WE HAVE NO WORDS…..

It is around the year 1890 in Mbanta,a village in Igboland,Nigeria.Okonkwo is sitting under an iroko tree, chewing on a kola nut,longing for Umuofia.And perhaps longing for his mpango wa kando he left back in Umuofia.He  has been banished from Umuofia for seven years for beating up his wife in the week of peace. His old friend Obierika pays him a visit. He has carried along the yams he has harvested from Okonkwo’s piece of land which he has been cultivating for him in his absence. After a long chat and catching up, Okonkwo is at loss on how to thank his old friend Obierika.

 I don’t know how to thank you, started Okonkwo.

I can tell you, said Obierika. Kill one of your sons for me.

That will not be enough, said Okonkwo.

Then kill yourself, said Obierika.

By the time the two friends part, it’s clear to them that Okonkwo-a man who was not known for feminine graces like gratitude-has no words to show his appreciation to his friend Obierika for his kind deeds to him.For some deeds,saying thank you is not enough.

In a few days, we bid 2018 goodbye. Another year has come and gone. The sun has completed its retrograde trip around the sun. So today here in Drum Major blog we make it a day of expressing gratitude to our readers. Why? Because we believe that no duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks. And in a way, today we are like Okonkwo of yore .We don’t know how to say thank you to all of you who have been with us this year.

But why are we grateful? After all, we haven’t hit the big league yet. We aren’t in the list of who is who in the blogosphere. Drum Major isn’t yet listed in Forbes list of Best 50 Blogs to Watch. Going by our back office readership analytics, Drum Major is largely read in Kenya, with a few friends scattered in the four winds checking it out once in a while. Is that something to write home about?

I started this blog in June this year when I turned 40.I didn’t start it out to make money, or get famous. I started it because I was hearing stories in my head and I had to tell them. When I started it, I never expected anybody to turn up and read my stories-which I largely consider to be some idiosyncratic musings of a man just turned 40.

Luckily, you and another reader and another turned up and read my stories.To have someone reading this blog in an era where a folks hardly read beyond 300 words is one magical thing in my life. I was not expecting anyone to turn up when I did my first post. But it took me by surprise that several readers turned up-and for that have no words to thank them.

You might also be asking yourself why you should be grateful to Providence. Life may have been unkind to you this year.You failed that critical exam. You failed to get that dream job-or that juicy County Government tender. You didn’t get a hubby, despite the promise by that pastor in a green suit and fake crocodile sharp shooters that you will be hitched by June. You didn’t get to buy that German machine despite tithing faithfully. Yes, you are not where you wanted to be yet. But in retrospect, you are not where you used to be. And that’s one of the many reasons why you should be grateful. There are a hundred reasons not to be grateful, but again, there are thousands of reasons to be grateful for this year.

2018 came with its own pains. I have lost a few friends-something which I am sure applies to most of us. Life is about losing those that you hold dear-by and by. We collectively lost Joseph Kamaru and Aretha Franklin-two artistes whose music blessed our hearts. Humanity is the less without them-each time a clod washes down to the sea, we are more the poorer. Thus anytime I touch my veins and feel the cardiac throb of Bantu blood coursing through them pumping ‘I am I am I am!”, I get a reason to be grateful to our Maker. Because I am alive.

So far I have been grateful for what I have. But it’s also prudent to be grateful for what we don’t have. We have to be grateful for not having life threatening conditions. We got be grateful for not being bereaved. Yes, we have to be grateful for the bad things that potentially could have happened to us-but didn’t.

As we forge in into the New Year, we got to remember that this is the youngest we will ever be. Every other year will leave us older than the previous. Thus we should capture the essence of every moment when we can.

To you the reader who took time to read our posts, to you who shared our stories on various platforms, to you who emailed us to say that Cege wa Maguta story brought them fond memories, I have no words to say thank you. To you who loved our Wajir By Bus story, we have no words. Yes, to all of you who all said that our folktales like Leila and Feila and The Lost Sister rekindled fires in your hearts, we have no words. To you all who commented on our blog, we have no words. Thank you is not enough.

To all our readers out there, you were the wind beneath our wings in 2018 and for that, we will endeavor to give you better content in 2019 to make your time here worthwhile. And that is a promise we are making to you. Now that the year is almost gone, last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. Here at Drum Major, we will endevour to be that voice in 2019.

From the Drum Major team, we pray that may you be blessed till all your neighbours hens lay in your compound.

BUMPER TO THE RESCUE

Men will always give swanky nicknames to their pets-be they dogs, cows or their beloved jalopies. Often they use fancy like names Natasha or Talia. Sometimes they have their daughters give the family car a name like Tiana borrowed from some Disney character.

Unknown to many women, cars aren’t given feminine names because they are cute. Its not even a homage to the role mothers played in nurturing famous car inventors like Henry Ford or Carl Benz of Ferdinand Porsche. Far from it. Cars are given female names because they are fussy and demanding. And expensive to maintain too.

 The unfortunate thing about cars is that they age and get rusty and start coughing enigmatically. Such that they no longer look like Natasha and your neighbours start calling them kang’othi.There is no equivalent English word for the Kikuyu word kang’othi. But in a few words, kang’othi refers to an ancient car that coughs like it has engine tuberculosis and rattles like it has chassis arthritis and smokes like it has carburetor bronchitis-all at the same time. When everybody starts calling your car kang’othi, even the local stray dogs avoid peeing on its tires-lest they catch some diseases from it. You can leave a kaquarter of sizzling tumbukiza on its bonnet and a starving flea-infested mongrel wouldn’t touch it.

 The winds of life have taken me many places. In my youth I found myself living in a place called Ting’ang’a-that shopping center that has never changed since 1955. Near my hosts lived a man called Njau who owned a kang’othi.You could say it was a prototype-Njau boasted that its seats were once warmed by Henry Ford’s American bum. The whole village called the car kang’othi  ga  tung’othi-the father of ancient cars but that didn’t prevent Njau from boasting to everybody about its prowess and pedigree.

 It was well known that no one touched Njau’s car. Not even his mechanic.Njau would have rather let you kiss his wife but not touch his car.Folklore had it that he once let his wife touch the steering wheel when the were courting, but it never happened again after they tied the knot at Ting’anga Catholic church. That was Njau and generally Kikuyu men for you.

Generally, Njau had nothing but choice superlatives for his car. There is this mzungu from Karen who gave me Ksh two hundred thousand for this car, but I refused. He would tell us-me and his two sons-as he ferried us to Nairobi every morning. But sometimes the car would refuse to crank and Njau would hurl unkind words to it. He would tinker with the faulty clutch, suck the carburetor lovingly with his mouth, bang bonnet then command the car thus:

Ruruma gwakare gaka!(Get cranking, you stupid thing!)

