So we basically ruined a wedding in the first part of this story. In my humble opinion though, ruin is a very strong word to use really; it depends on which side of the fence you lay.
From the perspective of the feared ageni a Nairofi, or the guests from the mythical city of Nairobi, then the wedding was thoroughly and utterly ruined. Naturally, they had an aura of entitlement when they came to the thicket so the rice shortage we induced must have been very inconvenient. They were always unilaterally accorded the right of first refusal in everything good without public participation . From njere , njenga, toilets, tents and seats. Most oppressively though, they drank soda while the villagers scalded their throats with manjúgúthú or highly dilute tea. Yes, I admit that sodas were foreign to the palates of most villagers and most of us didn’t even know the trade names of the various sugary beverages, so it must have seemed pointless to waste it on us.
There were basically four flavours of soda to most villagers; thota mùirú, the black one which was coke. There was ya macungwa, which was anything resembling a Fanta. There was Ya tangauthi, which was Stoney. There was also ya ndimú, which was krest. I never met a single villager that had a strong preference for any; if you were lucky enough to get one, you drank what was offered and kept your unsolicited opinions to yourself.
From the perspective of whoever the wedding belonged to and his kin; the nuptials may or may not have been ruined. I am taking serious liberties here as there were no official feedback channels where greviances, if any, could be aired. There was certainly no ‘wedding show’ where the happy couple could relive the joys of their big day. I can only assume that they were happy because we were happy.
From the perspective of my grandmother; it was a spectacle of untold shame and embarrassment. It was particularly bad because she had made rice at home the previous day, a rarity in itself. My cùcù had a bad sense of humor and unresolved anger issues. She had a proclivity for issuing tier 1 clobberings for things as minor as answering to the call of your name in the various non-approved manners.
Also, after clobbering no. 1, if you did not stop crying within the approved window of time, you would automatically attract an enhanced clobbering no. 2 just to shut you up.
Interestingly, if you failed to cry sufficiently after clobbering no. 1, you would also automatically incur clobbering no. 2 to clear your larynx and bring out the desired level of wailing.
Basically, there was an allowed range of crying that was deemed satisfactory without being underwhelming or unnecessarily dramatic. It was your job to find this sweet spot. This was standard village operating procedure.
Her signature clobberings had trademarked names depending on the gravity of your transgressions.
For minor crimes, you would get the entry level ‘ngùkùhùra ùigue ta kùraino’. Directly translated, it means ‘ I will beat you until you think people are singing’.
For major crimes, you would get the enhanced, nuclear armed, ‘haro ya gíkombe’ clobbering laced with weapons grade uranium. This was her signature ‘Championship winning’ clobbering that left you at the risk of a concussive episode.
From the perspective of us the village boys and girls; the wedding was a resounding success. We outdid ourselves even by our lofty standards. There was njere for days. The ambitious amongst us ate themselves dangerously close to hernias. There was enough for our to-go bags; the torn shirts that went for days without seeing water.
After the wedding, we trespassed into the Murang’a college of technology. The reason we did this was to find piped, chlorine treated water to aid our gastric faculties in digestion. We would later stagger into the adjacent Kíharù stadium to sleep off the considerable meal.
Finally, under the cover of darkness, I made my way home.
Once I got into the compound, I made my way to the outdoor kitchen where my grandparents were. Cùcù was preparing gíteke over the open fire and Gùka was listening to BBC news on his very old radio that was always powered by roughly 56, old dry cell batteries.
Gíteke is plantain mixed with potatoes, not exactly gourmet cuisine .
We exchanged pleasantries; or rather I offered pleasantries and no one bothered with replies. Children were to be seen not heard.
There were some errands I had left unattended earlier so there was an outside chance I would catch a beating. After a while, Gùka broke the silence with a very nonchalant question that nearly gave me a myocardial infarction. That’s a heart attack if you don’t have a flair for the dramatic.
That man, may his soul rest in peace, had a flair for the dramatic. He was popularly known as Mwalim. And no, that man never taught a day in his life. He used to cheerfully yell out to everyone, and I mean everyone, ‘ Yes, Mwalim!’. He called everyone ‘Mwalim’ and naturally, everyone called him ‘Mwalim’ too.
He turned to me and said, “Mwarim, ndíraigwa atí ùmùthí ùrokire njenga nginya mùhiki ateogete maitho ?”
It loses it’s flair in translation but it went a little something like this, “Mwarim, I hear that today you attended a wedding so early that even the bride had not even washed her face yet”.
After a run of so many great weddings, the immaterial had finally become material. I knew I was probably going to die.
My Cùcù might have been bad, but Mwalim was a whole different bowl of rice. He had flair. He had class. He could get very creative with his punishment. There was no end to his genius. He could get real imaginative with retribution and tell jokes while dispensing it. And you would laugh too because the jokes would be hilarious.
I saw no point in denial, as that would only stoke the fires of whatever hell lay before me. So I said nothing.
No one said another word for the next hour or so.
As I have told you previously, when you had a major transgression, you either received a beating or went to bed hungry. If you were offered food, you knew that the beating that would follow would be, as we say in the village, ya ihíndí rímwe. Village lingo for a world-class thrashing.
