A TETE A TETE WITH MR.DEATH

On a day like this 6 years ago, I received the news that my mum was no more.

I drove home crazily at midnight, hoping that I would save her life. She couldn’t be gone-she hadn’t reached that die-able age when hands get gnarled and the brain gets cold with Alzeihmers.She was a hip digital mum-always texting me some punchy Bible verse every Sunday. No, mum wasn’t gone. DENIAL

When I touched her lifeless body at the morgue, it dawned on me she was gone. She had danced in the wind and melted into the universe, becoming one with the stars. My world came crushing; my tears glands went supernova. I wanted to hold on to something and crush it. Like Samson of yore, I wanted to bring down the temple of life and go down with it-and thus join her. ANGER.

Life, why have you treated me like you once caught me sleeping with your pretty wife? What do you want in exchange for her life? God, do you care as they say in the good book? Are you going to answer these questions of my soul Lord? What can I do for you? BARGAINING.

From that moment on, grief and his twin brother sorrow embraced me like two jealous Oga wives, each fighting for a piece of me. Like a sore tooth that is not content to throb in isolation but spreads its pain to the whole head, this sorrow engulfed my whole body. I wore sadness like a dirty sackcloth, my shoulders forever falling like teardrops. DESPAIR

I come from a community that’s known for thrift. Every coin is to be saved. Every drop of water is to be conserved-including tears. A man crying in a funeral is an abomination. Not even for his mother.

Thus the burial day found me standing there stoically, holding back an El Nino of tears in my head. Anytime I turned, I could feel my head go whoosh like three quarter full calabash. I couldn’t cry-because Kikuyu men don’t cry in funerals. Culture is a tyrant.

Forget culture, a man should be allowed to mourn his mom. Why? One’s mom is one’s needs answered. A man is at home with his friends when life is good. But when the vultures of sorrow start hovering ominously over his head, he seeks refuge in his mother’s bosom. A man would like his mum to live forever, but death has it macabre plans.

It is curious how sometimes the memory of death lives on for so much longer than the memory of the life that it purloined. The memory becomes permanent, like a government job. Long after my mom’s burial, the funeral proceedings played in my head for a long time. ‘Ash to ash, dust to dust’, the wind whispered. Anytime I looked at the grave I knew that therein, in the words of English poet Rupert Brooke, there is ‘a richer dust concealed’. Then I stopped shedding tears that she was gone, and started smiling because she had lived. I let her rest, not because I loved her less, but because I cherished her memories more. ACCEPTANCE.

Life is full of contradictions. We all want to live to ripe old age, but we detest gnarled hands and grey hair. We all want to go to heaven, but we don’t want to die. Can we cross the river without the bridge? Shakespeare reminds us that every day we rot and rot as we approach our graves. Mr. Death lurks in our shadows, waiting for that destined moment to claim our limbs and free the soul from the pestilence of the body. So we live in his constant dread, every waking day. But is death the end?

Sri Chinmoy tells us, Death is not the end. Death is the road. Life is the traveller. The soul is the guide. When the traveller is tired and exhausted, the guide instructs the traveller to take either a short or a long rest, and then again the traveler’s journey begins.

We spend a lifetime preparing for this fleeting life. Forgetting that we will be dead for an eternity. We need to learn to humor Death-because he is one side of living. We need to have a swanky image of him-not some hooded gothic scepter with a scythe in hand.

Some nerdy graphic designer kid needs to come up with a sexy symbol of death-a friendly chap in skinny jeans, a killer Mohawk and an iPad. He needs to have a swanky iPhone 6 that he uses to call guys and tell them in a foreign heavenly accent-get ready buddy, you are next.

This death guy should be on WhatsApp. Every Monday, he should add all people who are going to die that week into a group called ‘Club Eternity’. Then add them as friends on Facebook as well. On Throw Back Thursdays he should share photos of guys who left us last year. Then on Saturdays he should share photos of some heavenly parties,#HeavenBashManenoz.

Yes, Mr. Death should also be in Twitter-with hash tags that trend forever. Death should also be in Instagram, with millions of selfies.

When this happens, we will be brave enough to tell Death when he comes knocking: ’come right in D-boy. I was expecting you!’’

Buda, what’s your favorite drink again? Hell’s Flames you say?

