Travels in Africa

Fred and Donanne Hunter

LABAN AND MURUGI

He was a thin, young Kikuyu with a well modeled 
face and dark, alert eyes. When Derek said that he and his wife had come to look at the house, the young man returned to the servant’s quarters behind it and came back holding the keys on a piece of bent wire. He led them to the entry porch and unlocked the door.
“Do you live here?” Dee asked.
“Yes,” he replied, pushing the door open and stepping back from the threshold, obliging and respectful.
“Is it a good house?” Derek asked.
“It is a good house,” he answered, his face open and so honest that it told both all and nothing about him. “It is all right.”
The Turners had not been long in Nairobi then and were looking for a place to live, a place with sufficient space for Derek to set up a journalist’s office. The house stood on a five-acre plot of ground at the end of a lane of jacarandas in rolling country planted with coffee. An orange-brown anthill stretched, taller than Derek, beside the front walk. There was room enough for them to live well and for Derek’s office, and the rent was controlled. Those were the advantages of the house, important ones for people who wanted to save money, but had also secretly dreamed of living on a plantation in Africa.
But there were disadvantages: an egregiously primitive kitchen, a location seven miles from town, rather farther out than they wanted to be, and an owner, a widow living in British Columbia, who was trying desperately to sell the house and get her money out of Kenya. The house had been on the market for several years. It seemed unlikely to sell. But if it did, the tenants would have to move.
While the Turners went from room to room, the young Kikuyu sat on the porch in the sun. Derek liked the house. Looking out across the lawn to the coffee, he knew he wanted to live in it. “I think we should take it,” he told his wife. Dee nodded in agreement. Then Derek’s eyes fell again on the young African and he wondered if his life was going to become involved with theirs.
Interviewing a prospective servant in Africa, Derek had heard, you looked him squarely in the face, trying to see what was there and not there. You took from him worn references withdrawn from a plastic bag or a wallet or a leather pouch, carefully unfolded them and read the statements of employers whose firms had transferred them elsewhere. You asked yourself questions: Is this man honest? Trustworthy? Of pleasant disposition? Will he steal sugar? Clothes? The checkbook? If I am fair to him, will he be fair to me?
A servant-search was not without its ironies. The Turners knew that the prospective servant was not someone they would know well enough to invite to dinner. And yet if they employed him, they were inviting him to share their lives. It would be at least a matter of weeks before they learned to know him as a servant. As a human being they might never know him at all.
When the Turners took possession of the house on Rosslyn Lone Tree Estate, the young Kikuyu caretaker was still living on the place. They asked his name and heard him answer, “It is Robin.” When they inquired about his references and examined them, they discovered that the name, in fact, was Laban Waithaka Muturi.
The Turners looked carefully at him and he bore their scrutiny. They asked if he would like to work for them, mainly caring for the grounds as he had already been doing. He said, “It is all right,” which meant that he would. Derek suggested that they try the arrangement for a week to see how it went.
It went well. At the end of the week Derek typed out a letter of agreement between himself and the young Kikuyu. The Turners would pay Laban twice a month at the same rate he was being paid by the absent owner. He would (1) care for the garden, (2) clean inside the house on request, (3) wash the car, (4) act as watchman when the Turners were gone, (5) burn the garbage, and (6) do other chores as requested. His hours of work would be 8:00 AM to noon, 2:00 to 4:30 PM, Monday through Friday.
He could remain in his quarters and friends could visit him, but “there will be no drinking of alcoholic beverages on the premises.” The Turners agreed to pay for two shirts and one pair of trousers immediately and to finance two other garments when a probationary period was concluded at the end of the first month. They would also provide a bag of charcoal. Grounds for dismissal were enumerated: failure to perform duties, incompatibility, drunkenness, rowdiness.
Derek doubted that so specific a contract was necessary. But colleagues assured him it was a must. The worst possible nightmare that could befall an expatriate was to have a servant make an official charge that he had been cheated. Such charges were usually leveled just before the expat left on a transfer. Without a contract both parties had signed, the expat got caught in the con game. He paid exorbitantly just to get out of the country.
The Turners settled into the house. Dee made curtains out of burlap and struggled valiantly with the kitchen and the ancient “cooker.” Derek established his office, did his research, and went into town to do reporting.
The Turners found it difficult to make friends on Lone Tree Estate; the houses were too separated, and longtime white residents seemed uninterested in meeting transients. But a social life was available to them in town, even though late at night it often seemed a nuisance to make the long drive home on the unlighted highway.
They did not really share their lives with Laban. He spent much of his time tending the long, broad lawn that stretched down from the front of the house. There was no mower and Derek did not think of investing in one. Laban cut the grass with a long-bladed implement having a curved and sharpened end. He stood upright, swinging the implement back and forth, slowly cutting the grass.
Sometimes Derek interrupted his writing to watch Laban using the implement. He wondered how he himself would like to be doing that work. Laban had some education, at least enough to speak English. Didn’t this mowing crush him? Didn’t he find Lone Tree Estate rather isolated? What did he do for a social life? For friends? And yet, Derek would remind himself, Laban had a place to live and a job on the money economy. At least theoretically he was no longer tied to the land. Sometimes watching the man, he would wonder, Who is Laban anyway?
They really could not answer that question. That fact was borne out when the Turners made their first trip. They were going to Arusha in Tanzania where Derek would pick up stories about the East African Community and add to work he had been doing about poaching problems in game parks. They would be away a week and would leave Laban in charge of the house and property.
But the day before the trip was to start – a Saturday – Derek was overcome by reservations. “Do you think this is really a good idea?” he asked Dee. “Leaving the house this way. We really don’t know the guy.”
“I think he’s honest,” said Dee. “Anyway, what’s there to take?”
“Clothes. Furniture. What if we come back and the house is empty? We’d have no idea where to find him.”
So Derek spent Saturday afternoon lining up a guard from Securicor who would come and watch the house. He felt badly, distrusting Laban who seemed so honest, but he wanted to be sure.
The next morning when he and Dee were about to drive away, Laban waved and wished them well. “Hoping to see you again,” he said.

