SMOKE AND ASHES

Today marks exactly 7 years since I smoked my last cigarette, never to turn back. I mark this day with more aplomb than my birthday. Which I don’t mark anyway.

Since 16th July 2013, I have never inhaled smoke-except the one from my cucu Martha’s kitchen when I visit her. But was quitting easy? Never. Stopping smoking cold turkey is one of the top ten ways to lose your sanity. I got so sick that I couldn’t concentrate at work for some days. I had these maddening hallucinations even at daytime. Due to the withdrawal of constant stimulation of nicotine, I would get so sleepy and doze off of as I served a client in office. Then I would crave a fag so badly that when I looked up the sky, I would see millions of them up there. It was hell.

If one has never smoked, one can never fathom how it is to be smoker. One doesn’t smoke because he likes it.One smokes because he is hooked. Your room reeks of smoke, like a diesel engine workshop. Over time, your eyes start looking like over ripe kamongo tomatoes. Your appetite gets bad, and by extension your breathing. You wheeze like an ancient Fiat lorry going up Kangoco-the steep hill enroute Karatina.You hate yourself. You want out, but you can’t escape from the self-inflicted bondage. Why? Because nicotine is a highly addictive substance.

Most luminary figures struggled with nicotine addiction at some point. Men who changed the world, but couldn’t change themselves.Dr.Martin Luther King Jnr had come out for a smoke at the balcony when the sniper assassinated him. Barrack Obama struggled with the habit, something he talks about in one of his books. Churchill loved his cigars, but wished he could ditch them. The late Hon Michuki struggled with the habit too. Nicotine is no respecter of personalities.

So how did I stop smoking?

I tried yoga, it didn’t work. I tried Transcendental Meditation, it failed. I prayed, not working. I gave up and resigned to the god of Nicotine. Because smoking is an illusion and the human mind loves illusions. It promises you the thrill of happiness while adding you a thousand pains. It gives you two minutes of nicotine induced high and a lifetime of bad breath and wheezing and danger of getting lung cancer. And so does most drugs.

Part of the credit goes to the young lady in my house I have named after my mother. Back when she was a chubby girl, she would tag along when I went to buy newspapers. Once I left the house, I would light up.

‘Daddy, teacher said smoking is bad’. She would always remind me.That would break my heart a hundred times-which inspired me to quit. Now you understand why every time she asks for pizza, I can even borrow money to buy her one.

The other credit goes to many of my friends who, after finding me smoking, would tell me with shock: But you don’t look like a smoker! That scratched my ego-and emboldened my resolve to quitting. Finally, I take some credit-because I never gave up.

To all ye heaven bound Bible thumpers, a smoker won’t quit because you tell him that they will burn in the hottest place in hell. Actually, the Bible doesn’t have a verse to that effect. In addition, a smoker won’t be made to quit by calling him pepo nyeusi till he actually turns black. We need to look beyond the rightness or the wrongness of the act-and meet the smoker in the neutral ground that lays there between.

The war against smoking won’t be won by warning smokers that smoking causes impotence. Who wants babies nowadays anyway? I suspect it’s even a lie- I know several smokers with broods that can start a modest kindergarten. It won’t be worn by deriding cigarettes as sticks with fire in one end and a fool on the other. What works is making the smoker realize that he has the power to quit within himself.

In my instance, what worked was the appeal to my sense of being. The appeal to the ego.

Next time when you meet a smoker, don’t remind him what it’s doing to his lungs. Or that he might be shooting blanks soon. He knows all that very well-it’s written in bold on cigarette packs. With every rebuke, you sow hatred in a person who already hates himself to the level of filling his lungs with tar. Hate begets hate.

But I am not saying that smokers shouldn’t be reminded that smoking is bad. They should be-and should not take it personal. Whenever one beats a rug across a rock to clean it, the blows aren’t against the rug, but the dirt in the rug.

Appeal to the person’s sense of wellbeing. Tell him that he looks bad when he smokes. Tell him that it’s messing up his laughter lines. If it’s a lady, tell her that it masks her expensive perfume. Somehow, it might work.

Every smoker is prisoner with a key to the prison door in his hands. Thus he needs to be made aware that he carries inside himself the power to stop what he started. It’s only him who can free himself. The journey to quitting is his or hers alone. Others may walk it with him, but no one can walk it for them. Not the pastor, not a friend, not  a spouse.

Do I regret having wasted my lungs with smoke and ashes for some years? No I don’t. Instead I celebrate that I triumphed over a great obstactle.With a little help from my daughter and friends. Such triumphs tell us that we are stronger then we seem.

The experience has also made me suspicious of what I want-because it might turn out to be an addiction. This applies to money, to food, to everything.

ON GIFTS


Last week, the internet registered a seismic shift when a renown media personality gifted his wife with cheque of Ksh 1million for her birthday. I must say from the onset that the purpose of this post is not to discuss that couple. Mama brought us up well so I don’t do such things.

