CHILDREN OF THE MOUNTAIN AND OF THE LAKE
“Mwaura Johnson, do you take Salome Adhiambo to be your lawful wedded wife? Will you have her – to have and to hold for better for worse from this day forward? Will you have Adhiambo, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death you do part?”
“I do!” Mwaura replied.
“Salome Adhiambo, do you take Mwaura Johnson to be your lawful wedded husband? Will you have him — to have and to hold, for better for worse from this day forward? Will you have Mwaura, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death you do part?”
Salome replied, “I do!”
Salome’s voice was hesitant and tremulous. Salome looked so noticeably lost at the Holy Family Basilica. Her face told of a stressed up woman; her faraway look betrayed her confidence. And the most casual observer could see it.
Was it an anticlimax of sorts? Where were the cords of love that would mushroom into a big smile on Adhiambo’s face on her wedding day? It was the culmination of undying love between two people — a love brought together by the unseen cords of human love. But on this day, the undying love looked dead. But even then, Adhiambo loved Mwaura that she opted to venture into the unknown with him.
The wedding bells rang, fireworks exploded, violins played and heaven came down. But Mwaura and Adhiambo were shocked that their parents had boycotted the ceremony in protest. Kodibo, Adhiambo’s father and his people did not attend the wedding. Karanja, Mwaura’s father, and his folks did not also attend this wedding.
But what had to be done had to be done. Mwaura and Adhiambo were lovebirds from their days at the university. Even in a tumultuous wedding day, these lovebirds still remained convinced that their wedding day would still be worth remembering. A determination shone across Mwaura’s face; and a desire that their marriage would work. But the little mouse of intuition kept on pricking Mwaura’s conscience. The irksome concerns and doubts, like a sore thumb, kept Adhiambo’s soul sad. Would their marriage still hold without their parents’ blessings?
Kimwele, the groom and bride’s city friend took over the leadership of the wedding. He filled in for Adhiambo’s father. John stood in for Mwaura’s father. Sophia, Adhiambo’s bosom friend played the role of Adhiambo’s mother while Maureen, Mwaura’s workmate played the role of Mwaura’s mother respectively.
“Mwaura do you think God was foolish when he created Luos and Kikuyus? Do you think the Kambas and the Maasais were a divine mistake from the throne?” Wangu, Mwaura’s mother would ask him countless times. “My son, you are joking by wanting to marry a Luo woman. Are you wiser than God?”
“Adhiambo, I used to have a neighbour by the name Njoki as a childhood friend. All along, I had intended to marry her but she did not venture beyond Fourth Form. Moreover, it was naiveté and youth at play and later Njoki became a tailor. I cannot marry a Form Four drop out for heaven’s sake, Adhiambo. It has taken me four years to settle on you. At first, it felt like I was jinxed. I could not make head or tail on matters love. It was tough seeing the sophisticated and savvy campus girls walking hand in hand with their lovers. All the love letters I was writing Njoki ended. I vowed in my sane mind never to marry a tailor,” Mwaura would tell Adhiambo.
“Mwaura, you are missing it. Does it mean that school dropouts do not make good wives? What assurance is there that learned girls will make good families? Most of these girls you see walking hand in hand with boys on the corridors of the university are mere jokers — nothing serious. I stand to be corrected but you are missing the point Mwaura. How sure are you that our love will evolve into a great marriage?” Adhiambo asked.
“I also stand to be corrected. Heaven would judge me wrongly if I ended up in the hands of a tailor,” Mwaura replied.
“Adhiambo, aren’t there learned men in Luoland? Omollo, for instance, is a doctor and from our own people. He is good and a man of progress. Why have you decided to let our clan down by going ‘abroad’? You have been a very obedient and disciplined girl Adhiambo. I think it is education that has befuddled your mind. Over my dead body will you marry a Kikuyu man,” Kodibo declared.
Adhiambo had travelled from Nairobi to Bondo so as to alert her father about the wedding. Kodibo, the teacher was alive to matters education and its paybacks. But the reality of his daughter’s impending union with a Kikuyu man just drove him over the edge.
Adhiambo’s mother Zipporah though always stood with her against the onslaught of this marital war. She had taught her to be independent minded.
“Adhiambo, learn to make your own choices and abide by them. Consequences can be addressed later,” Zipporah would encourage her.
“You are my eldest daughter. You are the only girl around to have gone to the university. I had very good plans for you but you have betrayed me, Adhiambo,” Kodibo was still very angry.
The bone of contention for the disapproval of this union was based on tribal inclinations and partialities. It was all about the timeless feud between the “children of the mountain” and “the children of the lake”. The children of the lake were fishermen while those of the mountain were farmers. Therefore, Adhiambo’s only mistake before her prospective in-laws was that she was Luo. She was not from Mwaura’s Kikuyu community.
Two years later….
