There’s a stall close by our house where I go for breakfast most mornings, and for lunch when I’m not in town. (Head on over to Flickr to check our some pictures of it empty on a Sunday.)
It’s nice. They know my name, address me as Dada Lulu. I’m a regular. I know the other regulars. It’s nice to feel welcome.
Unfortunately, the bees are also regulars.
The ubiquitous flies I can deal with; they’re everywhere, and harmless.
But bees are evil creatures hellbent on total destruction to whom no quarter shall be given under any circumstance whatsoever.
I’m not the only one not too fond of the bees. Some of the boys trap them in mugs of water to drown. We all flinch as they fly close to our faces, make their menacing distinctive buzz too close to our ears.
The Swahili word for bee is nyuki, nyoo-kee. ‘Lulu sipendi nyuki’ one will explain to the other as I angrily move from one place to the next if the first has more than a half dozen bees trying to share my chai ya rangi with me. Lulu does not like bees.
Last week, sitting at breakfast, I watched a bee mock me as it danced around the mouth of my mug.
‘I’m going to have to get over them eventually,’ I think for the four hundredth time in my life. ‘I’m okay with this,’ I lie to myself. One of the dadas invites me to move to the other table, taking my tea for me. I sit next to a boy with good English, and we converse in broken conversation. He’s going after the girl who works here with the beautiful laugh. He has kind eyes and a wide smile. He gently scoops the bees away with an empty plate. I try my hand at it, pretending not to be afraid. Plates are my weapon against bees. With plates, I can take them on.
Bees gone, flies alight on my arm; I shake them off and shoo them away from my chapati. One crawls up the nape of my neck into my hair. I hate getting bugs in my hair; they trap themselves there, and no one likes the violated feeling of having an insect crawling around one’s hair.
I reach up with my left hand to scoop it out of my hair.
It’s not a fly.
The bee stings me right along my spine as I involuntarily flinch and scratch my fingernails along my neck, trying to claw it out of my hair. The sting burns. I clench my jaw against it.
One of the dadas with the best English (I really do need to ask them their names) comes over to make sure that I’m alright. She gingerly plucks the stinger from the wound and shows it to me. I nod. ‘Sipendi nyuki.’
I angrily finish my tea. The boy with whom I’d been talking offers to buy me my breakfast, insists upon it. I shake my head, ‘Labda kesho,’ I tell him. Maybe tomorrow.
(I get over the sting. The worst part was the boy trying to help, too, who wanted to inspect my wound. ‘What is happening to your skin?’ he asks. ‘Do you have to go to the hospital?’ ‘If I have to go to the hospital because of a fucking bee sting…’ I think, unable to complete the threat because I’m not quite sure what I’d do to make the bees feel my menace. ‘It’s just a sting.’ I tell him. ‘Then why are there lines on your skin?’ he asks. But upon further inspection at home, I’m not having some unexpected allergic reaction. The lines across my skin are just scratch marks from my nails. He didn’t know what they were because black people’s skin doesn’t get red lines across it when you scratch it.)
The bees an I are currently in an uneasy truce. Both sides are determined upon the utter destruction of the other, but neither is willing to make the first move. Both want to be able to claim defensiveness and blame the other for the first act of aggression.
This morning, more crawl along the mouth of my mug, explore my chapati. I accidentally took my phone to breakfast, so I got some pictures.
When seven bees are buzzing about, I move to my make-believe bee-free spot behind the shack. There are still bees here, but I pretend that they can’t find me.
It doesn’t work. Two fly into my tea.
‘Njoo hapa,’ come here, the girl with the good English invites me into the shack (beneath the white sheets at the left of this picture), where she’s busy chopping vegetables for lunch and the mama sits frying chapati. I stand to move. She takes my tea from the three bees buzzing about it. I thank her profusely.
Still, after sitting down inside the shack, one bee crawls along my cup. I can’t be rid of them, even in here.
I notice that he’s become rather reckless, however, and fallen in. I gleefully watch his little wings struggle against the weight of the water filling whatever it is that bees have for lungs.