Ladies went gaga over the magnanimous display of love. Some lamented that since they got married, their hubbies have never as much given them Ksh 500 to have their hair done, let alone a million. Others lamented that they have never been taken for holiday, despite having been married for a quarter of a century now.

Look ladies, if you got married to a man from Murang’a who believes in saving all his money in Equity Bank, accept your choices. Expecting him to take you to Seychelles like Nyanza men do is like expecting a goat to lay eggs. Even if you fed it on layers mash for a year and gave it a chickenish nickname like Cluck it won’t. If you love someone, you are always joined with them – in their joy, in their strife, in their stinginess or in their magnanimity.

Gifts should not taken on their face value. Rather, they should be gauged on the giver’s level of sacrifice. When boda guy who earns Ksh 500 per day forgoes his daily jug of keg for a week and buys her wife a kitenge and matching kamithi,that sacrifice is bigger than a million cheque one. When a Murang’a man foregoes his monthly savings meant to buy a plot at Kenol and takes his wife to a smoky joint for choma and some Mugithi, that’s a huge sacrifice.

The Bible, a book that I hold in high esteem for its enduring moral lessons, has a say on this. It’s contained in that story of that widow who tithed all that she had. She was said to have given more than the mabwanyenye who gave gold coins because of her sacrifice.

The Gift of the Magi-a timeless short story written in the 1920s, captures this aptly too. It tells of a modest couple that was deeply in love .Each wanted to give the best he or she could to the other.

The wife wanted to give his husband a gold chain to hang his watch with so that it couldn’t get lost. On the other hand, the husband wanted to gift his wife with a hair clip to hold her beautiful hair together. It turns out that each had no money to buy what they wanted to gift the other.

The lady sold her hair (which was later sold to African women) so that she could purchase the golden chain for his husband’s watch. The husband sold his watch so that he could buy her wife the hair clip to tie her hair together.

When they met at home, each had the other’s gifts yes, but both had no use for the gift since the man had already sold his watch and the woman her hair. However, each had sacrificed the most precious things they had to purchase the gift. But it turns out that anything you lose for love comes back in another form for their love emerged stronger than ever.

The story’s title-The Gift of the Magi-is borrowed from the three wise wazee who came to see baby Jesus after his birth. They didn’t bring him Pampers or mbocoris because it was winter or toys because it was a baby boy. Instead they brought him gold, myrrh and frankincense. These three gifts were informed by wisdom and their value lay not in their commercial worth, but in their timeless symbolism.

And so should gifts couples give to each other.

MOMBASA BY 3

My village has very colourful characters. Unsung people who took part in unsung events in unsung times. One such person is Bruno Macharia-a retired bus tout from back in the day.

The term retired bus tout is a misnomer. Once a tout, always a tout. In spite of his age, Bruno still retains the rough edges of a tout. You can see it in his gait which says he has seen more brawls than a WWF wrestler. He walks with his fists almost closed-as if he expects a fight to break out anytime. He is like the old dancer is known by the tremble of his shoulders.

The other day, Bruno popped into our compound and made himself comfortable on a folding chair under the ancient avocado tree. He was the guest of my uncle-the one who is always sharpening a sharp panga.But I made him my guest too-and placed beside him an offer he could not refuse-some fiery single malt which had remained over from the previous day. By and by, we started reminiscing about the old days.

You remember that day in 1982 when we drove the bus from Nairobi to Mombasa in under 3 hours? Bruno asked my uncle. He has this tarty tangled hair with a look of anarchy. Years of swinging from bus doors made his hair tangled for life-and no comb could undo that.

My antennae for a good story went up. My uncle stuck his panga upright into the wet loam, poured himself two quarts of the drink and hopped into the bus story too.

The year was 1982.For all of you millennials, ‘82 is a long long time ago. They hadn’t discovered pizza then so folks used to make do with Elliot’s bread. Kenya by then was ruled by a tough mzae called Moi who walked around with a swanky ivory knobkerrie (you guys call it mathiokore in street speak).Kenya then had only one TV station that opened at noon and closed after lights out at midnight so that folks could make babies instead of watch Afrosinema. In short, those were very boring times.

But not so for my relative Bruno and his crew. Bruno by then was a debonair city dandy in a silk shirt, bell bottoms and sideburns thick enough to hide an Infinix phone. His Afro was wide enough to cause an eclipse. And he did cause eclipses in many a girl’s heart-if the number of young people in the village now in their 20s who look like him are anything to go by. But I won’t delve there-this post isn’t about Bruno’s glorious endings. Huh!

Bruno worked as a tout for Gathanga Bus Company. All day, he was holed in the loaf shaped bus collecting coins from passengers. By then Michuki was a dashing middle aged man at the helm of KCB and he had not come up with those famous rules that streamlined the matatu industry. Thus, the transport industry was chaos itself.

