Fiction: The Love Parade

Alexander Nderitu

Alexander Nderitu

Picture, if you can, the city of Nairobi – Kenya’s political and commercial capital – on a sun-swept January morning. Visualize tall buildings, heavy-but-smoothly-flowing traffic, a maze of interconnecting streets and a lot of building-construction work in evidence. Zoom in on River Road, a downtown street where throngs of mostly ebony-skinned people are marching jubilantly - colourfully dressed - shouting, singing, and dancing. The Million Man March it is not - this is the annual Love Parade, and electricity is in the air! Civilian vehicles are parked on either side of the road to let the marchers through. The drivers in the parked cars honk to add to the general din of the celebrations. The Minister for Tourism and Culture leads the marchers, sitting in the back of a slow-moving bottle-green Toyota Land Cruiser. He smiles and waves at people on all sides, sweating profusely through a tomato-red K.A.N.U. Party shirt. Many of the marchers are waving red-black-and-green miniature flags, or holding up placards with such messages as ‘44 TRIBES, 1 NATION’, ‘HARAMBEE!!!’,  ‘GIVE PEACE A CHANCE’, ‘THE GREATEST IS LOVE’ and the nation’s own official motto: ‘PEACE, LOVE & UNITY’. While the parade is a cultural tourism marketing event, to showcase the people of the region interacting harmoniously, the government is also trying to promote national unity and re-ignite the spirit of Harambee (pulling together) which the founding leaders had championed after independence from British rule. Police on motorcycles and horseback pace the crowds, trying to maintain a semblance of order. One chestnut-brown police stallion becomes so agitated by the honking and other noises that it bucks wildly, nearly dislodging its rider. Elsewhere, a uniformed school girl passes out from the heat and is carried by multiple hands, acting like a conveyer belt, to a cool pavement.
           On either side of the winding, convoluting, River Road are shops selling everything from motor vehicle spare parts to printing paper. A good number of them are owned by Kenyans of South Asian origin, collectively referred to by the locals as ‘Kenindians’. The Indians have operated in the downtown section of this African city for so long, they even have their own schools and temples here. Their forbears established businesses, apartments, commercial buildings and other facilities here long before the area became crowded, dirty, and dangerous.
           From a shop designated ‘Ravi Shah Auto Parts’, a Kenindian family watches the procession march past. The father, a portly man with a Joseph Stalin-esque shoe-brush moustache and a forest of chest hair peeking out of his partly-unbuttoned long-sleeved cotton shirt, stands nonchalantly at the door. His sari-wearing wife, who has beautiful brown hair, is even less interested – she is moving about behind the counter, literally minding her own business.  Standing next to the no-nonsense father is his ten-year-old daughter, Nidhi, in a short blue sundress, watching excitedly.  Towering over Nidhi is her nineteen-year-old sister, Preeti, who is watching the procession with arms folded, the wind teasing her long hair.
           Nidhi spots a mobile ice-cream vendor stationed half a block away. ‘I want ice cream, Preeti!’ she says, cocking her head upwards to establish eye-contact.
           ‘Thik hai,’ Preeti says, taking her baby sister’s hand and leading her towards the ice-cream man who is doing roaring business in the tropical heat.
           Preeti stands five-foot-six inches tall and has a body like a goddess. Everything is in the right proportion: she is neither on the slim side nor the heavy side, neither too tall nor too short. Her skin bears no scars or other blemishes, mainly because she is a stay-at-home girl who rarely engages in physical adventures. Her hair, like her mother’s, is shoulder-long, straight and dark brown. Brown eyebrows arch over clean white eyes that are ringed by long black lashes. The irises are a light grey-brown hue, like an event horizon around the Black Hole pupils. A small nose presides over generous lips that are painted maroon.  Her skin complexion is a very light brown, with redness to the cheeks...

