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.

GUEST POST 3 :‘HUSBAND’ FOR HIRE, UP NORTH


By Wangari Wachiuri

I have heard stories of students paying boda boda guys, mama soko and makangas to act as their parents after being suspended from school. But it never crossed my mind that one day I would pay someone to act as someone else to save me.

 Mine is a different story. It was back in 2010 whenI relocated to Garissa-yes, the one in North Eastern Kenya. Accommodation was provided but after the training I decided to get my own house.

My first house hunting was not bad-I easily got a house at a place called Windsor. It was an easy process since the house was owned by a “nywele ngumu’’- a name people from Northern Kenya use to refer to non-locals. One day I went for a holiday and when I got back at around 7pm I was shocked to find my house had anew occupant and most of my household items missing-but that’s story for another day.

After the Windsor experience I started house hunting which ended up at a place called Bura Sheikh which is one of the estates in Garissa town.

 ‘Masichana kidogo,bwana yako iko wapi’? The landlord-a tall man with a bakora whose beard was dyed the colour of Royco asked me.

Hakuna bwana’. I answered him.

 ‘Kama hakuna bwana hakuna nyumba’ He said and went off to the mosque for his magharib prayers swinging his bakora up and down.

 That’s when I discovered I couldn’t get a house because I was a young single lady. I was told that Somali culture doesn’t allow a young lady to live alone let alone rent a house for herself. This was a major obstacle for working single ladies.

 What do I do now? Then the idea of ‘rent a hubby’ crossed my mind. I decided to get one of my friends to play “husband”. But there was a challenge-my friends were too young to convince a landlord with dyed beard and kanzu that he was my husband. When I was about to give up a guy came to say hello to one of our mutual friend’s at the shop we were in. He listened to my story and came up with the idea that I pay him and he could act my husband. I told him since he was a Garissa resident and a stranger, he would act as my brother in law. We agreed on the price and off we went to Bura Sheikh where I had spotted a house.

 We met the landlady and after introductions we told her why we were there. It never crossed my mind that she would ask why I was accompanied by my brother in law and not my husband but she did. I looked at my“brother in law” and saw he had nothing to say. I told her that “my husband”was a cop who had been transferred so I had to move out of the police camp. That lie earned me the house. I escorted my “brother in law” and paid him. I cleaned the house and moved in same day with the few items that I had salvaged from my previous house-my documents, work tools and my clothes. The first night I slept on a curtain on the warm floor with mosquitoes feasting on me.But all in all I slept soundly now that I had a house.

Questions arose when two months passed and “my husband” had not been seen since I moved in. I was beginning to worry but luck was on my side when the land lady left for Dadaab to oversee her projects. She stayed for two weeks and when she came back I gladly told her I had been looking for her to meet “my imaginary husband”. She felt bad for not meeting him but that stopped her from prying into my life. I lied to get the house and to keep the house for the sake of my job.

The other day a friend from Garissa called to ask how my husband is.  I answered her- ‘I imagine he is doing well’.

About Wangari

Wangari shares family names with one of the heroic men who liberated this country-Kimathi Wachiuri.Thus you could say she writes with  bravery.Wangari writes fictional and real life stories and also poetry.When she is not writing,she likes going for game drives and nature walks.She is based in Nyeri Kenya-with lots of travels.

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?

GUEST POST 2:DRUNK DAYS

By Kantai Kotikot

“Listen here friend, not all days are sober.”

I have always wanted to start one of my stories with that line. The thought is funny, the thought of sober days and drunk days. The thought that some days are those days that you play sane music like T.I`s “ Dead and gone,” or Imagine Dragons ” Whatever it takes,” and then others play in your mind like Mejja`s ” Shigribadi deng deng deng deng.”

Listen here friend, not all days are sober.

There is a quality to drunk days, the same quality that Maina wa Kinyozi calls ukweli ya ulevi. Drunk days dont happen on Friday evenings, when you have bought your kaquarter Chrome and are relaxing at the bar with akina King( whose real name is Kingori) or the band of boys who keep the bar as their second loves, right after the bottle. No, it is not so. It doesnt happen on Mondays either, when you turn up to the office in a  nice suit after a harrowing world war with Thika Road jam, no. Monday is officially a hangover day on all our calendars, pale. It can’t be drunk. The day cant be drunk when you are trying to be sober.

 

Let me tell you. No? You are not drank yet? The worst drank day is Sunday. Yes. Sunday? The day of the church. The day when your wife dresses in African print and walks to church, most of the time leaving you alone in the house. The church is more often a woman`s house, and that is the gospel according to your Saturdays.. You want to argue? Sit down. I am the one pigaing the story here.

