Celebrating East African Writing!
Death in the village is always an anticlimax of an otherwise serene and austere setting.
Normally, every villager would pause to hail their neighbour, and in most cases, a simple greeting would generate a jeremiad of sorts;
“Wakamau, how are you?”
“Not bad Wakanini, except for my nagging spine”
“Haiya, the back again? Have you seen Mutero?”
“Aaaai, that’s a conman! Wasn’t he the one who treated Wainuku the elder? And the result? We all know it!”
“But there is this new herbal ointment…”
And so, thirty good minutes will be spent in shooting the breeze as the languor of village life gently sweeps through the sinews of these villagers.
But when death, (oh that grim reaper!) when death visits, the village is engulfed in a miasma of gloom; faces cloud promptly and though the drum beats and the death horn are long gone, the dark news spread in the village akin to a bush fire. Even the hens cease their incessant cackling and the raucous children have to learn the new art of silence lest they be chastised for disrespecting the dead.
The bull and goats on the other hand give a low heave of grief not because they cared a dime about the dead villager but because of the inevitable feast that would be held, ‘Why do we have to suffer just because an old geezer is gone?’ they seem to ask.
The firmament darkens as wails rend the air each night in the wakes (where many a village damsel are deflowered and liaisons are made in the thick of the bushes). After the burial the villagers quickly offload their gloom and move on with the treadmill before the sadistic reaper visits next.
So, melancholic a time, but not when Wamutitu died! He was a mean, conceited and proud timber dealer. In fact, the sobriquet ‘Wamutitu’ came from his obsession with trees and generally timber. Lorry loads after lorry loads would spill out of the forest with him closely in tow in a jalopy he had nicknamed the ‘workhorse’. Every woman would blush if Mr. Money bags brushed past her and a word of greeting would send her on an opulent and fantastical journey to the ninth heaven on a gold carpet. And so, he broke many a ladies’ leg from old married hags to the blossoming secondary school flowers. Not even the chief could dare question Wamutitu, after all was he not seen a million times in the workhorse?
His pride and arrogance knew no bounds. A story is told of how a loud-mouthed drunkard bragged in front of the timber man. In a calm rejoinder, Wamutitu had advised the man to go home and quietly enquire from the wife about the comfortable sofa set in their ramshackle house and the fatherhood of his last born. The sot had sobered up instantly as if he had been hit between the legs. And off he went, swearing that blood would spill; those were just words!
When Wamutitu died, the sky didn’t frown or cloud and the peoples’ faces didn’t furrow, instead, they creased not with pain but curiosity. Every man inadvertently drew closer to his wife but this was lost on the confused kids. Whispers blew back and forth like lost bats and their intensity grew into a breeze.
A day before the big funeral, a word erupted like an old forgotten volcano shocking even the most reserved villagers; there was a list…a list? Everyone wondered…Yes, a list of all those going down with Wamutitu. Don’t you know he had the… you know…the karigi (as HIV/ AIDS was then called in the village) the whispers went. He had sworn to go down with others and so everyone was anxious to know who would be on the list.
The tension was palpable, no handshakes were given, no romantic kisses, for fear of joining the list. Many a villager’s mouth tightened and the next day, Wamutitu’s homestead was like a crowded stadium, even the curious goats had attended the funeral. I succinctly remember seeing my old uncle hanging perilously on a weak branch to get a better view, was he doubting my aunt? I wondered. From my nook on the tree, I thought we looked like hungry monkeys waiting for the farmer to leave before starting our onslaught.
Many collapsed on seeing the body and then came the moment, the European priest had all the rolling hills to himself except for a mongrel howling form a distance…
“…he was a kind man who helped many… (gu gu gu guuuu..howled the insensitive mongrel)…a gentleman, a father to all these children but most of all a peaceful man. He went in peace and so from his family, I have a word for all of you…let him rest in peace.”
For a moment, we didn’t understand him and then the pin dropped; there was no list! Who was this European to come and dictate what he wanted? There was uproar and within minutes I had my first taste of tear gas as riot police from God knows where descended on us. Like the monkey I thought I was, I jumped and ran past my uncle struggling with his tattered blanket. We scurried off like squirrels but I spared one glance at the casket still lying in serendipity.
Rest in peace Wamutitu, but the suspicious glances and the wry smiles still reign in the village for what can you hide from the roving eye of the villagers?
©Chrispus Kimaru 2009
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