The car had ears and would splutter to life immediately it heard those words. You see, cars are made from earth and have water and electricity in them and thus soul. Cars too have a spirit and a name. Sometimes the car’s brakes would fail and Njau would shout to it and it would stop pap. Automobiles are unreliable and dangerous slaves. Sometimes they revolt and kill their masters, but not Njau.

One day, as we were coming from Kiambu town and climbing that steady hill towards Ndumberu, the car accelerator jammed when it was on the floor. The car chewed that steady climb like a 6,000cc turbocharged Bhuggati. For some minutes, we stared at death since there was no way of stopping it. Luckily, it run out of fuel just before Ndumberi Golf Club saving us from early death and an early date with Ol’ Peter. When it did so, Njau got out, lit a Nyota cigarette, looked at the car if he was seeing it for the first time, then chuckled:

Gaka gakware nikangiaturaga.This stupid thing almost killed us.

By the time he was done, we had already disappeared into the nearby coffee bushes,ready to walk home. We could not take another chance at death by boarding that metal trap when we had lived less than twenty years.

The next day, we were going to Nairobi and the car lost control as it negotiated a corner at Muthaiga. I always wondered how Njau did that corner  without killing us.In fact,anytime he negotiated that bend, I always treated it as attempted suicide when he was alone and attempted boycide when he was carrying his boys and me. When the car finally showed signs of slowing down,Njau shouted:

Rugama gakware gaka kana uturage! Stop you fool or kill all of us. The car opted to stop instead of committing mass murder.

Next, we were going to Githunguri town and as usual, Njau was boasting to my uncle about the unique abilities of his car:

My car knows its way home when I am drunk. He started with his usual clincher.

Ehe! Can it open the gate for you too? My uncle who had a disdain for alcohol asked him. The three of us boys rubbed our rough hands with glee. Njau had finally met his match.

 My home doesnt have  a gate since I don’t have enemies to hide from like you. Njau retorted back, his Adam apple going up and down agitatedly, like a small animal was trapped in there.But you could say there was an animal trapped in Njau’s body-if his fighting spirit was anything to go by.

Ok, can it open the door for you? My uncle pressed on. This was getting rougher than Smackdown-that wrestling show we never missed on Tuesdays at KBC TV.

I am married to an obedient wife. Njau shot back. My uncle assumed this faraway anguished look-like he was sitting on nails. The rest of the journey was carried with Njau whistling a naughty Kikuyu tune triumphantly and my uncle clutching his Bible with resignation-like a crusader returning from a lost campaign. That was the last time my uncle got a lift in that car.

As time went by, Njau’s car’s notoriety as a death trap became something of a legend. Cops no longer stopped it-you couldn’t be sure whether that thing would stop or plow into serikal.His friends evaded him to avoid getting a lift on it. Only his boys and I had to ride on it daily from Ting’ang’a to Nairobi and back. It’s inside acquired the smell of asphalt and grease and failed dreams-like an abandoned factory. It had no AC, but Njau told us stories to warm it during those cold Kiambu mornings.

Its hubcaps disappeared and since you couldn’t find hub cabs for a car manufactured by Henry Ford himself in 1934 in Grogan, Njau fashioned some for it.Its muffler came off and dragged under its carriage raising a racket loud enough to be heard by Henry Ford in heaven. No sweat, Njau fashioned a muffler for the car too. With each replacement of a part, the car slowly became Kenyan. Or to be precise, assuming that Njau won’t read this, a mongrel of a car.

Then one day, some young fellas told Njau that his car was so hideous that it scarred kids. They also added that the car was the cause of rain failure in that area, amongst other calamities. This was mean, but we concurred with those bold chaps.

The following weekend-which I recall is around that time Princess Diana funeral was running on TV-Njau took a hand brush, parked the car under an avocado tree, and started painting it. With passion and pain and panache, he wrote some mean words on the car’s rear bumper. From then on, nobody dared laughed at it. For on the rear bumper of the car,in bold red hue, he had posed a stinging question to anybody who dared laugh at his jalopy:

WINA GAKU TAKO?

My car maybe ancient, but do you have suchlike?

THE SCENT OF YOU

Once again, it’s December. That time of the year when the world goes gaga about the birth of some homeless chap some 2,000 years ago. Where has the time gone? When did it get late so soon? Its only the other day that we promised ourselves to read 52 books in 2018 but have done only 20.We swore  to lose 20kg, but instead  added 3kg.Yes,we got lost-but in the right direction. That’s life.

Once again, it’s that time of the year when life coaches tell you how to survive the festive season. There will dish out the usual clichés about not over drinking at the end of year party. There will be the usual tired platitudes about saving for January. As if we don’t know. Here we don’t do platitudes or clichés .We make fun of the mistakes we all make every festive season year in year out. Here we go:

Ghosts

Deaths leave behind ghosts. The death of the year at the end of December brings forth a month called January that’s haunted with ghosts of school fees, empty stomachs and mean shylocks. Spend wisely if you are not comfy with working with ghosts.  There is no December in January. But if you have no problem with spooky ghouls, go ahead and splurge-kwa raha zako.

Family hurts

The festive season brings together people who rarely meet in the name of family re-unions. Collisions are thus bound to happen. They are normal-as long as they don’t involve flying pans, bottles and the area OCS. Embrace them the way soldier embraces battles.

Marriage

Woe unto those damsels who promised their aunties that by the end of this year, they will have brought some hunkie in a shining Hummer home for marriage. Those pesky aunties will be on their case. Girls, you have two choices. You can hire a boyfriend for the three days that you will be at the village-there are a  thousand and one young men in skinny jeans and oversize Techno phones who are willing to do that job for less than 10 dollars per day. The other alternative is to tell your aunties that you are married to the Lord-and is in the process of joining a convent called the Sorority of Sorrows. Choose which trick to use-thank me later.

Christmas

I can’t avoid a cliché here-celebrate mildly. We are celebrating Jesus Christ’s birthday, not yours. For those conscious souls who celebrate alternatives to Christmas like Ismas,go easy on the ital steam Rasta! We don’t want County fire engines rushing to your house thinking it’s on fire. Such a false fire alarm will leave you with huge bill from the County honchos.

As for Pan Africanists like yours truly who celebrate Kwanzaa instead of Christmas, go slow on those polemics about the irrelevance of white Christmas in the tropics. Just don your kitenges and kentes, do your Nguzo Saba and stop being overly academical about a foreign holiday.

If you cannot celebrate Christmas for one reason or the other-fret not. It’s not compulsory.In fact, there is no connection between that crazy commercialized pagan festival and the day the saddled Nazarene was born.

On Children

The thing with modern children is that they have too many choices. Christmas in our days used to be three things, Fanta, chapattis and new shorts. That did not make them less colourful.Buy your children only what you can afford -don’t be hostage to their demands. None of them will understand you when you say you don’t have their school fees come opening day.Which is the week after Christmas.

