Short Story: Fresh Paint

Written by Faith Oneya

The smell of fresh paint reminds me of a fresh coffin. I cannot stand it. It hits my nose and I step back from the door, slapped by the vicious hand of a painful memory. My face clouds and my eyes water slightly.

“What is wrong?”

I pull myself back. Mother did not raise a coward.

“Nothing baba,” I reply.

The smell of fresh paint disgusts me.

We have moved to a new house in Nairobi.Father has found a nice job in the government. It is in a ministry whose name baba cannot pronounce so he claims it is “too complicated for us to understand” What an illiterate fool.

He has moved from a tiny structure (He pointed it to us as we entered the compound) to this single room that smells of fresh paint.

A lonely pit latrine stands outside, with its roof hanging on precariously to dear life, its rusty exterior a clear sign of its hard work under tough weather conditions. A tiny roofless structure stands timidly by it side. I later learn that it is going to be our bathroom.

The smell of fresh paint persists in my nostrils. It is not so much the fresh paint that disgusts me as is the fact that it was also used to paint coffins that would eventually rot in the ground together with the body in it.

The room is nothing like baba had described.

I see a tiny wooden structure with a thin mattress lying loosely on it. A brown, dirty-looking blanket hangs limply on the side. There are no sheets. An extra mattress stands timidly propped up on the wall. It is thin and wasted from years of use. It seems like its life entirely depends on that wooden wall.

A lonely-looking stove stands at the corner, its body full of bumps and bruises .It surely must have suffered in the hands of an unskilled cook.

“Well?”Baba enquires. His voice holds with it both arrogance and vulnerability, as if he was daring me to say I did not like it while hoping desperately that his only daughter would find sufficient his poor attempts at providing for her in the harsh and unforgiving city.

I do not get time to answer, because aunt Seraphine sweeps into the room in her characteristic swagger, which is not aided much by her excessively endowed rear that makes her walk look rather ridiculous.

“This will do,” she says briskly.

Why is she here?

“Anyango! What are you doing standing there like an idiot! Do you think that this meat will cook itself?”

I walk slowly towards the stove. As if afraid that my feet were not following me (as mother would say).It is difficult to breathe because of the fresh paint, and my chest heaves painfully at each breath. I have always had a weak chest. I wheeze slightly, carefully, because aunt Seraphine might say that I am trying to get out of cooking duty. My mind goes back to the events that brought her to our lives.

“It is only temporary,” baba had said, “A girl should not be allowed to live without female supervision”

That was right after mama had passed on.

And what did a grown man need female supervision for?

Mama had never liked aunt Seraphine. Auntie is famously known for both her humongous backside and love for finer things in life. That is why; as mama said “She hovers around this house whenever your father comes from Nairobi, hoping he will notice her. She is evil.”

I imagined that it would be difficult not to notice the bottom of a woman who wanted you to notice her. But I never told this to mama.

“It will be alright, you will see,” baba said.

Yes, I was seeing that it was NOT alright.

Aunt Seraphine wants me to scrub the house before I cook. My back is tired from sitting eight hours in the bus from Siaya, but I pick a frail-looking plastic pail dutifully and do as she pleases under her supervision. I can see that father has gone on a “meet the neighbors” tour. They do not seem particularly eager to welcome him into their houses.

It does not take long to wash the house, and afterwards I light up the stove and cook a delicious meal that has auntie turning her head to the side, flaring her nostrils and saying:

“It will do.”

I wonder if she thinks that I am seeking her approval. What a foolish woman.

It is time to sleep now. I spread the thin, timid mattress on the ground and Seraphine joins me. She sleeps on her side and her bottom takes up three quarters of the space. Soon, she is snoring. My body is half on the mattress, half on the floor. Sleep takes a long time in coming.

In the middle of the night, I wake up to soft murmurs form baba’s bed. Auntie’s side is empty. I do not let them know I am awake. Let them do what they want. I don’t care.

