuhi ile. Watu hao walisherehekea kwa kuimba nyimbo na kughani mashairi ya kuwapa morali mabaharia wao. Umati ulichangamka na kukaramka kwa bashasha fokofoko. Wingu la furaha, shangwe, nderemo na vifijo lilitanda na kutamalaki kote kote. Nahodha alipoinua tanga, waliokuwa ufuoni walifahamu fika kuonana tena na mabaharia ingekuwa majaaliwa. Waliwapungia mashujaa wao mikono kwa huzuni na tamaa, wakiwaombea hifadhi kutoka kwa Mwenyezi Mungu. Jahazi lile likaanza kuondoka.

Abdi alihisi alikuwa bado yu ndotoni. Hakuamini alikuwa ameandamana na mabaharia wa Nyota Yangu. Alitambua kumbe kweli hakuna kubwa kwa Mwenyezi Mungu. Kaski aliyoingojea kwa raghba ya mkanja hatimaye iliwadia. Ilikuwa saa tatu majira ya asubuhi, Nyota Yangu ilipong’oa nanga pwani ya Tanga na kuanza safari ya kutafututa riziki isiyojulikana itaisha lini. Maana msafiri hujuwa atokako ila aendako hana ujuzi nako. 

“Alhamdulillah!” Abdi alijisemea.

Abdi aligeuka, akamtazama Maha kwa uso wa tabasamu akionyesha kidogo meno yake meupe kando ya theluji. Mwanya wa ulimbwende ukadhihirika. Wajihi wake ulionyesha kuwa na furaha tamthili ya mfalme aliyejipumbaza kwenye kasri lake madali basari, akingoja kupewa jibu la kitendawili kutoka kwa mwenye hekima.

“Umeuliza swali lako mapema mno,” Maha alisema, akimsogelea Abdi na kuketi kwenye ukingo wa mashua yake.

Abdi alimfananisha Maha na mkusanyiko kamili wa kipaji, nguvu na mtoa shime kwa mabaharia wenzake. Mzee yule wa makamu alikuwa mvuvi hodari sana. Kila aliposhusha nanga tu, wanawake wote wa Tanga walimzingira kwani hakuna samaki anaeliwa angekosa kupata. Si jodari, si tafi, si sulisuli, wote angalikuwa nao. Mabaharia wote mle chomboni walitegemea uzoefu wake, nasaha na mwongozo. Abdi alitarajia kuwa ile ingekuwa safari ambayo kamwe hakuwahi kusafiri maishani. Alishuka kwenye omo akakaa kwenye ukingo wa mashua mkabala na Maha. Aliinua kichwa chake, mdomo ulicheza kama atakaye kuuliza swali, lakini hakutamka neno.

“Unajua kwanini swali lako limenishangaza?” Maha aliuliza, “Kivipi uzinifu ukuvutie wakati mapenzi siyo mambo yako?”

Abdi, barobaro aliyekuwa hajauasi ukapera, alisifika kupendwa na wasichana wenye urembo wa sahani, nywele za julfa na nyuso za haiba, lakini alikuwa hapendeki. Licha ya kuwa wasichana wa Tanga walikuwa wazuri mno kimaumbile na hata kitabia, hawakumvutia hata chembe. Alikwisha kataa chaguo la wachumba wengi kutoka kwa mama yake. Kulikuwa na fununu kuwa mfua uji huyu kijana alioa jini siku za kubaleghe kwake, alipopotelea baharini kwa takriban wiki moja. Inasemekana alipatikana Msumbiji katika kisiwa cha Ilha Rongui akiwa ameokolewa na jini mrembo aitwaye Binti Ruvuma. Ati, alipewa sharti amuoe mrembo huyo, na tena asithubutu kujamiana na mwanamke mwengine yeyote.

Maha aliinuka, akatembea hadi kwenye mlingoti, akazikamata kamba na kuzivutavuta. Tanga lilijaa upepo, Nyota Yangu ikageuza mwelekeo. Abdi aliendelea kumtazama nahodha wao akizifunga tena zile kamba, akafuatilia kila nyendo. Mara Mzee yule alianza kughani kwa sauti ya kuvutia. Kisha mabaharia wote wakaitikia kwa pamoja.

Bahari ilikuwa imetulia huku ikipitisha mawimbi yake kiaina. Hakukuwa na upepo mkali. Nyota Yangu lilienuka na kushuka kupitia mawimbi yale. Angani, nyuni walighani nyimbo zao kwa sauti tamu na henezi, nyimbo za kuongoaongoa wakiashiria mwanzo mwema. Hamu ya safari ilimfanya asahau alipotoka. Aliwahi kumsikia nahodha wao akisema safari ile ingewafikisha visiwa vingi vya pwani ya Afrika Mashariki, wakianzia Tanga, kisha waelekee Mombasa na hatimaye wangefika hadi pwani ya Somalia.

