My grandmother is old. When you look below her eyes, the surface is a curtain of creases. When she smiles her teeth are spaced and most of what’s left is gum. When you touch her, her skin is soft like that of a child and when you look at her cheeks they’re hollow and full of intricate wrinkles swimming towards her jawline like the tributary of a river. My relatives are always there minding her; cooking for her, bathing her, getting her outside to savor the sun. I guess that’s what aging does. It moves you from being an infant, to an adult to a suckling infant again who is dependent on others for everything. She talks with a stammer now. Her memory is also fading and she doesn’t remember people quite the way she used to.
Shoulder note: This post will have a bit of Kikuyu in it, you might want to pull mundu wa nyumba close and ask them, “Uhoro waku?” And tell them you need help with translations. If they play hardball talk their language and whisper, “Mbeca cigana?” dirtily into their ear or talk about mbiacara or that ka-shamba you saw somewhere that might be good for growing thara and watch them smile with delight and fit into your schedule.
I visited my grandmother this weekend. She’s recuperating from a diabetes attack and she sits in her house in an ankle long frock and heavy sweater and spends her days shooing her cats from tables and minding her two chicken. Her house is lifted from the ground and you have to climb a few stairs to get to the door. When you enter, it’s dark inside and you have to wait a bit for your eyes to adjust to the gloom so you can see where the couch is lest you seat on her favored cat. She has three of those and they’re always purring and meowing. I get in and she asks,
(Kariuki means the reincarnated one, if HBO is listening, I’d make a great Walking Dead character).
“Kariuki wa Kimuyu.”
“Kai waraihire atia? Wi muthuri mugima riu.”
She probably can’t put a finger on who I am because I haven’t seen her in quite a while. I’m a town chap who would rather spend his weekend swimming or in a pub watching football than going to see nana. I make an imaginary reminder to slap myself later before sitting down in one of the grizzled settee, making sure not to sit on a cat or an egg. I regard her for a while then ask,
“Uraigua atia riu, mami niarajirire urari thibitari.”
“Riu ndimwega, ona kuria nindiraria.”
She’s seated on the corner of one couch and on the other corner is a bunch of bananas; yellow and alluring. She makes as if to reach for them and I can see she’s straining,
“Urenda kuria irigu ngonengererie?” I ask, worried.
“Aca niwe ndirenda urie.”
“Aca, nie ona no hindi ndaria,” and I’m not saying that just because. Earlier I had passed by Café Naivas hoping to have tea and a samosa and I ended up downing a mountain.
“No urathukuma?” she totters.
“Eh, no ndirathukuma.”
“Ukwenda uthukume, ugie indo ciaku utuike mundu.”
She says it as if someone who doesn’t have wealth is not really a person. A person who doesn’t have property doesn’t really command the respect of his peers or society. She says it with an experienced mind, a mind that has seen over eight decades of somebodies and nobodies.
And I want to ask her what she thinks about those people who say money is not everything? Folk who are looking for purpose and passion than they are riches. I even want to quote Shakespeare and say, ‘He is well paid that is well satisfied.’ But I smile uncomfortably and ask her if the cats, one of which is now grabbing my hand with its paw while another one curls its tail on my leg frolicsomely, keep her company.
“Aca, nyau ni cia kunyita mbia.”
I want to tell her there are people I know who keep cats as pets. Folk who have given their cats names, cats that are now part of the family. People who feed their cats supermarket feed. Feed that is more expensive than a lorry of waru in Kinari. People who would squirm at the thought of their cat eating rodents because the cat is family and it sometimes shares their bed and meows decisions every now and again, but I instead ask her about the past.
“Nindona guku nigwakitwo muno, hingo yanyu nikwari miako?”
“Hindi itu twatindaga mugunda. Nu reke andu make, hau niho king’otore kiri.”
The sentence slips out of her tongue as if it’s not her own. As if some untrustworthy person forced those words in her mouth. Like one of those dubious uncles or cousins who are always demanding portions they don’t deserve.
My dad joins the fray. An average height man in a grey tracksuit with a big belly jutting out of his midsection. It’s a belly that screams of his success. A belly that says he’s gotten a few things over the years and he’s now a top cat in his comfort zone. A belly that says he sometimes has too much unhealthy food. Grandma scans him and chimes,
“Mwanake waku nindona niatuikire muthuri, uyu ona niakurehe andu riu.”
Whenever you’re with your relatives this phrase never fails to come up, therefore it should never come as a surprise but for some reason it always rattles you. It jumps at you out of nowhere like a stray feline and sometimes scratches you deeply.
Whenever I’m with my dad he always asks, “Tukanyua cai ri? Urarehe andu ri?” And I often want to tell him, “Andu are not found in Nakumatt, otherwise I would collect my coins and go buy myself one: short, smart, loyal, with back and front fundamentals haha.” I want to tell him you just don’t step out and find andu because the right one is not usually out there sitting pretty waiting for you. It takes a while to get someone who you understand and who understands you. Someone you can stay in the same room with without getting the urge to rip their heads off. But I understand where this question comes from. It’s the need to continue the progeny. The need to continue a legacy. The want to have security.
I look at nana, she’s now oblivious, staring at the roof of her house probably thinking about how time has changed things and wondering how courtship ensues nowadays. In her days boys used to talk to girls by throwing a stone on the roof and it probably had to make a musical rendition otherwise it would be a cold bargain. Boys would probably make eye contact with a girl every week in church before finally shaking hands after three months. But not today. Today you meet and the conversation moves from, “How are you,” to, “What color is your underwear?” You meet a girl today and you’re both naked on the couch tomorrow. She gawks at the roof for a while probably wondering where the world is going and how anything genuine ever sprouts from such arrangements?
But like her I want to be catered to as well. I don’t want to wake up one morning and find a stranger next to my bed taking care of me because I spent all my days chasing money and when I finally got to the edge of the cliff I found that there was nothing there but a vast depression. I don’t want to spend all my life thinking about travel and when I finally start traversing the world I realize that travelling only looks good on an instagram or Facebook post (Thought this would be great PR for my social pages). Like her, I don’t want to be old and frail with nobody knocking on my door to ask how my cats are doing or to know whether I have eaten. I want to have andu of my own but I can do without the relentless pressure.
Ay guys, Lust Not Love got a bit of murmur and a few of you wrote saying you had gone through the same thing and you really identified with it. So I’m going out on a limb and asking ladies here who’ve been in a similar situation to write their story. How you got into it, how you felt and how you’re coping. Drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org for a feature that might elevate another mom from depression and that might let her know that she’s not in it alone because others have walked in the same shoes and made it to the other side. Something that lets someone somewhere know that affliction doesn’t last. Things eventually get better. Suffering is not a lifetime engagement.
Editor credit: Shiku Ngigi
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“Kariuki wa Kimuyu.”
So am I to understand that “wau?” means “wa who?”
I do recall my great grandmother used to ask us similar questions…
See nana from time to time.
Mpelekee hata pizza sometime uone kama ataipenda.