It’s Just Grass


You hear voices. They drift over the fence just after sunrise. Small village talk. Voices of men, mostly because women are back at home, swiping the kitchen, lighting fires. What they lack in volume, they make up for in depth, like they are speaking into pots. It’s right outside my fence because that’s the best place to have a conversation in the morning, outside someone’s fence. I don’t mind because I wake up very early to read. I lie in bed and listen to them converse. 

They are not the only sounds of the morning. The village stirs unhurriedly and comes with different sounds; The very distant drone of a motorboat out in the lake – the early boat that caught the fish. Only fish is caught at night. There is the passing sound of a donkey with empty water jerry cans strapped on its back. A choking motorbike behind the raggedy road in the thicket where on an evening walk last year I saw a dead dog, half its body in the bush. In the background of these sounds are the sounds of tens of songbirds, my favourite being the Mourning Dove. A morning isn’t a morning without the sound of the Mourning Dove. Its sound seems to come from a hollow wooden instrument, a somber sound. It drives me insane with pleasure. 

Then there is the sound of the shamba-boy – who everybody calls Wajakoya – raking the grass, pretending to be the kind of guy who rises very early and puts his back to his job. I’m annoyed with him. They always annoy you, these shamba boys. 

I showed up unannounced, as one should, hoping to surprise him. I ended up surprising myself. I found the grass – although healthy – wasn’t mowed, leaves were not racked. My roses looked shrivelled and sad, their leaves curled and surly. There was a wide patch outside the house that was dry, so dry it could have started a fire by how angrily I stared at it.  I walked about in my shoes, looking and sighing, feeling gradually agitated by each mistake I saw. He strode behind me. 

I said, “What the frk, Emmanuel?” (I refuse to call him Wajakoya). “What the frk!” I glared at him. It was after 2 pm and blazing hot. The sun was so low we could have reached out and touched it if we wanted to. He started giving excuses, and I held up my finger and said, “No excuses. Ukianza excuses tutakosana mno.” I could have used “sana,” but I felt like mno had a more menacing ring to it. Plus, I haven’t used it in a while. 

I told him to walk with me. We started right outside the lower gate, where a pile of chewed sugarcane sat in a small heap. Someone had been sitting there, chewing sugarcane, living their best lives. 

“Hii sii mimi, ni hawa vijana wa kijiji.” he protested, missing the point. This wasn’t a whodunit. I didn’t care if it was Mary Magdalene herself who had chewed sugarcane there, I cared that the trash had not been discarded.  

“Saa zile wanakula miwa inje ya boma yangu uko wapi?” I asked.

He mumbled something that perhaps happened a few days ago in one of the evenings. “And you haven’t seen it fit to clean this up?” I asked. “I have to come all the way from Nairobi to ask you to clean up this mess?” I sounded like my mother. Either that or you see this trash and feel like it’s part of the vegetation, I asked him. Or perhaps I am mistaken and you are trying to grow sugarcane here. “Are you a sugarcane farmer now?” 

Not a peep from him. 

We proceeded inside; one side of the grass was mowed, the other side wasn’t; a power blackout in the middle of a haircut. And considering I had sent money for the fuel a week ago. I know it takes three days to mow the whole place. I was so pissed off I didn’t know what to say, so we stood staring at the grass. He knows how I feel about the grass. He does. I told him when he started the job, to screw up anything but not my grass. It’s inexcusable. It’s atrocious. It’s like showing me the middle finger. 

“Umeamua hii ndio standard unanitakia hapa kwa boma, sindio? Ulikaa chini, ukasema, Biko ananisumbua na hii kazi ya kuweka nyasi ni kama nyasi ya harusi, acha nimpatie marking scheme mpya, sivyo?”

“Hapana,” he mumbled. He looked around the grass like he was seeing it for the first time. We stood there like two men standing over a grave. “Lawnmower inafanya?”

“Eh, ina fanya.”

“Iko ma mafuta?” 

“Iko nayo.”

“Shida ni wewe sivyo?” I said. “Uko busy sana hapa kwa boma huwezi chunga nyasi yangu.”

