Written by: Archie Okeyo
Follow her on twitter: @herhar
Anna: That’s all I can remember.
She asked me ‘how can you change the past?’ I looked at her coffee brown eyes. She had her hands folded across her chest. Her hair was neatly braided. She had a brown sweater on. I could see her belly: firm and round, almost bulging. I looked into the horizon and held my breath. She was standing before me. She was beautiful and her voice mellow. The wind carried her voice away. She talked about the truth. She talked about ‘us.’ She talked about the good times. I listened to her even though my back was facing her. I stood there ready to turn. She asked ‘what happened to all that?’ Then I saw her. Have you ever seen Death? I mean looked into her eyes and known that no matter what you said she’d got you good. I say death is a woman; because only she can be beautiful and determined. Only a woman can bring a man to his knees. I loved Anna. I still do. But how can I change the past? You change it by reliving it. I drove to Kisumu that evening. She was standing there waiting for an answer. I walked out on her. That was the biggest mistake of my life. But like my Father used to say, a real man knows when to walk away. She is Mrs. Anna Otieno now. She is my brother’s wife. He is the other twin. I am happy for her; I am not happy for him. Things were good back then. I was happy and so was she. I am a Farmer now.
I have a confession to make. I know that every family has secrets, but there’s nothing as bad as each member having their own secrets too. My Brother, Robert, says ‘this is Kenya; everyone has secrets, what counts is who takes his to the grave.’ He is right, but Robert is my twin. He is the guy who can pass as me. What tells us apart is a scar, a black patch on my back-and who can see my back when I have clothes? My Mother knows us from our voice. She says one speaks from the soul the other from his mouth. I am honored to admit that I am the former. How stupid of me to be taking credit! It is the only thing that stops me from admitting that I was hurt by my brother. Sure enough, it is easy to write, but to say? To face Robert and tell him he hurt me, is another thing. I walked away and he stood up for Anna. I am honored to be the man who will stand by his brother and affirm his love for the woman we both know I love. I bet now you are thinking, ‘being a man is tough!’ It sure is, and it gets worse when all you have to do is smile and act as though everything is fine. It is worst if the man that pulls the trigger is your blood brother, the one whom you’d still take that bullet for. So now you know my poison, I will tell you about my pleasure. I used to be a cook. I hear they call some chefs now. I still cook, but back then it was what I lived for. I cooked in a simple restaurant in town. I made the dishes and got paid. My shift started from 6:00am to 10:00pm. I would then cross the road to Gill House and board a matatu heading to BuruBuru. It’d take me twenty minutes to get home at night, but I loved the thrill. My Father used to tell us that love is like madness; only the mad know what it means to love. I loved cooking so much that I had to watch The Food Channel before I slept. I never made supper because I took my meal at the restaurant before leaving. It was always that simple.
No one in the family understood why I settled for less, yet I was the best. Truth is I didn’t settle I was just getting started. Robert on the other hand became a lawyer. Father was so proud the day he got sworn in as an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya that he offered him a cheque of twenty thousand shillings! Mom was overcome with joy we thought her cheeks would bulge. Father never gave you more than three thousand shillings. We all toasted to Robert’s success. I was the one who cooked all the meals we had that afternoon. Robert joked that he might marry me if he never found a woman. So, that’s how it began. When Robert started making more money than me, my Father kept pushing me to work harder or get a good job. I listened to what he said, but also acknowledged what he left unsaid. In his mind Robert was better than me. In his heart- he wanted sons who made more money. Mom never said much, but in her own way, she’d often say ‘your Father is right, you are a better cook than your old Mother, why don’t you apply for a job at a bigger restaurant or a five-star hotel that’d pay you more?’ I listened to her too, but with time I decided to stay put. I worked hard at the restaurant because I loved being there. I never told them that I had opened three cake shops in: Buruburu, Donholm, and Embakasi.
I never told them that from these shops I made more money than they could ever imagine. The only man that inspired me was my Grandfather. He knew my Father was tough on us. He also knew that we were smarter than him and of a different generation. So, one time he called me and said he wanted to bless me before he died. Anyone who gets such a call knows that you dash home lest you be cursed by the dying! I did just that. He was smoking a cigarette and telling the shepherd to take the cows down to the Lake. He hated cows, because they couldn’t stop chewing. He’d look at the cows and say, ‘cows are just like women! They never know when to let go, look at that ugly black cow, it reminds me of the days when women actually obeyed their men-those were the days, that was love, not this endless chewing, aargh!’ I walked up to him and he smiled. He spat out “so you’ve come to say good bye eh…well, I have bad news for you, that Angel- the one that made Zachariah blind, that Angel…eeh what’s the name of that fool? Eh…eh…”
“Gabriel and it was God that made Zachariah blind Grandfather.”
“Yes, that one-wait, is it him? Well, that fool, he showed up this morning when I was trying to shut my eyes and said that the Angel of Death is still held up in Iraq. He will be here when he can, and that might take a while.”
“I am glad to hear that Grandfather.”
“Stop being nice! Have you been castrated? Call me Tito!”
“Yes Tito and I brought you three packs of cigarettes. I know Embassy Lights are your favorite.”
“Three? The child, where is your Mother I piss on her head? How can you bring shame to this home? I smoke a pack every day and you dare bring only three! Better go back to that kitchen of yours and heat your brains!”
“I also brought you that jacket you wanted and a crate of beer is that still shameful?”
“Bless you my Grandson, I kept telling your Mother that you were the only Man of that house, not that one that cannot keep quiet, here sit down and tell me all about your wicked Father and the many times he’s tried to kill my favorite Grandson.” That is how our relationship was sealed. Tito, my Paternal Grandfather, always had answers for everything. He never minced his words. When he died he left his farm and thirty five cattle to me. No one objected to this because he had called a clan meeting and made his wishes clear. Father hated farming and he didn’t mind. His other siblings were busy with their lives to worry about cattle. The only thing he asked for was that I be the one to inherit all his wealth. Of course being a twenty seven year old with my career set in Nairobi this came as a shock. It was even worse that he died three days after I had visited him. So, three months after his funeral I relocated home. I had enough money to renovate his house and demolish some unused structures. It also gave me the chance to learn about cows and why he hated them so much. He also left behind a plot in Kisumu for Robert. Robert sold this plot of land to me of course and that’s where my Cake Shop is. I make my cakes and deliver them to Kisumu and its environs then drive home. At times I sleep in the shop especially when schools are closed and people want more cookies and cakes. Back at home, life was tough at first, but people welcomed me. Mama Nyabose taught me how to make ghee and it has helped my business. I always bake loaves for sale and this has the shepherd making extra money every day as he delivers to the homes. The shopkeepers hate me for this, but I learned that if you can’t play the game, you’d better quit! So, I am home. I watch the sun set from the place my Grandfather, Tito, used to sit and smile. At times I recall what he used to tell us, ‘if you can’t keep your head up, then you’d better chop it off.’ Other times he would make some rude comments about women that made us cringe, and then he’d laugh at how stupid we were. Father said he became bitter when our Grandmother died, who knew death could change people that much?
Every one has a story. Some tell their stories but others never master the courage to do that. In the end, it’s just a world full of stories. Tito knew what was happening between me and Robert. He saw it from our childhood. He’d often say that we were nations at war, and the war would end when one killed the other. I don’t believe him. We are brothers and I would rather die than fight Robert. I realized this when I walked away from Anna that evening. I am a coward because part of me knows that the old man was right and doesn’t want to accept it. I love Robert that is why I can take anything he throws at me. He called me last night. The phone rang at 11:30pm. I have often believed that any call received past 10:30pm bears bad news. I was right too. He was calling from the office to tell me some good news. They were getting married. Anna had finally said ‘yes.’ He was too happy to keep quiet with the news. Of course Anna wanted to tell me, but she’s been so busy with the preparations that he had to break the news. I congratulated him and told him if he needed anything he knew I had his back.
He laughed and said they’d be coming home over the weekend. He wanted to know if I could make it to our parents’ house in Kisumu. I laughed at this and told him it was only an hour away. He got into the farming life and asked me if I needed any seeds or fertilizer from Nairobi. I needed some for spring onions, but I told him I was fine. He wished me a good night and hung up. My day just began after that I hung up. I have never baked from midnight till dawn. I did just that and only stepped out at 6:00am when the shepherd was coming into the house for the milk jug. He didn’t ask me what was wrong. He only said ‘you are worse than my Mom, Richard, why would you wake up at midnight to cook?’
I smiled at him and joined him in the shed. He started milking the fussy white cow while I went for the grey one. I couldn’t stop thinking about Anna. If I were to tell you how we met, you’d probably think of me as a fool for having walked away. You would be right. So, that was how my day started. It was a Friday and I knew I had to be at my parents’ house the next day. I would wait for them to hear the news then go on. I did not want another comparison talk because it felt as though my Father had a son in Robert and a retard in me. My Mom had sons one was fast the other was sweet. I happened to be the sweet one. She’d often mock me by saying I reeked of cow dung! Father would only look up from his newspaper and ask, ‘did you bring me a slice of my favorite cake?’ I would hand it to him and he’d praise me till he finished it. When he was done, he’d go back to his old self. He would ask me if any woman would want to marry a Farmer. One evening he told me, “Richard, do you know what breaks my heart about you? I bet you don’t, but the thing is, you gave up too soon. It’s like you just decided to live a life of ‘let come, what may,’ and nothing ever gets to you, unlike Robert who strives for something-you just sit there and wait, and sad thing is I don’t know what you are waiting for.” You know, if you even checked me up on Facebook, you’ll see that I have said I am an enigma even to myself. I don’t blame my Father for saying that. He calls it as he sees it. I keep my secrets because I have my goals too. I don’t want to tell the world about them. I don’t want to be answerable to anyone but me, that’s why some things I’d rather have them unknown. Like Tito used to say, ‘it takes a man to know when to keep his mouth shut.’
I know I will have to face Anna. I know that she’ll look at me and wonder why I gave up on ‘us.’ Just like I said, some secrets are taken to the grave, because that’s where they belong. I am glad she’s with Robert now. I know she will raise their child to be a better man than his Father. So, she asked me, “How can one change the past?”
My answer to her is “by letting it stay there…in the past.”
- (Weird) Short story: The cows will safely graze (upmic.wordpress.com)