I am writing my Master's Project on the work of Rudyard Kipling, and, as a part of my preparation, I was asked to write an imitation of his prose. Now, Kipling is one of the tightest, most exact, concrete prose stylists I know, so any imitation of mine is, by default, going to be full of fault. Still, I tried. As my setting, I chose an experience I had in Zambia, Africa when I was sixteen.
Just so you know what to look for, Kipling tends to write using odd, unfamiliar, specific words. He doesn't use many similes ("as a wet blanket", "like the wolf on the fold" . . . etc). Also, he tends to use "syndeton" in which the writer connects his phrases using quite a few ands and thens. For a sampling of Kipling's prose click here or here, but certainly not here.
So, without further ado, I present my imitation of Kipling's prose and dialogue . . .
The others lay curled with African food-pain in Kalmo. I sat in a concrete window seat, a bowl thrust at me steaming with heaped shema and rancid kapenta fish. Bare black feet padded toward me and ashy hands offered something in a carton to wash down the corn meal mush—a citrus milk-drink, lumpy on bottom and sour on top. I heard warbly Zambian larks, monkey’s scream, and the buzz of the fat bush fly.
Most of the boys spoke Tonga, but when they approached me they formed round, open English words smiling white.
“Do you like Fidy Cent? You like your food? It isn’t rice; we don’t bring rice here. Tomorrow we’ll swim.”
“Do you listen to Fifty Cent?”
“Yes! We do.”
“Do you understand what he’s saying?” I scraped a bite from the bowl. It was crawling with the silver kapenta, their tiny sides carved out by flies in the market that day. The boys didn’t answer this question, and I tried another. “What other American singers do you like?”
I forced the food down under their eager eyes, and drank the milk, curdles and all. Then the setting sun filtered through a tree and caught the dust suspended around us, and my hosts took away the scraped bowl and hollow carton to sluice my dish with leafy, luke-warm water from the creek. I lay my head on the concrete, and hoped my food-luck would hold. Though I wanted to try the bright green or blue Energade in the eight ounce, scratched-plastic, pliant, bottles, the accompanying symptoms did not warrant the risk. Next came the tea—English breakfast (far better in Zambia than in England) with one or two “good good”s from a bottle of warm milk. The kettle was community, but the visiting mukuwa (to that mukuwa’s embarrassment) had the first pour from it. I drank it piping with one spoonful of brown cane sugar; as I drank, the older boys around talked in rolling Tonga, while the smaller wrestled in the dust by the fire.
And then came the night and the wail of peacocks, and the bump of the boys’ cassette boombox in the next tent, the hum of insects, and the distant “hhh” of the breeze through the elephant trees, all at intervals between sleep. And the waking to a far off roar. And sleeping again. And the waking to boys’ muted laughs. And the sleeping again. Then the morning broke, hot and dusty in and out of my tent. There were stories of a boy—an orphan with a record—sneaking out that night smoking tumphy by the river. At this the missionary looked sad. “It is difficult for them to escape their old lives,” he said.
The boy looked shame-faced and repentant in the morning light, so it wasn’t mentioned again.
When the sun rose hotter and hotter the boys swam—bare as their first day—in the sludge and water of the sometimes eddying, mostly sitting still, green-brown, vaporous creek. It smelled of lichen and rotting fish, and I imagined its other uses in the village farther up stream. They called the mukuwa down to swim with them, but being sixteen and white as cotton, he felt ashamed. So I asked, “Can I wear mukuwa swim trunks and then join you?” They only laughed and climbed a leaning, spare-lumber, rickety tower built by the river for a zip line platform and anchor. They yelled at their mukuwa to climb the tower with his soft white hands and “Drink no more tea!” Resolved, I worked my cup in the dirt so it would stay, donned trunks, and climbed the tower, which trembled coltishly.
The tumphy boy from the night before held the zip handle and laughed at the gangly mukuwa scaling the leaning tower. I splashed up pea-green moss like the rest, and after a try or two more, returned to my tea—I never needed to make my own—wedged in the dust.
That night, when the other mukuwas arrived, we spoke of becoming men:
“Why, I took my son onto a dirt road and left him. I told him to walk and to trust me, I said, ‘you just meet me at the end of this road,’ I said. I did too.” This was the seasoned traveler among us, leaning back, sipping clean Energade and nibbling a saltine. The darkness sat very near the fire. “Well, when he walked long enough he found me by a fire, like this one. I told him he was a now a man, and would someday protect his wife like I protect his mother.”
“The men here see it as dishonor to be seen with their wives in public,” said the missionary, “though the church is making strides toward a better way. In Lusaka things are different.”
Then I remembered. I needed to ask where they bought their tea and if it sat on shelves at home. He told me, but the only word that has stayed in my mind is “rose,” and the red package, and yellowed bags—tea of the commonwealth to make Cecil Rhodes proud.
Then the time in the bush ended with a hot, joyful ride over potholes (and a few sections of road), a western meal in Livingston, a dry-season waterfall, a syrupy Coke with a slice of lemon, a canvas hotel, a woman screaming at a monkey for theft, a monkey screaming at a woman for pleasure, more tea, more raw cane, more “good good”s from milk jugs, more shema and over-ripe milk, thatch over our heads, wall spiders we weren’t allowed to squash with our shoes, icy showers from the downspout of a rain barrel, and, finally, Energade in the Johannesburg airport—tanzanite blue in its bottle. It was better than Gatorade but was not up to the rose tea, which I have not found the like of since, whether at home or abroad.
R. Eric Tippin
"The Wee Nook," Kansas State University
September 20, 2014
Oil on Canvas - Date Unknown
Thomas J. Wani