By Anthony Muiruri
I never cease to amaze my friend Robert. We sometimes teasingly call him uncle Bob owing to his iron-fisted management of his household. To ensure everything runs smoothly, Bob assigns duties to his wife and seven children (the last time I checked his wife had a ‘ball’), goes to the market himself and determines what and how much food to be cooked.
He’s man of action not thought. One day, his subjects failed to perform their duties properly and he had to beat laziness out of them. That is, thorough beating and two days of undernourishment for the family his ‘heavy’ wife ending up ‘sleeping’ in hospital in the intensive care unit ward.
I challenged Bob to stop being a fundamentalist disciplinarian but he accused me of reading too much into a mild action. He saw it that way since he took the fifth commandment and the Biblical clause ‘the neck shall not pass the head’ very seriously. He explained how he envied the great Calvin’s theocratic rule of Geneva in the old times when a child would be decapitated publicly for venturing to strike its parents.
He corroborated it by telling a story about one Vespaziano Gonzaga who kicked his only son to death for slighter insult-neglect to touch his cap. So nothing can stop him from ruling his household like a pope or a prince by divine right and his children and wife are his subjects. So, he vowed to make his authority even more effective. This means, if his family went astray again, more blows, more kicks, more strokes of the bamboo and more starved days.
I rarely have time for people who believe in the absolute submission of women and children; neither do I like people who take the Genesis verse which commands people to multiply and fill the world as a constitution. And yet something has kept Bob and me together since our childhood. We’re both fascinated by each other’s demeanor. Mine a wine aficionado and him a violence devotee. We’re both experts in our respective ‘profession’ but I wish to discuss mine.
Now Bob can never bring himself to terms with my devotion to wine. He says it’s like a religion to me and chastises me for sleeping, worshipping and living it. For him, it is beyond comprehension that a man of my caliber could pay Kshs.35,000 for a correspondence course from a college in Manchester in England.He is ever doubtful about the name of the company I work for Kenya pipeline since I never carry paraffin, diesel or petrol home but alcohol and thus the company must be Kenya pipe wine.
“Isn’t there anything useful to spend your damn much money on?” he once asked me.
“But education is useful, it imparts knowledge in us and that is why the knowledge I have gather from the course prompted me to write a book about wine.
I want people to appreciate Scottish, Russian and Chilean wine and understand that it is not always wrong to oil’ one’s gullet. “I elaborately replied.
He shook his head, “it is such kind of thoughts that make me call you an educated fool. Of what use would be your rubbish book apart from poisoning our children’s minds?” he quipped.
He merely attained Grade Three education a grade higher than Maria his wife and I was not surprised by the insinuation that books are meant for children. Yet he deemed himself an uneducated Solomon and according to him that is why he is able to run a family, had three barns full of grains, yams and arrow roots as opposed to I and Cecilia who had divorced and were unable to farm but kept out of foolishness from our so-called education.
“Can’t you write `about something useful and stop this nonsense and behave like an adult or a man?” he pestered me. I do not condone being talked down to and being called a child or a woman. I decided to pull the trigger to silence this mshamba who our knowing not that he knew
not had arrogated to himself the role of a counselor.
“One writes out of one thing only-one’s experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one force from this experience the last drop sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.” I replied in English determined to show off my flowery literary prowess.
“Thus as an ordinary man you may take for granted something that an artist cherishes for an artist sees more than ordinary people and that is why our points of view on alcohol are at loggerheads.
That is why while you see drunkenness; I see life in laughter, openness, creativity and absurdity of the human race through the behavior of the drunkards. I continued determined to show this fool that intellectually, people lived in planets and time apart and that we were only ‘equaled by clothes and physical appearance from his body language, I definitely could tell that he only grasped smatterings of my pompous, polemical reply and I immensely reveled in seeing him astonished at my mastery of the queen’s language and struggling to grasp it –my real intention and it had definitely sunk.
But wait minute err…… can I make an assertion that I was spot on? The problem is that since I had conversed in a language unfamiliar to him he may have misconstrued my words for mere rumbling and rattling to the detriment of my real intention of showing off. Mine could just be a monologue.
All in all he begged to reply. “You may know a lot of book, far more than I know, but I will know not you are wise and the value of your book when you bring back Cecilia and start living like Africans and rid yourselves of the whites’ mannerisms.” He replied rather sarcastically.
In spite of my awfully low opinion on Bob, I must confess that in some family related issues, I inadvertently found him rather, useful. It was paradoxical that the man who beat his wife and children with effectual brutality had in our village distinguished himself as a tactful family diplomat whose negotiations and counseling skills were really sought after by many broken up families.