The bus crew consisted one driver and three touts. Real men who had to leave the top three buttons of their silk shirts open to cool their chests which throbbed with real testesterone.The drivers’ major task was to find out how fast his loaf shaped Leyland bus could go without killing all on board. He was the Knight Templar of the road-always hurtling down some dusty village road as if headed to a mandatory crusade. By then they hadn’t started growing muguka in Embu-so bus crews weren’t judged by how many kilos of muguka they could munch in day. They were judged by their sheer brawn-and daredevilry. And Bruno had tonnes of that. Still has.

Likewise, each of the three touts had very specific roles. One was a fellow who was always perched on the bus roof top like a bird of carrion. In his hands was lethal whip whose work to discipline other touts when they arrived at any bus stage. The second one was always at the door-cajoling travellers to get in to the bus. Most of the time, half of his body was flying in the air-like the flag of a rebellious country that wanted to secede from the mainland. The third and the most important tout was the one inside the bus. His work was to collect coins-and sometimes buttons-that the villagers paid him with.

After he was done with his job, he was entitled to lighting up a pungent Nyota ciggie right within the bus. Sometimes the travellers would gather courage to tell him to put the darn thing of. But going by his red eyes and his face that looked like a rough map to every dirty sheeben in the city, they decided it was better to withstand the cigarette smoke that his jabs. Bruno was such a tout.

Now, in 1982, Kenya had a vibrant football scene.Instead of English Premier League, folks followed African Cup Qualifiers religiously. Of course they didn’t do this over flat screens in some swanky sports bar-but over hissing radios in some busaa or kaluvu dens. But all in all, they still enjoyed the beautiful game.

After telling the story so far, Bruno peered into the horizon, his eyes ringed with nostalgia. Then he took a swig from his glass to summon more muses before wiping his silver beard with the back of his hand. Then he went on with the story.

 A team called Mufulira Wanderers from Zambia had come to play AFC Leopards for a critical qualifier match. AFC Leopards were at the top of the rankings in Africa then while Mufulira Wanderers was a nondescript team from a nondescript country.AFC Leopards were sure they would thrash them like burukenge.

The night before the match, the teams’ management met in Nairobi to celebrate their imminent victory over the little known team from Zambia. We had no Mututho laws then and clubs used to operate round the clock. The party raged on into the night like a savannah fire at Club Hole in the Wall. Bob Marley shouted ‘Africans a liberate Zimbabwe’ from the speakers. With such great music, the club management raved on till the small hours of the following day. Which was the day of the match.

Wafula the club manager had hardly slept for a few hours-or so he thought-when his bedside phone rang.

Wafula,wapi tikiti ya ndege ya wachezaji?

The team was to fly to Mombasa that morning to play Mufulira Wanderers FC at 3 pm.It was now 10 am and the team was still in Nairobi since he had forgotten to book flight for them to Mombasa.

At that juncture, my uncle ran his panga sharply over the sharpening stone. His way of showing excitement. Bruno continued on with the story.

By then, we had no SGR. Or these Jambojet or Jetways airlines which hop across our skies daily. We only had Kenya Airways which had scheduled flights to Mombasa. You miss a flight today, you wait till next week. What to do?

At around eleven, Wafula went to Hamza shops for some cigarattes.As he tried to cool his frayed nerves with nicotine, he shared his predicament with a fellow smoker-a thin man with a high cheekbones and brown teeth. The man listened keenly as Wafula told him how desperately he wanted someone who could drive a football team from Nairobi to Mombasa within the next four hours.

 We can do it in less than three hours. The smoker told him in a wheezy voice hardened by cheap liquor and smoke.

Who do you mean by ‘we’?  Wafula asked.

Gathanga Bus Services. That’s our work.

The man with brown teeth answered back as he killed his cigarette with the sharp end of his tony red Travolta boots. Then he casually pointed to the bus revving at the bus stop. He was its driver. They had stopped for a smoke fix at Hamza bus stage.

When Wafula was convinced that the man could take the boys to Mombasa in time for the match, he went back to his house and put a call to his team captain:

Tell the boys to get ready. We meet at Machakos Bus Station in 20 minutes!

At noon, Wafula was doing roll call of the players. The footballers’ hearts sank when they learnt that they were to go to Mombasa by road in an ugly bus that looked like giant loaf.

Are you sure you can take us to Mombasa in four hours?

Wafula once again asked the driver.

We handle the difficult. The impossible takes us just a little longer. The bus owner who had just come in answered back. He had noted Wafula’s desperation and wanted to milk maximum profit from it.Thus he   insisted that each passenger would pay bus fare equivalent to the cost of a flight to Mombasa. When the deal was sealed the bus owner promised the bus crew double pay that month if they hacked that job in time.

With that, at exactly twelve noon, the driver ascended to his throne and fired the bus. The door conductor removed the large boulders that used to be placed at the rear wheels to prevent the bus from drifting. Then he closed the door and slipped the keys into his boots. Then, like an angry metal dragon, Gathanga bus KUU 273 eased out of Machakos country bus station to go to Mombasa in under three hours in an epic battle between man, machine and time.

