Chapter 10

 

A restless man

 

            Home. Nderitu was happy to be home under the hills of Mr. Kenya. Wairimu the older sister slaughtered a chicken in his honour and they ate as a family around the fire in the kitchen. The chicken was delicious and Nderitu licked at his fingers happily. Wairimu had served him a larger potion, as a visitor and also man of the family. Nderitu took one piece of the chicken from his plate and offered it to his small sister Wanjiru who wouldn’t leave his side. The little girl squealed in delight while Wairimu frowned.

            Home felt like home – familiar, and every part of Nderitu’s body embraced it. Here was a place where he could be himself and didn’t have to pretend to be anything else. Everything looked smaller than Nderitu remembered. The doors were shorter and the houses less spacious. However, the smell of cowdung and vegetation, in the wind was the same. The soothing sound of the river at night brought back childhood memories – his father tacking him into bed.

            Nderitu built a hut near his sisters’ house. A man his age was not expected to live with girls or in his parents’ home. The men in the village came and helped him and it only took a few days. The men sang as they worked, and Nderitu paid them with food prepared by his sisters. The roof was thatched, the walls were made of mud and the floor was hard dirt. Nderitu bought a spring bed and a mattress from Nyeri Town and made himself comfortable.

            The days ahead were spent in the farm digging and planting. Nderitu spend the afternoons with the cows, grazing and feeding them. Sometimes he would stop over at a friend’s house and pop in for a cup of tea. Every home in the village had tea regardless of how hot the weather was. There was always a smoldering fire and a pot of tea never too far away. The men in the village liked to play cards and talk about girls in the evenings. The single girls were well known over the hills and were described according to where they lived. Muthoni wa Cucu wa iguru. (Muthoni who lives with the grandma from up the hill).

            The men made fun of each other. “She used to like you!” or “You used to try to talk to her but she never accepted your advances!”

            “You should go visit her with your motor bike Nderitu. I guarantee you she will say yes.”

            Nderitu liked talking to the young men in the village because they were simple people. There was equality in the village and nobody bragged about how much wealthier they were. Most of the men finished high school and stayed home to marry and work on their family land. Very few ever left.

            In the evenings, Nderitu sat around the fire with his sisters and listened to them. They talked about the cows and the harvest, and sometimes about the past. The times when they had been a real family. Wanjiru wanted to know more about the parents.

            “How did they die?” she asked.

            “They were killed by Mau Mau,” Nderitu said.

            “But you joined the Mau Mau, why?” She sounded confused.

            “Yes,” Nderitu said. “The Mau Mau were fighting for the land taken away by the Colonial British. Our father was a Mau Mau informer in the village which was very dangerous. The day the Mau Mau raided the village, they killed him by mistake together with a dozen homeguards.”

            “I like Mau Mau,” Wanjiru said. “But I don’t like that they killed my father.”

            “It’s what happens in war,” Nderitu explained. “People die in the name of country or land, and in the end we wonder whether it was worth it, loosing our humanity.”

            Days turned into weeks and then months. Life was the same in the village and nothing exciting ever happened. The grandma from the other side of the hill went senile and started singing every morning outside her hut. She would raise her hands in the air and sing for hours every morning. The children giggled and made fun of her. The adults took her to the clinic in Nyeri Town and the doctors concluded it as old age, or as Shakespears describes it, second childishness and mere oblivion. Soon, she became a part of the village soundtrack and news no more. People learned to ignore her.

The first sign of restlessness appeared on Nderitu when he one night came home drunk. He had been playing cards with the men and they had invited him to join them for a beer. He had said yes out of boredom and the need to spike his life, as opposed to going home like every other day. The men had walked for fives miles on dirt road to get to the bar, located in a tiny shopping center called Karibu. He could have taken the motor bike if he was alone, but he rarely rode it and mostly because it wasn’t his. One day he would give it back to Kamandu and thank him for it.

            Karibu Shopping Center was covered in red dust and surrounded by bleating goats. There was a soccer field with a clean water stream that cut through the middle. What Nderitu liked most about the shopping center were the village girls leaning against the buildings, whispering and giggling. The girls did not go inside the bar unless in the company of men.

            Nderitu leaned against the walls and chatted with the girls. They liked that he was from Nairobi and wondered whether it was as magical as people claimed.