Abdi aliingiwa na hofu kidogo upepo ulipozidi kasi na mawimbi makubwa kulisukasuka jahazi lao. Walikuwa wakipanda juu na kushuka chini. Mara moja aliingia katika pilikapilka za kusawazisha tanga. Kifua kipana chenye misuli tinginya alichomiliki kilimfanya aonekane mwenye nguvu zaidi japo alikuwa ndiye kijana mdogo kabisa miongoni mwa mabaharia wa Nyota Yangu. Kikoi alichovalia kilimstiri hadi magotini shauri ya urefu wake wa ajabu aliorithi kwa baba yake aliyekuwa na asili ya kisomali. Mgeni wa kazi ya ubaharia, rangi yake ilikuwa ingali mbichi bado, haijapambana na jua kali la bahari kuu na kuifanya iwe nyeusi.  Mabaharia walimsumbua sababu ya udogo wake, alitumwa kufanya kazi hii au ile, ilimradi kumsumbua tu. Walijidai ati wanamtia katika shule ya ubaharia.

Abdi alianza kuona kazi ya ubaharia ikiwa ngumu kuliko vibarua vya hapa na pale alivyofaulu kupata baada ya kumaliza shule. Alikumbuka pale yeye na rafiki zake waliposaka mashangingi ya kizungu yaliyofika Tanga kuchoma chango na mabarobaro wa kibantu. Kazi hiyo ingekuwa sababu ya kupata riziki yake, ila haikumvutia sana. Angaliweza pia kujiunga na wanamaiyoga kupinda viungo na kuwafurahisha watalii mahotelini. Ndoto zake hazikuishia kijijini humo. Aliamini fika kuwa apendapo Mola ipo siku moja naye atatoka huko na kuitembea pwani kutafuta maisha.

Safari ya Nyota Yangu iliendelea kwa utulivu. Walipita sehemu ambazo waliona majabali ya kuvutia. Majabali makubwa, madogo na hata yenye umbo tofauti. Nyakati za kula zilipofika, kila mmoja alipakuwa chakula walichokuwa wamebeba na wakaanza kula. Wapo waliokula kwa pamoja na wengine walikula kivyao. Jua lilianza kuondoa miale yake ya zari kwa ghaiba janibu ya Magharibi huku kiza kikishika usukani. 

Hatimaye Abdi alipata wasaa wa kutulia kidogo baada ya kutimiza majukumu yake aliyopangiwa na nahodha, au kutumwa na mabaharia wenzake. Alienda kutawadha kisha akatandika mkeka na kuanza kuswali. Baada ya swala, aliketi chini huku amepiga tama. Mawazo yalimjia juu ya mamake, Bi Ruweida, ambaye ndiye pekee aliyemlea. Waling’ang’ana na mamake kwa udi na uvumba ili waweze kukidhi mahitaji yao. Alikumbuka siku moja mama yake alipomuuliza kuhusu kufunga ndoa ili apate utulivu wa roho. Upande mmoja alidhani hakuwa tayari kwa jambo hilo. Alijiona bado ni kijana mdogo kwani sio kitambo toka amalize shule. Upande mwingine alifahamu siku zinaenda mbio na hakuwa na matumaini tena ya kuingia chuo kikuu. Pengine ampatie mamake angalau mjukuu kabla ya hatima yake.  

Pia, alizikumbuka tena hadithi za babake ambaye ukweli kuhusu alipo haukupata kumfikia. Abdi alipokuwa mtoto mchanga, baba yake alitoka jioni moja kuenda kuvua na hiyo ndiyo ilikuwa siku ya mwisho kuonekana Tanga. Abdi aliambiwa maneno haya na mamake. Habari nyingine zilienea kuwa babake alionekana Barbera, mji mmoja katika pwani ya bahari hindi. Wengine walisema babake aliongoza kundi moja la maharamia wanaoteka nyara meli kubwa zinazotokea ghuba ya Aden. Wapo waliodai kuwa babake kauwawa Ras Kamboni kwa bomu la angani lililorushwa na wamarekani. Hadithi hizo zilizuka mara kwa mara hadi Abdi akazizoea. Walakini, tamaa ya kumuona baba yake mzazi haikumwisha. 

