Have you been to Kericho with those squatty but quaint tea worker’s houses on the hill. The endless greenery with rolling hills and Kalenjin hawkers with their checked jackets selling tea and roast maize and trucks that bellow and meander up virgined hills. The beautiful blue skies, smoke snaking upwards from chimneys and children kicking a ball on the patch of green by the roadside. Now picture this blog to be a house on one of those hills in Kericho. It’s a sturdy stone house with an ambitious chimney, darkened by soot and age. The house has an old wooden fence that is broken in some areas. A brown dog with clear eyes wanders around the compound occasionally raising one leg to piss against the fence. A verandah overlooks the hills yonder. There is a canvas seat and two rocker chairs on this verandah, flanking a small wooden coffee table.
Inside is warm and cosy with those old sofas with vitambaa on them, another coffee table and, on the walls, framed black and white photos from the 70’s of strangers: Men in suits and parted hairstyles. Women with flowery dresses, hands placed piously on their laps. Men in hats leaning on canes. Women with babies seated on their laps, clutching plastic toys. All the pictures are taken in studios and are stiff as a board. It’s a three bedroomed maisonette with a small open kitchen with a large window that overlooks a sloping hill and a gathering of thin pine trees below. The bedrooms are modest, sporting low wooden beds. Downstairs is a fireplace with a bundle of wood leaning against the wall.
It rains often.
This house is owned by an ageing man. He has a white beard and wears corduroy trousers and likes to sit on the verandah with the dog at his feet and stare at the hills beyond while saying things like, “It will rain later today,” then shouting to the herd boy, “Kibet! Did the grey goat give birth?” Kibet is the guy who makes sure that everything runs great in the boma. If the sink is clogged he will unblock it. If the shower is faulty he will fix it. If the water heater is bursted, he will tinker it into life. He makes sure there is enough log to get the fire going and that the grass on the ground is mowed and the is dog fed and the old roof doesn’t leak.
The main lifeline of this house are its regulars, strangers from a far away and mysterious land called The Internet – or a wild world web – who show up here with a drink in hand (or tea bags) and sit at the balcony for a conversation. They are men and women, boys and girls, the young and the middle-aged, and occasionally a curious old person wanders in with a pipe dangling from their mouth. Everybody is welcome but there is only one rule; you can’t come to the door wearing a political t-shirt, leave with a book from the shelves or change the station on the radio. What this means is that you have a horde of people coming through often, sitting at the kitchen counter and talking about things. The house is often full of laughter and good cheer and the fire crackles at the fireplace and once in awhile someone who has had a enough wine will start singing a circumcision song to the protesting barks of the dog.
Most are regulars who understand the house rules and who have mutual respect for other guests. Nobody shouts over dinner or plays loud music from their phones or uses overtly foul language. Most often spend the night, others come in for a few hours for banter and slither into the darkness. Some sit still in silence, flies on the wall, their shadows dancing against the wall. Ghosts. Some stopped coming back but for each person that stopped coming a new person came in. Those who stopped coming are remembered fondly. Like one called Kibidubidu, or Kibudidiu.
One evening just as Kibet was locking the hens in the pen, and the old man was sitting at the verandah cracking boiled peanuts from their casks, a steaming cup of tea by his side, a young man and woman showed up at the door. He was tall and bald. She was also tall and striking with a sharp chin and wide hips and smelling good. She had these trendy owlish-looking RayBans stuck over her forehead. The internet is like an ocean that sweeps to shore people of all sorts.
“Is there room for the night?” the young man asked the old man. “We have some good whisky and some chicken but we need a fire for the night.”
“This is not a lodging.” The old man mumbled. The dog lying at his feet slowly lifted his head when it heard “chicken.” (It hails from Webuye).
“We know,” said the guy. “ I have been here before.”
“Oh, have you now?”
“Yes. In 2014” said the guy.
The man regarded him coolly. “And where is the said chicken?”
He turned to the lady and she rummaged through her bag and raised a polythene bag of frozen chicken. “All thighs,” she said. “I hope you don’t mind thighs.”
“Thighs are good” said the old man. The dog lowered its head and closed its eyes (He’s a breast kind of dog).
