“What did you say was your relationship with her?” I ask.
“She’s my friend,” he says. ( It still amazes me the kind of friendships he strikes and how easy.)
I don’t ask how long we’ll take because the last time I did when we were visiting a relative, he said 2 hours – from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. By the time we were leaving at 9 p.m., I was not talking to him.
She appears, after 15 or so minutes of our wait, in full gracefulness. She spreads her wide arms and wraps me around them. I disappear into the hug.
“Eh, Gabriel, you came back. You came back my dear. And you’re married!” It’s almost as if they’d made a pact and the chances of seeing each other again were minute. They update each other likes friends do.
We talk about her health – she has been ailing and seeking medication in different parts of the world. I had asked Gabriel what ails her but he said they had never discussed the details. She talks about healthy eating and living and says in English;
“No one can help you love your body.”
She says something in Dholuo and only a minute later do I realise it’s directed to me.
“I’m speaking to you in my language,” she says in heavy Dholuo accent. No apologies. No probing on how much Dholuo I understand. She looks at me and waits for an answer. I look at Gabriel for translation services. Subsequently, I understand (or round off) some of the questions she throws at me in Dholuo.
When I’m not involved, I let my eyes wander around the magnificent house in brilliant new yellow and maroon paint; the black leather seats, the chandeliers on the ceiling which seem so far away up, the ceramic tiled floor, the large TV screen that covers half the wall, the sound system… Things which seem to have been manufactured with quality in mind and bought with money.
The front porch from which we entered is built in a circular manner – you don’t just get in fwaaa. You have to take a right or left, either way you’ll be confronted with the large exquisite sitting room. Before that, a portrait of the lady of the house declares her omnipresence, as if she has to vet you.
We took the left and on the far side of the wall was a large image of a man in a white suit – the late husband. I look at him again and again. And every other chance I get. It is the kind of picture that needs to be hung higher so that everyone who comes in sees it.
Pretty would describe him more than handsome would. Youthful beauty. Deep cocoa skin. His eyes appear kind, his pose swaggy. His gaze is that of a man who wears a white suit though he’s not a preacher. The confident and proud gaze.
Gabriel had told me about his death. One night, when Flida Atwech (that’s her name) had gone to Kochia, the other end of Homa Bay county to trade and feed her family, her brothers- in- law came to ‘visit’. In a well-plotted plan, they asked the mister to come out so that they could speak, perhaps about an ongoing land tussle.
“Why, come in so that you can eat too,” he had said to them.
“No, just come out for a short while, ” one insisted.
The others lay in wait of their prey. When he came out, with a piece of ‘othonje’ in his hand, a spear pierced him on the chest and as cried ‘why are you killing me’, another one pierced through the heart.
That’s how he was found the next morning – dead and with a piece of ugali in his hand and half – chewed piece in his mouth. He hadn’t washed his hands, they were his brothers after all and they could talk as he finished chewing. The brothers were excommunicated from the village after their houses had been torched. Whatever became of them and the land they were scuffling after, I don’t know.
My mother-in-law says, when we get back home, that God sees and he helped her educate the children, though with a lot of struggle. That somehow, life compensated her. What if he hadn’t been killed? I wonder. Would the children have become as ‘successful’ and take her to America and London and India for travel and medical care? What if life had asked her to choose between a hard life with her husband and a better one – monetarily?
In between the conversation in Dholuo, I count the plastic fruits on the bright coloured bowls on the table; two oranges, three bananas, three apples. Why do people buy these things?
Gabriel asks about her children whom she doesn’t refer to by name but titles – “Pilot dhi maber” (pilot is fine), her chest bursting with pride. I follow the direction of their eyes to the pictures on the wall and zoom in on a lady, who stands out by the bright shade of her skin – her grand-daughter, whom Flida refers to as a ‘full doctor”.
Flida says that if God wills, she’ll ask all her relatives and friends over for something that sounds like a goodbye party.
“Then I’ll be ready to go,” she adds in a more content than sad way.
Gabriel says something to her. She waves her hand in the air and says, “oh Gabi, don’t flatter me my dear.” Then she laughs. A proud laugh. One that duplicates itself when he offers what I deduce to be another compliment in her favour. She swims in the praise. She laughs, a lot. She calls her grandson, Serikal and kisses him generously on both cheeks.
Whatever life has done to her does not get into her laugh. Here seats a woman who has seen life. Who has tasted struggle. Who has mourned her husband and first born son and his wife. A woman who is well travelled but has her heart in this magnificent house in the village. A woman who commands respect. A woman with the right quantities of nyadhi. Here is a woman who has cried but didn’t let the tear marks plant themselves on her face. I want to ask her the greatest lesson life has taught her in the 80 or so years she has lived. I want to milk what she knows. I want to ask where she taps her gracefulness from. But I’ll have to ask in Dholuo. And she’ll answer in Dholuo.
There’s a large wall clock but she swings her arm, looks at her watch and mumbles something. Time to leave… She turns to me and speaks in Ekegusii – in five complete and correct sentences!
When she prays for us – in Dholuo again, she greets and hugs me then says, “Vera, I love you. And from my side, I welcome you. Listen, I cannot flatter you. If I don’t like you, I’ll tell you.”
And to him she says, “I love you. I love you so much, baby. I love you, baby.”