He avoided my eyes. We were standing on a big patch of shadow made by a palm tree. The air smelled of grass and leaves and heat. 

We trod further up: What are those dead branches doing there? Inquired, pointing at the foot of a fence. Why is the kitchen garden not tended? Do you know why these climbers aren’t healthy? Take a guess, it starts with water. When we got outside the verandah I stood and had a long look at my plants there, all droopy and sad, dried petals, weeds at their bases, choking, dying from thirst and neglect. Truly heartbreaking to witness.  It was at this stage that I gave my closing speech as we stood facing the plants, as if addressing an assembly of the doomed. 

“There is no way you will ever convince me that you water these plants daily.” I said, “No way. Which means you don’t care for these plants. You look at them dying, and you think, “Let them die, we all die eventually.” You deny them water and life, and, in essence, you deny me life because these plants are my life.” (Of course, I was being dramatic.) I paused. You have to pause to let the gravity of the words settle in his heart. 

“Have I shown you photos of this place when I bought it? Oh, not yet? I’m sorry, here, let me show you.” I went to my gallery in 2018. “ This is what it looked like. Do you see anything green? No? That’s because I planted everything green here. And it has taken years to get here. Then here comes Emmanuel who wants to come and spoil this work because he refuses to do his job. Four people of your kind have come here trying to spoil this work, and guess where they are? I don’t know. What I know is that they are no longer here.” Another dramatic pause. 

“I have a vision for this place, and I’m only going to work with people who share this vision with me. We will hold hands and walk together until you let go of my hand. Today I feel like you are letting go of my hand. And if you let go of my hand, I will let go of yours. Whatever you want to do from this point on is your business because I already told you what I want, so it’s for you to decide what you want. Next time I come here, I want to see this place as green as it was in April. If it isn’t we won’t have this conversation. Or rather, I won’t. Now, get me the keys to the store.”

“Pole, boss,” he said and skunked off. 

I went and poured a drink, a shot of whisky, sat under a tree, and thought, “It’s just grass…it’s just grass…but is it?”  

That was my weekend. How was yours? 


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    1. Ha! We all deserve as many visitors as we can, don’t we? That is what friends are for.
      Anyway, surprisers get surprised. Never pull that move.

  1. it is not just grass, Biko.
    it is your dream.
    it is the place you have chosen as your ushago, a place to relax and you want a green look which is easy on the eye and beautiful to relax in. it is money and sweat which you have spent on the look you want. It is attitude and why we fail when we get a job, as soon as the salary starts coming in consistently. It is the beginning of the end for our jobs, only to move on to the next victim, to live off the salary we get even as we sink further into indolence. Then complain there are no jobs. And it is happening right now across this nation. Sad.

  2. Are you sure you had not stepped on BEE and you were looking for someone to pour it out on?
    Interesting though.

  3. uuuh seems the guys keep disappointing you,, employ me now I have never taken care of grass before but how difficult can it be surely??

  4. Hahaaaa Biko always cracking one up ata time hudai kucheka

    & are you our Ghanian boss? Coz I swear he used the ““I have a vision for this place, and I’m only going to work with people who share this vision with me” line last week with us

  5. Great read.
    correct me if I’m wrong Biko, you said the maandamano series would be a 3 part series…
    you’ve written 2.

  6. Wajackoya is somewhere right now imitating your overly dramatic phrases. “I have a vision for this place, SIVYO”

  7. Biko kweli unajua kuzusha.

    Word of advice: Silence

    Next time (if there is a next time) walk with him in total silence. Take your time inspecting the sore spots with him by your side. Pin drop silence.
    (Ok you can curse and sigh loud enough for him to hear).
    Ask him to pack his belongings & count his dues to date.
    Lakini for this to work you need to have a replacement on standby.

  8. This is so me-but in my case,I would be ranting about my neglected avocado bushes in the village.

    Deep read.

  9. It’s not just the grass. It’s all the calls (time and airtime) you made home to check on the grass, all the water bills you’ve footed from 2018 to date, the shamba boy’s salaries, the fertilizer, the cost of the grass itself, and above all, the sentimental value it has as a landowner. And maybe, just maybe, the future income it represents.