Giza lilitanda kote. Kulikuwa na utulivu. Sauti ya mawimbi ya bahari pekee ndiyo iliyosikika. Mazungumzo ya hapa na pale pia yalikuwemo. Wavuvi walionekana wakitayarisha nyavu na mishipi yao. Baada ya muda wa bana banua, kila mvuvi alitia chambo katika ndoana na kuziunganisha kwenye mshipi. Halafu walirusha mishipi hiyo baharini na kuanza kunasa samaki, Nahodha walitegesha jahazi lile kwa ubora wa taaluma yao. Abdi naye hakuachwa nyuma, alionyeshwa namna ya kuvua kwenye bahari kuu na baada ya majaribio kadhaa aliwahi kunasa vishaza vyake si haba. Alikaramka kwa furaha na farahani isiyokuwa na mizani. Maha alimuonyesha njia kadhaa wa kadhaa za uvuvi wa kila aina. Usiku ulikuwa mrefu ila wa mafanikio. Walijaaliwa kunasa samaki wengi mno. Tena wa kila aina. Hiyo ndiyo ilikuwa raha ya kuwa jahazi moja na bingwa Bwana Maha.

Safari ya kuelekea kisiwani Pemba iliendelea. Naam, kuche kusiche hatimaye kulikucha. Majira ya asubuhi yalibisha hodi nalo jua tukufu likatapanya miale upeo wa macho na kuiaga alfajiri. Wavuvi walikuwa wametulia wakisikiza machovu ya kazi ya usiku. Walijawa na hamu ya kufika ufuo wa kisiwa cha Pemba. Na walipowasili pwani ya Pemba, waliitua jahazi yao na kutoka baharini. Abdi aliitazama sehemu ile kwa makini sana. Hakuona tofauti mno na kwao Tanga. Alishusha mzigo wake akaandamana na wenzake kuelekea soko la samaki. Alijipata akiduwaa kila mara. Kwa hakika, alivutiwa na mandhari ya Pemba. Watu walikuwa wamemakinika. Lugha pamoja na mavazi yao yalikuwa ya heshima.

“Assalam aleikum!”

“Waaleikum salaam!”

 “Ujio wa leo wasemaje?”

“Safari hii nyota ya jaha imetumulika.”

Bwana mmoja alimkaribisha Maha na mabaharia wake kwenye lango la soko la samaki. Alikuwa kavalia saruni nyekundu, shati jeupe lililoachiliwa wazi vifungo. Juu yake katinga kofia ya vito yaani ile iliyoshonwa kwa mkono. Mkononi kashikilia bakora iliyochongwa ikachongeka. Mabaharia wengine kutoka sehemu mbalimbali waliendelea kuwasili. Biashara ilianza rasmi. Abdi alikuwa sambamba na Maha, hangekubali kamwe kuachwa nyuma. Alionyeshwa namna mambo yafanywavyo. Hakuwa zumbukuku, aliweza kuelewa haraka na hapo kwa hapo alianza kunadi samaki wake.

Hakuwahi kutokea katika maisha yake yote kupata senti alizopata awamu hiyo. Abdi alifurahi upeo wa kufurahi. Alianza kuzipigia mahesabu chungu nzima ikiwemo kuikarabati nyumba yao kule Tanga. Kumbe ingewezekana hata ajiendeleze kimasomo kwa kazi ile, Abdi aliwaza. Chambilecho wanamantiki wenye lisani za utaalamu na utalamidhi, mgaagaa na upwa haondoki pang’anda. Baada ya takriban saa tatu za soko, wavuvi wa Tanga walimaliza biashara yao Pemba. Kilichobaki kilikuwa ni kupumzika siku ile kabla ya kuendelea na safari. Mabaharia waligawanyika, wako waliokwenda kwa jamaa zao walioishi kisiwani mle. Kina Maha wasiokuwa na jamaa walitafuta sehemu za kulala ingawa Abdi aligundua Bwana Maha alikuwa Mzee arifu sana. Kila wanakotembea angaliitwa na watu wasiopungua watano.

Njiani, kama ilivyokuwa sokoni, Abdi aliwaona mabinti wazuri sana wa Kipemba. Kila mara alimwangalia Bwana Maha alivyopindua shingo yake kufuata miondoko ya wanawali wale, waliotembea mafungu kwa mafungu. Hakuna hata gauni moja lililompita. Maha alikuwa kayang’arisha macho yake kwelikweli. Abdi hakuelewa kivipi baharia yule mzee aliyetembelea visiwa vingi toka Kilwa mpaka huko Mombasa, hajapata binti hata mmoja wa kumuoa?

 “Wakuonaje Pemba?” aliuliza Maha, wakitembea kuelekea mkahawani palipo na sehemu ya kulala.

“Ni raha mustarehe,” alijibu Abdi. “Ningelikuwa na uwezo, ningelimleta mamangu akaishi huku.”

La haula! Na je ukifika Mombasa? Si utakataa hata kuendelea na safari!” 

“Kuna nini cha zaidi Mombasa?”

