A ‘Simple’ Swahili Wedding

A word of caution for non-Swahili speakers, the Swahili-English translations used in this writing are as primitive as they could get, both for comic reasons and because Swahili is awesome. Learn it so I wont have to translate next time.

Deal?

Proceed…

It’s supposed to be the wedding of the decade. The daughter of a chief marrying the son of a respected doctor. She’s an accountant and he’s a secondary school history teacher. She’s good with numbers, he’s good with dates and today’s is a date that’s been long time coming. She being a pedantic realist and he being a nostalgic dreamer means that they will complete the proverbial ying yang loop, form the perfect couple, and half the stars in the sky will go supernova and turn night into day. At the moment, however, heavy clouds crease the night sky which beams down with malcontent.

For the third time tonight it threatens to pour as the groom and his flock of minions walk into the mosque and make a beeline for the front, where the imam and the bride’s father await, the expressions on their faces radiating an unimpressed mien. Between him and his destination, a crazed sea of white and black and green and blue kanzus stretches the mosque’s capacity to its choking point. Kofia-donned heads literally turn as the man of the day passes by, dragging his wedding gear, from the over-size black robe laced with gold trimmings and the blunt ceremonial wooden sword tucked in his belt, to the massive turban on his head that precariously flirts with the physical principles of balance and gravity.

He deposits himself immediately opposite the imam and nods to his future father-in-law who is either too distracted by the groom’s excessive decorations or unhappy at his wanton disregard for punctuality, since he doesn’t nod back. The imam begins the ceremony with a short lecture about the highs and lows of marriage and quotes a few verses from the Quran.

Then he holds the groom’s right hand and asks him to repeat what seems, to the groom at least, like the recitation of a full twenty-page chapter of the Quran in a single breath. The groom’s heart does the tachycardia thing, a hamster racing a hamster wheel off its hinges. He mumbles and stutters. The imam sighs and repeats, enunciating each word carefully like a nursery school teacher. The groom does better this time, but only just.

“I…Matano bin Mashaka…accept…” a year-long pause, “…to marry…” a decade flits by, “…Zubeda.”

“Zulekha.” The imam corrects.

“Zulekha…bin…”

“Bint!” The imam corrects again.

“Bint…uh…” What was the father’s name again? He can’t for the love of everything lovable remember it and the fuming dragon that sits where future father-in-law was a minute ago doesn’t make matters easier either. A century has passed by, by the time the groom finishes his vow. The relieved imam does the Islamic rendition of the “By the powers vested in me…” bit and prays for everlasting blessings to be bestowed on the budding marriage. The father-in-law is now smiling broadly. It’s a smile that could mean anything, “I’ll kill you the next time you forget my name” or “Thank you for reducing the number of stubborn bubbleheads living in my house to fifteen. Now scram both of you, and don’t bring her back!”

Then its cheers all round as plates of halwa arrive. After that, the crowd of a thousand or so bludgeon the poor groom with affectionate embraces. His family is big. Half the city’s population is surely crammed within this tiny mosque and since his memory serves him well when recalling names of people who began revolutions or destroyed civilizations ages ago but fails him dramatically when trying the same with the people he called friends and family, the groom is meeting his extended relatives and friends for the first time all over again. Cousin Muhammad is actually cousin Mahmoud and uncle Ali is in fact uncle Alwi. In the end the groom resorts to the only nomenclature he’s always been comfortable with as he thanks Cousin 453 and his father, Uncle 78 as they smother him with musty-odor-sheathed bear hugs.


 

A motorcade outside whisks the groom and his entourage away to his bride’s home. They arrive to what can only be described as a razzle dazzle peacock fashion show. It’s almost dizzying how many different colors the bride’s relatives have managed to cram into their dresses individually. But now the groom faces a tougher challenge than acclimatizing his eyes to the bewildering scene.

The tradition at this point goes so: the bride, having recited her own vow earlier that night, is ‘locked away’ in a room somewhere within the house and one of her relatives stands guard. The groom is presented with two options. He and his lackeys can either try to force their way in, or if he is of a more diplomatic persuasion the groom can bride the guard.

Today’s is the case where the groom’s only option is surely diplomacy, for the simple reason that his entourage is locked outside and that the bride’s aunt who has taken up guard duty makes the room’s door look small in comparison. She grins widely as he slips two thousand-shilling notes into her welcoming hand. The deal is officially sealed. He is allowed admission.

