This is a story based on events that are, regrettably, true.
In retrospect I am verily embarrassed by my lowly conduct on the day in question. It was conduct unbecoming the devout young catholic I was then.
Exercise restraint and show due kindness in your judgement. Understand that it happened in much earlier times when life was Darwinian; short, hard and brutish.
So my mother Wangarí offered me Chapatis for lunch yesterday, but I turned her down. I instead elected to have boiled Gítheri, my dish of choice. I don’t touch chapatis on general principle now. I don’t hold any unresolved feelings about them, I just don’t touch them. It’s a lifestyle thing.
I haven’t had a single chapati this entire year. I could have had a hundred if I had wanted to. A Ninja can now at least afford to procure this once most coveted of wheat products.
This was not always the case though. You see, I come from a time long gone, when life in the hilly village of Thanda Maria and abject poverty were like fat kids and cake. Inseparable.
Most of us had more jiggers on our persons than legal tender at any given moment.
I come from a time, and a place, where the consumption of this famed delicacy was a true rarity. A chapati was a thing of astounding beauty.
I can still recall the rush of uncontrollable emotions every time it’s distinctive aroma hit my juvenile nostrils. It smelt like Nirvana.
I can remember the steady flow of saliva as you gazed longingly through thick smoke at the artistry that was it’s preparation. Sometimes the unchecked flow of saliva would get so out of hand it would irritate the magician. She would promptly hand you half a piece to, as we used to say, ‘kùoha mata’. Literally, it means tying saliva. You would then be chased away.
In my formerly jigger infested village, this delicacy only ever graced homes once in a blue moon. For the young reader, I do not mean that rat poison masquerading as alcohol brewed in Thika that has been wetting the throats of many young Kenyans. Neither do I mean it figuratively, its literal. 1 blue moon= 2.1745 years.
In Thanda Maria, only a few homes were in possession of an actual, usable, frying pan. The more impoverished homes elected not to invest resources in one, because of it’s obvious redundancy and high likelihood of not being used.
If you came by some windfall and had intention of consuming this choice delicacy in the not so distant future, you had to stake your claim and book a frying pan well in advance. At a reasonable fee of course, lest you find it otherwise engaged.
When a home prepared chapatis, it was a colourful affair and the preparations kicked off quite early . The children would take a bath, which was an equally rare event, without a fuss. Boys who would ordinarily spend the day away from home engaging in boyhood activities, would not set foot outside the compound. Boys would be on their best behaviour, they would be regular boyscouts. No boy would risk the outside chance of committing an infraction and attract a travel ban to culinary heaven.
My Cùcù always made square chapatis, as opposed to the more mainstream circular chapatis. She wasn’t a particularly good cook but chapatis were chapatis. Even not-so-well-made square ones. Interestingly, at 82, she still makes square chapatis that taste like they did a quarter of a century ago. She makes no apologies about it.
Gates, at least where there were any, and kitchen doors would be locked. This was meant to discourage neighbours from making unregulated visits upon sensing that distinctive chapati aroma.
You would cook chapatis behind locked doors and risk asphyxiation and carbon monoxide poisoning rather than attract unsolicited visitors. The laws of good neighbourliness did not apply where chapatis were concerned. Where chapatis were concerned, life became Darwinian; short, hard and brutish.
If You trespassed, you risked having dogs set on you.
The dogs were just a collection of malnourished canines but even they instinctively knew that they were playing to a gallery. Where chapatis were at stake, exemplary performance meant future freedom from hunger for them, albeit brief.
So they were extra on you. They sometimes even felt a rare and strong compulsion to bite.
Kids would take leftovers to school for lunch the next day; though they would have to be wrapped in airtight wrappers. This was standard security procedure so that the distinctive aroma of left over chapati did not raise any undue attention .
If there was even the subtlest leaks in your protective arrangements; then all bets were off. I think it smelled like pheromones. Village noses had developed an evolutionary adaptation that could pick the slightest scent of chapati from a heap of compost.
