Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Memory of Water

Rain is running over my face, it is colder than in my country, in Kenya. On the vast highland it is greeted with joy for it means life for the dry and thirsty earth; in this city, though, men seem to be sad because of its arrival. And the water coming from the sky reciprocates with cold hostility, puts out colours, oppresses the horizon with low and grey clouds. Dead pale people try to defend themselves, wrapping in cumbersome jackets, hiding under wide umbrellas.
We arrived some days ago in this enormous city of the white men, so far away from Africa, crossing the wide ocean to take part in an important 26-mile running competition. I ran with my companions through grey roads, usually full of cars, but empty today, high houses, few enthusiastic supporters. Now I am alone in the last part of the run, I try not to think of my competitors and focus on the rain sound. I like the water on my face it makes me feel more alive, my heart is beating as never before while I am running through the trees of this unknown park; I feel nothing but the rhythmic and incessant tick of the drops and my own steps. Rain beats sweetly on my face, as if she reciprocates the joy I greeted her with this morning and, as a benevolent and silent storyteller, recalls to my mind one life’s memories.

It was the beginning of the wet season and a strong rainstorm was pouring over the highland: big drops sprayed the dry dust of the savannah and bent the withered grass. High clouds scarcely hid the mountains and the air seemed to dance madly to the rhythm of the rain. The hills and the deep Rift Valley were covered by the tender green of new leaves brought by water. I, a young Kikuyu shepherd, was running on the rough plain of the Highland, chased by some of the children from my village. I was their favourite victim and because of my thinness I always came out of those fights with a black eye or a broken lip. I was smaller but faster than them, flee became my weapon. I left them far behind, feeling even stronger under the rainstorm, as if I received energy from the explosion of life of the savannah.

The moon was shining enormous in the clear sky which looked like a velvet cloth, decorated with stars, spread over the earth. The horizon, covered by clouds, was full of rain. The savannah was trembling, waiting for water. Water! Life! My heart was beating together with that of the highland while I was leaving my village where nothing kept me after my mother’s death. The vibrating silence was broken by nothing but the sound of my steps. I ran throughout the day, as I had never done before, following the tracks of a group of Masai nomads. Eventually I arrived at their camp, while the first drops of rain wet the land. A new life began for me, blessed by the benevolent water that fell from the sky. I had found my place: I ran with the warriors in front of the rest of the tribe, who followed us leading the herds. We abandoned the reservation and finally got to their village, near to the farms of the Europeans. White men often used to come to talk with our chiefs. At first I was disgusted by the extreme paleness of their complexion, almost ill compared to our mahogany skin. Once, a talent scout, looking for new athletes came to my village, saw me competing with other boys and suggested to me to run for the Kenya team.
I accepted and followed him to the plains of the downland. It seemed to me as if I had fallen from the sky and I felt myself choking, far from the Ngong hills and their light clouds. The air down there was oppressive, the clouds heavy.

How much labour and how much time before running again under the thunderstorms of the highland, so different from the young warrior who had left it! My feet now were at ease in the shoes, words like mile and average speed were familiar to me. Next to me Awaru was marking the pace: he had been looking after me since the first day, when I couldn’t even tie my shoelaces.
Without him, perhaps I would not even have started this competition. I was warming up nervously in the starting area, a blanket over my shoulders, wearing the Kenya uniform: we had won in Africa, now the challenge in the land of the whites was waiting for us. I was not afraid, I was the fastest. Suddenly my eyes were caught by the golden flash of the hair of a white runner, nay of a young blue-eyed god. The ice-cold rain seemed even colder; my self-confidence vanished and I was near to withdrawing. Who was I to defeat him? Could I, a Kikuyu shepherd, compete with him? No. I was leaving when suddenly Awaru appeared next to me, together with our friends. They wrapped me in a reassuring circle. “Hold on”,-their eyes said. The run started and the drizzle clouded my sight, softened sounds as if to protect me. Awaru, Kabero, Kamante marked the pace for the first miles, then it came to me. I’m running the last mile. The rain strengthens, smashes violently the ground, gives me strength, makes me feel self-confident. My joy bursts out with my energy, explodes on the ground with the big drops, while my feet lightly step on it.

I don’t even see the final line, only feel the touch of the rope when I cut it. I won, I am the first, in front of the white god. I turn my face to the sky and laughing I open my arms in an imaginary hug to the clouds, to the rain, silent witness of my life.

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