Thursday, September 15th.
Something was strangely unpleasant in the air that afternoon. The winds didn’t blow, the sun shone faintly, the surrounding stank funny; like Lucifer was having an orgy with kina Jezebel in a swimming pool and wicked ole’ Jezebel kept farting in there (although, to be fair, I live in Juja so that might just have been the smell of weed). It was cold – it always is in my pad, I live on the ground floor – and I was broke and my neighbor was playing one Drake song after the other like his heart had just been broken and he was trying to move on but had no idea how so he thought, “Hey, you know what, let me listen to a Drake album, On a bloody Thursday afternoon.” I had been bedridden for close to a week by then; my toes were swollen – making it hard for me to even walk past the gate – and they smelled of a cocktail of rotten eggs, Athletes’ Foot and Jägermeister. I was in bed, all covered up to the chin, phone on flight mode, watching some series about Women and Drugs and Power. And Sex. Especially Sex.
Then I got this burning feeling to check my phone and the first 14 text messages that streamed in all read “I tried calling you…” And they were all from my Mum. And as I lay there trying to figure out what it was I had done wrong this time (because Auma Nyar Keya doesn’t call you 14 times to commend you for saving the world or to ask if you need money for beer), the 15th text message came in; and with it, a defiant gust of cold and gross indifference. It read;
“Your Grandfather is No More.”
Friday, September 23rd.
The setting is a remote village deep within the heart of Ugenya – Siaya County. A village so remote Google Maps won’t help you find it; a village so remote those chaps probably pay to join WhatsApp Groups. I just got here. I’m saying hello to cousins and sisters I haven’t seen since the cold war and exchanging pleasantries with aunts and uncles here and there and they’re telling me “You look famished. You don’t eat?” and I’m grumbling and rubbing my hands against my belly and responding “Nairobi si mama ya mtu” and those who like to brag how they wiped my ass – even those who didn’t – when I was young are coming at me like “Na si you’ve grown” and I’m just there stroking my beard in silence like I’m the shit.
We just came back from the mortuary with Mzee’s body. Wailing has taken over the entire compound. Men and women I have never seen before are mourning my Gramps, and I’m just standing there lazily, with my crutches in hand, looking like a Maasai in the Sahara; struggling to fight back tears. And, you know, nobody ever thinks they’ll be that guy; the guy that cries and kicks and bites and scratches after viewing the body. Something takes over you, and for a minute or so, it no longer becomes your body. It becomes the universe’s body; and the universe does whatever it wishes with it.
My Dad appears from the main house with my big bro beside him. He looks weak; he looks defeated; he looks like he wants to throw his hands in the air and ask God, “Are you happy now?” He had been there with Gramps – his Father – through it all. They had gone to hospital after hospital and visited native doctors and been prayed for but still, here we were. A single tear trickles down his cheeks and he wipes it away then forces a smile. His walk is frail, his voice shaken, and his facial expression is downcast. Yet he still forces a smile. Because he’s a Man; and Men must be strong; Men must not cry. Not in the presence of their wife and kids.
My big bro has a well of tears in his eyes. My cousins are crying their lungs out; some are fainting and regaining consciousness and crying some more. My Mum cries with her hands on her head but not a sound comes out. My Aunts mourn and throw their lesos in the air and mumble words of grief. My Uncles spot a few tears in their eyes in silence; their faces tell it all. I see people who worked for my Gramps cry out for him. I see his friends and relatives and fellow elders mourn his passing. I had promised myself I wouldn’t tear up, but a voice inside me tells me I owe Mzee at least that much. I walk into the house to view the body and a couple drops of tears appear. That voice inside me comes back once more. It says, “It’s Okay, Son. It’s Okay to Cry.”
Saturday, September 24th
Atogo Michael Were was a man of very few words. Mzee preferred to do his stuff alone. Even at 86 years old, Mzee would take his goats out to herd in the morning and bring them back in the evening by himself. Mzee cleaned up after his cows shit up their shed by himself. Mzee liked his meat tender and cut into humongous pieces. Mzee liked the meals served communally; he never liked the idea of someone pinching ugali from their own plate. And if he noticed you eating faster than the others, he told you to take it down a notch; to come slow. Mzee liked his uji served hot in the morning. Mzee was big on cleanliness as well; before showering, he scrubbed his legs with bucketfulls of water – that is, one bucket per leg. He spoke slowly and warmly, never once raised his voice no matter how pissed he was. And when you needed to speak to him, you came armed with 99 microphones because his hearing had gone to the dogs.
My Dad wore the white shirt my Mum bought him (look at them being all romantic) and gave the story of his last days with his father during the funeral. He got his shit together and spoke about watching his father slowly fade away. And I don’t know where he got the strength from but he did. He spoke of how Mzee hated hospitals and of the midnight phone calls he would receive because Mzee couldn’t go to sleep. He narrated how, often, Mzee would speak to himself and he wondered whether he was going cuckoo as well. He talked about watching the Cancer tear his father apart – bone by bone, fleshy by flesh, strength and mind – yet he could do absolutely nothing about it. He spoke about being with Mzee to his last day, when he would notice Mzee in so much pain and offer to take him to the hospital – again – but Mzee would say, “No. I’m Ready.” He talked about being called in to work that last day, and looking at his phone almost three hours later to find a gazillion missed calls and – knowing what that meant – saying to himself, “Rest, Baba. Rest.” When I grow up, I want to be an inch the man my father is today. I want to have half the strength he embodies.
Mzee’s lips looked wrinkled and dry. His face, astute as ever, was bony and fragile and his nose had been stuffed with cotton. Dressed in a cosy black suit, he just lay there; Still. And Peaceful. Dead as a dodo. He was Gone. Gone, Baby, Gone.
That evening, after we lowered Mzee down to rest, we downed local brew and recounted memories with my big bro and cousins. And we made memories (It’s funny how English just rolls out of the tongues of city people after one too many.) And as I lay in bed later on that night, sleep evading me, a tear dripped down my cheeks and I said to myself, “Go On Well, Mzee. On To A Better Place.”