25 March 2010

Off the Rails (1)

I felt a bit as though I was on a youth offenders’ programme as we began to dig the Stationmaster’s garden. We were on show, out in the community, pulling up turf and turning over the soil.
Or at least we were supposed to be. I dug my spade in hard, but nothing happened. I jumped on it, but still I couldn’t penetrate the grass. Jez was digging with ease, and it wasn’t until I borrowed her spade I realised why – it was as sharp as Jordan’s tongue.
“I can’t work with this thing,” said Mwikali, looking at her spade in disgust. “What we need is a jembe.”
“A what?”
She described a type of tool, which the Kenyans use to turn the land.
“I think I’ve got one of those,” said Jez, and disappeared for ten minutes. When she returned she was carrying something that looked like a long-handled hoe.
“That’ll do,” said Mwikali and swung it in the air. As it landed on the ground it cut and lifted the grass. She swung again and again. I scurried behind her, picking up great clods of grass and shaking the soil from them. Jez made a compost heap against a wall, and lay the broken turf on it. Martha went into the station to sign us in and returned with a list of bylaws an inch thick. Mwikali swung the jembe.
“None of you are intoxicated, are you?” said Martha. “I have to check.” It was ten in the morning.
Jo arrived with the inevitable camera, took a few photos and cycled off again, rushing to Millfields and an appointment with the bike cinema. Martha had to go to work. Mwikali swung the jembe. Mike Harwood arrived, hoping to meet Martha. “It’s such a fantastic idea,” he said. “Tell her I’ll come on Tuesday and represent Poetry Wivenhoe.” He dashed off to catch his train. The rain began, soft and light, seeping into the freshly turned ground. It smelt like Spring.
Two hours later, Mwikali had turned the whole plot. “My granny would say I was a soft girl,” she said, as she examined her blisters.

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