 Hio sina,but I got a quarter of Blue Moon. Here, to eternity.

Mr Death, will you listen to some music?

Can I play you Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’? ‘Samidoh? You can’t hurry death’ by the Heavenly Supremes?

Sire, you are getting tipsy now. Let’s do that last selfie. Chap! Don’t forget to share it on your wall and tag all my friends. Now, let me dance into eternity where I belong. Ciao!

This life will finally kill us. We need to learn to accept death not as an opposite of life, but as a continuation of it. To that end, I want to feel alive while I am. I will feel the earth with my bare feet and let the wind play with my hair. One day, death shall surely die, and I shall wake up eternally.

Then, like God’s prima donna that I am, my soul shall sashay into the cosmos.

Mom will be there, leading the Heavenly Mothers Union choir in the crystal stairs. Belting her heart out to the beat of golden karing’aring’a and silvern kayamba.

In loving memory of maitu-Mary Njambi Mwangi

(1954-2015)

STUNG BY A BEARD

Yesterday, cyberspace went supernova when Samidoh- the fastest rising Kikuyu benga star- melodramatically apologized for having a baby out of wedlock.

I am not here to moralize whether what Samidoh did was right or wrong.That’s for clergymen which I am not. But what he did has precedence since all famous men attract women like beacons. Back in the day, a famous national figure whom we cant mention got a child out of wedlock.This is how it happened.

The lady of the house had sourced a house girl from the village to help her with housework.Young innocent thing with ‘miceege‘ on her crumpled calico dress. After feasting on Cerelac and Blue Band and kujipondoa with Cleartone, the diamond in the rough blossomed. She soon turned into a nubile lady with tumescent mangoes bobbing up and down in her silk blouse, seeking to be picked.

When the man of the house-who was well into his seventies-saw the mangoes, his gnarled fingers straightened.Other anatomical features in him straightened too and- twitched- spasmodically- after a long slumber.Some primordial soups started hissing in his loins, seeking to escape.

Kidogo kidogo,the young lady started craving nyamuiru sugarcanes- a clear indicator that she was in the family way.The lady of the house, in her wisdom, nurtured her until she delivered a baby boy.Which she noticed was a spitting image of her boys.

After adding one and one, she rightly deduced that the old lion in the house was the father of the baby.She called a few of mzee’s peers( am I giving out who I am talking about?) and sent them to ask him why he did so.

One fine morning, the old boys gathered in mzee’s compound to castigate him for his randy actions.One of them, while balancing a horn of muratina on his hand, asked mzee to explain what happened.

“Kairîtu kau karahutirie nderu cia gukawe karathecwo nîcio”, mzee answered, unpurturbed.(The young girl played with his grandpa’s beard- and got stung in the process.)The whole drunken company broke into bawdy mirth. Case finished.

The lady of the house waited for feedback on what transpired but none came. Later, she took the girl far away, hived some acres for her from their expansive family land, and built her a house.

Finally, she warned her never to mention who the kid’s dad was- not even in her dreams.

MR CHAIRMAN…

There’s nothing as tricky as being a member of Board of Management (BOM)in a school in your home area.BOMs are the bodies that replaced BOGs.

When you land in the village for a BOM meeting, the lanky chaps idling at the shopping center openly say ‘wamekuja kukula pesa zetu’.Mostly, these are parents whose fees arrears in the school books are the equivalent to the value of a small car. The mamas half-gossiping and half-selling bananas at the shopping centre asks you:’ Umekuja mkutano, eh?’

The whole village already knows there is a meeting. Probably, they also know that one of the agendas is to discipline one of the members of staff – a casual who has papasaring schoolgirls titties like ripe mangoes. And since everybody around is related to you, they all expect a favour from you based on your position.

A matronly mama calls me aside and whispers to me that those schoolgirls are too thin. They need something to fatten them up. And what’s her solution? Duck eggs. She thus wants a ‘hoda’ to supply the school with the nourishing eggs. Its not lost to me that her own kids are so thin that you can play a mugithi tune on their protruding ribs. But again,most people seem to have solutions for children who arent their own.

Another elderly lady who keeps on calling me ‘bwana shaiman’ insists that we should employ her grandson as a driver in the school. The young chap, she swears, has a ‘difroma’ in driving from Petanns College.’Maitu, but we don’t have a school bus at the moment.’ I tell her.’When the driver is employed, they will buy a school bus.’ She says with finality.