Then the unexpected happened. The house was sold.
Instead of spending more time trying to find a place to live, Derek suggested to his editors that he do a tour of the territory he covered; it included all of sub-Saharan Africa. He proposed that he leave Nairobi for six, maybe eight, months. He would spend most of his time in South Africa where first-hand witnessing of the evils of apartheid always made good copy. The editors agreed to the plan and to paying Dee’s travel expenses. The Turners would put their household goods and belongings into storage and live out of suitcases.
But what would happen to Laban? By then Dee and Derek had come to feel affection for him. They knew now that he had a mother and a sister on a shamba in the environs of Limuru a bit north of Nairobi. Laban sometimes visited them on weekends. When he returned, he would bring greetings from his mother; sometimes Dee sent the woman return greetings and even small presents.
Derek hoped their departure would not mean that Laban was pushed out of the money economy back into the subsistence one. But that seemed likely. He gave Laban a letter of recommendation and assured him that the Turners would employ him again once they returned to Nairobi and got settled. They parted from Laban, feeling a little as if they were leaving a friend.
The Turners were not again settled into a house in Nairobi until eighteen months later. During those months they traveled through southern Africa, vacationed with Dee’s parents in Europe, spent half a year in short-term “lets” around Nairobi while waiting for a promised house to become available. Finally they went to the States for two months home leave.
Meanwhile, though they did not know it, Laban returned to his mother’s shamba to live as a peasant in the subsistence economy.
Good to his word, Derek wrote to Laban at the address he had given the Turners in Kiroe Township. “If you do not have a job,” the letter said, “would you like to come and work for us?” The letter sent the Turners’ regards to Laban’s mother and sister and closed with words Dee and Derek often repeated to one another, the words that Laban had used in sending them off on their first trip, “Hoping to see you again.”
Derek had doubts that the letter would ever reach its destination. But only a few evenings later whom should he see pedaling down Riverside Paddocks toward the small bungalow at the end of the road? None other than Laban Waithaka Muturi. He had ridden in from Limuru, the bicycle his Pegasus, flying high in his triumphant return to the money economy. A grin spread across the entire width of his face. “Hello!” he called to Derek.
“Habari!” Derek answered, ushering him into the drive. “Nice to see you again!”
“My mother sends her greetings,” Laban told Dee when she came out of the house.
“Please give her our greetings,” Dee replied. “I am going to be a mother myself.”
Laban grinned and exclaimed, “Nzuri sana!”
Laban rejoined the household. He occupied more spacious quarters than those at Rosslyn, received a fifteen percent raise and two new sets of work clothes, and was living now in a neighborhood where he could strike up friendships with other workers.