Inside, the bride sits at the edge of the room’s only bed, white dress pouring out all around her, her face and arms buried under layers of make-up and hinna tattoos, but if you are to believe the groom’s account, she is actually “bathed in delicate radiant light that would shame the sun on any summer’s day and an ethereal fragrance that would push roses and carnations into fits of suicidal fantasies”. He whispers a dua to her as per the norm, their first intimate moment, and wishes they could jump out the window if only to escape the photo session that awaits them outside the door.


 

An hour or a day or a week later, they escape the incessant paparazzi and the motorcade whisks them away to the groom’s residence. It’s drizzling again outside. Well, no it’s actually pouring dreadfully now. Their driver, the groom’s older brother, focused on the now increasingly treacherous road, accountant and history teacher turn to each other. The groom had prepared a ton of poems for this moment, until the rose-shaming fragrance had wiped his memory clean, but twenty or so years of watching the occasional chick-flick movie have him covered…maybe. He blurts out, “I love you…sweet pump…kin”

She’s calm despite the excitement of the occasion as she stifles a laugh and replies in a cool voice, “Well, sweet potato, I love you more.”

The groom’s found his courage and confidence again but not the rehearsed poems, so he chides, “Really? How much more?”

Then the conversation picks up and they’re soon gone. They’re lost in their own world. The real world around them dissolves away and if the bus and truck ahead of them collided and burst into a million pieces in a shower of burning flames and human screams, they won’t be able to recount it to anyone tomorrow or ever. They’re so lost, they don’t even notice when the car finally pulls up to the groom’s home.

“Well I love you a gazillion multiplied by a gatrillion times more.” The groom smirks, impressed by his own ability to remember a very big number, fake or not.

She replies with the same calm voice, “And I love you Mugabellion to the power of Musevenillion times more.” In other words, infinity to the power of immortal forever. She really is good with numbers. The groom is stumped and sulks for a second after losing his first contest with his wife.

“And I would love it if this awkward conversation continued another time.” Their driver, an unwilling passive third-party to the exchange interrupts.“We’re here.” He announces unceremoniously.

Outside stands the groom’s family’s home. Two massive tents on either side, one for the men, the other for the ladies. And people. People everywhere you turn. The couple notice them for the first time and feel dizzy. Hundreds, maybe thousands have come to the wedding, to marvel at and envy the newlyweds.

The bride is chauffeured away to a temporary wooden stage under the ladies’ tent, where a thousand phosphorent lights and garlands of flowers festoon across the face of the makeshift stage. Then the ululations pick up and morph into a wedding song as the groom’s mother and aunts serenade their newest family member. There’s a phrase around this part of the world, “Bibi harusi wetu.” Our bride. She’s married a family, not just a husband.

The forgotten groom is paraded into the house by his brother who shouts to no one in particular, “Someone feed this oaf, he needs his energy up to prepare for his big performance.” The older men and teenagers hanging around laugh like maniacs.

With the groom inside and the bride on the other pole of the house, calm falls on the men’s tent. The topics of conversations that follow dart from football and politics and at some point the death of the groom’s younger brother a few months ago comes up. It’s inherently taboo to talk about funerals at weddings but for these people today, having been shocked by the nature and timing of the groom’s brother’s death, talking about it here is almost therapeutic.

The teenagers in attendance joke about marriage and other weddings they’ve attended. One of them waxes nostalgic to the click around him about a different wedding he went to where state-of-the-art amplifiers and 20-feet high speakers blasted the music of Ali Kiba and Diamond into the night sky. “What a dump of a wedding this is.” He complains. That it had stopped drizzling minutes ago doesn’t seem to improve the teenager’s mood.

The saving grace of any Swahili wedding, however, no matter how dislikeable to those invited, is of course the feast, or feasts.Tonight’s feast even has a name, Kombe la Bwanaharusi, the groom’s cup or something like that. You know Swahili people love food when they give fancy names to feasts. When the sinias (big plates) arrive and the guests behold their contents, all inhibitions and doubts and ill-will simply melt away.