Charity

If every time you donate two bags of posho to some children’s home you have to crush the internet with hundreds of photos about the event, forget it.Its not about you, it’s about the children. Leave your camera at home for once-and give without expecting cheap fame from it.

No car no sweat

December is the month we realize that we won’t build that house we promised ourselves in January. Or buy that dream car. Life doesn’t always work our way. Get a way of giving yourself hope. If you didn’t build yourself a house, remember that Jesus was homeless, but we celebrate him to date as the Great Teacher. He never had a car too, and had to grab a donkey for his triumphal entry to Jerusalem (by the way, did they return that baying thing to its owner?  I doubt) But his lack of mode of transport doesn’t make him less of a Jesus. Forget the rat race-and keep on walking.

Lights

If you can’t fix up a Christmas tree for your kids, get a faulty bulb that flickers and assume its Christmas lights. Can’t buy new dresses for your kids? Cover them with new shawls of love and kindness. Can’t go home to be with folks? Call them.

Gifts

Live frugally on being given gifts so that if you don’t get any, you won’t be surprised. Some friends will turn up with the wrong gift too-like that high school buddy who brought me Cuban cigar several years after I had quit smoking (yes, I did but that’s another story) Another will turn up with rare fifty year old single malt  whiskey just when you have resolved to quit the demon drink altogether.Dont trust friends. Trust only the gifts that you buy yourself.

Music of the birds

Take time to travel and appreciate how small and  dystopic Nairobi is.Go down to the village and eat from mama’s smoky kitchen as you watch her chicken sing carols that go cluck cluck. Enjoy the music of the birds and you will realize that everyday has a song to it-if only we listen. Catch with your nostrils the aroma of roasting goat hooves wafting from your neighbours’ and you will realize that the smell of Christmas is the smell of childhood.

For a few days, sleep on that spring bed you’ve used since high school where you lost your innocence with some creaky symphony being the soundtrack. Rest your head on that old familiar pillow with the scent of you. In short, go back to yourself and come back a purged person, ready to face another year whose fortunes and failures we know not yet.

 

I said no clichés here so no signing of with happy holidays. From Drum Major team, have the holidays of your choice.

 

PS:

My new page administrator-Martin Charagu- tells me that we have to change the outlook of this page.Expect some swanky  look here soon.

DON’T BE A FREE MAN

The last weekend of November marks the end of school for high school kids.Many of them will be happy to leave that cesspool of hormones and emotion we call high school. I can’t blame them-high school is that four-year asylum we put teenagers whom we have no idea what to do with.The bully each other in there and run amok and burn schools and learn to roll spliffs-  the institutionalization of children does more harm to them than good. But again, what options do we have?

High school comes with its fair share of absurdities. Take for example the idea of pledging loyalty to flag one has no reason to love on Friday mornings. Who came up with it? And why does it only happen in schools and nowhere else? I have not even talked about Boy Scouts-those famous fellows in clumsy colonial garb who march like the country is at war. What do they do with that ridiculously overpriced brown garb after high school-adorn their rooms with it like war veterans? I have never understood Boy Scout Movement.

Twinned to that is the idea of controlling kids with a trilling school bell. Every waking moment, there is a bell tolling for all of you robots, waking you up when sleep is at the sweetest, calling you for supper of beans and weevils and maize. Or dismissing you after preps. No word defines high school better than a boot camp that doesn’t yield soldiers.

In high school, one lives with the permanent idea that teachers are out to get you. Like Orwell’s big brother,teachers  watch your move, aided by sadistic prefects who lord over kids like demigods. But soon after high school, one realizes that life has more than its fair share of characters who are out to get you. From the taxman to bullies to the state-life is a big high school with no trilling bell. High school never really ends.

On the flip side, high school has its glorious moments. The bonds one forms there are long-lasting, since they are formed by a group that one endured the same harsh school administrators and scrummed for the same loaf with. A man who went through high school without forming life long bonds must be suffering from acute inability to form friendships syndrome. He should go to his high school and ask for full refund-even if he got straight As.

I am sure children of this era took a thousand selfies beside academic bonfires to mark their glorious end of schooling and entry to the world of men. Every generation has its own tools to preserve itself in the sand of time. In our times, we had no smart phones to do so.There was no Whats app or Instagram or Facebook. Most homes didn’t have phones-unless your dad was a Minister in the then Moi administration. Thus there was a great likelihood that we might never meet or connect with our classmates again after high school.

To that end, we had Farewell Books-a mushy collection of tidbits, class gossip and high school trivia that makes little sense twenty years later. We used the spaces in those books to rant about teachers whom we hated. I wrote in several such books-and my rant had to include several unsavory words for my math teacher who told me I was terminally stupid since I couldn’t hack Calculus. The vitriol we had in high school for teachers was enough to exterminate a small village.

Going through my high school farewell book twenty-two years on, most of the stuff therein makes little sense. Every other classmate wished many things which included a phat girlfriend (now that’s some 90’s slang) who had our English teacher’s figure and Mariah Carey’s voice. Second was a loud twin cam turbo car. Third was a swanky Sony Walkman and enough money to hang out at Vybestar or Club Zig Zag every weekend. This tells you so much about our priorities as high school kids then, though they haven’t changed much anyway. Any man wants some good-looking woman, a swanky turbo charged toy to vroom around in and some legal tender to throw around with his boys. Men are that simple.

But then there is this kid who was in Form Two then who wished me none of the above but wrote words that I have mulled over for two decades now:

To Gilbey,
Now that you are going out of school as a free man don’t be a free man. I know it’s hard to understand this statement but please make sure you do.
Yours,
Mugane

Touché’!
Where is this kid now? Which books inspired him to pen such eternal lines during those ore-Google days? Has he penned an award-winning inspirational book? Is he on Forbes List of Top Africans under 40?  Has his face graced the cover of Times magazine already?

I want to meet this kid because for over twenty times, I have Googled the above lines and found that they weren’t plagiarized. I want to meet this kid because for over twenty years after high school, I have tried not to be free.
To one Charles Mugane Kamau, wherever you are, I am always mulling over your words, trying to understand them, trying to live up to them.

I salute your spirit!

 

 

UNCLE

Society celebrates mothers, aunties and dotting grandmothers during Mothers Day. We also have a day for fathers which is not a celebration per se but a day for whiskey distillers, hat makers and cologne companies to make a killing. But we do not have an uncles day. Since our work in Drum Major blog is to blaze new trails, we dedicate the last Saturday of September to uncles and celebrate them.

