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.

NURSING MY FATHER

123

 

 

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.”

 

 

“Why?”

 

“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.”

 

*Other person*

 

“Eeehh. Tunaenda kuangalilia Baba ground bwana.”

 

*Other person*

 

“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.