If there was a leak, the kleptomaniac, the chronically hungry and the adventurous amongst us would illegally and covertly help themselves to your precious chapatis. They would do this when the rest of the class was out for morning assembly or break time.
So if you had Chapatis, you conducted regular safety checks or you were guaranteed premium tears at lunchtime.
It was standard operating procedure to have to take leave of regular lunch eating joints. You instead chose to partake of this delicacy in complete secret, preferably in a bush, or a trench, to avoid a scene. Trust me, chapatis attracted incessant begging free of any self-respect.
If you were adventurous enough to have your chapatis in plain sight, it was a free for all. The hordes of scroungists who had packed Gítheri, or worse still, the many who were having air burgers for lunch, would be on you like a bad rash.
The number of extended palms per square foot was astronomical.
It may interest you to know that St. Mary’s primary school had no running water most of the time so the option of soothing your gastric and intestinal worms with water didn’t exist. If you didn’t carry packed lunch, you would have air sausages for lunch. So if you saw chapatis, you felt a strong compulsion to extended your palm.
This brings me to the purpose of this long tale; one Kevin Gifungo. I wish him countless jiggers, bed bugs and bad breath wherever today finds him.
He was a classmate of mine in class four. He had packed chapos for lunch one fateful day. He did not need to take leave of our regular lunch joints since he was the second bodi in our class. He was a regular billy bad-ass, so the scroungists would not go anywhere near him.
He could clobber a regular sized juvenile into a coma.
Immediately he opened his bag of delicacies, some daring scroungists, who had no regard for their well being, were on him like goosebumps. In a moment of uncharacteristic show of philanthropy , Gífungo obliged and gave a few of them ‘a cut’.
Seeing this, I decided to have a go at him; seeing as it were I had not had chapatis in many a moon. He flatly refused to give me ‘ a cut’ because he had exhausted his sharing quota.
I abandoned decorum and self respect and begged for a while. He did not oblige. Meanwhile, the chapati kept dwindling before my very eyes.
In a moment of pure madness, I took leave of my mental faculties. As the chapati neared his mouth, I reached for it at speeds approaching the speed of light in a vacuum. I managed to snatch a small piece from him.
It wasn’t like intentional. It was pure motor function. It was Darwinian. It was fight or flight. It was natural selection at play.
And that chapati tasted good too. It tasted like rainbows. It tasted like everything all at once. It tasted like sunny Sunday mornings, brunch in Diani, and cocktails in the Maldives.
What followed makes it to the top five of my most embarrassing moments easily.
While on the verge of tears, he immediately handed me the remaining chapati and stew and refused to eat it. He didn’t even have the energy to beat me.
In hindsight, Gífungo, and I wish him adult onset lumbar scoliosis, was unnecessarily dramatic.
I had come back to my senses and I was sincerely contrite. I blamed it on great longing for the delicacy and I begged him to take back his food.
The only compensation I could offer was my body. So I urged me him to beat me in a manner commensurate with the gravity of his attachment to his chapati.
The bugger was still adamant that he would take no further part in the meal.
Soon, hordes of other students were hovering on me like hawks demanding to know what cardinal sin I had committed; since I was known to commmit many.
When they learned how grave my infraction was, I was roundly rebuked and vilified. After being begged extensively by others who were more understanding of my plight and who understood the temporary insanity that chapatis could induce, he finally agreed to take back his chapati. On one condition though, that I would be marched to the headmaster’s office to receive appropriate corporal punishment.
I was marched there, Gífungo’s lunchbox in hand and quite a large crowd following us and baying for my blood.
I recieved six of the finest strokes of the cane from our Headmaster, the good Mr. J.P. Gachahí that left my hind quarters in flames. I have never felt that embarrassed in my life.
In hindsight I should have just eaten the entirerity of the chapati instead of suffering the full consequences for just a small piece.
Gífungo, wherever you are, I wish you premature hair loss on general principle.