Sometimes when it rains, my mind travels back to the past in a melancholic time capsule. A past that imposes its nostalgia on me every time i come-a-knocking on its door. It’s like opening this closet I keep somewhere in my mind and sack loads of nostalgia come pouring out of it covering me from head to toe.
The rainy season mostly came during school holidays. I used to watch the rain either from the big window of the main house or the half door to our kitchen which was next to the main house.
All kitchens in our village were constructed in pretty much the same manner; a big door which was only locked at night and a smaller one which remained open and kept away the dogs, goats and chicken from venturing into the kitchen. The fire place was at the centre and in one corner grandpa had built what was then a “state-of –the-art” cooking place with a chimney which was supposed to let the smoke out. The thing backfired and instead of going out through the chimney the smoke would fill the small kitchen.
There was a time granny was trying to make it work and the smoke was all over her, like i couldn’t even see her. I felt an overwhelming urge to susu on the interior kitchen walls which were made of mud (only a village boy would understand the joy of peeing on a mud wall, it makes that peculiar sound of frying onions) and mid way granny appears from the smoke like some kind of zombie; scared the eish out of me and i peed in my pants!
The goats were mischievous and had a particular liking for water that was left after boiling Githeri. Talking of Githeri, everyone has this notion that it is the favourite food for the Gikuyu people; like a true Gikuyu cannot live without it, much the same way a Luo loves fish. If this is true, then I must be suffering from an incurable bout of identity crisis coz i do not like Githeri; not after feeding on it for a whole four years in Nyeri High school. If i count the plates of Githeri i ate in Nyeri high during that time it would be more than what my late granny may have taken her entire life, for real. Ef man, am no good at algebra but it comes to around two hundred and seventy six plates of githeri per annum. Multiply that by four years and see what you get!
But again, am not purely Gikuyu inasmuch as I identify myself fully as one; I have Cushitic blood in me, something from one of the warring tribes of North Eastern Kenya. Waithera my mother (my wife says I have her cheekbones) never told me much about my absentee father other than his name and that he hails from that part of Kenya. I did not even enquire to know more about him; my guess is that the man may have been a War Lord or something like that. My mum was a risk taker and maybe the thought of being with a guy who was accustomed to danger appealed to her, siwezi jua!
I was lucky mum had the honesty of telling me about my father. I had a friend who asked his mum why he has never seen his father, he was silenced with the explanation that the poor chap was run over by an over speeding truck which did not even stop. The police didn’t even bother looking for it!
Back to our kitchen.
When the rain showered on with unflagging resolve i would watch it from the small door. Granny, mum, my uncles, the milk boy and Nelly my brother would be huddled around the fire, each trying to get warm. In most cases, maize would be roasting from each side of the three stones which surrounded the fire. Tea would always be in plenty.
In retrospect, life was easier and fair back then. Everyone I needed was there and there was so much love and affection that in my mind i was content knowing i had it all. It never occurred to me that i would perhaps one day lose some elements of this picture perfect family orbit.
While it rained, my mind drifted between the conversations around the fire and the sound of the rain. The former gave me comfort knowing that the people will always be there when i needed them. The latter, on the other hand would be gone once the season was over; i let my mind dwell on it more, allowed it to etch memories in my soul, memories that i would recall even after the rainy season was gone.
Baethewei, rain in Mombasa is totally different from what we have in upcountry. Here, the rain starts without notice, like you could be closing your eyes while yawning and stretching and the moment you are done there is a steady drizzle going on already. Or you could just be strolling around and just like that it will start raining. It might start raining hard in Mombasa, forcing you to wear a jacket and carry an umbrella, then when you get to town it’s hot as stink and you look like some lost Eskimo, everyone staring at your wet shoes!
In upcountry, the rain sends you a letter first, saying it’s coming with everything it’s got and that it will linger on for some hours. Kindly bear with us for any inconveniences which we may cause during our stay, the letter would continue to state. A bolt of lightning will strike across the sky followed by massive claps of thunder, and you will feel like it’s the first chapter of the Apocalypse. The clouds will gather together like a bunch of marines in Saigon ready to attack and from a distance you will see the rain coming. You will even here its sound as it showers continuously heading your way.
I think of my childhood every time it rains. The many times i drew Betsy’s name on the ground and watched as the rain filled the outline. Betsy was the plump girl i had a devastating crush on when i was ten years old. She was the girl mum mentioned during a PTA meeting, much to my embarrassment, that she was a household name. The rain reminded of that time when i was standing at what was supposed to be the balcony of the main house, my gaze fixated on the three graves which were a poignant reminder of better days- days that only the rain brought back in form of memories.