Needless to say that he was very much instrumental in ensuring my reunification with Cecilia much to the delight of my parent and relatives as they could not contemplate a man of good education and unlimited wealth ‘without a woman’.
We were now living happily and life was a smooth sailing for me and Cecilia. But one day, Bob with his keen observation skills or an eye for detail like a reporter’s caught me in deep thought with my chin resting on my right palm and established that all was not well for me.
“Hallo Yelstin, or rather Prof?” he teased me.
There was much silence as I was still deeply engrossed in my thoughts that I had noticed his arrival.
“Hallo! Hallo! Are you okay? Did you leave your ears and eyes somewhere else?” he jokingly enquired.
“I am fine Robert, I was only thinking about’’ I stammered.
“About what? Has Cecilia started her trouble again?” He continued rather seriously.
“No all is well at home. Only that I am worried about the deteriorating quality of my wine,” I answered absentmindedly as I was now thinking of setting a trap for the thief of my scotch.
He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders before bursting into uncontrollable laughter.
“Ha! Ha! Ha Prof and his wine every day!’’
‘’Every day my wine this, my wine that. I think you are really going crazy. Stop it boy! But what is really happening? Perhaps I can help. I get worried to see you down in the mouth,” he was a bit sarcastic. I took the trouble to explain.“I am deeply suspicious that Abdullah my houseboy is behind it. He steals my wine while am away and then adds up water to ensure that he maintains the level I left it in much to the detriment of its quality as it loses concentration and good taste,’’ I roared.
But he was more of a hindrance than help and I had to ask him to leave me alone. I there and then went to my suppliers and narrated my ordeal to them.
“That is so simple boss; we will sell you a brand that turns white if the tiniest drop of water is ever added to it.”
That day I went home and took a glass of my newly minted wine. It was of the finest quality and I slept quite contented.
The following day Cecilia was arriving home from her parents’ home upcountry. My favorite dish of ugali was ready and within two minutes I had guzzled down my mountain of ugali.
By the time I finished, Cecilia had already woken up having arrived home two hours earlier. We hugged, caressed and kissed. Since we had probably stayed for days “without,” we couldn’t control our very hot blood pressure.
But as rule, we never slept without talking wine as the cultivation of the “Promised land ‘ required quite substantial amount of energy and both of us derided failure to complete the
journey as one would be seen or though weak by each other.
Since my arrival home, I had noticed that Abdullah had kept so much silence, avoided eye contact and kept himself extremely busy with domestic chores something unusual as he had distinguished himself as the laziest of houseboys in our neighboring.
Obviously, his demean our stemmed from fear and I went to the fridge to find out whether his
fear emanated from wine’s misfortune and true my wine had turned whitish. Abdullah was now cleaning the toilet but he had been in that toilet for the last one hour something that could even to a lazy man like take a maximum of 10 minutes. It was time we settled the matters.
“Abdullah!” I called out loudly
“Naam boss! He replied (note he hailed from the coast)
“Who steals my wine while am way than adds up water to obscure my
discovery”, I asked rather harshly.
Abdullah did not answer my second question and I became uncontrollably
agitated. I and Cecilia went closer to the toilet so that he could
hear me properly.
“Abdullah! Abdullah!” I once again called
“Naam bossi, nasikia mkubwa!”
“What happened to my wine? It’s turned whitish who added water it? You were alone in the house. Answer me.’
Once again he avoided he avoided my question. I asked him not to pretend that he was doing anything useful and ordered him out of the toilet.
“Won’t you answer me?” I enquired
“Bosi kusemau kweli, mtu akiwa mlendani, swali la kwanza anasikia la pili apana,’’ he answered.
Nonsense! What do mean? I will go there myself and if your claim turns out to be lie, you’ll face the music, “I thundered.
Nakubaliana nawe mdosi, naamini utaniunga mkono ukiwa mle ndani. “He replied softly.
Once inside he called me.
“Mdosi!” he called out.
“Yes Abdullah!” I replied.
“Nakuuliza, wakati Cecilia alikuwa ameenda safari kwao, ni nani kwa hii nyumba alikuwa analala na mjakazi wake papa hapa nyumbani kasha alipopata mimba akaachishwa kazi na kufukuzwa?
I did not reply.
“Mdosi! He called again
“Yes Abdullah!” I answered
“Jibu swali la mbona wakawia hivyo mdosi,” he pressed me.
At that moment I moved out of the toilet and in Cecilia’s presence agreed with Abdullah.
“There must be demons in that toilet because the second question is inaudible,” I thundered shaking my head in pretentious disbelief avoiding eye contact with everybody.
“Mazingaombwe hayo mdosi,” Abdullah concluded.