Kímunge was euphoric that his cow had given birth this time to heifer. All the past five deliveries had seen the cow give birth to bulls. This was a good sign for the long envisaged growth of his herd. His happiness would only be short-lived.
The animal developed symptoms of sickness with the fur becoming ruffled, the eyes teary and the milk production that had hit ten litres a day dropping to a measly half a litre. There was barely enough milk to feed the newborn calf.
Kìmunge resulted to miti ni dawa in a bid to cure his cow. There were miti known to cure anything from “Tonsils” to Ndigania to Mahùri (lung ailment). These were the most notorious cow diseases that would fell a full grown animal in no time. He prepared a potent assortment of herbs and tree barks and nuts and roots, boiled them for hours on end to make a viscous liquid that would be administered to the cattle using old Babito bottles.
At first, the animal exhibited signs of improvement but on the third day, it could not rise on its feet when Kimunge tried to have it enter the milking parlour. The poor animal had to be assisted to rise up. This meant calcium deficiency, a common complication affecting cows after delivery.
The situation only got worse as days passed. The cow never stayed on its feet. It would remain in a lying position for days necessitating a communal effort in rolling it to the other side. Every few days, Kimunge would ask the neighbours for a helping hand. This, or the cow would start rotting on the side touching the floor. The little calf was surviving on porridge and milk bought from the shops.
It took too long for Kimunge to realize that miti ni dawa was an effort in futility. By the time he was seeking the services of the popular local veterinary officer, it was already too late. The officer was adamant that he couldn’t salvage the situation. Heart broken Kimunge with huge veins darting on his temple meekly implored the officer to do anything in his ability to save the animal.
The officer took from his bag a syringe and a few medicine bottles. He shook each bottle as he extracted some medicine tapping on the syringe while holding it to the light. He injected the animal on the exposed thigh and asked Kimunge to monitor it for the next three days and to call him if there was no improvement.
There would be no three days for monitoring. Kimunge woke up that night to find the animal having given the ghost. He went back to sleep a weary man. He found solace in the saying “mathìna ní mamwe na arùme” and ùtate ndona. (Problems and men, one side and he who doesn’t lose never gains)
The following morning he called the veterinary officer to inform him of the death. The officer said he would pass by Kimunge’s in two hours time. Kimunge summoned a few neighbours to help him skin the animal. He would sell the meat if the veterinary officer gave it a go ahead. But the animal had to be skinned anyway. It is culture that animals are not buried whole. A final show of respect to the fallen animal calls for removal of skin and horns if any.
As if on cue, the veterinary officer arrives just on time when the group is done skinning the cow. Without any examination of the meat, he orders it to be discarded in a deep pit saying that it is unfit for human consumption. He says that the medicine he had administered to the cow was harmful to humans if ingested.
“If say a week has elapsed, that would be a different matter but twenty four hours have barely elapsed. And again we are not one hundred percent certain what the disease was. It could be anything from anthrax to MCD.”
The fellas present do not seem to understand what the veterinary officer has just said. They are wearing stupefied faces. Kìmunge has more stupefaction than all.
The veterinary officer made sure not to leave before the whole animal was six feet under. He very well knew what the folks were capable of. And he was also certain what the aftermath of eating contaminated beef would be. He didn’t want to be associated with a calamity of such magnitude. But barely had his motorcycle’s roar faded away when the men earnestly started digging up the carcass.
The compound was now filled with pied crows and more people.
Mugo the much vaunted village-meat-safety expert was summoned. Being a Saturday, he would be readily available and not in school. They would ask him to test the suitability of the meat and give proper-qualified-verdict unlike the one given by the “quack veterinary officer mwenye ata hajulikani alisomea wapi.” Proper verdict meant one thing only. The meat is safe.
Mugo’s father worked a Farmer’s Choice distribution truck. He knew a thing or two about meat and the knowledge had been passed to his youngest son. A son of an iron Smith becomes an iron Smith himself. Or owns a steel mill.
He was therefore not only conversant with meat 101 but also the ABCs of meat.
He usually conducted three tests. Test one was done using a cat. He cut a small piece of the animal’s heart and tossed it to the cat. if the cat sniffed at it and didn’t sneeze, the meat was already tipping the scales of fitness. But just to be sure, a further test was done. This time the heart was tossed into burning embers. If the meat was bad, the heart was supposed to explode and go through the roof…
Test three would involve Mugo feasting on the heart. He would conduct his rituals seated on a three legged stool. Like he was some elder or a sage or both.
He would ask the eager crowd to wait for thirty minutes and if nothing bad happened to him, then the meat was KEBS certified.
They would ululate and extol Mugo carrying him shoulder high. Afterwards, Mugo would take a back seat for much needed relaxation after downing a grown cow’s heart. He would doze off in between fellas checking how he was progressing, by the minute. Ùraigua atìa ríu? (How are you feeling?)
Five minutes into the thirty, chunks of morsel would start going into the fire
Haiya! ìna ng’ombe iyo irari noru ona ùndù yagùire? (Haiya! kumbe this cow was fat despite falling)
Kariuki, wìrùmìre kanyama, ikai ría nyama ti rìa gìtheri.
The group of men present and a few uninhibited ladies feast on beef to their fill. Everybody present carries a kilo or two which is recorded on an exercise book by Kimunge. This will be paid for later.
There would be no slapdash signposts erected on a few vital junctions directing people to Kimunges to buy beef. Reason: the beef was not sanctioned for sale. But this wouldn’t keep the word from spreading. People would come from five ridges away. Most would take beef on credit. Some would pay fifty Bob for a kilo and promise to clear the balance later. Kimunge would record in the exercise book.
Three months later.
Kimunge has received a total of less than kes 1700/= from guys who took beef on credit. Whenever he meets them at the shopping center or by the road or the village paths, they are very quick to remind him they haven’t forgotten about the small debt. Only that the “sun” has been very hot. Hot sun even though it is July, the wettest month in Nyeri.
When a group of debtors spot Kimunge from afar, they scoff, “Nìciandùi mbeca atindaga agìtwìtia!? Nì mùtikai ùria atwendeirie wari mùmù ta cuma? (What money does he ask from us every time? Is it that mùtikai of his that was harder than iron?”)
Kai atangìcokia ngatho nì twa mùehereirie ngi mùciì? (He should be thankful we rid his homestead )