Tonight, the guests are treated to a surprise. Upon inspection of the plates, they discover they’ve been served six different types of foods, from viazi vya nazi (potatoes of coconut), samaki wa kupaka(painted fish), nyama ya kukaanga (fried meat…?),mahamri (I doubt there’s an English equivalent word), kaimati (some round pastry thingy coated in sugar), mitai (another pastry thingy coated in sugar) and tambi (sugary noodles). Seven types it turns out, not six! But wait, upon further inspection, the guests realize the plates come in pairs. There are seven other different types of food in the accompanying plates, mikate ya tambi(sugary-noodle bread), katlesi (cut-less with each bite), viazi vitamu (sweet potatoes!), sambusa(samosas), mkate wa mayai (bread of the egg),mkate wa sinia (bread of the plate) and viazi karai(fried potatoes) You could call it the centenary gladiator match of the calories, a cholesterol and sugars bloodbath. The Swahili people won’t heed you, they’ll continue calling it Kombe La Bwanaharusi.


 

It’s growing late, the tell-tale signs of the approaching morning begin to show. The groom is tired and sleepy and growing increasingly irritated. He chucks modesty down the drain, rushes up the makeshift stage while the songs and ululations crescendo to a climax, and before anyone can realize what’s happening scoops up the bride, who looks equal parts amused and relieved but not necessarily shocked, and takes off at a canter like a deranged kangaroo, the turban falling off his head. His mother finally jumps to her feet and gives chase shouting, ‘Bring our bride back,’ her singing partners flocking her sides and ululating without let-up.

“My bride, mine…” the groom shouts back, head growing giddy from his defiant shenanigans. He makes for one of the parked cars whose passenger door is thankfully held open by his brother, gently sets his wife down on the seat, jumps over the bonnet american-movie-cops-like, fishtails the car out of the parking spot and zooms off, executing a perfect drift around the corner that would send James Bond running for the bank. Cheers and whoops from the men’s side and ululations from women’s side and the groom’s mother’s child-like tantrum sing them off into the night.

“Wow,” the accountant laughs, “I didn’t know your family was so…”

“Clingy?” The history teacher says.

“Affectionate.” She completes her sentence.

“They’re clingy. My family’s clingy. I should have warned you.” The dreamer reflects. There’s a long pause and then he adds, “We have might have to relocate to Russia or China or Antarctica where they can’t find us and shove chocolate cakes down your throat every morning and dress you up like Disney princesses every weekend.”

The realist wraps her arms around her husband’s free hand and rests her head on his shoulder as she thinks of the long tiring hours she spends at work every day.

“I don’t know,” she whispers with a broad smile, “I think am actually looking forward to being treated like a queen.”

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The Lion Loses His Mane II

Part Two.

Click here to read Part One of this story!

            Whenever Obadia looked back to those years he spent in the forbidding Kilangwe forest, he always recalled that the camp was buzzing when two particular things happened. One, a raid on the supply convoys or the settlers’ plantations had been successful which usually meant more food than they could eat or two, when Sunday came rolling in. For all their faults and deficiencies, the settlers and their oppressive government had a devotion to their religion that was inspiring. Which meant that the rebels could hang loose on Sundays without worrying about surprise attacks from the colony corps. The older members of the ragtag band would spend the free time with their spouses and children, while the younger members spent the day engaging in pastimes like racing and wrestling. For more than four years Obadia reigned supreme in the wrestling ring . So they called him Simba, because no one who challenged him lived with their pride intact afterwards. Recently, he had been thinking of revisiting that part of his past, taking it slow, until he could find his form again. Now the doctor in front of him was dashing those plans with his complicated talk about open aortic knuckles and hypertension and…

“How long do I have?” The words escaped his lips before they fully formed in his brain.

The doctor smiled his famous smile, which had the effect of momentarily reducing the tension Obadia felt but then irritated him as he waited for the doctor to explain himself.

“I was just thinking that if I were a movie doctor, I would have led with, ‘I have good news and I have bad news’. Yes there is good news, Mr Obadia. The reason I asked you to stay calm was because I’ve seen patients panic when they were told something was wrong even when their condition was perfectly curable. Hypertension is not cancer. It won’t kill you, in fact years from now it may stop being a bother if you stick to the dietary changes i am about to recommend, and take the medication prescribed seriously. In the meantime, I would recommend you avoid any activities that involve too much…uh, excitement.”

 ——————————————————–

            By the time they left the hospital, the sun’s heat was bearing down on them more forcefully. A soft easy breeze carried away the heat, and a delicate balance between pleasantly warm and unbearably hot was established. A procession had begun, heading further inward to the city, in anticipation of a demonstration weeks in planning to vent anger towards the incumbent tyrannical president.

