On July 31st, Paul turned 105 years old. The week leading to his 105Th birthday, he was offered a grand party by his kinsmen, a celebration of his many years on this earth. A way to acknowledge the contribution he has given to the society, to people’s life. An appreciation of who he is and those that identify with him. A polite way to say, you’ll leave soon, let us recognize you now. Paul refused, I suppose in his ever gentlemanly manner. He was instead asked to state whatever he wanted for his grand birthday.
I had received a call from my father the very week leading to Paul’s 105Th birthday asking me when I was likely to visit the farm and see folks. I made a cheap promise; sometime in August perhaps; non committal. Dad was a bit categorical though, he wanted me to make time and be home at least by the end of July. He let me speak to Paul on phone; it was such hearty. Paul’s remarks on phone can simply be translated to;
‘Senior, it is truly nice to hear your voice. I have faith that you are well and that life has not changed your values for the worse. It will be nice to see you, even when I cannot see anymore…’
The conversation graduated to tales, of how I was a young boy; how I used to run around the village paths with other kids, and how he knew I was different because I always stood by the road to give him way, and ask how he was. He reminded me of my initiation and the celebration ceremony thereafter. Things I had completely forgotten about. He wrote me a note back then at my party, the only party I ever had growing up courtesy of my parents. Paul’s note written in charcoal pencil on a page from a school writing pad made a promise; he did not have something meaningful to give me for a present on my initiation to manhood. He promised to find something that defined, and related to my greatness; His words. I never followed through with Paul’s promise. I never knew whether and what he brought to fulfill the promise. For most of the time I was just excited as a child. I got swallowed by the world of books and academia. Paul told me on phone he had brought me a cow to fulfill his promise.
Paul is the oldest kinsman I have. He is the one man who holds the history of our clan, our people. When I was in form one, we were given an assignment to write about the origins of our clans. When I went home, Dad told me to visit Paul at the farm. The good old man, then younger and energetic did not just tell me the history, on his bicycle, he rode to significant locations to tell me the story as it came to be. Paul does not even know his birth date. His July 31st birthday is pegged on the initiation dates by my clansmen. He knows so because he was born when my grandfather was undergoing initiation. He was gramps favorite friend. You’d think they were father and child with the passion Paul speaks of him with. I never met my gramps, the one I am named after. He passed on when Dad was a rogue teenager, I gather. All I have of his memory is stories I have been told by Paul over years.
For Paul’s 105Th birthday, he made one request that stunned kinsmen who wanted to party. He asked to see me. He did not have any particular message; he just wanted us to hang out over a meal and talk, tell stories. He also wanted to know how I was doing. In his illusion he pictured me as a boy still, probably still riding the little blue bike I rode to his house whenever I had an assignment that involved me getting information about my people. He probably still saw me as a little boy walking about the paths with another little light skinned girl; a site that got him smiling whenever Natasha* and I bumped into him.
So on 31st July 2011 at my father’s house, we had breakfast with Paul. We ate bread, eggs, fruits and took tea. Paul could not recognize me; he can no longer recognize people by vision. He makes sense of objects though, better than my left eye 🙂 . He recognizes people by voice, when I opened the door for him, and said an emphatic Hello, in vernacular, he responded to suggest I was Dad. We have cunningly similar voice tone. When I told him who I was, he dropped his walking stick and swung into an embrace of long lost brothers. The name Senior was reborn. While everyone else calls me Junior for being named after gramps, Paul calls me Senior for being my gramps, he says.
After the embrace, in a characteristic way of my people, the older generation, he said a prayer. Things I do not forget; ‘Thank you God, you are great…and has he grown or what! He even broke his voice…’ Conversation with the most high they say. We ate, we sipped and told stories, for a straight four hours, the world stopped and I saw it in Paul’s perspective. For four straight hours, the same world stopped and Paul saw it in my perspective. He thanked me for coming home to see him, he did not ask for anything from me. when I insisted, he asked me for a ‘God Father Hat’, a black one. He also told me he wouldn’t have asked for anything better for his 105Th.
He told me it would be nice if I visited home often. He told me he is not bothered about the difference my life has come to since the bad people attacked, he didn’t even want to hear the story of what happened; the first person who has been kind enough not to let me repeat the story. He told me just in case I do not get to see him again before it is too late, I should take initiative and tell the story of our clan at his eulogy, someday.
Paul is a great man, may someday not come soon.
Till then, Cheers!