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G21 FICTION - THE FATIQUE OF TRAVEL: Kenya's JOHN KARANGA KARIUKI offers a tale of a return to one's past.
Ol Kalou, KENYA - Muchene arrived at his rural home in Mweiga late in the afternoon on the eve of his father's burial. A lot had changed in the twenty years he had been away and several times he sto pped to ask for directions. As his LHD New-look Range Rover reared its head into the homestead, chicken and goats scampered for safety. His children had their first bout of wonder at these strange animals.
John Karenga Kariuki
A small crowd of mourners, who were keeping vigil at the homestead, rushed to welcome him. Muchene only shook a few hands. He waved to the rest of the group with one hand. His other hand held Kananu, his wife, tightly around her waist.
It was not lost on the village women that Kananu wore a tight panty hose, which outrageously pronounced her derriere. Her breasts too were visible beneath a flimsy top.
"A Mzungu!( white woman!)" some neighbours whispered urgently. "No, this is a born-town African!" others corrected. "Common fools! This is a skin that money an good living can make!" a man whispered urgently.
Kananu carried a mobile phone in one hand and a can of beer in the other. The children, Jordan and Madonna,each carried a water bottle.
"Ni muoka!" So you have finally come, his mother asked.
"Yes we have come, Mum. Damn these terrible roads." Muchene replied in English.
His mother peered at him and nodded. "Ni minoga ya njira!" It is fatigue of travel, she said.
"Dad, this woman is so old and black!" Jordan said animatedly, tugging at his mother's hand. Both Muchene and Kananu pretended not to have heard him.
The visitors were offered seats in the tent where everybody else was. They talked little. They replenished their drinks of tinned beer from a carton in the vehicle. The burial committee suspended its business to drink the imported beer. They shoved and pushed to get the tins that Muchene gave from a carton. Only pastor Njoroge refused this treat.
Muchene was introduced to many aunts and uncles he had never heard about before. "Pleasure to meet you!" he said shaking hands profusely. The newfound kin too replied: "pressure too!"
The master of ceremony, Zacharia did a wonderful job of instilling an instant grammar lesson to the bewildered relatives, "Pressure too." Zacharia had schooled with Muchene in Primary school and they struck an instant friendship.
As the evening wore on, Muchene, through Zacharia's translation, enthralled the mourners with tales from America. He explained the unemployment benefits and the civil rights enjoyed in that mystical country. The villagers particularly wanted to know if Americans simply discarded their cars when they wouldn't start and if it was true second hand clothes that reach here are collected from jails in America. Everybody wanted to know the formula of success from Muchene.
"Ni mukuria!" You are going to eat, his mother announced, placing plates if irio, a traditional dish - of potatoes, spinach, corn and peas in a savory sauce, in front of Muchene and Kananu.
"Love my system cannot handle this!" Kananu said quickly to Muchene.
"Thanks, Mum, we are really not hungry!" Muchene said in English. Zacharia quickly translated this to vernacular with a note that implied village food was for villagers.
"Ni minoga ya njira" It is the fatigue of travel, his mother remarked, taking the food away.
Frantic preparations were made for where the visitors would sleep. Neighbours lugged in mattresses and others carried new bed sheets and blankets. A young man's hut, though now a night shelter for goats, was fumigated with several canisters of insecticide. It was swept and dusted quickly. A resourceful woman even managed to produce a stick of incense, which would mask the smell of goats until dawn.
"Ni mugukoma?" You will retire to bed? His mother asked.
"Ah, actually, Mum, we are going to the Tree Tops lodge in the Aberdares national park for the night!" Muchene said.
Zacharia translated this, insinuating that everybody should have guessed it! The crowd of mourners fell silent.
"Ni minoga ya njira." It is fatigue of travel, his mother sighed.
At the TreeTops, the family had a sumptuous continental meal. The children, Jordan and Madonna visited their chat friends in Baltimore via the Internet. By the same facility Muchene and Kananu updated themselves with the state of their business, African Dreams, a modest hotel in Baltimore, USA. From their house help, they learnt that the family cat had developed a cough. Muchene instructed her to call the vet. They also confirmed their flight back to New York via London the following evening.
The family slept late. They took their brunch at noon. They drove the short distance to Mweiga, arriving just in time for the burial. Nobody took much interest in them as they approached the graveside with video cameras in their hands.
