From Blue Sunflower Startle:    

Savoury Orange Duck in a Stompy Orange Home  
 
         The town of Dodoma is in the heart of Tanzania, like a nose, plop centre in the middle of a face. Our grandparents have a flourmill in Dodoma. Mother has taught us their address: 
        P. O. Box 11  
        Dodoma  
        Tanzania.   
        She is making my brother and I practice their telephone number, #9.   
        We live in Tukuyu, in the southern highlands of Tanzania. Mount Rungwe rises in the distance. We can see it from the sitting room. In its belly lives a monkey with thick brown fur. Its calling, scabrous, like a car horn fused with a dog’s bark. It puffs out cold air that mists Tukuyu mornings.   
        Mother serves us tea biscuits at 4 p.m.   
        “Cry short, will you not, my dear?” she asks of me. I stop straightaway. I am a good girl.   
        Once I saw a woman, pretty as a nurse, inside the moon. She was smiling down at me. I screamed and screamed. That time, I did not cry short. Mother said I was still good.   
        Dodoma is far away from Tukuyu, almost two days by car. The first stop is Mbeya, where passengers halt for a treat of canned fish sandwiches and milky coffee. Canned food, like apples wrapped in crinkly paper, is dear, reserved for trips and special occasions. After Mbeya, an overnight stay in Iringa, and finally, Dodoma. From wet green grasses of Tukuyu to thorny trees. Crowded stars hammer Dodoma’s desert sky. The moon is a witch doctor’s murky orange, like an egg gone bad.   
        Grandmother has visited us in Tukuyu, each time carrying her maroon bread-shaped purse. Last visit (Grandfather has never joined her) she took me on a bus trip to Mbeya to visit Grandfather’s relatives. She is dutiful in carrying out Grandfather’s obligations.  
        “Isn’t Mbeya green as Scotland?” she asked, pointing to the misty hills. Neither of us had visited Scotland. I pictured Father’s Land Rover gliding over the hills covered with slippery grasses tall as the Masai who drink blood and milk mixed together and do not wear underwear.  
        I told Grandmother that my brother, who was born in Mbeya at the missionary hospital, could spot Father’s Land Rover anywhere, and he was just two. Before we arrived at the Mbeya bus depot, Grandmother lifted me off the seat to catch me in a calliper’s vice between her haunches. I raised my arms so she could change my frock. Then she sat me down again facing the window and combed my hair in fierce strokes. I was almost five. This was 1963. Even Father did not know he was sick. Mother wore red high-heeled shoes with gold straps to parties.   
        Now I am almost six. Father is too weak to come downstairs to open the store. He lies in bed in his green robe. Mother still dabs Apple Blossom scent behind her ears, but her face has gone away.   
        For days, Mother makes us hot cocoa with froth on top. We drink in the sitting room, like guests, and take turns with Mr. View Finder. We have plenty of slides. There is a slide of the moustached green tinkerbird; Mount Rungwe’s natural bridge called the Bridge of God; a grand Mombasa ship; another one of a giant, unsmiling guard in red headgear who stares right into your eyes; and a powdery woman, Marilyn Monroe, her face ready to kiss you. Mother tells me to look after my little brother before she shuts her and my father’s bedroom door. She and Father whisper in there for hours.   
        Then, one day, my brother and I wave Mother and Father goodbye from a white car. A stranger-uncle is driving us to Dodoma where we will stay with our grandparents. We watch Mother and Father through the rear window of the white car: they stand on the steps of our general store, Mother’s arm firmly around Father’s waist. Soon they will leave for Nairobi where Father will be admitted to a big hospital. You have to pass Masai land close to Arusha-with-red-soil to reach Nairobi in Kenya, another country. Silently I recite what will be our new address like Allah’s name:  
        P.O. Box 11   
        Dodoma   
        Tanzania   
        Telephone #9.   
        I hope that the memorization cools Mother’s liver, knowing that we will not get lost. From Mother, we already know that our grandparents’ house has the shape of a horseshoe, starting with Grandfather’s office, followed by many, many rooms, and that it ends with the mill on the other side.   
        It is 1964. We are leaving Tukuyu in Stranger-Uncle’s car, Mount Rungwe rising above the town.   
        At the back of the car, we swerve from one door to another.   
        “This is a Peugeot,” my brother whispers.   
        Stranger-Uncle shoots over the potholes, yelling, “Children, sing if you wish!” Both Brother and I are on tip-top behaviour. When it gets dark, we suck our thumbs. My brother makes me smell his stinky thumb. I readily do. I am his mother now, his right-hand angel. We do not stop in Mbeya for canned fish sandwiches, and when we do not spend a night in a hotel in Iringa, my brother and I plough punches into each other’s stomachs, but quietly, so Stranger-Uncle will not know.   

 Copyright (c) Yasmin Ladha, 2010.