GUEST POST 1:THE CLAY POT

By Berina Ogega

Beautiful Zipporah, stood on the doorway of her grass thatched house, pushed her head forward, short of the falling rain and….

“Zachariah!” she whispered harshly. “Zachariah!”

I heard her, woke up from my afternoon nap and tiptoed to the door. I had to see and hear this. I wanted something to talk about with my loving husband Sospeter. We gossiped. Yes, you are asking if a man gossips, yes, most couples gossip. A man and a woman may not be loving each other as they should, but when it comes to gossip, you should see them bending, their heads almost touching, gossiping.

 

Many times, I have reminded Sospeter to repair our heavy wooden door, but he says, “I know, you do not have to keep reminding me. If you go on, I will leave one morning before you wake up and you will be very poor and lonely.”

“I will sell tomatoes,” I tell him. “Or even onions,” I sneer.

“That cannot pay rent and fees,” he retorts.

“Seriously,” I say, “You should listen to yourself while speaking,” he stands with hands akimbo. “We live in a mud house. We built it, we do not pay rent, but every time you talk about the expenses, you mention rent.”

“One would think you took part in building it,” he sneers. “If you are not careful, I might start asking you to pay rent.”

“I thought you said you were leaving,” I smile. “Seems like you have forgotten that my cow produced the dung that built this hut. You also seem to have forgotten how I sat from morning to evening with my iron pail waiting for the dung to drop.”

“Ever heard anybody on earth boasting of being the world’s biggest producer of cow dung?” Sospeter asks. Suddenly, I have the urge to take that dowry cow and go back to my parents. I don’t though, because I know… after a few days, Sospeter will come with a short story of ‘man and loneliness’…. ‘man and cold’…. then ‘man and polygamy’. The story of ‘man and polygamy’ will always get me and my cow to run a marathon back to our mud hut.

. “I forgive you, but where will you get the school fees and food?” he makes sure to drag the word food.Fooooood.

 

If Sospeter had repaired the door, it would not have made this loud sound… ‘kekekekeke… keeeeee…’ then a soft thud, as it hit the ground, and another duh… causing Zipporah to turn, with her tongue out, the worst face she could make, shaking her head vigorously. I wanted to show her my tongue too, but I remembered my age…. and thought, the neighbors might be watching. They will see me and go tell about the old woman who showed her tongue. I folded my hands across my chest and pointed threateningly at her from under my left elbow.

 

As if she did not notice, she turned and whispered, “Zachariah! Za…”

Zachariah was already standing at his door, with an angry “What?” look in his eyes.

“Please bring that clay pot of water, please, please…” she bent forward and stretched her arms.

His hands in his pockets, Zachariah leaned against the door post. “Hey,” Zipporah continued whispering, “That one, please,” she pointed at the clay pot.

““I told you the other day not to bring your clay pot here,” Zachariah did not move.

“Look at how useless the girl is,” both turned to look at me, I closed my eyes, hands akimbo, chest forward and shouted, “that is why…. we,” I thumped my chest, “the village people always wish these proud girls would remain in the city.” I had not realized that the rain had stopped. My voice echoed throughout the village. Wooden windows opened one by one, faces stared at me, and I knew, I had made new enemies. The girls from the city.

Zachariah ignored me. “What are you protecting from the rain?” He asked Zipporah. She stepped out of the hut onto the mud and walked carefully towards her clay pot. “You trimmed your long hair the other day,” Zachariah looked her up and down. “It is natural,” he squinted at her face. “and I cannot see any make up on your face and hands.”

Zipporah tried to lift the large clay pot of water and slipped. She let go and looked at Zachariah with a pleading face.

“No,” Zachariah said shaking his head. “I will not. You asked me to help you yesterday, that you would marry me if I did. I kept peeping through the window to check if you were packing your belongings to come and stay with me, but you sat next to the fireplace with no sign of wanting to get married.”

Zipporah suppressed laughter. “How do people look like when they are about to get married?” She asked facing the opposite direction, grinning.

“I waited for you in the morning to hang your wet clothes on my line,” tears of laughter ran down Zipporah’s cheeks like two streams. She placed her hands over her eyes until the urge to laugh went away, then turned to face Zachariah. He stepped back into the house.

The rain dropped lightly. Zipporah rushed to where I was.

“Please Mama Nyakundi,” I quickly stepped back into the hut and shut the heavy door.

I startled Sospeter who had been snoring on the bed. “What is it?” he asked angrily.

“If you had repaired the door…” I began before he cut me short…

“Don’t you start!” he shouted as he sat. “Mention that door again and you will go back to where I got you from, with it… take your stinky cow dung too.”

“Are you are sending me away?” Sospeter did not answer. He clicked his tongue and poured porridge from a flask that was on the table into a large mug.

“Mama Nyakundi! Mama Nyakundi” Zipporah knocked on the door.

I opened. “You are whispering too much,” I said, “You are overworking your throat; are you not afraid you might get a sore throat?”