Pleased with himself for having completed his duty, the son skipped off to school. Obadia was ready to go home, but he had something to do first. He followed the crowd which grew thicker and thicker the further he went, so that a journey of fifteen minutes took him more than one hour. Outside the building he was aiming for, the crowd was biggest and gathered around a black bulletproofed car where the torso and head of  the incumbent president’s most vocal opponent popped through the car’s roof, a megaphone carrying his voice far and wide, an umbrella wielded high above his head to insulate him from the sun. He sang promises of better healthcare and education, more jobs and equality for all. Obadia chuckled as he wondered whether the crowd would be this big if the young politician spoke what was really in his mind. Then the car moved on and the crowd eagerly followed.

Inside the cyber café, Obadia noticed three college-age boys and a girl behind their computer monitors. One of the boys was playing a video game, occasionally shouting at his invisible opponent for being too competent. The girl was reading a news article that talked about the government planning to add censorship regulations which would see some types of books already in circulation end up banned. They all seemed oblivious to the commotion just outside. Obadia sat behind one of the monitors and called the café attendant to help him write an email.

His distrust of people who came from Europe, itself another scar from that war for freedom they fought ages ago, had grown even worse when his eldest son had taken up a scholarship offer from there, against his father’s protests, and then stayed there permanently after landing a job. There was a long fight, and then father and son had stopped talking to each other. One of the two mobile phones Obadia carried with him was a dedicated line which only received calls from his son. Almost five years ago the phone had stopped ringing.

“Same address?” The young man who owned the cyber asked. Obadia nodded back. He stared at the screen for a long time, unsure of what to write. Scolding his grown-up son wouldn’t improve things. Giving him another lesson about the values of his forefathers and explaining to him how he was violating them wouldn’t help either. He sighed and dictated to the young man who typed as fast as he could:

Dear son,

I have yet to think of any force that is strong enough to wedge a permanent rift between father and son, besides death that is. Whatever it is, whatever petty argument brought us here, may soon be insignificant.

Your old man is not what he once was. Doctor Hamud tells me I have a condition, I don’t understand it yet. Frankly I still don’t believe him, I feel fine most of the time, I feel great right now. But I would give anything in this world if I could see or hear from my son at least one more time, even if we continue to hold radically different opinions about everything.

Your loving father.

The young man hit send and the email was whisked in a dazzling show of computer graphics. The reply came barely a minute later, buoying Obadia’s hope before crushing it completely just as quickly. It was an automated reply. The same reply he’d been receiving every time he sent his son an email. The message thanked him for asking about his son, told him his son was glad to hear from him and promised that his son would be sending him money by the end of the month, and wished him a wonderful day.

Outside, all hell broke loose. The black bulletproofed car raced past. Such was its driver’s hurry (or panic) that he drove in the wrong lane. Then the roar of tens of thousands of feet stomping on the tarmac. For fifteen minutes straight, a crowd of young athletic men raced past the window of the cyber café, yelping and yelling. Trailing them was one of the many small platoons of anti-riot police deployed around the city, wielding 2-feet long batons and menacing tear gas guns that barked angrily. Any stragglers, blinded by the gas or wounded otherwise were beaten to a formless jelly.

When the police disappeared from sight down the road, Obadia took his leave, now eager more than ever before to get back home. It was be not to be as easy as he expected.

——————————————————

The tiny black phone shrilled wildly, the sudden burst of life after five years of hibernation threatening to blow its speaker apart. It vibrated violently before falling off the table. The young cyber attendant caught it with his hand before it crashed to the floor. He looked at the name on the screen and shook his head in despair as he rushed outside and searched for the old man, who was not to be seen anywhere around.

——————————————————-

At some point, Obadia must have believed he would make it home without incident. Then a few times it looked certain that he would, but the streets of a city embroiled in running battles could be deceiving at times. He dodged one group after the other until he couldn’t anymore. He found himself pinned at a T-intersection road, an angry mob to his left, a platoon of riot police to his right several yards away and another angry mob coming up the rear. Just behind the police lay the bus station whose matatus would take him home. He knew this road, he knew there had to be an intersecting alley somewhere along it between him and the bus station. He looked for it and discovered that the police line was camped behind it, leaving it absolutely open. He looked behind him at the crowd growing closer and noticed some of its member wielded machetes, some of them looked sharp enough to make him cringe. He shook his head and made his decision.