“Twende ukajionee mwenyewe, maana kule ndiko kwenye kila kitu. Ila nikusihi tu, mjini kule hawali maneno, unatumia akili yako.” Walielekea hadi kwenye mkahawa uitwao Sianzimimi. Walikula chajio kisha wakaenda kujipumzisha kwenye chumba walichokilipia.

“Safari ni hatua. Nimechoka kwelikweli. Wacha nilale ,” alisema Maha.

“Vipi kuhusu swali langu?” aliuliza Abdi akiwa anajifunga tauli tayari kuelekea bafuni.

 “Ina maana ile safari haikukuchosha wewe?”

“Nimechoka mwili, siyo mdomo wala masikio.”

“Kesho pia ni siku, utaniuliza tu.”

Maha aligeuka upande wa pili wa kitanda na kujifunika shuka. Abdi alicheka kiistizai, alijua wazi kuwa kagonga ndipo. Aliporejea chumbani, Maha alinyanyua uso na kumwambia, “kijana, usilale usingizi wa pono, ipo sehemu nitakupeleka usiku.”

“Sehemu gani?”

“Mpembe Mpemba”

Abdi alishangazwa na maneno hayo. Alijaribu kuwaza sana juu ya sehemu hiyo aliyoarifiwa ila hakupata picha kamili. Ilimbidi asubiri tu ndiyo aweze kujionea. Alilala, usingizi ukamchukua, akaliota jahazi lao la Nyota Yangu.

Jua lilikuwa limezama pale alipoamshwa polepole na Bwana Maha. Walijitayarisha kwa kubadilisha mavazi na kujihami na silaha ya ukumbi wa starehe yaani ngwenjehela. Abdi alionelea ajitweke mzimamzima na kifungu chake cha pesa. Alifahamu fika kuwa maisha ni ureda, hivyo alitaka kuyafurahia. Hatimaye, walitoka. Walitembea takribani dakika ishirini hadi walipofika sehemu walipolakiwa kwa maneno haya ya nyimbo za muimbaji mmoja maarufu aitwaye Bi Malika.

Wimbo ule uliimbwa kwa sauti nyororo na yakusisimua. Sauti hiyo ilimshtua Abdi na kumwacha kinywa achama. Waliingia mkahawani Mpembe Mpemba. Kulikuwa na shehena ya watu, hususan wazee na mabaharia. Maha alichagua meza iliyokuwa imetengwa kando, wakavuta kiti. Jukwaani palikuwa na watu wengine waliobeba ala tofauti za mziki lakini Abdi akisubiri kumwona kidosho aliyeshtua moyo wake kwa sauti mwanana.

Kwa mara nyingine tena, malaika yalimsimama wima Abdi, kama kondoo mwenye manyoya haba kondeni. Sasa alianza kuudhika, maana sauti aliisikia bali mwimbaji hakumwona. Alidhani masikio yake yalikuwa yakimhadaa au labda sauti ile ilitoka kwenye ala za muziki.

Punde si punde alitokeza mwimbaji huyo huku ameshikilia kipaza sauti. Alipanda jukwaani akiwa anaongozwa na kijana mmoja mdogo. Taa ya jukwaa ikageuzwa, mwanga ukamulika uso wa yule nana. Abdi hakuamini macho yake. Hakuwahi kuona mwanamwali kama yule, mwenye uso wa kifuu cha nazi, macho ya kikombe na pua ya mtepeto kama Mhabeshi. Alivutiwa na meno yake ya bisi na vidu vilivyoshobweka barabara mashavuni. Hakuweza kuzizuia hisia zake alipoviona viduta vyake vilivyosimama imara kama vitumbua viwili vilivyochongwa na mfinyanzi stadi na kutiwa hamira. Kiuno chake kilichezacheza kwa migwayo ya kumezea na kutamanika. Yaani uzuri wake asingeueleza kwa maneno matupu.

Abdi na Bwana Maha walitazamana ghafla, kisha wakarejesha macho yao jukwaani. Kwa hakika Abdi alimuona kuwa mwanamke wa elfu. Alistaajabu kuona mwanamke wa shani kama yule kuwa sehemu kama zile, akijianika mbele za wanaume wote waliokuwepo pale. Hivi hakuna hata mtu mmoja anayekana mambo yale, aliwaza. Mawazo mengi yalizunguka kichwani mwake. Alikuwa tayari keshaudhika. Furaha yote aliyokwenda nayo ilipotelea mbali. Hakuwa na la kufanya.

