Remembering Reba Kong’ani

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When Reba Kong’ani called Sulwe FM last Friday, during “Omundu No Mundu Wewe” show hosted by Kuka Kisondio, I was sure it was her, just by her boisterous intro! Over 20 years have lapsed since I saw or heard of her. Her voice hadn’t changed a bit. She was in high spirits, as if blessings had camped in her household. Did she move to Uganda? Did she get married to Mr. Wanyonyi?

Her introductory statement as she called this FM radio during the 8.00pm show was one of kind, her language flowery, just like the old days:

Eh, kukaa!”

Her sharp voice cuts through my quiet living room, you would think she had just spotted glittering gold in her backyard.

Ese Reba we Fuchani! Mwichukhulu namba mocha we kuka Kong’ani Pepela we Mwibale, omwana wa obasia Nabongolo Kong’ani!”

(To mean, I am Reba from Fuchani, the 1st grandchild of Kong’ani Pepela from Mwibale and daughter of the priest, Nabongolo Kong’ani!)

Reba was that girl every parent warned their children about. She was a turbulent ocean, always rising, falling. Sometimes she was cool, like a dormant volcano. Most of the times however, she was a hurricane, a tornado, a quake and an erupting volcano, all in one. Her energy was atomic and her spirit seldom damped. She was defiant, awesomely defiant and totally untamed. Her mother, Mayi Masibayi had given up on her. Her father had asked his ancestors uncountable times to collect her. That it was better if he remained childless.

Her father was the priest of the most popular church in the village: African Divine Church. It was whispered at night when roasting maize around the heathen, that this Obasia (overseer/priest) still consulted his ancestors. It wasn’t wrong anyway, only that the way he held his tattered bible, you were sure he breathed, ate and lived the Word. Half of his followers, if not all, still poured libations and invited ancestors for dinner. My mother was such. Just before planting maize, she would slaughter a chicken and put the entire creature at the corner of our house, leave the door open overnight for our sleeping ancestors to visit and consume the chicken. In return, we would get bountiful harvest. His followers were adamant about denouncing traditional circumcision. They still allowed their children to play the chinyimba and partake in the festival of foreskin healing. The Obasia attended the festivals too! He too, was just another hurricane like Reba.

Reba had many cases at the Mukasa’s office. The office had an old wooden door that seemed to have existed ever since the days of Mwambu and Sela. The floor was smeared with cow dung and two dusty benches settled on the floor. The benches had seen all sorts of asses and as such, had loosened so that sometimes, these benches pinched sitters. It wasn’t a new occurrence when a victim would erupt from the bench, unexpectedly after getting pinched, in the middle of serious sessions. The corrugated iron sheets above always threatened to fly away with the wind. This office was one of the lucky 3 buildings in the village that had iron sheets. The lizards or geckos would fall from the roof uncountable number of times during serious sessions when the old chief was reading the verdict. Often, it was a heifer which was the fine, a cock, a she-goat, korokoros of maize.  Reba’s father had paid lots of fines because of her wild behavior. He hoped her dowry would compensate for all the damages, if at all, any man wanted this wild daughter.

If she had not beaten a poor child and snatched his tyre, she had stolen maize, groundnuts, cassavas or sugarcane. If she hadn’t stolen, she had disrespected an elder by refusing to let them get priority at the water point. If she hadn’t disrespected an elder, she had peeped at boys showering up stream and had been caught red-handed. If she wasn’t a peeping Tom, she had disappeared for hours and resurfaced in the evening. By now, her mother was wailing and bringing Fuchani village to a standstill. The Obasia would be praying she never returns. Reba would return with unbelievable talks of the neighboring villages and towns.

In school, she had once made away with a whole cartoon of Moi’s Maziwa ya nyayo and the entire school was baying for her blood. Thankfully, the headmaster Mr. Wanyonyi had noticed how endowed she was and did not want to burn bridges with this teenager. Perhaps he was the only soul in the village who tolerated her. Reba was simply a whirl wind. A bird that couldn’t simply perch.