When the Turners brought the baby home from the hospital, he would not stop crying. Getting out of the car, Derek laughed with embarrassment. What bad manners his son had! There were, after all, people waiting to greet him. Dee felt distressed; so much about parenting was a mystery to both these parents!
Laban admired the baby and approved of the Turners’ following Kikuyu tradition by naming Paulie for his paternal grandfather. Standing quietly to one side was a woman. Laban told Dee, “This is the woman you asked me to find.”
The woman stepped forward and said, “Jambo, Memsah’b.”
“Jambo,” Dee replied. The woman reached out to shield the baby’s eyes from the sun and Dee thought, “This is the right person.”
The woman was Murugi. She became a part-time member of the household and came three mornings a week to the bungalow on Riverside Paddocks. There she washed and ironed the laundry and, more importantly, Paulie’s diapers. She also served as the ayah, the baby-sitter. She was frequently in the house at night and, as ayah, even in daytime.
Derek might be working in his office while Dee was out doing errands or at her Swahili lesson. With her gone, Derek did not want to be bothered with the tasks of parenting. These were left to Murugi.
Derek’s job required him to observe people, how they lived and how they thought, and Murugi was a puzzle to him. He would sometimes ask himself, Who is she anyway?
He recognized that many people, especially expatriates, share their lives with others they do not know. He had learned this with Laban. He acknowledged that not knowing such people was not necessarily a bad thing. After all, every individual had a right to privacy. He sensed that the matter of privacy between servants and their employers required delicate handling.
In terms of their own privacy Dee and Derek hoped that Laban and Murugi did not spend much time thinking about them. About their being different, white. About how rich they were. Because they were not rich – although in the servants’ eyes they might appear to have everything.
As for their own attitudes the Turners felt they should be interested in Murugi and Laban because, surely, indifference to servants – treating them like objects – was unpardonable. But they, too, deserved their privacy.
When Laban became involved with Mary, a young ayah who lived in the neighborhood, and she began to sleep in his quarters, Dee and Derek agreed that this was not a matter they could inquire about to Laban – although Derek was glad he had a woman to sleep with.
And neither could Derek say, “Hey, Murugi. Come have a cup of coffee with me and tell me all about yourself.” That was not proper. And, in any case, it was not even feasible. Murugi did not speak English.
Derek occasionally asked Dee, “Do you think Murugi’s married?” They might be sitting in the back yard under the pepper tree having tea. The nightly broadcast of the BBC’s Africa Service would have concluded without reporting any information that Derek had to act upon.
“I don’t know,” Dee would say. “But I think she has three children.”
“Is she a widow?”
“Could be. Maybe she was the second or third wife of a man much older. Something her father arranged. Maybe her husband’s dead now. And she has to earn money to take care of herself.”
“Or maybe she– I wonder how Kikuyus divorce.”
“There’s a story idea for you,” Dee would suggest. “Divorce among the Kikuyu.”
“Front page. Banner headlines.”
Or they would be in bed waiting for sleep and Derek would inquire, “Do you think Murugi’s got hair under that headcloth she wears?” Kikuyu widows shaved their heads – or at least they had in traditional Kikuyu society. Neither Derek nor Dee had ever seen Murugi without a headcloth. The curiosity some men apply to wondering how a woman would look if she were not wearing a blouse, Derek applied to the question of how Murugi might look without her headcloth.
“I think maybe she left her husband,” Dee would say. “And why not? Susie says all Kikuyu men beat their wives.” Susie was a twelve-year-old Kikuyu friend of Dee’s who had spent a night once when Derek was off on a reporting trip.
Then Dee might ask, “Where do you think she lives?”
“Wish I knew,” Derek would reply.

