She’s petite, he’s tall and slender. He’s on the boarder of thin and she is short. I am an only child except I am not. He was present yet absent. Every evening he would stagger in and slouch into the sofa still clutching his newspaper. My mother would serve his favorite dish, mukimo and stew. If he missed dinner he would ask for his serving early in the morning. If you warmed it he would not touch it. He loved it in mint condition, the way my mother made it. When he went to bed I would collect the coins that would fall from his pockets onto the couch. Every day without fail I would get coins.
I only saw him sober less than five minutes each day, in the morning at breakfast. He would reread the previous day’s newspaper at breakfast. Now that he hasn’t drunk in over a decade all he does is read. My father has bought the Daily Nation everyday without fail since I have known him, okay since I made my appearance on planet earth. Drunk or sober he would read the Daily Nation. If he missed it he would buy the Standard but he would be grumpy about it. My mother was also a reader she still is except her eyes and old people things are coming in the way. She keeps misplacing her glasses. The newspaper that wrapped meat would make good reading material for my mother. I read my first romantic novel at ten, thanks to my mother. I stole it from her collection. Whenever she made a trip to town, we used to call it “Mutindwa” back then; she would bring a book or a magazine. She worked at a secondary school so I had all the books I ever wanted. When she got promoted to senior librarian the deal became sweeter. I could access the library all day every day, it was bliss.
We did not have much but I lacked nothing. I did not have many friends growing up. Whatever I lacked in friendship I made up in books. I had too many. I still do it’s an incurable disease or an inherited curse. I loved languages; I still do I took Italian and French lessons. Growing up I always wanted to go to the leaning tower of pisa and the The Louvre. It’s still in my bucket list. I don’t watch much TV unless it’s a movie or a TV series “I binge watch the shit out of every show” but I read. I tried to understand why and it all boils down to how I was brought up. You see we had this TV that had a hunchback, it was the in thing in the 90’s. The catch though is we had ours for less than five years. I do not know whether it was sold or what happened to it. I only remember the plans I had for it growing up. I planned on how I would watch, the bold and the beautiful and all the soap operas you can name from the 90’s. The only 90’s show I remember with clarity is “Neighbours”; it had such a catchy tune and ended like… that’s how good neighbours become good friends. It is the only show I watched because it aired during the day while my mum was at work and I had a sleeping time. I slept at 8:00 pm everyday without fail. I hated the fact that I would be bundled to sleep every day before everyone else.
I loved going to my grandfather’s house. We would watch TV but only until the bold and the beautiful started airing then we were all bundled to bed. I don’t know where his TV went either. It disappeared to somewhere. So I developed a reading culture and my mother fed it. She fanned my reading fire. I read and read and read then read some more. My father must have known my bad relationship with math because the other day he said, “mmmmh Kendi, I’m glad we crossed the numbers bridge you know.” I went for tuition for math on every school holiday. It was money well spent. In a math exam I pee my pants, in the real world I am excellent, I crank the numbers like no other. Put me in a room with a math paper and the tension is my undoing. I will never understand why.
I remember when I started making friends in boarding. Yeah I went to boarding at ten, that sucked and the memory also does. I’m never going to forget how we ate githeri Monday to Monday for lunch every day without fail. How we got food poisoning because we hid chapati in the school shamba wrapped in paper bags, we had no zip lock bags then or our parents had no clue what those were. How our dorm rooms smelt of cooked pilau for one week after visiting day. Yes visiting day was a thing back then. The pilau smell emanated from the mixture of all kinds of food, I highly doubt anyone had leftover pilau. High school was not any better. I remember special diet in my high school comprised of, cabbage and ugali. It was only switched up with rice and a piece of meat on Wednesday’s and Sunday’s and that’s because everyone else was entitled to a piece of meat on those days. We also had a quarter a piece of bread once a week. We had a canteen that was closed while I was in form two. I have never understood the rationale behind that. Maybe it was to make us all at par. So the first friends I made at boarding were my book buddies. We would exchange books over the holiday and I would catch up with my homework a week before opening day.
Books have made me whom I am today and whom I am growing into. Reading has kept me out of trouble. Reading has given me discipline. Reading has made me travel, physically and mentally. Reading has given me most of the friends I have today. Reading has fed my brain and body all this many years. Reading has given me a voice. Reading has made me articulate. Reading has made my spoken language lovely. It has helped give me a clear line of thought when I am feeling lost. It has provided solace. It has shown me the difference between an “R” and “L”. I’m from Meru we have chida ya matamchi sometimes.
As I pen this I’m thinking about the schools going up in flames. I don’t know who is to blame in this matter. My mother tongue has this beautiful saying; “Jukumagwa juri jumwithi” it loosely translates to a tree is bent while it’s still young. Introduce a child to something they love doing and they will live by it. They will be different. Their love for their hobby will discipline them. Of course there’s always a spoilt apple but maybe as a society, we have failed our children. A whole school cannot be comprised of spoilt apples. Reading did it for me. Someone else might love playing the cello, hockey, acting, swimming, singing… groom them. Let us not blame each other, maybe we can pass on a little something. Your little something is what will make the world a better place. It might even prevent future school fires.