Ninety Nine

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I buried my grandmother on Monday. Thank you for your well wishes. It was the first time I viewed a dead body. Grandma looked peaceful, I overhead some women saying that you could tell she had a good death because she looked like herself. They said that most bodies look completely different from the person you knew and sometimes even the relatives murmur in gagged tones and say someone must have made a switch. But not my grandma, she looked almost settled in her milk white coffin with gold coated handles and why wouldn’t she, when she had run her best race.

I bumped into my small sister when I was heading to view her body. I asked her if she had seen grandma and she told me she couldn’t dare because people were going in the viewing room with dry eyes and coming out crying. I passed my big sister and cousins with eyes red as beets and I thought, goddamn, maybe I should heed my small sister’s caution. But I had to do this, because even though I might not want to think about it, if I die of old age there are more bodies to view in my future.

I entered the small room and looked into the glass. I didn’t see anything to cry about. I saw a rested face with the slightest hint of a glow, as if grandma was already in heaven having laughs with Angel Gabriel. Is there another angel besides Gabriel? (And Lucifer) I feel as if the other angels are not celebrated enough and that is how you end up with salty angels who don’t say hi to people or lend a helping wing to a brother in need. If there are other angels out there, say, angel Kimani or Muthoni know that you’re in our minds and just so you know, come close, I have to whisper this, “I think the feathers on your wings are brighter than Gabriel’s.”

Back to grandma. There was a strange beauty about what I was witnessing. Grandma seemed to be having a ball in heaven. As if she and her new buddy Gabriel were reading from the book of life and seeing that matter-of-factly I will marry a woman who wears chokers and who says things like “Issa” instead of “it’s a.” And when you ask for a favor and you tell her thank you afterwards she says something like, “Easy” or “No sweat.” Something that makes you feel as if your favor was a speck of dust in her larger than life world and grandma and Gabriel laugh because they know those things will haunt me and I will have night sweats and night terrors imagining my wife and daughter wearing matching chokers saying “Issa a plan.” Not my son though, I will guard him jealously. I won’t allow him anywhere near their cult.

I did not grieve grandma. The only time I felt a bit sodden is when I realized that my old man is now wearing spectacles and when I asked my big sister what is going on with him, if maybe he had joined a band or bought a motorcycle? She told me it’s the diabetes, its dimming his light. Of course he looks sexy in a sinister type of way. Like a rogue secret service agent sent on an undercover assignment but I was scared. Scared of the phone calls that I sometimes ignore or the small things that I let get in-between my relationship with him. Scared that he might not get to see my choker wearing wife and daughter and I will soon have to explain to him what my family looks like and because God is God and he likes to have a laugh too I can already imagine my old man asking. “Son, what about your wife’s neck, is she wearing anything on her neck, you know like a necklace?” And I have to say, with my head down almost in a murmur. “No pops, no, it’s a choker.”

I did not grieve grandma and I knew I was not going to grieve her for some time when the family was called and instead of working on being morose I was busy looking at my big sister and thinking, “Huh, she drew her eyebrows too close together.” Almost asking one of my small cousins to lend me a pencil, you know, the ones that have a rubber on the tip so I can make them look less unibrow. I knew I wasn’t going to grieve her when I glanced at my grandma’s great grand-kid. He’s around twenty two and I thought, “Jeez that is not a boy’s ass at all.” I looked at him and wondered how many chaps he has confused with that ass. There is nothing as confusing as a big ass without hips. I looked at him and realized that those genes are in the family and I have to be okay with my son getting a bubble butt in future. I have to be okay that men will sometime ogle and whistle if they see him from behind. I had this urge to approach him and ask him how he copes with that ass. Does he have to explain: when he is shorter while standing up and all of a sudden he gets taller than everyone else when he sits? Does his girlfriend feel insecure? I would have bouts of insecurity if I was a woman with a man who had an ass like that. Do boxers and underwear fit him or does he feel more comfortable in let’s say, a thong or in a mothers union?

This post will be a bit long, you might want to go get a coffee and ndaos. Or go flirt with your office crush for a bit and exchange staplers and talk-shop about politics. Maybe your crush will complain about how things are slow in the office and you will tell them, not for you. You never know where time seems to fly to ever since you discovered this sexy blog.

