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Why Grandfather Iliaja, Hates Christmas
Iliaja winces at the word Christmas being mentioned. He looks like one who unknowingly touched ice.
Grandpa Ilya had never enjoyed or even liked Christmas day since he was invited to his son-in-law’s house many years ago. He went there in his usual clothes: a dirty-stained overcoat, old short trousers, which made him look like an old short crane, and a half-torn hat, which had an outer layer of greenish canvas.
When he got there, the whole family was busy eating a variety of what Ilya thought was a mixture of small mushrooms, ground millet and meat. Everyone was smartly dressed. This reminded Iliaja of the white men and their children when they used to line up in what they called a welcome to the governor.
He stood motionless a few feet away from the busy family. He leaned on his long walking stick like a shepherd watching over his flock. The children laughed at him and one said through a mouthful of rice: “Look at grandfather, he has no ma…” However, she was cut short by her mother, who quickly put her hand over the child’s mouth as a stern sign of “shut up ” as she usually commanded her children.
“You can’t talk with food in your mouth, Lily,” her father said after beckoning Iliaja to sit on a bench a few feet away from the vast communal table. Ilya sat, crossed her legs and dipping her hands in her pocket as usual said: “Eiye leiye leiye leiye”, which was a symptom of fatigue mixed with deep thought.
He inhaled his snuff and sneezed. This reflex action let some brownish mucous spit out of his nostrils like ground water gushing out of a double channel in the rainy season.
However, he spent several minutes looking for a dirty handkerchief, the color of which was something between black and brown. It was somehow in his big pocket.
He kept moving his hand from his right pocket to his left and scanned the ceiling in the process as if he was trying to estimate the value of the dining room. During this time the mucous membrane lengthened.
The carousel family, on the contrary, looked at him with the deepest contempt. He intuitively felt that something about him was the cause of such gloom in the family because no one spoke.
He did not greet them, because he believed that it was not gentlemanly to talk to people who were eating. He had to wait until they finished eating. He busied himself “inspecting” the large and well-furnished dining room while tapping his left finger on his knee and wiping his nose with his right hand.
“Give the old man some food,” a servant was instructed by the head of the family, a tall brunette with a balding large head. He was the head teacher of an elementary school. The servant brought a small round table to Ilya. On that table was a plate full of rice and stew. Salt in a bottle, which resembled that of Iliaja’s snuff, spoon, forks and knife, were also placed immaculately in their proper places.
Iliaya’s eyes continued to hover around the servant up and down the room while his mind was gone years and years before when they could roast beef and antelopes in the open field. Then they were really men.
“You can go on now. We’ve already prayed,” said his daughter, who was dressed in a body hugging blue jean suit and long pants to Iliaya’s amazement. This easily gave Iliaja an accurate estimate of how fat her daughter had grown. She was a snow-fire woman who drowned herself in urban high life. She was the last born of Iliaja and since she was married she never visited her father in the countryside.
Ilya looked at the food in front of him and said, “What do you call these?” “That’s a knife grandpa,” answered Juan, a young mischievous boy after eating a leg of chicken. He thought their grandfather was pointing at the knife. Ilya was silent for a while and then he picked three small pieces of rice and placing them only a few centimeters away from his nose, he smelled them with great anxiety.
The whole family stopped eating to look at him. His daughter, who couldn’t help but laugh out loud, came out of the house to cough up something that had lodged in her trachea. “Oee! Oh! Oh! Grandpa that’s not snuff,” said one child, who quickly fell silent when her father looked at her with menacing eyes. “I’m sorry, my son-in-law,” said Ilya after smelling all the food that had been laid out for him. “I won’t eat these,” he added, pushing the food away from him with all his might.
All the stew was spilled down in the process and the knife, fork and spoon all fell onto the carpeted floor. Iliaja unsuccessfully tried to secure the situation. Even a glass broke and fell on the floor and together with the others formed a big pile on the floor.
“If there’s ugali I’ll eat it, but if it’s not there, then it’s okay with me. I’ve kept my promise,” Iliaja said desperately as the servant, who was still laughing, continued to sweep up the mess.
However, there was no ugali, mushroom, black nightshade, and millet porridge that
were Iliaja’s favorite meals. He spent that Christmas fasting for nothing. Whenever Christmas is mentioned, Iliaja urgently remembers her great embarrassment at her son-in-law’s house.
It was in a little Sunny late morning hour of the best Christmas season in the country called Kapsuser in Kenya. Ilya the little but funny old man came out of his little old round hut surrounded by acacia bushes.