In the evenings when Murugi babysat Paulie, Derek would drive her most of the way home. One night as they rode together, neither of them speaking, Derek thought of the route. He drove the length of Riverside Drive which was largely, though not exclusively, a European residential area. He crossed Uhuru Highway into Parklands which was largely, though not exclusively, an Asian quarter. He passed the Mayfair Hotel and the Ghelani house, where he and Dee had lived for three months in their “short lets” period. He turned into the unpaved alley-driveway beside what Murugi called the “petroli,” the gasoline station. He stopped at the usual place where the alley tapered into a footpath too narrow for a car.
Murugi opened the door and softly said, “Kwaheri, Bwana,” which meant “Goodbye, sir.” Derek repeated what he had already said, “Asante sana,” which meant “Thank you very much,” and watched her start down the footpath in the light of the car’s high beams.
She moved quickly, as always, minding her own business if other Africans were about. That hurry always caused Derek to wonder if Murugi were anxious about her personal security or about the safety of the money he had given her.
As her figure grew smaller, obscured by shadows and vegetation and by the downward slope of the path, she raised her arms for balance. Derek wondered how steep the path was, how rocky or covered with vines, and he mused once again about what kind of house she lived in and who her neighbors were. And he asked himself again as he always did, “Who is Murugi?”
He knew practically nothing about her. She was perhaps forty years of age, maybe a bit younger, not an age when life begins for a woman in Africa. She was trim and tallish, dignified and attractive in a modest way with a smile that lit up her face. Her children, maybe three, were grown. Although she did not speak English, she understood a good deal of it, more certainly than Derek knew of her Kikuyu and Swahili. She had not learned to read. So far as Derek could tell, she was able to write only her name, which she did every time she was paid, a task involving effort and concentration.
Derek knew only that about Murugi. But he admired her very much. And he was fascinated by the way the new Africa was grafting itself upon her.
No, Derek thought as he watched her disappear, he knew more than that about the woman. He knew that she was honest and a willing and careful worker. The mending had never been done with such exactness. (In fact, it had rarely been done at all.) Small changes – such as the manner of folding Bwana’s socks – needed only to be mentioned once. Paulie was tended with affection and diligence and his diapers came to him ironed. Even Bwana got his undershorts ironed; such things can spoil a man.
But Derek had difficulty forging a relationship with Murugi. While her smiles to Paulie and “Memsah’b” were both beautiful and eloquent, Derek was never sure what Murugi thought of him. (This was important because Derek, being an American, wanted to feel liked.)
Murugi always seemed impassive when she and Derek were alone. The only exception was in the early mornings when she laughed at him, an unconscious clown, sleepy-eyed in bathrobe and slippers, putting out the laundry and diaper pail and unable to remember the proper sequence of “Jambo-habari-nzuri,” which meant, “Hello, how are you, I’m fine.”
What fascinated Derek about Murugi was her chic. She had a quiet, understated sense of style. It was not obtrusive; one hardly noticed it at first. Derek always thought about her style as he watched her head down the homeward path in the darkness. It seemed amazing to him – and delightful – to discover that his Kikuyu ayah/washerwoman had clothes sense.
Derek had little fashion awareness himself. So he was always surprised to find it, not in jet-set Africans for whom it was an important preoccupation, but in ordinary people like Murugi, people who had grown up as land-tending peasants, who earned so little and seemed to have such infrequent contact with fashionable worlds.
That evening as she left the car, Derek happened to glance at her wrist. On it she wore a small woman’s watch with a leopard-skin band, perhaps an inch wide, simulating the wrist-watch fashions lately in vogue. It was a small symbol of the emerging Africa buckled to Murugi’s wrist.
Derek thought about unexpected chic as he sat in the car at the place where the alley became a footpath. Murugi moved into the beam of the headlamps, her clean, well-pressed white dress brightly reflecting the light. Derek watched her lavender headcloth and lavender sweater and lavender tennis shoes enter the darkness. And as he backed the car down the alley, past the massive, sawn tree stump, he asked himself again, “Who is Murugi anyway? Who gives her fashion tips? Where did she get her style?”
But he would never ask such questions of her. She had a right to privacy.
Murugi came to Derek’s house three times a week as a washerwoman; once, maybe twice, as an ayah. The Turners shared their clothes and their son and their lives with her. They trusted, but hardly knew each other. And that, Derek supposed, was the way it would probably remain.