            “It’s beautiful,” Nderitu explained. “There are skyscrapers, fancy night clubs, beautiful parks and nicely dressed people. You would love it.”

            “Maybe we can come and visit you one day,” the girls said. They touched his clothes and looked into his eyes in ways that excited him. Most of them carried farm products in baskets, as an excuse to leave their homes. Their parents would kill them if they knew where they were.

After being away from Nairobi City for many months, Nderitu desired excitement and so started visiting the bar more often. The girls made him feel important and the beer freed him from thinking too much about the future. Soon he started inviting the girls into the bar to join him.

            “What’s happening to you?” Wairimu asked him one afternoon. “You are coming home late every night drunk! I can hear you singing sometimes.”

            “Who are you to ask me that question?” Nderitu barked. “I’m the first born in this family, and you should respect that.”

            “Please Nderitu,” Wairimu said in a pleading voice. “I respect you and you are our older brother. Please, don’t let Wanjiru see you like this. She worships you and it will break her heart.”

            Nderitu stormed away after the argument and continued to visit the bar. He slept more during the day and worked less in the farm. Both Wangechi and Wairimu were forced to take over neglected chores like feeding the cows.

            People in the village started talking about him and how the son of Ribiru was failing in life. The rumours spilled over the hills and a few concerned elders came to talk to the sisters. The older people had witnessed this kind of transitions many times and felt the need to intervene. One of the solutions was to find Nderitu a wife that would give him children and ground him into a family life. The sisters seemed to like the idea and thanked the elders for their help.

            One day, Nderitu came home at midnight so drunk that he was unable to make it into his hut. He fell at the entrance and passed out, his head in the hut, his legs sticking out in the cold. This was how Wairimu found him very early in the morning. She woke up Wangechi and together they carried their older brother into bed before Wanjiru saw anything. When Nderitu woke up that day, they told him what had happened.

            Nderitu stayed in bed all day and Wanjiru brought him lunch. She set the plate of rice and beans on the bedside table and sat on the bed waiting for him to wake up.

            “Wairimu says you are not feeling well,” the little girl said.

Nderiu sat on the bed and ate quietely, Wanjiru watching his every move.

“I’m not feeling well Wanjiru. Have you eaten?”

“Yes. I eat very quickly you know.”

Nderitu smiled. Wanjiru always sounded excited and happy. It was a gift adults lost when they started rationalizing everything.

Wanjiru left and Nderitu slept all afternoon. At dusk, Wanjiru returned with another plate of food and a cup of hot tea.

“You must be very sick,” Wanjiru said.

            “Why?”

            “Because you are usually not home at this time,” Wanjiru sat on the bed again. “You haven’t gone to the men’s meetings.”

            “Men’s meetings?” Nderitu looked puzzled.

            “That’s what Wairimu says. She says it was the same for our father. Men should not sit home around the fire with the women. They should sit with the other men and discuss manly things.”

            Nderitu smiled and almost laughed. “You are so adorable little sister,” he said. “I will miss you when I go to the big city.”

            She froze, stunned by his words. “You are leaving us? You are going to Nairobi?”

            “Yes Wanjiru, I’m going back to Nairobi. But I would never leave you.” Nderitu reached for her but she moved away.

            “You were gone for long last time and we thought you died,” she said in a cold voice. “Bad things happen to us when you leave. People take advantage of us.”

            “Please Wanjiru, listen to me.” He felt bad about his decision. “I love being home and I love you, Wairimu and Wangechi very much. But one of the things I have to do as a man is find a job and a life for myself. This land belongs to our father. This home belongs to us all.” He gestured with his hands. “Do you want me to get married Wanjiru? Do you want me to have my own children?”

            She raised her eyes slowly and nodded.

            “Then you must give me permission to go. I have to go and look for a job and a wife for myself. I will visit and we will always be family. I promise you, nothing bad will ever happen to you. I am your big brother and my job is to take care of you.”

            Wanjiru did not look convinced. She walked over to her big brother and hugged him, but her face reflected sadness. “Do you have to go?”

            “Yes I do. I will stay a few days so we can spend time together, and then I will have to go.”

            She smiled at the thought of seeing him for a few more days. “Can I come with you to the farm tomorrow?”

            “Yes,” Nderitu said. “Tomorrow, we will spend the whole day together.”

            Wairimu understood as soon as Nderitu told her the news. She told him it was probably what he needed to keep him away from the drinking. She did not tell him about the elders’ visit or the gossip around the village.