Dada yule aliendelea kuimba huku mijanadume ikimshangilia. Ghafla tu macho ya Abdi yalipatana ana kwa ana na ya kidosho huyo. Roho yake ilitapatapa. Alipigwa na bumbuwazi na ghafla alihisi vitu vikimtekerenya tumboni. Ilikuwa mara ya kwanza kupata hisia kama hiyo. Kila msichana yule alivyoendelea kuimba ndivyo Abdi alizidi kuvutiwa. Mwishoe alishindwa kabisa kujizuia na pindi tu mrembo yule alipomaliza kutumbuiza watu, aliamua kwenda kumsabahi.

“Mzee, naja mara moja,” Abdi alimwambia Maha.”

“Hapo sasa!”

“Mmh! Sijakuambia niendapo.”

“Sijatia neno bado.”

Abdi alitazama pande zote za mkahawa ule. Kila mmoja alikuwa na hamsini zake. Alisogea hadi pembezoni mwa jukwaa alipoketi msichana yule. 

“Hujambo dada?”

“Sijambo kaka.”

“Naomba angalau dakika chache tu nizungumze na wewe.”

“Bila shaka!”

Abdi alizidi kupagawa kwa sauti tamu ya msichana yule aliyesimama kuitikia mwito. Alinyoosha mkono wake, lakini msichana yule hakuonyesha hata nia ya kuupokea. Aliudhika kwa kibri cha mwimbaji mrembo. Aliamua kuondoka, lakini alitaka kwanza amfundishe adabu.

“Mbona hukupokea mkono wangu?” Abdi aliuliza.

“Sikuuona. Sioni.”

Abdi hakuamini alichokisikia. Papo kwa hapo mawazo chungu nzima yalimjia, akakumbuka kuwa hakuna kizuri kisicho na kasoro. Alimtazama usoni binti yule, kisha akatingisa kichwa chake mara kadhaa na taratibu machozi yalianza kumtiririka. Aliuchukua mkono wake na kumuenua huku akimuongoza hadi sehemu waliyokuwa wamekaa. Wakati wote huo Maha alikuwa akimtazama Abdi huku akitabasamu.

“Niwapeni nafasi kidogo?”

“Bora,” alijibu Abdi akiwa na tabasamu kubwa. “Nenda kule kwa wazee wenzako.”

“Naona unahitimu ubaharia kwa kasi za umeme,” Maha alimnongóneza Abdi huku akinyanyuka na kuondoka.

“Ni maongezi tu.”

Abdi alimuangalia Maha huku akitabasamu. Hakujuwa aanze kusema neno lipi.

Aliingiwa na uwoga kidogo alipokumbuka zile hekaya kuwa aliwahi kuoa jini. Lakini alioa vipi hali ya kuwa alikuwa mtoto? Taswira kamili ya hadithi hiyo hakuwa nayo. Kwani alichokumbuka ni alipoonjeshwa kileo na bui wake. Kileo hiko kilimlemea na kuishia kulala kwenye jahazi ufuoni mwa bahari. Alilala mda mrefu sana ila akili ilipomrudia alijipata nyumbani kwao kafinikwa gubigubi na watu tele walikuwa wamemzingira. 

Alishtuka na kugundua wote wawili walikuwa kimya. Ndipo alipojitambulisha na kumueleza nana huyo azma yake ya kuwepo kisiwani Pemba.

“Karibu kwetu Pemba,” alijibu mrembo, alichekacheka huku akijifinika uso kwa mkono wake.  “Mimi naitwa Salima.”

“Jina zuri kama wewe mwenyewe,” alitania Abdi kwa sauti nzito ya chinichini.

“Asante!”

“Ni kwa nini ulichagua kazi ya kuimba mkahawani?”

Salima aliguna, ukapita ukimwa mfupi baina yao.

“Samahani kama nimekukosea,” alisema Abdi.

“Wala hujanikosea ila wewe ni mwanamume wa kwanza kuniuliza swali hili.”

“Kwa kweli niwie radhi.”

“Usijali Abdi,” alijibu Salima akiwa ametazama chini. “Ni hadithi ndefu sana.  Nipo hapa ila si kwa ridhaa yangu.”

Abdi alisongeza kiti chake karibu zaidi ya kidosho huyo aliyeanza kumhadithia kisa chake. Alidai mama yake aliponea kifo wakati alipokuwa kijakazi katika milki ya Saudi. Alikuwa ameambiwa na swahiba wake, kulikuwa na kazi huko. Waliuza kila kitu, si mifugo, si vitu vya nyumbani si dhahabu walakini hazikutosha kwa nauli. Baadaye, alipata mkopo kutoka kwa bwanyenye anayemiliki mkahawa huo wa Mpembe Mpemba. Akaenda zake Saudia. Kufika kule, alimfanyia kazi tajiri mmoja aliyeanza tabia za kumtomasa na kumpapasa makalioni. Siku moja katika hali ya kumenyana naye roshani, alimsukuma kutoka ghorofa ya tatu hadi chini na kuvunjika mfupa wa mgongo. Alipelekwa hospitali, alipopata afueni tu, walimrejesha Pemba pasi na kumpa hata shilingi.  Muda mfupi baada ya kurejeshwa bwanyenye yule alimfuata na kumpa siku kadhaa awe ashalipa deni lake.

