“EISH! YOU GUY! Are your buttocks made of plastic!?”
Yes you read it right.
No, not chic… that is a “you guy”.
Are you done making weird faces? Good, let us continue.
That statement may not sound funny, but when it is said in Kikuyu it is hilarious! It isn’t something you would hear randomly on some street or bar. No sir… ma’am. Not with all this gay label folks are eager to throw and wrap other people in. Where I heard it, no one gives a hoot about sexual orientations. It is a place called Kahira (the “i” has an accent- like in miraa [you just don’t pronounce it like mirror, do you?] or kiria – I don’t know how to set my keyboard that way *illiterate shrug*) Kahira is my mother’s shags and an infinitely interesting place for a kid, the interesting stuff runs out on the 4th hour for adults though.
I spent part of my childhood in that place, tucked snuggly in the valleys of Mt. Kenya – a stretch of land rolling from Timau, in between two crystal clear, damn cold rivers; Kongo (okay, this one isn’t so clear) and Nyariginu Ndune, ending where they join to form a bigger river whose name I never learnt. Kongo is the wild one of the two; having helped several people cross to the other side… of life. The most retold drowning story is Maina’s; maybe it will come up later in this narrative… maybe…just maybe. If it doesn’t, I’ll tell it another day. I’ve always suspected it was named so “Niundu wa kuumia kongo”… you know, hardheadedness. Regardless of that, we had taken a several hundred carefree dips in the waters growing up.
I had seen thousands of picturesque views of the snowcapped peaks before I learnt to appreciate the beauty of landscapes or heard of a rule of thirds. My cousins and I had also hunted for rabbits and antelopes, lost most of them to the impenetrable thickets, got cheated off a large portion of the ones we caught by our own dogs and skinned like ten of them. *sigh*
One thing about Kahira, it is a no-go zone for fashion police. My friends Masido, Koi and Fridah would get heart attacks if they were dropped there on a Sunday morning. They cringe at my choice of dressing yet I’m one of the best dressed products of that place. Meg, you’d get a mild stroke, I’m sure you’ve seen bad cases where you grew up, I mean, if I noticed them when I visited, they must’ve poked fingers into your eyes. The ladies in Kahira are usually in vitenges; chamas look like a collection of flower beds.Kids are normally in old, faded, stained clothes on regular days and those weird matching outfits for the Sabbath. Everyone’s clothes have strong creases on Christmas, and no, Santa doesn’t get there. He probably passes out on the way or gets distracted by the hookers in Nanyuki.
No one in Kahira would judge if you wore gumboots on a sunny day, oversized scarves, matching socks or if your stockings ran more than Rudisha. Skinny jeans isn’t a representation of what turns you on there, that is why the first sentence in this post wasn’t weird back when it was said.
We had been tasked with grazing the cattle that day… eeerm… cattle feels weird: let us just refer to them as cows. They were two. Miri and Mwireri. Crazy and calm, respectively. “We” here means my older cousin Waweru and I. Waweru was the epitome of a shags kid. Dirty, scratching, ring-wormy, conversant with the rarest kyuk vocabulary and leather tough foot heels. You can fake any of the above but the hard heels. They are the “you can’t make this stuff up” of shags. The street cred. You earn those soles. They translate to hours of trekking to and from the river with a jerry can, stepping on thousands of three pointed (T9) thorns, riding bikes with no rubber fittings on the pedals, climbing rough trees, playing ‘cycle’ with heavy polythene balls and generally exposing your feet to all forms of shoeless torture… anyway, my grandmother used to do that. Pair us together for chores because she thought I was too soft – having been born in Timau town. The fact that we were in a ghetto environment up there didn’t matter to her. Town bred mean soft breed to Naomi Njeri. Too soft to handle two grazing cows. Pulp soft. End of story. May you rest in peace shosh, I’m one hardened fellow now… but the soles are still soft and smooth; they don’t count in the Nairobi’s toughness scales.
So I was Manolo to the Montana Waweru was. Aptly, this particular day, in a bid to toughen my gooey personality, he had convinced me to accompany him for a swim in Nyariginu Ndune – it marked the lower boundary of the shamba. It was afternoon so the cows were resting under a tree shade and our lunch was done. Duff Mpararo was illegal in that compound, but we did it anyway. So we grabbed our swimming trunks and… haha kidding, trunks? Warrathos? We headed for the river, navigating past stinging nettle, wild berries and huge indigenous trees and into the valley the river hid in. We had a favourite corner next to a gigantean Mubondo tree. That’s where we stripped to our yet-to-grow unmentionables and plunged into the water.
