They were talking endlessly. Their old age did not allow them to notice your yawning and your belly’s impatient grumbling. You looked up behind you and saw her father’s photos on the blue wall. You cringed in fear; he was still a feared police commissioner.
One does not interrupt the old.
Your grandfather heaved, coughed dryly and then rose from his three-legged stool. His quavering voice demanded your attention. You looked at your father and his people seated on the right and your fiancée’s people on the left, forming an incomplete rectangle. Your grandfather poured kaluvu from a gourd into the brown calabash he was holding.
He drank a mouthful and then spat almost immediately on the white and black carpet. “Kathitu, drink from here.”
“And you, Mukui.”
“All our fathers, drink to your fill. Give life to your young children. Nzoka and Nthambi are preparing to start a journey together tonight. Give them extra eyes to see where they will be going.”
Countless spits and incantations.
Your stomach growled again. You coughed and hugged yourself against the cold. When you could not wait any longer, you pretended that your phone was vibrating in your pocket, and you pulled it out. The old men stared at your huge Samsung Smartphone.
Your fiancée winked at you. Her fair complexion distracted you, almost betraying your trick. Her two beautiful dimples were visible on her lower cheeks. She was dressed in a long lesso; her hair pulled back into a ponytail. You almost pulled her into an embrace, but then you remembered where you were. You could not wait to have her all by yourself tonight after all this was over.
Looking at your phone’s screen, you stood up.
“Ikaangi, you have my permission. Talk,” your father said, standing up and staining his white shirt on the freshly painted wall. Your mother rose from her seat almost immediately and wiped the bright-blue stain off your father’s cuff.
“I need to pick up my visitors,” you said in English. They all stared at each other, as if your leaving in the middle of the meeting was an unpardonable abomination. You wondered if you should perhaps sit down.
“Ikaangi, speak our tongue. You don’t want to insult us with English.”
Your sister uncapped a tube of lip balm, dipped her small finger in it, slowly coated her lips and then turned to you, translating your words into Kikamba.
The elders clapped.
And then you stood up and left.
Your grandpa shook his head when you did not bow as you left.
The night outside was peaceful; the sky a clear blue. Clusters of stars were stretched out across the sky. The DJ, dressed in a heavy white jacket, turned slightly to look at you when you stepped outside the house. He was bobbing his head to the sounds of Wizkid. The dance floor was flooded with tipsy young men and women; dancing and singing.
Are you gonna dance o
If I show you the money
Are you gonna dance you o
If I show you my pocket….
The place was filled with jumbled voices as they tried to outdo each other and synchronize their lyrics to that of the music playing from the DJ’s booth. They circled the table, lifting up their hands as if in prayer and twisting waists provocatively. The locals stood aside; their disgusted faces telling it all – they were not going to dance to any of this stuff. Chewing miraa stems and drinking Prince, they demanded that the DJ play their songs. You needed to go. You needed to be somewhere else.
As you made your way to the toilets, you bumped into your best man. He was dressed in a black-and-white shirt. His ‘unfinished’ blue jeans sagged precariously, and before he spoke to you, he lifted them and tightened his belt.
“Man, what’s up?” He spoke to you in English, his eyes looking a little pale.
“It’s alright. Got bored, man.”
“You’re bluffing, right? It’s your big day.”
“Yes. I know bro. But they are speaking in parables.”
“Their language is fucking deep.”
Your best man handed you one of the two Guinness bottles he was holding. Pulling out an opener from his back pocket, he popped the beer open.
“You need this to force your mind back to your roots,” he said, lifting his bottle for a toast. You hesitated. It was the night of your pre-wedding and so drinking was perhaps not a good idea. Not when everyone else back in the room was expecting you.
“Let’s do this.”
“Okay. Cheers, man.”
The DJ played some Ken wa Maria. Your best man pulled your unwilling arm towards the kitchen backyard where a group of young people was huddled around a small radio, listening to Nicki Minaj rapping. They all cheered to your entrance. One patted you on the back, said he knew you would not fail them. Another one said you had done well to avoid the old people, that they should have given you their daughter a long time ago.
