Wanja walked down the slippery road that led to a deserted tea farm. On her back she carried the empty wicker basket that she used to pick tea with. However, in her heart, she bore an even bigger burden. She hadn’t seen Chege for a week which seemed like an eternity. Chege was in college in town, and anytime he was home, the two would always arrange a secret rendezvous. And there, under the gnarled muiri tree, they would chat until the western skies turned a wistful scarlet and hyraxes shrieked in the dark and owls fluttered above them, reminding them it was getting late.

Wanja now came to the tree where they have their secret rendezvous. She eagerly scanned the horizon, searching for his presence. But all she saw were silhouettes of men bent double, hurrying up the slope to the tea buying centre. The sun then sank in the Western skies towards the Aberdares ranges-and darkness crept in like a bandit. Wanja’s hope of seeing Chege sank too.

Chege drove from the opposite direction, his mother’s Land-cruiser headlights lighting up the way. He parked it by the roadside and run the few steps to their meeting point.

“You kept me waiting.” Wanja complained, her eyes lowered towards her feet which were speckled with diamonds of dew.

“It’s my mother.” Chege defended himself. Wanja wondered how his mother came into the picture.

Wewe! If you are going to see that dark tea picking girl again, don’t come back here.” Chege’s mother had warned him when she saw him pick the car keys.

“But mom……” Chege had started.

“Aren’t there more educated girls in your college?”

“But she is educated too.” Chege defended the apple of his eye.

“I am only going to buy some items from the duka.” Chege had told his mother as he drove off. When the road ahead forked into two, a certain force steered the Land cruiser from the path that led to the shopping centre. Instead, it headed towards Wanja’s home.

Wanja spread the rainbow coloured shuka on the soft grass underneath, its bright hues a sharp contrast to the darkening sky above. Chege sat beside her in quite anticipation, his heart thumping so loudly that he was afraid she could hear it. Wanja looked at him and saw something no one else did, even if she did not know what it was.

‘I brought you a gift,” Chege said, fumbling with a can of Arimis hand and body lotion. He didn’t understand why anytime he was with her his hands trembled. His mouth felt dry and the tongue stuck to the roof of the mouth. He wiped his face to get rid of that silly feeling. Instead of wiping it, he hit the lotion can, sending it sprawling to the mossy ground below.

“I will pick it for you.”  Wanja said.

Chege now studied Wanja intimately. She was beautiful like wanjeri ngumutha-the long haired half woman half fish being that could sometimes be seen bathing on a rock in the sacred River Mathioya. People said that there were two stars in her eyes where pupils should have been. Her teeth were evenly spaced and whiter than a newly peeled cassava. On her cheeks were two dimples- a quality that made a girl’s dowry price double.

“What is this gift for?” Wanja asked Chege. Who couldn’t understand why she couldn’t just pick the gift without asking questions. Then Chege remembered her mom’s words:

“Her hands are too rough, son, too rough.”

“She is a tea picker.” Chege had told his mother.

This conversation had happened some months ago. Wanja had visited Chege’s home during the college holidays. After she had left, Chege’s mother had called him aside and complained about Wanja’s dark calloused hands.

“Can’t you get a girl with smooth hands who doesn’t pick tea? Eh? A girl who speaks English through the nose like you?” Chege’s mother had gone and on.

“You haven’t told me why you brought me this hand and body lotion.” Wanja said, jolting Chege from his revelry. She smiled demurely, twirling her fingers around his, like she was binding herself to him. Chege gazed away into the skies, as if they had the answer to Wanja’s question.

“It’s nothing. Just apply the lotion to your hands.” Chege said painfully, his voice slightly shaking. He was a strong youth, built like an ox. But here he was trembling before a slim girl who pierced his heart with a gaze of a thousand passions.

“What did my lips do before they met you?” Chege asked her, panting heavily. He then kissed her, though kissing was forbidden by the church and his mother. Chege knew that the kiss could bring him trouble, but with this realization the kisses got cloying and run over their mouths like honey outpouring from a beehive that badly need emptying.

“One kiss is like the other, but I will never tire of kissing you.” Wanja whispered hauntingly.

“I will never leave your arms.” Chege made impossible promise to her.

She was now an ocean; he was a sinking man lost in her waves. Deeper and deeper he sank, each wave getting warmer and sweeter than the previous, all headed to inevitable explosive spasms. A hissing of primordial soups welled up in his hips like bottled steam. Then his limbs went limp, and beads of perspiration shone on his forehead like polished diamonds.

Up above, a crescent floated across the sky, smiling at the entwined lovers, casting a silvery glow. Beyond them, where the tea bushes merged with forest’s shadow and darkness merged with the mist, the lilacs sang.

The two youths talked deep into the night, their arms entangled around each other like tendrils. When emotions overwhelmed them and words failed, they chatted in oommphs and aaaaahs which only themselves understood.

Chege now rested his head on Wanja’s warm bosom. Wanja placed her hands on his. The rough touch jolted Chege, making him stand abruptly. Her hands are too dark and rough.

“I have to go.” Chege told her. He disengaged roughly from her, then looked at her face, wondering whether he was seeing it for the last time. He then drove slowly down the ferny path that led to his mother’s home.

“You’ve been seeing that tea picker girl with dark hands, is it?” Chege’s mother hissed at him as he sneaked into his room in their palatial home. Chege glanced at his watch; it was close to midnight, five hours after he left for the shopping centre.

