I stood khwitiki-ii (behind the house), craning my neck, looking beyond Papa Juma’s cowshed. The sun was now opening its eyes with vibrancy, ready to look at everything below it. Its rays shore through the holes in my father’s house. I was in a kitenge, sewed by auntie Caro. Senge Caro lives just beyond River Nzoia, when you pass mukasa’s compound. It is whispered that this Mukasa has roving eyes. My day was neigh. Dowry was on the way. Daughter of the land would be given away to another home. I was nervous. What if my lover changes his mind? What if he doesn’t show up? What shame would it be!
During the last circumcision, people ridiculed me. And it was all Saulo’s fault. This man, an epitome of wasted mating and an example of failure had come home twice and offered father 5 goats. When father declined, Saulo, being the soloist in circumcision songs, composed a song about me. That my breasts are shriveling and look like dried guavas, that my legs cannot support pregnancy, that I have been in the city and abandoned the ways of my people, that my buttocks have adapted a the shape of a grinding stone. And when the dancers passed by my father’s compound, they sang at the top of their voices, “oyaya Naswa, se umba sindu” and they would dance on our gate, shouting and jeering.
Simiyu’s people were coming home at last. Simiyu hailed from a faraway village in East Bukusu and his clan was famous for hunting. His father, the great hunter Okumu, was said to have killed 3 antelopes on the same day. He even killed several hippos in River Nzoia. Simiyu was equally good, but he had received formal education and worked with the government. He had big eyes and a lean body and when he spoke; his voice was calm and low. And when he laughed, my soul rejoiced. His teeth were neatly arranged on his gum and his lips covered them decently.
My mother and aunties were running around with lessos tied around their waists. Food was in plenty. There was matoke, the brown ugali, smoked beef, dried fish, mandazi, chapatti, namasaka, sucha, dodo, mitoo… They had woken up at 3 am to start preparing for my guests. Senge Rael was present too. Even Senge Rose and Senge Anna. They are the greatest cooks around besides my mother and are always called to all functions to cook ugali and smoked beef. My sisters and cousins Namarome, Maggy and Jaki were there, sweeping the compound and splitting firewood. My brothers were moving around the compound, ensuring everything was in order. My uncles sat in the main house talking excitedly and discussing about me. My father was fidgeting and pacing around the house. He was overly quiet and lost in thoughts. He was probably remembering the first day he took me to school and I grabbed his leg screaming, refusing to let go. Or he was remembering how I would convulse when I was 8 months and stay in hospital for months. Or maybe was remembering when I was an adolescent and I told him he is old-fashioned.
Soon, we heard a procession, whistling, shouting and singing as dust rose to the sky. My peaceful village came to a standstill. The ground shook. We could hear hooting on motorbikes as they escorted the procession. Motorbikes always provide escort to anybody who wants a crowd. Young children were shouting and singing at the top of their voices too, praising my lover. At first the sounds were gibberish but as they approached I could hear praises,
“Simiyu’s voice is like litungu, fine and delicate timbre”
“When he walks, trees sway in his praise”
“He works hard and his hand is rough like calabash leaves”
“Akenda nga etaiwa.” (He walks like a cock.)
Then the soloist among the young men asks, “If you were Naswa, would you say yes or no?” and they all chorused “yeees”. Another one shouts,
“Naswa’s feet touch the ground delicately”
“Her laughter awakes the dead”
I was laughing behind the toilet nodding my head. What makes them think I can’t say no? What makes them too sure my father would not reject him? They drove heads of cattle into our compound amidst ululations. I could see my young lover. His head was clean-shaven and his forehead reflected rays. He was nervous, I could tell because he kept scratching his head. He looked more handsome with his nervousness. He was accompanied by 3 uncles, his 2 brothers and 2 cousins and two additional men who drove the cows.
My mother emerged from nowhere and grabbed my hand. “You need to stay in your room and don’t come out. You are not available to anyone.”