We slept hungry on uncountable number of times because of Reba.  One time was because we went to the posho mill, owned by the headmaster, Mr. Wanyonyi and thought the queue was too long. We put our bikono (baskets) in the queue and decided to go and eat some black plums, quite far from the market center. The fruits were too sweet and made our brains too sweet to think. Heavy rain started out of the blues and we took shelter under the msemwa tree that we had been eating from. By the time it subsided and we ran to the mill, we found it closed. That the diesel had run out and the headmaster would go to Bungoma town the next day to buy it. We stared at the deserted building, balancing tears. At home, I was beaten to a point of insanity. My family was forced to eat arrow roots for supper. I watched them crush those tubers one by one and was sent to bed hungry, with insults, grief and lamentations of how arrow roots couldn’t substitute ugali. At 5 am, I was up, heading to the headmaster, Mr. Wanyonyi’s posho mill. The only one in the entire locale. Reba had been chased by the Obasia and told she could only return, if she produced flour. Mr Wanyonyi couldn’t be happier.

The year is 1970s.

One time while in the 7th grade in Fuchani Primary school, which is just by the dusty road, connecting 12 villages, Reba ran to my home and apprised me of my crush’s whereabouts. Enoka Wepundi had gone down the river, khuaya chikhafu (to graze cows).  According to Reba’s sonic eardrums, he had whistled suggestively.

It was on a Sunday. My mother had gone to Divine church up the tiny hill. ADC had a way of retaining souls in church and once you stepped into that church, you would only come to your senses in the evening. Patience would descend on the faithfuls and the pastor would become very interesting until they lost a sense of time. I think ADC was a cult. No member would ever leave this church. Perhaps it was because of the huge drums and the able drummers who would hit that thing, as if lynching a wizard. He would dance, a strap around his chest and the drum resting across the chest and stomach.  Another drum with a tinnier drum would jump, circling his arm around the drum and hitting it wildly too, producing a higher pitch. The two men excited the congregation and they danced like David. The pastor would be sent into a fit and start chanting. Some afterwards, half of his followers would get possessed and dance to a point of no return.

On that Sunday, I knew my mother would not come home until 5pm, which was the time we had to milk our cows Siti, Khakasa and Miriamu. The pastor would risk losing milk, if he did not release my mother at 5. He would get milk for free. Pastor duties came with benefits.

We decided to follow Wepundi to the river because Reba insisted that, his whistle was a hopeful one, directing us to follow him down the river. Reba had not gone to church because she had a bad toothache. Obasia grudgingly let her stay home. I had not gone to church because someone needed to tether the cows, give them nappier grass and water. As the eldest daughter, who was hoping for a good husband, I was to take care of everything. The old man wasn’t home and my brothers were too young.

At the grazing field near the river, Wepundi was gazing at our direction and as soon as we bust into view, his shorts bulged at the area in question. He was sweaty and with much gusto, he asked me to follow him. I followed my Wepundi, my heart almost exploding with happiness. He liked me and whatever he wanted, he would have.

The sugarcane was cheering us on as we went deeper. The ground carried us with delicate care. The cows mooed in unison, as if celebrating what was to be our union. Reba Kong’ani stood at the edge of the sugarcane plantation, ensuring Wepundi’s herd did not stray and also surveying any approaching danger. Wepundi was breathing fire, soon after we found a good, safe spot.

“Kau, ese nanu? Mbolele ese nanu?”

To mean, Kau (Gaudencia in full), who I’m I? Tell me, who I’m I? He said as he fumbled with his old short, punctured at the posterior.

“Wepundi. Wepundi.”

I answered, shaking under his weight, my dress pulled up, choking me.

“Enywe! Omundi kha kecha!” (You guys, there is someone approaching.)

Reba shouted, less than one minute since we had entered the sugarcane plantation.

We disentangled quickly and I pulled my dress, Wepundi pulling up his shorts. It did not happen on that day. That Sunday. It would just be a matter of time because que sera sera.