           Cut to Simon Kamau, a handsome twenty-four year old Kikuyu man. He watches the procession as it noisily winds through River Road. His interest, however, is in a brown-haired Indian beauty across the road, licking an ice-cream. Despite the pomp and pageantry, the girl has his whole attention. His heart is racing and he knows for a fact that if he doesn’t talk to her, he will regret it for the rest of his life!
           He makes his way across the road, like a fish swimming against a river current, and gains the ice-cream stand. It is only when he is within touching distance of the girl that he realizes that she’s with her baby sister, a ‘midget’ struggling to see the marchers, like the Biblical Zaccheaus trying to get a glimpse of Jesus.
           ‘Hi…I’m Simon,’ says the Kikuyu, smiling broadly to disarm the girls.
           ‘Hi. I’m Preeti,’ says the maiden, giving him the once over.
           ‘Yes, you are,’ Kamau seconds.
Preeti gives a silvery laugh and tosses back her hair as if she’s in a shampoo commercial.
‘I mean that’s my name,’ she asserts.
‘Actually, I knew that’s what you meant,’ Kamau says, flashing the killer smile again. ‘I was just teasing.’
He now turns his charm offensive to the little girl.
‘Hi, there, little princess. If you would like to see the march, you can sit on my shoulders,’ he offers.
           ‘Oh, no, no!’ Preeti protests. ‘That won’t be necessary.’
           But the idea has already been planted in Nidhi’s mind and she likes it. Kamau bends down and effortlessly positions Nidhi around his neck. He then straightens up, maintaining a purchase on Nidhi’s legs, and affords the child an unobstructed view of the action. Out of the corner of his eye, he notices Preeti checking out his bulging biceps.
           ‘I play soccer,’ Kamau explains, without turning to look at her. ‘We have to keep fit.’
           ‘Actually, I was looking at your veins,’ Preeti says. ‘They’re really popping. Don’t they hurt?’
           And indeed, Kamau’s veins are as pronounced on his ebony skin as the sewage piping of a high-rise building.
           ‘Nah,’ Kamau says. ‘Nobody feels their veins.’
           When the main body of marchers passes, Kamau lowers Nidhi back on to the ground. Preeti takes Nidhi’s hand, thanks the Man of a Thousand Veins, and strolls back to their shop. Kamau stands rooted on the spot, watching Preeti’s retreating back until she has completely vanished.

           The next day, at four in the evening, Kamau positions himself opposite ‘Ravi Shah Auto Parts’. He can see three or four figures moving in the gloom of the interior, and he’s sure that one of them is Preeti, but he doesn’t want to approach while the whole family is present. So he waits and waits in the shade of a nearby textile shop. One hour later, Preeti exits her father’s shop, solo. She’s wearing a long floral dress and has a self-same scarf around her neck. Kamau catches up with her.
           ‘Hey, remember me from yesterday?’ he says as he comes abreast of her.
           ‘Yes - Kamau. You work around here, too?’
           ‘No. Actually, I was hoping to see you. Can we grab a drink or something?’
           ‘Well, I’m walking to a restaurant just across the river, in Ngara. You can join me if you want. They have the best laddus in town.’
           ‘What are laddus?’
           ‘Come with me and you’ll find out!’
           To know Preeti is to love her, Kamau thinks as the pair chat on their way to nearby Ngara. She is so warm and friendly that she appears to be an incarnation of a goddess or ancient queen, like Sita – the venerated wife of Lord Rama. Unfortunately for Kamau, the other Indians in the restaurant she leads him to don’t appear as warm and embracing as Preeti. From the moment they enter the eatery together (which floods Kamau’s nostrils with unfamiliar but tantalising food smells), the other patrons eye the two of them with disapproval. Kamau feels odd about the sharp stares and barbed whispers but Preeti ignores this, orders for both of them, and goes on to introduce Kamau to the delights of South Asian cuisine.