In the morning, I find auntie on her side of the mattress again.

“I hope you slept well.”

What does she care!

“I slept well auntie.”

Father has already left for the bus stage.

“She had the virus, you know.”

What?” It takes her a while to maneuver her bottom in order to face me squarely.

“Repeat what you said.”

“She had the virus.”

“You think I did not know that? Your mother was a whore.”

It is easy to hear somebody you hate call your mother a whore.I look at her pitifully. Then I say;

It is your funeral,” I tell her

And it was.

It is now one year since we buried auntie Seraphine in a fresh coffin. That smelled of fresh paint. The smell of fresh paint disgusts me. Her buttocks disappeared with death. Or death disappeared with her buttocks. Death also took away the permanent smirk form her face.

Her coffin was very expensive. Baba had to take a loan. I had a sneaky feeling that she would wake up any minute and say (of the coffin).

“It will do.”

As if her approval was needed.

Baba says; “Now that was a good woman.”

The smell of fresh paint disgusts me. I turn away from the coffin because I feel nauseated.

Baba wants me to go back to Nairobi with him. I tell him NO. I cannot stand the smell of fresh paint.



Author: Faith Oneya

Lover of the written and spoken word.

28 thoughts on “Short Story: Fresh Paint”

  1. Let me begin at the peak…have you made attempts at submitting this piece to the numerous literary competitions and awards that abound? It certainly, in my view, a very powerful piece.

    The simplicity if the writing and the plot and the characters connect amazingly well with the protagonist’s simple life. The writing does not suffer the pomposity we generally see in most writers who overdo themselves. In a way, I say without fear of contradiction, that the maturity of the writer reflects in her concentration in telling the story, rather than telling her skill. In the end, the writer has told the story and the story has told the writer’s skill. This is a truly great piece…did I repeat myself?

    I love the descriptive excellence of the piece. In a way, the whirlwind dread of the house, paint, mattress, loo etc. gives the reader a massive dose of vividness that takes him/her to the experience. The descriptiveness, again not overdone, works well to give us a setting and bring alive the feelings of the characters. In a way, the completeness of the story stems from considered blending of the environment, feelings and subtle actions of the characters. The ‘Baba’ and ‘Mama’ choice of characters’ names picks the common yet simple life phenomena of living. We are, as kids, given to elevating parents to the pedestal of nurturing us, yet, even as we respectfully salute them so (as Baba and not, say, Otieno), we have a quiet wisdom, developed from ‘living with them’ that informs us of their frailties, wickedness, weakness. The failed nocturnal trick they try to play on the protagonist captures the futility of ‘Babaness’ and ‘Auntiness’. That the protagonist now feels detached from that Baba and his escapades sends an insight, which though debatable in the context of communal preservation, is nevertheless a lesson in the protagonist’s survival. In the end, the protagonist can formidably express her independence by saying ‘no’ to Baba. Probably this ‘self-survival’ should be the motif of our lives in the circumstances created…letting go and not investing emotions on filial relations with our kin that are corroding?

    Of course the choice of title to run through the symbol of irritability, both on the nominal level (chemical irritant) and in the profound level (life’s irritation) is commendable.

    The metaphor reflected in the highlighting of auntie’s buttocks does not escape mention. The mockery, exaggeration and final sarcasm is intriguing: mockery of her physical awkwardness; exaggeration of her characterization and the sarcastic dismissal of her loss. I read in it the aunt’s flaunting of her ‘assets’ for Baba’s ‘market’, and yet, her ignorance, jealousies and wickedness does her no good as, in engaging in these, she forgets to preserve herself for another day.

    Well edited and revised, I would recommend this a s a school reader, an advocacy pitch, a liberation item for certain audiences and certainly, a candidate for good writing.

    Sorry if my critique is as long as the piece itself, but then, I am seldom one to hold back.

  2. This is a good piece of literature Faith, would definately get a place in a set book. Yenyewe wewe ni msaniii *wink*wink*.

