Keeping up with the Mbotelas: Impressing the Empress


The Mbotela’s modest stone house peeped behind guards of tall palm trees, the huge fireball poised in the sky trying its best to take a better look at the house to no avail. All was quiet in the homestead. Mrs. Mbotela was away for a Chamaa meeting, the younger kids Ndoro and Nyawa were on a school field trip. Her daughter Sidi was away in Nairobi while Juma, his eldest son, an army Sergeant, was out of the country on a peace keeping mission.

A cockerel crowed from beneath a tree.

General Mbotela, Chief of the country’s defense force paced pensively from one end of his study to the other, hands behind his back. He made precise one meter strides, organizing his thoughts in every one of them to make head and tail of the situation. He was accustomed to the pacing while inspecting a guard of honor which was his duty; something the system had deeply ingrained in him. But this, this was different. There was no honor in this.

“Wait!” General Mbotela exclaimed, stopping mid way his path of thought. “You,” pointing an accusing finger at the young man, “want to marry my daughter?”

“Yah man,” Ras Nesta Narley answered.

The general looked him top to bottom like something the cat had dragged in. He despised what he saw. It was unworthy of being a top General’s son in law. A mountain of dreadlocks squeezed into a woolen cap bobbed on the young man’s head, wanting to spill out but hanging in there for fear of committing an unforgivable crime. His green pilot shirt hugged his frail body desperately, its tail disappearing into a neat tuck in a pair of well pressed pants. He had a goatee which was plaited and beaded with three distinctively colored beads.

“Kadzo?” the General questioned her daughter who ducked for cover behind Ras. Not much of a cover, General Mbotela mused; he could tear through the man’s frail chest with one vicious punch.

“What kind of disrespectful hullabaloo is this?” he boomed.

“But I love him, papa!” protested Kadzo, still behind Ras. Ras looked at the General defiantly. True, the man was a giant and many men had probably fallen before him in combat, but the mere fact that his daughter was head over heels in love with him was all he needed.

“Are you trying to insinuate that this,” gesturing angrily towards Ras, “will be my son in law?”

“Supposedly,” she answered, peering at her irate father. His eyes were red with fury and so narrowed that they resembled bullets.

“Supposedly?” the General boomed, “over my dead body! I’m not having a Marijuana trotting fellow as my son in law, never!”

“Hey, easy Mister,” said Ras, “Why you disrespect the holy herb like that, man?”

“Holy Herb my polished army boots you decadent fool!” he banged the desk so hard that the papers almost crumpled in fear.

“You are wrong man,” Ras said softly. “I smoke Ganja because I haffi be conscious man,” poking his index finger to the side of his head. “Isn’t that right Empress Nita?” he asked Kadzo. She nodded while casting a pitiful look at her father.

“So you have brainwashed my daughter by making her smoke Marijuana too, is that right?” General Mbotela demanded.

“Well, she is not brainwashed, per se,” Ras explained. “Ganja frees the mind. She is free. Liberated, just like Marcus Garvey teaches us!” clenching his fist to show liberation.

“Kadzo!” the General boomed again, “since when did you start smoking this Ganja he is talking about?”

“Not for long. Daddy,” she said, “the stuff is good, daddy, it really frees the….”

“Hush!” he interrupted, “Shut up! Let me show you what I do with this kind of nonsense,” grabbing his gun which was leaning behind his desk all along enjoying the spectacle in the study room.

“No Daddy!” Kadzo screamed.

“Babake Juma?” Mrs. Mbotela called as she entered the study from the kitchen which was down the hall. She was just getting back from her Chamaa meeting which ended rather early.

“Stay out of this!” he barked, eyes trained on Ras who was eyeing the barrel suspiciously.

“Oh, come on now,” she said as she walked towards him. “We all know you have never shot anyone with this gun.”

Ras let out a breath which came out as a whisper. Only God knew that he would crapped his pants had that gun stared down on him a few seconds longer. It would have been a shame, all that bravado stamping its authority through his pants. Kadzo would never have loved him again. Thank God for sending in Mrs. Mbotela; for all he knew the General could be suffering from some PTSD or something equally insane which incited him to shoot anything he figured to be nonsense.

The General’s eyes followed his wife as she went round the desk. Damn her and her Chamaa, he cursed. He was just about to prove to this useless boy that he doesn’t take cowards for son in laws, especially one so weak and probably demented. Only demented people spotted dreadlocks. He could have sworn he was just about to soil his pants; he had seen that scared look far too many times in his illustrious army career. He lived for such hilarious moments, now his wife had just ruined that.

Kadzo relaxed too. She had felt Ras’s back straighten like a rod once her father raised the gun and the cold sweat that ran down the back of his neck. Poor guy, she mused, there were huge blots under his armpits and she just hoped he hadn’t blotted elsewhere. One day she would remind him of this evening and how scared he had been.

“Put this thing away,” Mrs. Mbotela said calmly. “Children, let’s go have a drink. Young man, remind me your name.”

“Uuh,” Ras stammered, his gaze fixated on the General’s clenched jaws and wry smile. Nita nudged her gently.

“Ras,” he managed to speak out finally.

“What’s that you are hiding in your head?” Mrs. Mbotela queried.

“This?” pressing the woolen cap with his palms.

“Yes, young man, that!” she answered.

“Dreadlocks,” he said.

“Are they not the same things that Mungiki people are fond of having?”

“Well,” looking at Kadzo as if the answer lay in her face. “Not exactly.”

“Are you Mungiki?” Mrs. Mbotela asked, straightening her wide rimmed glasses. Ras noticed that Kadzo had her mother’s eyes.

“No I am not,” he answered. The General was eyeing him like a suspicious package thought to have an explosive device.

“So what are you?” she continued.

“I am a Rasta Man,”

“Is that right?” Mrs. Mbotela said.

“Yes Ma’am,”

“Do you believe in God?”

“Yes I do! Jah Rastafari!”

“Do you read the Bible?”

“Yes I do. I trace my roots to Levi from the tribe of Judah!” pride had traded seats with fear and perspiration.

“Good. Very good,” she answered. “Babake Juma, see, a young man who believes in God and reads the Bible.”

General Mbotela grunted but said nothing. His arms remained crossed on his chest. Ras thought of a psychiatric patient in a strait jacket…….

“Young man, anyone who believes in God and reads the Bible is welcome in this house,” she said with a smile. “Come this way, let us dine together as you tell me more about yourself,” she added, leading the way to the lounge.

“Selasie I,” he murmured. The General’s eyes followed him like a stealthy Leopard waiting to pounce on a deer.

*****************************************

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