           They meet again some days later, during the lunch hour, and this time Kamau insists that they go to an African eatery in order to balance the scales. Preeti enthusiastically agrees – she knows more about the wildlife at Nairobi National Park than about indigenous Africans. The joint Kamau takes her to is loud and hot. People are chattering in languages that Preeti can’t understand but there are fewer stares here. Kamau does the ordering. The first serving is of something that looks like a cross between a meatloaf and a sausage.
           ‘This is called mutura,’ Kamau says, cutting it with a sharp knife to liberate fatty juices and a meaty aroma.
           ‘I am a vegetarian,’ Preeti says, contorting her face.
           ‘I see. In that case, you’ll love the irio.’
           Kamau makes another order and a green mountain of potatoes mashed together with leafy vegetables and seeded with boiled maize is placed in front of her. Preeti takes a small bite, savours it, and pronounces it good. Kamau smiles and attacks the mutura like a lion feasting on a wildebeest carcase.
           As they eat, they talk about each other’s lives. Kamau is single and lives with his parents in Limuru, on the outskirts of Nairobi.  His family rears broilers which they sell at the City Market. Preeti is in her first year of medical school. She is engaged to be married to a 25-year-old bespectacled, tie-wearing Indian boy called Kapoor who works for a local Indian bank.
‘Do you love him?’ Kamau asks.
Preeti laughs.
‘Nobody ever asks me that! My parents arranged the whole thing. They are good friends with his parents and they like the fact that he was educated in India. We’ll learn to love each other when we meet. ’

Now visualize, if you can, the city of Mombasa. This sun-swept coastal metropolis is the country’s second-largest town and is located five-hundred kilometres away from Nairobi. Flat-topped white buildings abound, minarets pierce the sky, most people speak Kiswahili, European tourists stroll leisurely, and the temperature is hot and humid. But the most outstanding feature is the Indian Ocean, shimmering in the distance. Sitting on a sandy beach as white as table salt, Kamau watches swimmers frolick in the warm greenish-blue water. The tide comes and goes in waves, as if the ocean is breathing. As a result, it deposits a wealth of curious items on the shoreline: shells, starfish, crabs, bits of coral, bits of plants. Kamau scans the beach. It is lined with palm trees, swaying gently in the breeze. He looks back at the sea. In the horizon, a large ship appears to grow larger as it approaches. Kamau’s family has recently moved from Limuru to Mombasa. His parents now own a small beach-front restaurant in Mombasa (You can hear the sound of the ocean even from inside the eatery). They still raise chickens, some of which they serve at the restaurant and some which they sell to nearby hotels. Kamau, his younger sister, and their parents all work at the new restaurant. Their father is the most committed. He spends virtually all his waking hours there – driving back and forth to fetch supplies, talking to customers, giving orders, directing operations. By the time, he gets home, he is usually so exhausted that he sometimes falls asleep on the sitting-room sofa and snores like a bear, which makes Kamau’s nineteen-year-old sister giggle.
Absent-mindedly, Kamau picks up a stick that has washed up near his bare feet. He etches the name ‘PREETI’ in the sand. He then draws a love-heart around it. He smiles.

‘Are you not hungry?’ Kamau’s mother, Wangari, asks him, one night. ‘You have barely touched your supper.’
‘I was just...thinking.’
‘About what?’
Kamau tells her about Preeti. Wangari laughs.
‘You must love her very much to put her ahead of food!’ she says.
‘I think about her every single day. Where is she now? Is she wearing a sari or casual clothes? Is she laughing or crying, happy or sad?’
‘So that’s the reason you didn’t want to relocate?’
‘Yes. I knew I would miss her but not this much. I miss her the way people here would miss the ocean if it evaporated.’
‘She sounds really special. I’d like to meet her some day.’
‘There’s a complication. She already has a fiancé. An Indian boy.’
‘A love triangle. The plot thickens!’
‘Mama, are you taking this seriously? I need advice. Do I have a chance of marrying an Indian girl?’
‘Well, I’ll tell you two things. One, is that my mother, your grandmother, is from the Maasai community, but she married a Kikuyu. That makes me half-maasai, and I’m proud of it. I like to think it makes me richer, more special, because I can claim two cultures. You have probably never heard her speak Maasai but that because she knows you haven’t learnt the language. When she married your grandfather, she quickly learnt the language in order to blend in. Her husband’s family even gave her a Kikuyu name – “Muthoni”.’
‘I always wondered why grandma wore so much beaded jewellery. I thought she just liked the flash of colour. And what is the second thing you wanted to tell me?
‘A Kikuyu proverb: Kwa mwendwa gutitri irĩma. Loosely translated, it means that there are no hills on the way to one’s beloved’ but what it implies is that a person in love doesn’t acknowledge or accept the barriers.’

