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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Memories of Yesterday

I remember the last time I met him, before he went to rest with his ancestors. I had always loved going to see the old man, unlike my siblings who preferred to stay back and enjoy the flashing lights and tasteful decoration in the town during the Christmas period. To this day, I can’t explain why the desire to see him always gripped me. After spending time with him, I would have the sense that my existence didn’t really matter; that my knowledge fell short of some unknown mysteries. He told me stories of a world gone by, of my heritage, and of the painful losses that he had endured over the years. He told me of what I was, and what I could be. And on that last day I saw him, I understood what why my mother cried when he died, why she was the daughter he never had, and he, the father she never had.

On that last warm December morning, I went, as usual, to milk his goats. When I walked into his compound, I saw him sitting outside his mud-thatched hut, smoking a pipe and holding on to his rod. He was wrapped in his goatskin shuka, and spat intermittently as he pulled deeply on his tobacco pipe. Seeing me walk into his compound, he motioned me slowly to approach him, and asked me to sit down at his feet. I was surprised at this order, considering that I always only greeted him before proceeding to milk the goats. My heart began racing. I instinctively knew that he didn’t have good news for me. After all, his health had been deteriorating over the years, and his cataracts were slowly blinding him. Before I slept every night, I would ask God for long life, imploring him to extend the years of the old man. But I knew I couldn’t bargain for too long, and that one day, death would visit me.

“One day I will be gone,” he began, confirming my worst fears. I looked up to him and grunted an inaudible “yes”.

“See that stretch of land,” he said, motioning to the vast expanse beyond his own land. “It belonged to the father before the father of my great-grandfather. But he came and took it all away. I’m sorry that your children’s inheritance will be smaller.” As he said this, his eyes filled with tears, and one drop betrayed the turmoil that seemed to engulf him in his sunset years. My grandfather, whom I had never seen cry, intimated to me how his own father fought to retain his land, but was forced into servitude as a cook when the white master took over.

“We did our best child. But life has proved to be the winner. And his children are still there, and they have big cars, and fly in vessels in the air…”

“But grandfather we have a car too, and I go to school in America!” I exclaimed, reminding him that we had managed to come to the level of his former oppressors.

“I know, but where is your heritage now? You just started learning your mother-tongue, and your cousins have begun forgetting the past. You are the only one who’s interested in listening to an old man and I don’t know why.”

I was muted to shame. I didn’t know how to answer him, but I knew he was saying the truth. How do you explain the loss of a man who can’t be able to give his posterity the same gifts that his ancestors accorded him? How do you explain the loss in the richness of an entire generation?

“I’m sorry” I whispered, as tears began to trickle down my cheeks. He didn’t answer me. He stretched out his right hand, placed it on my forehead, and muttered a few words. I looked up to him, breathing in the warm tobacco-laced breath hanging over my face, and I knew that he had blessed me.

A few months later, he died peacefully in his sleep. I cried myself to sleep that night, wondering how I would continue my exploration of my past, and fearing that the “pull” within me would also die. I covered my eyes when they lowered him into his grave, and when we had to throw lumps of soil over his coffin. I continued covering my eyes in the next few months, so that I could clearly call to mind his image, and mull over the moments that I had with him, fleeting as they were.

The next Christmas, I went back to visit him, although I knew that this time, no one would be there. But I wanted to continue taking care of his goats, milking them faithfully each morning. I remember that first morning, when I walked to his hut with the fearful knowledge that I would see a ghost, and the more gut-wrenching knowledge that he was gone for good. I stopped for a few moments before his hut, and watched in consternation as a fat brown frog hopped in front of his hut. I laughed momentarily recalling that the frog was the symbol of the clan, and that many people had claimed with certainty that my grandfather would return in the form of a frog, and that from that time onwards, I was not allowed to kill any frogs. I looked intently into the frog’s eyes, wondering if I could see the glint in my grandfather’s eyes, or the yellow cataracts that had deteriorated his vision. Nothing. I couldn’t trace any of his spirit. But something more hopeful blossomed within me. I felt the “pull” within me strengthen, and suddenly, plans converged in my head, an idea for the future, and a wild hope for reclaiming that which had been lost.

“I’ll teach my children about you, and about our dignified past,” I promised myself, as I skipped over to the goat pen with the new hope in my chest.

“I’ll live out my heritage, with pride, until I sit again at your feet in the land of your ancestors.”

**This is a fictional story inspired by the movie Milking the Rhino. But that doesn’t make it any less true**


  1. Jerotich, this is so profound. And the note at the end is most mysterious,it'll take me more readings to figure out the meaning(s).

  2. Better half,this is so touching and very inspirational! Words of wisdom to posterity...:-) reminded me of my late grandfather :'-) very wise!

    1. thanks dear! it haunts me how much 'old knowledge' is being lost, and the question of regret is one that I grapple with a lot, and hence, one that I write about a lot too.

  3. I think I have a miriam..your really good:)...this is soo inspiring..I just had my gran in mind the whole time..this year..I must visit even if it means going by myself...n this time no casual talk...I would really get know my grandfolks thankyou

    1. Thanks for reading! :D (sorry for the super-late reply)