You drank and danced and lost track of time until the next morning.
The cocks crowed. The morning sun hit your almost blood-shot eyes. You washed your face with running tap water, leaving traces of drool on the sides of your mouth. You met your fiancée standing with your mother.
“Wakya, Mwanawa,” your mother greeted you.
“Cool,” you said, giving her double thumbs-up.
She seemed rather surprised. Told your fiancée you had said ‘ku.’ Your fiancée forced a smile, explaining to your mother that ku was also a greeting. Your mother talked about how everybody had fruitlessly tried to look for you the previous night, and had had to proceed in your absence. You let out a deep sigh of relief when she laughed and said she must leave the two of you alone.
Taking you aside and standing beside your white Toyota Wish, your fiancée threw her hands in the air and then rested them on her waist. She looked you straight in the eye.
“Do you have a wife?” She did not wait for you to respond. “Or do you have another lover?”
People were beginning to notice the two of you, and the last thing you wanted was a spectacle. You walked to the backyard, hands in your pockets and shoulders hunched. Your fiancée followed.
“Sikuelewi. You are already here.” You patted your chest.
“You are also in my heart.”
After a while, you reached for her, hoping that she had calmed down. But she refused to hug you, refused to yield to your sweet words.
“Why did you leave last night?”
“Ooooh. That? No big deal.”
“Fuck you! It’s big to me and to you. I had to lie that you had gone to get our engagement ring from Kathama.” Her words came out fast, too fast for you to cup her mouth. You looked around, but there was no one watching except two dogs tussling over a bone.
You suppressed your laughter. “I’m listening.”
“The elders had to proceed, because you were nowhere to be found.”
“Great. I was tired of waiting.”
“Waiting for what?”
“For the elders to finish their parabolic talk.”
“You expected the elders to speak in English? Eh! You thought they had immediately transformed to university professors? You expected them to be in suits?” Your fiancée was getting angrier, word after another.
It was 9 o’clock. The herders were opening their sheds, taking their cattle out into the field.
“What happened after I left?” You looked at your watch; looked left and right. Your fiancée’s sister came, grabbed her by the wrist and quickly explained she was taking her to change her clothes as they walked away.
“See you later, babe,” your fiancée said and then blew you a kiss.
You were served tea with two chapatis.
There was movement around you; feet scuffling on the grass as you texted your fiancée. “Young man, why are you laughing at a screen? Seeing ghosts in broad daylight?” your grandfather said, sitting beside you. He was in an old suit, and you could swear that you had spotted a fat bed bug trudging up his stripped coat’s left sleeve. He propped his left foot on the table. Your tea was cold now. Two fat flies were swimming inside it; falling back into the cup each time they tried to escape.
“Sorry, Uma…” you struggled.
“I know you can hear me, but can’t speak with me,” he said. You hoped that he would soon leave you alone; but at the same time you wanted him to stay and talk to you. He stood up, his long legs cracking like old wood logs.
“I will teach you our proper language before the function starts,” he said. He started scribbling on the soil with his staff.
“Nzele,” you said, reading out what he had just written. Your grandpa said kongilati.
“What’s this, then?” he wrote again and pointed at the word.
“I can’t pronounce that well.”
“I will tell you later. Let’s take a walk,” he rose with difficulty. He surprisingly walked faster than you once you took the path to the farms. He gave you your sister’s tablet, said he was shocked to see such big ‘medicine.’
Walking down, you opened the tablet. In a clip titled ‘ril pre-wedoh,’ you skipped the beginning parts of last night’s action.
Your grandma is holding a mukondu plant, full of Sodom apples. She circles it around your fiancées’ head seven times, saying; ‘may you give your husband as many children as this tree.’
