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!

 

 

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.

CARLOS (PART 2)

After the Safari Rally was over, we managed to feed Carlos on a buffet of wasps enough to sting a whole village to death. Red wasps, black wasps, big wasps, small wasps-he was spoilt for choice. We waited for him to get braver than ten lions, but instead he got very sick and in a short time acquired the pale hue of death. Eutychus, the wise fellow who had advised us to feed Carlos on a meal of wasps to make him brave told us that we had overdosed the poor thing with wasps. But we suspected he had bewitched our lovely dog with his evil eye.

Days rolled into weeks, Carlos didn’t get better. Each day he had a new ache, much stronger than the previous one. We knew this because we felt the pain too. He was always in brute grief, so pained that even the fleas that infested his skin deserted him like rats running away from a sinking ship. Like a father watching his son bleed in the battlefield, we watched Carlos handle his grief like gentleman. You see, to call Carlos a dog hardly served him justice. He may have had four legs and a tail, but to us who knew him well, Carlos was gentleman. More refined than some men we knew, but we didn’t dare say that aloud.

By and by, his bodily features betrayed how life had wronged him. Mortality weighed heavily on him, like unwilling sleep. We touched his coat, wishing that some of his pain could be transferred to us, and thus be shared. It didn’t happen. But Carlos bore his pains stoically, raging against the dying of the light, without  yelping like some mangy mongrels who lacked pedigree.

One day, with the single-mindedness of boys with a dog life to save, we approached Chege our cousin to come and pray for our dog. Chege was older than us and never missed Sunday school. Thus he was fluent in the saying ‘The Grace’, and such prayers. When he heard our idea, he laughed so loud that we thought we could see the githeri he had taken for his lunch in his stomach. Then he dismissed us.

With that, it became clear that Carlos death was imminent. He sat on the evening veranda of his life-reminiscing about famous hunts we have had back in the day. He ruminated on many a juicy avocado we had stolen together, and the swims we had in the River Mathioya.

Then one day, around that time when the Berlin came down, Carlos soul went up. God’s fingers touched him, and he slept eternally. He became one with the wind and joined other dog souls. While the whole world was celebrated the fall of the Cold War, we mourned the death of Carlos.

However, my mango shaped head refused to accept that Carlos had died. Maybe he had taken one of his long naps. Or he was in some dog coma from which he would come from if we stole some bones from Kuria the mean butcher and ran them over his nose. To protect his lifeless body so that we could bring it to life later, we hid him by the old muiri tree which was said to have powers to turn a boy into a girl if one run round it seven times.  But why would a boy want to turn into a girl while boyhood was so much fun? Anyway, if that tree could do that, it could revive Carlos form his coma since to us, he want fully dead. Denial.

The day at school was longer than a week in a hospital bed. We couldn’t wait for the school bell to ring our way to freedom and rush out to go check out on Carlos. When we finally arrived home, we found ants crawling on his matted skin. We ran the bones we had picked form Kuria’s dustbin over his nose, but Carlos didn’t as much raise a paw. My cousin Tony took a long stick and started beating the ant trail all the way to the hole they came from.Myself,I took to stoning the birds that chirruped above in the tree, oblivious of our sadness which hang on the whole place like a sad shawl. Anger.

Deep inside, I wondered why God has taken away Carlos and not the other less colorful dogs in the village. Why couldn’t he take all those useless village cats-all meows and airs-and leave our dog alone? We could even add Him ngunu-the old angry cow that was always itching to gore our bottoms. God, please take even the only donkey in the village and leave our dog alone. Bargaining.

For the next week, grief and despair descended on us fighting for a piece of our hearts like two jealous Naija wives. We wore a cloak of grief that was too heavy for our boyish heads. We no longer stole avocados-stealing them with Carlos not around meant nothing to us. We stopped going for the Sunday football jamboree by the river. Who could enjoy a football match when Carlos was dead? Or better, who could enjoy life in the absence of Carlos? The whole village was teeming with men and dogs, but the loss of one dog made it look empty and bereft of life. Despair.

Soon, we started reliving the times we had with Carlos. We talked about that day when he saved us from Wamatangari the village madman when Carlos appeared from nowhere when he was chasing us cracking a nyahunyo behind our backs. We reminisced on how one day Carlos led us home after we followed the Safari Rally Cars six villages away till it got dark and we got lost in some coffee bushes. We recalled how Carlos had nurtured many a dog to life by licking their lives wounds. In short we decided to celebrate Carlos life. We let Carlos dog soul rest, not because we loved him less, but because we cherished the moments we had with him more. After all, Carlos had blessed us with a thousand tail flicks, which were more honest than the handshakes we had gathered in our lifetime. Though the world was full of suffering, it was also full of overcoming that suffering. The world had just overcome the 40 year long Cold War, so we could also overcome the death of Carlos. Acceptance.

Its only when we came to this stage when we buried him under the ancient avocado tree down by the gurgling river. We called our cousin Chege to officiate as the padre since he was holier than us as he didn’t steal mangoes and avocados like us. Granted, he used to touch our sisters breasts but he didn’t steal them unlike us who ran away with every mango that our fingers touched. The burial was a solemn affair where Chege intoned in some Latin words he borrowed from the local padre. Where he lacked words, he filled the spaces with Kikuyu words or mumbled along.

After the burial, I waited to see Carlos’ soul ascending to heaven. It didn’t see it happen so I imagined him there. I saw him seated on the right side of the Light in some dog heaven where there were no strays or mongrels or mangy dogs with fleas since every dog was a thoroughbred with heavenly pedigree. In the dog’s heaven, it rained steak every morning and sausages every afternoon and avocados at dusk and the heavenly choir howled some dog ballads all night long. It’s only when we imagined that Carlos was in heaven that our minds found peace and started looking for another dog. By and by, we adopted another stray dog who remained nameless. However, he never replaced Carlos, but only expanded our hearts.

In our little minds we knew that this life isn’t fair to dogs-and maybe this also happens in the next world. Thus Carlos might have been locked out of heaven since he wasn’t washed by the blood of the Lamb. My cousin and I swore that if Carlos wasn’t in heaven, then when we die, we want to go where Carlos went. But if heaven really goes by merit and not favour, then Carlos is there, howling eternally while jumping up and down the golden stairs by the crystal shore.

Losing Carlos was painful for us ten year olds because we never pretended to love him-we loved him more than we loved ourselves. Thirty years down the line, I hardly recall the fall of Berlin Wall in October 1989 since that’s the time Carlos died. But I vividly recall Carlos since he left paw prints in or hearts no age can erase. This is because a loved one is not truly forgotten until he or she is no longer remembered. Carlos lives in our hearts, and like all things ever enjoyed can never be lost, but is a part of us.

When Carlos came into our lives, he taught us about love. When he left, he taught us about loss. No Professor, however well read, will ever teach you that.

 

 

PS

So,did Carlos go to heaven? Did his soul find itself at the Pearly Gates,with ol’ Peter calling out his name as the saints go marching in? Find out  about that in Carlos Part 3 .

Thank you for getting time to visit the blog

M.G.