Mama Kibe moves slowly. For a sixty-year-old woman, she seems to have lived over a century. Her back is bent and she walks around with a stick made out of mahogany hardwood, with a handle lined with a golden bracelet. She moves with great strain to where her son is, lifts her hand, almost in slow motion, and traces his face with a wrinkled finger.
“Simon, you have come to cut the grass?”
“It’s not Simon the gardener, mom. It’s your son, Kibe.”
“Oh my son, what a pleasant surprise. I was just about to have tea.”
She moves with labored breath to the image standing next to her son.
“Njoki, what are you doing outside, you should be making tea.”
“Mother, that is not Njoki. That is Winnie, my fiancée. You have met her a dozen times.”
She rubs her eyes and looks at her as if seeing her for the first time. “Forgive me, son, my memory is not what it used to be.”
Winnie smiles painfully and turns her gaze from her.
With her back bent, she leads the way to the main house: a big mansion that dwarfs all the other houses around it. Kibe and Winnie follow, their steps muffled by the sound of her mahogany walking stick hitting the pavement with a clang, clang, clang, ding.
Kibe watches his mom disappear into the kitchen. ‘Where is the sugar, that’s the salt.’ He hears the muffled voices and his face sags further. His mother had been vibrant once. She had been her father’s right hand, helping him run his companies and doing a fine job of it but things had changed dramatically after the accident that took his father and that she escaped by a hair’s breadth. Now she seemed to be wilting with every passing day.
Clang, clang, clang. She enters the sitting room again, leaning heavily on her walking stick. She turns her back and with a heavy plop falls on her leather recliner. The walking stick dangles on the side, supported by the recliner’s left arm.
“You know every day, I can feel a part of me chip away and I can tell, I won’t be around for long.” She says with a voice that makes Kibe want to sob.
He had taken her to South Africa, India, and the United States but the doctors had found nothing. Instead, they had attributed it to aging and fatigue from her years of working. Which one of their companies did her in? Kibe wonders. The milk processing plant, the insurance firm, or the chain of supermarkets?
“You’re not going anywhere mother, you will live long enough to see your great-grandkids.”
“Have you gotten someone, I would like to know there will be someone to take care of you after I’m gone.”
“Mother, I have a fiancée, Winnie.” Kibe turns his gaze to her. “You have met her a dozen times. You were in our ruracio.”
Clang, clang, clang. She gets up and traces a wrinkled finger around her face.
“Oh, wow. I have to commend you, son, you made a brilliant choice, she is lovely.”
“Mother, that’s Njoki, the house girl, bringing the tea. Winnie is right beside me.”
Njoki puts down the tray with the cups and the tea and disappears to the kitchen. Winnie smiles nervously in her seat and stares at the painting of Kibe as a child on the wall.
Clang, clang, clang. She turns her back and with a heavy plop falls back on her leather recliner.
“Forgive me, son. My memory is not what it used to be.”
Winnie turns her gaze from the painting and glances at Mama Kibe seated on her leather recliner in her blue dress, hat, and white coat with gold floral patterns that give her an outlandish Queen-of-England look. That couldn’t be the work of Njoki. That is the work of a cultured mind that can coordinate colors, she thinks while getting up and pouring her a cup of tea. She drops two spoonfuls of sugar and stirs, then hands her the cup carefully.
She has never been in her good books. It started after she moved into the servant’s quarters next to the house with Kibe. She didn’t like how Kibe was responding to his mother’s every beck and call. ‘Oh, Kibe the sink is not working, the bulb needs changing, the groundskeeper is away and the compound is full of leaves.’ She had convinced him to move and that had gotten her into her mother-in-law’s noisemakers list.
She pours a cup for herself and her fiancé and drops a spoonful of sugar in each and stirs. She also doesn’t like how she runs the companies. Kibe is in no way involved in them. He is a shareholder in every one of them by name but the money passes through his mother before getting to his pocket. ‘It’s in the hands of the lawyers and the accountants and the professionals,’ she always says when Winnie asks Kibe to probe. This has moved her from the noisemakers list to her black book.
“What did you put in the tea? It’s sour.” Mama Kibe raises her voice for the first time since they arrived.
Winnie holds her cup confused.
“Yes, it’s sour,” Kibe adds while reaching for the sugar dish in the tray. “This is salt, not sugar,” he says, inspecting the sugar dish.
Mama Kibe leans forward. “It’s my fault. I can no longer tell the difference between salt and sugar. Forgive me, my memory is not what it used to be,” she says, while putting the teacup back on the tray and in doing so, spills some tea on her blue dress. She glances at Winnie.