Adhiambo and Mwaura were blessed with a baby girl. She was a good-looking, dark-skinned baby.
According to the traditions of Mwaura’s community, she was to be named after his mother Wangu. But Wangu vowed that any female baby born to Mwaura and Adhiambo would never carry her name. It pained Adhiambo so much. She had really been hoping that her mother-in-law would be delighted if Adhiambo “gave birth to her”. This was the worst manifestation of tribal acrimony to Adhiambo. She knew there existed unsubstantiated tribal hostilities between the two tribes. But she was now experiencing it firsthand. It hurt her to the core that such garbage still existed in the minds of men and women.
“What middle name do we give Samantha? Adhiambo asked Mwaura. The nurse wants to know her full name for her birth records?” Adhiambo pressed Mwaura.
Mwaura was hesitant for some minutes at Mission of Faith Hospital.
“I t-h-i-n-k w-e w-i-l-l c-a-l-l h-e-r Samantha Atieno after your mother’s middle name,” Mwaura said.
“What! But it cannot work out that way, my hubby. Calling her after my mother will equal betrayal. Let her be named after your favourite aunt, sister or any female member from your side. Please don’t drive me crazy for heaven’s sake. She cannot be named after my mother. It will not work, Mwaura. Remember the vows that you made during our wedding,” Adhiambo reminded Mwaura.
“Samantha Wangu would have been befitting. But Samantha’s grandma has done away with her. Wangu is your mother, yes but she has rejected me and Samantha,” Adhiambo argued out.
The baby was therefore named, Samantha Muthoni Mwaura. Muthoni being Mwaura’s favourite paternal aunt.
To add salt to the wound, Njoki, Mwaura’s former childhood lover had given birth to twin boys. She had finally been married to a primary school teacher. One of Mwaura’s sisters, Waithera had kept informing Mwaura and Adhiambo of what was happening at home. Wangu would spew bitter and bigoted words at Mwaura and Adhiambo that at times would sound unbelievable.
“Mwaura is an abomination to his generation, had he married Njoki, now he would be the father of twin sons. He would not be the father of that child that is too dark-skinned to be one of our own!” Samantha had taken her dark complexion from Adhiambo’s side of the family. Mwaura’s side had light-skinned people.
Adhiambo felt dry and dehydrated like a tilapia that had been smoked, salted and put out in the sun. She was totally demoralized. She had thought that the tides of times would sweep away the painful memories in her and her husband. She had hoped time would bring healing, but the wound of rejection still remained. But thanks for Mwaura. Through all this, Mwaura downplayed the whole mess like a real man and husband. He would defend Adhiambo against the brickbats of her mother-in-law.
The Kakapo, the flightless parrot from New Zealand inflates air sacks in its chest to amplify its call. And like the Kakapo, Adhiambo felt like booming her mother-in-law’s place and reading her an edict on matters love and marriage. Privately Adhiambo would make a mock confrontation with Wangu, her mother-in-law. She would begin…”You are such a tribal, illiterate and good-for-nothing….” But Adhiambo would only manage a shrill voice of a defeated woman.
Adhiambo took her time to understand love. In her quest to unravel the mystery that love knows no bounds, Adhiambo was in a dilemma. Adhiambo was already bound in love. Adhiambo would go through books and movies. She would stumble upon some definitions about love:
“Love is a warm puppy,” she read one day in an ornamental plaque.
“Love does never have to say you’re sorry,” she heard from a movie.
“Love is a sickness full of woes,” she read from Bard of Avon.
“Love has been known to produce broken hearts and goose bumps, loss of appetite and starry eyes,” — she was already there.
“Adhiambo, women weave the kind of families they want,” Zipporah Atieno always reminded her daughter.
“Safeguard your husband and family from wicked women and unfounded tribal inclinations,” Zipporah would advise.
“Adhiambo, you are now a mother, a woman now, innocent no more. You are no longer an adolescent, green girl,” Zipporah would declare.
“My daughter, Omollo the doctor that your father wanted you to marry has died of AIDS. He was a loose man,” Zipporah told Adhiambo over the phone one day.
“Surely, how can a Luo girl beat us in marital conspiracies? How come Mwaura never call us anymore? We never receive a call or help from Mwaura these days. Where was Adhiambo while we were struggling to educate Mwaura? No…no…no…Adhiambo is not a good woman. We must act before it is too late,” Wangu told her husband one day.
“I also feel bad that my son has been henpecked by Adhiambo. It will take quick action to save Mwaura from that wicked woman. I vow in the name of Ngai, the god of Kirinyaga. I vow in the hallowed mountain of our ancestors that Adhiambo will leave Mwaura, my son, alone.” Karanja declared.
“You are right my husband. Mwaura cannot marry a school dropout. But even then, I got a very good idea. I have done my homework very well. Through my acquaintances, I have found a girl from our tribe. She has been to the university and she is a secondary school teacher. I now believe that Mwaura will not resist our wise move,” Wangu vowed.