Except that it didn’t.
The night finally came when Derek, too, went down the hill. It was rainy and late and Derek held Murugi’s elbow, hoping that neither of them would slip in the mud. He left her at what seemed a large house, but was indistinct in the rain, and climbed back up the path, slipping once or twice.
The next time Murugi was at the house, she said, with the help of Laban acting as translator, that she would prefer not to baby-sit at night. Or that if she did, she would like Bwana to drive her all the way home, not merely to leave her at the petroli where the downward path began.
Derek was more than happy to drive her home, especially after escorting her in the rain. He was sorry that she had not asked earlier or that he had not thought to offer. And so they now drove through the European area of Riverside Drive, then through the Asian quarter of Parklands and into an area Derek had not entered before. Murugi directed him to a house, built long ago by Europeans, but now very rundown. It had been transformed into a kind of boarding house or hostel.
On the road approaching the house on Sunday evenings a barber would be working in the last light of day. An impromptu religious service would be in progress nearby. Dogs hung about the boarding house, lean and inquisitive, sniffing around for food. Trash littered the yard. Children played among the bits of metal, the once components of now-cannibalized appliances. A stump peeked through tall grass. Cars that would never run again were pedestaled on wooden blocks.
A faucet supplied water to the neighborhood; nearby women washed both children and laundry in buckets. Murugi’s house seemed full of women. Another house, farther up the hill and more dilapidated, appeared occupied mainly by men.
The first time Derek left Murugi at the house, he was conscious that her neighbors watched him. This was Africa; most men taking women places in cars were assumed to enjoy access to their bodies. He hoped that such an assumption gave Murugi status – if that was what she wanted. But it occurred to him, too, that some of those neighbors would be asking her, “Who is that white man? He must be rich. Is he giving you money? If he isn’t, you know, you can play him for some.”
When Derek would return from taking Murugi home, he would tell his wife, “We must really look rich to Africans. And we think we’re just getting by.”

Then at a dinner party at the home of the regional director of Oxfam, Derek and Dee discovered that they were paying their servants less than all the other guests at the party, less than what the Oxfam people said was the going rate. The Turners were appalled. Since Derek had written articles from South Africa about whites exploiting African workers – “Slavery is not dead” had been the lead of a think-piece he wrote – he vowed to Dee that they must make amends.
The following day they called in Murugi and Laban. They apologized for knowing too little about local pay scales. They got out the paybooks, told them they were raising their wages and gave each of the Kikuyus a sum representing the difference between what they had earned since they started their employment and what would have earned at the higher rate.
Laban and Murugi seemed uncertain about what was going on. Europeans were strange, but they never acted this way. They did not give away money; they did not ask to be pardoned for oversights. However, when they understood that the back pay was really theirs, they signed for it and left the room grinning.