“Siwezi kusahau sura ya mamangu alipoambiwa maneno yale,” Salima alisema, akaanza kulia kwa kwikwi.

“Sub-han-Allah! Msiba umetufika sisi wanaadamu,” Abdi alimaka. “Halafu ikawa vipi?”

Salima alizidi kutokwa na michirizi ya machozi. Abdi alitoa kitambara mfukoni mwake na kumfuta machozi binti yule aliyetulia. Naye alimwachia uso wake Abdi, afanye atakavyo.

“Siku za mamangu kulipa deni zilipokwisha, tajiri huyu alikuja nyumbani usiku huohuo pamoja na wanaume wengine wawili na kunichukuwa kwa nguvu.”

“Halafu?”

“Nililetwa hapa mkahawani na nikalazimishwa kutumbuiza watu kwa nyimbo na kuwatingishia kiuno. Malipo ninayopata kutoka kwa watu yanachukuliwa na bwenyenye huyo na kupunguzwa kwenye deni la mamangu.”

“Kwa nini usitoroke?”

“Sina pa kwenda, na siwezi kumwacha mama.”

“Ya Ilahi! Ya ilahi! Kesho tutakwenda sema nini mbele ya Mungu.” Alisema Abdi, “Binti, maisha ni msiba, uweze ila fahamu pia maisha yayo hayo ni jasiri inakupasa ujasurike.”

Abdi alibaki kinywa achama kiasi cha mheshimiwa nzi kujenga makao dundumioni kama angependa. Alifotoka macho kwa mshangao. Alienuka kutoka kwenye kiti alichokuwa amekaa na kumsogelea Salima ambaye alikuwa tayari kashalowa kwenye dimbwi la machozi. Alipomkumbatia, mwili wake ulipigwa ‘shoti’ ya umeme. Mikono yake ilitua kwenye kiuno cha nyigu cha kipusa huyo. Kope zake zilikuwa zimelowa machozi. Alikuwa amezikunja nyusi zake za mwezi mwandamu shauri ya kulia. Mwili wake ulikuwa laini. Abdi aliendelea kumkumbatia  kwa dakika kadhaa huku akimpapasa mgongoni.

Au nikimbie naye? Lakini itakuwaje, wakati mimi mwenyewe niendako sikujui? Na mamake je? Loh! Mungu wangu nisaidie hapa. Nimeshindwa kabisa. Roho yangu haitaweza kuhimili bila ya kuwa na mrembo huyu, haidhuru upofu wake,’ aliwaza Abdi.

“Pole sana nana, ngoja kidogo naja.” Alisema Abdi, akisimama. “Utakunywa kinywaji gani?”

“Chochote.”

Aliondoka na kuenda kuchukua vinywaji na bila kubananga wasaa,alirudi pale mezani.

“Hujaniambia mambo mengi kuhusu maisha yako,” alianza Salima, “Na vipi ikitokea mpenzi wako akanikuta hapa na wewe?”

“Wala usihofu. Nitafanya chochote unachotaka. Niko hapa kwa ajili yako.”

“Wacha masihara Abdi,” alisema Salima huku akitabsamu.

“Usijali, mimi nimelelewa na mzazi mmoja tu. Mama yangu. Abu yangu alipo sijui. Kuhusu suala la mpenzi. Kusema la uhakika, sina. Wala sijatamani tena kuwa na mtu.”

“Kwa nini?”

Hapo ilimbidi Abdi atunge uongo. “Niliwahi kuwa na mpenzi mara moja tu. Nikajaribu kadri ya uwezo wangu kumfurahisha na kumfanya kama malkia. Ilifika siku moja nilikuja mfumania na rafiki yangu wa karibu kabisa. Sitawahi sahau alichonifanya. Tangu siku hiyo nilichukia wasichana na sikutaka kusikia suala la mapenzi.”

“Pole sana. Ulipata msiba mkubwa.”

“Asante. Wako ni msiba mkubwa zaidi. Una kifua cha kubeba mambo. Nimependezwa na ustahamilivu wako.”

“Asante. Ndiyo maisha haya. Mitihani kila sehemu. Tunamshukuru Mungu kwa yote yaliyotufika.”

