My grandfather Chief Cornelius Kuria Kahuba always said that age is never about the number of years one had lived but rather the number of lifetimes one had experienced. Seated on the visitor’s seat on the edge of his mud-walled living room with his black and white old portrait towering above my head, this sentiment never made much appeal to me. In line to his beliefs and antics, grandfather always asked for everyone’s opinion in a discussion. To him, opinion from an eight year old mattered as much as one from his age mate. The twist in all this was that he heard all opinions but always came to resolve from his own opinion. Grandfather was chief and his leadership frolics could be felt from the moment you walked into his compound. He had two beautiful wives, Racheal and Rebecca and a huge piece of land that extended to the horizon. To the rest of the villagers, grandfather was chief, not by any government appointment but by merely his status to the community. They called him Cornelio.
We all thought heroes need caps and masks, that they live in Gotham, New York and Hell’s Kitchen flying around lazily during sunny Sunday afternoons assuring the people that they are protected. That heroes needed to stick to the shadows like Batman and come out when villains attack the city. That they need to save kittens from tree tops and damsels in distress. Cornelio was a hero. He did not were a mask, he did not put on a cap, or fly, neither did he have the keys to his village but still he managed to assure people of protection. He was an alpha among wolves teaching people the virtue of love and pure kindness.
Cornelio was my grandfather. I never really did meet him because he passed away immediately after I was born in 1995. If I had known him I would have revered him. I would have sat beneath his favourite chair every school holiday and drank from his enormous cup of wisdom. I would have listened to every single tale of his time, and wrote stories of how he grew up and how legends are bred. I have heard tales that he held me once in his arms immediately after I was born but that was not fulfilling, I would have liked more. And last year as we did a memorial service to commemorate twenty years since he left us and I got to experience how it felt to be with him around, the conviction he had to the masses and most of all the scar he left on his sons, daughters and grandchildren.
He was a community man and a church head. Every Sunday after church everyone from the church would go to his home for lunch. Cornelio was not a rich man but his will was to keep on giving. His thing was for communism not accumulation of wealth. He did not see the essence of having a lot when his neighbour had none so he shared, gave freely to those who needed his help and services. He worked to solve the problems of his people, social and economic alike.
Whenever mother speaks about him, you can see her eyes go into a delirium, she goes back twenty plus years and narrates to me when father had first taken her to grandfather. Cornelio had asked father if that was the lady that had pleased his eyes above all others and he answered ‘Yes’. I would like to think father was filled with ineffable excitement to have landed a beautiful lady with captivating looks, my mother is quite a catch to this day. Cornelio had then asked again…
Njenga ūyū nĩwe ukweda?
And amidst self-assurance and determination, he had mumbled…
Cornelio had made him promise to take care of his bride through all kinds of situations, live to make her happy and build a home with her. Cornelio had further made him promise that whenever a problem came up they would solve it both of them. And father had heed his words and practiced them daily until now. Mother had made Cornelio’s home her home too and had found the strange lands as peaceful as if it were her own home. That was Cornelio. Pacific and sagacious.
Cornelio’s kids grew up, ten of them in total. Four girls and six sons. In no time father, been the oldest had his first pay check and as all sons, father wanted to come home with shopping bags from Tuskys, those old enough know that it was called Tusker Mattresses back then. They had these yellow plastic bags with a lot of letters, ‘Tusker Mattresses’ is not a short name as you can all see. I suppose this was the reason their marketing manager had suggested the chop the wordy name off to Tuskys. So that their plastic bags would be prettier. I digress.
Cornelio had met father midway through the gates and made him put all these bags beneath a certain tree in the middle of the compound. He had opened the yellow Tusker Mattresses bags and one by one divided the contents into two each half for his two wives, Racheal and Rebecca. Racheal was the mother of the ten kids meaning that Rebecca had no children. Grandfather ensured that his kids knew that no mother was significant than the other, that biology did not make Racheal more their mother than Rebecca. So, he opened up the bags, the wheat flour bags were divided into two and the sugar too but even when one homestead had ten children and the other had none, to him things had to be shared equally.
Cornelio indignation was against insolence. His benevolence ran across genders and age groups. In the course of his memorial his age mates spoke of him at such a high repute. One of them just had few words and they sank in me like ice water on a scorching sun day, I thought through them like my life depended on them. They were simple yet imploring, they were in Kikuyu. He said
Cornelio was a giver, it did not matter if he had or did not have he just wanted to give
It took me back to the current world where everything is about grab and keep. Feign giving in form of fake foundations to build you reputation whenever there is a coming election and the cameras and are in an exaggerated frenzy, swaggering past a homeless family on the streets and thank you favourite gods that that is not you and then keep walking in you Ksh 4000 leather loafers.
I am grateful for the tenets Cornelius Kuria passed to us. I see them every day in father he has every bit of semblance in comparison to Cornelio historic tales, he is a front-runner everywhere and every time in the estate people want him to head their functions. He is my role model. His brothers alike, each has attained a governance role in their various professional fields, every single one of them. And to my family, my sisters the same, even the twelve year old Viona has indicated this early that she is going to be a leader as our firstborn has been on it for as long as I remember. Me, I just blog here but I am thinking of challenging myself sooner than later, let’s just make it later.
Grandmother Rebecca left us and Grandmother Racheal was left to carry the legend, I remember when we were kids she used to come visit us with a bag full of plums during the December holidays. When we went to visit her she made this roasted maize that was just legendary. She used to burn it together with the covers until the entire maize was evenly light brown and when you chewed that maize, trust me, you would never want to leave. We called this maze gara. One glance at her and deep in her eyes you will see the grin of achievement, she has made men and women of mettle to change the society, her legend will never be rendered to ash alongside that of Cornelio.
Grandfather’s name was Chief Cornelius Kuria Kahuba and has been laying with the ancestors for twenty two years now. He was a light from a lamp shining bright amidst troubled times like the sun in January. I still wish I would have met him.
Feature Image by Mukiri Gitiri.