This is a story without a beginning or an end.
A simple and authentic recollection over an expansive period of time.
It is an overdue celebration to a hero among us. We did not acknowledge his importance until we felt his absence.
The land enriches not people who clear it, but people who come when it is already cleared.KIKUYU PROVERB
HOME IS WHERE YOU BELONG
I remember that particular day vividly.
After two years away from home, I was finally back. I was undertaking my education and literature undergraduate studies at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
My kid brother, Wakibia was already at the Jomo Kenyatta International airport awaiting my arrival. From the skinny boy I had left, he had grown to a strikingly handsome man. A couple of inches taller than I was.
As he drew me in a big embrace, I felt engulfed in his puffed chest but even this overgrown body could not contain how elated I was.
‘’Mûrû wa maitu, how are you doing?’’ he queried with his notably deep baritone voice.
Truly, this wasn’t the Wakibia I knew. He hardly spoke in our mother tongue. In spite of this, here were his first words betraying this misplaced thought.
We drove away from the airport in Papa’s car. My brother casually swerved the steering wheel like an artisan expertly molding a pot.
In hindsight, this should have been the first red flag. Papa never allowed anyone else to drive his prized car.
Everything seemed to have evolved. The changes were striking. I could smell the optimism in the air.
The country’s electorate had recently handed the reins of power to the youthful and dynamic UhuRuto. Self styling themselves as the digital team, the Kenyan people expected that they would lead them to the ever elusive paradise.
The exiting president Mwai Kibaki, arguably had done performed substantially. The road which we were smoothly speeding on was one of his legacy projects.
We were on Outering road heading to the East part of Nairobi to our home hood in Donholm.
As soon as we got home, unsurprisingly, reminiscent feelings filled me.
A distant longing for the childhood memories we had made in the courts of our estate. Our black gate still stood strong, albeit faded from dust and the scorching sun of the city of cool waters.
The shrubs in our compound looked scruffy and unattended.
Scents of my favorite nduma(arrowroot) stew sifted through the air.
That was the smell of a loving mother. As Wakibia unloaded my luggage, I walked to the door and knocked.
He opened the door and gave me a long empty look.
Before I could even mouth a word, he turned and shouted,
‘’Nyina Gathiigia, twîna mugeni?’’ Gathiigia’s mother, we have a visitor.
He then turned and welcomed me before briskly walking away.
Pangs of pain shot through my heart. I desperately fought the watering of my eyes. There was Papa and he had just assumed me, despite faintly mentioning my name.
The sight of Mama was the only thing which temporarily got me off this melancholy. She was exuberant once she saw me.
‘’Kairitu gakwa…’’ she announced.
Showering me with kisses and like a typical Gikuyu mother, noting how I had lost weight.
Mama’s once soot-black flawless hair now had patches of white sparsely distributed on it. However, her renown beauty was evident. Her toothy smile exposed the gap between her incisors. My gossipy maternal aunts told us that it was this smile which captured and ensnared Papa.
IF FOOD IS THE ANSWER, WHAT IS THE QUESTION? PAPA?
Wakibia and Mama repeatedly put off my questions on Papa. She insisted I first indulge in her delicacies.
” Cira wothe wambagiririo na nda (every case begins from the stomach)…”, Mama said, quoting a Kikuyu proverb.
For sure she didn’t disappoint. I greedily heaped Mukimo, nduma stew and chapati on my plate. These were foods which I scarcely encountered in the Land of the Zulu.
Meanwhile, Papa did not utter a word or take a look at me. He sat transfixed on the sofa seat as he attentively watched a game of cricket. This struck me as very unusual. Cricket was not a sport with avid fans in Kenya, least of all Papa.
I continued to pester my mother and brother in a futile effort to get an explanation from them.
Hopelessly, I asked Papa these same questions.
Papa, are you okay? Nikii muthee? (what is wrong?)
He turned and looked me straight in the eye with the same blank look. For a fleeting moment, I saw my Papa in the twink of his eyes. A smile slowly formed on his dry lips before he slowly focused his attention on the screen before him.
ESCAPE FROM REALITY
I could not handle the depth of emotion bursting in my heart.
In fitful rage, I busted out of the house to seek solace on the outside and in the comfort of my long missed friends and of course my love,Nabende.
My childhood friends who were pretty excited to see me. I came bearing parcels of designer wear for my girls.They had incessantly arranged for me to deliver to them.
I was particularly eager to see my ex-boyfriend Nabende. His boyish and innocent looks seemed distant and forgotten. He spoke with maturity. He put emphasis on his syllables. It was as he wanted the weight of his words to be felt.
Him and I had hearty memories.
Hidden on the steep stairs of his house, we had shared our first kiss.
