Running barefoot #snippets

It’s a thing that comes with age, like an experienced artisan you learn your ways about and around living. Where the wood is soft you are careful to carve with more dexterity than the other harder grainier parts. You learn seasons and predict rain in the middle of summer and vice versa. That was my grandmother. In her eyes I was hard wood and by Jove she was not going to raise about 10 kids and have a grandchild show her she couldn’t do it again. She made a pact with God and they were as decided as they were determined to do one more run at this and still crack it. We were confidants or adversaries depending on what I’d been up to the rest of the day after we’d parted in the morning. War or love she would give everything she had and I was witness to her moons and suns. There were no eclipses about this woman. It was light or day or nothing at all. No greys in spirit nor stride apart from a few strands testament to a life, lived long. She was passionate about everything. If she did anything it was with her whole soul or she didn’t do it at all.

She taught me how to wake up early, just in time as grandpa turned on Omunga Kabisaye on KBC radio. I hated that morning show. It was a reminder of what I was just about to step into. A cold morning with stupid birds songs, a smoky kitchen, silly cows not going the way you wanted them, chicken flying into your face and the calves sending karate kicks into your lungs. That hurt like hell. Calves are demons on adrenaline. The moment they start running it doesn’t matter what is in their way. They would run through the chicken, jump over the surprised cat and bore through people too. It took two people to corner them and rope them in. The calves took after their mother, Kailu. It was a mammoth Friesian breed that carried colonialism in its blood. That cow was a sneaky being. One moment it would be as cool as a cucumber begging you to rub its neck. Then the next it’d be like, sod this, I’ve had enough rubs for a day and lift you up so fast and send you flying several metres away you didn’t even get a chance to comprehend what’d just happened. It took me ripping two or three uniforms to know when she was just about to do the ugly. When the rub was good she’d have her eyes closed and take a step closer. The moment she opened her eyes she’d had enough and it was time to stop and step away. One of my stubborn grand aunts had the pleasure of being hauled into barbed wire when she made the mistake of standing too close. I was herding the cow back home and the calf was getting left behind, we turn a corner and the next thing I hear and see is my grant aunt’s leg dangling on the barbed fence with a terrible gash on her thigh. She’d tried to jump over the fence but however fat this cow was it could cover ground fast and get you a good one. That was the only time grandma considered selling. We kept her coz she was the golden egg laying goose and give around 10–20 litres of milk a day and paid for her own feeds and vets. Then it (the cow) broke a leg. I cried, I really did, and blamed myself. I’d tethered her too close to the edge of a man-made benched earth cliff. She’d eaten in circles in one spot reducing the rope length such that when she decided to tumble down to the next bench the rope was too short to support the full jump and her right leg was left hanging on the cliff at an awkward angle. I found her just like that and quickly untied the rope before screaming my lungs out for anyone who could hear me. She cried in one eye, tear stains running down that side of her face in a slow agonising pace. Someone ran and called grandma. If you’ve had a pet and it’s in pain you feel it too. That cow was so heavy for the men to lift, that they just held the broken leg and forced her up slowly to get her to a comfortable space before where the small crane could lift her up. That was my first lesson with loss, and making the best out of something. When the butcher who’d bought her delivered a full hind leg I didn’t ask questions. I ate, and we used the money to buy other better cows with more milk.

Before the cow there was a dog. It must have been a cross between a Russian mountain and a wolf. A monstrosity everyone gave way to. I, on the other hand would mount it like a horse and have a good 3 seconds run before it sat and I would slide off easy. If I held on from its massive shoulder pads or neck it’d roll on the ground and wait till I let go. I can’t remember going anywhere without it and it was one of the main reasons I had such a hard time making any friends when I stepped into a class full of midgets my size and I had to spent the entire day without Simba. There was a system to naming dogs. You either picked Tusker, Pilsner or Simba. I didn’t dig the whole beer thing so Simba would do. Feeding this dog was not easy. I had an understanding with the butcher, a charming round man who must have owned two coats. One white one butchering through bones and throwing them to his scrawny cook at the back, and the other a black one when he sat through the mildly peppered soup. He didn’t believe in getting high on his own supply but with two different jackets, and different colors he’d be a totally different man altogether. Anyway, we had this understanding. All the bones were mine once he was done changing coats and going through them. Then he started selling chicken too, a novelty at the time. Simba’s bones sometimes would come with chicken feathers and he developed an uncanny habit of chasing after grandma’s chickens in a way that even the chickens knew was more than play. Then the chickens started disappearing, one in a week turned into 3 in two weeks. We were sure it was the mongoose. I’m not sure whether this was a myth or fact but the story went that they hunted. It was said that they would arch their backs in a way that their backsides had a white bone jutting out trick the birds into thinking it was a maize seed. Once a chicken got close enough to peck at it would close in on its neck and drag it to death. Then one day, some 20 or more chickens later, Simba was caught with the feathers in his mouth. Grandma forgave. Not so easily because she had grabbed her axe and tied the dog ready to execute. The dog wasn’t the same again after that. It was too aggressive and almost bit my hand off the next time I tried to play jockey. We had to tie it near its dog house when it was a pup but we couldn’t build one big enough now. Then the goats or the sheep gave birth and Simba grabbed some of the kids and lambs when we let him out at night and finished off with my rabbits. That was it. Grandma just grabbed her axe and it was bye-bye doggie. I cried the entire day

Hata wewe kijana, Amka kumekucha,

Kwani hizi ndizo saa, za kwenda shule.

Originally published at on July 26, 2018.




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