Shortly, the bus was hurtling down Mombasa road and the boys were impressed. At Mlolongo they started complaining that it was going too fast. The driver pointed a brutal finger at them and they kept quiet.

The bus hissed and whined like a wounded buffalo is it charged down that steep incline at Salama-gobbling the miles by the minute. Several of the football players wanted to take a leak at Emali-not because they had any pee, but to see if they could sneak out of the bus which was headed for a sure crash. The driver was smarter than them and ignored their many pleas to stop.

The boys then demanded to be dropped at Mtito wa Ndei.When Mtito came into sight, the driver double clutched then eased the bus into high gear .The bus lifted its nose then charged at the road ahead with the brutal force never seen on that road since the times of the Man Easters of Tsavo.

At around half past two, traffic police officers at Changamwe saw a bus that was hurtling towards them chaotically like a ship whose crew mutinied.

Mpishe aende zake! Shouted Abdalla the traffic boss. His hawk eyed juniors didn’t even pick the name of the bus due to its speed.

When the bus finally reared its belligerent chin at Mombasa stadium, aching and creaking like an ancient ship at sea, it was 3 hours flat since it had left Nairobi. And just in time for that crucial match between AFC Leopards and Mufulira Wanderers FC of Zambia. The welcome at the stadium was nothing but heroic.

When Bruno had given us enough time to absorb the depth of the story, I asked him:

Now, were you paid your double salary that month by your boss as he had promised?

No.Instead we were sacked instead. Bruno answered back.

Why? I pressed on with concern.

Because the bus’s engine knocked, never to wake up again. Bruno answered me with a forlon face, roughened by time, labour and worry.

Then he took one last swig of his drink-like one drinking to the thrills of his youth.

WE ARE BACK

Its been a while folks!

This blog took a small break to recharge our chakras. We are now back with more engaging content.

Check us out here for the usual stories. Stories that are a different kind of true.

While at it,leave a comment when you can.

Dont be left out!

-Gilbert

BLIND LOVE

By Margaret Nyambura

The phone had rang so many times but I chose to ignore because I had a lot of customers who were waiting to be served in my small food kiosk which was located near a matatu terminus. Serving these matatu crews was not a walk in the park; they were always in a hurry thus any delay was met with nasty and vulgar words. I had become accustomed to their language Why? I needed them more than they needed me.Without them I would not have been able to pay my bills and fees for my girls who were still in school.

After I was done with the customers I took my phone to check who was calling me a while back only to get 5 missed calls from the father of my girls. I looked at it with so much bitterness not sure whether to ignore or call back. This is a man I had loved so dearly but he had messed life completely. Long story though.

I’ll take you a few years back-I was born and bred in Nairobi’s Huruma estate, went to a Primary school in the hood, did my KCPE and passed well. But since we had sat the exam same year with my big brother who didn’t  perform  well and my single mum couldn’t  raise school fees for the two of us, I was asked to repeat  class 8 to give a chance for my brother to proceed. That is how I sat my exam for the second time, performed well and got an admission at Ngara Girls High school in Nairobi. Back then it was a day school meaning I would commute to and fro daily. Luckily, bus fare was so cheap because with one bob I would get one trip.

Away from the city life ,my mum had bought a piece of land in lower Murang’a,meaning that during school holidays if we were not visiting our cucu in upper Murang’a  then we would be at our Ithanga home. Our mom didn’t accompany us during most of these holidays and we would be hosted by our immediate neighbour.

Our neighbor was blessed with a big family.I think that mzee had read his bible well and decided to fill the world. He had a full football team and 2 reserves, meaning that he had 13 kids. A number of them were grownups who had gone out there way to hustle and so only the young one’s had been left behind. Among them there was a girl who was slightly older than me called Nyambura who had dropped out of school in class 7 for reasons best known to her.

Nyambura was a good friend and most of the times I would accompany her to the market. We also shared a bedroom.Nyambura had a boyfriend who was a tout in those Toyota Hilux matatu that we used to call face me. Sometimes she sneaked out to see her boyfriend and she would at times ask me to escort her. That’s how I met my Prince charming.

The guy was very handsome, tall, light skin and if you thought that sideburns came with Jowie wa Maribe then you are wrong. The guy had them, very well trimmed and neat, not to mention the moustache that got married women swooning.Ooh, he such was a catch!

He dressed well too. He was among the only guys who would afford those stylish Freezer or Pepe jeans, not forgetting the Tokyo trousers and those shiny viscose shirts that boys would leave the top buttons open to show of their hairy chests.

I was in Form 3 by then and it was during the April holidays   when I met him first and fell in love with him. When he was not at work we would go down to the stream and in the fields in the pretense of searching firewood and in all these times Nyambura would accompany us. The April holidays passed so fast and we had to come back in Nairobi for school. I left him in the village knowing too well that most likely I won’t be able to see him again until the August holidays. I was sad but then I had no option.