“Wonderful. Do as occasion serves and get her here for an interview and dialogue,” Karanja said.
“I am told she is good, with good looks and character. We can bring her over for dialogue and see how things play out,” Wangu revealed to her husband.
“Tracy Wairimu, the secondary school teacher came to Karanja’s home courtesy of Wangu’s acquaintances. Her towering figure and broad shoulders were enough to convince Wangu that Mwaura would fall for her. Her broad light-skinned face with the high cheekbones was matched with luxuriant, expertly-styled hair. It gave her a unique beauty that was a force to reckon with. She wore an expensive outfit— a gorgeous sky-blue skirt suit. She walked with a gait that showed class and decorum.
On this Saturday, Mwaura had been duped into believing that her mother Wangu was sickly to death. “Mwaura, if you do not come over to see me by tomorrow, then do not attend my burial,” Wangu had told Mwaura over the phone. Waithera, the link to Adhiambo and Mwaura had been sent on a phony mission to an aunt far away somewhere in the Rift Valley. She had time and again been suspected of divulging vital information to Mwaura and Adhiambo. Waithera would be castigated by her mother for being Mwaura and Adhiambo’s mole. But Waithera would deny any involvement.
“I hope you will come back safely Mwaura. I hope it is as serious and genuine as it sounds from your folks,” Adhiambo beseeched Mwaura.
“I hope so my beloved wife Adhiambo. Whatever it is, we will remain a family,” Mwaura said.
Mwaura drove to Gikambura and was at home by 9 am. He was met by a vast multitude of women and his heart sank. “My God, I hope mum has not passed on. I hope dad has not passed on,” Mwaura looked perturbed as he inquired of the proceedings.
It had been some years since Mwaura last came to his home. The solemnly-looking women were not saying anything and Mwaura could not see his mother. And as he was ushered in, her mother came before Mwaura in tears. She hugged Mwaura and both broke down in tears.
“Tracy, this is our son engineer Mwaura. He works in the city and we have called you over since you are a university graduate. You are learned, bright and beautiful and would be a good match for Mwaura. Please think on these lines and let’s get your views,” The spokeswoman was not mincing her words.
This operation had been tagged, “Operation-bring-Mwaura-back-Home-from-Adhiambo’s-Grip-by-Whatever-Means.”
“Our son, your mother and I have been in tears since you never visit home. Your wedding to that Luo girl is an abomination to our tribe and we cannot condone it. Whatever that girl did to you has come to a perpetual end. We have learned girls like Tracy here and she can make a good wife,” The spokeswoman was now on fire.
“We beg you to do away with that woman so as to appease the gods of your father. We are happy that you heeded the call of your mother from her deathbed. Please, let not the curse of your father and mother befall you. Traditions are still powerful even in these days of development,” The woman was done.
“Several elders were called upon to speak to Mwaura. They slaughtered a goat and sprinkled Mwaura with tatha-the bad-smelling manure from the goat’s entrails. Mwaura had to be cleansed and cleansed he was. Prayers were made for Mwaura and Tracy and a rope tied around their waists declaring them husband and wife. A protest by Mwaura against such mistreatment was met with threats by the elders and his age mates. Mwaura looked like a lamb for slaughter.
“It is beyond my ken. It is beyond my principles,”Mwaura was just quiet and overwhelmed.
“Tracy and Mwaura, you can now exchange your phone numbers,” one elder said.
And as the drinking and merrymaking continued, Mwaura got a chance to look at Tracy and his head whirled. Tracy was beautiful and very calm.
“Mwaura, mistakes are normal in life but as for me, I love you very much. I have always prayed that I get married to a graduate. And now you are a godsend. Whatever happened is now water under the bridge and I believe we will make a good family,” Tracy’s smile mushroomed on her face and Mwaura went crazy.
“Now I realize the mistake I made by marrying Adhiambo. Traditions are dear. Traditions are the foundation of any community. I will see how I go about getting rid of Adhiambo. No … I will not get rid of her … she will be my second wife …. she will still be my … no, I am now confused,” Mwaura, like a chameleon on the back of a zebra was confused. Here was the charming Tracy and at home was the beautiful and loyal Adhiambo.
And after Mwaura drove back to the city, he looked as confused as ever. On arrival, Adhiambo was there to usher him in but he realized Mwaura was now a changed man.
“What is it that they did to you? Did you fall into a cattle shed since your clothes are smelling of cow poop?” Adhiambo’s questions were coming fast and furious but Mwaura was not answering them anymore.
“Let me bathe and go to sleep for a rest. We will talk tomorrow,” Mwaura said.
