He was the man with white bushy beards and barely five foot five. He hardly looked up unless you insisted on greeting him. And if you did greet him, he would look up for a brief and mumble a reply before dropping his face again. He was always on a brown jacket with two buggy pockets that carried everything important to him. His pair of gumboots, the only footwear I ever saw him on, was cut midway from the top by something that seemed to be a blunt knife.
They both had a yellow plastic patch to seal the holes that had found a home at the heels. Every day, he would walk with his right hand clumping a machete against his ribs. Other times he would be drinking coffee at Simo’s kiosk. The same coffee that I once drunk and never slept for the entire week that followed. People said he was a soldier before the 1982 attempted coup. He had served in the defense forces for years before being laid off.
He was always busy. Unless when working behind a chaff cutter, he would be rolling dust of tobacco on an old newspaper or smoking a small butt of leftover cigar that he had reserved after lunch. When his roll was ready, he would spend a lot of time to light the tobacco from an old matchbox than he spent smoking it. I found out later that he would carry an empty matchbox and would go borrowing matchsticks from other smokers whenever he came along any.
He had a bad cough that seemed to hurt his lungs. You could see it by how he stopped to cough. Or how he would spit painfully. Or when watching the tethered sheep by the roadside sleep in sorrow because the dogs in the village had pissed on the grass. Or when he was peeing against the gate that leads to a farm left for the grass to sun bask. He probably had a lot in mind. His name was Baba Kamano, but Kamano was a person I had never met or saw in his life.
The first time I saw him was on the Christmas of 2015. It was those times when the spirits are so high that you cannot stop yourself from wishing any stranger you came across Merry Christmas. He was carrying a sack of charcoal, the 25g of Tea leaves sachet with onions, a matchbox, and his machete. He had a wife and three sons. But they never stayed in the same house. He had a separate roof for himself at Manji Dogo.
The sons stayed with their mother at the plot that had so many kids. All of the three sons had Mohok hairstyle, the kind that Mama Steph believes is for boys that smoke Bangi and sag their trousers. Their mother was a thin lady, taller than her husband by a great measure, and always walked barefoot. Friends had bought her a collection of shoes. But she never wore them. Not even on Christmas or when she went to the washrooms.
Baba Kamano was a hardworking man. He worked on the flower farm owned by some Briton this week. The other week he would be grazing the village cows at the KDFs fields. He was a casual laborer without a specific taste of work. And people called him when they wanted their cowshed cleaned. Or when they wanted their cows feed cut and siloed. Or when they wanted to have their cars washed, their farms plowed, or their lawns mowed. He never complained or showed signs that he preferred some jobs to others. He just worked and worked. For people.
But there was this one week he worked at Mama Steph.
Mama Steph was the lady in the village with gold mines in her house. Her home was protected by a thick fence of Kei apples, in addition to the electric fence that ran on top of the Kei apple fence. They had a red car, a grey lorry, and two kids who all had red bikes. Their father was working abroad and people barely saw or knew him. You would be lucky to see the doors of this mansion. It was like securing an appointment with Queen Esther. Unless you were fortunate to be invited to a birthday party. Stephanie was the eldest, and Brandon was her little brother. Stephanie was a form three girl who schooled at St. Georges. The kind of schools that are pronounced without mentioning high school or secondary school. Just the first name and that was enough.
Only Baba Kamano was fortunate to visit their home on daily basis. He was the one in charge of the black and white Holland cows and the brown dog with fluffy hair and slower reflexes. He would check in very early in the morning, feed the cows and wash the shed, cut some Napier grass for the following day, and cook Panther the dog some porridge. Mama Steph always offered him tea at 11. Sometimes with half a loaf of bread, sometimes a bunch of fruits, sometimes with nothing, just tea in a pink-flowered jug. Over the lunch break, she would offer him whatever meal they were taking. She would cover his lunch with another plate and call him from the cows. In the afternoon, he would go to the farm and plow, weed the maize, plant kales on the seedbed, water the plum trees, and milk the cows. When Mama Steph was not in, Stephanie would offer him tea or lunch.
He always looked forward to the tea break. You could see it by how he looked at the house a few minutes to 11. He would amble around the cowshed, pacing around and waiting. Sometimes I want to think it is because he never cooked or took tea before coming to work. Whenever he was called, he would put the spade down and go have his tea. He never scrubbed the cow-dunged floor after his recess had come. If he was cutting the Napier, he would hold his machete under his armpit and stare at the tea or food. Like he had suddenly changed his internal gears.
Stephanie found his behavior at tea break funny and awkward. She would watch how he drunk the hot masala-d tea from the window. She would take videos of him taking his lunch on her wide-screened tab. She would laugh aloud about how greedy Uncle Tom, as she referred to him as, must have been. When her mother was not around, Stephanie would play tricks on him by calling him for tea even when it was not ready. Uncle Tom would put his spade down and pace towards the house. Stephanie would laugh from her bedroom before sending Brandon to tell him that tea was not ready. Or that the tea had spilled while boiling. Or that a moth had flown into the tea and she had no choice but to feed the ancestors with the moth-ed tea at the sink. Baba Kamano would smile and go back to work, without murmur, without cursing.
Last week, Baba Kamano coughed hard and painfully. The tobacco and the cigars had damaged his lungs so bad to an irreversible point. He had finished milking the cows and had cooked Panther some porridge. He had then walked to his thatched house and emptied his pockets on a plastic basin. He then laid on the home-made bed, rolled some tobacco out on an old newspaper, struggled to light it up but had finally managed. He had then smoked it until there was no bit to hold and still smoke. He threw the small butt on the bare floor. He coughed, coughed again, and again, and kept coughing like a tractor that had refused to start. Suddenly, he went silent, and his soul slipped off his flesh. Baba Kamono, hopefully, had reunited with Father Abraham. He liked tea. Maybe not.
If you are lucky to have a person who plows your farm, milk and feeds your cows, and cleans your clothes, give them more tea. Some have given their all to serve you. Others give their lives.