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.

CARLOS (PART 1)

Easter  Saturday,1988.It was a muddy day, wet than a widow’s handkerchief. The mango season was over so there were no succulent mangoes tempting us to steal them. Our mango shaped ten year old heads had to come up with mischief to keep us busy all Easter weekend. Thus my cousin and I decided to go and hunt for wasps for Carlos our dog. Now Carlos was like our  second self-a pillar of canine benevolence.His spaniel eyes made everybody feel like buying him a year’s supply of steak for his palate and shampoo for his matted hair.We lived for Carlos who loved us more than he loved himself.

The idea of wasps had been hatched a few days earlier in school. Back then, boys were endowed with  certain inalienable rights: among these were right to life, liberty and right to own dogs. You could also add right to all the succulent mangoes that hang in the village mango trees like earrings on a beautiful ladies face. Thus to fully exercise this right ,my cousins and I had motley of dogs between us. They were perpetually hungry creatures-some stray, some tame some wild- that always followed us like shadows. When we ate, they ate. When we swam in the treacherous Mathioya River, they swam. Sadly, when our scrawny backsides got whipped for stealing mangoes or whichever fruit had tempted us, they too took a beating.

There were dogs,and then there was Carlos.He was the compulsively friendly mongrel we had named after the famous terrorist-Carlos the Jackal. Of course we got the name from Mr.Munderu our history teacher after Socrates,our previous favourite dog died. We told other boys that Carlos’ mother was a leopard and his father a mountain lion and that he had jaguar aunties and puma uncles. But Carlos was no more than bag of bones with fleas enough to infest a small village to pandemic levels. His tail was permanently between his thin legs. He was not living to his famous billing. We had to do something to redeem his image.

To us, Carlos was more than a dog. In our journey in the village lanes towards becoming men, Carlos was our benefactor; our dumb constant north. He had this existenstial angst in his eyes which other people took for a lonely stare but us boys knew better.His primordial instinct helped us to know where the juiciest avocadoes were ripening. When we wanted to cross the often moody Mathioya River and get sugarcanes beckoning to be eaten by us the other side, Carlos guided us on the safest place to do so.Many a day, when we became too wayward and our mothers denied us food, we shared our last stolen avocado with Carlos, knowing too well that he will never repay us with similar avocado, but with unfaltering loyalty. He gave us our first lessons in loyalty, in swimming and many other vitals skills of boyhood. Carlos lived for us; one woof at a time. His bark was his honour. But his meekness troubled us a lot and we had to get a solution fast.

Thus we approached Eutychus- the boy who had repeated Class Four  three times and sported a nice beard. At some point we had applied paraffin to our chins so that we could sprout a beard and be like him, but it didn’t work. That was our first lesson in scams.Eutychus was the brightest of them all; he always had a solution for all our boyish problems tucked in some corner of his guava shaped head. He loved us because we were very obedient-we diligently delivered the perfumed letters he used to write to our elder sisters. We didn’t deliver them because we loved our mean big sisters that much, but because we respected Eutychus more.

At the price of two stolen sugarcane sticks, Eutychus advised us to feed the meek canine on a meal of wasps three times a week. Henceforth, Carlos would scare even the devil himself. I tell you this boy was genius.

Every dog has its day-that’s how Easter Saturday found us hunting for wasps for Carlos’ problems. We took the bushy footpath towards Boyo, the gurgly river that washed our villages’ sins downstream. The guava trees around the river had plenty of wasp nests. Several wasp stings later, we decided that the best time to catch them was at night and abandoned the mission altogether. This meant that we would be idle until nightfall when we would embark on the wasp job.

Girls will always be girls, always trying to enhance one or other aspect of beauty. In the village then, grapevine had it that if you took a specific water beetle that used to thrive in the rivers and made it bite your  titties, they would bloom big enough to cause an eclipse. This knowledge had been passed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter, long before the Americans came up with silicone implants for the same purpose. Thus we decided to look for water beetles and sell them to the progressive village belles later, each at the price of one chapati. Our heads were always teeming with brilliant ideas those days.