 Kwa dakika chache hivi, Abdi alinyamaza. Hakujuwa aseme nini, aanze wapi au amalizie wapi. Alihisi Salima ni kama katoa fundo ndani ya roho yake. Abdi alimliwaza na kumuahidi kuwa kila kitu kitakuwa sawa. Alimtazama Mzee Maha, alikuwa katingwa anawaimbia watu mashairi huku wakila na kunywa kwa furaha kwelikweli.

“Naomba unisindikize kwetu, nimemkumbuka mama yangu.”

Abdi aliitikia bila kuchelewa. Baada ya mwia kichele, walitoweka sehemu hiyo kwa siri na moja kwa moja walielekea hadi kwa kina Salima. Walibisha hodi, wakafungua mlango wa kuingilia uliokuwa nusu.  Sehemu ya chini ya bao ilikuwa imevunjika. Waliingia ndani ya nyumba ndogo na ya udongo. Taa za koroboi ziliegeshwa kila pembe ya chumba hicho. Kuta hazikupakwa rangi bali chokaa tu. Chini hakukuwa na mkeka wa aina yoyote. Pembezoni mwa kitanda alicholala mamake Salima kulikuwa na kitanda cha usitu. Walikaa kwenye kitanda hicho wakamuamkua  bi mkubwa, mamake Salima. 

“Kumeendaje huko mkahawani?”

“Vizuri sana mama.”

“Na umeniletea nini? Njaa imenishika sana.”

“Sijambo ila samahani sijakuja na chakula chochote bali nimekuletea mgeni kutoka pwani ya Tanga anataka kukusalimia.”

Abdi alijitambulisha na kueleza kwa kina hali ya maisha yake. Alimuahidi mamake Salima kuwa atajitahidi kwa jino na ukucha amalize deni lake, hata kama ingemchukua mda mrefu, ili mwanaye awachwe huru. Furaha sufufu ilimtinga mama na mwana. Salima aliuzungusha mkono wake begani mwa Abdi, akaichokoza upya ile hisia kali. Bila kujiuliza mara mbili, Abdi alitia mkono wake kwenye mfuko wa suruali na kutoa kipochi ambacho alitoa kile kitita cha noti, alichochuma kule sokoni.

“Mamangu, shika hizi. Naomba upunguze, japo haifiki robo ya deni lako.”

“Shukran mwanangu. Mwenyezi Mungu akujaze heri, aibariki kazi ya mikono yako na akufungulie milango mingine mingi ya riziki” alisema mamake. Alipokea pesa zile huku machozi ya furaha yakimdondoka.

“Amin!” Alisema Abdi huku akiinua mikono yake juu.

“Kwa pesa hii, yule baradhuli hatanisumbua tena. Nami sina budi kukupa zawadi. Zawadi kwa ajili yenu Abdi na Salima.”

“Zawadi gani tena mama?” Salima aliuliza kwa shauku.

“Hakuna zawadi kuu zaidi ya kukupa baraka zangu, huyu bwana akuchukue, uwe mkewe.”

Abdi alitamani aruke kwa furaha. Alibaki kuchekacheka na kumshukuru mamake Salima mara kwa mara. Kila kitu kilikuwa kikienda haraka tofauti na fikra zake. Ama kweli nyota ya jaha ilikuwa immemulika. Furaha iliyomtinga ilimfanya akose kuwaza juu ya lolote lile.

“Lakini vipi mambo ya ndoa?”

“Ataarifiwa shehe,” mama alijibu. “Mapema kabla hamjaondoka atamaliza mambo uende na mkeo.”

Waliendelea na maongezi kidogo na hatimaye walimuaga mamake Salima na kurandaranda kwenye mbalamwezi. Baadaye waliondoka na kuenda baharini kwa matembezi.Walijivinjari si haba. Abdi alitamani kumpeleka Salima kwenye starehe katika matembezi ya kisiwa cha Pemba, lakini hakuwa na senti mfukoni. Zote alimpatia mama yake Salima. Walibaki kuongozana tu hadi waliposhukia kina Abdi, wakaketi kitandani.

“Abdi,” alisema Salima akiwa kamwegemea mwenziye wakiwa bado wameketi chumbani. “Kweli umeridhia kunioa?”

“Kabisa.”

“Na mama yako atanipenda?”

“Bila shaka.”

“Kwa hiyo kesho utanichukua Tanga?” aliuliza. “Nna hamu ya kuishi na wewe.”

“In sha Allah tutakwenda pamoja. Wala usihofu! Nitakapokuoa kesho, utarudi Pemba kusalimia tu,” Abdi alimjibu nana Salima.