The day eventually came that Derek had always known must someday come. The Turners had completely adjusted to Nairobi. They had established a circle of friends. Derek enjoyed his work and, because the house was not big enough for both a baby and a working journalist, he had rented a one-room office downtown. Paulie was almost eleven months. He was just beginning to walk and the Kikuyu that Murugi spoke to him had become his first language.
Sometimes on Sundays while having tea on the back lawn, Paulie in the playpen, the Turners would say, “Isn’t it heaven when the servants are gone!” They would laugh at this notion because it was so contrary to what they actually felt. They knew they lived well thanks in part to what Laban and Murugi contributed to the household.
Then Derek’s editors informed him that he was being transferred back to the States. The paper had closed one of its bureaus. Without their knowing it, the staff of correspondents had been placed in a game of musical chairs – several were being reassigned – and Derek was the man left standing, the man without a post. The experienced correspondent replacing him knew nothing about Africa. This was not unusual in journalism. In fact, some editors felt that “new eyes” offered valuable insights.
But Derek was distressed. He had been hired to do the Africa job. He knew a great deal about the continent, especially after four years on the job, and felt he offered the paper and its readers in-depth coverage of a kind a newcomer to the territory could not provide. Moreover, he had come to see himself as an advocate for the continent. The new man’s lack of familiarity with Africa and its peoples and their ways of living might mean that his cultural baggage would color his reporting. That seemed bad for the paper and its readers, bad for Africa.
But there was no appeal to the decision. Derek and his colleagues had occasionally talked about transfers. The strong consensus was that a correspondent must be seen as a team player. Wherever the paper wanted to send him, that was the place he wanted to go.
So the Turners made preparations to leave. They informed friends and associates and landlords of their imminent departure, looked into shipping their household effects back to the States, began the process of filling out forms: for their income tax payments and for Laban’s and Murugi’s, for Paulie’s citizenship papers and birth certificate, for the release and shipment of their household goods. They had a meeting with Murugi and Laban and told them the news. They assured the pair that they would write recommendations and, if possible, try to place them in new jobs. They would also give them a bit of money to tide them over.
Laban came back a day or two later to say that he wanted to try a different line of work: automobile repair. He knew a man in the industrial area who could train him in what was called “panel-beating” (which seemed to involve removing dents). The instruction would cost the equivalent of about five months’ wages. Derek agreed to finance this instruction, which would take place after the Turners left East Africa. He very much hoped that Laban’s contact was honest.
Dee’s women friends quickly asked to have Paulie’s crib, playpen, and other paraphernalia. Dee told them about Murugi and her good qualities. Since a steady flow of young expatriates was entering the country, it seemed likely that Murugi would find a place in another American household.
Then one Saturday night, five weeks before the Turners were to leave the country, they returned from seeing a play to find Murugi sitting uncomfortably on a chair outside the baby’s room, wincing against pain and hardly able to move. She pointed to her ankle. She indicated that she had injured it, apparently while stepping off the small porch outside the kitchen.
“I better take her to the hospital,” Derek told Dee.
The Turners stood on either side of Murugi, their arms under hers, and lifted her onto one foot. They carried her to the Turners’ car and settled her inside.
Derek took her to Nairobi Hospital. During a consultation in Kikuyu, nurses examined her ankle and informed Murugi that they could do little for her then, in the middle of the night. She must come back in the morning. When this was relayed to Derek, he agreed to bring her first thing. He signed for a pair of crutches which the nurses gave to Murugi.
Although he had often left Murugi outside the hostel where she lived, Derek had never entered the building. Now he guided her up the porch stairway. Because she seemed uncertain about the crutches, Derek held her arm just under her armpit so that she would not fall. Residents idling on the porch watched the pair, a few of them standing in the presence of a white man, but none of them speaking or offering help.