My clans people welcomed them into the house and without wasting time, the session kicked off. There is no beating around the bush.
Papa Luchera was the first person to speak. He is our clan’s spokesperson.
“Welcome, fellow elders and young men. They say, when you sire a girl, she brings riches.” The sitting giggled. “But it should be noted that in our clan, we are beyond rich. We do not rely on people to make us rich” he turned and cast an eye on Simiyu, sitting quietly, humbly. Papa Luchera is witty and always sugar-coats lies. The truth is that he was excited that this delegation had come to pay dowry and he was happier that one bull was his. Whenever he was drunk, he would praise his wife for giving him 9 daughters, but when sober, he praised his sons.
“We have seen the commotion you created as you came here. And we want to know what brings you here today” he said and turned to his left where Simiyu and his people were sitting.
At this point, it is obvious they have come to bring dowry, but it needs to be repeated.
One elderly man stands, supporting himself heavily on his walking stick. “I greet you, my fellow elders.” He said as he curtsied. “My name is Kundu. Kuristofa Kundu. I am the spokes.” His voice was tired, probably from many horn-blowing sessions. He was not strong and he might live for the next two years maximum. His hair was white and he was sweating. But he remained calm and bold. As he spoke, you could tell that this was not his first dowry negotiation session. “My son came to me many moons ago and whispered, father, ‘I have found a woman and I want to make her my wife.’ And who doesn’t want a wife? Who doesn’t want to have a family? I was happy with my son. Nowadays, young people are crafty and slimy.” My father had not spoken or moved. It felt like he was a statue. He was quiet. Kundu Kuristofa adjusted his walking stick and straitened his old coat. “I asked my son, do you know her clan? He said yes, that she is from a faraway clan, beyond Mwibale rock. And that her clan is of the great Wefwafwa who build the first church in the village.”
The other elders nodded. He had his facts right. He had done his research. “We all knew of the great Wefwafwa and the great Mayi Puriska. My son said, we must make haste and go see her father, before any other person tries to steal her. She is a very beautiful and hardworking woman who digs till the sun goes to sleep.” These words were amusing and meant to flatter the girl’s father. The elders laughed when he said “…before any other person tries to steal her”. They laughed heartily and my uncle Nabiswa shouted “that’s right! This girl is on demand”. Kundu melted back to his seat with pride. Laughter is the best medicine. He had warmed their hearts.
Papa Luchera rose again, “we are happy to hear that. But we are not surprised. Naswa indeed is precious to us and we have no plans of letting her go, because who will till the land, weed and harvest?” he spoke sternly and this is meant to just terrify, intimidate the guests and prepare them for the debate ahead.
“However, girls are like clouds.” He smiles cynically and continues, “They appear and suddenly disappear. Girls are just passers-by. We cannot stick to our daughter, if there is someone who is worthy of taking her.” The delegation smiled. “Kundu, speak to us” Papa Luchera said and gazed at his watch to signify that time is of essence here.
Till now, it should be noted that there have been no introductions. It can only be done after dowry has been agreed and settled on. Otherwise, there is no need to know each other.
Kundu rises again and looks around the room. His eye rests on Simiyu. Then shifts to my father. These two are everything now. They are the deal makers.
“My fellow elders and young men present, people are not rocks. People can talk and reason out. And no man is an island. We need each other, because even when we die, people will bury us. We ask you to be considerate” the room nodded. He paused to give them time to soften their hearts and rethink in case they were planning to demand highly. “We know how many heads we are to bring as the tradition set by our fore fathers. We cannot say that we are in a new era. Traditions need to be observed. My son Simiyu here has studied all books he could. He is wise, bright and went to good schools. He will take good care of your daughter. He knows everything about buildings and roads and has a good income.” This old man fails to say exactly what profession he does, so that my people do not have high demands. But I had already whispered to my father what he does.
“We want to know how much you demand of us.” He dropped the bomb shell.
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