I know it’s God’s work when a holiday falls on a Tuesday. Because it means I get to put up my feet, probably a drink in hand.
Which means Eddy here with his quick wit and father issues holds forte. I hope you are all having a happy and warm enough holiday.
Happy Eid Mubarak.
See you next week. InshAllah.
By: Eddy Ashioya.
So…my English teacher (teacher of English?) warned me profusely against ever starting a sentence, much less a paragraph with ‘so..’. I never understood why. The problem—from a writer’s point of view—is that you can use that word only once (maybe twice, if you’re clever about it). But I have always been a rebel. So, (See, that’s how you use it twice) I did what I wanted.
Speaking of rebels, today being a holiday, I am holed up in my shack in the cold tropics of Nairobi, taking notes on Netflix’s prima donna runaway hit, ‘How To Be a Tyrant’, wondering why I am not at home with my folks.
My folks are in Kakamega as you might have guessed by now, and nothing beats a holiday other than a family holiday. (Happy Holiday!, by the way). Not just because of my drunk uncle who is a mainstay of the holidays, but because of the stories of giants he never seems to run out of. I don’t know about your family but in our family, holidays are a big deal. We go over the top, we sacrifice batas and rabbits and have everyone over. Everything is a cause for celebration. Passed the exam? Let’s celebrate. Got a baby? Put the champagne on ice. Started a sentence with so? Well, you get the idea.
We stumble through breakfast, with grandparents, uncles, and aunts, and cousins. And cousins. And more cousins. There would always be drama. A cousin who got out of jail and is now a clairvoyant pastor and can’t wait to shove the gospel down everyone’s throats. A last-minute dash back to the budget board because Uncle Jimmy ‘forgot’ to say he is coming with a plus one—a plus one who also came with a plus one.
There would be a row. There were always rows. And tears and threats and whines and whims. Trivial tiffs between cousins. Uncles and aunties comparing nephews and nieces report forms, trying to get one over each other. Cousins leering lasciviously. It’s the stuff of legends, I tell you. There will be a kid passed out in the bedroom, sleeping sacrilegiously through the melee. There would be noise. A squabble that escalated to a spat. We would, always, soon make up. We laughed. The grown-ups growled. “Silly children,” they’d groan.
More drama, as an aunty’s bag, would somehow, invariably, disappear. Vanished, or nicked, or lost. Everyone knew it wasn’t coming back. Everyone knew the ‘pastor’ most likely had taken it. After endless shrugs and sighs and insincere promises, and chants of, “Nitakupigia,” slowly visitors would start trickling out, short holiday done, aunts sashaying with luggage like ants.
I stopped going home mostly because my aunties would welcome me with a barrage of DCI-level interrogation: “Unatuletea mtu lini?”, which I would always deflect with a shrug where you might expect a swoon. I have always wondered why they want someone. Are they into human trafficking? Organ harvesting? It was much easier to go through the gulag than hold that conversation. By the same token, my uncles would demand I buy them ‘cham’, which is the German way of asking for illicit liquor. I don’t mind buying my uncles liquor, but are they not the same blokes who told me I should not drink? What double standard is this? Aren’t we just polishing the brass on the Titanic? If we are to ever fix this nation, we have to start at a granite level.
Last holiday, I bought my old man alcohol for the first time. I have always wanted to buy him a drink. It felt so good. We bonded a good one. I watched him melt like ice cream on a hot August afternoon. Socially distanced but still so close. We laughed about the time when he punched his boss after a falling-out in the office (Biko you are safe. I’m a lover, not a fighter). I probed his wound about losing his mother—he was a mama’s boy—and how that spiraled him like a typhoon. I brought up my historical injustices, in popcorn entertainment fashion, about that time in 2006, when we were in Uchumi Hyper Supermarket Lang’ata Road, where he bought my brother Johnnie the electric remote-controlled car I long coveted. He said he doesn’t remember. I almost called Johnnie but Johnnie and I are in a cold war fight at the moment because he can’t (won’t?) stop asking me for money. Johnnie, listen, I’m broke, bro. Okay? Okay.
We talked about his high school girlfriend (my father’s, not Johnnie’s you goldfish) and the letters they exchanged with each other. Letters which he has refused to let go of. I read one of them and picked up the man was quite the charmer. A silver-tongued snake oil salesman. In it, he describes his old flame as having a smile like cocaine powder—which raises a few questions about his drug history past. I don’t know about you, but if it were me, I’d be hooked. I’d tell you more, but I won’t. I ‘borrowed’ a few Shakespeare-esque pickup lines which I plan to use on someone’s daughter. As the beer drowned his insecurities, our feelings floated. Our spiral of silence strangled, his defenses down, I asked him about his plans, how many pieces of land he owns (hehe) and his life lessons. Himalayan pink salt, meet wound. We talked for so long, I left my jaw in that joint. “That’s enough alcohol for you,” I said, waving my wallet in a pantomime of reluctance, after the geezer had dropped a cool 8 beers, without the slightest hint of slurred speech. But, as he taught me, here we promote responsible drinking. “Buda, uko sawa?” I’d say as the waiter erased the crime scene.
Ultimately, the son becomes the father.
You know, after all these years, it’s still hard to explain my father. Maybe what I can tell you is this: There are characters in life you wish you could ape during certain situations in time. Something happens, and one person comes to mind—and most of us are never that person. You know if they’re around, then things will be just O.K. The image comes to you later, when you are taking your evening dump. “That sonavabitch, you know I was thinking about him?…” My dad was the guy who had a knack for being on your mind even when he is not on your mind.
He’s a different kind of inspiration—that some plants can bloom in the shadows, and that watched pots don’t boil any faster. In case you can’t tell, I get carried away when I talk about my old man.
