Grandpa Mutegi is dead. But that is not the problem, because Sebastian cared little for the old man. The old man Mutegi was a black Mafioso, a tough old brute who had a glacier for a heart and hailstones for emotions. He was in his 50s when Sebastian was born, still strong enough to rough up Isabella, Sebastian’s grandmother, as well as continue populating the earth with his growing clan of fatherless children that he had established in his long career as the sower of wild oats.
Sebastian adored his grandmother Isabella. She was as sweet as any grandmother can be. The fact that Mutegi cheated on her was bad enough. But beating her, in her old age, made Sebastian loathe the old man. But Isabella took her mistreatment stoically, never complaining, and taking care of her husband in the best way she could until she died of angina six years ago. Whether she loved him is another question altogether, because love was a foreign concept in her generation. But she took care of Mutegi for seventy years until her heart conked out and sputtered to a stop six years ago.
So Sebastian is not mourning his grandfather. In fact, he is happy that Mutegi is gone, although he would have been happier if Mutegi had died six years ago instead of Isabella. Good riddance. But the brute has also pulled a fast one on him by dying. Now he will be forced to go to the village for the funeral, a trip that Sebastian would do anything to avoid. He has a though of skipping the ceremony, but that will disappoint Joel, his father, and he hates disappointing the man. Joel is Isabella’s first born.
At 33, the only topic of discussion when he gets home is his marital status. Most of his cousins, all younger than him, are married. His mother demands that he get married and give her grandchildren. Gatwiri is a domineering wife and mother. She doesn’t just nag, she makes demands. In fact, she is the reason Sebastian rarely goes to the village. Putting up with his mother for even a day requires emotional stamina of divine proportions.
Sebastian grew up seeing his father emotionally abused. His mother’s sharp tongue knifed his father’s ego until it was mashed up like baby food. But like his mother Isabella, Joel takes the abuse stoically. Isabella did it because culture required it of her. Similar reasons applied to her son. Who could Joel tell that he was being abused by a woman? He would become the laughing stock of the village. A disgrace to the family. In fact, Mutegi would disinherit him and banish him from the family property.
Talking of Mutegi, Sebastian often wondered if his mother is a secret child of the old man. She shares more savage attributes with Mutegi than his son Joel, her husband. She seems to have inherited a large portion of Mutegi’s venom. Sebastian has often eyed his maternal grandmother, Mwantatua, with suspicion. Did she provide farmland to Mutegi for one of his poisonous oats?
Gatwiri is the reason Sebastian is afraid of marriage. He swore to himself that a woman would never terrorise him the way his mother terrorized his father. He escaped from home as soon as he could. His relationship to his mother is courteous. Not warm, affectionate or anything like that. Just respectful politeness that a son can muster for a mother he dislikes. It is therefore ironical that the same woman is the one pestering him to get married.
Sebastian packs a change of clothes and slowly throws them onto the back seat of his car. He hops in and drives out of his compound, reluctantly beginning his three hour journey from Nairobi to his native Kenekene village in Tharaka Nithi county.
He does not know it yet, but in Kenekene village where he is headed, is a young woman who will dramatically alter the course of his life.
Fridah is at home, on leave. She is a programs officer at an NGO in Nairobi. At 29, she has done well enough for herself, though not well enough if you ask her parents. See, she is not married. Fridah has no doubt that her mother loves her and means well. But her father is another story altogether.
Kithinji is a drunkard. For as long as Fridah can remember, she has always had to endure his insults. When she got pregnant while she was in campus five years ago, prostitute became Kithinji’s choice insult for his daughter.
Not that he was a loving father before she got pregnant. His plan was always to marry her off and reap a huge Return on Investment in terms of dowry. An investment did not really make, because he hardly provided for them when they were young, except by owning the piece of inherited property on which they lived. The food that they ate was grown by Kanyua, Fridah’s mother, on that plot. She sold part of her farm produce to take the children through school. But that was before Kithinji kicked them out and married a younger woman. Fridah and her brother were in High School when that happened.
Kanyua, a determined woman, got a job as a janitor at a secondary school. The principal of the school, Ephantus M’Naivasha, allowed Fridah and her twin brother Joses to study as day scholars without worrying about fees. In addition, he paid Kanyua a monthly stipend of Kshs. 1000 which she used to pay rent for her tiny, rented mabati single room as well as buy food. Kithinji would still pass by their house every evening on his way home from the bar just to insult them.
