Shwenkuru is Grandfather in Runyankole
Jajja is a title for the elderly in Luganda
Tap…tap…tap, the sound of the ebbing storm greeted my ears. It was the peak of the wet season and a sense of peace surrounded me as I took in a deep breath of the fresh air. For a moment there, a long lost urge from the days of my childhood beckoned. An unquenchable desire to eat dust right after the first raindrops kissed the ground. Nothing good ever came out of that.
Today, I could feel the dying drum beating in my chest as I pushed myself onto my feet. The sharp sting that followed never missed the punch, sending me into a short trance with pain. Walumbe was proving to be merciless to me, in comparison to my friends. They were granted a quick getaway. That prick had it in for me since the first day of our encounter. “Death is too sweet a pleasure for you,” he had said; I laughed at him for hours on end.
Well, I guess this time he was having the last laugh.
Taking my staff from its post, the cold floor stung my feet in a brief reminder of the comfort I was leaving in my bed. Unfortunately, I was a stubborn old man, nothing would stop me from taking in the scenery of a sunset from Nambi’s rock. As though on cue, the weavers started their evening call, a sign of the growing night. Short bursts of the lake’s wind brushed the grass, sending it into a small dance that finally set the scene. Red, orange, purple, blue and a hint of magenta, the sky was beautiful. In the distance, the rainbow set itself apart. “Maybe Jajja Kayikuzi will come and visit me this time around,” I thought to myself.
Perfect as it was, a distant sound riddled the moment. Soft sniffles and wails coveted my sunset, smudging my eardrums with noise. “Shwenkuruuuu,” the wails rose further as a small boy tore through the bushes, landing at my feet. “Maama wants to kill me!” he yelped, rubbing his tears against them. My eyes couldn’t help but roll as they took in this sight. My grandson, the embodiment of drama and exaggeration. He truly was related to Gulu. “Why does Maama want to kill you?”
The question, blocked out by his piercing wails, fell upon deaf ears and was instead met with louder cries. He went on to tumble upon the ground, dirtying his body with mud. “Boy!” his mother barked as she made her way towards the chaos, “Stop bothering your grandfather!”
His little hands went stiff around my leg, holding on for his dear life. Wailing far louder than before, “Shwenkuru, don’t let her kill me!”
Normally, I would have gone on to stop the so-called massacre, but today I was feeling a little bit nostalgic. His mother, breaking into a sudden politeness, knelt at a distance, and greeted me reverently. With a slight nod of acknowledgement, I went on to help myself to a bit of drama, “Why do you want to kill my grandson?”
Smiling coyly, she went on to play along with the little game we had both grown to enjoy, “He has refused to return the goats from their pastures, the poor things will be eaten by lions if he leaves them there for the night.”
“Let the goats be eaten, my grandson doesn’t want to return them, let him play,”
A rogue smile grew on the little boy’s face at that instant. For a moment there, his true feelings showed before his mother’s angry eyes met his. Returning to the embrace of my leg, he continued to fake his sobbing.
“Then how about the milk and the meat, where will the hides come from?”
“We’ll use grass and water, do not worry, now let my grandson play.”
Nothing could beat the reaction of the boy as his mother went off, supposedly defeated. “We showed her!” he retorted,releasing my leg to a stunning victory, his smile reaching from ear to ear and turning to me with one wild swing for the air, only to be met with the cross face of an angry grandfather. “Responsibility is air, a man without it is a corpse,” my voice croaked.
“A corpse?” the boy hesitantly replied.
I could feel the blood rush in my veins. My stomach turned as a familiar excitement engulfed me. It was the perfect time for a story. My bed could wait a few more hours, couldn’t it?
“Come let’s go,” I grunted, planting my staff into the ground for one long journey, “Let’s go meet Jajja Kayikuzi before he leaves,”
“Jajja Kayikuzi, the one with no hair?”
