I tucked in my wayward knees, giving room to the women dashing up and down the corridor leading to and from the cooking area. A line of seesawing washcloths grazed the back of my neck and I ducked down my head too. Cradling my useless body to myself, I sat on a bench next to two old ladies, waiting for my cousin to pack my parcel of food.
Orders rent the air. Nipe sinia mbili, Hassani na vijana wa Ba-Suleimman wamekuja…Kuna pili pili?…Vikombe je?…Haya tosha… The army of lesso-swathed women trooped up and down the dimly lit path, shouted across to their counterparts manning enormous sufurias steaming with the day’s delicacies. Pilau. Wali mweupe. Mtuuzi wa nyama. Kachumbari.
A little girl, pink hijab, white dress, plastic shoes, balanced a half eaten plate of food on the edge of a stone stab then dashed off. Then, three women hovered at the mouth of the corridor. The first, bespectacled, searched our faces. She calculated measure of attention due by age, skin tone, nose bridges and attire. Satisfied…
Buttock slightly lifted from bench, hands clasped, warm lips met the receptive expanse on the back of the intertwined hands. A few words were exchanged. Pleasantries, as the three threw meaningful glances towards the end of the corridor. Somebody rushed in, spotted their status and the food sentries received a fresh order.
It was lovely listening to the old ladies speak. Acrobatic tongues. Swahili sanifu flowered sweet as halua in a breezy cadence as they idly chatted up the strangers. Then as soon as their backs turned, before my eyes sat daughters of Mumbi with tongues that dripped sugarcane sweet. Thika straddled two worlds with ease.
And when your house is so close to the mosque sometimes the echoes of Mwathinis long sang continue to resound. Somewhere in the sing-song verses that had wafted into the sitting room thick and strong that afternoon had been the names of all the souls we’d lost. “Walitaja kila mtu? Maskini, ndugu yangu ndiye aliyekuwa akitayarisha majina…Mungu Amrehemu.”
“Ni vizuri umekuja,” said the tall, lanky man. Mvi danced around Jomba Hanifa’s coal black hair, his eyes were bright, mischief dancing inside them too. His smile was wide and infectious. He always had a Big-G in his jacket pocket.
It was my 20th birthday, a bouquet of roses in hand; I nervously stood by the door patting the bulge in my bag outlining my two mismatched lessos. This was the first of two ceremonial stops of the day.
“Utapelekwa makaburini na baba, sawa?” said Mama Kachui as she waved us goodbye. We could still hear her high-pitched voice as the car joined the road. Her quick hands were already working on something else.
Time has washed away the conversation made during the drive to the burial site. Education. Brother. Thika politics. Old memories. Laughter. Probably.
The car pulled to a stop in a medium-sized open field bumpy with slabs of cement, long grass and trees. He knew where they all lay sleeping. The generations of strangers and friends who were my kin. He pointed out homes where my eyes only saw unremarkable knots of grass.
He instructed me to pour water on her head, tummy and feet. I did so, hands trembling as he posed a few feet away. We did the same for the others we’d lost.
I’ve heard that when a loved one passes on and you set a day aside for Hitima prayers for the repose of his/her soul, you should feed the children who come to the mosque well because God listens more keenly to the prayers of children.
My jomba left behind two little grandkids and just the other day his eldest daughter Kachui had a dream where her father appeared to her. She was feeding one of her sister (Zainabu)’s kids while he was urging her to go with him. When she protested, saying she had to feed the boy first, he said that ‘the boy was already full and his mother will be fine.’ A few days later, through her son, Zainabu has won an amazing and life changing gift.
As for me, I left with my parcel of food but next year when it’s time to make the ceremonial trip again, I will take an extra jug of water for my jomba.
In loving memory of Jomba Hanifa on the occasion of his first death anniversary and for all the souls we’ve lost.