There are some conversations you look forward to more than others. There are some you dread. Like the one where your old man sits you down at the front porch, the morning after, and according to the villagers, he is worried about that small matter that his son, his heir apparent, his lasting legacy, does not do ‘something’ in Nairobi. You see, my old man speaks like a ricocheting gun, in spurts of sparse words, leaving dramatic pauses where you fill in with a long hard look at your life. He talks in lean, rapid-fire bursts, all protein, no sugar. An array of wisdom bytes ready to be packed in a TikTok motivational highlights reel. The kind of man to talk about life, not lifestyle. His pound of flesh? The other day he told me Juma—you guys don’t know Juma but Juma was in class 8 when I was in Form 4—my old man claimed that Juma has three kids and a family. Wait, Juma has a family? And three kids? Yes, he said. That’s nice, I replied. He then fired a salvo over how he is growing old and he wants to see his grandkids before he loses his eyesight as he has already started wearing goggles to read and his ear has started not hearing well blablahblah. I am not sure if you’ve watched Netflix’s ‘How To Be A Tyrant’, but in Ep 4, ‘Control The Truth’, (spoilers ahead), Joseph Stalin used a verbal tic and maneuvering tactic by supervising the information that got out to the public through public relations and thus altering history. I listened keenly, listened to my old man bend history with his words, like a son listening to his father, like Juma’s sons listening to Juma, nodding my head in agreement, swallowing lochan lumps of saliva during his dramatic poses and promising him that I will look into his complaints. “Poa fadhela?” I’d bulletproof his words.
The conversations were only made palatable by the sheer number of chapatis my mother (Ma) would set before us. Here’s a dad joke:
“Ma, kwani you work for the Lord?”
“Because you have prepared a table in the presence of my enemies?”
Okay, you might need to have read your Bible to get that one.
Ma makes chapatis like how the Germans make machines—not an effort wasted. Everything makes sense. There’s flash and flair. There’s a welcoming arrogance. She makes chapatis like how Luhyas make conversations: easily. No, seriously Luhyas can talk about anything. It’s a talent. I always tell someone’s daughter that chapatis are grounds for divorce. Good relationships rise and fall on the subtlety of good chapatis. Said daughter laughs it off. She thinks it’s a joke. I don’t joke, at least not when it comes to food. I know the wheat will show up in my mid-section in 10 years’ time, but by then I will have made enough money for it not to be a dealbreaker. Personally, I fear hunger and pain, and not necessarily in that order. I see people buy over-romanticized ready-to-eat chapatis in supermarkets, the commercialization of a precious jewel and I weep for this generation. Oh, how far we have strayed from God’s light. But…seriously. You probably won’t understand the gravity of this situation, but chapati is a love language, it is the purest form of attraction. Making chapati is akin to writing a poem, eating chapati is poetry in motion. Ma’s chapatis are not a collection of album tracks, just greatest hits.
Now, I just realized it’s my responsibility to incite the holiday call-ups. The weight of family. Reality can be jarring. I’ve been running away from them primarily because I hate crowds and also the volume of chapatis Ma makes has suspiciously started reducing (in my community we don’t count chapatis). My old man looks like he is getting tired. I see the questions glint in his eyes, marking whether he has done enough, whether he could do better, whether he has enough time left. He’s no longer the young stud of his family. There’s a new sheriff in town. Time can be a bastard. The grey hairs are mushrooming on his head, and his tolerance for picking calls after 10PM, when I spring to life, has all but disappeared. I really don’t know if I am up to the task because I’m also trying to figure out this life thing. I’d like to let him rest easy and know that I will put in my shift, but I’m currently winking in the dark. I am tempted to call Juma (remember Juma?) and ask for tips. I’m still shook that now I can have bilateral talks with my father, over the general direction of our family, and tell him how I see it. He listens. He asks for my opinion. He respects my decisions. Everyone knows that there are certain moments in your life that are real passages. You don’t appreciate the clouds when you’re lost in the fog, until it lifts and all you can do is look back wistfully, time gilding the memories. Time, really is a bastard. I look up to him, watch how hard he works, how he’d always find a way, flicking out a different blade on his Swiss Army knife of a man and watch him cut his problems to ribbons. How do I measure up to that? I just don’t know if I am ready to carry the mantle, especially with my unresolved feelings towards that car that Johnnie ‘stole’ from me. I really do feel like that car was my birthright. Classic Esau Jacob. I think my first decree as head of our family will be to instruct Johnnie to buy me a replica, and coffer up a public apology. I’m joking. Or am I…
As I write this, I’m just off the phone with him. Our conversation was terse. He’s doing O.K. So are my sisters. I asked him to send some money for Johnnie, as I look for something small to send him too. I didn’t bring up the car. I think he’s tired. He doesn’t even want a smartphone anymore. The son becomes the father. Time, you bastard.
The take-away, you ask? I’m not going to give it to you. You’ll have to seek it out yourself. In the greatest movie ever scripted—Rocky—Sylvester Stallone tells a young Creed: You can tell a young person where the mines are, but he’s probably going to have to step on them anyway.
You must be wondering where I am going with this. I’m stepping into the minefield. And nothing would say ‘I-Got-This’ more than a tall (size matters) plate of soft, hot, all-you-can-eat chapatis to mark today’s holiday. It’s been long, I won’t lie. When it’s time to eat, I rarely need asking to the table twice. I know what you’re thinking; He’s such a food whore. And you’re right. Now, pin location.
What do I bring to the table, pardon the metaphor? Good question. A great attitude, garnished dad jokes and an uncanny ability to add sound effects to your meal. Yum. Mhh. Slurp.
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