23 LITTLE THINGS

I’m slowly beginning to realize that only the little things matter in life.

 

On Thursday last week, I walked out of the office circa 7 p.m. I was tired and broke, with a bag carrying an extra set of clothes huddled to my back. All I wanted was to grab a beer and get some sleep. But my Dad’s first anniversary was the following morning, so I took out the very last 1000-bob note I had in my pockets, hopped onto a bus that stank of piss and headed home.

 

I slept the entire journey; not once getting off that bus to pee, take a shit, or grab a snack because I was afraid the bus might leave without me and, because I didn’t have any money left, I would remain stranded in that town and turn into a glue-sniffing street kid or a security guard at some Sacco offices or one of these chaps that come to you as you’re trying to reverse your car from the parking lot and pretend to be telling you how and where to move just so you can leave them with some 20 bob as you drive away.

 

I arrived home at 6 a.m., Friday morning, and found my mum, brother and sisters preparing for church. So I dropped my bag and joined them. And for the first time in a long period, that morning, I realized how out of touch with the church I had become. I didn’t know the words to any song or prayer; hell, I didn’t know when I was supposed to kneel or stand or clap. Nevertheless, that service was dedicated to my father’s soul; so we sang whatever we could and prayed along to whatever sermons we had mastered and knelt and stood and knelt and stood some more and shook hands with the rest of the congregation and paid tithe and knelt again. And it was beautiful and quick; 45 minutes, in and out.

 

Then we drove down to the village that afternoon and went to my father’s grave and my mother led us in a million songs only she knew the words to so we just hummed along and she didn’t mind because, at that moment; she wasn’t our mother anymore; she was his wife. She was a wife singing for (and to) her dead husband. She was a woman reminiscing on the decades of beautiful life she had spent with a man who could now neither hear, speak, nor touch her. She was a woman struggling with finding her footing after losing the first man she ever loved, dated, and later got married to.

 

And we understood. So we hummed along as she kept singing. And, when she was ready, she stopped. And she led us in prayer, then we cleaned the grave and put flowers on it and hoped he was doing fine up there. And then we went into the house and had fish for lunch because we believe that was what he would have wanted us to have; not chapati, not omena, not beef…fish. Because he loved fish. I stayed alone with that man for about a year after finishing high school and he would let me cook anything but on the days he came home with fish, he would tell me to go watch the T.V and he would take his sweet time cooking that fish to perfection. Then he would serve us both and, when he was done eating, his plate would be so clean you wouldn’t need to wash it. Which is why I knew his illness was serious when he asked me to buy him fish one evening and, after making it, never touched his piece.

 

Throughout that entire period, it was just us; my mother, brother, three sisters and my mother (occasionally, my cousin too.) We slept in bug infested mattresses and blankets, under a roof that leaked at some parts when it rained. We were all broke; one of us had just lost their job, the other had just received their first pay but had to use that money to pay for some exam in school, another was yet to pay their rent and was busy playing cat-and-mouse games with the caretaker (leaving the house at 5 a.m. and coming back at 11 p.m.)… between just us siblings, we had a solid Ksh. 50 bob. But we were happy. We were a bunch of broke ass happy souls. We ‘beat’ stories and cracked jokes and watched Afrosinema from a 14-inch screen and ate chicken and fish and laughed.

 

I loved that trip. Because I was with just the people that matter. Your father dies and the world calls to tell you, “Stay strong, it will be well.” A year down the line and nobody remembers anymore. They call you on his anniversary, because it is a Friday, to ask whether you’ll be buying drinks and you say, “I don’t have money. I’m also at home.” Why? They ask. “It’s my father’s anniversary.” And then the next thing is, “Ooh, Sawa. Niambie ukirudi.” And then a beep. And it’s okay, because some of them don’t matter; it’s the ones that pray with you at the grave that do.

 

And, so, as I turn a year older today, I’m starting to appreciate the little things more. I love how the sun shines on my face; I love how traffic weaves along Thika Road in the evenings; I love how Tdat says “Kaasabun” in all his songs; I love the ‘Samsung’ ring around the top of KICC; I love Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish movies, and I love a cold bottle of Coke.

