Sometimes when I’m in shags I wake up in the dead of the night and stumble out of my Simba to meet an unyielding wall of darkness outside. Into a complete silence often broken by a distance howl of a dog, amplified down the valley. I sleep naked – I think I have said this before and so there is no need to keep repeating it here – which means because the toilets are a distance away from my Simba, I always stand stark naked and take a wee against the hedge near my Simba.
I stand there, a naked silhouette, and feel like an extension of the darkness. I feel the darkness move through me. At that hour, the night is usually very still, as if holding its breath. I often look up at the dark blue sky and feel immense freedom, an inexplicable oneness with nature. There isn’t anywhere I have been to that made me feel like I belong to the earth other than those nights in shags, peeing against that fence under that dark ominous sky.
We don’t have night runners in Kendu-Bay. I have heard about the legend but I have never seen or experienced one. Often when I’m standing at that fence, I imagine one hurling cow dung at me from the darkness. Feeling the air shift as the load of cow dung approaches me at a night-running velocity. Then splash, against my chest followed by a sharp, soprano laughter from the darkness. More like a shriek.
Of course this never happens. No nightrunners.
I’d make my way back to the Simba and stand outside for a moment to take in the night. I’d direct my gaze up to the looming main house with its dark windows; my dad and his wife asleep inside. Next to it, Jane, my dead mom, asleep as well in her final resting place. I’d stand there and stare hard towards the direction of the grave and hope to see a sign, a shape, a spirit, my mom’s spirit, standing there, waving at me, probably mouthing, ‘shave, Biko, you look like a bum.’ But of course nothing of this sort ever happens and I’d go back to bed and read for an hour until sleep sweeps me down the dark river of unconsciousness.
I’m taking Tamms and Kim to the village in a couple of days. You know, so that they can know ‘where they are from’ and all that jazz. This was greatly informed by a conversation I had with Kim. I asked him, “Kim, where are you from?’ and he said, “Thika.” It felt like I had been stabbed with a kitchen knife. I was alarmed! I said, “You are not from Thika, Kimani! You are from Kendu-Bay!”
“No,” he retorted adamantly, “Me, I’m from Thika.”
“Me, I? You can’t say Me, I’m from Thika. You say, me I’m from Kendu-Bay.”
So I gave him an orientation. I told him he’s half from Kendu-Bay but half from Maragua. “But the Kendu-Bay half is the one that comes first.”
“Why?” He asked.
I hadn’t anticipated that the conversation would get this far, I thought he’d offer unequivocal obedience. Because I didn’t have a satisfactory answer, I said, “Because Kendu-Bay is further than Maragua.” Then because I believe in scorched earth policy, I added, “you can cycle to Maragua and be back in Nairobi by four-PM tea time. But not with Kendu-Bay.”
“How long will it take?”
“To cycle to Kendu-Bay?”
“You can’t. You shouldn’t.” I said. “Look, just remember that you are from Kendu-bay first. OK?”
He looked at me. He didn’t seem convinced, but he saw that his honest answers were wounding me, that I bruised easily. So to save both of us and for the sake of world peace, he said, ‘OK’.
But what good is being from Kendu-Bay first if you don’t know a thing about Kendu-Bay? That’s why we are going. The last time they were in my shags was seven years ago so I’m more excited than they are. We will stand over my mom’s grave and pray. We will wake up and drink tea with bread spread with BlueBand and groundnuts wedged on it. If they won’t have nightmares or cry or report this to their mom, they will watch a sheep being slaughtered. There is that blank, glassy look of a slaughtered sheep that doesn’t leave you. It always stays with you. Maybe watching that might not be a great idea, because, what if God forbid, they turn vegan? I can’t think of anything worse. To think they will be those people who look at a menu for too long as the waiter stands there waiting, pen ready, because waiters have the whole day.
I will take them to the river where I learnt to swim over the August holidays. River Awach, a brown frothing menace that boils from Kisii. My older cousins would hurl us in the torrential water and it was up to you to sink or swim. I’m here, so I obviously chose to swim. I will take them to watch the sunset at the jetty in Old Town where ships ferrying goods would dock in the 80s. I don’t suppose Tamms will wake up that early seeing as it’s greatly unfashionable for teenagers to wake up before 11am. I will stop the car outside Gendia Mission Hospital and tell them, “my mom died in there ten years ago,” and hope not to dissolve into tears. Tamms was four, so she’s a fading memory of her. Kim just knows her as the woman in the picture, like the way we know photos of Kwame Nkrumah. I will take them to see my grandmother and watch in amusement as they try to communicate in an impossible mix of Luo and English and an occasional very tattered Swahili held together by a thin string of desperation. But they will somehow understand each other because the greatest language is love.
My only regret is that I won’t be able to sleep naked because I will share a bed with Kim who thinks that somehow there is a bogeyman out there, a monster, who might ignore all of us and steal him in the middle of the night. I will go to bed in very small shorts, like those tiny shorts that rugby players wear, only mine won’t be made from canvas. Thankfully, Kim, like me, is a cuddler so it works out fine.
My bags are packed. My spirit is already ahead in the village sitting under a tree, only my body remains in the city, tying the annoying loose ends.
Today is Closing Day here. [Reminds me of the song ‘Closing Time’ by Semisonic]
It’s been a good year, mostly because we are alive and we are healthy and we are favoured.
Thanks for your patronage. For reading. And commenting. And Liking. And sharing. I appreciate you. May all the roads you desire to walk on rise to meet you.
Remember, everything in moderation. Hydrate. Eat veggies. Kiss with your eyes closed. Ignore the complementary nuts in bars. Don’t eat avocado with sugar. Laugh without covering your mouth. Don’t drink and drive or get into vehicles driven by drinking drivers. Take a moment to thank whatever God you pray to.
Happy holidays, Gang.
See you next year. Inshallah.
As customary, the last person should switch off the lights here.