——————————————————

Officer Mathew Mrimwa, the soon-to-be political scapegoat, watched the frenzied crowd mill about several blocks down the street, shouting angry words and slogans and hurling banners with suggestive messages high into the air.

He never truly understood the circus that was politics and he did not much care about trying to. He’d been relieved of that burden when he joined the police force. He had a commanding officer above him, whose orders he had to follow. That officer had another one above him and so on all the way to the commander-in-chief. When the orders came trickling down the chain of command, there was no time for a “maybe let’s think about this first” discussion.

“Break their bones if you have to. Show no mercy. I want these usurpers scared so bad their forefathers will cream their tattered suits in their graves.” Those had been the orders from the guy whose orders he had to follow, though he may have used less polite language. Mrimwa couldn’t remember. That would come later, though. Right now they were to hold the line.

A loud crack sounded three feet to his right as one of his fellow officers fired a teargas canister into the sky. So sudden and loud was the sound he only barely managed to stop himself from flinching. He flipped the visor of his helmet down as he traced the projectile’s arch in the sky. A moment later it landed within the threshold of the rioting crowd and unleashed its lethal contents. Mrimwa watched, with a certain amount of satisfaction, the chaos unfold as the rioters amusingly tried to clear the radius affected by the gas, falling and tripping over one another. A second canister was fired and soon another one, all with the same effect. And then the other shoe dropped. The rioters regrouped quickly and responded with a flurry of rocks that rained down like fiery angels of doom. One of the newer officers failed to get his shield up in time. He yelled like a small boy as a rock twice the size of his palm hit his helmet, denting it and breaking the visor glass. Shards of the glass pierced his left eye and most of his face that side, drawing a stream of blood.

The rock pelting stopped and the crowd continued its shouting and whistling and cheering. That’s how it had been all of the past one hours. One side threw a punch, the other responded, everyone sat down to nurse their injuries and then the cycle was repeated.Mrimwa, however, was impatient. He wanted to end it all as soon as possible so he could escape the blistering heat.

During the lull, an old man suddenly appeared in the no-mans-land, from one of the roads that forked off the one hosting the swansong battle. He walked like a man half his age, back straight and eyes wide with either horror or hunger. He looked confused and stranded for a moment as he took in the scene. Then he looked back where he came from, shook his head pensively and started walking toward Mrimwa and the rest of the posse.

It might have been the immense heat that blurred Mrimwa’s judgement, or the relentless screams of the officer who was possibly going to spend the rest of his life blind in one eye. Or his need for a quicker conclusion to the day’s proceedings. Or maybe the way the old man boldly walked toward them undeterred by their might and numbers sparked an outrage within Mrimwa. Whatever the reason was, Mrimwa did not think through the decisions he made in the next few minutes. He tapped the baton by his side and moved to intercept the approaching man.

——————————————————

All through that seemingly unending trek through the scene of a battle in recess, Obadia hugged the sidewalk of the street, his eyes fixed on the ground. Yet he still walked with his back straight as he was used to doing. The alley he was making for inched thankfully closer and closer with each defiant step. Then, from the corner of his eye, he noticed one of the riot police break away from the group and move toward him, meeting him just at the edge of the elusive alley.

The policeman was mad about something, clearly, and he was shouting expletives at him but not necessarily telling him to back off. Obadia didn’t wait for the order to form in words, so he turned on heels to walk backward, disappointed. Barely half a second after he started his turn, he felt a mighty hand slap against the back of his neck and tumbled down to the tarred road, landing on all fours. He watched the shadow of his attaker retrieve the baton at his side and begin a long motion with his hand to bring the baton crushing down on Obadia’s back.

He closed his eyes and braced himself. He heard a thump but did not feel any impact. He opened his eyes and saw on the tarmac ahead of him a second shadow engaging the first in a dance without any discernible synchrony. There was a second thump and then another one and then a young European lady fell next to Obadia. She looked well-dressed and composed, the mop of short blonde hair bouncing on her head as she twisted and turned to deflect the relentless blows that landed on her. Obadia rushed instinctively to his feet to push away the policeman just as a second one rushed to his possessed colleague, shouting “Press, press” and dragged him away. Only then did the feral brute notice that the unwilling recipient of his show of affection for his commanders had been a defenseless lady and, perhaps just as importantly, evidenced by the necklace card holder and the ID card it was holding, a member of the press corps that were documenting the day’s battles. His head boiled a few hundred degrees hotter as he realized his mistake and his awkward attempt at apology was foiled by his colleague who dragged him away from the scene.