Where I come from, maternal uncles have a special place in young man’s heart. Reason being that if your mom is estranged with her husband, your maternal uncles becomes your adoptive fathers by default. When a young man in my community needs to have his pencil sharpened, he has to seek blessings from his maternal uncle. Failure to which the operation may be botched. Who wants to start life with a botched pen full of ink? That tells you why this decree which was issued by Gikuyu himself just before he died in 1250 B.C. has never been broken.

Last August, I took a sabbatical in the village, which gave me time to interact with my maternal uncle. We are tight with him, but you will not find the two of us hugging. A fellow who always dons a well-sharpened machete does not go hugging like a sissie. My uncle was hewn from the same granite rock with Okonkwo-the famous Achebian character who believed that unnecessary display of emotion is, well, womanly.

However, that does not mean he loves his nephew the less. He often comes hard on yours truly, but in a fatherly way intended to nurture, not hurt. My uncle demonstrates the truism that it is possible to dote on children without necessarily getting mushy. They say a dad is worth his weight in gold. An uncle is worth his weight in wisdom.

One day, during my stay in the village, he found us having a quarrel with my sister. You know those small tiffs between siblings that never mean much? Such. In his characteristic way, he grunted to tell us that we were making noise for him with our silly arguments as he sat under the ancient avocado tree in our home, reading my old newspapers. Then,without much ado, he bid us goodbye. When I caught up with him the following day, he had a story from the Bible, unlike of him.

Paul was once preaching in Malta. He started the story, tapping the pointed tip of his panga on the wet ground under him.

Which Paul? I asked. He went on with the story; uncles are not to be interrupted.

Suddenly, viper jumped at him and coiled on his hand, and bit him. However, Paul shook it off .The vipers in Malta Island were known to be very poisonous .The Maltese expected Paul to fall dead any moment. But Paul suffered no effect and survived, and the Maltese were impressed a lot by that miracle.

Then he kept silent for me to absorb the short story.

So where do you think the viper’s venom went to? He asked me.

I do not know. I said.

Of course, you do not, and that is why I am telling you this story. Paul cursed all the vipers and their venom went into the mouths of women.   He then went to feed his cow leaving me there to ruminate over the story.

Later, I realized he was referring to my earlier verbal tiff with my sister.

The story is from the book of Acts Chapter 28.However, my uncle, like a good storyteller, embellished it here and there to pass a point. Which is a man can’t win a verbal duel with a woman. The story, with my uncle’s embellishment, may look misogynistic-but you do not tell my uncle such a word. You will be in so much trouble to explain what it means such that you will doubt that it existed in the first place.

My uncle teaches like the great master-with simple down to earth lesson that endures in your heart forever. His life is like a lesson that leaves tire tracks in my mind. Here are a few other lessons that I have learnt from him.

On Manhood

When my uncle visits my children, he is all mushy, kneeling like a knight to greet them, bringing them sweet wild berries and fashioning toys for them from bananas stems. When he come to me, his demeanor changes:

Why is this cow not dewormed? Why have you stayed for so long without coming home?

He can be iron outside, but a doting father or grandfather within. To me, this demonstrates that a man can be hard and soft at the same time. And know when each disposition is required.

On Women

My uncle has no doubts about who runs his home. If you go to his home and his wife has gone say to a chama meeting, he will tell you:

Nimungianyua caai no mwene mucii ndari kuo.You would have taken tea but the owner of the home is not there. Women run homes. They are at the centre of each homestead-the fire that warms all the rooms in the house. When a man realizes this, he has no business competing with his wife, leaving him with time to pursue other ideals.

On Marriage

Watching my  uncle and his wife go about their duties-in the evening verandas of their lives-is a study in synchrony. My aunt -who most of the time wears a  white Mothers Union headscarf duties revolve around the kitchen, her small garden and church. My uncle’s life revolves around his cows and goats and the shamba. There’s is a  perfect domestic harmony with the man involved in production, the woman in nurturing .There is a domestic contentment where each knows his or her boundaries. When I look at them, they remind me of the three stages of marriage: Dream, Drama, and Deepening. For me, they explicate the Deepening stage so well.

On Love

My uncle and his wife are not in Facebook.They are not in Instagram or Whats app. They don’t splash their photos of a happily wedded couple on social media-never will. But that doesn’t make them less happy. My uncle has never taken her to Java. Or Ken Chic for those overpriced bland food they call pizza which they yap about on Tuesdays. But that doesn’t make her feel less loved, or make him feel less of a man. The two are so close that you cannot put a paper between them. Love is not defined by what we consume. Love does not have to be screamed out to be. Love is.

On Duty

For my uncle, responsibilities are the anvil on which a man is forged. Daily,his cows have to be fed and milked, be it Sunday be it Christmas. You can tell the time by when he wakes up to see that the cows are fed. Or when he milks them. Does he make millions from that? No. But he holds his shoulders high when his neighbors tell him that his milk is the creamiest in the ridge. His face beams when his peers ask him over a drink: how do we bring up strong heifers like yours? Many men have made millions from what they do, but never found meaning in what they do. That’s what makes the difference.

A man needs another man to help him navigate the rough uncharted seas of life. A man who will lead you by the hand and heart through life’s mazes. Nobody does that better than an uncle.

Celebrate your uncle this Saturday.

DADDY,ME CAKE!

Yesterday,one of the  members of my household turned two years.She called me to ask for  a birthday cake:Daddy,me cake! Then she hang up.Asking for a cake at only two years! But you know kids of these days-they grow like our country’s debt with China-on steroids.So I would rather say she is 730 days old than say she is two years since these digital children live a lot each day.

In our days,we came to know  about birthdays when we  were almost teens.These digital babies are wired differently from us. At her age I was still eating mud  and chasing lady bird beetles thinking they were edible.But again,life goes forwards,not backwards.

I was not at home when she made her début into this world.So I asked her mother to place her phone near her-so that I could feel the life in her.All of  a sudden,the young one broke into those feeble baby cries that  announce to the world-I am alive! See,babies are dishonest creatures.They have no high food prices to deal with.They have no thieving politicians to worry about.They got the whole world running crazy to accommodate them-yet they cry all the time.I don’t get them.

When  I saw her for the first time,I was smitten by her chronic pinkness-all curls and stretches and yawns. She was a soft petal cheeked sweet-smelling darling of a girl.When she curled her little fingers around mine-for the first time in so many years I felt alive.

Unlike us adults,babies live one day at a time,drooling at life,sucking in all visual stimuli.Here is my attempt at chronicling her first 730 days:

Day 0

The mother What-sapped  me her photo -she was cute! We humans will always consider our babies as cute creatures-since they mirror us and we consider ourselves to be cute.Then came the dilemma of naming her. Do I name her after Madikizela Mandela or Rosa Parks or Anne Frank-women of courage I admire? But I reckoned  out that her naming was about her identity,not about my fancy for renegade women from history.Thus we called her Margaret-after her maternal grandmother.

