Kukhu

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As I write this post, my watch lazily turns to midnight on Saturday 30th November. I’m around 200Kms from the city, somewhere in a shy village which sits at the feet of the majestic Aberdare Ranges. A wet wind whistles through a tiny opening inside my thingira, and my laptop’s keyboard is cold as an Eskimo’s nose. The chickens are asleep, but you can hear Munge, the cow chew cud loudly. The goat turns and sneezes. I remember the goat has been around for such a long time that we almost named her, but remembered she is a goat, and the gods of the goats would be angry. Goats are just that, Goats. Cows are a different case though, my neighbor calls her cow Joyce, another one has two calves being taught to turn at the name ‘Hiram’. All goats are called ‘goat’, and they all find humor in not sleeping at night. On most nights I get out to check what stirred the chicken, and passing by the goat’s pen, she is there looking at me. I walk past, turn and she is still looking. I go around the pen and she cranes her neck and looks, chewing carefully.
Fox loudly chews on some bones right outside the door, I ignore her and she starts scratching the door begging for some attention. I stop my typing and wonder how it would be if Fox could talk.
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‘Come on Fox, am busy writing a post for my writers, I haven’t done so in a long time due to some housekeeping….’ I would plead.
‘Your post can wait, and we know it’s not housekeeping, why does the site look the same as it was? Tell your readers the truth’
‘No, it can’t wait, Fox. I never leave posts waiting. And it was housekeeping damn it! I love the site the way it looks, ugly or not, I love it!’ I would snap.
‘Are you shouting at me…?’
‘You know I can’t do that Fox, you are my dog and we all adore you. Now please go and play with your younger brother.’ I would plead.
‘He is not my brother, and he has fleas!’
‘Come on Fox, you have those things too, why do you scratch yourself so loudly anyway?’ I would ask in between giggles.
‘Grrrrr…. ! Suit yourself!’ She would snap.
‘Wait, what is that? A growl or a cry? Are you crying Fox?’ I would ask. She would bark. I would have won.
*********
The younger dog is squeezing himself under the rusty wheelbarrow crying as a scared squirrel would. He is still growing into the harsh cloudless nights. Everything else is silent, as the village sleeps. A dog calls from a distance, probably a ridge away and Fox howls back, a sign she is searching for a mate.

A few hours from now we will all troop to my late maternal Grandparents home for a memorial mass. Earlier on, mother had chewed on and on over the phone with mama this and mama that, confirming everything was running according to plan, despite having been there throughout the planning. “Ehe… What about the rice? … ehe… the stew will be ready by 11 right?… What about water? We need water in plenty… No, listen, water should be there… ehe…. I know you have water in a tank, but we must have enough for the soup…. Yes. My sons will be there to do that.”

Women will start streaming into the compound early, balancing large sufurias on their heads, and since we are Kuyus, and our heads cannot easily balance a sufuria, they will hold it in place with one hand. People will be excited, the offsprings of Wanguni and Wakahang’i, my grandpa’s two of three wives will unite. Cousins will catch up, after years of separation, there will be tiny wrinkles on the faces of those once young and vibrant aunties. I will look forward to meeting one cousin though, the crazy one, who calls me papa since am named after her father, and she will narrate to me whose daughter got pregnant and refused school, the cousin who runs around with three different girls and still eats sacrament. I hope she will not be too mature now for our crazy talk.

There will be all sorts of characters too, including the skimpily dressed niece from the city who will look at the huge heaps of mukimo badly. She will eat chapo and beef stew, and the rest of us will have to make do with the ‘crap’.

I expect a clutter of younglings who I have no idea how am their uncle, or grandfather for that matter, but who will call me uncle Wamugi anyway. I will have that awkward conversation with a cousin I once shared a desk in lower primary with before their parents got rich and shipped them to the city…

‘Hey Shiroh, this kid here is misbehaving too much playing with the stew pots… You know his mother?’ I will call out with a straight face
‘That’s my son… You don’t know him?’ She will act puzzled. She will be puzzled. Everyone else will know it’s her son except me.
‘uh..Oooh, really? He is so handsome! I bet like the father.’ I will chuckle, and cap the boy’s face in my palm. He won’t be amused at all.
‘His dad left us…’ She will say.
“Ooh, am so sorry dear, I didn’t know’ I will pull my acting face.
‘Not to be with the Lord wamatha, to be with his other girls in Mombasa.’ She will say, a little cold.
‘oooh…’ words will dry out, and I will quickly cock the camera and pretend to be taking photos of some kids playing nearby.