“Are you okay, sir?” The lady repeatedly asked, wincing as she rose from the tarmac.

Stunned by the lady’s concerns for him even though she had clearly fared worse from the incident, Obadia tried to process a response, then he mumbled, “I…I uh…yes…I really am younger than the stupid birth certificate says…stupid certificate…”, realised he made no sense at all, shut up, and nodded thankfully before continuing through the now freed alley. The young lady tailed him, insisting that he follow her to the ambulance behind the line of the anti-riot police where the rest of press corps furiously snapped away with their cameras, but he thanked her again, actually uttering his gratitude this time and told her he was okay.

The old man walked away, eager to get back home, hoping, praying that the altercation he had just been part of would not inflame the violence. He knew that photos and videos of the incident would soon be plastered on tv screens across the country, but he still held out hope that he would not be appointed the symbolic poster boy of another ‘revolution’, even as the riled crowd that had witnessed an old man and a lady of the press stand up to a bully, lost all trace of fear and charged the policemen, overpowering them, even as they didn’t stop there and took over a police station hours later, even as the world watched in horror a week later when an even bigger, more organized crowd stormed the state house, dying by the hundreds under the fire of an army that minded orders, not politics and even as the crowd then threw the dictator out and installed a newer, younger one in his place. He just hoped the violence would end.

He felt a sharp pain creeping at the back of his head, and grit his teeth as if hoping to smother the headache by sheer will. Avoid too much excitement, the warning echoed in his mind. He sat down on the pavement, feeling drowsy and a dark shadow eclipsing his left eye. He breathed slowly, waiting.

He thought of the selfless lady who’d stood up for him and the doctor who always wanted his patients to feel comfortable and he concluded that good people come from anywhere, religion or race notwithstanding. He thought of his eldest son, living a world away, tried to remember what they had fought over, and failed to. He forgave him and hoped that his son would forgive him too. He thought of his youngest son and all other fifteen-year-olds around the country, reading big books with big words and big ideas and smiled wanly at the yet uncertain but brighter prospect of the future. He thought of jogging and wrestling and all those other things he yearned to do again.

A breeze blew through the alley, soft as silk and in no apparent haste, a passive ever-present witness of a day in the life of a stubborn old man who would not let a piece of paper and a doctor tell him that he was not young anymore.

The Lion Loses His Mane

Part One

Obadia was older than he could really remember, or was willing to admit. His birth certificate, brown and frail bore the coat of arms belonging to a colonial government from a time as extinct as most of his peers and yet still fresh in his mind. The modern birth certificates bore a ‘bolder’ and more ‘evocative’ coat of arms which replaced the two lions with a falcon whose wings stretched wide to encompass a crest and a native man and woman standing either side of the crest. The man carried a spear and the woman a multi-colored shield. The designers proclaimed that it reflected ‘a national pride in the self-sufficiency of an enlightened African people as diverse as the different colors of the country’s soil. Obadia’s birth certificate however still bore the marks from a different time and even had the words, “British Colony and Protectorate of Mbogoti” emboldened across the top. It indicated that he was born in 1947, even though he insisted the document to be inaccurate as it was issued to him long after he stopped relying on his mother to wipe the stool off his bottom. To his credit, he did look younger than the certificate implied. He always walked with his back straight and his eyes had that wide look people have when they have just faced a life-haunting horror, or when they’re hungry.

He woke up that morning feeling a fresh sense of optimism. Something about the way the morning breeze blew, soft and unhurried, made his bones feel pleasant. His youngest son Badi was already dressed for school and sat at the dining room table reading a book that was almost a quarter his height and very likely equal his weight. Whatever it contained seemed to hold his attention acutely as he did not seem to notice when his father walked into the room. He muttered softly to himself as he thumbed through the pages of the book.

“Di,” Obadia finally called, “How did you sleep?”

The boy’s face immediately jerked towards his father, surprise and delight dominating his expression equally.