“Did I bring you up to associate with the poor?”


Wanja had dropped out of college since her parents couldn’t afford her college fees. They had sold their last cow, their last goat and their last chicken. But the money was never enough. Wanja had to pick tea to fend for herself and her family.

Chege, on the other hand, was taking medicine in college. His mother, a senior officer with the county government, could afford to take him to all the colleges he wanted. He could be anything he wanted to be in this world. But all he wanted was to be hers.

The holidays ended and Chege went back to college. Wanja went back to picking tea. And Chege’s mother went back to reminding her son never to visit that girl with dark hands.

One morning, two elders in rough coats and even rougher hands turned up at Chege’s home.

“Your goat has broken the leg of one of our goat.” They started after the customary social tidbits about the weather and all that. Chege’s mother looked at the men and noted they had high cheekbones, like that tea picking girl Chege had brought home last holiday. What they were telling her, without being too obvious, was that one of their daughters had been impregnated by her son.

Chege’s mother went to her bedroom and came back with a brown envelope. She counted the notes one by one, without talking to the men. Then she handed over the fad wad of money to the man who most resembled the girl with calloused hands.

Tumemalizana.” She told them as she closed the gate behind her. I am done with that matter. That evening, and the many evenings’ that followed, Chege’s mother passed by the tree Chege and Wanja used to meet under, and poured some dark liquid on its roots.

Later, Wanja came to the tree they used to meet under. She was plumper now, and her tummy pushed through her cheap blouse. She waited for Chege, yearning to break the good news to him. She did this for several days, until her heart sighed with a thousand stinging emotions. Forest fairies watched her as she penned this note and left it on a crook in the tree.

A hundred times I long for you, a hundred times I cry for you.

Several weeks later, Wanja ambled to the tree, hoping to whet the longing in her heart by meeting Chege. She was now quite heavy, and her legs were swollen. When she got to their secret rendezvous, the tree had fallen down. Instead, a dark gaping hole sat like a heartache where the tree used to be.

Years slipped by. Chege’s mother moved him to a faraway college where no girls with dark hands could reach him. Meanwhile, Wanja, alone in the shamba, silently plucked tea leaves, her voice fading with each passing day. Down in the valley, the river murmured its own private lament, winding its way to the sea. Wanja’s hand grew darker and darker, her spirits slowly withering.

Chege finished college and went to the big city and got a job there. One Christmas, he came back home, his hands wrapped around a white girl. Overjoyed, Chege’s mother received her warmly. The girl extended her dainty hand to his mother for greetings, then pulled off.

“Do you pluck tea?” The girl asked Chege’s mother, shaking her hand, as if in pain.

“Why?” Chege’s mother asked her.

“Your hand is so rough.” She said.

Chege’s mother didn’t talk to her after that, until they went back to the city. She didn’t speak to her when they came back for Easter, nor when they came back for the next Christmas. The only thing she asked Chege is why they had not gotten a baby after all that time.

“We are focusing on our careers first.” Chege had answered her, curtly.

After some years, two evergreen tea bushes sprung up where Wanja and Chege used to meet. When they reached the height of a teen and their barks grew some pimples, their tendrils and branches edged towards each other, finally embracing in a bond neither ax nor man could break.


It was Christmas season, the peak season for tea harvesting. Wanja was busily picking tea, her three-year-old baby strapped to her back. When the sun got hot and sweat trickled down her back like a worm, she went and placed the baby under the embracing tea bushes. Then she heard a ruffle in the tea bushes.

“I have come to…” Chege’s mother told Wanja, avoiding looking her in the eye. They looked at each other for a long time, their hands in a tight grip.

“Where is the baby?”  Chege’s mother asked her. Wanja pointed to the embracing tea bushes that stood alone a few metres from them. Chege’s mother went to the tree. Under it’s cool shade, a chubby baby was sitting on a rainbow coloured shuka, trying to catch a butterfly. Her hair was curly, like that of the mountain deer that lived in the nearby Aberdares Ranges. And so was Chege’s hair. And in her upper arm, she had a black birthmark, just like Chege’s mother.

“ Abujubuju…..” Chege’s mother cooed at the baby. The baby beamed back, revealing two pearly teeth in her pink mouth. She held out a tender hand. The baby at first recoiled. Then she held out a chubby wet finger. Chege’s mother held out her finger too. She ran her hands over her face, until they rested over the baby’s heart, cherishing the warmth of the moment.

 “Oh mami….” Chege’s mother said, now rocking the baby in her arms. She felt the baby’s tiny heartbeat, and in a way the rhythm felt like hers. With each rocking, she realized that her eyes were getting wet. Her nose got full too. She tried sneezing several times, but stopped when she realized she was almost sobbing. The baby looked up at her, her tiny teeth shining in her pink mouth like stars.

Up above them, in that deserted tea farm in the cold hamlet of Tutho, the branches of the embracing tea bushes bloomed, watered by some cosmic force, held in an eternal embrace. Under the shade of that tree, Chege’s mother rocked the baby for so long, that she didn’t notice Wanja and Chege standing above them, their hands intertwined.

Above them in the blooming trees branches, the lilacs sang.

Gilbert Mwangi

Creative writer,dreamer,and Drum Major for all things true.


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