Makena Onjerika, Winner of the 2018 Caine Prize for African Writing
March 12, 2019
Seminar 4:30 PM | Lannan Center (New North 408)
Reading 7:00 PM | Copley Formal Lounge
From “Fanta Blackcurrant”
— Makena Onjerika
She was our sister and our friend but, from the time we were totos, Meri was not like us. If the Good Samaritans who came to give us foods and clothes on Sundays asked us what we wanted from God, some of us said going to school; some of us said enough money for living in a room in Mathare slums; and some of us, the ones who wanted to be seen we were bornagain, said going to heaven. But Meri, she only wanted a big Fanta Blackcurrant for her to drink every day and it never finish.
God was always liking Meri. In the streets when we opened our hands and prayed people for money, they felt more mercy for Meri. They looked how she was beautiful with a brown mzungu face and a space in front of her teeth. They asked where was her father and where was her mother? They gave her ten bob and sometimes even twenty bob. For us who were colour black, just five bob.
All of us felt jealousy for Meri, like a hot potato refusing to be swallowed. We thieved things from her nylon paper. Only small things: her bread, her razor blade, her tin for cooking. But some of us felt more jealousy for Meri and we wished bad things to fall on her head.
And then one day Meri was put in the TV. It happened like this: a boy called Wanugu was killed by a police. This Wanugu he was not our brother or our friend, but some boys came to where we were staying carrying sticks and stones and knives. They said all chokoraas, boys and girls, must go to make noise about Wanugu in the streets. Fearing them, we went and shouted ‘Killers, killers, even chokoraas are people’ until TV people came to look our faces with their cameras.
All of us wanted to be put in the TV. Quickly, quickly wee beat dust out of our clothes; we stopped smiling loudly to hide our black teeths; we pulled mucus back inside our noses. All of us wanted to tell the story of Wanugu, how he was killed with a gun called AK47 when he was just sitting there at Jevanjee gardens, breathing glue and hearing the lunchtime preacher say how heaven is beautiful. He was not even thinking which car he could steal the eyes or mirrors or tyres. All of us told the story, but at night when we went to the mhindi shops to look ourselves in the TVs being sold in the windows, we saw only Meri. She was singing Ingrish:
‘Meri hada ritro ramp, ritro ramp, ritro ramp.’
Some of us looked Meri with big eyes because we had not heard that before she came to the streets she had been taken to school, from standard one to three.
We said, ‘Meri, speak Ingrish even us we hear.’
We beat her some slaps and laughed, but inside all of us started fearing that someone was coming to save Meri from the streets. All of us remembered how last year people came to save a dog because it found a toto thrown away in the garbage. We felt jealousy for Meri. She was never thinking anything in her head. Even if she was our sister and our friend, she was useless, all the time breathing glue and thinking where she could find a Fanta Blackcurrant. If anyone came to save Meri, all of us were going to say we were Meri. Some of us started washing in Nairobi river every day to stop smelling chokoraa; some of us went to the mhindi shops to listen how people speak Ingrish on the TVs; some of us started telling long stories about how long time ago even us we had lived in a big house.