Just after Giceeri had placed our meat on the table, a scraggy fella with an ancient cap sneaked in. He was out of breath and obviously out of food.
“Dayan,nawa mkono tukule,” My uncle hailed him.
I was to later learn that Dayan was short form for Moshe Dayan-the Israeli Minister who always donned an eye patch. While the real Moshe Dayan may have lost his eye in some battle, this Dayan had lost his one eye in a forgotten barroom brawl during his swashbuckling days.
‘These bones are too big to be those of a chicken!‘ Dayan vowed as he dug into a juicy morsel. He swallowed hungrily, his only two loose teeth dancing dangerously. I feared he might swallow them as well.
In the kitchen, Giceeri loudly cleared her throat.
‘Do you know there was a time this witch cooked us a lizard and told us its fish? ‘Dayan asked no one in particular, wiping his oily lips with the back of his hand.
Giceeri banged two sufurias loudly.
“Aai! This meat has a funny smell,” Dayan declared between loud burps.
“What’s the smell?” Uncle asked him, coldly.
“Its the smell of her witchcraft. She sits on the meat before cooking it.”
Moshe Dayan disclosed, his face glistening with delight. Uncle spat angrily on the ground, then stopped eating altogether.Moshe Dayan’s tricked had worked-he now all the meat to himself.
But Giceeri could no longer bear it. She emerged from the kitchen, adjusting a shuka around her ample hips with her greasy hands.
“Weee! Ritho Rimwe, what did I hear you say, eh?”
She shrieked at Moshe Dayan. Dayan stopped licking his fingers, looked at his cracked plastic shoes then mumbled something inaudible.
“Tero me, what brought you here, war or free food?” Giceeri bellowed. Then with one mighty heave, she hurled Dayan out into the encroaching darkness, where he fell headfirst into an open sewer.
“Mùchenji ùcio!” My uncle cursed as he took a swig of his Balozi ale.
As we walked home, we found Moshe Dayan holding his two broken teeth, singing like a lost minstrel, slurring on the syllables:
“‘aya ni mabatao akwa…..”
“aya ni mabatao akwa….”
(These are my needs, oh Lord)
(These are my needs, oh Lord
(Meet them, oh Lord)
Uncle regarded his friend for a while with indifference. Then he swung his bakora and walked on, breaking into a song:
“Niwe werìire...” (You are the one, who messed up yourself up)
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
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.
‘BABA YAO’My Jaa-nuary has generally been drama free.We men rarely get into drama when broke.Until yesterday.I was lazing in the sitting room, scratching my scaly knees when First Lady cooed:’Wee, nduthie woe mwariguo cukuru.’You, go and pick your daughter from school.Broke men are very obedient.I headed to the school and found the kids sitted outside their classroom, waiting to be picked.The young Kenyan who calls me dad rushed to me and we headed to the gate.’Wewe mzee, unaenda wapi na huyo mtoto?’The ‘soldier’ who is more familiar with mama watoto asked gruffly.I explained that I was the girl’s dad but he refused to buy the idea.He surveyed me, surveyed the young belle,shook his head then blurted out:’Hakuna kitu kama hio!’What he meant is that the child bore no resemblance to me and thus I was likely a child abductor at work.I dont blame him.By some mysterious happenstance,my children have refused to inherit my mango shaped head.I dared him to ask the child who I was.’Mami huyu ni nani?’ He asked my daughter.’Baba yao.’ My daughter answered without batting an eyelid.’Baba yako ama baba yao?’ Soldier asked her again, perplexed.’Baba yao.’ She repeated, confidently.’Mzee, huyu mtoto sio wako.’ Soldier issued his verdict with finality.My elder girl, the one I have named after my mom, has always jokingly called me ‘Baba Yao’.Her kid sister picked that moniker from her.It took the intervention of the school head, who knows me from way back, for the minor to be released to me.
Being broke can make one very creative-happened to me yesterday afternoon. After getting bored almost to death indoors, I sauntered to Karwitha’s place, hoping to find a benevolent soul to cheer me up.
But since no benevolent soul was there, I coaxed Karwitha to give me drinks on credit. I ordered the drink with a photo of the mountain on it.Karwitha calls it ‘ Whitekaf’. In my digs we call it ‘ mukurino’ since its white top conjures the image of a turbaned man.
When the bill came, it had two drinks. One Karwitha’s, one mine. Hats how she operates- this petite belle from the lush highlands of Katheri.If you have to get credit, she has to drink on you.
Btw all girls working in these one-star joints share alumnus. Just like all cops went to one college- Kiganjo.Where they were taught to be cunning, sly, and manipulative.
In windy Habaswein, there was Muthoni from Embu. She would cook a chicken that surprisingly would lack a gizzard or had one drum stick or one wing but still charge you for a whole chicken.
Then there’ s Wanja- the walking siren with a humongous derriere that can cause a solar eclipse. Which she wiggles invitingly as she serves her customers which gives them some randy hopes. But after clocking out, she sashays home alone because she prefers her derriere shaken, not stirred.
But the above three are angels when compared to Giceeri from my hometown. Giceeri cooks tumbukiza for you but eats half of it while its cooking and the other half with you as you struggle to keep with her eating pace.
Very sly girls I tell you.
Anyway, back to Karwitha.By 4pm, my bill was nearing 2k since for every drink I took, she took one. It’s at that moment that a brainwave hit me.
I recalled there was this acquaintance who owed me 5k which could settle that bill and leave me with some shekels for tumbukiza. Since Dec, the chap had adamantly refused to pick my calls and respond to my smses.