 

Here are 23 other useless little things that have come with my age;

 

1. I have reduced my drinking. Not stopped, just cut down kidogo. I’m gaining the courage to say ‘No’ to people who call me out for drinks on odd days. Because, in as much as I love me some (good) whiskey, I have realized I can no longer drink from Monday to Monday. Not because I can’t, but because I just don’t feel like it anymore.

 

2. My Father died a week to my birthday. That did it for me as far as throwing birthday parties go. So, if you were planning to call me about a cake; don’t. I won’t buy no cake. I won’t buy no booze. However, it falls on my day off so if I do go out, it will be just a normal night out, nothing to do with a birthday. Maybe someday when I have finally moved on I’ll have the courage to throw one. But not today. Just not today. Not Yet, at least.

 

3. I’m also discovering I actually love walking long distances. I walk from work almost every day. I breathe in the fresh air and admire women I will never get driving cars I will never drive. It’s a thrill, really. Somebody also told me it’s good for the heart.

 

4. I gave another shot to burgers and pizza the other day; they still don’t taste right in my mouth. Chapo-Madondo are still the shit.

 

5. Khaligraph Jones may just be the best rapper Kenya will ever have. But King Kaka is still the Best Artist to ever do it (Yes, there’s a difference.) Timmy Tdat is also a legend, don’t argue with me. .

 

6. Miguna Miguna, the most famous man in the country at the moment, has singlehandedly kept the biggest airport in the country at its feet for three whole days. That tough-headed Son of Nyando will go down in history books as one of the greatest activists of our time. Nobody can take that away from him.

 

7. I have dreamt about winning the Sportpesa Jackpot three times now. I already know what car I would buy and how I would distribute the money amongst relatives. Yet I don’t even bet. Perhaps that’s a sign that I should start, No?

 

8. Everybody seems to be flocking there these days, but I think Blend Bar, along Mombasa Road is overrated.

 

9. Don’t ever spend your money on people – especially women – who don’t spend theirs on you.

 

10. For the first time ever, I boarded a Thika-bound matatu and the driver (a Kikuyu) played Musa Jakadala the entire way. I gave him a 100-bob note as I alighted and asked the Lord to bless his soul.

 

11. I’m not a morning person, but ever since I got this 8-5 that kind of pays the bills, I have found myself waking up at 4 a.m. many a time. I don’t like waking up at that hour, but I think it has instilled some kidogo sense of discipline in me that I wouldn’t have acquired otherwise.

 

12. By whatever means, I don’t care how, I have to be driving by end next year. I don’t care if it’s Uber Chap Chap or kuendesha chooni.

 

13. A friend of mine called me out for a drink a while back. We downed a whole bottle of whiskey before some mamis joined us. He went home with one, and I was tasked with ensuring the other got home safely. My phone had gone off, and I had just about 100 bob in my pockets.

So I tapped my boy and he handed me some loose 300 bob as he got into an Uber. Now, I normally don’t have any cab service on my phone but, even if I did, I couldn’t hail one because my phone was off. And I didn’t bother to ask if the other mami had Uber because I would still not have been able to pay for it with my phone off. So I did what any other man would do, I told the mami we were going to board a matatu; straight up. Midway, she asked for Chips and Chicken and I had to buy that shit for a mami I wasn’t even going to bang, at 3 a.m. in the bloody morning. Which meant I now remained with just 150 bob. Fare for two came to about 140 bob. The matatu took a while to fill up, during which time she was pestering me to call an Uber. “How, you have the app stashed somewhere in that huge butt of yours?” is what I really wanted to ask. Instead, I said, “But I have already paid.” “It’s just 140 bob,” she responded. I even called her after she had arrived at her destination to ask if she was Okay. Yet I hear she is now grumbling and saying things about me. There are some good women in this world; and then there are those that would just have been turned into newspapers at birth tutumie kufunga nyama na kuwasha jiko.

