I remember a time when we always fought in the morning with mother about shoes. This memory is embedded in my brain like Shrapnel. Nyandarua was this cold place that was always raining hail, too cold. When it rained, the heavens burst open defiantly washing away everything on its path. We were accustomed to the cold. Hell, we even loved the cold so that we could sit around the fireplace sipping hot green tea or millet porridge. It was worse when it rained continuously for a month or so, the earth would begin sweating beneath our feet and the farm would be all kinds of River Nile. Our stream borehole, where we got our drinking water, would fill to the brim to the level it started flowing out.
Such was life and was acceptable. The only bad thing was that when the borehole filled up, so did the pit latrines. Occasionally, one of the cows would succumb to pneumonia in the middle of the night and we would wake up to neighbours wishing that they had chopped its head off the moment it had started looking weak. We lived in an enclosed society, going to church every Sunday, then to the market later before we went back home to prepare for the week. This was the routine and the only life I knew.
I remember how my siblings and I got numerous clothe privilege by just being at mother’s boutique. Mother ran boutiques, her taste in fashion, fabrics and colours has always been startling. Mother always got the best for her children then sold the rest. We were always the best dressed. Particularly, I remember my school bags. I always had a new school bag almost every month. I was a naughty small boy with more than I needed so on the way from school, I would throw my bag around like a football until it got torn just so I could get another one.
I do not remember ever lacking anything I wanted except a bike. I always wanted a bike. Every time father would tell me he was visiting Nairobi, I would wait for him, well into the night, hoping that he would bring me a bike. He never did. I never understood why.
In the evening I walked from school to mother’s boutique for mandazi and tea before we both headed home. I hated walking, yet, we walked a distance of about a kilometre and a half every day. Sometimes, mother would have to get me a lift on a motorcycle, a bike or a neighbour’s car and she would walk alone. I do not think she really ever liked walking alone; I have this feeling that she used to whisper to father telling him not to get me a bike so that she would always have me to walk with. Thinking of it now, we actually became really good friends through the interactions while walking home. She knew the girls I liked, the boys who threatened me, I even told her about Gladys! You guys remember Gladys, right? No? I will tell you about Gladys one of these fine days. Oh, Gladys, bless my soul.
Father had a bike, however, he would ride it in the morning to work and in the evening from mother’s boutique to home. After I came to the realization that I would never own a bike, I decided to learn to ride his. This I did successfully. It came as a huge cost on dad due to repairs. It came as an even bigger cost when I once left the bike lying outside mother’s boutique and someone decided to steal it.
My relationship with father has always been like that. Me taking his stuff and in the process of trying to be like him, causing severe damage more often than not. This has not stopped even in adulthood. When he bought his first car, Toyota 110, he left it in the parking lot one day and I decided to test my driving proficiency which I was undeniably lacking. I was in high school then. I took the car for a drive all around town and everything was cool. I did not even have a license. In the end, after I had enough mischief, I drove back and stopped at the gate hooting the way father always did for someone inside to open the gate for him. I knew my siblings were home, so I hooted and hooted but nobody came to get the gate so I put my foot on the breaks. Left the car running and decided to wait.
My siblings, on the other hand, were bred by fire. They do not take any bullshit, so they still did not come to open the gate for me. I must have been distracted when a matatu hooted so loud behind me suddenly and I panicked. I put the full weight of my foot on the acceleration peddle digging nicely on to the gate pillar with such a terrifying momentum. Both the car and the gate had to get repaired later.
I think father discovered my magnetism to mischief very early, or maybe it is because I am an only son that some of the times I did stupid things, he would just look at me and wait for the weight of his silence to be the punishment. I feared him. I feared his silence even more. Up until now. Mother let her anger known, talked about it, or hit me severally, father was just silent. Terrifying silence.
Mother was accustomed to Spartan thrashing her kids whenever they stepped out of line; especially me. I do not think I would have been any better had I not learned these lessons from the edge of a slipper. Even before she gave me a new bag after I had spoilt the old, I was thoroughly beaten. It even became a custom.
Mother’s beatings were so serious that there were days I would lose my pencil in class and then steal my best friend’s pencil at the end of the day just to show it to mother when I got home. I would return the pencil to the owner the next day, however. I guess I have always been noble but it’s debatable depending on your encounter with me.
My best friend was called Dennis. Dennis was good looking and the girl I liked, Gladys, liked him instead of me. It never stopped us from being friends, regardless. Dennis was the class best football player, every girl wanted to be on his team during P.E. Shocking revelation is that none of us ended up with Gladys. She was a bird, flying with the wind, not even the force of both Dennises could tame her.
The issue with the shoes, however, was that mother always recommended gumboots when it was rainy, but gumboots were too out of style for a spoilt brat like me. Mother knew the roads always got flooded whenever it rained yet I was too repulsive to put on gumboots. We always fought about it in the morning…
Dennie, nimesema uvae hizi gumboots. Zilinunuliwa za kazi gani?
She would say and I would cry. My defence mechanism was to cry hoping that father would jump over to my side. Our home since I can remember has always been democratic; the side with the majority of votes always had their way. It was always like this except when dad was angry – then it would be his roof, his rules and democracy had to take a break. They called me Dennie, short for Dennis. I never liked that nickname even though I would not mind it now. There is a ring to it that makes me feel young all over again.
Father would know better and plead neutral in this fight and we would both get angry at him.
We lived in a village in Nyandarua called Githima up until we permanently moved to Nakuru in 2005 after our last born was born. I think mother did not want to bring her up in the Nyandarua ancestral cold or maybe it was just the spirit of adventure. Nakuru became our new home leaving behind a beautiful house, farm and friends that had taken decades to construct. I am glad we did though. Otherwise, we would be entirely different people right now. Pretty sure, different in a way I would not like.
Growing up in the village was fun though. It had its share of experiences that made me annihilate some fears. I remember one day, my friends had discovered I was scared of the tiny worms that usually appear in water after it has been stagnant for a while. Tiny worms with huge heads always swimming in water. These friends of mine decided to make me face my fears by pouring a whole bucket of cold water with worms on me so that I would not get scared anymore. It was not nice, but it worked.
Worms, unfortunately, were not the only small things I was always scared of as a child. I remember my inexplicable fear for spiders. I feared spiders more than I feared mother’s wrath. I would fail to take a shower simply because there was a spider in the bathroom when I walked in. Small spiders in a farmhouse were like scandals in NYS. Always there.
I failed to shower a lot of times because of this, it actually took a while before mother discovered my insubordination. She noticed it from my knees, the cover around my knees had grown dark and hard because of dirt. That day, she bathed me herself, scrubbed my knees, heels and my dirt off until I felt lighter. Since then, mother gave a decree, that whenever I saw a spider in the bathroom, the alternative would be to take a basin and shower outside and that is what I always did, I always bathed outside under the cover of darkness, tormented by the chill of the Nyandarua breeze.
In many ways, that helped shape me into the person I am now. I do not fear worms and I could casually hold a spider in my fingers for shits and giggles. I did not end up with Gladys but I am sure we can catch a coffee anytime. I think. Dennis is still my best friend and I am still very scared of my father’s silence. That has not changed.
I thought about this when I was shopping for shoes last weekend. It has been raining in Kiambu every day as I go to work and I began thinking about the type of shoes I needed. I decided to consult mother and you can all guess what she told me. Yes, gumboots!
Feature Image by Mukiri Gitiri