            “You must promise to return,” Wangechi said. “Nairobi is a big city and we will never find you there. You must promise to visit.”

            “I promise.”

            “The Lord says, For I know the plans I have for you,” Wangechi continued. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

            The following morning, Nderitu and his small sister Wajiru left for what they called ‘to spend time together’. Wanjiru wore a pair of jeans and a blue blouse while Nderitu wore jeans and a white t-shirt. But what made the sight captivating was the small sack on Wanjiru’s back, giving the impression she was going on a long adventure.

            Nderitu led the way through the grazing grounds and gardens. The maize was growing tall, and brushed their faces as they walked through it. At the very edge of the garden, Wanjiru suddenly stopped and gasped. Nderitu turned and saw her looking up ahead.

            “Are we going up the hill?” she asked in a shocked voice.

            Nderitu walked back and stood next to her. “Yes,” he said.

            “But I’ve never gone up the hill before! Everybody tells me it’s too far for children.”

            Nderitu nodded. “It’s not an easy climb but you are a strong girl. You are the daughter of Ribiru and I made the same climb when I was around your age.”

            “Really?”

            “Look behind you Wanjiru, what do you see?”

            The little girl’s view was blocked by the maize in the garden. “I know our home is back there.”

            “Look up.”

            “I see mountains. Lots of mountains.”

            “They look like mountains at your age,” Nderitu said. “As you get bigger, you realize they are only hills. Come on, we have a long climb ahead.”

            Nderitu started up the hill at a slow pace. Initially there were brushes, tall grass and weeds, and Wanjiru kept up with him. Five minutes into the climb, they hit trees with very little grass. It was dark here and very little sunlight was able to penetrate the canopy. While waiting for Wanjiru to catch up, Nderitu remembered his days as a boy – the many times he had climbed the hill. Back then there was an actual path, which had now completely vanished.

            They climbed higher and used the trees for support. Behind him, Wanjiru breathed loudly through young lungs. But she kept pushing herself until finally Nderitu called for a break.

            “Are we almost there? My legs hurt.” She sat on brown dirt and opened her small bag. Nderitu watched her pull out a gourd and bring it up to her mouth. She took a long sip and when she came up for air, there was milk on her lips.

            “The milk will help your legs,” he said. “We are almost there.” He knew she was cramping up, exposing great strain on unused leg muscles.

            Nderitu did not like the darkness or the sound of small animals in the trees, and so he helped Wanjiru to her feet. They trudged up hill with little conversation, the soundtrack being that of their pounding feet and hard breathing. One hour later, they burst into sunlight and the trees suddenly fell below them. Nderitu picked up his small sister and sat her on a boulder. The land here was covered with rocks and long grass and looked like a good resting place. Nderitu sat next to Wanjiru and together they stared at the view ahead.

            “What do you see little sister?”

            Wanjiru drank some more milk before she could talk. He could see she was completely exhausted but didn’t mention it.

            “I see hills now,” she said. “They don’t look as big as they did before.”

            “Exactly,” Nderitu said. “Now that we have left our village and climbed up, we see them from a different perspective and they don’t look as big. Below there Wanjiru is our father’s land and we must do everything to protect it for our children. But one day you will leave home and travel beyond those hills. You will have a career and find your purpose in this world. And you will do great things and change the world. There will be glorious days and tough ones, you will laugh and shed tears sometimes. But no matter how far you go, you will always be able to smell the cowdung and the wild flowers - you will always have peace knowing that you have a home to come back to.”

            Wanjiru was very quiet as she listened. Her tired eyes roamed the horizon until they finally stopped in one direction. “What is that, big brother?”

            Nderitu smiled. “That’s Mr. Kenya, the second largest mountain in Africa. Now that is not a hill.” He laughed and the little girl laughed with him.”

            She moved closer to him and lay her small head on his chest. “I will miss you when you go to Nairobi big brother.”

            “And I will miss you too. Are you ready to keep moving?”

            “Yes. I want to see everything.”

 

A few days later, Nderitu prepared for his return to the city. He loaded the motor bike with potatoes and carrots, and felt a jolt of electricity course through his body. The thought of seeing Kamandu and the other men excited him. The village was his heart and home, but Nairobi was where he lived.

 

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My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.

 

The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen

 

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