Day 50

She had blossomed from a tiny bundle to a fat round Buddha .And just like Buddha-the enlightened one-babies emit light. Reason why it’s very difficult to look angry when one is looking at a baby-unless one suffers from strange illness whose symptoms include chronic hatred.

In my arms she was  a cute bundle of hope –the closest I came to holding the future in my hands.Anytime I took a look at her I got the temptation to place an order of a  whole year supply of candy for her.But her mother wont allow me to do that.

 Day 100

She uttered her first semblance of a word.I have always cherished  to be there during my children magical moments.Like their first day in school when they shuffle unwillingly in oversize uniforms and Bata Toughees. So I was lucky to be there when she said bbbbaaba  for the first time.

The women folk in my household were not pleased with her uttering  the word ‘dad’ first instead ‘mom’.So they colluded to makes her  learn the word ‘mom’.Baby’s elder sister coached her to say ‘mom’ 100 times and she forgot the word ‘dad’ altogether.Until much later. Women!

Day 200

She demanded my phone as if she owned it.My beef with her is that she was in that stage Sigmund Freud called oral stage-so everything she touches goes to the mouth.I have exhibits of phones she short circuited with her saliva.They are  preserved for my son-in-law who will sweep her of her feet in 2032 A. D.He will have to replace them before I give her hand in marriage.

Day 300

Having played with my phone for a while now,she took her first selfie.A clumsy selfie with gooey drool as lipstick and Weetabix as her cutex-but all in all a selfie.Despite her chubbiness,she had not qualms about snapping herself.We are not born with body weight issues-they are taught to us by TV girls and svelte slay queens.

Day 400

She opened an Instagram account:Baby Maggiex.All pink potties and swanky dolls and pompous pampers. Then they ran a competition for Instagram Baby of the Month in the estate and she won a day supply of pampers and a baby pacifier.Good for her.

Day 500

She took her first baby steps and started going where she wanted to.I realized that I don’t own her-something we parents do not realize until the kids leave us with an empty nest.We don’t own ourselves in the first place-how can we own our children? Our children are loaned to us-they belong to the house of tomorrow which we can never visit even in our dreams.

Day 600

Since she could now walk ,she demanded that I take her to where they sell pizza.It was a terrific Tuesday and she been tagged in  an Instagram post about some pizza shindig going on in the estate.Thus I had to take her out and buy her those manufactured overrated food lest she threw a tantrum and updated on Instagram-Dad sucks!

 

Day 650

She got philosophical.Daddy,where do bundles go? Daddy,who is God? Children are born philosophers-asking questions a  wise man cannot answer.To them everything is a scientific marvel-they will stare at a little green worm for hours on end.

Day 700

She called me on phone.She hasn’t learnt that habit of kids flashing their dad to call back since they believe dads phone is always  brimming with airtime so he should always call.When she is restricted from watching Teletubbies she calls me-all sobs and sniffs.When she wants pizza she calls me-all please dad and woiyes .And that is it about daughters they will always look for a dad’s affirmation in their best and worst moments.Unlike sons who grow up and get swept of by some woman and forget dads, a daughter will always stay close to his dad.

After the first call we graduated to frequent calls.The little one doesn’t know that calling uses airtime,and airtime is taxed.Governments taxes even air.Now she has only  ten teeth and can only form 20  words  but somehow we communicate.But she has more teeth waiting in her gum-like words in a pen of a poet.Thus I am sure our chats will grow,and thus our bond.

Day 730

She called to ask for her two-year birthday cake.I am told after day 730 mothers call them terrible twos.This is because they have the licence to terrorize the entire household.They became little tin pots dictators in diapers who exemplify minority rule.Running a household with two such souls is harder than running a battleship full of cursing soldiers.

That has been the journey with my daughter .So here’s  to her two years,or 730 days if you like.There is no other way of making a man without having him as a child first. Boys are the only way God uses to make  men.Girls are the only way God uses to make women.Babies are a nice way to start people.

A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.Happy 730th day baby Maggie.

 

 

 

MY SISTERS, CHAPATIS AND I

sisters

Today, the third Saturday of September, is Celebrate Your Sister(s) Day. It’s not marked in red in the calendars because calendars are made by men but that doesn’t mean that this good day doesn’t exist. Most good days are not marked in the calendar anyway. So today I am celebrating my sisters-those dainty fairies of my childhood that can never be lost in me.

I am sure when my sisters read this, they will smile since they know where I have added the decorations. And that’s the thing about sisters-you can’t lie to them about your childhood. They know you since when you were eating mud and chasing after ladybirds beetles thinking they are edible because they are beautiful and thus would go well with the mud you were eating. You can kid the world but not your sisters.

I arrived in this world only to find my elder sister had gotten there before me.As I grew up I always considered myself to be older than her. I was in that age when one wants to look older. I no longer do that since I am in that age when one wants to appear younger-despite the silver strands on my temples. My second sister came later-blessing  me with my first girl to beat other boys over. When you have two sisters, you wonder how other boys who do not have them survive. Who washes their clothes? To whom do they tell those fancy boyish stories that leave sisters starry-eyed? Oh, to be a without a sister as boy is a serious handicap that the government needs to address.

My sisters were the same-caring, yet different, for each cared for me in her own way. While one cared whether I had eaten, the other cared about whether I had taken my yucky Scott’s Emulsion. They were like flowers from the same garden. They were close to each other, yet afar from each other. Like pillars of a house, they worked best when they were neither near nor far away from each other.

Boys don’t necessarily have something to say to each other. They can sit in a room, silently together and be comfortable with each other. Apart from occasional grunts and mmhhs, they can be silent for hours on end, just scratching their dry knees. But sisters are different. They speak unceasingly and when they exhaust their daily word quota, they use a language of snarls and smiles and frowns and winks. Then for no reason, they get mad at each other and switch to snorts and sighs and sniffs and sobs then hold on to pillows till they sleep their heads off. Then they wake up the following day and hug like they are meeting for the first time. You can’t doubt me such is the kind of sisters I grew up with.

My elder sister still speaks to me with that I-changed –your-nappies-in-1982-attitude.My kid sister, on the other hand, still views me with that I-will-tell-you- on-mom-that-you-pinched-Ovaltine-look. The thing about women is that they never forget. You see, a sister will forgive you for never repaying her hard-earned cash, but she will never forgive you because you stole Madhivani biscuits from the pockets of her maxi dress  in Christmas of 1985 when she was four.

Seasons came and went. We grew from wearing Pepe jeans to box haircuts. Hormones came along-messing our faces with pimples and our hearts with cravings. My sisters saw it right to be washing my clothes-women have a natural inclination to nurture men around them.Happens especially if they are hunky Adonis like I was in my teens. I am still hunky but today’s post is about my sisters-not me. But they didn’t wash my clothes because they cared a lot for me.They did it because no girl wants to labelled the sister to that dirty boy.