 

14. I pride myself in having an ear for talent, and I’ve listened to some amazing artists during my time. And then I went to a friend, Brian Oguna’s house in Embakasi a couple weeks back and, as we drank whiskey, an upcoming artist walked in and played us a few songs from his soon-to-be released album. His name is Bassil Vishindo and, I guarantee you, by the time you guys will be hearing of this kid it will be too late. Sample his first track HERE.

 

15. There is an old muscled chap in Drake’s ‘God’s Plan’ video that says, “I ain’t got nothing, but I look good, it’s the good life.” That chap is my hero from now henceforth.

 

16. No, seriously, someone should kick Octopizzo out of the studio already.

 

17. I just got a text from Blaze saying “Hi, Ian. WHOOP WHOOP, It’s your birthday today…” yada yada yada. I mean, “WHOOP WHOOP?” What year is it, 1960?

 

18. Here’s to two decades of eating Chapos. The amount of Chapos in my stomach right now and that that I have released over the years could probably buy me a piece of land.

 

19. I need to switch banks, KCB keeps stealing from me and they think I don’t notice. Any recommendations?

 

20. I still haven’t watched Black Panther. Or Game of Thrones. But I’m breathing just fine. How about you? Now that you have watched them both. Does T’challa file your tax returns for you?

 

21. Lang’ata has some of the cheapest bars. They also have some of the hungriest cops. I was literally arrested for just walking across the street at midnight, in the name of “Nyinyi ndio mafisi wa hapa Lang’ata sindio?” T.F does that even mean?

 

22. To those men who go to fast food joints and buy chips with just one of those tiny packets of tomato sauce, the Lord is also watching. There won’t be space for you in Noah’s Ark should these floods persist.

 

23. Gifts acceptable are only in form of Mpesa or aged whiskey. Thank You.

Advertisements

IN A NUTSHELL

Thursday, 23rd March 2017. 11:44 a.m.

 

Is a day (and time) I will never forget as I live out the rest of my years. Because it stands as the day the man who raised and taught my siblings and I the value of everything we know finally caved to Cancer and left us to fend for ourselves in this big bad world; all on our own.

 

I would like to think that my father, Thomas Omondi Were, held out for as long as he possibly could. When we kept asking him how sick he was and he kept replying, “I’m fine,” I’d like to think he did that for us. Sometimes when he would fall asleep with a mug of lousy porridge that I made and unconsciously produce the sound of a man having a blade driven through his heart but deny it when he woke up, I want to keep feeding it into my mind and soul that he was fighting. For us. I want to continue living knowing that he fought on and tried his best to stay on, until his number came up and he couldn’t put on a brave face anymore. And so, with the little remaining strength floating away from his fragile body one gloomy morning, he would turn in his hospital bed at Aga Khan in Kisumu and ask Austin, my big brother, three questions a father should never have to ask his son;

 

 

“If I should go now, is there anything I haven’t provided you people with?”

 

“Is there anything you would lack?”

 

“Is there anything you would need that you don’t know where I kept?”

 

 

To this date, my brother admits that witnessing our father in that state ‘messed up’ with him. Broke him as a man. As it did me. I will never move on. I will continue going about my days – getting up at 5 a.m., preparing for work, and drinking neat whiskey – like I’m Okay and nothing is wrong because that is what a man must do but, deep down, I will never be “Fine.” I will never be just “Okay.” And I need people to understand that I’m perfectly comfortable admitting that on this blog and not in person because you, reading this, cannot see the tears flowing from my eyes and onto the keyboard as I bang this down. Because that is the kind of man my father raised me to be; to keep my emotions in check and act like a man. And, to be honest, I don’t know whether that’s a good or a bad thing. But I know that, on a 29, 000-bob monthly salary, Omondi Were took my siblings and I through some of the best public schools in the country and not once delayed in paying the school fee. Because that was how important education was to him.

 

I’m still figuring my shit out, but my brother graduated the other week. An LLB from the University of Nairobi.  The old man would be proud. Because, like he used to say, “The difference between successful men and the rest is found only within the pages of a book.”