He sat there on a slightly raised old black log for hours and hours on end. One could easily guess that he is reminiscing about his good old days when he was still stable as a youth.
Thus sitting down, he moved his unsteady trembling hand from one overburdened overcoat pocket to the other – the same but with different contents. His searching hand continued to navigate deeper and deeper into the insides of the swollen pocket whose contents included; rusty razors, little empty bottles of almost every color of the rainbow, small sticks, crisp pieces of fading papers, and a whole collection of what may be called rubbish.
His compressed loosely folding face gave him the terrible appearance of a rock of ages. He was busy looking for snuff, which he could proudly and easily say you had once given him from a famous apothecary in that region as a medicine and pain reliever. Since then, the exact date of which no one knows, he smelled it.
When he fell into a gloomy mood, and he often found himself there, he simply inhaled the snuff to ease the tension and calm his mind. The snuff, he could tell you with a bright dangling smile, worked ceremoniously.
Iliaja, continued to frown obnoxiously picking up an unwanted piece of paper or a bottle. He looked like a despondent post-graduate who had just read a sorry letter from his favorite company boss.
He was a sturdy cock of a man who was once poised and stern. He was credited as one of the best warriors of his time. He was bald, wrestler-like with striking bow legs. The doll color of his ever searching brown and intelligent eyes reminded one of those early European settlers in that land.
On his pierced ears hung round pieces of ornamental copper, which, when he nodded, hung happily as if to embrace the temples of the owner. And sure enough they did.
“Hey! Chebet look at my mushroom,” said a child’s voice from across the western thorn hedge that bordered Ilya’s compound with the neighbors.
“Let’s take it to Grandma and Grandpa,” another child’s voice suggested. This time it clearly sounded like a girl.
Ilya and his wife have been waiting for their grandchildren since dawn. These children went to boarding school and often visited their grandparents on vacation.
His wife was vining millet outside when Kiprop and Chebet arrived like those shepherds you read about in the Bible. Among the children was a large brown basket, the straps of which were each held firmly in their hands. The contents of the baskets were covered with a well-patterned white cloth although a calabash head projected from one side.
Their grandmother relieved them of their burden and, before saying anything, took the basket into the cabin and placed it safely beside the water pot. Exiting the house, she crossed her arms as usual and greeted the two children nodding in the process.
Kiprop handed her the broadhead mushroom. Holding it, their grandmother said possessively: “This is a good omen my grandchildren – a fresh white big mushroom. Where was it?” she inspected the mushroom and brushed the soil off of it. “I found it down there by grandma’s side of the road,” said Kiprop, who laughed when he saw his grandma nod happily.
“Let’s go inside my children, it’s cold outside,” the old woman said waving them inside. “Why didn’t you bring Kiptesoto with you? – he must be getting high these days,” she added. Kiptesot was the younger brother of Kiprop whose bow legs made him look like Iliaja when he was young.
“He’s still short…oh that one. He hit mom with a stone yesterday and wasn’t allowed to accompany us,” recounted Chebet, a seven-year-old girl with black curly hair, happy eyes and a well-shaped body. She wore a short blue skirt that revealed most of her fleshy succulent brown thighs.
Entering the cabin, Chebet dared: “You will tell us a story, grandmother. Our other grandmother used to tell us sweet stories at night.” Chebet has shown a keen interest in stories since she could talk.
She and her brothers and sisters often went to her paternal grandmother’s house. She was a widow and a good storyteller. Lately, though, she’s gotten tired and calmed down. When the
children went to her cabin, she threatened to beat them. She often complained that the children made a lot of noise. The children have recently avoided going to her cabin.
There was no child in Ilya’s compound. It was calm as a lake all day. His wife gave birth to seven children, four daughters and three sons, but unfortunately all boys
was dead Two of them died during the war and one from an unknown disease. The only children who came to Iliaja’s house were those of his daughters and brothers.
“Sit down, my grandchildren,” said Ilya, who was sitting comfortably by the fire. “How is everyone at home?” he asked. Kiprop who was twelve pioneered talking after sitting down on some round three-legged stools.
“Home is a good grandfather. Mother made us swear that we must go home on Sunday.” When no one spoke, he added “Our father is coming home from town on Monday. He will bring us shoes and clothes for Christmas.” Iliaja flinched when he heard the word Christmas mentioned.
Chebet smiled broadly, picturing herself with shiny shoes like those of the white man’s girl she had seen in town the previous week. However, she immediately closed her mouth as cold air filled the gap where two incisors had been cut that same day.
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