Joses and Fridah did not let their mother down. They both scored A plain in KCSE, becoming the best girl and the best boy in Meru South district that year. They were sponsored through University by Equity Bank, which had started the sponsorship program for the best male and female student in every district. There was grumbling from some quarters because they were siblings, but the bank put its foot down. Both of them had earned their place by merit.
Joses studied medicine, and after graduation got a scholarship to do his Masters in the USA. Fridah studied law and joined a local NGO as an intern. The NGO absorbed her and paid her Kenya School of Law fees. Last year she bought a piece of land in Kenekene and built a nice home for her mother.
Fridah tries to convince herself that she does not hate her father. But his insults over the years have left little room for pacification. Besides, there is something she has never told anyone. Not even her mother. When she was in Std. 7, her father had found her alone at home. Her brother was away for a school sporting event. Her mother was in the market. She was going to shower when her father grabbed her and forced himself into her. He threatened to kill her if she told anyone. She was humiliated and pained.
From that day she hated men. She swore that she would never get married. Those feelings were reinforced when another man took advantage of her later. She was out partying with friends, and she must have become drunk. She woke up in the man’s bed, naked. She knew him, because he was a class behind her in campus, but she had never talked to him before. She could not even remember seeing him at the party the day before. She became pregnant, and of course he denied responsibility.
Fridah stopped taking alcohol and dedicated herself to raising her son, who was born just after she had completed her undergraduate studies. She loves her son and brother, but she has little time for other men, and no time at all for romantic relationships.
Sebastian arrives in Chuka town at around 1pm. Kenekene village is about 5 kilometers from the town. He is not in a hurry to meet his mother, so he decides to have hang around Chuka and eat lunch before going home. He parks outside Magunas Supermarket, intending to eat at the Supermarket’s cafeteria.
He steps out of the car and takes a deep breath. Home town.
“Sebastian?” someone calls him out of his day dreaming.
In front of him is the most beautiful woman he has ever met. Dark skin. A dimple on the left cheek. Large soft eyes. Long natural hair. She looks familiar but Sebastian cannot immediately tell who she is. She is holding a small boy with one hand, and a shopping bag with the other.
“Fridah?Look at you!”
Without thinking, he flings himself at her and hugs her. Then, embarrassed, he steps away with an apologetic look on his face. Fridah was his crush in primary school. They started drifting apart when he went to Alliance High School, coming home only during the holidays. They lost contact completely when he went to the Moi University. She and her brother went to the University of Nairobi.
Ordinarily Fridah would have been mad. She hates men who impose hugs, In fact, she loathes masculine contact that is more than a handshake. But she is strangely not mad at Sebastian, a primary school classmate and best friend she has not seen in years. Years ago, he was the closest thing to a male friend she had, if you discounted Joses.
“So what are you doing here?” Sebastian asks looking straight at her eyes.
“I am on leave. You?”
“Coming to bury my grandfather,”
“Oh I heard the old man Mutegi is dead. I am so sorry Sebastian,” she says earnestly.
“Don’t be sorry. I wish he died way earlier,”
“Don’t be disrespectful of the dead,” Fridah says laughing. Sebastian was still the same old brutally honest boy.
“Look, I was going to have lunch. Why don’t you join me as you introduce me to your young friend?”
“This is my son Tom,” Fridah introduces the boy. Sebastian kneels and greets the boy.
“So you got married?” he asks.
“No I did not. I got this one through vegetative reproduction,” Fridah says and they burst out laughing.
“I missed you Fridah” Sebastian says and instantly regrets it. What is he doing? Is he flirting? No, this is just Fridah. But what if it spirals out of control?
Fridah is scared too. This is a man with whom she was once vulnerable, even though he was just a boy then. She knows she should run away, but she can’t. She does not want to be vulnerable to a man. Any man. But this is Sebastian…
“Shall we go and eat as we catch up?” he finally asks, starting to walk towards the cafeteria.
Neither of them wants a relationship, but they both instinctively know that this will not end with lunch. And it might in fact end very badly, given their individual histories and emotional baggage.
(to be continued)
Image source: https://pixabay.com/en/book-old-close-up-books-read-861750/