Old times in a new era

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I joined my old man in the front porch. I pulled the chair next to his and sat on it while my old man took calculated sips of evening tea loudly. He looked ahead and only his ears were aware of my presence. Before us a breathtaking evening sun in a huge yellow ball being swallowed by the skies beyond in the west. The clouds nearby radiated bright yellow streaks admirable to watch. The dying embers of the sun split across the sky stretching, trying to stretch their weak strength as if affirming they were in control.

My younger sister Norah joined us with another thermos of tea. In my younger days, we would have tea from a pot or a birika. But those days were gone and now we’d embraced new technologies. Sitting here, around my old man reminded me of the olden days when I was young- I would sit at the feet of my grandma as she prepared the evening meal, and she would tell me humorous and enthralling stories of ancient times during their younger days. Her stories enthused me more than those I read in novels and story books; they were real and they were told with such ingenuity that made you laugh until tears rolled down your face.

Norah, my mother’s last, poured tea into a porcelain mug and shoved it to my side of the small table. She’d grown now and there were quite a number of visible signs that she had become a woman. Both her bosom and behind were full. Her body was bigger and she had somehow learnt so. I am older than her by around four years.

I brought the mug to my lips and sipped the tea. It was extremely hot and I immediately retreated the cup and cussed silently at my burnt lips. I could feel it burn my mouth and throat as it went down into the stomach. I placed the mug on the table and let it cool.

My old man had just turned 70. I could burst with pride for this monumental achievement because him being around meant the world to both my sister and I. His influence and stark fathering abilities had seen us out of jail because back then I was a thief, and my sister was a nutcase. We simply were beaten out of bad lives, and I revered this man. He was my everyday hero. He always stood firm when the world seduced me to stray.

The extremely beautiful hills and valleys of Kisii were a sight to behold. The fields were exploding with maize and food, although they had been subdivided into small long strips of land that were visibly evident- an indication that the population around was rising steadily. Huts dotted the land before us and you could easily say that they were quite a number.

“Whose house is that one, dad?” I pointed to a newly build house just across the ridge.

“You remember Egesengi, the boy you grew up with? Well, he is a man now with a family,” he said as he emptied his first cup. I refilled it for him as I thought of my friend Egesengi. I wondered why he had married at such a young age. He was only 24. I was older than him by two years yet he had married and had kids already. No wonder the population was growing rapidly.

“Don’t you think he married quite fast?” I pressed my dad.

“In the village things are a little bit different, son. How quick do you seem to forget things and it is just the other day that you left the village?” He exclaimed. Sure enough, marriages in many villages were full of young people; some even at 18 were married. The institution of marriage thrived quite well and was highly regarded.

“Do you think I should get married too?” It is a question I had always wanted to ask him but had never perked enough courage to. I didn’t know what to expect but as a man I had known for many years, his leniency had softened over the years and he had abandoned most of the traditional beliefs that he subjected to himself.

“Just marry when you can son,” he finally said after a long uncomfortable silence. His answer was candid and I could spot a tinge of a free man. I wanted to jump up and hug him but somehow we were from two different worlds, and this was a taboo in his world. My heart leapt with joy now that he believed in me and gave me the autonomy to do whatever I wanted with my life, a thing many of my aunts found unconceivable. They always plodded me to marry so that they could attend my wedding before they went to meet their creator.

“When are you marrying so that I can attend your wedding? Do you want me to die before I see you become a man of the home?” They would say.

We talked on varied subjects. In many occasions I had to respond in English or Swahili. My Ekegusii was pretty bad and I could not find the day to day words to talk to my old man with. Every time I reverted with Swahili or English there was a sign of resignation on his face. No, a disappointed face.

I helped with the cows into their pen. He used to have more than ten cows when we were young. He was an enemy of the village because he was rich. But now he only had two cows, barely enough to feed us all if we came back to live here. The cows are mine, my inheritance after my grandma passed on few years ago. My dad had been raising them for me while enjoying the benefits. Sometimes he could send me sour milk to the city for me to relish.

I later joined him after all the cattle and chicken had found their right nests. My step-mother prepared the evening meal as we roasted maize on a jiko. A small flicker from the oil lamp lit the place. I had been planning to help them get electricity but as a recent graduate I had not been able to land a gig to pay me well for this venture. I was simply struggling to stay on tabs myself. I did not beat myself because if I was broke it was impossible for me to fulfill some of the dreams I had.

We talked as we ate the roasted maize, laughing here and there, rekindling the father-son moments I only had many years ago before the world consumed me and saw me leave the village after class eight. The old man’s rich sense of humour was still intact. His face has started showing wrinkles and strain was evident in his eyes. His sight was dying as he could only read messages on his phone from a distance. His fingers were tough and his arms rough due to the farm work he engaged in on almost daily basis.

Being active kept him strong. His hairs were graying and his quick steps were slowing. His teeth were yellow, at least most of them. His laughter was still strong and genuine. His appetite for food was still the same and he enjoyed his meals with equal pleasure.

As we bit into out ugali late in the evening, he asked me how I was holding on. My ekegusii was terrible so I stuck to Swahili.

“I am holding up. Things are not quite well but for a man like me I could not expect them to,” I said. He did not respond. The only thing that was troubling him is how fast I had ditched our mother tongue. I could trace the disappointment across his face and that sneering look at the end of it. It bothered him a lot because he is a man who always boasted of his background and people.

He always tried to let us understand that our roots were essential, that no matter what we shouldn’t trade them for nothing less. He encouraged us to always embrace our lingo and to be proud of it. Well, I understood his point and effort. I appreciated it.

The rain pounded on the iron roof that night. Sleep was a long way coming and I tossed on bed severally. The conversations we had with my pop ate into my mind. It was the first time I had spent quality time with him. Before, I only managed to steal a few minutes.

I clutched my blankets and said a brief grace. I could feel some fleas suck my blood hungrily. Fleas always knew when a visitor was around, and they marched in troops to get the best out of these visitors. It reminded me where I was coming from and where I needed to go. The journey before me was long but sure enough, I had already started it. I only needed to conquer the hurdles on the way to pave for my entry into gallantry at the end of the tunnel. Dear sleep, abduct me.

Was supposed to do an interview but it didn’t work out. So let’s meet next week on Wednesday.


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Mzangila Snr

(The supreme hunter in captivity.)


Where shall we go, we who wander in this wasteland in search of better selves?

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About Mzangila

Mentor, media consultant, photographer, editor, poet, writer, and counselor.

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