For most of our childhood, my siblings and I feared him. He seemed quite creepy. He would come to the farm house at a consistent 0900 Hours. Just in time for the remainders from breakfast, and conveniently just after the folks had left for work. My little brother would shut himself in his room and watch from the safety of his bedroom window. My sister went about her girly obligations unperturbed with whatever transpired around us. Grandma Meg was always there, she had seen him for decades. Often I was left as the sole person to speak to him, the creepy old man.
Our conversation wandered through many things, whenever it took off. He carried ground tobacco in a little polythene bag. Every few minutes he picked it from his pocket, poured a little on his palm and picked with the edges of his thumb and index. He would then face the sky as he dropped the tobacco in his nostrils. He followed through with a harsh sniff that resulted to extensive coughing and sneezing. He seemed to enjoy it though…at my expense as I endured the site of his hands covered in a mixture of tobacco and mucus…
He gobbled down sweet potatoes and swallowed on drop scones with the fascination of a slave. Often he would hum to a song that only he could tell. It reminded me of a saying Grandpa Nate told me once, ‘Happy Men have music within them’… I suppose this man was happy, every when he swallowed, and gobbled. He had no slightest of clues even for the joy of sugar in his tea; his joy, his humming, gobbling and swallowing was ever consistent, every 0900 Hours. He enjoyed groundnuts too, and boy, with his tobacco and mucus stained palm, he sure knew his way around a common plate. His body odor was a mixture of varied types of food, tobacco and alcohol… I am not sure about alcohol; I had never quite smelt it at that age. But he smelt something very foreign, unpleasant foreign.
He would sit through our games, every when a friend came home to rescue me from boredom. He didn’t even mind being a goal post pole; such was his life, his days. He never removed his jacket either. Even Tusker, our family Dog had accustomed to his odor. He let him come through the gate like he was family. He knew his way around the compound, where the rabbit den was, where the latrine was and where the cattle shed was. Often when Grandma Meg had difficulty tying up one of the cows for milking, he would step up and put his energy to action. I remember once, this super strong jersey cow (it was called Simuli, yes we name cows!) we had overstretched his strength. He was slouched over the fence… he was bruised. It was the first time he removed his brown jacket. (Brown however was definitely not the jacket’s original color!) Learning from my father, I rushed to the garage for some car brake fluid to administer first aid. From my numerous accidents running around the village, I had tripped many enough times to dad’s annoyance and to learning that car brake fluid was in fact a disinfectant.
The jacket, the creepy man’s jacket had tales of its own. Over Christmas Holidays, he came by. He knew families wanted to be together, he didn’t want to ruin family photos, so he walked to Mum’s kitchen and picked biting. He stuffed his jacket pockets with mandazi, samosa, and chapati… and like. The year 1994 was the funniest though; we had my post circumcision and Jamhuri Day festivities combined. The creepy man struggled to stuff chicken pieces in his jacket… with soup dripping through the material that was his jacket. I was embarrassed for him. I extended the khaki packaging bags that were often found in the kitchen, to no success. The front of the family home was abuzz with activities; cousins, uncles and aunties… friends and foe were all over making merry. The man feared walking through the crowds, he had a soul! He also had some pride… He opted to walk through the backyard fence… it was a site to behold as Terry, the dog that replaced Tusker ran after him. It did not help that chicken soup was all over his trail…
The creepy man died. At some point, I went home and he was no more. I missed the childhood wonder I stared at him with. The satisfaction he lived his life with. It was as simple as filling his stomach, satisfaction defined at its best. I picked some values from the creepy man albeit his weird persona. He was always respectful of women, never uttered disconcerts in their presence. He worshiped my father… like literary. It’s from him that he got a few shillings for his next activity, it’s from him that the order was issued to always allow Mzee Wabutala entry to our home, access to food and comfort to stay as long as there were hours in a day.
I miss those moments that were life with the creepy man, Mzee Wabutala. For clarity’s sake, I came to learn that he indeed was not called Wabutala as popularly referred to by the village, his name was in fact Abdallah!
I miss home, the farm. I am headed there soon.
Playlist: Joka ~ Eric Wainaina (The song makes one of my favorite travel play list…when I drive)
Till then, Cheers!