There are numerous reasons why Wepundi made my heart skip mighty beats. Not just my heart, but also Nekesa’s, Njekeche’s, Naswa’s, Masilini’s, Namusie’s and I suspect even Reba’s. His hair was thick, sisal in texture and grew up to his face, only leaving a tiny space for the forehead. His lips were quite thick and his foot as wide as a camel’s. His body had been curved with all dedication and his shoulder blades were pronounced. He was dark, really dark, but his teeth and eyes, white. This gave him a look, close to a legend.

He owned a small radio that used 2 Eveready batteries! There was nothing as exalting as a young man owning a radio. Wepundi’s Sanyo radio could be heard many miles away, threatening the village with Marumbini songs. He was revered. He had bought this radio in Bungoma town, he told us. He had saved enough coins since he was 5 and bought it over 10 years later. Any girl, who managed to have his attention, would be equal to success in the current world.

During the football matches between AFC and Gor Mahia, he would hold the radio on his thighs as the village assembled around him. He stroked his radio and when a goal was almost being scored he would leave his seat as all eyes followed the radio. He tied a rubber band round the radio so that the batteries would not be vomited. When a goal was scored, we would jump and run around, the entire village following him desperately, trying to listen to the commentator and establish who had scored.

Wepundi already had his own few cows, even though he had not yet finished his secondary education at Sikalame secondary school. Many girls wanted him, but he looked my way in more ways that couldn’t be ignored. Sometimes, he would come and help us in the shamba when we were weeding or harvesting. He even mobilized other young men and they would help us in shelling maize.

During disco matanga or village disco organized by young men, he was allowed to be the first one to choose a girl to dance with and had chosen me. Not once, twice, but thrice. I could see Nekesa burning with envy and her protruding buttocks shrunk with disappointment on those nights. I also saw some envy in Reba’s eyes, but she was taken by the young man called Butala who was among the organizers. During those nights, he brought Yvonne Chakachaka’s cassettes and Ntombi Marumbini’s. Sometimes he had Congolese cassettes that sent the young villages into a frenzy. Wepundi will be remembered fondly.

After circumcision, he had healed and on that very night of khualukha, I went for the festival. Nobody missed this festival. Those who had healed were now initiated into adulthood. Many girls got pregnant on that night because the initiates had this uncontainable libido and the women were too willing to quest their fire. As boiled hot bananas flew in the air and eggs were thrown, Wepundi led me to his simba. He was a man now. Somehow, my mother smelt the fire in me and who stormed into the compound. I was fished from his simba half naked and whipped severely. But, it was too late. Wepundi disappeared into the drunken crowd, in the half lit night.

Few days later, I sat behind the black mamba bicycle he borrowed from his uncle. It hurtled through the rough road leading to Bungoma, his elliptical head blocking the dust. We arrived in Bungoma town after so long. The great town where only teachers came and the entire village would send them for torch batteries and fertilizers. That was how I owned my first pair of ngoma rubber shoes. Wepundi gifted me, for making him a full man. Few days later, he joined the army. It would be the last time I saw him, in my youth.

Reba Kong’ani finished her O-level and vanished from the village. It was rumored that she had run away with Mr. Wanyonyi, who had conveniently disappeared too. It was a normal thing to elope. After 3 months, there was no letter sent to her parents. People started whispering that she was not really married, but was in Kampala…

“…Khesiakho khasale khaase Gaudencia Nanjekho kha Mayi Redempta!”

(To mean, please greet my childhood friend, Gaudencia Nanjekho, daughter of Redempta.)

Reba concluded her call. Her closing remarks on the FM radio shake me from my reverie. I scream with excitement as she sends greetings to me and a host of her other friends and relatives. Perhaps she had returned to the Fuchani village at last. I hope she is married to the teacher, somehow.

Officially now…Happy New Year guys! Thank you for stopping by. This year nawaroga na stories, amen?

This entry was posted in People.


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