“Brother to Jajja Nambi, son to the Almighty Gulu and yes, the one with no hair,” I laughed as I tried to imagine the look on his face at the sound of such an introduction, “He taught me how to hunt,”
“That must have been great, being taught how to hunt by a god,”
“It actually was not, it was filled with unfathomable pain,”
Silence echoed in that moment. The little boy’s quietness earned him a small giggle. Despite my joke, the words came with fond memories. I missed that up tight brute.
“Will I finally get to see him today?” the little boy asked.
“Jajja Kayikuzi only deals with men, he will see you after you become a man,”
“But I am a man, unlike Nessi I can pee while standing,” he bragged as he wagged his belly in a short illustration, sneaking a smile on my face, “That is not what I meant,” I mocked him as I attempted to copy his little illustration. I could feel my back CRACK at the very first turn.
The little boy’s face writhed, the moment the sound met our ears. My hand, shifting into an automated pose, rubbed my back to ease the pain. “Shwenkuru, let’s seat down and rest,”
“No my boy, that’s not the way of the man,”
“Does the way of the man involve breaking every bone in his body?”
“No,” my voice stiffened as I pulled myself forward
I could hear his little footsteps at my back, desperate to keep pace with mine. “The way of the man is confusing,” the boy continued, “Shwenkuru, I do not want to be a man,”
“Now that sounds like the way of the child,”
“But it is great, I get to sleep, eat then sleep again, all day; yet Paapa and my brothers go out at sunrise only to return tired at night,”
“But they are not suffering my boy,” I interrupted, “Isn’t it you who is going to eat grass and water for the rest of your life?”
“Shwenkuru, is this because of the goats?” the boy asked, “Are you tricking me again?”
“No my boy, this is the way of the man,”
“There you go again Shwenkuru, confusing me with your riddles, or is it the way of a man to say things that don’t make sense?”
A wide smile was growing on my face at this point. He was starting to get cocky. It was funny how much of myself I saw in the boy.
“The way of the man is not easy to understand, only a few eventually comprehend it,”
“Can you teach me the way of the man?”
“Of course, the way of the man was first discovered by your Jajja Kintu, then it died for a period of time because his sons only knew the way of the child, they had been pampered too much,”
“So they were like me?”
“Exactly, unfortunately, unlike you, they lacked the wisdom to ask for it,” I replied as I gently patted his head
“So what did Jajja Kintu do?”
“Why don’t we do this properly my boy, I’ll start the story at the beginning;
Long ago, there lived a man, his name was Kintu. Kintu had 3 sons, all with the same name, Kano. A name meaning, THAT ONE,”
“Well, that doesn’t make any sense, why would a father give his children all the same name?” the little boy spoke up, however, getting ignored.
Kano, the eldest ,had a head so swollen he couldn’t stand. It was as massive as a melon and his neck was as long as that of a giraffe. He walked with pride that stretched from East to West. He had mastered the winds, the water and the sun, all crops grew upon his every command
Kano, the second, was silent as night, only his whistle was his light. His mind was sharp; his ears knew no fright. His friends were the cattle and his tongue was cold; yet full of words that could only belong to the wise
Kano, the youngest, was such a blunt fellow. He talked in riddles, his mind was fiddles, he always whispered in his palms when no one was in sight.
“The boys were chaos, they did what they wanted when they wanted, how they wanted, their existence was the same as that of a THING,”
When Kintu called one of his sons,
“Kano, Kano, go milk the cows,”
They all replied,
“Who are you talking to? It is definitely not me, father, you must be calling out to another of my brothers.”
So in the end, no one milked the cows.
“Shwenkuru, are you making up stories because of the goats?” the little boy interrupted, derailing my train of thought, “ Because if you really want them fetched, I could…”
“I said do not interrupt me,” I snapped, turning him silent as a lamb.
Now Kintu, broken, and frustrated by his sons went up the rainbow to Gulu’s palace,
Desperate for a solution to ease a hell’s burden
And that my boy is the beginning of the story
Of the way of the man
And an end for the child…
TO BE CONTINUED