Every month, Kamau and his sister are given an ‘allowance’ by their father, for helping out at the restaurant. Kamau saves his money in order to finance trips to Nairobi to see Preeti. The first time he arrives in Ngara, bearing coconuts as gifts, she flies into his arms and nearly topples him!
‘I missed you so much,’ she says, smiling. Their faces are so close, he can feel her breath on his face when she speaks.

...Kamau turns from the edge of a building overlooking the narrow Nairobi River, near Ngara. He approaches Preeti who is standing still a few metres away, her brown hair dancing in the breeze. He takes both of her hands in his, looks into her grey-brown eyes and smiles. She returns the smile. They have been dating for ten months now. It started as friendship but they later realised that it had progressed into fatal attraction. They mooned over each other whenever they were apart. Whenever Kamau could afford it, he would travel all the way to Nairobi to see her for a few days. On those days, he stayed at an uncle’s place in Limuru, and reconnected with his soccer-playing childhood friends.
He and Preeti agreed on everything except Hindi films – even with subtitles, Kamau still complained that they were far too long. He actually fell asleep during one three-hour song-and-dance epic at a cinema hall. Preeti’s friends kept warning her about ‘walking around with that Black boy’ but she continued to meet him in secret. Kamau’s soccer buddies, on the other hand, thought that he was going great guns. Not just because the girl was a muhundi but because she was ‘as hot as red jiko charcoals.’
Inter-marriage between Indians and Kenyan tribes was extremely rare. The Indian community was so close-knit and isolationist that a marriage or sexual relationship could lead to excommunication. Despite having been here since the end of the 19th Century, the Kenyan Indian community pretty much kept themselves to themselves. They had their own schools, shops, hospitals, banks, hotels and temples. They also tended to live in close proximity to each other, creating quasi-communes around the country. So Kamau and Preeti ended up having to meet secretly, as if they were committing a crime. Which is why they are now standing toe-to-toe on the roof of an abandoned building.
‘My wedding is approaching,’ Preeti says. ‘I don’t know what to do.’
‘Preeti…What would you say if I asked you to marry me instead?’
‘I think…I think I would say ‘‘Yes’’…But my parents would have to approve and I doubt that that would ever happen.’

‘Nay-hee! Nay-hee!’ Mr. Shah yells, waving his arms about as if to dispel the dark cloud that has sailed over his household. Preeti has just announced that she wants to change suitors. Mrs. Shah sits in a nearby chair, as if shell-shocked. Preeti stands tamely between them.
‘Pa, you know how much I hate to disappoint you,’ Preeti says. ‘But the heart wants what the heart wants.’
‘The heart vonts what the heart vonts?’ Mrs. Shah says in a shrill voice. ‘Vot kind of nonsense is this? You watch too much Bollywood! We find you a nice boy like Kapoor and you say ‘‘the heart vonts what the heart vonts’’? Tell your heart to vont the boy who is good for you!’