I summoned all the English I learnt at Njiiri School, all the Literature Prof Imbuga taught me at K.U. and sent him a terse message:
” Look. If I don’t get my pound of flesh before with bid this day adieu, I will post in Buyer Beware Group that you pilfered me. I will also post the same on my timeline and tag your in-laws, your bosses, mistresses etc. The ensuing pecuniary embarrassment on your side will be of gargantuan proportions.”
I was only kidding the chap- I do not know any of his in-laws. Nor his bosses or mistresses. Shortly thereafter, the guy called and begged me not to do so, promising to pay up by end of day.
“You have under two hours” I reminded him curtly and cut off.
Before the sun closed its eyes, the Mpesa message came in.Hata na ya kutoa.I smiled and promptly settled Karwitha’s bill and ordered for tumbukiza.Now I could party without my bill being doubled.
This, partly, explains why some akorino-esque drums are booming in my head this morning.
I have always kept a journal since my college days. My 2001 journal tells me that my maternal grandmother- Josephine Wanjiku- went to be with the Lord on a day like this(17th Jan) in 2001. That makes today her 20th anniversary- the reason why I choose to celebrate her.
To acknowledge our kinsmen gone by is to be aware that we didn’t create ourselves. They are the genealogical link to those who came before us, in a line that stretches back all the way to God.
Reminiscing about my maternal grandmother- who played a big role in my childhood- always brings fond memories alive. It’s like entering a forgotten room where all my childhood memorabilia are hung on the walls.
My cucu was a tall lithe woman with skin the color of bronze. Her legs were long and tapering, unlike the more stout legs of Murang’a women fashioned so from climbing our daunting hills. Her hair was less kinky, almost Cushitic. This is today reflected in some of my female cousins.
Anytime she would get angry, she would curse in a strange language that I would not understand.
‘Abo ita! ‘ She would say.
That foreign language, for a long time, remained a conundrum for me. Until one Christmas in 1990, we boarded a bus called Sugar Daddy and went to Ting’ang’a in Kiambu where she came from . There, I heard stories from her agemates that fascinated me.
My grandmother’s dad- Nyutu- was a full-bloodied Maasai. This is how it came to be.
In a place called Kagongo near Ting’ang’a lived a rich man called Mwenda Njeru. This nickname meant ‘lover of new things’ His real name was Nderitu and he had migrated from Nyeri. He owned all that tract of land stretching from Ndumberi through Ting’ang’a all the way to Ruiru.
Now, Mwenda Njeru used to sponsor raids among the Ngong Maasai. This was to get more cows and goats for his many young men since he was polygamous. Back then, a man’s worth was based on the size of his herds.
One day, Mwenda Njeru’s band of merry young men raided a Maasai manyatta and captured a teenage girl called Nyaimatu. The girl begged the raiders not to leave his kid brother behind. It was not the custom to carry along young tots during raids but the raiders honored Nyaimatu’s wishes. Thus the two siblings were carried off by the sons of Mwenda Njeru to Ting’ang’a.
The necessary rites to make them Kikuyu proper were conducted on them. Thus they grew in Mwenda Njeru’s compound as his adoptive children. Later, Nyaimatu got married but raised his kid brother as one of her sons.
When Nyaimatu’s brother came of age, he was initiated in 1905 in an age group called Kanyutu.His Maasai name was replaced with his age group name and he became Nyutu.
This was the man who became my grandmother’s dad.
My grandmother was brother up by his Maasai auntie- Nyaimatu- until she came of age.I was told that despite staying in Gikuyuland all these years, she had refused to learn the language and exclusively spoke Maa. It’s from her that my cucu picked her Maasai tongue. My conundrum had been solved.
My grandmother grew up in Ting’anga with his siblings Nyokabi and Nderitu. Until a man called Mwangi wa Munene- my grandfather- got employed in those coffee farms near Ruiru. He happened to be a ‘nyabara’ or supervisor so the mzungu had given him a bicycle. A bicycle was the equivalent of a V8 in the 1930s.
One day, my grandfather was on leave so he took my cucu to what is now Ruiru town to buy her bangiri(bangles) from one of those Indian dukawallas. My grandmother folded her muthuru, sat on the bicycle sideways, and of they headed to Ruiru.
However,my grandpa had other plans. Upon reaching Ruiru he did not stop. Instead,he peddled on to what is now Thika road and headed on to Murang’a.
As they crossed River Ndarugu, they fell from the bike- with grandmother losing two of her front teeth. She cursed in Maa, held her hands akimbo, and shrieked at grandpa:
‘Turn that cursed bike of yours and take me back home! Abo ita!’
‘Who will marry a girl without two mitheko teeth?’ Grandpa asked her, then peddled off.
My grandma seethed like the Maasai she was, hailed grandpa to stop then boarded the bike.Grandpa took this to be a ‘yes I do’ and now rode more carefully, now that he was carrying his wife.
When the two lovebirds crossed River Chania, the traditional boundary between Murang’a and Kiambu people,my cucu considered herself propperly married. There was no turning back.
By evening, they were in Fort Hall as Murang’a town was known then where they spent the night. The following day, they scaled the hills towards Iyego and by evening, my grandpa parked the matrimonial bike by his hut in Kanorero village.That’s how cucu got married in the late 1930s.
In her sunset days, anytime a bike would pass by, she would shake her head dreamily, then retrospectively say:
‘I nii mui ndombirwo na muithikiri.’Which loosely translates to:
I was married upon a bicycle.
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.