When August came I was crossing my fingers hoping that mum wouldn’t ask us to go to cucu’s place. Somehow I was keenly watching my elder brother closely  because I knew he had a girlfriend back in shags and since  he was the mum’s  eye on us, I  knew that mama would  agree with him. The best part of it was that mama was having a project back in Ithanga and so definitely we were to go there during that holiday. I was so much happy and couldn’t wait to see my crush again; it seemed like a million years when I saw him last.

We went on with our usual sneaking and river outings with my guy and my friend Nyambura.But during that holiday she looked so gloomy and withdrawn; her boyfriend was not around and word going round the village was that he had eloped with another girl and left my friend who was now apparently pregnant for him.

Happened that during that holiday,Nyambura wasn’t feeling well and after visiting the local health center she was  referred to Thika General Hospital where she was admitted. To cut the long story short it was during my frequent visits to the hospital that I went to my boyfriend’s house in Thika town and rest, as they say is history.

Days went on fast and as the norm the holidays were over and it was time to come back to Nairobi. As usual I bid my guy goodbye hoping to see him again in December holidays.

I missed my red moon that month and the next month. I did a test and alas! I was expecting a baby. Saying I was shocked was an understatement because I knew that my mama would skin me alive. But again, was I really expecting a Great Wall TV after the escapades in Thika?

On the other hand I was very confident that this would be the best news my boyfriend would receive and I was eagerly waiting to break the news to him.

November 1989,was the month I got the  rude shock of my life, I had to figure out how I’ll  cheat my mama and get a day to go and visit my boyfriend on a Sunday and break the news.

After answering a full questionnaire from mama and a warning of how I should be back early, I was given the permission to visit a friend (little did she know that her perceived innocent girl had already messed her life) I reached Thika town around 10am and went straight to the dude’s house.

I knocked the door almost 3 times and behold a heavily pregnant girl opened the door. To say that I was shocked is understatement-tears dropped freely from my eyes and I could feel drops of sweat running through my body. I tried to move my feet but they were numb. I could feel my heart beating like I had just finished a marathon race. Everything  seemed dark, the world had crumbled  on me  and before I could  recollect myself back here comes  my  dude carrying a paper bag meaning  he had stepped  out to buy breakfast.

Upon seeing him I literally screamed. I felt like I would tear him into pieces. He tried to come near me but I pushed him aside. What was he going to tell me when everything was here in black and white?

I regained a little strength and started walking away. He tried to follow me but the more he came near me the more I screamed. Afraid of  the drama that was  now ensuing  he stepped  back and I started  running  as fast as my kanono body would  carry me. My destination was Christina Wangare gardens it had a well-kept grass back then. There I cried myself out and a lot of things crossed my mind. Committing suicide seemed like the best option for me whereas procuring an abortion was a way out too.

But now the problem was when, where and how.

To be continued….

About Margaret Nyambura(Guest Writer No.8)

Margaret Nyambura aka Maggy Mamushka is a business person and a mother who loves writing and music. She is a based in Nairobi. Maggy believes that nothing is more beautiful than a smile that has struggled through tears.

Part Two of her story will come be posted here on a later date.

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.

MY SHOPPING CENTER

By Wakini Kuria

My shopping centre goes by the name Murengeti. Literally, this means a blanket. This has nothing to do with the chilly weather, just mere coincidence. A story goes of how an old shepherd died while out grazing in the fields along the highway, leaving behind not only his sheep but a blanket that everybody found taboo to touch. The old man took a nap never to wake up again. Passengers would instruct the driver to stop at ‘murengeti-ini‘ and the name stuck.

This is that place where you get your eyebrows turn white with cold droplets. Comedians crack the joke that, Limuru is chilly in the mornings, because the people there sleep with their mouths open.

Before, residents didn’t put up gates to keep out thieves, but rather, the many donkeys that were let loose by their owners and were only collected when they were needed to run errands. The beasts of burden were left to roam freely and should they be lucky to enter your garden, they would eat everything green and leave fresh ‘sponge’ in their wake. Nowadays, the beast has long been replaced by nduthis though.

The sluggish centre boasts of only a handful building harbouring a few shops, one pub, a clinic, some rentals and a few kiosks.

Located along the busy Nairobi-Nakuru highway, I grew up witnessing weird cultures such as people from ruguru, who would take out a human corpse, beat it up for refusing to go home from Nairobi.Ruguru is the name our people use to denote Western Kenya.

The vehicle would probably have broken down or ‘refusing to start’ and after the thorough beating the corpse would ‘agree’ to go home.If the person in their lifetime had refused to ever go back home, they would cheat him by placing the corpse with the head facing towards Nairobi.  Believing that he was headed towards Nairobi and not home, the corpse would agree to go. No more car breakdowns.