One thing about swimming in a (mountainside) river: it is not swimming, it is fighting for survival. You have to wrestle the strong current, circumnavigate the rocks, beware of crabs, watch your clothes, ignore the numbing cold and still manage to have fun. That’s some super hero shit right there, but we did it! And had a hell of a time! Anything is fun when done in the nude. If the nudity was consensual.
After the swim, we swaggered up the hill chattering about what moves we had pulled. We knew nothing about butterfly, freestyle or that breaststroke story then. The meanest thing you could do in that water was kunyua nguru – which is basically diving into the river bed and holding your breath for as long as possible without drowning. Sounds like fun, yes? No? You must be a parent. Waweru was good at it, I was still learning. We were so engrossed in our dialogue that by the time we noticed the cows were missing, we were out in the open.
How is that a bad thing? See, if only Miri was missing, we could always find her in the nearest tilled plot, for which we could blame her insanity and compulsiveness, but if both of them were missing we could only blame ourselves. Luck was on our side because we found them in the shed. Problem is we got found too.
My oldest uncle “Daddy” was waiting for us to show up. He grabbed hold of us before we could make an escape and started the cross examination! The cows had broken the fence into his plot of green maize and had fun sampling random stalks from each corner. When he tried chasing them out, Miri went berserk and started doing the Harlem shake all over the damn place, trampling any stalks that had survived the hungry assault earlier. Our job description had been simple: keep the cows out of such places. We had failed. Of course he asked whether we had been swimming, to which we replied with an enthusiastic negative, a story about hearing some weird noises near the river and going to check them out in case they were Samburu raiders, accompanied by really innocent faces (though Waweru couldn’t actually achieve this – his huge lips were a major inhibition). That incomplete façade must have been the reason our story fell flat and wasn’t bought. “Daddy” grabbed me by the nape of my neck and ran a finger roughly up my jugular.
Now, the reason they call it duff Mpararo is because the duffing leaves you with mpararo. When you duff in a really cold river and walk in a cold environment on a cold day, your sebaceous gland take a leave and the mpararo lasts a little bit too long. As you may have guessed, my skin turned into a chalkboard instantly; a white streak marking his finger’s path. I almost felt him make up his mind.
“Muuma gutubira nugu ici!”
Yes we were from swimming, but calling us monkeys wasn’t fair. Well, Waweru’s lips kind of made him resemble the baboon version of Diamond… but I was pretty cute! There was no time to argue about looks though, he sent my mate to fetch a whip and left me to the torture of waiting, my nerves tingling, my bladder almost giving in and tears welling up. I couldn’t hold both back, so my tears suddenly sprung out… Look, I wasn’t a sissy; the dude had a reputation with the whip. The way he used it could turn a BDSM enthusiast back to vanilla sex. OKAY! Maybe I was a sissy… but you know what they say about things you hear a lot getting to you? My grandma had called me soft repeatedly so… what? Not to drag her into this? Okay! You win! Can we move on already?
Probably to save whatever little dignity I had left, he asked me to lie on my belly as we waited for Waweru. I thought that was a good position, only that when I sniffed, all the dust got into my nose and… and… and… ATCHOOO!
I wiped mucus on my forearm.
He lay beside me and since he was older, he usually got his lashes before me. The first one rang out like a gunshot. My bladder gave up. I sneaked a peek to see whether that was rubber against human. It was. And there was a cloud of dust rising from the said behind. I expected to see pain spelled all over Waweru’s face, but the boy – or rather Rambo – was grinning! That when I knew I was missing something. Daddy hesitated a bit then brought the whip down again. That one was even louder! That’s when he exclaimed, “EISH! OH MUNDU UYU! Kai wina thede cia prastiki!!?”
Waweru had stuffed tree bark under his shorts to armour his buttocks, which would’ve been one badass move if he had not forgotten the concept of silencing. What did my uncle do? Let’s just say by the time he was done with my cousin, he was too tired to even look at me. The poor kid had to sleep on his belly and walk like a robot for two weeks though. He is in the National Youth Service now. Him and his lips. And I really hope he doesn’t read this lest he comments with some embarrassing shit I’ve chosen to never remember.