The strangest offer comes from one of my kinsman- my machete-wielding uncle.’If those daft kids eat these sweet potatoes called ‘nyamuiru’ on the exams day, they will pass all their exams en mass’, he says prophetically.

‘Give me a tender to supply them to the school- and the school will appear on TV.‘ He quips, a Rooster cigarette dangling from his fingers.I get tempted to ask why his kids- my cousins- never passed with flying colours if he knew that trick all along.

But when I notice the shiny glint of his sharp machete, I shelve the idea.

LITTLE MONEY,LITTLE COMFORT

The first time I came for training in Machakos town is a day that will always live in infamy in my memory.I had arrived from Garissa, smelling of camels, goats, and other bovids.

I took a late supper at Ikuuni Hotel then asked a boda guy where I could get good accommodation. The young chap answered that he knew a lodge which could host a man of my stature comfortably for the night. By stature, he meant a man who looked like a hippie because as said earlier,I was still smelling of cows.

We found ourselves at a place with a decrepit neon sign that read ‘Susana Lodge’ or something. After paying Ksh 150 for my room, troubles started. First, the claustrophobic room smelt of boiled fish. The bed looked like an abandoned nest of a bird of carrion. The walls-grimy and plastered with remnants of sin- reminded me of a forgotten dungeon. But since it was late and I was broke, I had few options.

I was handed a towel that was rougher than an uncured ox hide and was the size of a handkerchief. I realized that the only practical way of wearing it was by covering the engine leaving the boot exposed- which is what I did. But who cared about an exposed scrawny boot with tufts of hair?

I hid my phone in one of my shoes and my wallet under the bed. A lacy grimy piece of lingerie lay there, like the flag of a conquered kingdom. Then I headed to the communal bathroom, wearing slippers that were harder than wooden clogs. Those things must have been used by Chief Kivoi in his trips to the coast to sell ivory.

The ancient bucket that was provided poured half of the water along the way. But bigger troubles were on the way. After tucking in, the guy next door started snoring like an overturned tractor. Snores so loud that they made things around rattle. At some point, I thought we were sharing a room.

As I lay in the bed that was harder than a horse stable, some rhythmic creaking of beds across the room caught my attention. The creaking increased in speed, accompanied by some sultry soundtrack until it hit a crescendo, followed by a slump. Or plateau. But I am only describing creakings though. Let’s just say that what this tarty place lacked in looks, it made up for in exciting soundtracks.

When the creakingthlon( or fires rather) cooled down and sleep assailed me, I was woken up by a thousand itches all over my body.I was surprised since I had a mosquito net on. Alarmed,I put the lights on. An army of fat bedbugs was marching all over my torso, munching away with gusto.I am sure that pesky dudus had already taken a pint or two of my blood. And why is it that when they bite you one feels so cold? I don’t get it.

When I couldn’t bear it anymore, I went to the watchman and told him that my room had one thousand kungunis.’

Pesa kidogo, laa( raha) kidogo.’He answered gruffly, scratched himself here and there then went back to sleep. But ‘raha’ is relative, seeing there was a couple having lots it of across the next room.

Luckily, when I crept back to my room, another creakathlon- louder than a tractor ploughing- had just started in the neighbouring room.

THE SECOND ANNOINTING

I am reliably informed that a certain Wagithomo lass has had her nude videos and photos leaked into the public- triggering a hormonal tumult among menfolk.But since I am junior elder, I have neither interest nor intention to watch that leaked nudity.

I am told that in the video she had nothing on, not even the radio.But despite all these temptations, I wont watch it.It’s a ‘mugiro’ punishable by a fine of several goats for a junior elder to enjoy such conjugal indecency.

Men who are less morally grounded like yours truly have been going gaga over her ‘au naturel’ features. Her curves which rival those of a Murang’a countryside have given many men sleepless nights. Some have even been seen zooming on her photos. It’s what’s hidden that men are always interested in.

Some men have been calling her ‘mboga kienyeji‘ which I am made to believe alludes to her folksy looks and rawness. But since I haven’t watched that clip, I will let that slide.