 

Folks, I’ve had a rather slow year so there’s not going to be much on this post. Nevertheless, here’s the rest of how my 2017 has been;

 

Reconciling with my Mum

My Mum and I haven’t been in a good place for a while, since way before my Dad passed on. We could go without speaking for three months straight and I wouldn’t feel like I was missing anything in life. And, I’m not passing blame here but, a part of that was my fault…but most of it was hers.

 

But then my Dad died. And I saw what that did to her. And I couldn’t live with myself. I couldn’t live with not knowing how she was doing every once in a while. I couldn’t live with being the family black sheep anymore. I couldn’t live with knowing I was always going to be a disappointment in her eyes.

 

So I called her one evening, after a sit-down with an uncle in town, and we spoke. We’re not on the best terms yet, but we’re getting there. Because a broken iPhone screen or burnt chapati you can replace; what you cannot replace is your Mother.

 

Friendships. (This one is a bit petty so if you hate drama you might wanna skip on)

My Dad’s death (and I promise this is the last time I’m referring to it in this post) taught me a lot of things about Friendship.

 

The most important being this; Nobody owes you a damn thing in this world. Nobody! There are people I considered so close to me I would have crossed miles for in their tough times. But, as I came to realize, just because you would do something for someone does not automatically mean they would do the same for you.

 

From the convoy that came to bury my Father, only 10% were my actual friends. The rest of the group composed of people who were my friends just by the virtue of them being my brother’s friends (great folks, those chaps.) And I think I’ve said this here before, the morning after we buried my Father, my brother came to me and said, “Omera you have no friends.” And, even though we laughed about that, it stayed with me. It sunk a hole in my heart and made a home in it.

 

And so, if you consider yourself my friend and we drink together and hit each other up for loans when we’re broke and talk about girls but you couldn’t even spare a day out of your ‘very busy schedule’ to come bury my father, I want you to know this; we’re cool. Just that if I were in the house on a Saturday night watching a movie and you were out and, accidentally, got arrested, I wouldn’t pause my movie to come bail you out. And it’s nothing personal.

 

8-to-5

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would wake up at 5 a.m., go to an office and sit at a desk till 5 in the evening. I always thought I’d land one of those flexible (or conservative) jobs; like those advertising firms where you get to the office at 12 p.m., work till 3 and pour yourself a double of whiskey from the office bar (yes, most of these advertising agencies have bars in the office) to round off a day of hard work. I always thought I’d enjoy that kind of thing; it’s what I’m made for.

 

But, No, I landed an 8-to-5 job towards the end of 2017. And, at first, I thought I’d hate it (I’m not a morning person) but, truth is, I actually love it. I love it because it involves the one thing people, including my Mum, say I’m decent at; Writing (well, there’s also drinking and dissecting Chapos but who’s keeping record.) And I love it because I also get to work and interact o the daily with people I grew up admiring but never thought I would ever meet in my lifetime.

 

Irvin John Jalang’o; May the Good Man Above keep opening doors for you and expanding your horizons Baba. I’m forever in your debt. Ero Kamano. Always.

 

Relationships

 

I realized this year that I’m still not ready for anything serious just yet. Found myself in situations where I was almost in a couple relationships but they all fell apart because, apparently, I’m an emotionless jerk who just can’t seem to find time to call every day. I don’t see myself finding that time in 2018 either so that shit might just have to take a back seat. But I wish the rest of you in relationships the best of luck this coming year. To the ladies, just remember this; nothing is more of a deal breaker to a man than a woman who, for the life of her, just cannot cook Chapos.

 

Folks, I’m getting tired of apologizing for posting less every year. Which means that you are too. But bear with me, I’m trying to switch it up kidogo in 2018. Let’s  redesign and re-brand the blog first then move on from there, ama namna gani my frens?

 

That’s my time, I need to go grab a beer now. Have a blissful 2018. Stay safe. Stay alive. Stay happy.

