From Chapter One
It is afternoon. We are playing soccer near the clothesline behind the main house. Jimmy, my brother, is eleven, and my sister, Ciru, is five and a half. I am the goalie.
I am seven years old, and I still do not know why everybody seems to know what they are doing and why they are doing it.
“You are not fat.” That’s what Mum says to me all the time. “You are plump.”
Ciru has the ball. She is small and thin and golden. She has sharp elbows, and a smile as clean as a pencil drawing. It cuts evenly into her cheeks. She runs toward Jimmy, who is tall and fit and dark.
She is the star of her class. It is 1978, and we are all in Lena Moi Primary School. Last term, Ciru was moved a year forward. Now she is in standard two, like me, in the class next door. Her first term in standard two, she beat everybody and topped the class. She is the youngest in her class. Everybody else is seven.
I stand still between the metal poles we use as a makeshift goalmouth watching Ciru and Jim play. Warm breath pushes down my nostrils past my mouth and divides my chin. I can see the pink shining flesh of my eyelids. Random sounds fall into my ears: cars, birds, black mamba bicycle bells, distant children, dogs, crows, and afternoon national radio music. Congo rumba. People outside our compound are talking, in languages I know the sounds of, but do not understand or speak, Luhya, Gikuyu.
My laugh is far away inside, like the morning car not starting when the key turns. In school, it is always Ciru number one, blue and red and yellow stars on every page. It is always Ciru in a white dress giving flowers to the guest of honor—Mr. Ben Methu—on Parents’ Day. If I am washing with her, we are splashing and laughing and fighting and soon we are in a fever of tears or giggles.
She twists past Jimmy, the ball ahead of her feet, heading for me. I am ready. I am sharp, and springy. I am waiting for the ball. Jimmy runs to intercept her; they tangle and pant. A few moments ago the sun was one single white beam. Now it has fallen into the trees. All over the garden there are a thousand tiny suns, poking through gaps, all of them spherical, all of them shooting thousands of beams. The beams fall onto branches and leaves and splinter into thousands of smaller perfect suns.
I laugh when Ciru laughs and I find myself inside her laugh, and we fall down holding each other. I can feel her laughter swelling, even before it comes out, and it swells in me too.
I know how to move with her patterns, and to move with Jimmy’s patterns. My patterns are always tripping on each other in public. They are only safe when I am alone, or when I am daydreaming.
Ciru laughs loud, her mouth wide and red. The sound jumps toward me, flapping sheets of sound, but I am lost. Arms and legs and ball are forgotten. The thousand suns are breathing. They inhale, dim and cool into the leaves, and I let myself breathe with them; then they puff light forward and exhale, warming my body. I am about to let myself soak inside this completely when I am captured by an idea.
The sun does not break up into pieces.
It does not break up into disembodied parts when it falls into trees and things. Each piece of the sun is always a complete little sun.
I am coming back into my arms and legs and the goalmouth, ready to explain the thousand suns to Jimmy and Ciru. I am excited. They will believe me this time. It won’t seem stupid when I speak it, like it often does, and then they look at me, rolling their eyes and telling me that my marbles are lost. That I cansaythatagain. They are coming close. Jimmy is shouting. Before I fully return to myself, a hole in my ear rips open. The football hits the center of my face. I fall.
Goaaaaal. A thousand suns erupt with wet laughter; even the radio is laughing. I look up and see them both leaning over me, dripping sweat, arms akimbo.
Jimmy rolls his eyes and says, “You’ve lost your marbles.”
“I’m thirsty,” says Ciru. “Me too,” says Jim, and they run, and I want to stand and run with them. My face hurts. Juma, our dog, is licking my face. I lean into his stomach; my nose pushes into his fur. The sun is below the trees, the sky is clear, and I am no longer broken up and distributed. I scramble and jump to my feet. Juma whines, like a car winding down. I pump my feet forward, pulling my voice out and throwing it forward to grab hold of their Thirst Resolution.
“Hey!” I shrill. “Even me I am thirsty!”
They don’t hear me.
They are headed away from the kitchen, and I follow them into the long clumps of uncut grass at the top of the garden, Juma at my heels, as they weave in and out of Baba’s tractors, swerve to avoid dog shit, run through shade and fading sun, past little eruptions of termites in Kikuyu grass, and forgotten heaps of farm spare parts piled behind the hedge that separates the main house from the servants’ quarters. Then they turn, shouting hi to Zablon, the cook who is washing dishes outside in his white vest and blue trousers and Lifebuoy soap and charcoal smell. I shout hi too, now flowing well into their movements. They stop, then turn to our regular racetrack down the path from the servants’ quarters to the kitchen.
I find them there, Juma’s nose nudging Jim’s leg, and I watch them pour the cool liquid down their throats, from glasses, see it spill off the sides of their cheeks. Jimmy has learned to pull the whole glass of water down in one move. It streams down the pipe, marble-bubbles running down a soft translucent tube of sound, like a frog.
He slams his glass on the countertop, burps, and turns to look at me.
What is thirst? The word splits up into a hundred small suns. I lift my glass and look up. Ciru is looking at me, her glass already empty as she wipes her lips on her forearm.
Excerpt from One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina. Copyright © 2011 by Binyavanga Wainaina. Reproduced with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota.