Having a healthy cheery childhood doesn’t mean being born in Lavington or in Karen or in Runda and brought up under a sedentary babyhood – where you consume all latest classes of fat, where you are dropped and picked from school in a V8, where you just bark orders for everything including wanting your boxers washed by your house help at age 12, and where you ask your dad where the hell Citizen TV gets those photos of a starving kid suckling a dead woman – because to you, hunger and malnutrition are fiction. Neither does a jolly infancy mean being brought up in State House or being born to a famous musician hence spending your entire babyhood under strict guard as if you are the Central Bank of Kenya or something, all that for fear of an abduction or to evade any chances of being slayed by known yet unknown assailants. Similarly, having a cheerful babyhood doesn’t mean being born and bred in some highly congested slum somewhere in Nairobi or in Dadaab refugee camp – where you compete with other kids and with grown ass men and women for things as basic as your mummy’s colostrum. Nooo. That’s not the cheerful childhood I’m talking about.
Instead, a chirpy childhood means alternating your early stages between Ruiru (where your daddy works and resides) and in shagz (where your daddy’s missus lives). So when schools are on, you stay up-country and when holidays ramble in, you relocate to Ruiru.
When you are in Ruiru, you wake up earlier than anybody else in the house and sneak out. I mean, six o’clock must find you at the railway line. You sometimes wake up at 2 a.m. and stay awake till morning, provided few minutes to 6 you are at the railway line. You have to be there and watch the train snake its way in and out of your sight. And you must completely see its last cabin off before turning your eyes and running home. After disentangling your eyes from the disappearing train, you always notice several kids of about your age around you. Turns out they are always here for the same mission – to see the garimoshi. So again you make new friends here, besides the friends from your estate.
During one of your numerous railway morning visits, Nick tells you something worth pinning your ears back. He says that if you brought a needle and placed it on the rail, the train will slide and overturn upon its rims stepping on it. Is there any Nairobi kid that will not fancy such a brilliant idea? I mean, come on! Which Nairobi kid doesn’t want to see how trains roll? Who doesn’t want to witness the long huge thing overturn by merely stepping on a pin, a needle? So one of you offers to steal their mother’s needle tomorrow morning. He sure does. You all gather around one rail bar and strategically position your needle. Seconds later, you hear the garimoshi hoot its way in. You pace about four meters away and chortle and laugh and laugh to the idea that the train will roll on coming in contact with that needle of yours. You just can’t hold your glee.
Your stay in Nairobi is always short-lived cause soon schools resume and you have to travel back to shags. So you and your mother pack your things up and proceed to country-bus – those days country-bus terminus was very popular and all bus companies had their automobiles there. You hop into Akamba bus or into Eldoret Express or into Paldam, and by about 7 in the evening, the bus engine coughs to life. (This is a whole exciting event that will come in its own package – story for another day). You wake up in Busia the next morning.
After a fortnight’s stay at home, the boys come for you for squirrel hunting. At first you think of it as the craziest thing ever. But slowly you come to terms. You gain interest to escort them and see where they capture the hare and squirrels that they normally come back with. You accompany them, along with their dogs. These boys of yours have been here all through and know where to find the hares and the squirrels you want. This is not the Nigerian kind of hunting thing you watch in their movies. To mean, in your hare coursing you don’t carry along guns or other weapons with you. It’s just you and your pack of mongrels.
These are dogs that know their job, dogs that can capture prey in the Nairobi CBD and lug it all the way to their owner in Rongai. Or if the prey happens to be so huge to carry then one mutt watches over the prey as the other one comes to pick its owner.
From a distance you hear your dogs bark, an indication that they have found the prey you are pursuing. You are an amateur so you just trail other boys. You do whatever they do. So you sprint in that direction shouting sa! Sa! Sa! sika! I think sika meant shika. You order those bitches and male bitches to capture whatever they were chasing. One of the boys stumbles into a ditch and yells, but swiftly, he rises and sprints even faster. You reach some places and realize there’s no way through, but you have to do whatever thing and find the right way. You have to catch up with the hounds and ease their job. You soon find them surrounding some anthill. They are digging it by their front limbs. The hounds are swinging their tails and humming. Two of you are dispatched to collect a hoe from the neighborhood. You you are not actively taking part in this activity cause it’s your first time here. You are simply watching. The two boys soon get back and say they were denied the hoe. So you leave it. Later, you manage to come home with two squirrels. And that’s how these boys end up recruiting you into this stuff. Sometimes you come home empty handed, but on lucky days you capture a good number of hare and squirrels and rabbits. And you come home very happy, singing and chanting.
And by the way, you don’t go hunting ati because you lack food at home, or ati because your parents ask you to. No. In fact your mother occasionally chastises and punishes you for accompanying other boys for the hunting experience, but are you to listen! How can you do without your new hobby! A rite of passage. Something that all boys have to go through if they have to undergo a complete childhood stage. It’s this hunting-characterized stage that now effortlessly ushered in adolescence. Hunting those days was just like telling us you went through campus without spending one or two nights in an opposite gender’s room, which we don’t need to remind you that you are lying. And that you should stop kidding us cause we are not here to play mind games. So your mother punishes you today and for the whole week you confine yourself at home. But the following week you again find yourself running after some hare, away from your home. It’s for this reason that she keeps praying hard that schools close so she can take you to Ruiru.
While in class one, you also laugh out loud in class when you realize some dudes can’t pronounce the syllable ‘the’. They always enunciate it as ‘de’ and not as ‘the’. That makes you yearn for the English lesson. So anytime your English teacher delays to come for his lesson, you go for him in the staffroom. Because any time Mr. Ouma* calls for people to read out Mr. and Mrs. Kamau’s story, almost half the class read: ‘Kamau drove the school bus daily’ as ‘Kamau drove de school bus daily.’ And I think some characters have carried this into their adulthood. These fellas who still type ‘dat one’ instead of texting ‘that one’. I don’t know why they never find the patience to type ‘the’ correctly. And these friends of theirs who cannot type the word ‘hi’, they have instead come up with their own language where ‘hi’ is replaced with ‘hae’. But it’s ok.
And how can you forget the days when you set out with your catapult? And when you return home with pockets full of birds since you have always aimed right. And how you compete with your cousins over who has or hasn’t killed the species of birds you’ve already slayed. How everybody around knows and always tells you that you will become a soldier or a police officer because you are perfect at hitting your targets. And how you don’t want to hear any talk connecting you to working in the forces now that a good number of your brothers and cousins are already in the forces. You want to be different and to stand out. You want to break the status quo. Still in your childhood.
What about the many instances when you pick fights with your best friends? These are fights supposed to put clear who between you is stronger than the other, so whoever hits the other gains the superiority and the respect. And your other friends gather around you and cheer you. But you become friends soon after the fight. No grudge, no nothing.
And how can you forget this wonderful feeling, when parents always want their boys to be like your father’s firstborn – which is you. So they always tell their kids to keep you as their company. And they take no offence when they see you walk with their daughters. I mean, you are a harmless guy, not like the other spoiled village heroes and cocks who readily pounce on any girl around.
Come on guys! Is there any more cheerful childhood like this one? The one you always gather around your black and white Phillips TV to watch the 7 o’clock news, on KBC? On KBC because it’s the only channel available. And when it is on Monday at around 8, nobody wants to leave the house because they want to watch Mzee Ojwang’ and Mama Kayai’s Vitimbi. What about when Mzee Ojwang’ just takes the show and you realize your last born is asking you to take him to poop?