BED 10, 11:44 A.M.

 

Thomas Omondi Were

 

 

(My Father died exactly three months ago, on a date like today’s – 23rd – and at the exact time this blog post will go up – 11:44 a.m. These are some of the events leading to his passing. As well as my way of dealing with it.)

 

 

I stay with my father for two or three weeks at home; making him shitty porridge and humongous Ugali that he doesn’t even touch and helping him type work stuff on his laptop and sending mails on his phone and acting as his escort to wherever he needs to go because he’s weak and could fall at any given moment and would need someone to pick him up when that happens.

 

 

Then he leaves for the airport one brisk morning on his way to a hospital in Nairobi West; he’s accompanied by my Mum and one of his best friends in the teaching profession who offers to drive them to Kisumu International Airport (you have to say it full like that) in his car. That morning, he wakes up weaker than he has throughout the entire time I have been with him. His legs are swollen and he’s shaking and he only points at stuff he wants brought to him because he feels pain every time he speaks. My Mum tells me she’ll call me soon as they get to Nairobi and I wish them a safe journey. That evening, my brother texts, telling me the old chaps never made it to Nairobi and are still in Kisumu. I call my Mum and she says Mzee could not be allowed into a plane in the situation he was in; and so he was admitted at Aga Khan Hospital – Kisumu – ward, Bed 10.

 

 

***

 

 

For the first couple of days he seems jovial and settled and comfortable. He takes all the medicine provided by the doctor and even asks for more. He smiles with everyone that comes to visit him and tells them not to worry because, “…I’m fine, I’ll be back on my feet in no time.” And then he laughs so loudly it feels like the heavens are pulling apart. He talks to the Luo nurses in Luo and the Kikuyu nurses in pathetic broken Swahili because if there was one thing that man could not do even if it had a billion-shilling reward was speak proper Swahili; and he was unapologetic about it because he came from a place best known for sugarcane and the highest number of chang’aa drinkers in the whole county. A place the government – in 2009 – recognized as the most rural place in Kenya. A place people pay to be signed onto WhatsApp and Facebook. A place people could not pronounce the President’s name if they tried so they just call him ‘Ouru.’

 

 

He asks me if the money he left us for food and basic necessities back home when he was leaving for the hospital has run out and I say, “No, we’re still good for a couple or so days.” He makes as if to reach for his wallet and my Mum stops him, tells him to rest and not to bother himself about big boys. He laughs and tells me, “You heard your mother, you’re big boys now.” I say, “Yes, we are, we’ll find a way.” And, with that, he leans back on his chair and my mother walks me out as one of his best friends comes in to see him. Two seconds later, the laughter coming from his ward could deafen a family of bats. I say to myself, “Ah, he’ll be good.” And I run downstairs to the hospital cafeteria for a soda. Then I go back home in the evening because my kid cousin is alone at home and he’s already texting, asking what we’re having for supper.

 

 

I do not go back to the hospital for a while (and regrettably so) because, at some point, my Mum lies to me that the hospital has slapped a ‘no-visitors’ policy on my Dad. Then my brother texts one evening asking why I do not go to see Mzee and I tell him Mum said visitors are not allowed at the moment and he tells me that was a whole load of bollocks; that she was probably only trying to protect me because Mzee was getting bad. Real bad. I scrap around for fare from friends and make my way early the following morning.

 

 

I get there and my father does not recognize me. Just stares at me blankly, breathing in and out, stomach fattened. There are only a few things that can hurt a man deeply – texting the girl you think is your soul mate in 2015 and she replies in 2017; rushing into marriage with a woman because you ‘love’ her only to later realize her Chapos taste like tissue paper; and then there’s sitting two-feet from your father and him having absolutely no clue who you are, or why someone who looks like a Solex padlock is shedding tears next to his hospital bed. At some point my brother – who had spent the entire night by his bedside, together with my Mum – drops by and notices him struggling to turn over so he helps him do so, and then shouts in his ear, “Have you seen Ian? That is Ian seated back there.” But, still, he does not acknowledge or even make any movements in the affirmative; he just lies there shaking like a leaf in the winter. And nothing has ever broken my heart like that. Nothing probably ever will.