Kamau and Preeti stand near a tree by the banks of the Nairobi River, silhouetted against a setting blood-orange sun. Both of them are crying. Preeti has just reported to him her parents’ reaction.
‘So what do we do now?’ Preeti inquires. ‘Run away?’
Kamau shakes his head.
‘That would shatter your life. You would be ex-communicated from your community. It wouldn’t be fair to you. Your parents love you and they think they are doing the right thing. They have invested so much in you. In your education. Your future. I can’t steal you away from your life. Kapoor loves you. Nidhi loves you. Your parents love you.’
‘What are you saying?’
‘We have to end this. I’m letting you go.’
Tears balancing in Preeti’s eyes now flow freely.
‘No! I love you so much I literally fall sick if I don’t see you for a long time.’
Kamau embraces her and holds her tight.
‘I feel the same way. But I can’t tear you away from your family for my selfish interests. You must marry Kapoor. He is the best option for you.’
‘What about you?’
‘I will keep you in my heart and mind for as long as I live. You must go home now. This area is not safe at night.’
‘Wait – let me give you something. A souvenir.’
She gingerly removes her necklace using both her hands and drops it into his open palm. It is a red string looped through an ancient Indian rupee, the kind that had holes in the middle.
‘A visiting uncle gave it to me. He said he wanted me to have something to always remind me of India. Use it to remember me.’
‘Thank you. You must go now.’
Kamau departs.
Close up shot of Preeti’s face in the dying light: tears run down her face like the rivers of Ethiopia...

           Fast-forward to twenty years later. It is a hot January morning and the annual Love Parade is in full swing.  Nairobians line up the streets as a procession of cultural dancers, Caucasian tourists, clowns, school groups, and lovey-dovey couples troop down the tarmac, singing, dancing and waving placards.  There are so many European tourists in the march that the Kenyans seem to be spectators in their own country!
The Parade has changed a lot over the years. Initially conceived as a cultural event, it has been ‘hi-jacked’ by various causes over the decades. It has now morphed into more of a South-American-type carnival: a tourist attraction shot through with outlandish costumes, music and dance. Even the placards being wielded have softer messages, such as ‘ATIENO LOVES ME’, ‘Hi, Kioko’ and ‘Hi Mum – I’m On TV!’, which are often waved at the media...