Are you back? Rested? Did they fall for the bait? Hook-line-and-sinker you say? Good. When the milk white coffin with golden handles was filling up with red soil and people were breaking down all around me I wondered when it would hit me that grandma was gone. I felt bad because maybe this cruel world has made me too cold to grieve and that is how I can afford to make lame jokes about my relative’s backside and my sister’s (almost) unibrow when my grandmother has taken a slumber that she will never wake up from. I’m I dancing on grandma’s grave? No. Even though I haven’t grieved her, I loved her. My mom is the woman she is today because of who grandma was. I wrote her tribute and maybe it can tell you something about the woman she was. Context: I read this in a congregation of over a hundred people, I was a bit fretful: Will they laugh at my jokes, will my voice shake, will I piss my pants? What if my relative (you know who) gets up and blinds the light and I’m unable to read. Surprisingly it went swimmingly, a bit too swimmingly. Maybe you can tell me if I made an ass of myself (Jeez, there’s that word again) okay, okay. Here is the tribute.

How will I remember cucu?

I will remember cucu as a woman who gave more than she toke. Old as she was I remember her walking from Kinoo to Kangemi—those days when life was hard for us, with a kiondoo full of bananas and sweet potatoes.

I will remember her as a person who cared for others, sometimes more than she cared for herself. You all remember her house. I think before all these flats came up, cucu’s house was the only one with an upstairs and when you climbed those stairs hungry you were sure that you wouldn’t go down the same way you went up because she had a plate full of food waiting for you.

I will remember cucu for being there. Cucu has never missed any of our events, she’s been there for my mom and dad’s wedding, for my graduation, for my sister’s graduation, if I start counting we will be here till it gets dark. Old as she was, she never came up with an excuse like we often do to miss out on something and she was old, I’m hearing the word “99” being thrown around as if it’s a small figure. If you ask around getting such a mark in an exam paper, leave alone in life is nothing easy. So let’s not treat it as if it’s something simple because it’s not. It’s something to marvel at, it’s something to thank God for.

Cucu has seen her kids grow into wazee, she has seen those wazee have their own kids and the kids have kids. You would think that would slow her mind but it did not. She would tell us stories about how guka, who was a blacksmith had to go into hiding because the colonialist thought he was supplying the Mau Mau with weapons. Stories about a certain warrior who left his bicycle at her care. A warrior who hailed from Fort Hall now Murang’a who also had to go into hiding and was never heard of again after. I imagine a bicycle was very valuable back then, probably the same way a Mercedes is valuable today but this warrior knew he could trust cucu with his possession because at her core cucu was love. Andu a Murang’a meko? Muithikiri wanyu tuinaguo.

I don’t think there is any of us here who cucu did not know by name. I would visit and she would ask me if Gathoni is still well. Gathoni is named after her. Gatho, you’re now the one left to be the touch barrier. To tell us Mau Mau stories, to bring us bananas and sweet potatoes with a kiondoo when we’re hungry, utaweza? Cucu would ask about my small sister ciiku? She would ask about, Milan, her great granddaughter who is now almost a small lady, only she called her Jirani. She would ask about Nyambura, she used to call her wamarefeta. Which translated to English means wama-poem and we would all laugh to that because Nyambura has all these stories that never seem to end. Nyambu, you need to tell us these poems you used to tell cucu, or write a small book, you might be the next Ngungi Wa Thiong’o.

I will remember cucu as a jovial person, we would all break down in laughter when she would tell us that my dad would have never met my mom if she did not drag mom to Westland’s with her every now and then. And dad, where is he? That man in a blue suit over there would burn with shyness, his cheeks turning a bright pink. Mzee, I hope you thanked cucu for bringing mom to Westland’s because if it wasn’t for cucu I wouldn’t be here reading this tribute, actually, none of us would, not even jirani nor wamarefeta.

Cucu’s life was an example to all of us. She was the biggest fighter against alcohol abuse and was very bitter when she saw it destroying young men, men responsible for our future. Now that she is gone I hope we will all look inwardly and read from her book so that when we also go because we are all here for a short time, the once we live behind can have something to celebrate. Something to look back on and be proud of us for, us we are of cucu.

 

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