I walked from school to home, the same way I had done for the past six months. It was an uncomfortable five kilometres walk, hard to imagine walking to and fro each morning but the white man was sharing all his knowledge, all the people had to drink from his cup of wisdom. Every African parent in my village sent their kids to school stating the importance of becoming knowledgeable like the white man.
So we went to school. Got hit several times on the butt for being late or being indiscipline, but it was acceptable to our parents, therefore enforceable to us. We knew nothing and he knew everything. Times were changing fast and no one wanted to be left behind.
In the hilly outskirts of Murang’a town on one cold and windy evening in June. I was barefoot as most of us were in a six-month-old white man’s green uniform that was only worn on school days. It started like a commotion from the boys that were walking home a few paces ahead. They had heard a gunshot up ahead. They were getting excited and they quickened their pace to get a glimpse of what had transpired for the white man to shoot from his killing machine. I was barely interested but as I kept walking, a dump and cold feeling settled in my gut and I also began walking fast.
When I approached the scene I knew something was definitely off. Most of the kids were staring at me, they were long and curious stares like I knew something that they did not. I approached uneasily and pushed my way through the thick crowd that had gathered. What I saw made my limbs weak and my heart pound heavily on my chest with both fists. What I saw remains in memory like it happened yesterday. It was a pool of blood, red as crimson. It was a man lying dead blood trickling out of a small bullet on his forehead. It was a man I knew. A man I knew too well.
His name was Migwi. He was my father. He had worked in the white man’s kitchen for a long while, serving food to the white man and his family for more than two decades. He was a large and religious man with a true and close loyalty to discipline and cleanliness. He had three wives, all whom were well provided for and heavily blessed with children. I was among those children. I was the first born to his first wife, I had been named after his mother, Joyce Njeri.
Most people had never tasted chapatti when we did. Father had brought it from the leftovers of the white man’s Christmas dinner. I remember my sisters exclaiming that it was by far the best food they had tasted in their entire lives. Mother asked him to teach us but Migwi was a proud and calculating man. He did not want everyone to have his cooking secret, so he offered to make some for us which was quite unordinary during that time.
I remember him seated on a three-legged stool on Sunday evenings passing his wisdom to his sons. I managed to get a whiff of his words when I took sour porridge to him from my mother. His teachings were stern, real and practical. While he was not talking, it appeared as everything was still. A strange atmosphere of authority filled the air and not even my mother would dare approach him.
Today, however, he lay dead.
Executed by khaki Ngaos for conspiring to feed the Mau Mau fighters in the forests. He had taken Muuma, an oath to support the fighters and chase the white man away. They had just accused him and executed him on the spot. The white men were getting scared, the war on them was getting more and more popular amongst the Africans. It was rumored that in some countries, the white man had already packed his bags and left. He had fled back to his home.
Gossip began about how my father was a traitor. From heath to heath, news spread like wild forest fire. Nobody, not even our close friends bothered to show up for his burial. The betrayal sunk deep into my bones and I stopped going to school. I lost my desire to be as smart as the white man and in its place, rage grew. I was furious at those that praised him. I detested his food. It was therefore not difficult to convince me to take the Mau Mau Muuma when they came to my village. I took up Migwi’s tasks to feed the fighters. I would cook huge pots of food and hand it to small boys to deliver it to the edge of the forests. Sometimes they came back, sometimes they did not, either mauled by wild animals or by the white sniffing colonial dogs.
We were determined to kick out the white man from our land. We just wanted him gone. News spread that Jomo and his learned friends were making progress in the fight for independence using their education and I thought the guerrilla warfare would cease down but that was not the case. For every African life they took, or granary they burnt, we burned down their farms, homes, and people. It was war and in war, having a soul was a tragedy.
My family left Murang’a to the new land that was being distributed to people moving from the concentration camps in Nyandarua. There my mother and the rest were handed huge pieces of land, either to encourage them to end the rebellion or to pledge loyalty to the white man. The white man was loosening up and the war was slowly but gradually coming to an end.
I joined my family in the new lands and for a while everything was silent. The war had taken too much from us. To this day their faces still play like a slideshow in my dreams. Mostly, I see Migwi, the large, proud and religious man lying disgraced in a pool of his own blood.
I think this was the reason it was particularly startling and I lost my words when one of my grandchildren brought his fiancée from the West. The most noticeable thing about her was that she was white. For a long time, that skin color represented so much loss, grief, and hatred and here he was asking for my blessing to spread the love. He spent a couple of minutes explaining that she was from America and not Britain the ones that had scarred our people. He must have assumed that that would make the situation less tense.
I sat in silence and watched how much adoration existed between them. Fifty-three years after independence and everyone is ready to move on and forget the war like it never happened. I was not angry, I was just confused. The world had changed so much but I was still bitter mourning the dead.
I attended the wedding and shook hands with the bride’s family. It was time to move on. It was time to mend what had been so ungraciously destroyed by people we had once looked up to.
Welcome to the family Roselyn.
I said, and I meant it.
Based on real people and events.
Feature Image by Mukiri Gitiri.