“I slept well Pa, how are you feeling today.” The boy asked as he rose to kiss his father’s palm and lead him to one of the chairs at the table.

“I feel twenty again my boy.” He replied with particularly exaggerated emphasis. “I could probably pass off as your older brother.”

His son chuckled, “Nice try papa. Doctor Hamud was very insistent that we pay him a visit today and that’s exactly what we are doing.”

The old man grumbled and said in a less cheery tone, “As far as am concerned, you and the doctor are in cahoots in a scheme to steal my money.”

His son’s face lit up with mischief as he replied, “Of course we want your money, but we’re also deeply worried about your health. Considering you keep challenging that hardy porter boy down the street to a boxing match, maybe you should be too.” He went about setting the table for breakfast and serving his father tea and bread before settling into a chair to chow down.

They ate in silence for a moment before the father finally asked, “What’s that book you’re reading?”

“It’s an autobiography by Salilou Jackson.” The son answered, “I think he was a president of someplace or maybe worked for the UN. It doesn’t say on the book but he must be important, everyone at school is reading his book.”

He could have been president of the world and Obadia wouldn’t have known better. Having spent most of his youth in the dark damp forests of Kilangwe with the Langi Langi Rebels, causing the colonial government all kinds of problems, he felt he had contributed enough to the power games politicians loved to play and therefore stopped trying to keep up. Back then it had seemed so simple: free my countrymen from the noose of tyranny and let the people govern themselves. Now, in retrospect, he wondered if that had been the wrong time to do so. Maybe we weren’t ready yet.

“Read some of it to me.” His interest was piqued.

Badi leafed through the earlier pages with his thumb pinned on the current page, like a bookmark. He stopped somewhere closer to the center before he began reciting, “Look, here he says: ‘African politics, like most things about our continent, have taken on an ugly and painfully unassailable face that seems to veer further and further from the vision that spurred on the freedom fighters of the African nations…’”

The old man considered that point for a moment, his son’s narrating voice a backdrop against the conversation inside his mind. When the colonial government officials had tucked their tails between their legs and hightailed it, they had left the locals a problem as novel as it was daunting. A real headache. A nation that had never been a nation before but a smattering of independent city states governed by the highest authority within each tribe, before the royalty of Europe had chopped up the entire continent into pieces like cake to be shared among them and introduced borders that were never there before, a nation with over thirty different tribes, each with their own varying values and moral perceptions, that nation had been asked to produce a leader to represent them all, an ‘archetypal of the entire nation’s traditional leadership values’, a leader typifying the identity of an entire nation. A nation that had never been a nation before.

Under the immense pressure of it all, a leader had emerged and tentatively taken up the mantle of responsibility and everybody had rallied behind him. Until that leader had decided to make his reign a bit more permanent than had been originally planned. Now, forty years later, that nation that had never been a nation before, had reverted to being a smattering of tiny nations each one eager to see its own leader have a turn at the “big seat.” No, Obadia concluded, this was not what they had been fighting for. His interest in Salilou Whoever’s book grew further.

“…all that, however, may be about to change.” His son continued gushing out the wisdom of Salilou. “Should the predictions of sociologists hold true, African politicians should brace themselves for the biggest shakeup since the fight for independence that raged continent-wide a lifetime ago.

“As the world prepares to bid goodbye to the era of Millennials, their successors, the so-called Generation Z, may be the last (or simply the latest) hope for the common citizen. Born into an age of technology, where everyone is connected to everyone and everything has become easier to access and obtain, these individuals have been predicted to be the kind of leaders who want nothing to stand in their way of getting what they want. They are the type of individuals we can expect to see build their own companies, to make them successful, tenacious in their fight for equal rights for everyone and who will soon be the new face  of altruism. Such individuals will stand no authority, government or otherwise, needlessly hampering their mission.

“Politicians will find it hard to sway them with their words. Tribal lines along which politicians and most citizens identify themselves may soon dissolve away, even as it remains controversial whether or not they should, in the wake of this generation bursting onto the scene.

“In as much as sociologists can be blamed for their tendencies to group people and label them collectively, and let it not be said that Salilou is an advocate for such behavior, and in as much as predictions made by beings with limited perceptions like humans rarely come true (else we wouldn’t have half as many weatherman jokes), the thought of a bee-hive-mind generation focused on making a positive impact on society thrills me to the very bones. Change is coming and it’s an ideological change, the kind that can’t be suppressed by force or swayed by fruitless politics.”