News crews have stationed themselves at strategic points. One of them is a journalist named Lakshmi Kapoor, reporting for Poorv TV News. She’s twenty years old, with dark brown hair, impeccable brown skin and naturally pink lips. Dressed casually, she is holding a branded microphone in one hand and looking ‘hot’ enough to contribute to global warming. Medium shot of Lakshmi.
‘I am standing outside City Hall,’ she says into the mic. ‘And it is pandemonium here! The procession is headed for Uhuru Park where…’
An eighteen-wheel road-show truck blasting Fadhili William’s classic love song Malaika drowns out her voice.
‘Cut!’ she says to her cameraman, a dreadlocked young man. Live broadcasts can be hell to deliver. In her short stint as a reporter, she has had to deal with everything from naked ‘streakers’ to attention-seekers waving at the camera behind her back.
Cut to Lakshmi’s point of view. A tall, slim Kenyan man with an Afro hairstyle is staring at her as if transfixed. He is a journalist like her. A writer. He is wearing a long-sleeved shirt and holding a biro pen and spiral-bound notebook. She gives him as stern look but his gaze doesn’t wander. Defeated, Lakshmi averts her gaze to the colourful marchers. She spots two college-age lovebirds with matching red t-shirts and their arms around each other.
‘Hey!’ Lakshmi commands. ‘Can I interview you guys on cam?’
The campus couple nod. The road-show lorry is still making enough noise to wake the dead. As Lakshmi waits for it to disappear down the road, she detects a presence to her left. She turns and sees the tall dark writer standing a foot away.
‘You’re Lakshmi, yes?’ says the presence.
‘So it speaks!’ Lakshmi says, avoiding his penetrating stare. As one who is on television screens every day, Lakshmi enjoys countrywide celebrity status.
‘Pardon me,’ says the stranger. ‘I don’t mean to interrupt. My name is Munene. I’m with The Nairobi Spectator.
           Despite herself, Lakshmi shakes his proffered hand.
           Munene opens his mouth to speak but just then Lakshmi’s mobile phone begins to ring.
           ‘Saved by the bell,’ she says as she laboriously extracts the device from her tight blue jeans. Kamau notices a red-stringed kalava bracelet on her pale wrist.
           ‘Hello, mom,’ she quips.
           Split your mental screen into a double feature: on one half is Lakshmi with rowdy marchers in her background and on the other is Dr. Preeti Kapoor in her kitchen, one hand holding a cellphone to her ear and the other cradling an uncut mango. Dr. Kapoor is nothing if not an older version of Lakshmi but with much browner hair.
           ‘Are you in a club?’ Preeti asks. ‘I hear music.’
           ‘Nayhee, I am at the Love Parade trying to do a live shoot, Ma! It’s chaotic…and there’s a TDH trying to chat me up! I will have to call you later!’
           ‘A TDH? Must be karma.’
           ‘What do you mean?’
           ‘I once met a TDH at the Love Parade. But that was ages ago, before I married your Pa!’
           ‘Well, like mother like daughter! I gotta go, Ma! Can barely hear you. Love you!’
           ‘Love you.’
           As Lakshmi puts the phone away, she notices Munene smiling as if he just won the lottery.
           ‘Did you just describe me to your mother as Tall, Dark and Handsome?’ he inquires.
           ‘Uh, no. When I said TDH, I meant…trying…desperately…hard.’
           ‘Listen, Munene, they’re standing by for me in the studio. So, shoo!’
           Turning to her right, she notices that the college couple has started dancing along with the other marchers and drifted away from her. She sticks the tips of her thumb and forefinger into her mouth and whistles like a matatu bus conductor.
           ‘Hey!’ she yells. ‘I thought I told you guys not to leave until I interview you!’
           ‘You can interview me,’ Munene says.
           Lakshmi turns to face him, her long hair fraying like a wind-blown curtain as she does so.
           ‘Are you still here?’ she says rhetorically.
           ‘Give me your phone number and I’ll leave.’
           ‘Fine! I’ll go. You whistle like a man anyway.’
           Munene walks away. Behind him, Lakshmi watches his retreating back and smiles.

           It is the night after the Love Parade. The time is shortly after seven PM. A 66-seater public transportation bus has caught fire not far from the Poorv TV office in up-town Nairobi. Lakshmi and her cameraman rush to the scene to capture some footage.
           All the passengers have trooped safely out of the smoldering bus. There appears to be a major fuel leak in the engine and the underside of the bus is aflame. As the minutes go by, the fire grows into an inferno that engulfs the entire vehicle, black smoke plunging into the night sky.
           Lakshmi positions herself near the blaze but not too close as to endanger herself. Near her, curious passers-by take pictures using their cellphones. Lakshmi’s dreadlocked cameraman writes down some pertinent information on cue cards so that Lakshmi won’t have a dead spot during her narration. As the orange flames grow larger and she begins to feel the heat on her back, she gives the thumbs-up signal and then begins to talk, looking straight at the cue cards being held above the  tripod-based camera:
           ‘A City King bus has just burst into flames on Kimathi Street and continues to burn as we await the Fire Brigade…No injuries have been reported…Call Munene on 0731…Cut!...Kagiri, what the hell are you playing at?’
           Over-the-shoulder shot of Lakshmi, favouring her cameraman. He shrugs and smiles guiltily.
           ‘Sorry, L,’ he says. ‘That dude is really into you. He begged me to intervene.’
‘You’re supposed to be my cameraman, not my stalker’s wing man!’
‘All he asks for is one date. What harm can that do? I’ll even be your chaperon, if you want.’
           Cut to medium shot of Lakshmi. She’s battling with controlled anger. In the gloom, her hair looks black instead of brown.         
‘Ok,’ she says. ‘One date. And you’re coming along. Now put up the proper cue cards before the freaking bus explodes.’