As I told you previously, kùraríra, or going to bed with nothing but the collection of intestinal parasites in your stomach was no walk in the park. Whenever a choice arose, which was a very rare occurrence, you chose a beating over kùraríra. We loved calories more than life and our physiological well being.
Normally, if you felt that there was a beating in store and it wasn’t forthcoming, you announced that you were retiring to bed, and anyone who had an account to settle with your behind was then at liberty to proceed.
When I started feigning yawns to signal my intentions to retire, Mwalim cheerfully told me, “ we mwarim thií ùgakome. Ùríte njenga wagíríirùo ni gùikara thikù igírí ùtaríte níguo nda íthere”.
“Mwalim, feel free to retire to bed. When you eat wedding njenga, your gastrointestinal system requires two days of fasting to cleanse itself”.
So a night of hunger in lieu of a beating it was. A reasonable but underwhelming punishment or so I thought. I had expected to be beaten to within whispering distance of a permanent vegetative state.
So I retired to bed. Though I was a bit hungry, it didn’t feel like much of a loss really because gíteke tasted like cerebral malaria anyways.
I didn’t sleep much. If you have involuntarily slept on an empty stomach, no explanations are required. The memory of the attendant chills and night sweats is strong with you.
The collection of gastrointestinal worms in your stomach gnaw through your stomach lining to signal their displeasure.
Early the next morning, I made my way to the kitchen for tea and left overs since I reasoned I had already served time for my transgressions. I tried to make my walk to the kitchen to appear as laboured and contrite as possible. You did not want to appear like you had a spring in your step after a night of hunger.
Mwalim stopped me dead in my tracks.
“ Mwarim, ndírakwírire mùndù aikaraga thikù igírí ataríte níguo nda íthere”, he said.
“Mwalim, I told you that you need to fast for two days to cleanse your digestive system”.
And just like that there was no breakfast.
Because I was very keen no to offend anyone any further, I readied myself and accompanied them to church. I felt a little faint but I wanted to be on my best behavior for consideration at lunchtime. Jesus would surely come through.
I tried to remain within sight of Mwalim at all times to catch his sympathy. Surely I had done enough penance.
By the time we went home at lunch time, I could barely walk.
At home, the aroma of left over gíteke being warmed over three kitchen stones smelled like the first day of rain. It smelled like rainbows and northern lights. It was up to that point the sweetest scent I’d ever come across. By nightfall though, it would be relegated to a distant second.
As mwalim devoured his lunch, he looked at me dead in the eye and smiled. He informed my starving self that consuming any other type of food so soon after a wedding would surely ruin the remarkable experience of wedding delicacies. He politely asked me to refrain from having lunch.
I nearly choked on my saliva.
I dared not leave the compound. Things had clearly escalated and this whole mess had gone out of hand. I did not wish to do anything to further aggravate an already dire situation.
Trust me, a day’s worth of hunger for a hyperactive boy isn’t fatal but it sure felt like it was. I was now War-zone level hungry and hypoglycemic.
The jokes would continue well into the evening. The finest performance was being saved for dinner. It was meant to be the pièce de rèsistance of an otherwise world class performance in juvenile discipline by mwalim.
A while before nightfall, I saw the special occasion, Atta mark 1 wheat flour being ferried by cùcù from the dilapidated main mud house to the outdoor kitchen. What a fine day to make chapatis it was.
That evening the outdoor kitchen had an aroma that felt like what I can only assume a Ludwig van Beethoven live performance felt like. It smelled like heaven after church on Sundays.
I was salivating profusely and having an out-of-body experience outside the kitchen. That feeling of hunger is indescribable to anyone that has never been that hungry.
Mwalim was kind enough to suggest alternative arrangements for me that were less unpleasant. He suggested that the best course of action would be to retire to bed early to avoid unnecessary scenes at supper time. He told me that the standard two post-nuptial day cleanse wasn’t over.
As I retired to bed, I could barely walk into the main house unaided.
Also, I didn’t sleep a wink. I was sweating profusely and I was feverish.
Long into the night after they had eaten, locked the remaining food in the cupboard and retired to bed, things became unbearable. I couldn’t take it anymore. I made a decision to not die of hunger.
Starvation would not be how I was going to go out.
I summoned the little strength I had left and got up from bed. I went into the adjacent room of our four room mud house where the kabati was. It was a trance-like experience, I wasn’t completely lucid.
I stretched the door of the rickety kabati from the top and it gave way. Through the resultant opening, I grabbed a chapati. I couldn’t reach the stew. The chapati had to suffice.
I slowly opened the front door and stepped into the night with Chapati in hand. Since there was no light pollution from lights in the village, I had never seen a more brilliant moonlit night. I went straight to the water tap, albeit with a lot of difficulty.
I had half a chapati with water and almost immediately violently threw up. I now know why starving people are reintroduced to food in very small bits.
I rested for a while, then had the other half.
I sat outside for about an hour for the chapati to take effect so that I could regain the ability to walk. I was ready to die the next morning from the beating that would follow but I reasoned it was the lesser of two evils.
I slept like a baby afterwards.
When I woke up the next morning, Mwalim was already up. No one said a word though. To my utter shock, I was even offered breakfast.
My lesson had been learned and I never crashed another wedding. Ok, I did, but in a less prominent fashion.