Someone once asked me –
what it felt like to love a stranger.
They may as well have asked me
To describe the taste of water.
So, in turn,
I will ask them to imagine
Living in the absence of it.
You can get by without it
For about a day or so.
You may even survive without it for a week.
The body will begin to wither away.
And so, does the idea;
of living without water
is the equivalent
to not loving you Guka –
“I want rice served with liver,” he said, pointing at the given menu at a hotel in downtown Nairobi. His smile like the dazzling morning sun. “Wajua mzee hana meno. Shiko, nimezeeka.”
“Oh, I will eat just like his,” I quipped. Directing the order to the waiter standing beside this cheery old man. I struggled to take my eyes off him.
“Mukimo and beef for me,” said Cousin Bundi. “Mwanaume hawezi ishi bila nyama.” (men and goats cannot be separated). Guka burst out laughing, and I followed suit. We laughed. His laughter rather infectious – other customers turned to look at these team at the far end of the hotel. Was that even a hotel or just a dingy eatery serving so-called traditional foods? If you are from Kiringyaga, Kutus, the slopes or thereabout, those eateries around Tea Room; you know where I am talking about? Yes, that is where Bundi took Guka and me for a lunch treat.
Looking through teary eyes, but still holding to this beautiful smile he said, “You are a true reflection of your father. A copyright. No mistaking this whatsoever.” Hot tears made their way down my cheeks. I could barely control my emotions. A concoction of excitement, anxiety, joy, and the ecstatic functionality of my heart ensued. “Today I am happy. I have seen my son living through you,” he continued. “I wish he knew.” But does he know this?
Nothing could ever have prepared me for such sentiments. To say the least, I have never met my father. The little memory I have of him is of a young man, adorning an afro, wearing large glasses and holding a full glass of Tusker in his hand. He looked happy. Dressed in a brown flare trouser and yellow shirt; you will be correct to say I am light-skinned. My ol’man is dark. Real African dark skin, with white glaring teeth. And then, he is short. Now you know where my bias for short men originated from… mmhhh. This memory nurtured from an old photo shared by a relation, taken sometime in the 1980s.
Today, however, I am not talking about my ol’man. A Lily has fallen.
I write about a hero. A legend who has gone to sleep. A patriarch who stood taller and stronger, than any of his generations after him. A man who was full of love, honor, and grace. The epitome of humility and patience. One Mr. Kaboi; a little, frail man, wobbly due to his age, but still, he wore his shoulder fitting navy blue suit, a white shirt and a pair of well-polished black shoes. He looked smart. And as I stared at him all this while, he took notice of this pathetic habit I was displaying.
“Shiko” he called out. “Believe it, please. It is I, your grandfather. Father to Justus. Have you two met?” he continued in this line of querying.
This was taunting. Hurting to the core. Heartbreaking and rather devastating. I was not going to let the thoughts of my ol’man spoil this moment. It was my time. Making a conscious decision to not show the discontent I had for his son, I smiled. Knowing all too well that I was lying to him. I had to. There was no way I was going to tell him that his son; my ol’man had lost his way as he left for Timbuktu. In fact, he had been swallowed whole by the desert storm. I smiled. Standing up and giving him a bear hug.
He felt small and I could not help it but ask, “Guka kai utariaga?” Awwh. The laughter that broke out of this cheery heart left me in a daze. In his Kianyaga Gikuyu he said, “Mwari, ta wirore na undore. Gima yumaga mutuini.” (you know that kiogoyu Kikuyu those from Kirinyaga speak? Combine that with my broken version and you have a genius idea of how this conversation ensued. As a matter of fact, my cousin Bundi looked like a third hand at a family reunion). I laughed. Not because I understood his line of thought, but the defensive look he shot at me said it all. Do you know that moment that gets you into introspection? Yes, here I was. Busy thinking about my skin tone, height, teeth… name it. I even stared at my fingers trying to compare them to his. He was the closest I had ever gotten to paternity.