“Maria, can you get the serviettes in the kitchen. Njoki must have forgotten them.”
“It’s Winnie.” She says with an edge to her tone.
Clang, clang, clang. She is getting up. “I will just get them myself.”
Winnie remains immobile for a time. If she wants to get them, let her. Her and her bent back and her stick and her can’t-tell-the-difference-between-salt-and-sugar memory. She will probably confuse bread for serviettes. Winnie thinks and a smile almost touches her face.
“No mother, I will get them.” She hears herself say and gets up quickly as Mama Kibe turns and with a heavy plop falls back on her leather recliner.
Kibe watches her mother getting restless.
“Maria, Maria. Did this girl go to get the serviettes on a different planet? At this rate, this will turn into a stain.”
He shifts his weight on the seat, tired of correcting her. “We have slotted our wedding for the first Saturday of next month.”
“Yes. We need money for the wedding planner, stylist, designer, and all of them.”
“This wedding sounds like an extravagant affair.”
Kibe stares at his feet. Winnie has an extravagant palate and it seems to grow by the day. Just yesterday, she increased the bridesmaids from ten to twenty-five – all their clothes made by a celebrity designer and added another floor to the wedding cake. She seems to be making changes on a whim and Kibe doesn’t know what she will adjust next.
“We stay rich by making money, not by spending it,” his mother is saying. “Besides, I am not in any condition to attend an event as big as a wedding.”
Kibe thinks for a moment. It’s the same story with her every time he brings up the wedding. Winnie can’t take another one of her planned dates getting pushed.
“We can take the vows here. That way we will cut down the cost and you don’t have to travel.
“You know my memory is not what it used to be. Do you want to rob me the gift of my only child’s wedding?”
Kibe changes gears. “What about the business, don’t you think it’s time I got involved in it?”
“You’re a shareholder. You’re the owner; that’s as involved as it gets.”
Kibe makes to speak but his mother interrupts him.
“Let the lawyers, accountants, and professionals handle it, while you enjoy it, eh?”
Clang, clang, clang. She’s getting up again. “Where did this girl go to get my serviettes, or does the kitchen see her and it moves?”
Winnie comes back into the sitting room and Mama Kibe turns her back and falls on the leather recliner with a plop.
“I am sorry to keep you waiting. I was talking to Njoki. She’s quite the chatterbox.”
She picks a serviette, gets down on one knee, and makes to wipe the splotch on Mama Kibe’s blue dress.
“Those are the wrong serviettes.”
For someone who can’t tell names apart or the difference between salt and sugar, she sure knows her serviettes. She moves to get up. Winnie is positioned in such a way that she could knock the mahogany walking stick to the floor without anyone noticing. If Mama Kibe falls, she will fall back onto her recliner and Winnie can apologize. But Winnie is sure her survival instincts will kick in, and she will stand without the help of the walking stick and Kibe can finally see her for the fraud she is.
She is standing. Her left hand is groping for the stick that is no longer there and she is falling on the floor with a thud. Her blue dress is on her face. “She wants to kill me!” she won’t stop saying.
From her bedroom, Mama Kibe can hear their argument in the sitting room.
Jesus Christ. Do you want to kill my mother?
She’s faking it. FAKING IT!
She is sick. As if memory loss and limping are not bad enough you want her crippled?
She’s controlling you.
And you’re not?
You can’t see what’s in front of you. She’s trying to hook you up with the maid.
Jesus Christ. She’s my mother, not the devil.
You just can’t see it, she’s pretending to be ill because she doesn’t want you to get married to me.
Well, maybe I shouldn’t!
Someone storms out and the door is banged.
Njoki walks into Mama Kibe’s bedroom carrying a fresh cup of tea and a change of clothes for her.
“Can I ask you something?” she says with a stammer.
“Go on my daughter.”
“Why did you tell me to give her the wrong serviettes and tell her that you can walk without the walking stick?”
She gets out of bed and holds Njoki’s face with both hands. “You will understand soon, my daughter. And no more wearing maid clothes.” She reaches into her drawer and comes out with a wad of cash. “Buy yourself some nice fitting dresses – show off those hips and that waist. It’s time you started looking like you could be someone’s wife, instead of someone’s maid.”
Mama Kibe changes into the fresh clothes, picks up her walking stick from beside the bed, and goes to find her son. Clang, clang, clang. Her walking stick dings.
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