My maternal grandmother, Wambui is 74. We all call her Cucu. No Otieno, it’s not shosho. Shosho is what Nyeri folk say when they mean social. Cucu Wambui has always been complaint with religious, legal, natural and social will. Thus in compliance with nature, gravity and all that is holy, she has a bent back. It’s her comfortable place. Like a permanent yoga pose or like she used to ‘nyemelea’. She’ll straighten her back so fast when she sees a car pull up at her gate though. You know ladies and pretense.
So when my brother and I visited nana a month ago, I was dying to know how courting was like in the 50’s and 60’s. See, I have the love of loving love, but I haven’t loved in so long. So I sat there at the realm of all 7 decades of wisdom, asked and listened. Grandpa was a light skinned guy, 5’7, who shaved religiously and had this calm and reserved demure. He wore hats and that meant he had character, right? Ergo, I assumed he was a romantic, that he talked the language of knickers, except, apparently he wasn’t all that. He did not propose; get her flowers, and that entire hullabaloo. That’s shooting too high for an okuyo of golden days. Heck, foreplay across the central highlands in the early 19th century was plausibly as foreign as circumcision in the lakeside then.
Her husband, an introspective chap had a gaudy name, Octavious. Lucky guy too, he was born of that era. Today, that’s the kind of name that weighs one down. Like foreskin. Quite uncomfortable to talk about and one is never exactly sure when to fold it in, during a tete a tete. Thus, for the purpose of this post though, we’ll call him Tavo, and I’m sure he just turned in his grave.
When Nana married him at 24, she already had 3 kids. Long story short, there was no ati abstinence till marriage. Back then it was a whole new ball game. By 14 when pheromones kick in, old Johnies paired up with Caros of the opposite village and by 16, the whole kit and caboodle was set for start of marriage. There was no playing the field, preferring white men to mandingos, Lunjes for their vigor and all that brouhaha. You came, you saw and conquered.
But Octavious was cultured. When I met him early in life, he always used his folk and knife to eat and never imbibed. He courted his macadamia trees dexterously. One can only match up his love for Macadamia to Jengs and Baba, Ochang and his foreskin, Vera and attention, nigerians and melodrama, Mutua matheka and beards. You get it eh?
By the time I was old enough to perceive things, they were already sleeping in different bedrooms. I am not sure why old couples end up this way. Maybe it’s the only way she could keep him from pinching her tits when she turned old and grey. Or maybe her from nagging him to death. Silly slander mentions libido reaching the lows of Kamotho’s hairline, but my grandparents grew and ate macadamia. There’s a tentative conclusion that peanuts aid libido. Macadamia and peanuts are cousins. Plausible eh? Eh? And they have 9 kids to prove it. I dare you to try birthing 9.
Tavo and Wambui both grew up in a village called Karuangi in Embu. Currently it’s called P.i, the town before you take the dip to Rupingazi River as you get to Embu town. It’s shockingly green and hilly and I can imagine Tavo in his bicycle, eating those hills like yams to get to Wambui on the weekend evenings. It’s during one of those evenings that he explained that he’d be going to Taveta for a carpentry course.
Taveta and Mombasa back then were like Perth, Australia. Where guys who couldn’t get into Harvard and Oxford went. So when Tavo asked her to wait, in her sweetest Shakespearean voice she replied, ‘Labour is light where I love.’ I lie. It was probably ‘nigu urege gucoka, ukamenya niki nguku itobukaga.’
Grandpa Tavo came back, wearing shoes, an overhauled chap, now dapper, with a 2 year contract with the National Railways. So he acquired permission from Wambui’s dad to take her to Nairobi, left a few cows and shipped her to Nairo. Cucu then points a finger at the framed picture on the wall opposite where we sit. She and guka smile back at us grinning joyously not with the false jollity she wears now when all she wants is to rest her aching back. In the picture, she doesn’t have shoes. Old Tavo is spruced up. I want to tell her he tricked her but the look on her face tells me to zip it. “That picture was taken when I told him I was pregnant with our first child. He’d come from work when I let him know I was sure I was with child. He took my hand and dragged me to the studio saying he wanted to remember that day.”
“Cucu, si that’s romance?” I ask her
Her eyes shift from the picture to me and she asks, “Romance ni nini?
See, ngumbaro can only do so much. I let that ship sail.
Just then my Uncle, Jack who owns one of those obnoxiously loud Motor Bikes that guys approaching mid-life crisis buy, arrives. He is 29. He lives in Nanyuki and his arrival is expected. His wife had come to report him for refusing to baptize their kid in the full gospel church. (LOL). He’s Catholic. How I wish grandpa was here. He’d have flogged them both and baptized them in his water tank shouting, “Bidiot! Bidiot!” to mean idiot. Just then, our retarded neighbour Job comes in to the compound shouting something about our wedding in South Carolina. ‘Na alafu, ndio tusichoke kupika ugali, tulete unga tumwage kwa swimming pool. Nitakoroga.’ I kid you not.
We all laugh.
Jack and Job start talking.
Cucu then tells me, “You know we had a wedding.” Grandpa’s hankering for nuptials’ exchange was a heady idea. This is why. He told her five days to the actual day! He didn’t even exactly tell her. She burst upon some old village gossip. “I was returning from the posho mill when I heard one loud lady ask the other if she was showing up for Octavious’ wedding. I even thought he was marrying someone else.” Horn mad, she got home, packed her clothes and left for Embu with her children swearing to make an example out of him if she found out he’d diddled her. She suspected a workmate of his who she claims, ‘had no ass’. I laugh. Women ey? On getting to Embu, everyone knew of the wedding. They were surprised she was leaving such a chivalrous and gentle gentleman. But she’d hear none of it. If he wanted, he’d wed any of those people that he’d told.
So the next day, grandpa and the local Catholic priest went to pick grandma and send an olive branch. They had already hired a small Peugeot jalopy from the school’s headmaster. Plus, the whole shebang was quite a big deal then so she’d have to go. They buried the hatchet. On the wedding day though, the jalopy developed mechanical issues and they had to walk back home, with their three children. See that folk? Love so humble, unburdened by snobbery of ‘wedding show’ or kimye standards.
Uncle Jack get’s into the house. He has been going to the gym. Even his eyelid muscle is toned. He lifts his mum up, almost carrying her into his hug and returns her to her seat. He grins at her and she smiles back. She is purring like a cat. She’ll believe almost everything this man, her lastborn, says. He does the same to me. I don’t purr. I hold my own and remind him he owes me cat-wheel lessons. He eyes me like I’m Peter Griffin, the fat guy from Family guy. He squeezes my shoulder and asks Cucu where the wife is.
“In the bedroom,” she replies and playfully adds, “When you get in there, teach her cat wheels too.”
See, Libido could not have been the reason for separate rooms.
PS: For jang’os in the house, the translation is, kok iduogo, ibiro ng’eyo gima ne otamo gweno fuyo.