The girls have left to do another interview. I feel safer allowing Amelia go because she is with older, wiser P who speak Swahili with such an easy fluency; she gently chivvies my own daughter along with encouragement and patience. I don’t know how she drags the necessary vocabulary – given their touchy subject – forth but she does.
Yesterday, over supper, they regaled us with tales of an afternoon with a Crack Whore. Literally said P: A Crack Whore. Veiled in head scarf and 8 months pregnant, a prostitute whose been working the streets for 15 years and using for as long. She asked for money. P said, ‘I’m not giving you a cent; I know you’re going to use it on drugs’. But they relented when the lady cast her eyes down, ‘but the baby …’, she said.
Amelia is doing her dissertation. She’s not sure the focus, but something based upon the juxtaposition of women raised in a staunchly patriarchal Muslim society where they are swathed in the billowing black attire that we call bui- bui, against the backdrop of a seaside town awash with punters of all shades; Malindi is teeming with fat middle-aged white men upon whose arms trip glossed, polished, braided, precipitously-heeled African women. Ought anybody to be judged here? In the end it boils down to supply and demand: he needs what she can offer. She needs his money. Badly. For the babies. For crack. Sometimes, hopefully, for an education.
Last week the two girls spent time with Marie Stopes who tried in vain to arrange a meeting with a bevy of prostitutes who weren’t prepared to divulge their tales for nothing. ‘I’ll buy you a soda’, suggested Amelia. ‘We want beer’ they insisted. Amelia would have acquiesced but they wanted to meet later than the curfew Amelia’s mother had imposed.
Sometimes P parks her car and they take a tuktuk together, across town, to some alley strangled clinic that they have not been able to find. A tuktuk ride costs 50 shillings irrespective of where you’re going in town. Amelia mightn’t remember that or she may be intimidated to pay over the going rate. Not P though. ‘It’s 50 bob’, she tells the driver who tries to charge her four times that’, ‘I know that for a fact, just because I’m a mzungu, don’t’ try to charge me more, it makes me cross’. When she related the story later, I could just hear her, in her neat tones and perfect Swahili’. She sounds like you.
And she looks like you too: fine boned and small. Though, unlike you, taller than I.
P and I cooked glass this morning, I taught her how to slice shards and break stringers and cap as caught colour. She is neat and quick and her eye excellent. Her slender brown arms jangle with the silver bangles she has crafted herself – she gave me one, a snake that gently twists – and as we work I remember our afternoons on my verandah as I was hobbled by two toddlers and you patiently worked on your decoupage. And it struck me: she is the age now that I was then, on my verandah, with you, head down and busy with your cutting and glue.
So you see P is far more than Amelia’s translator and driver and minder. Increasingly she is a big sister to all three of mine so that I feel even more splendidly mother-hennish than ever with four to feed and a fridge of food the contents of which vanish as if locusts have descended. It’s feels fullfat and greedy and it makes me happy. And she is my confidant in art – she settles in my studio with interest where my own wander through and say in distracted manner, ‘that’s nice, mum’ where the ‘nice’ could be a finished piece of work or a bucket of suds to clean my worktops down.
You must be proud of her.
P is the daughter of one of my dearest friends A.
A died ten years ago on Saturday.