  3. i like the provocative line of thought, the gender sensitivity and the poetic outrage

      1. could i please get the analysis of this short story?it’s quite interesting.

  4. You are really a talented writer am glad to have met 🙂

    I have tried writing short stories and can say that its quite… continue writing and telling our

    African stories. And like Oluoch says, put up your work out there!

    You inspire me you know:) Keep at it!

  5. we are studying your story as one of the primary texts in our lit class.
    Hope and pray we will pass the course seams so hard!!!!!

  6. Am yet to read the story, av just downloaded it. i’ll post my comments so watch this space! #or so they say

  7. studying the story in kenyatta university second year its a great piece and i dont know where to start the critisicm from

  8. Criticism of Fresh paint
    fresh paint ,i hate the smell of fresh paint gives one an immediate familiarity with the common truth but associating it with coffins brings a new dimension of association of newness with rot which is later alluded to when she says the aunt was buried and the coffin rot with her buttocks which she swayed so proudly around,this is perhaps the underlying factor of the brevity of this life and this is affirmed when the aunt is told you are dead because the authors mother died of the virus and later in what seems like an instant we are told that the aunt dies .the story is a mixture of themes and powerful message to the people put in subtle but accurate comments or descriptions of the authors surrounding ,fresh paint is also used as a symbol for deception and denial of reality whereby the room smells of fresh paint but according to the description given it definitely is not new or at-least the materials used were old ,this denial of reality is vivid in the part the author where people use fresh paint to cover a coffin for a dead person and bury them in style even if they could not afford that luxury in their day to day life like when baba takes a loan to bury auntie Seraphine ,this is an excellent peace but perhaps would be brought more alive if we were let more into the character of Baba i feel he is not exploited enough and this only adds more to the mystery of who was responsible for the entry of the virus into the house ,whether it is mama who is said to have died of the virus and called a whore which could just have been auntie being mean or probably because it is Baba who has the nature of sleeping with many women and just moved in with auntie in the pretense of providing a role model for for the writer of which she (auntie )is not much of one .all in all the use of simple words and the excellent reference to the senses (smell of fresh paint-actually makes my nostrils burn sight -seeing the matress roofless structure etc ) makes this piece come alive and it is really inspiring and gets the message right through

  9. to the writer;
    its being studied under litlary language and presentation in kenyatta university for second years this year

  10. hi faith i am a student at kenyatta university and i have been told to make a wholesome analysis of your classic short story i love it can u pliiz give some few insights about it

  11. symbolism
    “fresh paint reminds me of a fresh coffin”-her mother died of HIV (origin of fresh paint),father’s mistress dies after they start a relationship with her father,Anyango refuses to go back to Nairobi since she cannot stand the smell of fresh paint-father might die or his mistress if he gets another

    ‘slapped by the vicious hand of a painful memory-fresh paint reminds Anyango of her mother.
    my mind goes back to the events that brought her to our lives-after Anyango’s mother died,her father takes up Antie seraphine(mistress)in the name of antie providing motherly support to Anyango.

    Father got a nice job in government moved to a single roomAnyangos father cannot pronounce the name of the ministry where he works since they cannot undersand it.
    The thin matress looks as if its life entirely depended on the wooden wall.
    I wonder whether she thinks that im seeking her approval ‘what a foolish woman’.

  12. use of african names
    this makes the story to african society_baba mama.

    pit latrine-old,rusty ,roof hanging precarious to its dear life
    bathroom-unidentifiable tiny roofless structure
    blanket-brown,dirty bed-tiny wooden structurewith thin matress on it

    conversation between auntie Seraphine and Anyango about HIV/AIDS
    effect-the society is ignorant about transfer of AIDS.Its sad,auntie dies.

    what is the main theme among the following?
    Betrayal,HIV pandemic,poverty,prostitution,

  13. perfect piece of art.simplicity and the vivid description makes the whole story crystal clear.keep writing for the great writers just began their

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