When we had collected enough water beetles to turn our village into big boob’s fetishist   heaven, hell broke loose. A loud helicopter loomed on the horizon, its steel blades cutting the rarified village air into pieces.

A Lancia Delta Intergrale, loud enough to wake the devil from his afternoon siesta, came charging at us from the road that led to the next ridge. In one brief moment, my brief life which was largely consisted of episodes of mango stealing flashed before me. I tried to say the Lord’s Prayer, which I only knew the Kikuyu version, but gave up the idea altogether when I reckoned that Jesus was a handsome white man who didn’t understand Kikuyu.

After the rally car passed us, we followed it down the muddy path watching it skid with glee. Carlos followed the car too, salivating at the Farmers Choice sausages emblemed on the car’s sides. Carlos had never tasted a single sausage all his life, but all in all he knew sausages existed. Just like we human beings have never been to heaven, but we know it’s up there. Dogs got canine faith too.

For us boys, we were following the rally cars for a different reason; the big spare tyre at the cars back could make a nice wheel for our carts. We had to pinch it.If we could steal old lady Jerusha’s mangoes without her detecting us, we could steal the big spare wheel behind Kirkland’s Car No.9 without him noticing.

The Safari Rally -the greatest duel between man, machine and time- was underway. The wasps and water beetles could wait!

(Continued in Carlos Part 2-https://www.drummajor.co.ke/carlos-part-2/)

 

 

MY FATHER IS A FATHER

Holidays divides us. Christmas divides us into two groups-those who got lots to spend and those with hungry nights to spend. Father’s Day, which is increasingly becoming popular and commoditized just like Christmas, divides us into two too. Those who have doting fathers and those with yawning gaps where their father’s memories should be. There is no one who is lonelier than a fatherless kid during Father’s Day.

Father’s Day also divides us into those who were brought up in the poster perfect father-mother-child (ren) kind of family. The Mr. and Mrs. Kamau of ‘Hallo Children’ trilogy kind of family. On the other divide, we have those that were brought up in families where the mother was the father and the children took up the mothers surname in school. Kids who when they asked where dad went to, were told that he was run over by an old charcoal lorry that lost its brakes. Kids who were told that their dads went to fight in a foreign war and never came back or packed their briefs and left.

The Gikuyu nation, which prides itself in being somehow a matriarchal society, has its unfair share of children whose dads left and never come back. This has never bothered anybody though since in Gikuyu land, children belong to women. When a daughter of Mumbi marries say a Kamba and divorces, the first question her mom asks her when she comes home is ‘So, you have you left our children to be killed by those wicked people, huh?’ What happens next is that platoon of ruthless brothers, uncles, volunteers and clan layabouts are dispatched to rescue the said children and bring them back to the clan.

This explains why we have so many Gikuyu men using their mother’s names as surnames. Gikuyu men, from politicians to musicians to the village bumpkins, even those that have dads, take great pride in flossing their mothers’ names. Thus we have DK wa Maria(musician) Kamaru wa Wanjiru(musician) Mwangi wa Njambi(poet, or so he thinks) etc etc.

Story has it that in the beginning, from the times of Agu and Agu the pioneers of the Agikuyu, the Gikuyu households were ruled by Mumbi the matriach. All the nine daughters with their husbands (it’s said they were all Kamba, but that’s another long story) and Gikuyu lived under Mumbi’s compound. They served her and suffered under her petticoat tyranny. I hope no feminist comes breathing fire coz of that misogynistic term but hey, it sounds sweet!

Anyhow, in the year 1498 AD, around that time when Vasco da Gama came calling at Malindi, all Gikuyu men decided enough was enough. A strike meeting was called under the ancient mugumo tree in Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga in Muranga’, the cradle of the Agikuyu.The strike leaders were a cantankerous duo called Ndemi and Mathathi.Fellows who could sing ‘solidarity fovever’ better than Sossion.