All the while, from a safe distance residents would be watching in horror as the relatives worked on the dead man with clubs and sticks, instead of fixing the faulty vehicle.

Road carnage claimed too many lives on the busy highway, but the statistics reduced drastically with the introduction of the Michuki (God bless his soul) laws. An ordinary day would turn tragic, marked by a loud bang that would see residents rushing to the scene, not necessarily as good Samaritans, but to salvage whatever the victims had in possession.

Today, fewer pedestrians are knocked to the next world as this has been left that to the nduthi guys. They get snubbed like flies. These nduthi ninjas are known to be notoriously reckless.

For one, they don’t go for professional training. A guy will just show up, ask a friend to let him ride up the Kuria wa Gichui hill. On his way downhill, the-now-expert will be carrying a passenger.

If one of them happens to cause an accident, the entire nduthi community will come out in multitudes carrying petrol and burn to the ground the vehicle that killed one of their notorious own.

My grandfather whom everybody referred to as ‘ndagitari’ owned one part of the shopping centre. He ran a clinic at the feet of his homestead and drank half the liquor in his pub christened Solidarity.

It is here that I would go to get him. His patients knew where to find him if not at home or at the agro-shop. They would ask: “Watoto wa daktari, wapi daktari?”

We would then stop playing and rush to The Solidarity to get him. There was always a reward for it. You either got a bottle of soda or mutura from the butchery-cum-pub.

He was ever there for them. More so the December season where he helped boys transition to men. Half, if not all the men in the neighbourhood became men by his hand.

I remember how the-boys-now-men would leave bouncing away, walking with a spring in their swagger, wearing a grin that spelt, I-am-now-a-man especially to us little girls playing in the compound separating the clinic from the homestead.

Today, nothing much has changed. A big number of men still idle at the recently built bodaboda shade from sunrise to sunset. They pounce on ‘new arrivals’ as they alight matatus demanding for handouts “Si unafanya Nairobi? Nunua chai” should you come driving, the demands hikes double.

Thats my shopping center for you.

About Wakini Kuria

Wakini Kuria is a writer, editor and journalist. A book enthusiast who likes to curl up with a good book and a hot cup of chai to beat the cold Limuru weather.One of her favourite quotes is Never let life beat you into submission.

NO CHRISTMAS IN DECEMBER

By Kimaru Kokota

Like the smell of a rotten egg patched on a cloth, the odour of events that transpired that day has permanently refused to leave your brain. You still get that feeling whenever December staggers to take its place and space on the calendar. You have since tried to forget it. But then, possibility is a word yet to be injected into the dictionary of your struggle. You are like that bitter lover who thinks of how terrible her ex was because he used to bite his nails but still find her hands twitching on his DM, aching to write him a text. You just can’t move on.

Whenever you think of it, you see the 12 year old you amongst an exuberant lot of children. Pregnant with expectations and the childhood ecstasy that comes with knowing that the saviour was born of a woman. Not only a woman, but a virgin. A Virgin! Your Sunday school teacher’s face always lit up whenever he mentioned the word virgin. It was a word that seemed to be packed with a unique respectable honour that was only used on Mary. Not Mercy, Sharon or even Brenda, just Mary. You liked the name so much that you promised yourself to use it, at least once, to cover for the creativity impotence in your compositions. It was on the same line of Mary and virgins that you pitched the idea to go for renditions a skit on kuzaliwa kwa mtoto Yesu.

The face that your Sunday school teacher put on was characteristic of the one he had whenever talking about Virgin Mary. It is how you knew it was a great idea. The other children were summoned and it is how you found yourself in a queue. They were all shining in their new Christmas clothes, faces shining with Vaseline and innocent smiles which were their natural make up. You were also elegant. Only that you had a decoration, a natural ornament, that hang from the mouth of your nose. The ornament was like two rivers that ran from the nose to the lips with obnoxious slowness. Nevertheless, you were trim and ready to play mtoto Yesu part.

Hands were raised whenever a character was mentioned. From the hands raised children were assigned roles to play. Some got roles without a whisper while with some, a heated debate ensued. The three wise men, the manger owner, Joseph, infamous eye witnesses and the donkeys were found. The only vacant slots remaining were for Virgin Mary and Mtoto Yesu. You were still hopeful since the slot for mtoto Yesu was vacant. The teacher’s face lit up in a way you all knew whatever he was going to say next was about a virgin. Only a hand was raised. It was Penina, the girl from over the ridge. It was a direct entry for her. No other girl in the grouping could compete against her. Like a jigsaw puzzle, her character and face perfectly fitted the role of Virgin Mary. All the boys in the village and the next knew that she had never ever played kalongolongo. She was a true virgin Mary, this Penina.

After it was all settled, you remember your hand shooting up even before the teacher opened his mouth. You were the cockroach amongst them but your confidence couldn’t be housed in the body of an elephant and a hippo combined. They all stared at you like you had just transformed yourself into a black cockerel as it happens in Afro Sinema. At first you thought that it was another case of direct entry.  You then looked around and saw the halo of surprise and disbelief they wore on their heads like a crown on a model.