 

I have a history with Sundays. They are the days when everyone is drunk from yesterday. They are the days you wake up with a strange person in your bed, or you wake up in a strange bed in a strange room with a strange person, and you can’t remember how you got into that bed. Or cant recall how you got into that person-pun intended. Goes without saying that most of the times you are naked, your member is balancing limply on its own, on your thighs. You were drunk, the drink showed you the way, and your lower head obliged. Sundays are a drunk day.

Listen here friend, not all days of the week are sober.

Sundays are like matatus. It is the unruly day of the week. It rushes, and it stops. It speeds to Monday. The sun rises up and sets before you have had your prayer. Sunday is in a hurry. It is so drunk that it can’t stand its sight long enough.

Oh, you can have a drink another drink on me. Listen.

See, Sunday is also the day to lose everything. The day good people die. It is the day we shout hallelujah in church, the pastor collects tithe, the gospel is preached, and it is the day good people decide to meet the lord.

See, on this day, the, lords might be drunk too. Si we said that the sound of worship, inebriates them? Didn’t we? Yes, the voices of beautiful ladies in African wear singing the strange ” Nara ekelemoo” does confuse them a bit. Don’t you agree? And that is just when good human beings leave us for higher beings. Perhaps they choose their times right, because then the angels at the gate won’t be too sharp-eyed to see them sneak into heaven.

But it’s not just that. It’s also the day we lose people, to being drunk. Good people. People like Michael. You knew Michael? You didn’t? Oh no.

 

See, there are days when he would get drunk, drunk just a little to stagger his way home, with a bottle on his hands. Yes, the usual drunk that makes you call a police officer an idiot, or slap the person who opens the door for you. That’s a usual kind of drunk, you and I know that drunk. The law calls it drunk and disorderly.Its always around us. It’s the drunk that makes you loose your phone and you won’t remember ever losing. It’s the happy drunk. It’s like Saturday. It’s just drunk. Nothing much, just drunk.

But Sundays were not those days. No, Sundays were sacred. On Sundays he would get as drunk as he could be. He would drink everything that he could. He would mix them, in the hope that the cocktail in his stomach would kill him. Sundays were sacred.  But on this Sunday, he didn’t get drunk. He didn’t drink the usual gallons of keg at the pub. No. He swam in it, and he drowned, way before he could get home.

And that’s exactly what happened. He drank what he could drink. He drank the dry ones, and the wet ones. When the waiters tried to stop him, he shifted bars. You and I know that no one shifts bars in the day. That’s an activity reserved for the night. But he was wanted to drink, and drink he did. Until his feet couldn’t touch the ground again and the gates of heaven beckoned his soul. That’s the kind of drunk he wanted, the Sunday drunk.

When he had had his fill, as all us walevis do every once a while, he left. He lifted one foot and none would go. They stayed there, on the ground, jesting him. But he was a man of will. The legs could not treat him as Sundays treat him. He summoned up the demons in him, and he forced the legs to move. And just when he walked out, the doors opened as if they were the gates of heaven, and a speeding car took him to heaven.

He had drunk with Sunday. His Sunday had got him drank. Even after he went to heaven, the day staggered on. The other drunks drank on. You and I came and sat in this bar, on these two tall stools.

Listen pal, not all days are sober days. On some, don’t dare drink. They are drank.

 

About Kantai

Very few people get the unique chance to have a name with some musicality to it-and Kantai Kotikot is such a man.And just like his unique name,he has a unique talent-the ability to see mundane everyday events with fresh eyes.This is aptly demonstrated in this story that  infuses dry bar room humour-like Hemingways-and a commentary on the brevity of life.

Kantai describes himself as a  hard on Maasai man.After going through his blog,I realized that he has a  hard on for writing.The blog drips with fresh talent-and  a fresh turn of phrase.You can follow his interesting blog at  www.kantaidrips.com.

 

A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUE

I am a sucker for stories. Stories are powerful because they create something out of nothing: courage out of fear, knowledge out of ignorance, and hope out of despair. The greatest teachers in history from Aesop to Socrates to the Nazarene taught through stories.In fact, Jesus himself was not a theologian, but a God who told stories.

Stories can be used to relive experiences. Stories can be used to heal. But most importantly, stories can empower people. Stories make us human .Listening to someone’s else’s stories-entering their feelings, validating their experiences-is the highest way of acknowledging their humanity, the sweetest form of usefulness.

In October I made a request for my friends to contribute stories to my blog Drum Major. I didn’t know the kind of fun I was bringing myself to-my inbox got a deluge of wonderful stories. Stories about hope and love and life. Stories that are a different kind of true.

From today on we will be running those stories from guest writers  here at Drum Major. Don’t miss out on them.Dont miss out on a chance to validate humanities experiences.

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.

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.

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.