 

 

I continue coming every day after that.

 

 

And then, on Thursday – 23rd March – I get to the hospital and, after one look at him, excuse myself to go to the Gents. And I cry in there till a stranger comes in and, without even saying a word, offers me a tissue. And I say to myself, “No, that in there is not my father. Can’t be. Impossible.”

 

 

Let me explain;

 

 

***

 

 

The man I have known my entire life has always been Strong. The man we have all known has always been Strong.

 

 

In the wake of the very first year when my father took over at a little-known school in Siaya County – Rang’ala Boys Secondary – as the Principal, succeeding a hugely popular man, the students went on strike. One night, at around 10 p.m. (I remember because it was just after the News and we had been sent away to bed so the adults could watch ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’) the students – about 50 of them, by my rough estimate – surrounded our house and started pelting us with stones. At first, we hid in the bedrooms but soon as a stone went through and hit my sister, we converged at the corridors – as we figured stones could not pass through the walls – and we waited for the tension to die down, all the while taking care not to shit our pants. But those boys were determined to pelt us for as long as they could. So my father went into his bedroom, wore a heavy grey jacket, picked up this monster torch that was so popular in those days, grabbed a big ass rungu, told us to stay in the corridors and walked out the door. Alone. Less than twenty minutes later and those boys were back in class and silence and peace had been restored and he came back. One old man with a torch and a rungu; against over fifty students armed with stones. Folks, you can’t make this shit up.

 

 

See, that was my father. That was Thomas Omondi Were; a strong man; a fearless man; a man with balls of steel; a man who faced problems head on and almost always won; a man with a black belt in karate that he never even bragged about.

 

 

(I don’t know about you guys but if I had a black belt in karate, I would drop that shit on every conversation. I mean, we could be talking about how tasteless chicken smokies are or how shitty Infinix phones are and I would just blurt out, from nowhere, that “By the way I have a black belt in karate guys.”)

 

 

***

 

 

I exit the gents, head back to the ward and say to myself, “Yes, that is definitely not my Father. That man shaking like a frail bird with tears almost welling in his eyes and hooked onto endless pipes to aid in his breathing CANNOT be my Father.” And I say that over and over again in my head until the ward is filled with people – Aunts, Uncles, Friends – and the nurses ask some of us to make room. So I leave and go take a seat at a park near the hospital’s entrance.

 

 

About an hour later, I notice my Aunts and Uncles and Sisters coming out of the hospital breaking down. And I think to myself that maybe, like me, they’re just in denial over his present condition. But I decide to go check it out anyway.

 

 

I pass my mother in the hallway crying against a friend’s shoulders and, dreadfully, walk into my Father’s ward. I find my brother covering him while singing a song that, for the life of me, I just can’t get out of my head; “…I will sing the wondrous story, of the Christ who died for me…” And, at that moment, even though I’m in denial, it hits me that he’s gone. But I still need someone to confirm it for me. “He’s Dead,” my brother says, amidst his singing. I hear him clearly, but I pretend not to have, so I say, “What?” and he repeats the same words (just this time louder and clearer); He’s Dead.

 

 

Time Stamp: 11:44 a.m.

Date: Thursday, 23rd March, 2017.

 

 

And so, the story goes, my Father would die a week to my Birthday.

 

 

Here’s the thing; I will never understand Death. And I don’t know what criteria God uses to decide whom He takes and whom He leaves in this world. But what I do know is this; my Father did not deserve to go like he did. My Father did not deserve to die that way; frail, half-unconscious most of the time, unable to recognize his own son, unable to walk to the loo so pissing himself in bed and having my Mum and brother clean him up, with his stomach so swollen someone would have thought he swallowed an elephant whole.

 

 

The man that raised me – Thomas Omondi Were – did not deserve to go out like that.

 

 

Fuck Cancer.

HONORING MZEE

kwara-2

 

 

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.”