When sisters wash your clothes for you, they start playing your mother. They scold you about how dirty your shirts are, or how unruly your hair is.One day, when one of my sisters was rummaging through my pile of unwashed laundry, she gave me my first lesson in foresight:

It’s always good to wear clean underwear, she started. I ignored the fact that she was implying that I wore dirty underwear. Most boys in Form Two did so anyway.

Where did you read that from-Mills and Boons or Jackie Collins? I asked her.
She smacked her lips. It was in the early 90’s and eye rolling hadn’t been invented then.
I said it’s always good to wear clean underwear! She hit back emphatically.
Ok. Why? I asked.
You never know when you will get an accident. She said triumphantly. Sisters are there to point out the things the rest of the world is too polite to mention.
Or a date….I added cheekily. She sneered, then broke into that you-are-so-naughty-laughter. Women will always enjoy a risqué’ joke, but pretend not to, though their bodies say otherwise.

Then pimples went and we cleared high school and I went to campus .Having sisters became more fun-nothing beats having sisters to tell those macho campus folklore which they don’t realize are silly since women like being told truth with some embellishments.What’s the good of news if you haven’t a sister to share it with? I loved telling them about the end of the world conspiracies after September 11.I watched them cry when I told them the world will crash with the Millennium bug-which didn’t happen. I tried hard being a man to them; they tried hard to keep up with my well-crafted cock and bull stories.

My sisters were blooming to women too. One of the signs of coming of age then was a girl being allowed to cook chapatis.My sisters rolled their first dough as I watched. I watched them graduate from making chapatis the shape of Kenya to square ones. Then they graduated from making oval chapatis to round ones. When they mastered the process, they started embellishing them with pumpkins the way Picasso would embellish his paintings with strokes of yellow. They had come of age.

Thus one day, I came home and was served chapatis. I was a Sociology Major in campus and reading Dialectical Materialism and Existentialism and Utilitarianism and thus walked with my head held high. Yes, the chapatis were perfect round, but harder than granite. With my campus insolence, I asked my mom who among her daughters was trying to kill me-an upcoming great scholar -with granite hard chapatis.

They are here, ask them. My mom, ever the cool matriarch, told me.I ignored the chapatis and ate the ndengu stew only and then went on to say that those chapatis could only be digested by a ruminant. Nobody answered me but since I was reading the fiery works of Karl Marx and Jean Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes, I had no one to fear. Beware the silence of women-it talks louder than words.

I forgot about the incidence until one night when I came home to find the whiff of chapati all over the compound like the smell of overripe fruits in an orchard. My younger sister then served me a plate of ndengu stew and went back to the kitchen.
Where are the chapatis? I asked.
My two sisters held their hands across her chest at the same time like something they had practiced on all day. They looked at me, all silent, like Sisters from the Sorority of Silence. When they decided to speak, it hit hard.
But you aren’t a ruminant, are you? They answered back in unison with a triumphant glee. My mother crocheted furiously. My elder sister pretended to be reading her Drum magazine to keep from bursting with laughter. The younger one flipped through the pages of a Pacesetter novel like a major who had just won a battle. I was alone.

When women conspire to teach a man a lesson, nothing can save him. More so if you are a young man still wet behind the years and yet to know they ways of the female species. It took the intervention of my mother, an old aunt and some coaxing to be put back on my kid sisters chapatis serving list.

If man wont learn about womankind from his sisters, nobody will ever teach him about it.

The media wants us to believe that the only significant relationship we have in our lives is the romantic one. Yet sisterhood is the one that will last longer than any other. A sister will share with you the scents and smells of childhood and later their memories as you sit together in the evening verandas of your lives.Sisters are, in  a way, like best friends you can never get rid of.

Mpesa your sister(s)  a token of love today-if you can.

CHEGE WA MAGUTA

(This story’s title had to be in Kikuyu to capture the local flavour of the idiom. The title means ‘Chege the paraffin seller’)

When people love a person, they get ways to imprint his memory in the sands of time. They put his visage in Mount Rushmore like the Americans did with Martin Luthe King Jnr and others. They put up his statue in Kimathi street like Kenyans did with Dedan Kimathi.They put up mega sculpture like the Cubans did with Che Guevara.The location where I come from loved Chege the paraffin seller but since we didn’t have enough funds to put up a graphite statue of him, we put his memory in our language. Thus, in our place, we have this simile that goes-stay in the same place like Chege the paraffin seller. It denotes that he stayed in the same job for too long, but also it celebrates his fidelity to duty.

Chege wa Maguta sold paraffin such that now men can look back and say-there lived a paraffin seller! You see, when a man works with his hands, he is a labourer.When he works with his hands and head, he is a craftsman. But when he works with hands, head and heart, he becomes an artist. Chege was one.

Chege was born in Kangema in the early 50s.He went to school and cleared his CPE in the mid-60s.Its on record that after he sat his last exams, he got a job at Kangema Township as a paraffin pump attendant the following day. Right from day one, he woke up stronger in will to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.

Chege used to report and leave his workstation so punctually that market women told time by when he came and left work. From sun-up to sun-down, he labored by the pump, like its trusted brother. When his colleagues went home, he would be left alone on duty at the pump, like a sentinel whose colleagues had abandoned their post. Its only when it got too dark to work any longer that he called it a day.

New Year found him at the pump. Easter found him at the pump. Christmas found him at the pump. His work was his holiday. But since he was a Christian, he would leave the pump on Sundays and go to the fence of the nearby Muguru ACK church when service was going on. He would listen to the service and sing with the congregants, one of his eyes on the pump, one in the church.

Whileas we  considered church to be an unnecessary imposed distraction from our avocado stealing sprees,Chege considered Sunday Service an opportunity to rejuvenate his tired limbs and soul. For him, Sunday service was balancing act between his devotion to men and God. And devotion to men is devotion to God anyway.
Years went on-Chege got a family and settled down. Vietnam War happened. The Americans sent some men into the moon. Reagan invaded the Falklands.Berlin Wall came tumbling down, the World Wide Web went up. Chege was still at the pump-like a relic that history had forgotten.

Then the Yom Kippur War happened. Kenya experienced a fuel shortage. Fuel hiked from 6.40Ksh per liter to 7.20 Ksh per litre.Chege reported daily to the pump-fuel or no fuel. Since it didn’t make sense for him to report to work yet there was nothing to sell, his employer Muhia told him:

Chege, why don’t you take a leave and see the world a bit?
This pump is my world. Chege retorted back. He was not a man of many words but when he spoke, gems dropped from his mouth.

