Mami shared her bedroom with her eldest sister Marthe. They both shared a penchant for soft things
and quiet places; pillows, duvets, poetry, and libraries, much unlike the other sisters, who, in their
shared room, would now be listening to loud music and paying the driver to go out and buy them
snacks, and more serious things not usually allowed for them.
Mami lay on her bed one night with her eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling when she should
have been asleep. Papa was on her mind. She dreamt him, in an eyes wide open type of dream,
walking towards her in reverse as if he was walking back to the beginning of their journey.
‘Olali?’ Marthe asked in a tired voice.
‘No. I can’t sleep. Why?’
‘I can hear you rolling around as if you have bugs climbing on your back.’
‘I feel like they are climbing in my head.’
‘Is something the matter?’
‘Well, go to sleep then.’ There was a long pause; they both knew this silence was not their last.
‘Okay. Maybe ‘no’ is not exactly the most accurate answer. It’s not something is wrong, it’s just I
have some questions.’
‘Questions?’ Marthe replied curiously.
‘Yes, questions… about love.’
‘BOLINGO?!’ she yelled.
‘Shh! Bako yoka yo.’ Mami said quietening her sister.
‘Love?! Why are you asking about love?! You’re not having sex are you?!’ Marthe sat up swiftly and
turned towards Mami. She lit the candle lamp, as if they were part of a clandestine movement, passing
secret messages to each other. The last thing either of them wanted was to be having this conversation
in front of the other sisters, let alone their mother and father.
‘No,’ Mami, giggled, ‘not yet…’
‘No, no, no. I’m joking, don’t hit me. I’m only curious. But come on, you must know something,
‘Thanks.’ Marthe replied wryly.
‘No, I mean you’re old as in you’re older, you have experience. You’ll be getting married someday
soon; you already have all these men who come to father and make him all sorts of offers for you;
land, cows and goats…’
‘Yeah, all those old men with their pot-bellies who have wives hidden in other parts of the
country they tell no one about,’
‘…real crocodile skin shoes. An actual crocodile! Father loved those. Remember the man who
said he swam into the Ebale and killed the crocodile with his bare hands?’
‘Yes, Prince. That man. Fat and rich. How I could forget?’
‘Father almost gave you away instantly.’ Mami burst out with laughter.
‘I know. It’s nice we have a father who knows our worth isn’t it? Sold to the average bidder.’
They laughed, and in their laughter, they imagined their other sisters, and how this would be
applicable to them, and laughed some more.
‘You will make a great wife though. You are beautiful. You are smart….’
‘Men don’t want a smart wife.’
‘They want a woman who is dumb, dumb but pretty. A woman who doesn’t talk, I mean, look at
‘What about her?’
‘When was the last time you heard her talk?’
‘Er, all the time. Are you telling me you’ve never heard mother talk?’
‘No. I mean, talk, talk. Actually talk over father. Give a different opinion. Heck, even silence
him, tell him to kanga munoko, as he sometimes tells her.’
‘Oh, come on. It’s not that bad…’ ‘Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Anyway, this is about you. Why do
you want to know about love? Is it a boy?’
‘No, I simply want to know. I’m growing up…’
‘Is it a boy?’ she interrupted, this time slower.
‘No!’ Mami insisted.
‘I want to know. No one ever talks about love. Has mother or father ever spoken to you about it?’
‘It’s a boy.’ Marthe let out a heavy, defeated sigh.
‘Okay, maybe it is a boy, but I still want to know. It’s just one minute you’re a child packing your
homework into your bag, and the next you’re waiting at home cooking for a big bellied man and his
‘They are your children too.’
‘But no one talks about how we get there. You’re just expected to know, you’re expect to
somehow pick it up as you go along. What is love?’
‘Well, I remember mother saying one thing, on one of her nights where she had drunk too much
wine while father was away. She said marry a man who you can tolerate, because in the end you will
want to kill him…’
‘Trés bizarre!’ ‘Though, I’m pretty sure she didn’t know it was me and maybe thought it was one
of her Mamas who come around to drink wine because it’s un-lady like for married women to be
seen drinking at bars.’ Mami let out a huge sigh of frustration in reply.
‘Truth is little sis, I don’t know. I imagine love to be like water…’
‘Yes, water. Sometimes you drink it. Other times you wash in it. But mostly, it is what you are
made up of.’
‘I don’t get it.’ ‘Neither do I. And that, little sister is love. No one gets it. We talk about it, write
poems, books, and songs about it, cry and lose sleep over it, but no one ever gets it. Now let us go to
sleep, unless you have to confess you are having sex with this boy so I can slap you now and send you
Marthe stared at Mami with a stern but compassionate look only big sisters know, blew out the
candle lit lamp and went to sleep. Mami stayed awake for a few more hours, staring at the ceiling.