Nitunogetio ni watho wa atumia,niguo?(We are tired of the tyranny of our women,are we?) Said Ndemi.

Ii niguo!(Yes we are!) The one million men shouted back.  The thunder of their voice could be heard all the way to the land of Ukabi(Maasai),Kikuyus perennial enemies.

Nimukwenda wathani wao uthire?(Do you want to end their tyrannical rule?) Asked Mathathi.

Ii nitukwenda!(Yes we want!) The million Gikuyu men roared back.

After day long deliberations that involved consumption of rivers of muratina, it was agreed that all men will put their women in the family way.

‘O mundu wothe athie arute wira wake utuku wa umuthi’, Reiterated Ndemi as the men dispersed.

It’s expected that every man is going to do his honorable duty tonight.Those words by Ndemi echo those of Lord Nelson-the chap who defeated Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815. All great men speak the same language during revolutionary times.

This came to be known as Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga Declaration of 1498 the year of the porcupine. Since men from that era were serious mohines who shot without missing or wasting arrows, all men got down to their honorable (and pleasurable) duty that night. Even those who had 9 wives like Mwangi wa Gakame my grandfather 22 generations behind me did his duty according to lore passed down by word of mouth.

In nine months’ time, all women in Gikuyuland were heavily pregnant. They could neither defend themselves nor fight back. Then, men staged a bloodless coup and established themselves as the heads of households. They also established their thingiras as centres as power and since then, men have always held sway in Gikuyuland.When you hear a Gikuyu man drunkenly singing ‘1498 was a good year’,you now know why.

Women are like water, they have a very strong collective memory. Water is always rushing to the sea where it came from. Gikuyu women are always trying to reinstate the status quo-600 years down the line. Any Gikuyu household is a battlefield with mama watoto trying to usurp mzees chair and restore the pre-1498 status. When they succeed, they take us fatherhood roles relatively well, since they once headed households and were dads.

Sometime back I had a chat with a friend whom I have known for so many years whose mum is one of those who double up as a dad. He was brought up without his dad. Like all such Gikuyu men, he wears his mom’s name like a badge of honor.Chege wa Mwihaki. His logbooks read such. His title deeds too.

“I don’t even remember that Mwihaki is my mom’s name.’’ Chege tells me.

He says with that confidence of a son of a woman. Sons of women tend to be overconfident, almost self-conceited. See, you can’t be brought up by a woman who doubles up as your mom and dad and sometimes granddad and be a wimp. It’s against tribal rules.

As we chat along, he remembers his dad as a man who used to visit home often with Jack and Jill toys for him and bring along The Seed and Beyond Magazine all which were published by the Catholic Church.

He bought me my first pair of Tokyo trousers, Chege intones, all carried away. Tokyo trousers were big back then-only kids with serious dads could afford such.

He had this beautiful moustache, he adds. Men distill great events into a single sentence. If a man describes his dad in such a way, he had a good relationship with him. He is exempt from daddy issues.

You see, my father is Father. A padre if you like.

Silence.

I take time to absorb that, mindful of my body language lest it betrays me that am shocked or judgmental about it all. This is a moment that can make or break our friendship which started in high school where we first met, bloomed in campus where we shared a room and matured in life when we came of age. I was taking liberal sciences and he was taking Botany and Zoology but we always had a meeting point.

Anyway, a father is a father, I muse.

So, are you going to buy him a bottle of wine or something this Father’s Day? I ask him.

You don’t give my father wine, he gives out wine. To thousands, every Sunday. He ends with a chuckle. I chuckle too-the ice has been broken.

So I imagine Chege’s dad celebrating Holy Eucharist on Father’s day in some remote parish in Marsabit. He dons a well-trimmed moustache just like Chege’s, though his is speckled with silver. Or a well-tended goatee. You know how old men grow beard to proclaim manhood that is already fled? He lifts the silver orb before the congregation and intones in English with a Latin twang:

Deliver us, Oh Lord, from all evils past, present and to come: and by the intercession of Virgin Mary…

He purifies the paten and breaks bread.

Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on me.

Amen. The Congregation answers back

I am not much a Catholic so my imaginary mass ends there. So back to Chege.

So, when he is in good mood, does he give you wine?  I ask.

Sure he does.

Church wine?

No.Grape wine. We laugh again.Chege always had this pithy one-liners since our college days.

By and by, like all Gikuyu men, we drift off to matters plots and development and all that. Any conversation between Gikuyu men is incomplete without exchanging notes on how each is faring ‘developmentwise’.Maybe it’s coded in all the waru and cabbages we eat-someone needs to research on that.

Did you finish that house at Kamulu? Last time you told me you were plastering. I pose.

Oh, that one? I kinda got stuck. But my dad came in and threw in some 200k which helped me with the roofing. He says.

I like the way he has used the word ‘dad’. Not father, with all the social ambiguities it may carry. Just dad. He is now like a small boy looking up to that brooding figure who fixes his bicycle’s chains when it comes of and brings him chipo mwitu and throws him in the air when they play.  Father is no longer an abstraction, but real man.All men got a small man in them that calls out for daddy, a father figure. So much for my rudimentary psychoanalysis.

Hey, you don’t feel guilty roofing your house with church money, our money?

Chege takes a long thought, a smile playing on his lips. Am sure a bombshell is coming.

With your Murang’a men stinginess, when is the last time you did tithe?

We talk a long laugh, like two hyenas cackling away in the Maasai Maara.Chege’s phones flashes.

Mum, kata simu nikupigie. He says in the softest voice. Mum, kindly disconnect I will call you now. He then excuses himself and comes back 30 minutes later.

Though Kikuyu men are mummy’s boy through and through, fatherhood has its place. We  get our hardworking genes from our moms. There is special helix in their DNA for handwork. However, the stinginess comes from our dads. They have double helix in their genes that codes for being stingy.

So will you tell your kid that their grandpa went off to fight in Gulf War and never came back?

I ask, abit hesitant.

They already know him. My father is a proud granddad.

You see fatherhood is getting redefined daily. For Chege’s dad, fatherhood cannot be measured by the kids romping in his compound, since socially, that’s not allowed. But that doesn’t make him less of a father.

For the younger generation, fatherhood isn’t about the CCs one packs in his blue Subaru. Or the number of slay queens who have watched your bedsitter’s ceiling all night. Fatherhood cannot be measured with a tape around  a mans biceps.

Fatherhood can be measured by the quality of a smile of a woman in a man’s life. Fatherhood can be measured by the way his children remember him. Ultimately, by what he defined manhood to them.

Fatherhood is a verb.

KARIS

For men, time can be me measured in days, weeks and a beard. When a man’s beard reaches a certain length, one can tell a week has passed and thus head to the barbers. Thus this Saturday morning found me going to my barbers, a gay mugithi tune playing on my thick lips. Karis my barber is the smooth talking young chap who thinks that all the world’s problems can be solved through a haircut. All problems from ED to midlife crisis to global warming.

 

Vipi buda,kunitupa nayo! He hails me.

I am fine, and you? I retort.

Poa mtu wangu.  Karis answers back.

 

However many times you talk to Karis in English, he will always answer in sheng. That bastard of a language whose growth is phenomenal. There was a time he used to speak a certain brand of ghetto sheng that was thicker than the sewage from some estate in Eastlands.But he toned it down when he realized that I don’t get it.

After salutations, Karis pores at my face and shakes his head in disgust.

 

Eish,hio shave niaje leo? How about a shave today?

 

I have not forgiven the joker for the gross injustice he visited upon my face the last time he shaved me.He trimmed my moustache like Hitlers,something that gave me nightmares of crowds shouting Heil Fuhrer unto me. The other time he trimmed it so thin that it looked like an eyebrow that had come down for a bite. This Karis fellow should be dragged to the ICC for crimes against moustachity.

