HOME IS A CASTLE OF STORIES

BLACK SHEEP


When they tell Johnnie’s life story at his burial, they will skip a lot of parts. They will sneer at the part where he was a drunkard. His father will probably tell the burial committee
 “Hiyo ni vitu ya ujana, vijana ni lazima wafanye tumakosa hapa na pale.” Then he will burst into a giggle. He always laughs when nervous.

They will jump the part where he ran away from home, at 19, to Mombasa because he had sold off two his mum’s three bags of beans, to “start a business.” But the business did not work out. That is what happens to businesses, they just fail. He says “Mimi biashara niliwachia wenyewe.” with a whimper in his voice.

Two months later, in August, his mother’s phone belts out a Catholic tune. It was her tired Nokia 1200, an epochal phone, which could stand monument to Kenya’s history. She was standing next to the latrine, shouting to his younger siblings to stop playing in the maize farm. Then she would turn to look at the shamba. Then it had only three houses, the store, the main house, the boy’s house, and a grave, one grave, his brother’s grave.  She picks on the second ring.

He is breathless. He stutters

“ Hallo Mum. Uko poa? Ni Johnnie. Aki huku ninaumia. Unaweza pata mia mbili nipate supper? Aki please. Pole sana mum.”

She asks him where he is. His Facebook, she has been told says that he is in Turkana.

 He says, “Mombasa.”

Mombasa is the furthest he could go. He is a Maasai. A Maasai doesn’t know how to go past water bodies. They can’t survive. They get there, round up their cows, and set up camp for the dry season. So, she sends him 200, and fare to come back home, no questions asked. She is a mother who loves with more than her heart. He doesn’t eat the fare as he is used to eating everything; he sells the mattress he’s been sleeping on in Kongowea. Bids goodbye to the Kamba guy who employed him to sell Njugu and Kahawa Tungu on the beach. The next morning, he boards TSS for Nairobi.

The guy writing the eulogy will be told to forget, that he once had a motorcycle. A Skygo 150 cc, the type that is used for bodabodas in Narok.  It was not his, his brother had bought it, for his dad. This family was tight. But his dad could not ride, so he had taught himself how to ride it. After falling over corners, into acacia thorns, on rocks. He earned it with his blood and wounds. It was his now. His mum called it “hiyo piki piki ya Johnnie.”

It was a beat motorcycle. The dashboard had flown off to be with the Gods.  The tires had kissed the tarmac so long, that their lips were smooth. They had long given up. They would skid on the tarmac like a sloppy teenage kiss. The brake handles were well worn, the work of his hands. It struggled up the hills with coughs and asthma. The wheels would buckle and pan out in exhaustion.

Sometimes, it would wake up in the morning, moody. He would kick and kick at it, but it wouldn’t even “woiye “him.  It would simply sneer at him and go back to sleep. Those days he would walk to town. But it never gave up, this bike. It would carry all the Napier grass, for his father’s cows. It would ferry him around town on 200 shillings worth of fuel. It would take him back home, in the middle of the night, him tipsy and drunk from a night of partying. He thinks this bike had a brain of its own. Somehow it always knew the road home, even in the dark, though its headlamps did not work anymore. So, he painted a flame on the tank. A flame, according to him, never dies.

The old man, his uncle, who will represent his family at the funeral, will skip some things. He will forget that he was married, for some time. He had moved out of home, in disgrace. Once again, he had run away. He had left the bike parked in front of a bank. Banks are the safest places to park. He knew that they would find it because his dad used that bank every week. But he had not run far. This time it was Nairobi. He married and got a kid. That’s what you do when you are married. They will forget all that.

“But my luck always runs out,” he says.

 I jot down something and smile. I am thinking of “running out like a Sportpesa win.” The marriage hits the rocks, as they all do. It hit the rocks really hard. One month they were lovey-dovey, the next one they hated each other, he and his girl. They couldn’t look into each other’s eyes. They had two things which glued them together. A small baby and no money. The glue doesn’t last the deluge, they parted ways. She went to her mum, in Nakuru, him to his father in Narok, with his daughter. She said ‘he had to find a way to take care of his seed.’

This time he did not call. There was no need to. He sneaked in, the late of night. No one expected him. Even the family dogs barked and howled away because they did not expect him. When he knocked on the door, his young brother was there to open it.  He wanted to apologize, for missing the young man’s circumcision. It is sacrilegious in his culture. When one of your brothers goes to face the knife, you have to be there, to make sure that he does not tarnish the family’s name by trembling before the village doctor. And to check the size of his mjuols, that he really is your brother. He had missed all that. But he left the door open for him, no questions asked. No one would chase him out. Blood has always been thicker than water.

