Mullah Mchungu is in a sour, combative mood. He sits on his ancient recliner provocatively clutching his walking cane, glaring at me through newly acquired eyeglasses that look as antique as the guy himself. This and the goofy, dazzlingly white, permanently smiling dentures give him a comic demeanor. I’m not sure if I should be afraid of him or laugh at this image. I keep my expression neutral, keeping a wary eye on his weapon although the urge to laugh is intense. Nothing new with Mullah’s attitude. It seems this man was created by Allah to be a royal grump; nothing pleases him. No wonder his family has given up on him and keep minimal contact that blood ties compel.
I’ve been visiting him every fortnight or so since I’ve been in Dar since he lives not too far away from my digs. I’m unsure what ticked him off this time around, although it does not take much to rattle his feathers. Last week it was the whole COVID19 vaccines issue with the Khojas. The Khoja Jamaat in Dar es Salaam has and is flying members (in good standing) to Dubai for the shots at a very minimal cost (waived for those that cannot afford) for the free vaccines, but it is for Khojas only. Non-Khojas do not qualify. The Mullah does not care to get the jab for himself, he says it’s the Doodoo that should be afraid of him, not the other way around. But he wants his long-serving live-in aid Hameesi to get the shots. The Mullah is ready to dish out the $700 for the service charged to others, but the powers to be at the Jamaat turned him down.
Salah ghadheraw, he had fumed at me, the snot who answered my call informed me that the service is open for Khojas only. So, I told him Hameesi is ready to convert to being a Khoja. A Black Khoja Shia Itnaasheri. Pukka one. Whatever it takes. You know, just like Qamber during Imam Ali (a)? That idiot hung up on me. You know what Kisukaali, you Khojas are racist, every atom of your beings. Rotten raciest. You guys are no better than the Jews, the Bohris, the Parsis…you guys follow sects, not a religion. There, I said it. Now what, Kisukaali, you going to thump me?
I wish I could. Just this once. I had kept absolutely mum. There was no way this grump was going to get me involved in his cracked illusions about the Khojas. As usual, the Mullah had raved and ranted at how gutless I am for not responding, a ghadhero with no spine or principles to speak up against injustice. Whether I agree with him or not is another matter, a private one, but I have enough battles to fret and fight over with CAI worldwide projects and have no desire for verbal diarrhea with ancient mindsets. I had left the apartment while the Mullah was still in the middle of a tirade about how weak a human I am. Hameesi had let me out, his wide eyes rolling up to the heavens in embarrassment, apology written all over his face.
Today, the Mullah is up in arms against the charring smell of chicken skin over hot charcoal embers. Thank Allah he waits until I am done with some of the best piping hot-just-off-the-oil fried bhajeeya with spicy-hot coconut chutney and (elaichi-free) brain-awakening chai in the world. I wish I was mean enough to steal Hameesi from the Mullah’s employ to come work for me; I would snap him up in a jiffy.
Kisukaali, the Mullah starts as I wipe away sweat brought about by the killer pilipili-mbuuzi chili chutney from my sweaty scalp, you know how much kuku-chips we eat in a day?
Now, what kind of a loony question is that to ask, I wonder. I want to give a witty response but the dude gestures impatiently and shakes his weapon.
I am sick of the stink I have to smell every evening until late into the night of kuku skin singed on charcoal for you guys, the Mullah rants. I can’t even apply oud or perfume that’ll not be overpowered by kuku stink in five minutes. All you guys do is eat kuku-chips, day in, day out. There are five kuku-chips outlets within two hundred meters of this apartment building. How many?
I look at him warily, unresponsive.
How many, Kisukaali? Roars the nut, banging his cane on the tiles, startling me, and a lone crow perched on the railing outside of an open window of the apartment. It crows in alarm and flaps away hurriedly. I thought the question was rhetorical, not in need of my response.
Five, I respond meekly. Am I still in Sunday school?
Five, repeats Mullah, fronting an open palm of his free hand, sounding not unlike my madressa teacher so many years ago. Imagine, five outlets that singe kuku skin into the air, that I must breathe from about six until past midnight, every day of the year. Kuku here, kuku there, kuku everywhere I see from my balcony. You know how nasty a kuku is, Kisukaali?
I’m confused. Nasty? What does he mean, nasty? A chicken is a chicken; it’s an animal bird for Aghaa Abdullah’s sake. I open my mouth to respond, but it’s futile. The guy will not wait for an answer.
They poop incessantly, everywhere, and you can never erase kuku poop smell from your skin once you touch it. They are fed fancy garbage and eat anything, even feces. They are nasty creatures and their nastiness cumulates into their skins which you guys incessantly cook and eat every day. Do you know how much toxin and carcinogen is in a burnt kuku skin?
Even though my mind swirls to digest all the nasty kuku-accusations his apparently well-informed aged mind is spewing, I have instant questions of my own. Why or how on earth would I touch or come in contact with kuku poop? All animals are fed nasty stuff to get them to gain weight, not kuku only. I’ll take my chances with a piping hot, well-done half chicken, skin coated with spicy gajjar sauce on an empty stomach anytime. But it’s best not to argue with this nut, so I play dumb and shake my head no.
Plenty! Stick to eating beef or mutton, Kisukaali. Good protein, especially since you lift weights. There is still plenty of wholesome Allah-gifted free-range grass for a cow or goat to munch on in this blessed country of ours. Cows and goats are smart, they will only eat grass, unlike a dumb kuku, who will peck away on any filth.
Jeez, it’s time for me to go. As if I need a lecture on the merits of meats. I get up in a hurry, nearly losing my balance. I’m anxious to get the hell out of here before the grump starts on another subject to bellyache about. The Mullah chuckles at my clumsiness, but I’m unsure if it’s a laugh. I can’t tell from the expression on his face. It looks the usual – a fixed goofy grin and beady eyes looking at me through ageless glasses. The guy is starting to give me the creeps. I suppress a shudder as I make my way out into the balmy and breezy Dar es Salaam June afternoon.
Kuku – Kiswahili for chicken.
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