“If people got sore throats out of whispering,” she replied, “you would not be having a throat at all. You are always all over the village,” she bent forward and moved from left to right. “Bisi bisi bisi here, bisi bisi bisi there.” She straightened and looked over my shoulder.

“Baba Nyakundi,” the rain poured, she pushed me aside and entered the hut. “Can you help….”

“Help what?” Sospeter asked, “You have been very disrespectful to my wife! Get out before you find yourself covered in this porridge!”

I rushed towards Sospeter and took the porridge from his hands. “There is nothing else to eat in this house.” I reminded him. Zipporah was afraid. She left quickly.

 

************************************************************

 

About three weeks earlier, Sospeter had gone to the market to buy an avocado.

“I want a ripe avocado!” he ordered. The shopkeeper brought him a ripe avocado.

Sospeter shook his head and shouted, “Are you deaf? Didn’t you hear I want a ripe one?”

“It is ripe. Here, press it.” The shopkeeper said politely.

“It is not yellow!” Sospeter took it and threw it over the roof.

“You think I am foolish!” he shouted at the shopkeeper, looked around furiously and left.

This is a small village. Word went round that Sospeter was a destroyer of peoples’ goods. Rumours spread that he was a very dangerous man, who lost his temper like sparks from a fire. Shopkeepers closed their shops every time they saw him. They closed their shops to all members of our family. We could not buy anything. We tried sending our neighbors for food. They never brought anything back. They did not find what we wanted, they asked, could they try again the next day? And the next? And next? We had no food. We were starving.

 

A few days ago, the aroma of chapatti attracted me to Zipporah’s house.

‘Please give us some.” I asked Zipporah as I stood at her doorway.

“Today is not a good day for handouts Mama Nyakundi,” Zipporah replied pretending to be concerned. “If you had come yesterday, I would have given you ugali and sukuma.”

“Please,” I begged.

“No!” Zipporah shook her head. “Not chapatti and chicken. Come the day after tomorrow, I will be cooking maize and beans.” She gently pushed Mama Nyakundi out of the hut. “You should be doing better than me. You have a husband.” She closed the door.

I walked home crying. Sospeter was very angry after I narrated my story.

 

“Zachariah!” the whisper jogged me back to the present. I rushed to the door.

“My woman,” Sospeter chuckled. “One day you are going to break a leg.” I almost choked with laughter.

Zachariah appeared on the doorway, looked at me, raised his eyebrows, shook his head in wonder and turned to Zipporah, who was looking at me.

Zipporah was drenching wet. “Do you mean I will not have good sleep now?” Zachariah was irritated.

“I am sorry,” she whispered. “I am sorry; I will marry you! Please bring me the water.”

“Sore throoooat!” I shouted, tapping my throat lightly.

Zipporah turned and threw her hands in the air. “Can’t you see we are having a serious conversation here?”

The many wooden windows that were closed when the rain started pouring opened again. Eager eyes watched from behind them.

“You tricked me into giving you that hut.” Zachariah was fed up. “Now I cannot throw you out because every time I try, you shout, ‘ Help! Thief! Thief! Murderer! Killer! Attacker!’ The same insults everyday… speaking of which, don’t you have a dictionary from which you can find new names to call me?” Zachariah disappeared into the house.

 

Zipporah turned to me. I walked up to the clay pot and asked her to help me push it to her hut. We pushed and pulled and managed to reach her door.

“Wait!” she turned and whispered. “Zachariah!”

Silence….

She took two steps towards his house. “Zachariah!”

“Can we get this clay pot into the house first?” I was impatient and hungry.

“I wanted him to come and help us.” Zipporah explained.

“You cannot have men doing everything for you Zipporah.” I whispered.

She lifted one side and I the other. I lifted with all my might and banged it against the door frame. The clay pot broke. “Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry!” I whispered as Zipporah sat on the floor and sobbed. I walked to the fireplace, then left.

“Sospeter!” I laughed as I entered our hut. “I had my revenge. I broke her clay pot.”

Sospeter grinned. “I knew when you rushed to help her, things were not going to end well.

“Look.” I showed Sospeter what I was holding. “I stole this from her.”

“We will need a hammer to break that,” Sospeter touched the hard chapatti and laughed loudly.

I showed him the dark brown chicken. “My goodness,” he said, “I wonder how many times she reheated it. Preserving food for four days is not easy.”

“Another advantage of rain.” I sat next to Sospeter. “Free food from lazy people. I hope she gets another clay pot so that I can help her carry it to her house, the day she cooks chapatti and chicken.

“Zachariah!” She whispered, “Do you have an extra clay pot?”

I knew we were going to get free food soon.

 

About Berina

Berina Ogega is a writer of fictional short stories. She also loves hiking, knitting, reading and cooking.She is based in Nairobi, Kenya.Berina is also working on her first book which will come out soon.

Berina’s greatest passion is trying to bring back hope and humour to people who have already lost it.This comes out clearly in the above story which intersperses folksy humour with witty outlook on life.

For further reading of such witty anecdotes,visit her blog at www.berinaberrry.wordpress.com

 

CHEGE WA MAGUTA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

PS
This story is based on a true story.