Through all this craze, my mind will roam, I will be sad, not because of my grandmother who passed on decades ago, a few years after grandpa had passed on, but because of the much old folk wisdom I missed growing up. Am a village bred fella, but where I come from, evenings with grandparents are not as Christened as they were in years past. At least growing up I had one or two days alone with granny, chewing on her maize-less mukimo, which was cooked in an ugly blackened sufuria but tasted like the harmony of a choir of 1000 happy angels. Mukimo which I now feel we never had enough of.

My paternal grandfather was killed in the freedom struggle, and his wife followed him to heaven not so long after. Those ones I have very little memories of. They were awesome, as am told. My maternal grandparents hanged around longer though, with the old man passing on in ’97 and his queen in 2011, but still I never got the bonding time. We always visited her for the mukimo and sugarless gruel but never had that granny chat.

What I wish I had more often is the African nights where children hanged around their grandmother listening to her unending stories. Wanguni was a happy soul, very happy indeed, and such a night would have been heavenly, my cousins, siblings and I huddled around the three stones in her wooden but always magnificently swept kitchen, burning the midnight oil as she chewed on and on about life back in her day. I would love the fictitious but wisdom laden stories of hyenas and hares and the tortoise coming from her, not books and computers and the radio. I would read her face, as the flames flicker to give it an on off shine, study the wrinkles on her neck fold and unfold as she dramatizes the dance Hare made after tricking Hyena to plant salt. (Millennials, it’s your turn to search for the story on your tablets).

My grandpa would call from his thingira, and we would all silently and secretly get angry, not curse, because grandpa would know if you cursed in your head.

‘Tell them the story of the boy who ate so much until his stomach burst and all the lies he had told came out of his stomach and shamed him…’ He would say.

‘They are too young for that one wanie. They are too young.’ kukhu would laugh.

Icinacio! That’s the problem with these new ones, they are breastfed until their knees grow so tall they knock the pot into the fire’ He would retort. We would laugh. The old man was the kind of person who would call you new because you are young.

The fire would crackle as the lonely lantern’s wick shivers and sends uneven golden rays to some parts of the kitchen. A pregnant goat would turn in the dark corner where it’s tethered away from the rest of the flock. She would be kukhu’s favorite goat, since she bears twins, and her milk is good for the bones. The older cousins would turn the maize and raw bananas roasting in the fireplace wrongly and kukhu would scold them and then show them the right way.

The story would resume, and her voice would rise and fall as she mimics different animals and differently tempered women. After each story she would ask every one of us what they learnt, and I would get a handsomely large piece of the roasted banana for answering more questions. An hour or so after midnight the other cousins would doze off on their rickety chairs, but I would remain on and watch her clean her ugly sufuria with ash and a little water. In the end it would shine under the moonlight streaming in through an opening on the roof. She would look at it and smile, displaying a funny gap where her teeth once were. The lantern would cough, blink and go off. The wick would have dried off, and she would send us to bed in groups of four. My oldest cousin would sleep close to the goat, and smell of goat the following day.

Before heading to bed, cucu would teach me how she buries the glowing coal under the ash, to save its fire for morning. As much as it would be best suited for a girl to learn that, I would still pay attention to her every move. I would watch keenly and learn the art in the case she one day got so tired and asked me to do it. I would loveimpressing her, making her call me awa, her papa, in that shaky but lovely voice.

******

I check my watch, placed on the well-folded white tee-shirt and its minutes to 1.00 AM. We all wanted to wear white today, to celebrate our legends, and remember their lives. I will ask questions today, about the life before we were born, I will annoy my uncle with my nagging. He will have to tell me if he really always spent the nights with the goats, making him my guka’s favorite child. I will also ask him if hyenas really came out and chewed at the feet of naughty kids, though I know it is as a lie as a politician claiming to be straight.

Everything is silent now, just the tiny radio on my side playing some lovely Benga tunes. It will be a beautiful day, and kukhu and guks (like the millennials call them) will hold hands in their graves, turn and smile at each other. The legendary smiles of blessings. I turn and kill the light.

*This post was put together in memory of my grandmother, hence the title “Kukhu” which is Luhya for Grandmother”.*

Talk to me….
wamugi,
wamugi@tuketi.co.ke

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