A day later. 8.00 PM. Munene, Lakshmi and Kagiri are in a swish city restaurant feasting on rice and curry. They order desert, talk and laugh. Kagiri, feeling like a third wheel, excuses himself and goes home. Lakshmi and Munene order a bottle wine and talk until there’s no-one left at the diner except the two of them, and the staff.

One date becomes two. The second one is on cloudless Saturday afternoon and they walk leisurely through Uhuru Park, past cuddling lovers and frolicking children. Munene talks about books – spy thrillers. Lakshmi is relieved that he isn’t just pandering to her. Most other men would have brought up A Passage to India or the film, Slumdog Millionaire. Her own favourite movie is the multi-Oscar-winning film, Ghandi.

Two dates become three. And then they are officially an item. From media conferences to political rallies to accident scenes, Lakshmi and Munene are frequently spotted together.

After a year of dating. the lovebirds decide to make it official. Racial attitudes have changed somewhat over the decades, but the Kenyan Indian community is still very much a parallel universe. There have been some intermarriages and numerous affairs between Kenyan tribes and the Kenindians, but such liaisons are still the exception rather than the rule. Eventually, Lakshmi decides to open up to her mother.
‘Ma, you remember that TDH I met at the Love Parade last year?’
‘Yes, the newspaper writer you keep yapping about?’
‘Yes, that one. His name is Munene. We’ve been dating since then and we have decided to make it official. We want to start a family. To avoid complications, we want to get married at the AG’s office but I decided to talk to you first. Your opinion is the only one that can change my mind. Everyone else can go hang…Ma? Don’t be quiet, Ma.’
‘I was just thinking – remembering, actually.’
‘Remembering what?’
‘Well, before I married your father, I met a Kikuyu man and we fell in love. We wanted to get married but my parents wouldn’t hear of it. He eventually broke it off for my sake. I fell ill when he left me. I married your father and just five years later, I heard that my TDH died in a car crash. I hate to say this to you, and I truly love your father, but I wish I had been strong enough to follow my heart back then. And you should, too. You deserve to be happy.’
Dhanyavaad, Ma,’ Lakshmi says, hugging her mother. ‘So you’ll come with me to the AG’s?’
Nayhee. I want you to get married in broad daylight. A full ceremony. We’ll invite everyone we know and if somebody protests, I will be your first line of defence.’
‘Let love rule?’ Lakshmi says, quoting one of the Love Parade banners.
Haan,’ Dr. Kapoor says and smiles.

Lakshmi and Munene get married in a public ceremony that includes most of their close relatives. The Africans and Indians at the wedding eye each other suspiciously and barely mingle. For their honeymoon, the lovebirds fly off to the idyllic island of Zanzibar. Centuries ago, sea-farers from the Arabian Peninsula ruled Zanzibar and the entire Kenyan coastal strip. Their interactions with local Bantu communities – including trade and intermarriage – gave rise to the Swahili language. (The Arab word for ‘Coast’ is ‘Swahel’).
On returning to Munene’s Nairobi home, Lakshmi spots a strange necklace hanging from a nail above the fireplace.  It is a red string looped through an antique Indian rupee.
‘What’s that for?’ Lakshmi inquires, pointing a red-tipped finger.
‘Oh, just an heirloom from my father.  I don’t remember much about him – I was very young when he died.’
‘Yes, I remember your uncle standing in for your dad at the wedding but you’ve never told what happened to him.’
‘He died in a car accident on Mombasa Road when I was five. He was transporting chickens from Mombasa to City Market in Nairobi and he swerved to avoid a drunk driver who was dangerously overtaking a slow-moving trailer. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough space on the side of the road. His car hit a cliff wall and overturned.’

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