The Ethiopian famine happened and Kenya was hit by food shortage. When Chiefs dished out yellow maize and bulgur to the villagers, Chege refused to line up for freebies and reported daily to the pump. Each day he put on his white coat and wore his honour like a ribbon on his chest. Thus he was always there working, cranking the old paraffin pump, like a human landmark of our small town. He was a prisoner of his own industry. He had no enemy; his owns hands imprisoned him, chaining him to his pump.

When I was a small boy with fan like ears and knobkerries for knees, Chege was selling paraffin. When I went to high school and graduated from stealing avocadoes to stealing girls’ hearts, he was still selling paraffin. When I went to college and graduated from quoting the Bible to quoting Karl Marx, Chege was still at it.
Just after graduating from college, I got the temptation to tell him-Pump attendants of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your paraffin smell. But then I remembered what my lecturer used to tell us-beware the fury of a patient man.Thus I desisted from that silly Marxist endevour altogether.

For Chege everyday was the same: the only thing that differentiated one day from the next was the ebb and flow of humanity Gakira market. Unlike shopkeepers who peered lazily from their shops, Chege was always busy keeping the vintage paraffin pump sparkling clean-such that it wheezed like the gears of a Rolls Royce.
One day, those Rwathia millionaires who own that archipelago from Tom Mboya Street all the way to Nairobi River came calling. Loud Subarus and sleek V8s hadn’t been invented then so they parked their Peugeot 504s and Datsun 1600 SSS by his pump. They offered him a managerial post in one of their pump stations in Nairobi. Chege flatly refused, telling them that it was against his principles.

You can’t eat principles. One of the rich men told him. .
But you can live by them. Chege hit back.

They handed him an envelope bulging with crisp notes. Chege dismissed them and went on to serve the next customer with kerosene worth 2 shillings 90cents.An honest man is worthless and just like a thing of real worth, he can never be bought.

Old age started approaching. His days went drip drip drip like drops of paraffin leaking from a broken lamp. But that monotony never wore him away. The older he got, the more powerfully he cranked the pump like he had CV joints at the meetings of his shoulders, instead of shoulder joints. He made the mundane act of pumping paraffin an art as opposed to duty. And art is timeless. Chege was like most musicians who remain poor. But the music they make, even if it does not bring millions, gives millions of people happiness. Chege made us happy by the way he served us.

One dark evening, Chege slept eternally, never to wake up again. The whole location wept, not because he was gone, but because there was no one else to teach young men virtue of diligence and the sanctity of human labour.He had not only taught us how to work, but also to love work.When they buried him in Kiairathe village, they forgot to put a headstone on his grave. Which should have read:

Keep interested in your career, however humble,
It is the real possession in the changing fortune of times.

Many bad men are in good jobs and positions in government; many good men are in poorly paying jobs. But we cannot exchange wealth for honour, for money flits from man to man but honour abides forever. Chege may not have a monument in the streets of Kangema. But anytime we use the phrase ‘tinda hau ta Chege wa Maguta’ (stay in the same place like Chege the paraffin seller) we pay homage to a man to whom duty, however lowly, was a noble calling.

That simile erected in the hearts of the people he served is more enduring than any granite statue.

 

PS
This story is based on a true story.

THE LOST SISTER

A long time ago, there lived a young man called Wamwea and his beautiful sister Wachera. Their parents had died in the cassava famine. Their lived in an empty hut whose eaves hang forlornly with want for repair. It was haunted by hunger and need, but the sibling love between them saw them from this moon to the next.
Wamwea used to go the field to tend after their few goats. One day, when he came from the fields, his sister told him:

Two young men came here today. If you go away tomorrow they will carry me off.

Before girls get husbands get husbands to nag, they nag their brothers.

You talk nonsense my sister, Wamwea replied.
I lie not. Wachera said. Wamwea kept silent, ruminating on her sister’s words, turning them his mind.

If they carry me off I will carry a calabash full of seeds which I will drop along the way so that you can follow my trail. Women,unlike men,based on age-old intuition,plan ahead of danger.Men plan when danger looms before their nose.

That following day Wamwea brought the goats from the fields and went away to some muthunguci dance in the next ridge. When he came back home he found the homestead empty. His sister had been carried away by some young men. They had carried her to some faraway land, her young nubile breasts bobbing up and down like two lost mangoes.
Several moons passed, Wachera did not come back. Wamwea had no one to cook for him. He slaughtered goats for his food, and within no time, they were finished. It’s then that he thought of his sister.

The seeds which his sister had dropped in her trail had now grown, and were big shrubs. Wamwea followed them. He journeyed for months in jungles where the sun never seeped through and a green river flowed through the forest floor like an alligator. He got lost in a fogbank of flora, until one day when he came to some children who were fetching water by a gurgling stream. The children took him home like a long lost uncle. Their mother came and served him with little food in a potsherd since he was a stranger. They didn’t give him water to drink-so he drank down the water he used to wash his hands with. After eating he was told to sleep on the floor since there was no bed for him. But since he was tired, he soon dozed and dreamt of his lost sister Wachera.
The following day Wamwea went out with the children to chase the weaver birds from their father’s millet fields. As he threw stones at them, he sadly sang:

Fly away little bird,
As my sister Wachera flew away,
Never to come back again.

Why does he say the name Wachera?  The children wondered.
When they went home they told their mother about this. The following day she came and hid amongst the nappier grass. Then Wamwea started singing again:

Fly away little bird,
As my sister Wachera flew away,
Never to come back again.

At that moment, Wachera realized that this was Wamwea her brother. They slaughtered a goat for him, and there was a great feast and dance. Wamwea lived with his sister for some time, until he came of age and was taken to the river to become a man.

Wachera’s husbands gave him many goats and cows as bride price for her sister. Wamwea grew into a strong man, straight as a Maasai hunting spear. Soon, he fell in love with a maiden called Wacici and they got betrothed. Later, they got married and Wamwea didn’t go back home but set up his home near his sister’s Wachera.

If you go down to the village with big rock facing the river, the names Wamwea and Wacici exist to date.The song too exists in the hearts of boys and girls who sing it as they chase after lost butterflies.

 

PS

This is the last story in the these series of forgotten folktales.If you have folk story that needs to be retold,get in touch with us on njambigilbert@yahoo.com

Thanks for finding time to visit this blog.

MG

 

LEILA AND FEILA

This is a tale of tears that besemears the heart like a balladeer’s song of fears.

Leila walked down the sandy village lane past the mathenge thorn bushes to shallow wells. Her head was covered in a yellow hijab. But deep inside it was covered with a longing to see Feila her passion. She hadn’t seen him for two days-which was an eternity for her. Leila came to the giant tree under which they used to meet. Eagerly, she scanned the horizon looking for her Feila.Her heart sank as she sat down on the mat she had carried for their rendezvous.

