My earliest memories of Guka Ngari were of a quiet old gently smiling man who was important to my mother, who looked like her even, who always seemed to be in a heavy pullover of some indeterminate neutral colour. My most vivid memories of Guka Ngari, however, involved television. The irony of this is not lost on me. I barely watch television any more. We always seemed to be visiting him after coming from Murang’a. At the time, electricity had not found its way into Guka Marundu’s homestead, so there was no television, there was no need for one, what with radios that were permanently tuned to KBC. This was before the advent of vernacular radio stations.
Kirinyaga was an antidote to the dust and heat and, what I thought of at the time as sheer backwardness, of Murang’a, with its cool air and greenery and, of course, a television, one that could only receive, again, KBC. That was good enough for me. Guka Ngari was a quiet man and when he was outside, always seemed to be cutting his nails slowly with a razor blade. I often wondered why he did not use a nail cutter. It would have been much easier. I liked this most about him. His introversion. I have always seemed to gravitate towards introverts. I was too young to grasp the beauty of having a relationship with a grandparent, something that I am trying (and floundering) to remedy. I envy my older cousins for having the chances to link better with these old folks. I doubt they did any better than me, which is a darkly comforting thought.
I spent most of my time in the trees, well, one particular tree, a gnarled one with bark smoothed in places by constant touch, that Uncle Karis has had cut down to make way for a pond and an expanded lawn. I remember falling out of that tree. I remember smelling the white flowers of that tree, feeling slightly intoxicated by the delicate jasmine and mint fragrances. I do not know its name but I can point it out. It was under this tree that the coffee was collected after a harvest. We always seemed to be eating smelly dark green vegetables when we were in Kirinyaga. I could never understood why Mum and Guka seemed to enjoy them so much. I skipped this part of the meals whenever I could. It occurred to me years later that Guka had a point when he mentioned why I drank so much water with my meals – I did not have enough lubricant, as it were, for the food. Then he got sick, then he died. What can a nine-year old know about death? I was sitting an exam when he was being lowered into the ground next to his wife, my grandmother, Cucu Marion.
Now, Cucu I remember a bit more of, but more of an emotional memory than an actual one from sight and feel. She always brought us biscuits when she visited, Maries. She was warm and friendly (a far cry from the woman of old who raised my mother and her siblings. That one, I am told, was a tyrant.) Again, I was crippled by my youth – she was dead before I was aware of myself. I have no recollection of her funeral except that it was boring and I was sleepy the whole time. Marie biscuits, to this day, bring me a warm glow, as if bringing me closer to her in some inexplicable way across the cosmos (I am not religious but I cannot help feel a kinship with her from the ensuing feelings). They, Guka and Cucu, did a great job with their children, and by extension, their grand children. I am not sentimental, but looking back I owe a substantial portion of my childhood to them.