I want to be mtoto Yesu .

Your utterances were received with guttural grunts of disapproval. You looked at them, the teacher included, with a look that imminently said, Yaani you guys don’t get it?

You can’t be baby Jesus! Millie said and then continued in her soft childish voice. ..Yesu hakuwa na makamasi kwa mapua.

Embarrassingly, you touched your nose as if to confirm whether all she said was true. It is then that you met the thick syrup that had been your face decoration for as long as you could remember. Another two rivers were added to your face, only that this time around they flowed from the eyes. You cried your small heart out. Partly because no one approved of you playing the role you so much dreamt of, but mostly because your Christmas was ruined. How could it ever be the same with the kind of embarrassment?

You have now probably grown older. You are not supposed to be troubled because, it happened while you were a kid. At the time, the only thing you were passionately kissing was the tips of Coca-Cola bottles. Smartphones and the slavery of social media had not tiptoed to your analogue world. Christmas meant new clothes, vibrant talks with aunties, playing hide and seek with nephews and nieces late into the night. It was Christmas in December and even lice on beds in ushago knew it.

Sadly, for you, it will never be Christmas in December. The memory of you wanting to be Mtoto Yesu with mucus is still fresh among your childhood peers. Whenever you visit ushago for Christmas, after saying how much you have grown and asking when you’ll get a wife, the question next on queue, is whether you still remember that incident. It irks you to say the least. You will have to accept it, or better, get used to it.

Until then, it is no Christmas in December.

About Kimaru Kokota

Kimaru Kokota describes himself as a kick ass writer,avid reader and photographer with no camera.He is also a Bathroom singer and a Dancer in bad dreams. Kimaru is the Writer in Chief at Kokota Tales where you can read more of his punchy tales.

TURKANA FINDS HER TREASURE

By James Ouma(Guest Writer 5)

A long time ago, when the British were about to leave, a banquet was thrown for girls from all over Kenya. Each of the girls was given a gift that they were told to unwrap as time went by. Some were given instant rain, fertile lands, minerals, beautiful gaps in the teeth, swinging hips that made men want sell their plots, ideas to make money and others gifts.

But not with Turkana. Turkana was given a handful of sand and a small envelope that she told to open after fifty long years. She waited and waited as others celebrated their good fortune. Many mocked her, laughing at her saying, “You will never amount to no good. Why don’t you just give up and stop dreaming!” They even sung a song about her saying there was nothing to smile about her gift in an envelope.

But Turkana never gave up. She kept on counting the years. Nobody wanted to have anything to do with her. And just before Kenya celebrated 50 years, Turkana took out her envelope, blew away the dust and with trembling hands, she quickly opened the envelope and found a tiny cracked mirror inside.

“So it is true what they say,” she said tearfully. “I have been waiting for fifty years for a tiny cracked mirror? This is nothing to smile about!” she sobbed, her bosom going up and down like the tidal waves in Lake Turkana.

After crying for a long while she looked at the mirror. It was so tiny that she couldn’t see her whole face but just a part of it. But alas, she liked what she saw. One by one, Turkana started seeing things she had never imagined she possessed. Her lips turned to the left as she smiled while her eyebrows danced up and down in celebration. Slowly but surely, Turkana started smiling more often. She became thankful for what God had given her. She started appreciating the expansive and endless sand she possessed. She began appreciating the thorns springing like acne on her face. She began loving her lithe dark unschooled sons.

With time every kind of blessing started springing up all over the place. They discovered oil. They discovered water. They discovered a treasure that was way beyond measure.

And suddenly everyone wanted to be seen with her.

About James Ouma

James Ouma is a Born-Again Christian who loves writing about family and parenting on http://www.jamesoumawrites.com/.

He likes mentoring boys and exceptional young men in juvenile correctional facilities through Lifesong Kenya.To support his charity work with boys,James runs and cycles to raise funds .

James is also a creative writer whose passion and purpose in life is to use creativity, skills and experience in TV Production and writing to bring a song in other people’s lives.

“Life is a song! Sing it, dance it, live it!”

-James Ouma

DON’T TALK ABOUT COWS AND GOATS THIS CHRISTMAS

By Njeeri Thuo(Guest Writer 4)

It was approximately twelve weeks before the end of year and I was in deep thought of the 2018 roller-coasters. Let me speak on my behalf;it has been a very difficult year financially, emotionally and career wise. I thought I could go to the village and relax at least for a week, but after a lengthy call from my aunt a week ago, this might not be an ideal plan. Her talk of cows and goats are driving me nuts. All the same, I am grateful for everyone who took time to check on me or sent the ‘blessing and encouragement’ forwards. My spirit has been fed and nourished, again I say thank you.