I was an adolescent teen, young and infatuated. It was memorable and awkward. A blush on my cheeks formed as I remembered how heavenly it felt. That is before he started sucking my tongue off and I forcefully pulled away.
Our relationship was a reverse exponential function. It dwindled as fast as time went. Nevertheless, we both allusively knew that this was an experiment.
It was the proverbial rocking chair, always in motion but never purposefully leading anywhere. In spite of that, we appreciated and treasured the fleeting moments we had.
We spoke with Nabende to the dead of the night.
However, thoughts of Papa distracted me. I toyed with different suppositions of what may be the matter with him.
Nabende threw me back to reality. He was engaged to a girl in his campus. A hint of envy was in me. Nevertheless, I was genuinely happy for him. He was kind and naturally good-natured. He totally deserved it.
A CHILD’S ADORATION
Papa has always been a quiet man. That is if you contrast it with our chatterbox mother. Not a man of few words per se. He spoke in a calculated and measured demeanor.
He was eloquent and used complex words. You know instead of saying vibrant, Papa would say flamboyant. Not in a literal sense though. Ignorant and simple minded people said that it was a show of pride and disdain.
Papa encouraged my brother and I to read extensively. Whenever Papa allowed us to read PG rated books, Mama got infuriated.
Papa would be quick to make a counter argument that a lioness doesn’t hide blood from its cubs. He was over the moon when I decided to take up education and literature for my undergraduate.
Papa was a TEACHER OF ENGLISH.
If you dared call him an English teacher, he would give you a lasting lecture on the difference in the nomenclature. An English teacher was a teacher with origins in the United Kingdom. Get it?
Wakibia and I adored Papa. We were proud to bear his surname, Wanderi. We hung on every word he said.
Every morning before going to school, we competed on who would fetch his Daily Nation newspaper. Each evening, he would supervise us doing our homework as he read his newspaper.
His commentary on the state of our nation was music to our ears.
I remember in 2002 as Kenya got over the Moi dictatorship, we jumped around the house shouting Kibaki Tosha! Kibaki Tosha! . Not that we cared, only because we heard Papa uttering this slogan.
Mama says Papa loved only five things; his wife, his children, his car, alcohol and music.
She said when they got married she always came first, but as their marriage wore on, she found herself increasingly relegated to the bottom of the list.
Mama and Papa both had different accounts of how they met.
I’ll choose the account by my ever dependable aunts.
Mama was the most prized girl in their village. Boys and men went to crazy limits to endear themselves to this gem. One was even reported to have delivered porcupine meat to her though with the pain of spikes on his body.
Papa was the least likely wooer.
He was nicknamed Wamabûku( the one of books). He could not be separated from his books.
Mama was a very ambitious girl so when Papa promised to take her to the big city in the sun she fell for him. To this extent, Papa has exceedingly fulfilled this promise.
Papa never hid his love for his wife. He openly used her pet name, Gachungwa to the envy of her peers. Occasionally they would argue and it was no surprise that Papa was the one who blinked first.
One memorable funny argument comes to mind.
The news hour at 9 pm was enshrined in our household. It was when Papa was able to catch up with the daily news.
Ever in her chatty nature, Mama could not help herself but throw in a comment or two. The news at hand was of particular interest to Papa so he asked her to keep quiet and quipped she was as noisy as kanyoni ka nja (the birds outside).
What followed was pin drop silence. We wondered what would happen next. Surely Mama zipped it, but we all knew things would change, most of all Papa.
In the following days, Mama lessened her wifely duties and stopped serving Papa’s food. Papa took it up in stride and adapted accordingly. It was only when he started sleeping on the sofa did he seek retribution. He bought Mama a brand new Kitenge which finally appeased her ego.
CANA YA GALILEE
Continually, it seemed to us that Papa was a different man while inebriated. It was as if he unleashed his alter ego. In his normalcy, he was usually timid. On the other hand, when drunk he was loud and jovial. Frankly speaking, we his children, enjoyed Papa in this state.
Certainly, not Mama.
Papa would be exceedingly generous. Giving us coins after engaging us in a spelling bee.
Music and Papa’s beer were in a holy matrimony. We would join him dancing in our living room from the sounds of UB40 on our record player.
Papa was the uncrowned King of twist. His moves prowess would at times break Mama’s resistance and she would join him as they re-lived their younger days.
His favorite pub was known as Cana ya Galilee.
Every Sunday, Mama would join other troubled women to pray that this drinking hole would dry. The men would jeer at them to make a point that it was Jesus who turned water into wine.
Unlike other men, Papa never failed to bring treats of roast meat from his escapades in Cana ya Galilee.
Our home had three prized possessions which each one of us owed a level of allegiance.
Wakibia and I held to heart our Great Wall TV. Despite its black and white vision, it coloured our world with its shows.