Other men have been analyzing her, describing her anointing in glowing terms. Others have been decrying her lack of some critical part, the way you’d say a chicken you slaughtered didn’t have a ‘kaigangiu’ or gizzard. When you bare all, guys start analyzing you like a quartered cow hanging in a butcher’s shop. In a way, people kill you.

But let’s for once assume that that Wagithomo girl is my uncle’s daughter.Over Christmas, she lands in the village in those tiny cars Nairobi girls hire to wow villagers.The cars that run on three AAA batteries like remote controls.

Aunty Jerusha- the pious lady who ends every sentence with ‘mwathani agoocwo’-have already gotten wind of her daughter’s unChristian exploits in the city. So she is waiting for her- like my people say- like a bus. But my analogue uncle is clueless about it all.

‘Thuthana ndoiga guku ndurarara!’Susan you won’t sleep here! Aunty shrieks at Susan as she sashays towards the house, her angel-white dress with a thousand frills lighting up the way.

‘Kwani nime-do?’ Susana asks, lifting her cosmopolitan shades and placing them on her forehead.After a short altercation, uncle appears with a machete in hand, wanting to know the cause of the ruckus.

Si ni mom anazusha juu ya ile vida yangu ilitrend.Hajui vile imeleta likes kwa channel yangu ya Youtube na pale Instagram’. She tells her dad in that nasalized Swahili characteristic of Nairobi girls.

Uncle, removes a half-smoked stub of kiraiko from behind his ear, lights it up and for five minutes tries to digest what he has heard.

He finally asks her_Have you brought your mother some sugar?’ The girl nods and waves 5kg of Mumias sugar she bought at Maguna’s supermarket in Muranga town. Plus a bale of unga and other foodstuffs. The last time uncle saw such heavy shopping was during the coffee boom days.

Make some tea for the guest.Uncle tells aunty.Its actually an order since he says it while pointing his machete at her.The now smiling video vixen then greases a well folded brown note into uncle’s palm.

‘Daddy,we are soldiering on in the big city’.Susana tells his dad, acting up daddy’s girl.

‘Strive on by any means; money is money.’Uncle answers back with one of his many truisms. The daddy’s girl interprets that ‘money is money line to mean that she can make another primal video to trend.

All of you who enjoyed the debut video, Wagithomo Reloaded is coming soon. The second anointing, if you like, is on the way.

CARS THAT ‘WERENT SUCKLED ENOUGH’

Here’s some free advice to my My Murang’a folks:don’t dare borrow those matchbox-sized cars to wow your village mates this Christmas. Our ruthless hills will break up those small thingies, such that it will end in blood, sweat, and jeers.

Last year, my cousin borrowed such a car to show the village that she is now a single, upwardly mobile independent woman. So together with her 1GB girlfriends, they hit the road to Murang’a, big sunglasses hinged on their shiny foreheads. Plus boxes of pizza on the laps.

The car served them well up to Kenol town. But when they started climbing hills at Mukangu, its 120cc engine overheated. Someone suggested they buy it a lollipop, but that didn’t stop its radiator cap from coming off since it’s held together with safety pins.

At that steep climb towards Kahuhia Girls, the windscreen which is fastened by staples came of. Two Brazil wigs flew through the window, leaving two ‘miss independents’ looking like muchunu hens.

Past Koimbi market, the chrome tyres screeched as they climbed another gargantuan hill. One of them came off since they are fastened by chewing gum. Luckily some nduthi guys in shining armour and smelly overcoats came to the rescue of the damsels in distress.

When the girlfriends later arrived home sans wigs sans happiness, they car saw another hill brooding like a giant ahead.It’s road was slippery than a tongue.On the car’s dashboard, a red light started blinking: ‘no road ahead’.

Various efforts by Maina Makanika to coax it to move didn’t help. So the girlfriends had to heave the shopping they did at Magunas onto their heads. Which didn’t help much since the same heads contained more Guaranas than grey matter. When Maina noted that the car ran on AAA batteries like a remote, he gave up on it.

When my auntie saw the car or what had remained of it, she smothered it with a mbocori to ward of the evening chill lest it caught pneumonia. My uncle, on the other hand, wasn’t very kind to the diminutive contraption:

‘Gaka kang’othi gationgithirio kuigana’,he quipped. This minuscule car was not suckled enough.

BANANA DRAMA

My uncle will never interrupt you when you are making a fool of yourself. The other day, I paid them a visit and found uncle feeding his cows and aunty knitting a multi-colored kiondo as usual.