“Shiko, tell me about your hobbies.” Did I hear hobbies? ‘Guka what are you asking?’ Here I was thinking out loudly busy parading my ignorance. I still have no idea of my expectations of him, but this one took me by surprise. The feeble stories I had of him portrayed him as a quiet, decent, disciplined man who stood for what he believed in, and who believed in the power of good education.
“I am in school as we speak. Pursuing my undergraduate.” I answered him, all so proud. I had even set my own question and answered it. I enjoy reading, photography, cooking… the story went on and on. All he did was a node in return. Then out of nowhere, he said, “You know your father is also a reader. And he loved photography. You guys have more in common than you care to admit. And your command of English is just like his. Maybe only with a bit of diction interference for him.” I smiled. At this moment, that sense of belonging hit home real fine.
“God please keep him long enough so that our kids may get to him,” I whispered under my breath. A selfish prayer if I may admit. I wanted to own him; hold him a slave to my own inuendos. But God had other plans. Let me tell you one thing, if you have grandparents, honor them and take good care of them. Show them your love while you still can. You have only now. And this is not only for grandparents, but it also applies to all those we treasure. Show them you care before the sun goes down. Some of us were not as fortunate to meet them. And even now that we did, it was a bit too late. The curtains drew nigh.
He narrated stories of the ‘Good old Days,’ and impacted the need for love, respect, honor, and commitment in me. “This life is short Shiko. It blows away so first, you will not believe it. How I wish your grandmother was here to see you today,” he choked and swallowed hard before continuing. “Always be the best version of you, and show that to the world with every sunrise that you see. Listen to the wind. Walk in the rain. Let the soil caress your skin. Be at peace with nature. Forgive often. Let go of the heavy burdens, lest they drag you down with them. Be happy, joyous and of good cheer. Aim to leave a footprint with every breathe that you take. And when my great-grandchildren ask about their origins, tell them ‘Grandpa Kaboi loved them to the heavens and back.’ Then live your life for them.”
In a sitting of three hours forty-three minutes, I had learned so much from him, it filled for a lifetime of lessons. If only for a moment, I sat and drunk from this wellspring of knowledge and wisdom. So today, I refuse to mourn his death. Instead, I will celebrate him. Celebrate a life well-lived. A battle greatly fought. A legacy mapped in the hearts of those who mattered to him.
The life given us by nature is short, but the memory of a life well spent is eternal. ‘Guka, I may never really live to tell of experiences beyond this special encounter, but if what Bundi says is anything to go by, then I know, you stood by him as a father, friend, and mentor. You provided for him and loved him and the others like he was your own. You called him ‘My son,’ and he referred to you as ‘Guka – my dad.’ I can tell the bond that you two had. My promise to you stands, Bundi and myself maybe like the outsiders, but I will stand by him. Brother and sister forever. And when I want to recall that little special moment – I will go hang out with him, because only he can truly portray you for who you really were. The Patriarch.’
Only Bundi could drag me out to greet you at the wedding at JKUAT. The first meeting that we had. Despite the no notice, I still remember the joy on your face as you were served cake by the newlyweds. Then Bundi said to you “Guka, uyu ni wa Uncle Gitari.” The beaming on your face said it all. And when the time came for traveling back, you waved with much glee. “Please come home Shiko. Come home,” you insisted. “We shall visit Guka. Bundi and I shall visit,” I promised. What did I do instead? I am sorry that I never kept my promise to you.
Guka, your guiding hand will be on our shoulders forever.
You are free.
We shall not grieve for you,
You are free at last.
The weak joints and cloudy eyes
were longing for the heavenly skies.
and before you lost all dignity,
You left us for eternity.
We shall not grieve for you Guka,
you are now free indeed.
We remain with the smiles,
hugs and words of old.
We shall hold to the thought
When the wind blows.
Till eternity shall we remember,
how it all was before you left.
Like the butterfly that you were,
you came, touched and conquered.
Then etched your vision in our hearts forever.
Rest in Peace Guka.