On this special day, in the deep mood of thanks giving, I decided to call my aunt. She has consistently and persistently being there for me; definitely I am her major prayer item. From our many conversations, she wouldn’t mind to come for sleepover at my place for a ‘Weekend Challenge encounter’, but I am  brighter than she thinks. What a constant lie to self?Please let it be known-aunties are genius beings who use a lot of metaphors. We all know that one woman in the village who doubles up as a retired teacher, a Sunday school teacher, Mothers’ Union chairperson and also the village Guidance and Counseling Chairperson. She is also the wife of a church elder who doubles up as the cattle dip chairman.She is a member of the board of the nearest primary and secondary school. Not forgetting that she is either a cake matron or the mother or an aunt of all the brides or bridegrooms… and always a ‘close friend’ if not a long term colleague of the deceased in the village. That’s my aunt.

She received my call on the first ring. This was so unlike her. Before you reach her on her mobile, you have to call her several times or call her neighbor and request her to tell her to keep her phone somewhere she will hear it ring or else you call at 8.00pm after she is done with watching her favorite Kenyan comedies. These aunties are also complicated which they call discipline. Before she even responded to my greetings she happily said:

What a coincidence? I was about to call you. I am just some few meters from where you told me you stay. I will be there in just a couple of minutes, kindly thagana (come for me)Then she disconnected the call, which I knew was intentional.

 Aunties are smart. They know how to push you to the wall to get what they want. I tried calling her again but she didn’t receive my call. I hurriedly got a leso which my grandma gifted me many years ago when I was migrating into the city and a baggy hood.Knowing my aunt very well, decency is a delicacy and a leso will hide the denim skirt I was wearing and save me from her criticism. I then ran to meet her. As I arrived at the stage, she was alighting from a mini-bus. The conductor who was my primary school classmate was helping her with her with her heavy luggage. Then the bus left-leaving me to deal with my aunt’s ‘mischievous mission’.

I carried one of the heaviest kiondos and her handbag (trust me, I know her and I played with her mind too) as she carried a lighter kiondo.We walked slowly towards my place as she up-dated me on the happenings of the village. Apparently, all her stories this time are all revolving one life cycle ritual: the weddings and the ‘ruracios’ she will be attending this December. I heard to end that.

 ‘What happened to the man who passed on?’

 I tactfully interrupted the conversation, of course confusing her with several common names since I didn’t know of any specific man to ask about. But somehow I managed to change her line of stories.

By the time I am opening the gate, she is now talking of the sick and the plans they have for elderly during Christmas season. She takes her bag and removes a card for a funds drive for wazee and she also reminds me of the church drive in aid of purchasing musical instruments.

My aunt was so mesmerized by a portable vegetable garden in the compound. ‘I see the rural – urban migration hasn’t taken the village teachings away from you’, I shyly agreed. No way would I disclose the garden is my neighbor’s least she would use it in her mission. ‘Unlike you, your neighbor has a vegetable garden; the city life undid my teachings. That is why you are still single’-she would have castigated me. After this she walked into the house and in an African way started looking on the photos on the wall,the animal carvings, the seats, and then book shelf where she took her sweet time on the books and magazines. My sixth sense clearly sensed the genesis of her mission when she lingered at the shelf.

A Prayerful Wife’,she read out loud. ‘Marriage Takes Work,’she continued. Before she took the next book I excused myself and went into the kitchen. Being a retired trained teacher, she is a ‘psychologist’ too and she had to apply the principle of ‘Beneficenceand Nonmaleficence’ and allow me to make her tea in peace which I served her with some arrow roots (definitely this would save me too). By now she was seated and seemingly reading ‘The 5 Language’ of Love. Huh! The worst game one can engage in is playing hide and seek with a devout spirit of an aunt. At the end she always wins. Anyway, after having a very quick silent monologue, it was time to have a dialogue with her:

 ‘Aunty, I am believing in God to get a life partner. The books are of so much help’, hoping she would get spiritual and we end up holding hands in prayers. She had already told me she won’t take long because she needed to go and shop for a dress for our neighbor’s daughter ‘ruracio’.Poor me-she started her lamenting how she thought someone will bring cows and goats.

 ‘If the man can’t afford that for now, some lesos for women and something small for your fathers is also ok,’

She started sounding desperate which irritated me but my manners kept me mute. The lecturing was lengthy but at the end we concluded this topic wouldn’t be revisited over Christmas. I promised her that cows and goats business will be closed next year. Hopefully I can now plan a tranquil Christmas at shags.

Dear parents, aunties and uncles, allow your children to enjoy Christmas in peace; it comes once in a year and the city life is very hostile. Postpone the cows and goats discussions, they should not interfere with the celebration of the birth of Christ. We can resume the discussion in February after we recover from Jaa-nuary ailments.

About the author

Njeeri Thuo spells her first name with a double ‘because she can.She is a Nairobi based accountant who loves writing, traveling and reading. Apart from writing Njeeri has  interests in public development and governance.She is a firm believer in the truism that even the short people can see the sky.