Karis is not a bad fellow though. He is not like those barbers with rough hands who massage one neck like a Nazi hangman. Karis massages my moustache as if it’s insured with a million dollars like Tina Turner’s legs. He is one man who is aware that with a great beard comes responsibility. Thus he pampers us men with great care, one chin at a time.

 

You see, a man’s beard is his bar code. Whether it is arrogant sideburns, a handlebar moustache, a rude goatee or a grizzly bushy beard that can scare an army, facial hairs adds panache to a rather dull face. It gives what the Americans call oomph to a drab visage. It adds what the French call je ne sais quoi (that indescribable quality) to plain Pauls of this world. It can make or break a man outlook.

By and by, I find myself seated on Karis shaving chair which fits all buttock sizes. Karis has this habit of yapping about mundane topics like football. So when he mentions the upcoming World Cup, I keep mute until he changes the topic. I am one of those fellows who got no wavelength for the so called beautiful game.

 

So why do you keep a moustache? Karis asks me.This is not a bad topic compared to football.He has just given me an opportunity to elucidate on the polemics of a beard. So I start.

 

You see, moustache can be an indicator of a man’s ideological leaning. An arrogant moustache, like musketeers, is an indicator of a brave liberal soul. A well-trimmed moustache, like poets, indicates romantic being. A man who keeps a bushy moustache is likely to be iconoclastic, a rebellious soul. Some communities have considered moustaches symbols of virility and power…..

 

Buda,kizungu mingi jo! Karis quips.

 

 I addition , a well-kept  moustache can be conveniently used to hide a swollen upper lip after mama watoto hurls a pan at you for coming home after her curfew hours. That’s free advice for your Karis. I say with finality.

 

Hapo umegonga ndipo buda, Karis states heroically. For once I have said something that makes sense to him.After he is done with trimming my beard, I complain that I don’t look dapper as he had promised. I have been conned again.

 

Buda, unajua ni kwa nini? I shake my head.

Tumerekebisha nywele lakini sio sura.Sura ni ile ile. We have made changes to your facial hair but not the face. This guy always has answers in his sleeve.

 

So what do we do? I ask him.

Facial mtu wangu! He exclaims. Mwanamme siku hizi ni facial.

 

So this sly chap now wants me to cough some more money for some feminine procedure called facial. One of my greatest fears is how my daughter and her giggly friends would laugh at me if they found me covered in that gooey white stuff they apply on the face while doing a facial.Haidhuru,we do the facial.

Halfway through it, my phone rings. It’s the young lass in my household. When the said young lass calls, the world comes to stop. When her calls are not picked, she will send 5 please call me, 10 sms and a thousand crying emojis on Whatsapp.All in rapid succession.

 

Nataka pesa ya saloon. She says from the other end. Promptly, she arrives tagging along two of her friends, all giggles and lollipops. My face is all lathered up, like a slay queen getting ready for a weekend of partying. My daughter rolls her eyes all the way to China and back.

 

Dad, what’s that? Yuck!

I have not recovered from the eye rolls I got from her and her friends. I hand them cash and of they go holding their little hands together in their giggly friendship. Am sure my daughters’ friends are wondering what kind of dad their friend has.

 

Usijali buda,watoi huwa hivo.Karis consoles me.Kids are like that.

 

We are almost dones.Karis then slaps me with a bill that reads like the annual budget of Burundi. I protest.

Why is my bill so huge? I ask him.

Kuna bathing charges mtu wangu, Karis answers me without batting an eyelid.

What do you mean? I retort.

Buda,ndevu yako ilikuwa na chakula ya jana so imebidi nikuoshe kwanza.

Boss, your beard had yesterday’s supper on it so I had to bathe you first. Thus the bathing charges.

