“This is for my Auntie Penzi who—” repeats the narrator throughout Idza Luhumyo’s newest story, published here in our New Voices series. Luhumyo elegaic narrative explores the expulsion of Auntie Penzi from flat A and the arrival, years later, of a new woman, a mzungu woman with a dress “short and red.” Dig in:
But how good she is to me, Auntie Penzi. She who has never had an angry word for me. She whose eyes smile whenever they set on me. She who adds honey into her voice whenever she is talking to me. Sunday evenings she sits me between her thighs on the bedroom floor and places my head against her thigh, plaiting wavy kilimanjaro lines on my head.
This is for My Auntie Penzi Who—
sets the whole of flat A against her, and this because she likes to wear booty shorts, and on her head sit coils of hair like snakes, and she drinks and smokes and curses in that deep voice of hers, and with no shame, refers to an old Malindi Italian as her boyfriend.
“I’m telling you this one will spoil our kids,” M’ake Junior whispers. It is a Sunday afternoon and the flat is caught up in that lazy somnolescence that characterizes such afternoons. She is standing with my mother on the second floor landing M’ake Junior, tightening her leso, and seething with an anger that seems to predate Auntie Penzi.
“You are saying you,” whispers my mother, anxiously looking around her to confirm that nobody is listening to their talk. “What about my daughter, mn? She sees all those things happening in the house and I cannot even open my mouth.”
M’ake Junior throws an eye towards me as I stand there next to my mother. I shift my eyes, pretending to be more concerned with the graffiti on the staircase walls, the very crayon graffiti for which my friends and I are responsible. But I am too late; she catches me just before I turn my eyes away. Her look says I am tainted, already beyond redemption. And as we part—M’ake Junior on her way downstairs; my mother and I on our way upstairs—her voice floats towards us: “Me I’m telling you one day we will wake up and find that this one has stolen our husbands.”
But my mother doesn’t respond. For she knows—just like I know, and just like M’ake Junior knows, and just like everyone in flat A knows—that Auntie couldn’t be any less interested in the flat’s men: she who barely returns the umeamkajes and umeshindajes and umpendayes that the men aim at her like javelins on the flat’s staircases, her mind too taken in by her Italian love to even take notice of the men’s flirting efforts.
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