I can see the wrinkles taking shape on her forehead as she lets out a hearty laugh. I can see them forming at the edge of her mouth as she reveals a toothless grin. I can see her thick fingers with trimmed nails. Her strong handshake evidencing many years of hard work. Hers was a life characterized by a strong drive and discipline. I can see her colorful sweater. The knitter’s imagination must have clearly been on a high. Cucu loved it. She wore it on almost all social gatherings. She wore that same colorful sweater the fateful day we lowered her casket and sent her off to a land of no return. A place where sojourners never make a comeback.

I still remember the mound. Fresh and red. We placed a wreath of flowers on it. The crowd dispersed one by one until there was not a single soul standing. Darkness fell, and she continued to lie there. Left in the cold. The glowing moonlight seemed to hover over her grave. The emptiness was palpable, both within and without. The depths of my heart were empty and hollow.

I felt sorry for her four cows-one was called Budgetonce a Kyuk, always a Kyuk. Ha!  She had lots of chickens, and two dogs-Simba was the name of the black male. Cucu must have harbored aspirations that Simba would one day evolve into a lion! She also had a female cat who was grey, fat and lazy. I wonder what happened to her? Anyway, the devotion with which she had regarded her animals was relentless. Very admirable.  Sleepovers were a foreign concept for her for she was always on a perpetual mission to make her way back shags to feed her animals.

Over the last two years, I had seen my grandmother wither away.  The once full-bodied, robust woman had shrunk miserably. Her body now perpetually engulfed in pain and agony. The doctor’s visits had increased with no respite. The cruel hands of cancer had eaten her flesh and muscle away, transforming her into a fragile frame.

That evil demon called cancer had finally won. But did it really?

My childhood memories of Shosh always seemed to revolve around bananas (we will now call her Shosh because first, nobody says Cucu anymore, and second, I am now modernized. I think). She loved them and traded them for a living. She hawked them for many years. Shame had nothing on her. This was her main gig. Her side gig was shamba. She tilled the land planting all sorts of crops- anything that had the potential to germinate. And through years of toiling, Shosh successfully raised and educated seven children. During our holidays to shags, Shosh was always up before the crack of dawn. Groomed in her brown apron, she always had tea and ngwaci prepared before we could get out of bed. Her close-knit circle of friends mostly hailed from the church and I recall each time they called her Leah, I often thought they meant to address me.

Shosh must have been a dreamer in her tender years. I imagine if she was still here with us, she would have accomplished titanic acts. Growing up in the colonial era, Shosh was not privileged enough to get an education. So after the colonial era wound up, the Mzungu packed up his stuff and decamped, Shosh signed up for ‘Ngumbaro’ education. It was a basic form of literacy typically offered to older citizens. Damn! Was she so proud! The cherry on top was that this schooling system launched an avenue for her to learn a new language. Drum rolls…. Swahili! I often heard her converse in Swahili with a deep sense of pride and achievement.

I may have painted a picture of perfection in my grandmother, but this could not be farther from the truth. Shosh was anything but perfect. She had outbursts of rage whenever someone stepped on her toes. She was resolute in her ways. She matched to the beat of her own drum. It was always either her way or the highway. Yet her imperfections always faded against the brilliance of her strength, resilience, warmth and hard work.

For me, Shosh will always be an angel, incapable of any wrong.  She was a mother hen, drawing in everybody who crossed her path and cuddling them in her warmth.

It has been over two decades since we lay her body to sleep. Her spirit though is very much alive.

Why write about my grandmother, you ask?  Why narrate tales of Leah Njoki, a woman whom I would give anything to get back? How pleasurable would it be, to sit at her bosom and drink from her well of wisdom! She will forever stand idolized in my eyes for having made quantum leaps with very little resources.  Her tenacity in raising the standard of her life sets a massive challenge- it is never too late to pursue a dream. Shosh demonstrated that when she set camp at the doorstep of a classroom in her senior years.

I have often re-modeled my grandmother and placed her in the year 2018. Here’s how I think she would have turned out:

  • She would have at least these 3 Apps: Wunderlist, Rescue Time or Clara. I know you are wondering what these are. These Apps are efficient planners that help you prioritize and execute your tasks over a specific period of time.
  • She would be a successful entrepreneur: She had the main gig and a side hustle. She utilized every space on her farm. Bless her. Coupled with the advancement of farming ethics in the modern day, I would be willing to bet that she would absolutely thrive in Agri-Business.
  • She would have a huge Instagram following: Shosh was not only fashionable, but she also had thousands of friends. They hailed from the church, the chamas, and neighbors from far and wide.
  • She would be a Professor: The same spirit that urged her to get an education in her late years would have propelled her as a rising star in the academic firmament.
  • She would be a health fanatic: She ate bananas, eggs from her chicken, produce from her farm and drank milk from her cows. She nourished her children on the same.

 

Cancer may have taken my grandmother away from me. But the tugging I feel upon my life must emanate from her. In the dead of the night, I feel her admonishing me to give my best in this life.

I know you are aware of someone who has gone ahead of you, but whose life speaks to yours. Someone who urges you incessantly to give this period of your life the best shot you possibly can. You know what? We owe them that. For being alive at a time like this. When technology has made life so much easier, and the internet is vast with possibilities.

 

Food For Thought:  If those who went ahead of us were to make a comeback what would they think of us?