Your grandpa returned to the house. Perhaps he had noticed the tablet had been giving you better company. Switching off the tablet, you squatted behind a bush, determined to free your belly of the heaviness you had been feeling. Your bare buttocks came into contact with a stinging plant; the shit that had refused to come out last night fell on the grass. Ptho! Ptho. Forcing your fore finger into your pocket, you extracted a crumpled piece of toilet paper. You wiped the shit out of your buttocks, ignoring the MC who was calling your name repeatedly. And then, half-walking, half-running, you went back to the venue. The open-air area was fixed with three tents, all erected opposite each other. Your family sat on red plastic seats in the front tent.
MC Stan complemented you for successfully wooing a policeman’s daughter. People laughed, and then brought money in twenties, fifties, hundreds, thousands. Your fiancée’s elder sister whispered something into your lover’s ear. Entering the house, she came out pulling a wheeling bag. Her father explained to the crowd; her daughter was officially packing out of the home. You noticed a tear in her left eye. You imagined how hard it must be for one to leave one’s people. The people laughed and cheered.
Your eyes narrowed with astonishment when her sister went into the house and came back with a thick mat. Your fiancée sat there. The MC commanded you to give out two thousand shillings before lifting her. You wondered how far these people would go to get more cash. The cash will be yours after all, you thought. You took the microphone from the MC. The crowd went dead.
“Just two thousand?”
The crowd clapped.
“Yes, nothing more, nothing les,” the MC spoke into the DJ’s microphone.
“Ok. I need one thousand bob fine from her.”
“For sitting down without my permission. She may never listen to me later.”
The crowd ululated madly. Someone beat a can. You were careful. Lifting her carelessly might attract hefty fines on you. You called your people. They came with cash.
“Seems my husband will be involving other people in solving family issues,” your fiancée said. The crowd gave her a standing ovation. You waved your people back. This thing was going too far.
Sweat drops hit your stomach. This girl must have been coached, you thought. Folding your white sleeves, you signaled to your people to go back to their seats.
“Why?” you asked, sizing up your fiancée. The mole beside her upper lip looked a golden black under the low-hitting sun. Her slightly protruding nose looked unreal; like a mannequin’s.
You held out your hand and made as if to go. She didn’t budge. The lessos bound around her head made her look older.
The sun’s eye was about to close. The herders had already brought the cattle back to the sheds. Your side of the family and your lover’s argued on. More money came. The MC announced the amount; the people shouted ‘mani’ every time somebody dropped a note into the collection basket. You got more impatient. These people should simply give me my wife!
You dropped a thousand-note into the basket placed on the brown wooden table. Whispering to your best man and his wife standing beside you, you left. Everybody assumed you had gone to the toilet. But you sipped a glass of water in one gulp, and picked up the tablet from the chair – where you had left it. You went and sat on an old car near the farm, a distance away from the function. Dusting the tablet using your handkerchief, you replayed the clip. The part you had skipped seemed juicier.
An elder from your fiancée’s side grabs a knife. Points at a white goat and says the blood has united you and your fiancée. He commands your fiancée to swear to always respect that blood-oath in your marriage. Elders from each side strongly advise her and you on marital issues. She swears twice for you. The elder says the goat couldn’t have been slaughtered in the house; they didn’t want to desecrate the clean premises.
He pours himself a calabashful of kaluvu. Your father sips it once and burps. He is not a beer faithful. The elder looks at your fiancée. She shakes her head. The elder asks her whether she will ever fail the community, after he has ‘eaten’ her. The elder points at your phone and the tablet placed on a low stool at the middle of the sitting room. He orders her to handover the recorded audio and video to you.
Written and translated by Peter Ngila.
Read “Kite Muthya” the original version in Kikamba
Peter Ngila (@pinjefifty) is a Kenyan bibliophile and writer. He has recently finished studying Journalism at Mount Kenya University, and is currently a correspondent with the Star, a Kenyan daily. He has participated in Writivism literary workshops and mentorship. His fiction has appeared (or are forthcoming) on HisiaZangu, Muwado, Amka Space Literature Forum, and Daily News – a Tanzanian newspaper. Ngila has finished writing his first book – a short novel.. Visit his Blog.