As he took Murugi inside, Derek discovered that the main room, once a parlor, was a maze of curtains hung on wires. He helped Murugi down a hallway of cloth and shortly arrived at a cubicle. She pulled the fabric aside. Derek helped her into a curtained enclosure, large enough only for a bed, a chair, a small dresser, and a rod on which to hang clothes. He took the crutches and helped Murugi onto the bed. She kept repeating, “Asante sana, Bwana. Asante sana.”
Returning outside, Derek found the porch filled with men and women. The news had spread of a white man in the building and the Africans stared at Derek as if he were responsible for Murugi’s pain. He nodded and hurried to the car.
When Derek got home, he found Dee in the nursery. She was sitting in the dim illumination of a nightlight, holding the baby, moving back and forth in a rocker. “How is she?”
“They couldn’t do anything for her tonight,” Derek said. “I take her back at 9:00 AM.” He told his wife about the quarters in which Murugi lived.
The next day Derek fetched Murugi early and took her to the hospital. She had fractured her ankle. After it was set in a cast, Derek took her home.
He did not see her again until a few days later when on the last day of the month he went to her house with the wages owed her for the previous two weeks. She refused to accept them. Derek returned home and told Dee, “This is not good. And I have to hit the road again.” Derek’s editor had cabled, instructing him to take a ten-day trip to Malawi, Mozambique, Angola, and Rhodesia. “Why,” he complained, “did this accident happen now?”
Dee told him, “Because it’s a metaphor.”
“Oh, yeah? Well, it’s one that requires a cast.” Dee smiled indulgently. Finally Derek relaxed and smiled, too. “Okay. How’s it a metaphor?”
“It says, ‘Your leaving does me injury. You leave and I break.’”
“Isn’t that a little far-fetch—”
“But I reject that,” said Dee, interrupting him. “For a year now we’ve had the Kikuyus here with us and they’ve enriched our lives. We’re better people because Laban and Murugi have been in the house.”
Derek nodded, but he was not completely convinced.
“And they’re better off, too. Laban has a much stronger sense of himself,” Dee went on. “He’s ready to try a new line of work and he has a girlfriend who spends nights with him. Murugi has benefited too. Our going doesn’t injure her. It gives her a chance to gather up her talents and use them to enrich somebody else’s life. Right?”
Finally Derek nodded again.
Dee studied him carefully. “Your going doesn’t injure you, either, Dare. If you believe that, Murugi’s ankle will heal faster.”
Derek gave his wife the look of a skeptical newsman. “Just the facts, please,” he said.
“Go on your trip,” Dee told him, “and do the best job you can.”
When Derek returned from his trip, he learned that Laban had told Dee, as soon as she returned from the airport, that Murugi intended to ask for compensation for breaking her ankle.
“Did you give it to her?” Derek asked.
“No,” Dee said. “I talked to her. Laban acted as translator.”
“What’d you say?”
“I assured her that our leaving could not injure her,” Dee explained. “I said we’d take care of the hospital costs and would try to find her a new job. I told her that she’d enriched our lives and we hoped we’d done the same for hers. There couldn’t be any injury out of that.”
“And she knew what you were talking about?”
“Of course,” said Dee. “They understand these things a lot better than we do.”
She continued, “While you were gone, every time I thought of Murugi, I affirmed all the good things about her: her affection for Paulie, her diligence and cleanliness, her good humor, her style. Her virtue. She really is virtuous, you know.”
Derek nodded.
“And we’re virtuous, too,” Dee said. “And fair. And we love Murugi.”
“And how is she?” Derek asked.
Dee smiled. “It is all right,” she said, using the phrase with Laban’s special inflection. “She never asked for compensation. I’m sure she won’t.”

By the time they all parted, the cast was off Murugi’s ankle and she was walking normally again. The Turners had written laudatory reference letters for both Laban and Murugi. They had given them presents of money. Murugi seemed almost certain to find a new job and the Turners had given Laban the money he needed to cover his panel-beating training.
As they said goodbye, both Laban and Murugi bent respectfully forward to shake Derek’s hand. Laban held Derek’s hand with both of his in that special gesture of African regard. When they turned to Dee, neither Kikuyu spoke. But their eyes were misty. Dee was not prepared to say farewell by shaking hands. These people were members of the family. She hugged them both.

1 Comment

  1. Love the Laban stories. so do we know what has happened to Laban? and Murugi?

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