Have you guys been to Tana River? I haven’t—I being Eddy Ashioya. Yes. The Don left for Tana River (he’ll be back next week, hopefully, maybe?) and he forgot I had a spare key to the house—okay, I had a spare key to the house made…*cue Mojo Jojo’s evil laughter.* But let’s not make this about me, not when Gloriah-with-a-h is humming from the kitchen. She’s really made herself comfortable, this girl. She’s even wearing crocs in the house. Crocs! Sibling rivalry aside, Gloria-with-a-h is back with another banger! If anyone needs me, mans will be in the spare bedroom catching up with Top Boy. No spoilers, innit?
Gloriah-with-a-h, over to you fam. *Kisses teeth*.
If you visit my home and stay long enough, Mother will tell you the story of the time my father fell. When she tells the story, she first rests her head back on the chair, closes her eyes and laughs for a full half minute. If my father is around, she’ll open her eyes, turn to him and say: “Bonface, you remember that time you fell?’’
If he isn’t around, she’ll say to you, the visitor: “Have I told you the story of how Baba Dayo once fell?” But often, my father will always be around, because Mother enjoys telling the story when he is there and she almost only tells it when he is around.
Whenever the story is told, Father will suddenly grow stiff, and smile at the visitor with strained pleasantness. Sometimes, he’ll find something to distract himself with, often, his phone. In all the years my mother has told that story, he has never openly protested or contributed anything except this one time, many years ago, unable to restrain himself, he burst out with rage in the middle of the story and barked, surprising even himself: “How many times are you going to talk about that damn thing!”
But that was long ago.
Over the years, the story has slowly changed in Mother’s mind. For example, sometimes, she confuses the hospitals and instead of the Provincial General Hospital, she’ll say the District Hospital before she can catch herself, or she’ll mention the wrong leg or that Father stayed in the hospital for six months instead of six weeks.
As a child, I hated that story. It had amused me at first, but I slowly began hating it and it got to a point I could not stand it. I hated how cold it made Father. I hated how Mother told it laughing and how often she told it. I hated how much tension it brought and I wondered whether Mother never noticed that Father hated it. It took me years to notice that telling the story made her equally nervous and that she only told it after they had quarreled over something.
She told it to our uncles, to cousins and to their friends. She told it on the day Kiki brought home Nick- the first man she ever thought would marry her. He laughed and laughed, that Nick, and after that, Father started addressing him with his full name—Nicanor. We never saw him again. Mother also told the story to Collins—Kiki’s third suitor—a tall, rigid man with no sense of humour (and the least attractive looking of the three, although Kiki’s taste would deteriorate over the years except that they would be rich looking) whom I suspected was only picked because his aunty was married to a cousin of Raila.
According to Mother, she had been in the kitchen getting ready for visitors (who she no longer can recall properly. Sometimes, she says her brother and his fiancé and other times she says some friends) when she heard a thud. In the earlier years, when Mother got to this point in telling the story, she would act it out.
I heard something go booop! then my name being called.
For the thud, before she discovered that the armchair gave a more satisfactory result, she would fold her right hand into a fist then hit her left palm with it.
When she ran out to check, she found Father—who had been trimming the fence—on the ground, the heavy metal ladder on top of his leg. Sometimes, she says he was nearly passing out when she found him. Once, to an overly friendly female colleague of my father she said he was weeping like a small child. But he was visibly in pain and so despite his protests not to be taken to the hospital, Mother got help and rushed him to the Provincial General Hospital which was the closest. He had fallen from the ladder and the ladder fell on top of him. As a result of the weight, he broke a bone and so he had to undergo surgery.
At the emergency room, Father’s leg was anesthetised but they left him awake because it was not a major surgery. However, a thick curtain was drawn halfway to separate his upper body from the lower torso such that he could not see his legs.
When Mother gets to this part of the story, her eyes start to dance with mirth and she unconsciously grips the armchair as one would if they were anticipating a bumpy ride.
“Once we got in, they hoisted Baba Dayo’s leg and tied it so that it was hanging from high up,” she’ll say, her eyes now dancing in a half mock.
But the nurse who had tied Father’s leg had not tied it properly, and in the confusion as everyone tried to get ready for the surgery, my father’s leg came down with a thud. (At this point, as she tells the story, she will raise one hand then clap it on the other furiously).
A nurse shrieked in horror. Mother, in reflex, woke from where she was sitting and rushed to try save the falling leg. There was a long second where everyone just froze and watched, waiting for Father’s reaction.
Father had somehow heard the noise but had not felt any pain. Seeing everyone alarmed, he turned to Mother who by then was standing next to him and with genuine concern, asked:
“Elizabeth, mano ang’o ma oluar no?”
What has fallen?
Everyone in that surgery room burst out in uncontrollable laughter.
Telling that story split us into two. There were those who loved to hear the story and these were inclined towards Mother, naturally. Then there were those who could not stand it, like me, and we frowned in solidarity with Father (in the bedroom where we would always be locked in when there were visitors) whenever it came up and in our childhood foolishness, we hated the teller a little more for telling the story. Then there was Kiki who between trying to spot new, better suitors and trying to lure them home, was too busy to take interest.
It was easy hating Mother back then. She was strict, busy and the only time she was ever around to have any contact with us, she spent it beating any love for her that might have remained out of us. Father on the other hand was the cool, available dad who would never do any wrong in our eyes. On the holidays when Mother was away to school for her degrees or to seminars, we spent the days listening to old classics, blues, or reggae and watched old movies with Father on our Great Wall. On the days when she was around, we would lock ourselves in the bedroom and pretend to study, anything to stay out of her way.
Years later, of course, I would discover that they had their own issues, and Mother’s way of letting it out was in such ways like telling the story or beating us. But we were children then. And so it was that way for years and years, and we thought Mother only loved my brother (who is actually also named after her father), while the rest of us were our father’s children.
But Mother has not told that story in two years now. Even when she discovered that Father had on bad advice mis-spent a couple of millions of his lifelong-earned pension money or when she heard rumors of ‘another woman’ from years ago when she would be away in Kampala for school, she didn’t say anything. The beatings stopped years ago, of course (at around 13 or 14 years for almost everyone, and much later for me). For now, she has adopted silence as her answer to everything. Silence is her answer when she pays for bills that Father should have taken care of but neglected; silence is her answer when Father takes loans he means to pay school fees with but spends them on personal things like electronics and expensive photographic equipment. And although she has never said it, perhaps Mother wishes she should have been silent that time, years ago, when she was called from the kitchen.
Last train for those leaving town for the creative writing masterclass. We’ll frolic in words at Enashipai Resort for two nights and three days. And have Singleton cocktails in the evenings as we stare into a bonfire under a starless sky. Maybe someone will sing. Maybe not. Silence is also good. Register for the class HERE.
Or maybe, to get DRUNK before THURSDAY, click HERE.