The preacher, from his mother’s church, will be told to forget, that he, Johnnie, never went to church. He had gone once, after his brother’s burial, to deliver a “thanks for all your support” card. That was it. He did not fit in. He does not want to be too religious. He is not an atheist either. He just does not envision the responsibilities the church might give him. They might tell him to be the guy who rushes microphones to ‘visitors’ when they are told to “sema neno Moja kwa watu wa bwana.’. He might be forced to join the praise and worship, but he does not envision his voice singing “cha kutumaini sina” because he has a pathetic voice. Leathery and patchy. I laugh at this. The word pathetic reminds me of Ian Mbugua.

“A poor voice? You should hear mine.”

“Oh, I croak, even when singing along to the radio.”

“What do you have against the church?” I ask

He lets his hands off the steering wheel for a moment. “Nothing. Mimi sina shida na kanisa. I grew up in church. But the church wants me to do a church wedding. Hiyo Mimi sitawezana. Harusi ya kanisa Aki ni stress.

Our conversation is cut short, often by a car zooming past us. He wants to overtake each of them, but his hands are tied by the beep beep of the speed governor. Often, when a car swooshes past, he curses under his voice. He stomps on the accelerator a bit harder. He has pride. He has pride in his skills and the job he does. He is a tour driver, he takes people (white men and women mostly) to parks around the country. His smile greeting them at the airport.

When we hit Mai Mahiu, there is a traffic snarl up. He recoils. He grabs the radio and reports that he would be late. His guys are supposed to be at JKIA at 12, but he is stuck. Then he smiles, for a moment. I did not get what he was told. His sigh comes up slightly short of the car before us lurching ahead. It is a sly one, a smile that lights up the two scars on his forehead. They make him look tough, like a Maasai gangster. Have you ever seen one? A Maasai gangster? I think they would be badass. They would be the Al Capone’s of Kenya.

At some point, he just blurts out.

“You know I have been the black sheep of the family all my life. I have been the guy that does all the wrong things. I have made mum pray so much that I think God is blue-ticking her. Right now, she is praying that I get married.”

“How do you know that?”

He says he knows it. His whole body knows it. It tingles with that feeling. She has been asking about his daughter. He knows his mum. After all, he was named after her father. She has been saying things like “ata mimi huwa nachoka’’ whenever he is home, and she is serving lunch. When she came to Nairobi, she subtly said that his house needed a lady’s hands. It had shades of dark a tad bit too much.

“Do you think she will speak at your burial?’’

“Who? My mum or the wife I don’t have? Mum will not. She can’t. She won’t. I don’t know much about that wife.  I don’t have her yet. But I don’t think I will marry an orator. I won’t get a Teressa May for a wife.”.

The ears of the white lady behind us perk up at the mention of Theresa May.  She is definitely A Brit. Her teeth show it. They have been eating too many potatoes for life. I feel like turning around and asking her about Brexit, and colonialism. But I can’t.

“I think my daughter can. She is talkative. She howls around all day. She stays with mum though. Sisi wamaasai huwa hatutupi damu yetu” I smile.

“But they won’t let her. I think probably they might let her read the eulogy. But the man of words in the family is my brother. He will be given that chance. He will write the eulogy most likely.”

The traffic starts untangling. People who had gone to release the pressure in their loins by the rocks on the side of the road are running back to their cars. Horns are blaring. Ladies who had taken the chance, to take a few selfies at the escarpment troop back to their vehicles. Their giggles are too loud. Those ones might be drunk. Johnnie takes a pause, sighs deeply. It might be the wait or the weight of his words.

“He will add a corny line katikati, a joke that only he and I understand. Probably, there might be a poem at the end, his poem. At the bottom, he will add a quote, a quote that only the educated ones in the burial will understand. He will be the family spokesperson, in the future. The only problem is that he is radical. He will make everyone cry.”

“How do you know all that?” I am forced to ask. The road is picking up some speed.

“Because he did that with my late brothers too. Same thing.”

“And why do you think of your burials and death?”

His eyes turn a shade of black. A driver brakes ahead of us, with a squeal. A V8 overtakes us with all the arrogance of a politician. The stereo in the car blares on. The white tourists continue sleeping, oblivious of the environment.

“Because we all are destined to die. Even the black sheep do.” Sigh


A story by Lomon Ang.

Homeboy is our resident editor here. But today, roles were reversed.
















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