 

This Karis fellow will not enter the eternal kingdom in the hereafter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ALL DAYS ARE NOT SATURDAYS

When I was 10, with knobkerries for knees and fan like ears, I had teacher called Mr.Munderu.God rest his soul in eternal peace. There were teachers, and then there was Teacher Munderu.Note the caps in ‘Teacher’.He took to teaching with the zeal of an Old Testament prophet. If he said one and one was eleven, not even the local dreaded Chief could undo that.If he said the sun rises from the West,it would rise from the West for us 10 year olds.

As young boys travelling in the village lanes towards being men, Teacher Munderu was our constant North.

Perimeter is all the way round

One July morning he whipped all of us one hundred plus souls out into the parade square. He then made us go round the whole school block shouting ‘perimeter ni muthiururuko!’Perimeter is going all the way round. Any child who lagged behind had this mantra hammered into his or her thick head with his well-worn cane. By lunch hour we were still going round the block shouting hungrily ‘perimeter ni muthiururoko!’ It’s only when the area Education Officer’s Enduro motorbike roared into the parade square and Teacher .Munderu disappeared into the staff room that we crawled back to class.

Not an attack of Alzheimer’s, however acute, will erase from my grey head what perimeter is.

First World War

One lazy afternoon, Teacher Munderu was teaching us about World War One. For the entire afternoon that the lesson-or you can say the war-lasted, the whole classroom exploded with the boom boom of the British Maxim Gun. Like a B52 bomber, Teacher .Munderu swooped on Eutychus, the tall mean boy who sported a beard at Class 4. He then brandished two chairs over our scared heads and smashed them to pieces like torpedoed German U-boats. Like a fearless Austria-Hungarian soldier at the Battle of Somme, he aimed his bayonet at the swollen tummy of my cousin Tony who always sat at the front so that he could always get Nyayo milk packet first.

 

Then he grabbed him by his tiny neck till veins on his forehead threatened to burst. Swiftly, he turned him upside down, sending the guavas he had stolen at old lady Jerusha’s scattering on the floor like grenades from some GI’s pockets.Lawd-First World War was bad! Being taught about it by Teacher .Munderu made it even badder.

 

When Teacher.Munderu announced that the next lesson would be about Second War, I conveniently got very sick. Well, I used to have this recurring attack of tonsillitis from eating too many stolen guavas, so it was easy to feign a grave tonsillitis attack. I would rather endure a tonsils jab from the huge matronly Sister Teresia at Kiangunyi Catholic Mission than endure Teacher Munderu’s Second World War.

 

Despite all this, I couldn’t wait to grow up and don a bushy beard like Teacher Munderu’s.And play Bob Marley’s music from a huge stereo like his and have crib of my own like his full of books about Jomo and Steve Biko and Marcus Garvey and such fiery men. Man, I couldn’t wait to be a man and be free.

 

Apart from Teacher Munderu, our other friends used to be dogs. With my cousin, we had motley of perpetually hungry dogs-both tame and stray- that always followed us like shadows. When we ate, they ate. When we swam in the treacherous Mathioya River, they swam. When we took a beating for stealing mangoes, our dogs took a beating too. There was even this old dog which would volunteer to take a beating for its Master, since it couldn’t fight for him. God rest its canine soul in some dog heaven.

Carlos the Jackal

Then there was Carlos-the mongrel we had named after the famous terrorist-the Jackal. Of course we got the name from Teacher Munderu. We told the boys that his mother was a leopard and his father a mountain lion and that he had jaguar aunties. But Carlos was no more than bag of bones and his tail was permanently between his legs. He had fleas enough to infest a small village. He was not living to his famous billing. Some bright boy who had miraculously survived Teacher Munderu’s First World War thrice as he had repeated Class Four 4 three times advised us to feed the meek canine on a meal of wasps. Henceforth, Carlos would scare even the devil himself.

 

We had to consult the wisest man around. One idle Saturday morning when guavas were out of season and thus there was nothing tempting us to steal it, of we went to Teacher Munderus.We had to hurry. It was on Saturdays like this that Aunt Keziah started kneading dough at two pm  and gave an offer we could never refuse-to go down to the ill-tempered mama near the river and borrow her frying pan in exchange for her first chapati.We lived for Saturdays and Aunt Keziahs chapos offers. Even if she sent us to pick the frying pan from hell,we would still have done it.