Feila appeared from the other direction, his steps light like the evening zephyr. He carried with him a can of fragrant perfume in his hands for Leila and a token of vagrant emotions in his heart. His hair was like silvery wool, his gait was like that of the antelope.

He greeted her, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking. She looked at him and saw something no one else did, even if she did not know what it was. She greeted him, trying not to look at him, as if he were the moon, yet she saw him, like the moon, even without looking.

Leila was beautiful like a water nymph. People said that there were two stars in her eyes where pupils should have been. Her teeth were even and whiter than camel milk. Feila was tall and lithe, camels stopped to watch him walk when passed by.

You kept me waiting. Leila started. Women will always start the best things with a nag.

I kept you hoping. Feila answered.

She smiled demurely, twirling her fingers around his, like she was binding herself to him. Feila shot her with his soft fiery eyes. He was a warrior. When the clan needed someone to follow the Oromo cattle rustlers, Feila was the boy to do so. At the age of 22, he had overseen more cattle raids than most retired herders in the village. He had this Neanderthal charm not even the sheikhs daughter could resist.

Feila was powerful and lethal. Dangerous even. When he set his sight on anything, he never let go. When his clan’s camels were taken past the Ethiopian highlands by the marauding Oromos, he led a pack of 30 boys to recover them. He never trembled at the sound of the AK47, the dreaded gun that pastoralists guarded their flocks with.

But here he was trembling before a young slim girl who pierced his heart with a gaze of a thousand passions.

They talked deep into the night. When emotions overwhelmed them and words failed, they chatted in oommphs and aaahs which only them understood. They murmured impossible promises and uttered difficult words. Like I will never leave you. Feila rested his head on Leila’s bosom. She pretended not to like it, but her actions said she liked it.

He kissed her. But kissing was forbidden.Haram.They knew they would go to hell for that, but with this realization the kisses got cloying and run over their mouths like honey outpouring from  a beehive that badly need emptying.

One kiss is like the other, but I will never tire of kissing you. Feila whispered hauntingly.

What did my lips do before they met you? Leila asked.

I will never leave your arms. Feila made another impossible promise.

Leila was the desire, and Feila was his prisoner, chained by her touch. She was an ocean; he was a sinking man lost in her waves. Deeper and deeper he sank, each wave getting warmer and sweeter than the previous, all headed to inevitable explosive spasms. A hissing of primordial soups welled up in his hips like uncorked geysers. A maternal beckoning rose up in hers like a mighty wave.

Then, when the two ontological forces were just about to rapture forth, they heard Leila’s mothers voice calling for her incessantly.

I have to….I have to go…She said, dusting sand from her billowy dress.

Promise to see me tomorrow…

Before she could finish, their mother’s sceptre appeared in the soft moonlight, shouting Leila’s name again. She made haste and left Feila, not sure she would see him again, not sure she would again lay her head on his hairy chest, her home. It seemed like they had only met for a few minutes. When two people adore one another deeply, two hours seem like two minutes. When they loathe each other, the same two hours seem like two days.Einsten called it relativity. I call it the absurdity of the human passion.

Feila, I am home. Please remember me in your salah.

Leila whispered to the evening wind hoping it will pick the words and send them to Feila. Nature at times rescues two hearts longing for each other. After she was done with milking the goats, she lay on a mat and watched the stars autograph the skies with Feila’s name. Just about the stars grouped together to write her name next to his, her mother started scolding her. Something she did all night, like she had practiced it all day.

Earlier, when Leila had gone to serve the evening meal to his father in his dash, she had noted that they were three strange men who talked in hushed tones, and stopped when she came around. A camel bedecked with rich felt and gems that glistened in the moonlight was parked by their hut. After taking supper, the strangers stealthily rode their grunting camel into the night, just like they came. Feila knew all was not well. She was low, in the way women feel things will go wrong by their hearts. Her heart was troubled;it cried all night like a siren for Feila.

The wedding was held two days later. It was sombre and sad, with Leila’s tears going down to her heart and all the capital centers of her soul. She cried all her tear wells dry, leaving no tears for future sorrows.

As she left her mother’s hut to her new forced home, she sent a hundred messages to Feila through the wind, hoping he will pick them. When things decide to go wrong, they go wrong completely. That night the wind was flowing in different direction, and thus Leila’s messages went to remote villages up-stream. Love-struck lads picked them up, the way bulls pick  pheromones of randy cows in the air, but they didn’t decipher what the messages meant.

After few days, Feila came to the tree they used to meet under. He waited for her but she never came along. He did this for several days, until his heart sighed with a thousand stinging emotions. Forest gnomes and fairies watched him as he wrote these words on the bark of the tree:

Leila,I need you more than  I need air to breathe.

The writing was in a language only the two of them could decipher. After a few days, Feila was going to the shallow wells to draw water. She read the message and answered back:

Feila, rescue me-like you rescued our thousand camels from the Oromo.

The following day, Feila knew there was a message for him written in the trees bark. He put on his best kanzu and fez. With a spring in his step and foreboding in his heart, he rushed to the tree, hoping to whet the longing in his heart with her letters scribble by Leila.When he went to tree of their secret rendezvous, it had been cut down. A gaping hole sat like heartache where the tree  used to be. Where do messages intended for a treasured one go to when they don’t reach him or her? The fighter in Feila didn’t give up. With a forlorn heart and firm stick, he wrote on the sand nearby:

A hundred times I long for you, A hundred times I cry for you.

An evil wind blew that night and erased everything from the sand. When Leila came to the place and found the tree cut,she blew some messages to Feila, but the same evil wind blew them to a herd of cows that were grazing around, making some bulls fan their ears and stomp their feet. Such is the energy of raw passion.

Then, Feila got sick. Each day he woke up with new pain, each stronger than the previous one. He developed into thin pencil of man; he couldn’t walk in an open field without a light  wind attempting to sweep him away like a dry leaf.

Leila was no better. She refused to eat, getting thin like an orphan fed grudgingly by its stepmother. Her rich husband sourced for the best doctors in the village, but with each treatment, she got worse.

Then one day, Feila’s eyes closed eternally. They buried him near the tree where they used to meet. After a short while, Leila eyes closed too, never to re-open again. Hearts go on working even when they are broken: souls go to sleep when they get broken. The imam decreed that she be buried next to Feila.

Two evergreen trees sprung up where the two were buried. When they reached the height of a teen and their barks got pimpled, their roots and tendrils and branches edged towards each other, finally embracing in a bond neither ax nor man could break. To date, the two evergreen trees stand, watered by some cosmic force, held in some eternal embrace, with birds forever singing madrigals to Leila and Feila.

 

Pssss…….

This was an experiment to retell an old love story without using the word ‘love’.

That said, do you have any forgotten folk tale that you would like to tell? Let’s talk about it.Get in touch with us at njambigilbert@yahoo.com.

Thenkyu.