"Why are we here, Mom?" Jordan and Madonna asked.
"Nothing much, my dears, we are only here to witness the burial of a dead, old man."
"Is he your father, Mom?" wide-eyed, Madonna asked.
"No, love! He is your dad's father."
"Let's go back home in Baltimore, Mom!" the children begged.
The pallbearers shoved Muchene away as they brought his father's body to the graveside. His sisters and brothers and the new found uncles and aunts formed a human wall, pushing him to the periphery with his video camera. He fought for his rights to document this auspicious occasion, by pushing and shoving forwards. He broke through as pastor Njoroge was saying, "dust unto dust" and sprinkling a handful of soil into the grave.
Muchene used a lot of force to push his way through. He braked quickly before he fell into the grave. But his maneuver caused a can of beer in his coat pocket to spin and fly out into the grave. The can hit the coffin and burst open, fizzing its contents out. The ceremony continued as if nothing had happened. Soon it was over.Pastor Njoroge shook Muchene's and Kananu's hands. He invited them to be visiting Kenya often. Women came forward with the customary African presents. The LHD new-look Range Rover was packed with freshly harvested sweet potatoes, bananas and cabbages. The master of ceremony, Zacharia, reminded Muchene of his dumbness, thirty years earlier when they were in standard one. "Do you remember the song where pupils would jump at the mention of an edible animal?" he gleefully asked. Presently he sang it:Ngo'mbe ruga,
Jagathi ruga, (Cow jump,
Muchene remembered this and smiled. The teacher would sing this song and he would jump at the mention of a hyena, dog, and lizard to the merriment of the whole class.
"I remembered that song when I saw you yesterday!" Zacharia said.
Muchene gave him all the remaining cans of beer. They exchanged addresses warmly. Zacharia wrote in a faded notebook and Muchene saved it in his mobile phone, which also took Zacharia's picture.
He drove away slowly, along the country lanes. He refused to acknowledge waving mourners who walked by the road sides. After Nyeri town, the vehicle stopped. Kananu removed all the presents in the boot and threw the food away, "Clods and sods make me sick!" she said.
The vehicle started again, heading to Nairobi. "Our cat is sick children!" Kananu said, "We must hurry back and see how it is fairing!" These were her last words on earth.
At least, Muchene swore, and called out to the Lord before the big, hired, 4WD vehicle hit an embankment and plunged into the waters of river Chania, a tributary of the Tana, following a tyre burst.
A little after six o'clock a police car came to the Muchene's rural homestead. The children Jordan and Madonna were in it. A woman police sergeant handed the children over to Muchene's mother. "We are sorry the two adults who were in the car are dead!" the police officer said.
Villagers who still milled around the compound began talking in small groups. Some wizened widows asked Muchene's mother many questions. "Who was the lady?"
"I presume she was my son's wife and the mother of these children."
"And who are these children?"
"I can only guess that the boy is named Waweru, after the man we have just buried. This girl should be Nyokabi, named after me if my son followed our customary naming ways."
There was a long pause.
"We don't remember you mentioning any in-laws!"
"I suppose there is no more need to know them now!"
"Theirs was a marriage made in America!"
"I reckon it must have been made in Hell."
Muchene's mother hugged the two frightened grandchildren as the hot tears she had suppressed all along began to flow. Neighbours began gathering to keep vigil of the dead. Again.
JOHN K. KARIUKI says of himself: "I am a 39 years old science teacher at Nyandarua high school in Ol Kalou, Nyandarua district of central Kenya. I write as a hobby and make frequent contributions to the East African Standard's education magazine which is published every Wednesday under the by line john k. kariuki. I also run a social commentary in The Leader a weekly English language paper owned by Royal Media Services who are proprietors of 9 radios that broadcast in some of Kenya's indigenous languages. This column is called vile naifeel (the way I feel it) and I use the by line Johnny k.
"I ran a humour column in the Home News, a small weekly rural paper based in Nyahururu with a circulation of 1000. I am published with one novel, MYSTERY OF THE RED MOUNTAIN, a secondary readers title that is published by phoenix publishers, Nairobi, 2005 ISBN 9966-47-102-2. In this book I have used the by line john k. kariuki."
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