Abdi alichukua kauri na kumpa Salima, kauri alizokuwa kazikusanya wakati wa uvuvi, na azma yake ilikuwa ni kumpelekea mama yake mpendwa pindi atakaporudi Tanga. Chembilecho waswahili, mgeni njoo mwenyeji apone. Na kwa kweli mipango sio matumizi au pengine tuseme ndio ‘mahaba niue’ hayo. Haya basi baada ya kuonjeshana mahaba, wakarudi tena kwenye mwangaza wa mbalamwezi, Abdi akamsindikiza Salima hadi kwao.

“Siamini kesho nitakuwa mke wako,” Salima alisema, akampa busu Abdi.

Sasa Abdi alitaka kumpa Salima tuzo nyingine lakini alikuwa kaishiwa, hana kitu tena. Aliondoka akipiga mluzi, moja kwa moja hadi pale mkahawani alipomwacha nahodha wake. Maha na wazee wenzake walikuwa wamelewa chakari. 

“Mushamalizana tayari?” alisema Mzee Maha huku akicheka kwelikweli, kisha akaanza kuimba. “Oh, baharia ni mziniiifuuu! Bahaaria niii mziniiiiifuuuu!”

Abdi alishikwa na haya kidogo, alitaka kumkwepa Maha lakini hakuwa na pesa ya kuagiza tena kinywaji, na muda ulikuwa umeyoyoma. Alimwinamia Maha akamwomba waondoke.

“Umemlipa ngapi?” Maha alipayuka kwa sauti ya kilevi. “Umebakiwa na ngapi?”

“Sijamlipa kitu,” Abdi alijibu kwa hasira kidogo.

 “Mzee hatufundishwi mambo bwana,” alijibu Maha, akaimba tena. “Oh, baharia ni mziniiifuuu! Bahaaria niii mziniiiiifuuuu!”

Abdi hakuona haja ya kushindana na mlevi. Aliamua kurudi kwenye nyumba ya mapumziko. Usiku huo ulikuwa tofauti maana kila sekunde alimuwaza Salima. Tayari alikuwa keshakorogeka. Keshaonjeshwa asali. Hakuweza kutulia tena. Alishindwa kulala. Aliwaza akiwazua namna gani angeozeshwa binti huyo. Alijigeuza kila upande wa kwenye kitanda alipokuwa na Salima saa chache zilizotangulia, katu usingizi haukumjia. Alikuwa akitabasamu tu katika giza la mle chumbani.

“Kuna usalama kweli?” aliuuliza Mzee Maha, alipoingia.

“Kwa nini?” Abdi  alijibu kwa swali.

“Swali halijibiwi na swali.”

“Sikuelewa swali lako.”

“Naona umetafuta mwenyewe jibu la swala lako?”

“Mambo ya kawaida Mzee.”  

“Bora salama!” Maha alijibu akijitupa kitandani, alianza kuimba tena. “Bahaaariiiia ni mziiiiniifuuuu.”

Abdi hakukumbuka usingizi ulimpitia vipi. Aliamshwa kwa makelele ya Maha aliyekuwa anakusanya vifaa vyake tayari kwa safari. Alijizoazoa kitandani, akamsimulia Maha kuhusu ndoa iliyopangwa asubuhi ile huku wakitembea kuelekea forodhani. Nyuso za mabaharia zilikuwa zimenawiri, walikuwa wamechangamka kwelikweli, tayari kuondoka kuelekea Mombasa. Abdi alivalia nguo yake nzuri ya kuvutia, alimsubiri Salima na Shehe kwa hamu na ghamu. Jua lilizidi kupanda, Salima hakutokea. Muda ulikuwa umeshafika wa kuondoka ila Salima alikuwa bado hajafika. Sasa Alianza kuhisi wasiwasi. Alizidi kuwachelewesha mabaharia wote waliokwishapanda jahazini isipokuwa yeye.

Asubuhi ile mabaharia hawakumsumbua Abdi na vijikazi vya kuchosha. Walimpiga jicho la udaku huku wakinong’onezana wao kwa wao, na nahodha wao. Abdi alitazama pande zote za forodhani hakukuwa na dalili ya mwanamke yoyote kutokea. Wala hakuona kanu ya Shehe aliyetajwa na mama yake Salima. Jekejeke la jasho lilimiminika bwaibwai kwenye uti wa mgongo wake. Alihisi mwili wake wote umeisha nguvu. Moyo wake ulimdwikadwika na kumdunda. Alihisi kama moyo ulifumwa kwa mkuki. Wakati ulizidi kuyoyoma. Hakuwa na budi ila kupanda jahazi lile. Alipokelewa na vicheko vya mabaharia wale wazoefu, na wimbo wa Mzee Maha ukaanza tena.

Fatma Shafii is a Kenyan writer.

This story was first published in Water Birds on the Lakeshore, the anthology of Goethe Institut’s AfroYoungAdult, edited by Zukiswa Wanner.