The boy looked up from the book as if to measure his father’s reaction. His father just nodded back and smiled , seemingly in approval. Obadia made a mental note to himself to read the book himself later. The morning session then lapsed into silence as the two finished their breakfast, mulling over the words from Salilou’s book. It was the kind of silence that had come to define the two-bedroom bungalow father and son called home. A deep reflective silence that echoed off the poorly-decorated crumbling concrete wall and pocked-tile floor far more than any loud and meaningless conversation ever could.

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Outside, the breeze persisted, soft and unhurried. The small clay-laced compound housed a Toyota car so massive it almost dwarfed the bungalow. It had been a gift, for lack of a better word, from his other son, the eldest. An offering, would be a more fitting word. Unused from the day it was delivered there. Obadia had decreed it would remain so for as long as the prodigal son continued to snub his father’s attempts at resolution after they fell out more than ten years ago.

Badi eyed it longingly as they left for the hospital. He tried to imagine, for the hundred thousandth time how the girls would have reacted had he rolled into school with that beauty. The first ever student to drive to Kalimoni High. No, the only member of the school besides the principal to drive their own car to school, ever. It would have been a moment worthy of inclusion in the history books.

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“Simba wa Kilangwe!” The porter boy down the street called, waving furiously at them. Lion of Kilangwe!

Father and son turned to face him and waved back.

“Kunazizima leo!” The young man shouted again. It’s freezing today!

“Kunazizima kweli,” Obadia called back. It truly is.

“Dikteta atatusikia tukinguruma leo!” The boy added and barked an awkward war cry. The tyrant will hear us roar today!

Tyrants have a terrible knack of not listening to criticism, unless their hands wrapped around the throat of whoever was doing the talking, Obadia thought grimly as the porter waved goodbye and dissapeared around the corner. For all your sakes, I hope he’s not in that kind of mood today.

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They arrived at Doctor Hamud’s a quarter of an hour before he did. The day was still in its youthful stage, the sun barely having imposed itself. Even that early, a crowd thronged the main waiting area of the hospital, all of them having risen early to beat the queue, only to end up bolstering it.

The doctor was a lively light-skinned Muslim man in his middle ages, who always seemed to be in the mood to smile. He had a couch in his office for his patients. Having worked at the hospital for twenty years, he was the only doctor there with enough pull to convince the administration into giving him one, and letting him keep it. He always wanted his patients to feel comfortable, in a manner you would expect a shrink to. He even offered father and son a cup of tea. They politely refused but secretly wished they hadn’t stuffed themselves earlier that morning. The sweet scent of vanilla and cloves rose from the doctor’s cup and floated around the room like a mute ghost. Moments later, the father yielded and poured himself a cup. The son eagerly followed suit.

“Pa says you and I are scheming to steal his money.” Badi said to the doctor, then added with a wink, “All these suspicious visits to the hospital in the past few weeks and so on. I think he’s on to us.”

The doctor looked puzzled for a moment as he tried to decipher the gesture, and then a childish smile played on his face. He pulled on his best improv face as he replied, “Well, you didn’t tell him how much we’ve siphoned from his offshore accounts did you? The last thing this country needs is another multi-million shillings scandal, endless court prosecutions and…”

Badi clapped his hands on his mouth when the doctor said multi-million and feigned shock and disappointment, carrying along the doctor’s playact, a telepathic link synchronizing the two’s performances.

“Oh dear. Now he knows.” The doctor enacted with a fake panic-stricken face.

The father almost choked on his tea as he laughed at the two Hollywood graduates’ enactment. “Alright, alright. You’ve made your point you two.” He waved dismissively. They shared a hearty laugh.

“Ideally, I too would have preferred if we had finished your checkup the first time you came in.” The doctor said, his face back to normal, “Maybe that would have been possible if medical equipment and drugs always arrived in time, and maybe if we weren’t so criminally understaffed too but…”  He shrugged his shoulders.

Then the doctor’s face turned serious as he looked at the results of the tests he had had the nurses perform on Obadia. On to the business then.

“Mr Obadia,” he said, “Before I begin, I need to plead with you to remain as calm as you possibly can.”

The world might have responded better had the doctor pleaded with it to stop spinning.

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Thank you all as always for reading. I welcome all opinions, corrections and additions.

Click here to read part two!