He sits on a plastic chair at the center of the living room; his legs – swollen as a balloon – hoisted onto a stool in front of him, his left hand supporting his head, the right on the armrest of the plastic chair. The T.V is on, to full volume, and some flimsy Nollywood film about a Prince falling in love with the Princess of a rival land is on. His eyes, unflinching as ever, stare directly at the T.V screen. And, for a second there, it beats me how a man as old as he is would be enjoying such a distressingly pathetic script about how a Prince and a rival Princess fall so deep in love that when their two communities go to war, they jump into the middle of the battle and declare themselves sacrifices for the sake of Peace. Because, “Love trumps All.” Such baloney.
And then I take a closer look and notice that he’s really not watching the television or paying attention to the Prince’s incessant whining about how great Love is. He’s staring into space. He’s staring into thin air. He’s staring at empty nothingness.
My Mum called me sometime mid last month but it went straight to voice mail. So she texted, “Your Father is Sick. Get back to me.” I called her that evening and, after her usual shouting and bickering over what I really do in Nairobi, she said, “I need you to come back home.”
“Didn’t you hear me, Mzee is sick?”
“Sawa. Wacha I come kitu next week.”
“Kama hutaki wacha. Utamwona kwa coffin.”
Then she hangs up. That was Auma Nyar Keya being her usual self; dramatic as ever. I called her back.
“Sawa. I’ll come Monday or Tuesday.”
“If you cannot be here by Monday morning then just let your brother come. Hakuna shida kama hutaki kuona Baba yako.”
“Sawa. I’ll travel Sunday night and be there by Monday morning.”
She didn’t even acknowledge what I had said, just hung up. And so, that Sunday night, I hopped onto a Busia-bound bus and was home before the dogs evenwoke up for morning glory. I sat next to this pretentious loud mouthed Luo chap in a stinky white hoodie, ugly dark sunglasses (but why are some Luos hell bent on embarrassing us?) and these ridiculously shiny shoes who seemed to want the whole world to know he was going back to Kisumu. He called close to 12 people and the script was always the same (and you have to read this part in a Luo accent);
“Omera narudi Kisumu bwana.”
“Eeehh. Tunaenda kuangalilia Baba ground bwana.”
“Ntakaa wiki moja hivi alafu nikirudi ntakupigia.”
“Eeehh. Hahahahah. Si unajua lazima ka-GlenFiddich kaanguke nikirudi.”
By the time he was on his fifth call, I could recite his conversation word by word. So I fell asleep and, gladly, woke up as he was alighting. I almost poured libation to the goods in gratitude.
“Ian…” he goes, “…what’s someone got to do to get some porridge around here?”
I put aside the book I had been reading and head for the kitchen. I have never made any porridge all my life. Shit, I don’t even like porridge. But, for my ailing father, I will learn how to cook squirrels if he wants me to.
Thirty minutes later, I serve him a bowl of what, in my mind, is the most kick ass porridge human hands could ever make. He takes a sip, twitches his face and says, “This is the shittiest porridge I’ve ever tasted.” Then he attempts what sounds like a laugh, but only a cough comes out. A long strenuous cough. A painful cough.
The old man has been ill ever since we buried my Grandfather – his father –in September, 2016.He has grown thin and weak. He barely eats, only drinks porridge, and rarely speaks.He coughs 973238 times an hour and, when he walks, takes every step like it could be his last. There are days he can barely get off the plastic chair – never sits on the sofa – and then there are days he gathers some little strength and drives around.
The other day he had to pick up a parcel from the Post Office so I took shotgun while he drove. We arrived at the Post Office at 12:58 p.m., exactly 2 minutes before their lunch hour. He parked, we got out of the car and as we headed for the door, we saw the Post Office guy close. And we know he saw us see him close because we were right there, literally less than five steps away. And I got so pissed off I remember saying to him in my head, “Makes you feel pretty good, doesn’t it? Denying an ailing man a simple thirty second service?” I imagined him going home that evening, tucking his children into bed, kissing them on the forehead, and hopping into bed with his wife. And she would ask him, “How was work today?” And he would sigh and say, “Great. I sent away this old sickly man and his bushy son at lunch time today. You should’ve have seen them beg, it was hilarious.”
“Kijana,” he began, soon as we got back from the post office and I was assisting him back to his chair, “would you do me a favor?” I said, Sure. He said, “Shave that bloody beard.” I asked, “Why?” He said, “Because you’re young yet too old?” And that’s the most confusing thing my father has ever said to me my entire two decades of existence.
Get Well Wuod Agatha.