Now, aunty is this kind pious soul who finishes every sentence with ‘mwathani agocwo’.God be praised. If she won’t be in heaven, then nobody is going there.

After enquiring about all my children, their classes, height etc, she dashed into her sooty kitchen and came back with a melamine plate full of githeri. Real githeri cooked in an earthenware pot.

Then she went into her granary and came back with a bunch of ‘wang’ae’ or sweet bananas. Her bananas are ripened by catalyzing with ‘meenû’, an aromatic shrub that gives them a distinctive flavour.

Now, one of the exotic culinary habits that I picked in my expansive sojourn in Northern Kenya is mixing ripe bananas with my food. Go to any Waria hotel and you will see them doing it.

So I peeled two bananas, cut them into pieces and mixed with the githeri. The interplay of the tastes of the sugary banana and the salted githeri is something to die for.

All the while, uncle was watching me keenly with increasing dread, slowly taping his sharp machete on his palm. All his life, he has never seen a grown man mix githeri with ripe bananas.

When I took my first bite, he tightened the grip on his machete. When I took the second one, he tightened the grip further. Finally, he could stand it no more.

‘Ira muruguo kiria aragucia nikiramuthukira!’He barked at aunty. Tell this your son that what he has been smoking is not doing him any good.

Then, he angrily ran his sharp machete against the whetting stone before sauntering of to Wakulima Bar.

THE SECOND ANNOINTING

I am reliably informed that a certain Wagithomo lass has had her nude videos and photos leaked into the public- triggering a hormonal tumult among menfolk. But since I am junior elder, I have neither interest nor intention to watch that leaked nudity.

I am told that in the video she had nothing on, not even the radio. But despite all these temptations, I won’t watch it.It’s a ‘mugiro‘ punishable by a fine of several goats for a junior elder to enjoy such conjugal indecency.

Men who are less morally grounded like yours truly have been going gaga over her ‘au naturel’ features. Her curves which rival those of a Murang’a countryside have given many men sleepless nights. Some have even been seen zooming on her photos. It’s what’s hidden that men are always interested in.

Some men have been calling her ‘mboga kienyeji’ which I am made to believe alludes to her folksy looks and rawness. But since I havent watched that clip, I will let that slide.

Other men have been analyzing her, describing her anointing in glowing terms. Others have been decrying her lack of some critical part, the way you’d say a chicken you slaughtered didn’t have a ‘kaigangiu’ or gizzard. When you bare all, guys start analyzing you like a quartered cow hanging in a butcher’s shop. In a way, people kill you.

But let’s for once assume that that Wagithomo girl is my uncle’s daughter. Over Christmas, she lands in the village in those tiny cars Nairobi girls hire to wow villagers. The cars that run on three AAA batteries like remote controls- but I digress.

Aunty Jerusha- the pious lady who ends every sentence with ‘mwathani agoocwo’-have already gotten wind of her daughter’s unsavory exploits in the city. So she is waiting for her- like my people say- like a bus. But my analogue uncle is clueless about it all.

‘Thuthana ndoiga guku ndurarara!’

Susan you wont sleep here! Aunty shrieks at Susan as she sashays towards the house, her angel-white dress with a thousand frills lighting up the way.

‘Kwani nime-do?’ Susana asks, lifting her cosmopolitan shades and placing them on her forehead. After a short altercation, uncle appears with machete in hand, wanting to know the cause of the ruckus:

‘Si ni mom anazusha juu ya ile vida yangu ilitrend.Hajui vile imeleta likes kwa channel yangu ya Youtube na pale Insta?’She tells her dad in that nasalized Swahili characteristic of Nairobi girls.

Uncle, removes a half smoked stub of kiraiko from behind his ear, lights it up and for five minutes tries to digest what he has heard.

‘Niwarehere mamiguo cukari?‘ He finally asks her.’ Have you brought your mother some sugar?’ The girl nods and waves 5kg of Mumias sugar she bought at Maguna’s super market in Muranga town. Plus, a bale of unga and other foodstuffs. The last time uncle saw such a heavy shopping was during the coffee boom days.

‘Rugira mugeni caai.’ Make some tea for the guest. Uncle tells aunty. Its actually an order since he says it while pointing his machete at her.