“Baba Samantha, I need an assurance from you that our marriage will not be wrecked by this Tracy girl. I need your protection now than ever before. If you swing towards the direction of your people, then I will not wait to be humiliated. If you decide that I am your legally-wedded wife, then I will hang on. What is your take baba, Samantha?” Adhiambo asked Mwaura after Waithera had told her of what had happened when Mwaura had gone to his father’s home. Waithera had by now returned from her orchestrated sham mission.
Mwaura changed and started keeping to himself. Adhiambo was also troubled. She decided to win the soul of Mwaura back. Mwaura started drinking and coming home later. He would be away from home over the weekends with Tracy.
Adhiambo kept her hopes alive by making Mwaura good food. She would fear that probably her cooking had become rustic. She held on to the axiom that the way to a man’s soul is through his stomach. She, therefore, decided to use food offering to win Mwaura back. She would prepare tilapia fish and leave it to marinate in a mixture of freshly squeezed juice. The fish would be dressed in crushed cloves and grated ice so as to yield a spice. The aroma of spices and cooking would waft out of her kitchen window in an inquisitive wind. The aroma would drift over her neighbors’ windows. She would make Mwaura the best pilau and wait for him to come home and have supper together. But Mwaura would be away with Tracy drinking.
“… Mwaura in a coma … since the accident … brain damaged. Not sure will come out of it … awful sight …. Muthaiga Police Station.” These words by an anonymous caller who was gasping for breath out of shock caused Adhiambo to lose consciousness.
Adhiambo fell on the carpet in their sitting room and didn’t know what was happening for a long time. After she had regained consciousness, she called her neighbour who drove her to Muthaiga Police Station. What she saw was death. Mwaura’s Mercedes Benz 240 Compressor had been compressed into scrap. He was trying to overtake another car as he came to tell her later. The car, moving at top speed swayed from one side of the road to the other. It zigzagged like a threatened gazelle. It finally hit a pothole and rolled.It was a total write off. Thank goodness Mwaura had not been fatally injured. He was pulled out of the wreckage alive, at least. Then the policeman using the alcoblow – the handheld breath alcohol tester – found that Mwaura’s spirit, soul, and body were soaked in alcohol.
The breathalyzer showed that 4200mls of deep lung air in Mwaura contained the same amount of alcohol as 2mls of blood. That was an awkward intoxication. That was committing suicide.
“Getting behind the wheel in that state was suicidal,” the traffic police officer indicated in the occurrence book.
“This man put every other motorist in danger and was driving during late hours. He is a very careless driver,” the policeman summed up. The policeman was angry as he took Mwaura to hospital.
Getting to the police station in her neighbor’s car, Adhiambo was shocked out of her skin. The mangled wreck of their Benz caused her to wail.
“I curse you, Tracy. You have killed my husband. Woooi! May you also be visited by the same fate,” Adhiambo sobbed.
And as the policemen comforted her, Adhiambo continued sobbing while her neighbor drove her to Night Visual Hospital.
“I was evil. They confused me with that Tracy girl. It is over with her. Forgive me mama Samantha,”Mwaura begged.
Mwaura’s head was bandaged while he lay in his hospital bed.
“Your food is quite delicious. Your cooking is just good my dear,” Mwaura would adjudge.
“Thanks my hubby for that is what diversity brings to life,” Adhiambo would respond.
Times changed and hard economic times arrived. Kadibo who had vowed never to set his foot in his daughter’s house swallowed his pride. He planned to seek for a truce. Cows and goats had died in Bondo due to a drought that year. Food to eat had become a problem. At the same time, Mwaura’s father was going through a rough patch educating his last two boys. They both needed school fees and Mwaura and Adhiambo — the disowned children had the money.
“I was foolish to have acted the way I had acted,” Kodibo admitted during the reconciliatory-dowry-payment day.
“I have seen my mistake and I am happy to meet Karanja, my in-law,” Kodibo pleaded like the prodigal son.
“We have wasted precious time fighting over trivial issues. And while we were away, Samantha was born and is now an active toddler. Now she has a brother who I vehemently declare will carry my name ‘Anthony Karanja’. Now it is time to heal.” Karanja said.
Kodibo and Karanja hugged for long while the rest of the people praised the Lord.
At last, Samantha too, recovered her rightful middle name “Wangu”, after her grandmother. She became Samantha Wangu Mwaura. And from the hostile Kikuyu woman of yesterday, Wangu became a saint. After the meeting, Adhiambo’s father pocketed his one hundred thousand shillings dowry while Karanja received thirty thousand shillings school fees for his two boys.
Wangu, Adhiambo’s mother-in-law was heard by Waithera praising her for once:
“Adhiambo is indeed a good cook. She is educated, caring and very bright. She has money. She has a big job. She has a boy and a girl. My son Mwaura made the best choice.”
Adhiambo would laugh and think of how quickly the human mind changes.
“For sure, man is a very intriguing creature, “Adhiambo would declare.
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