Prologue: Because employers nowadays don’t care about public holidays and shit, I know some of you will sleep or be seated at your workstations through Christmas. Waiting for clients who won’t show up but you have to wait for them anyway- or in case.
And because this nation’s sadness is at an all-time high and people derive joy from increasing other people’s sadness, your colleagues will be sending you pictures of tempting drinks and sweetness-dripping roast meat by the fireside. Together with the occasional rope to hang yourself.
So for these three days, let me increase your sadness with these very many words…
Around the start of the 21st Century, I started gaining independence at home. I started getting allowed to make some small decisions on my own. Decisions like when and if (not what) to eat, and whether or not to wear a sweater when evening came. Whether to just wash my feet or take a full shower in the evening.
It was Madaraka- internal self-rule.
But, like all colonial powers, the MB does not grant you freedom on a silver platter. In the words of one independence fighter- Achieng Oneko looks like the sort of guy who could say such stuff- the tree of freedom is watered with blood. As such you have to go through a lot of increasingly severe beatings to attain it. Again, the powers that be do not inform you what roles of governance have been moved to you and those which are still beyond reach.
It is a slippery transition period because many times you find yourself engaging in roles of Jamhuri- full independence- when you have only been granted Madaraka. You may find yourself engaging in activities like failing to attend Sunday School, failing to remain behind for the main service after Sunday Schoo. Or failing to make a formal request before leaving the compound or failing to be home before six-thirty. It is a murky period, any of the Kapenguria six can tell you.
That is the sort of situation I found myself in when this century was still a toddler.
To start with, I had failed my end of year exams. This was inferenced as ‘starting to grow horns.’ For the record, I have never passed any exam in the eyes of the Man Beater since I left Nursery School. So you may imagine the stage was already set for a rough holiday.
Fast forward to Jamhuri Day.
The itinerary (I got it right this time, Morris) was clear. Breakfast – clean the compound – tether sheep outside to graze- watch/listen to Jamhuri day celebrations, depending on how generous the sun had been, because, solar panels. Then converge at the farm where duties would be assigned depending on age and body size. I was usually assigned the lighter duty of pruning young trees, despite cutting myself on the panga every time I did it. Everyone else pretended they could not climb trees, and for my cuts, Dr. The Rose (OGW) always had an instant cure in the name of the scorching surgical spirit.
In the late afternoon, we would cook chips- the day usually coincided with the potato harvest. Yes, seasons have changed- then everyone would disperse to spend the evening as they pleased. Or not.
On this particular day, after the formal program was over, I decided I would take a break from the norm. Instead of playing football for the evening, I would go across the ridge to see some girl I had befriended during Sunday School archdeaconry drama festivals. No, I was not of Sunday School age myself. I was at that level where you were automatically expected to be a Sunday School teacher, and so was Njeri.
Exactly at four in the pm, I took a full shower.
This was already enough to trigger suspicion. I then wore some clean clothes. And shoes. Another eyebrow-raiser, and illegal too, for that day was not a Sunday. Besides ‘Kwawathera úguo kothiíte kú?’ [What’s with all the dressing up, where are you headed?] from The Rose, no questions were raised. I made sure the MB did not see me preparing or leaving.
The first problem arose when I got to where the rest of the village boys- the team- were playing ball. They had to inquire why I was that clean on a Wednesday, was I not going to play with them?
I have been sent across the ridge, I want to rush then come back before you even notice my absence. I lied.
Do you want us to take you?
(We had this habit of taking each other whenever one of us was sent on an errand, such that eight or more boys could show up at your compound to clear milk arrears)
No, I don’t want to distract you guys, just get on with the game. Let me go alone so I can hurry up. [That was another suspicion rouser, the third for the day]
Okay then, play with us for a while before you go.
No, I won’t be long, I promise.
That was my fatal mistake. One, by agreeing to play, I totally messed up my time plan. Two, I played in my Sunday School clothes, a well-known cardinal sin.
I ended up getting so engrossed in the game that an hour and a half was gone before I noticed. And I was all dirty. With the goals at 15-15, I managed to put my team in the lead then excused myself. But my team refused to play in my absence, so the game came to an end and I had no way of refusing their offer to accompany me on my errand.
Which gave birth to a whole new problem.
My friendship with Njeri was a total secret to this point. There was no way I was letting in the chimps on that. Never! You see, it was not commonplace to be speaking to girls; I was just one of the early adopters in my age group. Such knowledge would have been a big news story in the village. Even my loyal team would have been too excited to keep it in.
Also, I was still low on confidence levels. I was not sure whether I was saying the right things to Njeri. I would totally freak out in the presence of all those chimps.
But there was also no way I was telling them that I was aborting the plan to go across the ridge because that would have confirmed their suspicions and they would end up putting me under tight surveillance.
So I quickly hatched a plan.
There was a woman across the ridge who worked with The Rose, and was also a member of The Rose’s church, albeit from a different prayer house. I knew they were preparing for some Mothers’ Union competitions, and that they had been given some scripts to aid their practice.
So I led my battalion to Mama Florence’s home, walked up to my mother’s colleague and said without blinking. “My mum misplaced her practice scripts, so she sent me to borrow yours. She wants to make a copy then return them.”
Oi Mwana!! We are growing old, I have also misplaced mine. I have been looking for them for days. But let me look for them again.
I was praying that she would not find them, but like Onesmus Mutembei says, when bad luck decides to camp with you, even a boiled potato can break your tooth.
As I was waiting outside, I saw Florence- who was my age but never used to talk to me, I have no idea why- go into the house. Then I heard her ask her mother- too loudly I was sure she wanted me to hear- Mother, what are you looking for?
I did not hear her mother’s reply, but again Flo’s answer was clearly audible. They are on top of the wall unit, just next to the TV near the drawer where we keep the cups used by visitors. Flo liked me, I concluded.
Flo’s mum handed me the scripts and we sped off.
But then, a new problem.
I needed to buy enough time for ‘my mother to make a copy’ and return them on the same day because the two were likely to see each other the next day at work.
I was able to do that, but in the entire process, I ended up getting home at eight. Luckily, I made it minutes before the Man Beater. Or not so luckily.
Because when the MB got home, his first question was ‘Where are you from?’
I was playing ball, I came back a long time ago.
Why didn’t you come to say hi to your Godfather?
I knew my goose was cooked. If my Godfather was around, I was expected to see him come into the compound from where we were to playing ball. Courtesy demanded I come say hi. Even worse, and I was sure that was what had happened, his way home would be the same as the way to Mama Florence’s. Which meant that while seeing him off, the Man Beater had seen me wandering beyond approved territory without permission.
I did not see him come in, I replied.
That the Man Beater did not take any action left me confused. Had I had really been granted that freedom or was I just under a suspended sentence?
That was the first day I washed my own clothes. I had to go hang them to dry at kina Ng’es place because I did not want it known that I had dirtied Sunday clothes on a Wednesday.
I was 50-50 on how the story of scripts would go between The Rose and Mama Florence. That was the birth of a slogan that I use to date. ‘Kíria gígaciarwa ngarera.’ This loosely translates to ‘whatever will be birthed, I will bring up.’ Meaning ‘I will bear the consequences’ or ‘I am ready to carry my own cross.’ I went to sleep.
Hands up \o if you want this story to continue over the festive season.