It is a night in August many years ago. There is a knock on my cubicle’s door at the dead of the night. It is my old man knocking. I don’t know for how long he has been knocking at the door because I have been in deep slumber snoring like somebody with koromavirus. I have been sleeping like a baby. But I am not guilty. If anything, if my age is rounded off, I would be a baby rather than an adult. I grope my way from the bed to the door and take a few moments disengaging the massive Suffolk latch and a few other barricades used to lock the door tightly to ensure robbers and evil doers don’t make a piece of cake breaking into the cubicle.
Outside, it is pitch black. It is the same having my eyes open or closed. The night is so quiet not even a cricket is chirping. They have called it a day or whatever crickets say when they take a break from the day’s or rather the night’s work.
Unalala kama maskini?”, my old man commented.” I have knocked for over twenty minutes”, he added. It is not good to sleep like that, you know!?, he says in a tone that is anywhere between offering advice and pitying me. Mùndùrùme ndakomaga ùguo ta mùgogo atì ona no ùkuo na ndùmenye.(A male man should sleep consciously.)”
I can’t tell what he is up to waking me up at this odd hour. I can pick the smell of liquor from his breath. I also recollect that he wasn’t home when the rest of us retired to bed.“There is something I want to tell you”, he intones.
He takes my hand and leads me to a short distance away from my cubicle and the main house. I follow him towards the latrine. We walk past the latrine and come to an area with heavy banana trunks on either side of the path and an engulfing banana leaves canopy. Here, mzee stops and scans the area sector by sector like he is some overdramatic African presidential guard.
A bat ruffles the banana trees’ leaves above us. Ciba our version of Rex coming from his night escapades joins us . Chiba too inspects the area to ascertain that all was well. Satisfied, he sits on his hind quarters and lets out a dropping-pitch whining sound. A sound that is definitely directed at us as an indication that he doesn’t trust us at all. He lets us know that whatever the deal, he must be an equal partner. He wants to be let in on whatever we are up to.
Upon making sure that we are all alone (Mzee, Chiba and I) and there is no roving eyes or an attentive ear in the darkness, mzee faces away from me in his characteristic style and lifts the coat lapel to fetch something from the inner pocket. Funny that he is facing away, like he always did, even in this pitch darkness. He tries the left pocket then the right pocket then back to the left. He fetches something from one pocket then returns it and fetches a ward from the other. A ward of notes. Crisp bank notes. He unfastens the ward of notes and counts some and hands them to me. He says it is nine thousand.
“Ici mbeca ndaciiruta mìtì igùrù”, he states denoting that he has gone through hell to obtain the money. They always went through hell to get a pay at their workplace. More than hell actually. You had to visit the CEO’s home before dawn to plead with him to offer you something little to keep you going as you waited for four months salary arrears. You waited for him in the patio and when he came out of the main house, you genuflected, venerated and serenaded him before pouring your heart, or whichever part stores destitution, out. If lucky, after days of trials, he fished a few thousands or wrote you a note to take to the firm’s secretary manager who would give some money that would be deducted from your pay that used to come ones in a blue moon.
The CEO had orchestrated the biggest economic meltdown ever to be met on a hapless village. Something that would make Goldenberg look like child play given that the Goldenberg affected the whole nation while the guy played on a village level.
Back to our small rendezvous , mzee Chiba and I, the dog lets out a growl which I am very sure is meant to rat us out. Maybe the dog is thinking that we are conspiring to sell the shamba or the cow or mum’s mature bunch of bananas. He wants to wake everybody up so that we are caught on our tracks. We ignore him.
Mzee tells me to keep the money safely and use it to pay my school fees when school reopens. It is enough money to clear my fees arrears for the last two terms and pay part fees for the coming school term.
“Ùige mbeca icio wega na ndùkere mùndù (keep the money safely and don’t say a word to anyone”, he directs after which he starts gloating.”Ndùgecirie thoguo ndacoraga(don’t be fooled to think your father doesn’t scheme.) “Don’t at any minute think that your father is a despondent fella who goes about his business unperturbed.” I take a mental note of “despondent” and “unperturbed” I would look it up in the dictionary. I always did when my old man poromoshad a vocabulary that he didn’t explain. “What your dad has gone through to get that money is ignominious to say the least. You know Gìthaiga (CEO) too well.”
We retrace our steps back to the compound, him to the main house and myself to the cubicle. As we part ways he reminds me to keep the money safely. Inside the cubicle, I light the hurricane lamp and check around the room to ascertain that I have no company. You know? Someone could have entered the room when I stepped out.
I am looking for a safe place to hide the money. Should I hide it inside the metallic box full of old exercise books and past papers and stuff? Or I should keep it under the thin mattress? The mattress wins but as I lift it to stash the money, I feel like I am being watched through a crevice in the window. It doesn’t make sense to hide the money while a robber is watching. I therefore get a piece of old clothing and stuff it in the crevice. But I must change the hiding place from under the mattress to some more secure place just in case the peeper has seen my intention.
I am still pondering the best way to hide the money. I think of the used containers among the debris that is under the bed. I think of hiding it behind the Marc-Vivien Foé poster on the wall or under the plastic-table-cover but still find it unsafe.
Something falls on the roof. It scares me stiff. I hurl the money under the bed and grab the crowbar that I always kept by the bedside. I don’t want the thieves coming through the roof to get me holding the money in my hands. My guard is on the highest level. Everything goes quite. It then occurs to me that an old petal from a banana flower(mwongoro) must have detached and fell on the roof.
I fetch the money from under the bed , counts it and this time tear the mattress cover and stash the money inside. I make sure that the door latch is fastened and that all the props are in place. I don’t put the lamp off. It is not good to remain in darkness with lots of money in the house. I get into bed but just before I slip under the blankets, I hear some footsteps approaching. I am minced meat, I whimper.
I almost say a short prayer beseeching Lamassu the patron saint of protection to be on my side. “Martin”, mzee calls and doesn’t say another word. Calling your name and not adding a thing is his way of saying “come here.” I unenthusiastically open the door and walk to him. He is standing 15 metres or so from the cubicle.
“Nìwaiga mbeca icio wega?” (Have you kept the money safely?), he enquires in a low tone. I tell him, in answer, that I have kept it well. “Ùciìmenyerere.” (take good care of it) “No uguo ngwendaga gùkwira coka toro.” (That’s all I wanted to say. Go back to sleep.) He taps my shoulder as I turn to go back inside.
Before dawn, mzee summons me another three times. He reminds that he has gone through hell and high waters to get the money. He reiterates for the umpteenth time that I should keep the money safely.
I barely find sleep the remaining hours of the night and the rest of the August holiday. I am always thinking of some robbers coming for the money. I haven’t held in my hands, leave alone safekeeping, upwards of a thousand shillings. I keeo dreaming that the money has been stolen waking up at night just to confirm that the money is still intact. I count and stash it back.
Safe for day one of keeping the money, mzee doesn’t ask me about it till we open school.