Somehow in your walks of life you have had friends move from grass to grace, from poorest to richest, from grass thatched houses to bungalows. Miracles happen. Maybe you were part of their success story. They stuck by you when they had nothing. You shared the little you had, as little as your parents could afford to divide among the thirteen of you. It so happens that the “middle class” are more blessed with children than the rich ones. Or rather the other folks are busy chasing after money that they have little time to spend with their spouses, limiting the fruits they bear in the end.
I have always wanted to write about sticking to friends and family in richness and in poverty. Born and bred in a village, I have as story to tell of people who were once poor and now are rich. Mostly children to the old mamas I always see walking bare foot, regardless of the efforts I grew to see them put in educating their sons and daughters. True. Maybe it only happens in my village. But it’s real and happening.
“Kina obirore Okage Mbinde” A proverb from my native language that means “grow up to see what life has for you. It doesn’t necessarily hold the best things for you.” Running against the rain, I bet I was just not strong enough. At least not stronger that the wind that hurriedly carried the rain behind my back. Finally the rain drops were on me. Beating me hard on my head and back. The 20 liters “kibuyu” on my head I had managed to balance through the hill was almost falling over. The wind was so strong.
Thunderstorm and lightning. Sounds of spirits of the dead. Images of bodies moving along with the streams that formed along the paths. Thoughts of the village mad man emerging from the now deserted houses surrounded by ready to be harvested maize. The sight of the coffin of a neighbor we had recently buried. One who was thought of as a night runner? The belief that such people always chase kids who are sent to the streams and decide to play, leaving their mamas waiting for water to make them a meal before their drunken father comes home shouting. Yes, he calls out from a distance for all to scatter. When unlucky he gets home and finds doors open at the sight of no living thing. Usually his food is placed near the door as a destructor so he cannot notice the legs popping from under the bed. The life of the men you will meet in Nairobi, move in with, get up to three kids but never hear of their rural homes. They are now rich with bad names.
I was brought back to my senses when I was handed a cup of African porridge. Sour but sweet. That porridge made from a concoction that is usually well kept besides the fire place in a kimbo container that was once white but has since evolved through brown, green and now black. Her hands were shaking. Not because she is of age but because of the thoughts that cross her mind from time to time. Thoughts of the fruits of her labor that she never lived to see. Thoughts of sons and daughters she worked hard for but whom she has never lived to see. She sobs and mourns her only son whom she hears is lost in a town whose name she can no longer pronounce well. Nyorobi, that’s all she can manage to say.
I had come to shelter my head from the heavy rain drops. My clothes had now dried up and were smelling smoke. But my head was full of questions. I was a witness. Though young, I remember seeing her walk from home to home looking for kibarua so she could educate her only son. I could hear her say he was her only hope and she was ready to do all within her powers to get him educated. Now he lives in a bungalow in Nairobi as she sticks to a corner of her leaking grass thatched house to protect her from the heavy rains. She keeps waking up through the night to dry up the pools of water, a result of her leaking roof. Fear lives with her. People laugh at her through the openings of her roof. They throw stones at her and mock her. They at times come down to her sleeping body and pull her nose. She dreams from time to time.
Simon was that good example in our village. Time and again I could hear my dad tell us, why can’t you be as good as Simon? I always laughed. I never saw anything good in him, but he was good. I always thought it’s his misfortunes in life that led him into being good. I was right. He is the kind of man that could be found along the river banks looking for firewood, get to look for vegetables, rush from school to go to the posho mill. As young as I was I used to think he needed to get over that. Maybe I was used to bad boys from brothers. They could never do such things. Even the chores that were meant for them like grazing cows, it used to be a struggle. Simon never hanged around girls. Not even when we went for swimming at the river, the days we were lucky to get home from school and find all doors locked. He could then run to our homes and tell our mamas of where he had seen us and what we were doing. He behaved more of a woman than a man. But he was still good. Good to the old folks. Good to the parents who valued softness and obedience.
A decade later Simon becomes rich but loses his good name. He never shows up in the village. The furthest he goes is the now Kisii County capital city. I have run into him at least twice, which is when he is not smart enough to camouflage. At one time I met him as a fiancée to a friend. This time he had just landed from UK and he needed someone to hang around with before he could go back. His parents were dead. He had no home. He was living in a first class hotel. His sister, the only sister that was sacrificed for him to get educated, now married in a poorer family and with eight kids is also dead. She still lives but remains dead in the mind of Simon. I was also a stranger. He sought to know my name and where I came from. He even offered me one of his male friends for company. I wanted to cry.
The next time he was that investor living in USA. Men in diaspora. This time it was an office situation and I was supposed to guest attend him. I gave him the same treatment. I sought to know who he is, where he comes from and how his life was. I asked him the schools he attended and made a comment “your parents must have been rich to have given you such a good life.” To my surprise, he sheepishly smiled and gave me a head nod. I wanted to kick him with my phone. He left.
Of what good is it for him to live a lavish life while his mother, the woman that bore the pain for him to live remains suffering? Simon knows. He has no friends. He is the bad example in the village. I remember recently mama telling me, when you get richer my daughter, please don’t be like Simon. At least your village may be having a Simon, don’t be like him. I rather you keep your good name and let the riches be. If money was to taint my good name, I rather remain poor as I am and keep my name. Proverbs 22:1 A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.