Baobab

Even if it looked like he had caved in on himself, he stood stoic and solid and majestic. His skin seemed to shimmer dully, like plain mabati roofing on a cloudy day. He favoured an old faded jacket that was greasy at the collar and speckled with chalk dust. It hung from him like newly moulting skin off a python. It was probably a royal navy-blue when it was new, and like him, has been washed of most of its colour over the years, receding to a bluish-grey. To all this, add a generous dash of age. Hard and insipid years weighed him down. The smell of a life unlived yet stayed in too much followed him with our tittering. Mr. Otieno ana-come! Mr. Otieno ana-come! Tiii hiii hiii hiiiii! In my culture, that smell has a name: fufe – the smell of things kept too long in an airless place, the smell of unfresh often tinged with that of unwash. The pride remained. You could see it when he tilted his head up to talk, slightly turning the corners of his mouth down in an intelligent shade of a sneer, his eyes slightly narrowing into a slightly flirtatious gaze and the way he uncoiled his back and brought himself erect.

He looked like this: long and slightly pudgy arms ended at fat fingers, his knees and elbows suggested being strained as he walked, see-sawing left and right at every step, a knowing smile played constantly on his pouty fleshy lips that would have been sensual on a woman, pinkish twinkling hooded eyes implied unimaginable things existed and cut-short fuzzy white hair surrounded the bald patch atop his head. You see, exercise and healthy eating had not yet been invented, so all this was encapsulated inside a wide girth and a cupboard of a chest, and an almost perfectly round belly that, with his often bent back and hunched shoulders, the poor Atlas, pushed his arse out comically. He had a taste for beer and the whispers had it that he especially loved Guinness. I once saw him take a long pull of it from a can. Sunlight seeped from his face as he smacked his lips in ecstasy. This is a feeling I came to understand completely. At the time it was beyond our juvenile minds to comprehend how a good cold beer can nurse a dry heart back to vigour.

He towered over everyone, his movements implying that he would take the respect he felt he was not given, scaring it out of those on whom his shadow fell. Regret and disappointment seemed to fill his crevices. Through him, I discovered a distaste for geography and history and for classroom work and note-taking. He told stories wonderfully. He was a slave driver and insisted on starling grades. Si nimewafunza?. It was all giggles until it was time to put the tales of Kenya and its hills and rivers and its founders to paper and to memory, then to paper again. His good moments were more frequent than his bad ones. In them, the good ones, you could catch a glimpse of the greatness he may have once aspired to and almost touched. The bad ones verged on evil: his insults were swift and unrestrained, as were his beatings. The violence was a part of himself he could not manage to embrace, and he carried a heavy remorse after the eruptions. He was withering slowly, from the inside to the out and keeping it together by a whisker, I gather, yet even in this he was unyielding, admirably dithering, refusing to go quietly into the night. Stoic. Solid. Majestic.


 

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