The rotary phone was Mama’s. On evenings after making supper she would sit on her knitting chair and engage in long conversations with relatives and her women folk.
Papa always bantered her by christening her as the Chief Intelligence Officer.
BREAKER OF RECORDS
Lastly, the record player was Papa’s cheap thrill. Nobody was allowed to touch it without his explicit authority.
He wiped it daily with a methylated spirit. It had a modified glass over the turntable. He delicately handled the stylus which ran on the record.
At times he dismantled the control knobs and did lubrication.
Large circular vinyl records were systematically arranged in a wooden cabinet. The collection spanned from local legends such as Shem Tube and John Nzenze to international legend, Frank Sinatra.
Amplified sounds of sweet records would play in our home during weekends. Papa being the in house disk jockey.
Without doubt, Papa most adored physical possession was his white Peugeot 504 sedan.
He bought it when I was 6 yrs old. Since then, he hasn’t bought or even thought of substituting it for another.
Mama tells me that men who change their vehicles frequently are not to be ever trusted.
Every two years, this car got a fresh coat of paint making it look even better than before.
During Christmas as we came back from our countryside, it would precariously balance the weight of the bountiful produce we were carrying back to our home in the city.
BACK TO OUR ROOTS
Papa was a man of means in our countryside, Mahiga-ini village.
He was the de-facto chairman of the treasured cattle dip management committee.
In addition, notwithstanding his stiff personal misgivings, he was the ceremonial dowry negotiator. This position came with the benefit of a 10% cut of the bride price. Families felt he was an asset based on his highly educated status.
Papa, in his typical ‘teacher of English’ persona, would insist he was learned not educated. His highest qualification was a teacher’s diploma. The villagers would laugh at him in admiration of Wamabuku’s humility.
It wasn’t unheard of to hear of children sponsored by Papa in school, no matter how much he brushed it off.
Courtesy of Papa’s fame, our rural homestead is still the only one in the wider Mathira locality to be indexed on google maps. This may seem mundane until you try asking our overly social villagers for directions.
It is not abnormal for them to indulge visitors on the latest 411 in the neighborhood before finally giving the overdue directions.
Back to the following morning of my arrival back home, I woke up early to surprise my beloved family by making them breakfast.
Suddenly, as I was busy immersing myself in the task, Papa walked in with a nyahunyo in hand. This particular whipping stick was familiar to me. He usually kept it on his bedside in anticipation for any intruders.
‘’ What are you doing in my gachungwa’s kitchen?’’ he barked. Gachungwa was the pet name Papa used to call mama.
I was paralyzed in fear and confusion. Here was my own father threatening his own daughter in her home.
Abruptly, like a man roused from a crippling nightmare, Papa dropped the whipping stick and came towards me saying,
‘’Ndekera maitû wakwa Gathiigia!’’ Forgive me my mother Gathiigia.
I cautiously approached him and walked into his welcoming embrace. This was my Papa. The one who called me maitû, in recognition of me being named after his cherished mother.
At this moment we both couldn’t hold back our tears. He profusely apologized for the state of oblivion he had put me through. Mama and Wakibia, having been roused by the commotion, joined us.
I was finally given an explanation. Papa had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This caused him to have dementia characterized with bouts of forgetfulness and declined brain function. He was at a mild stage which came in waves.
Mama did not want to acknowledge this ailment. She was in denial.
I felt she held it against Papa for allowing his body to get sick. Papa was getting thin. His food appetite was drastically depleting. At times, Mama was cruel to Papa. Papa in his true nature, took it like an antelope lying down.
Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s disease is not curable.
Typically Papa, he brushed it off as he threw questions on my school and listened attentively to my answers. At that moment, you would think that his historically sharp mind was back.
As I look at Papa in his blur of dementia, I can’t help but pity him. He no longer puts emphasis on his dressing.
Papa always wore tailored three piece suits and never failed to put on customized cuff-links on his shirt.
We had a running joke in our house that the cuff link collection would be the Achilles’ heel in his inheritance, because of their perceived value.
He now only remembers our names in disconnected phases.
Previously, Papa insisted that we should not save him as father on our phone books. This was contingency plan in case we got kidnapped.
Therefore, we’d save him by his name. Either Theophilus or Wanderi.
NOT YET GOODBYE PAPA
This is a tribute to my Papa, our Papa, a husband and a modest man of few titles;
Theophilus Wanderi Waikwa.
I choose to recognize and revere you Papa while you are alive, not in a belated eulogy.
To make sure you are not forgotten, just as you have, and might forget us.
Your devoted mwari,
Gathiigia wa Wanderi
THE WISER FOOL’S SIGN OFF
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HAPPY FATHERS’S DAY 2020 FOLKS!