 

Mwarimu,is it true that if we feed Carlos with wasps he won’t be afraid of even the police?

 

Teacher Munderu glanced at us, our dogs and saw hunger. He promptly handed us a bunch of bananas. A busy mouth can’t ask pesky questions. Then he got into his crib, pored at his big books, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Our dogs started scratching their fleas. Teacher Munderu read on. My cousin fished a guava from his pockets, took a bite and handed me the remainder to eat.

Then Teacher Munderu closed the Bible he was reading. We made ourselves comfortable on his wick stools. Carlos cocked his ears.

Jesus Rastafari

 

’One Saturday morning, Jesus washed his dreadlocks and hits the streets of Jerusalem listening to Bob Marley’s No Woman no Cryfrom his Sony Walkman’, He started.

He was in stone wash jeans and a t-shirt and swanky North Star sneakers.’

 

My! So Jesus was such a cool dude, huh?

“So Jesus walked on and on down the streets of Salem like the God he was. He was headed to the temple to pray on that Saturday morn, like a true Rasta’. Teacher Munderu continued.

My mango shaped head  sensed danger. Jesus had a record of whipping a business people when he found them in the temple. How about us mere boys and dirty dogs? Anyhow, I had to be ready for it.I sat at the edge of my seat, making sure my cousin and the dogs came between me and Teacher Munderu. My cousin was not a keen Christian like me so he didn’t know that Jesus whipped people when he went into the temple.

 

‘Along the way, Jesus comes across some masons in a mjengo carrying building bricks.’

 

 I breathed a sigh of relief-Jesus wasn’t headed to the temple after all.

 

‘Verily verily I say unto you, may what each of you is carrying be converted to bread,Jesus said with a firm still voice.

 

Behold, whatever each mason was carrying become a loaf of bread. The bigger the brick, the bigger the loaf was. My, why was I born after swanky Jesus had left?

 

The following Sunday a multitude had gathered at the mjengo spot, each carrying the biggest load of bricks he or she could carry. Most could barely move, but were waiting for Jesus. Some sharp boys had even put some bricks on the back of their dogs.

Teacher Munderu intoned, seemingly in a trance.

 

Jesus never fails. Teacher Munderu continued. So next Saturday, at exactly midday, Jesus appeared.

I moved closer to Teacher Munderu-bread was coming. Lots of it.

All days are not Saturdays

Jesus adjusted his akala shoes and surveyed the eager crowd. Some young chaps from Bethlehem exchanged high fives with him.

 

Hindi ciothe ti njuma !, Jesus said. All days are not Saturdays.

 

With that he was off to Cana of Galilee for a pre-wedding party. But he had to first pass at Bethany to have his dreadlocks set by certain lady who in some later date washed his feet and dried them with his hair. This man Jesus!

 

This story by Teacher Munderu sent me forth on a journey. Henceforth, I skimmed through my mums Bible looking for the story. Upto class eight, I was still looking for the story. The story wasn’t there.

 

Mum, is this story about Jesus turning stones into bread true? I asked mum someday.

Read the Bible, she answered. I re-read the Bible once more. Still, it wasn’t there. Could they have cut out Teacher Munderu’s story from the Bible?

 

When I sprouted a scraggy beard and left my doggy ways, I met a boy who told me there were other books left out in mum’s Bible I was reading. Thus I thumbed through the books of Tobith, Judith, Maccabees, Sirach and Baruch looking for that story. It wasn’t there too.

 

By the time I realized that the story was a figment of Teacher Munderu’s imagination, I had read the Holy Bible several times over. Teacher Munderu may not have taught me much at Class 4, but he lit a fire in me that led to a lifelong odyssey in search of knowledge-and truth.

 

Sometimes it’s not very important what a person was. What matters is what we remember who he was-to us.