If a close relative passes away, there’s generally a lot of work to be done. Between the time you receive the disheartening news and the time the departed is finally laid to rest, a million little arrangements will have to be made. Someone is going to oversee the whole thing, usually an uncle who likes to get on top of things.
Among other things, you have to go shopping for a coffin, where you will ultimately find yourself standing in front of three coffins, scratching your chin and trying to figure out which one will be most fitting. Naturally your eyes will be drawn to the white one because you’ve always liked white and this one has a shiny gold tapering around it. But your uncle will have already decided that the brown one is better. And then you have to waddle down to church and book a slot for the service, of which you will be told you can’t really have the mass on Friday because there will be a wedding, so you have to settle for Saturday. If you decide to bury in Lang’ata, you will have to go see someone from the city council. Otherwise there are announcements to be made, event programs to be printed and a Eulogy to write.
Then there will be travel logistics to look at. Aunty nani will need a lift.
It’s in the mix of these travel plans that I found myself on a bodaboda early this morning. The thing would drop me off at a stage where I would take a mat which would then take me to yet another bus stage.
The weather was nippy, and I wore my favorite jumper. As the bodaboda scaled a small hill, the wind blew into my face and I could feel the rustling in my hair. My eyes were only half opened and I didn’t have a helmet, but the rider regaled me with enough stories to help me relax.
But maybe I should start this story from the beginning.
I was jolted awake today by BM’s voice. He was standing by my bedroom door. The light in the corridor was on and I could make out his silhouette. I managed only a groan because I was partly livid. I mean, hadn’t I got into a bed just a few minutes ago?
As I groggily went into the shower, I happened to see my reflection in the mirror. My face was all puffy and my eyes looked like dull marbles.
So today I was down in Central, Murang’a. One of my grand-folks, he passed away some days ago and today was his burial. It rained over there last night, and as you might expect, it was rather muddy. And cold. The air smelt like bananas and cow droppings.
During the journey the tarmac was mostly wet. It drizzled from time to time and the car’s wiper squeaked every time it swept across the windshield. The road snaked around green hills awash with tall trees and fields of corn. Then at around 11am it got misty and visibility dropped to a number slightly above zero. The trees up ahead looked like limbs from the underworld. The word Hades came to mind.
I love a good mist. I love the tension that comes along with the knowledge that, at any moment, something might suddenly appear in front and you won’t realize it until the last minute. It’s thrilling.
But when the earth was clear again and the slopes became steeper, I noticed a few houses hiding in the hills. Most of them were fenced with nothing but vegetation and it all looked mighty peaceful. Smoke came out of some. While others seemed lonely and forgotten.
I imagined an old woman in one of those houses, seating on a three legged stool with a leso around her waist and a kitambaa on her head. I imagined her sitting by a wood-burning stove, warming her bony hands and thinking about her children who grew up and left the boma to go and shake bushes in the bustling city. In a few minutes her husband would come home for lunch before going back to the farm. He would be clutching a hoe. And then she would chuckle proudly at the pun.
Anyway, I was seated at the back of an old Nissan. Whenever it picked up speed, some parts it creaked like the deck of a ship and the engine complained a bit. The interior was beautifully furnished, though, and the back seat hugged me nicely, cozy as hell. There was an orange air freshener dangling from the rear-view mirror and the driver occasionally lit a fag. He would hold the wheel with the cigarette between his fingers and smoke rushed out of the open window. The smell of tobacco filled my nostrils and instantly took me back to a time when I didn’t give two shits about lung cancer.
A little ways down the road was Maguna-andu, or Magunandu, I’m not sure. It’s a supermarket that I vaguely remember from my high school days. Maguna-andu was where we would stop over after trips. Some would instantly disappear as soon as they got off the bus, only to come back a few minutes later with bottles of liquor and soda.
When we got to our destination we found that the church service was already underway. There was a man at the front holding a microphone and he talked in very conc kyuk. The church building was an old mass of stone and brick-red roofing. The place was packed and some of the faithful spilled outside. At the entrance were the words, ‘Come to Jesus.’
I didn’t hang around the church too much, though. Better to leave my seat for someone who can actually grasp the language. My kikuyu leans on the pathetic, so I opted to go walk around and see what the village had to offer. It was then that I met a really drunk fellow who, surprisingly, had great command of English and a voice like a high school teacher. He mumbled something to me about obeying my parents and how he had been orphaned at 18 and how he had done casual labour for two years after that before enrolling in the army. He said he was now retiring, and as he talked I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guy. But I also couldn’t help but notice how spittle hung from his lower lip as he talked.
By the time I was getting back home, I was starving and my shoes were slick with mud and my back hurt and I couldn’t wait to get this post over with.
Tomorrow is my last paper. Hopefully this one won’t be as hard as the last, and that I’ll be able to answer at least half of it.
One last thing before I go.
That mat I was telling you about up there, the one that I got onto after the bodaboda. It had a lady tout. She was Akorino, gave off a tough vibe and had these very stubby fingers. She had a plumpish figure and a round face that gave her a cheeky finish. She talked loudly and whistled even louder and joked around with everyone. You liked her immediately. She broke into song as she collected the fare and they were some really nice tunes, to tell you the truth.
And then when the mat stopped to pick up more passengers, she said something to the driver that was totally unexpected. As she banged on the side of the jav, she said, “Songesha chuma iende.”
And I found that so funny I’m still laughing.
Wacha nisongeshe chuma hadi kitandani.