The now smiling video vixen then greases a well folded brown note into uncle’s palm.

‘Noturageria muthee kuria gicuka’ Daddy, we are soldiering on in the big city. She tells him, acting up daddy’s girl.

‘Ethaai, gutire mbeca ngarange’.

‘Strive on by any means; money is money.’

Uncle answers back with one of his many truisms. Then he squints at his kabambe and calls Mukuna the bar man:

‘Munene, wekerea tumbukiza kiro moja nakuja.’

The daddy’s girl interprets that ‘money is money’ line to mean that she can make another primal video to trend.

All of you who enjoyed the debut video,Wagithomo Reloaded is coming soon. The second anointing, if you like, is on the way.

I am sure some of you have been wondering what happened to my panga uncle.I too was wondering why the punny kinsman of mine has been so quiet.Until he called me last week.

Mundu wa Njambi‘ he started.My uncle will rarely hail anybody by his or her name.Instead,he uses his own customized nomeclature.

‘Woiga mbura yurire thi? ‘ You want all these rain to end without you having planted anything?

In my community, maternal uncles are king.When one summons you, you go there running.It is believed that if he scratches his navel because you made him angry, a big calamity will befall you.In short, that’s how I found myself home last weekend.

I found uncle at Mukuna’s, a milk jerrican by side.The jolly old man still looks dapper- his suede godfather hat accentuating his suave retired city dandy image.

He slaps me with an instant fine of 5 Balozis and a kilo of tumbukiza.Giceeri, the greasy maitre’ d at Mukuna’s who prepares your tumbukiza but eats half of it while its cooking and half of it with you fixes for us a nice tumbukiza.

‘Eat, son, eat.’ My uncle cajoles me as we eat and try to outdo Giceeri in eating our tumbukiza.

‘Ikuria ti ndwaru’. One who eats heartily is not sick. Uncle says amidst loud chewing.

‘Guku thi no ndia na mahoya’.He says to no one in particular.The most important things in this world now are eating and prayers.I dont know where uncle gets this punchy one liners. But when you analyze them in the context of corona epidemic, they are true

When we’ve had our fill and burped loudly,we bid Mukuna the host goodbye .Then melt into the chilly Murang’a night- uncle’s machete shining like a chalice.

We have hardly done a kilometre when uncle breaks into a song.A long forgotten folk tune about a girl called Njoki from Iyego and her heroic exploits at the battle of Ndaka-ini during Mau Mau war.

At Mukarara shopping center, we are accosted by cops who wants to know why uncle is singing banned liberation songs after curfew hours.

‘Ikuina ti ndwaru‘ He tells the cops.

He who who sings is not sick.I have to bribe the cops for myself and my uncle.Uncle’s bribe is double because of his insolence.As we part, he tells the cops:

‘Ikuria ti ndwaru‘. One who eats heartily is not sick.A jibe at the cops ‘eating’ ways.

The cops ignore him and drive of their Landruiser to go and eat the bribe just acquired.Uncle and I then wades of into the night like two errant knights returning from a failed crusade.

Lawd knows how much I had missed this eclectic kinsman of mine.

EAT MAN,EAT!

I have not taken a break all this year. Been slaving all year like a horse- because there was a lot to be done.Sometimes even working at night- because there was a lot to do be done.

Until I got indisposed and had one foot in the grave and had to take a two-week break from work. Then I realized that ‘my work’ has been going on seamlessly in my absence. Maybe even better- who knows.

No one is indispensable.We will all one day leave our desks- and by extension our stations in life.But that wont stop things from going on.

Other critical lessons that I learnt during the sick leave:

1.Self diagnosis, treatment and discharge is one of the reasons why men die young.See a medic when sick.

2.One cant die from skipping Whitecap one full weekend.Its all in the mind.

3.Getting sick is like waking up. You can wake up 10,000 times but still never get used to it. It will always surprise you.

4.All the bland food is the healing food.Uji, greens,pumpkin soup, name it.Use them even when not sick.

5.Always have a trusted uncle who you can dictate to your verbal will since we African men don’t write wills. You can never know when they will call you over to the other side.

6.Eat well and heartily when you can.When you get sick and lose 5kg when you are 80kg, nobody will notice.But wait till you lose 5kg when you are 45kg-they will bury you alive.Eat man, eat!