The couple settled into the room upstairs. When the heater was ready they both got into the bathroom as the man inspected the water tank behind the house with Kibet. He could hear the girl giggle in the shower upstairs. “Who is he?” asked Kibet looking up at the bathroom’s fogged out window.
“Nobody from The Internet ever uses their real names, you know that.” said the old man. “But he brought chicken and whisky.”
At 6pm they came downstairs to the verandah; he is holding two glasses while she is holding a book by Melody Anne called The Tycoon’s Revenge. She was in tights and slip ons and the base of her hair was wet. He was in blue truck bottoms and a hoodie. The old man watched him crack open the whisky and pour it in two glasses, handing him one. “Your friend doesn’t drink?” he asked.
“She’s my woman.” he said looking at her settling in the canvas seat under a maasai shawl. “And she drinks, just not today.”
They drunk in silence and stared at darkness descend.
“I’m tired of this house,” mumbled the Old Man more to himself.
“It’s a great house.”
“Yes, but when you stay in a great house everyday it starts getting tiresome.”
“Get another dog.”
“You are a genius. What did you say you do for a living again?”
The lady laughed from under her masai shawl. “He sells pottery.”
They sat in silence for a while. Fireflies darted in darkness. Across the hills one light shone from a lone house. Silence enveloped them. The smell of frying chicken wafted out the kitchen where Kibet fried and stirred and clanged pots.
“Change the curtains then.” Said the guy eventually and the man looked at him for long and grunted.
“Change the curtains,” he repeated. “I like that metaphor.”
Not long ago a reader emailed me, “I discovered you when I was in Form 3. Thanks for making my university days bearable. Now I just started my first job.” I thought, Oh God, why would she want to make me so old now? This blog is seven years this year. It’s like that house in Kericho; it’s still standing but it’s old and smells of a disused pantry but lucky for you, you can decide when to come and have tea or a drink on the verandah and leave at your own pleasure but Kibet and I can’t because we live here. This is home. We have to stay here to make sure that moths don’t.
There have been many boring days that hang over the house like a swarm of locusts. Days marked by familiarity and lethargy. The problem is the house became too familiar, too expected. Imagine sleeping in the same room and looking out the same view every day, no matter how wonderful it becomes a drag. But we didn’t want to move houses because we have memories here we can’t move. We liked this house only we needed to redecorate.
So we changed the curtains. To choke monotony.
We brought in a fundi and he steadied the old sofas because some really heavy guests who celebrate Burgerfest and Restaurant Week sleep on them. The vitambaas on them were also thrown out because it ain’t 1989 anymore. There was a wall unit against a wall, that was donated to the local school. The headmaster of that school came wearing a ridiculous stetson hat and drove away with it in an old Datsun pickup that Kibet had to help push for it to jump start. We gave the house a fresh coat of paint. The old creaky bed in the spare room went. We hoisted up, in the sitting room, a massive painting of women in the market selling kola nuts. A guest gifted us a coffee maker.
The dog is old now. Old and sad. It won’t see October. If it dies we will bury it with love at the edge of the pine forest, where the old man can see its grave of loyalty and friendship.
The strapline of this blog has also changed: The Fourth Floor. This is because I’m headed towards 40 and I’m told life is just about to kick in. See that additional section up there, 40’s People? That will contain stories of people in their 40’s that I will be interviewing; honest and raw perspective of what 40’s is and has been for them. Mistakes and triumphs, etc. Will the voice change here? Nyet. It remains as is. Will the length change? Nyet, long is good, no? We have just cleaned it out, thrown out sections of the blog that weren’t making sense. Remember we didn’t have a problem with the house per se, it’s just that it had become too familiar.
The boys – millennials – who re-designed this blog are called Three Geeks. Strange but very creative boys who live on three hour sleep and speak a language I don’t understand. They have introduced many small things in the blog, some that I didn’t have a clue what they did.
“What’s with this love heart thing? This is not a dating site, boss. Remove it.” I told one of them.
“It’s not a love heart, it’s a heart.”
“I don’t want hearts on my blog.”
“It’s a Like button for people who don’t want or don’t have time to comment,” he said.
“Oh” I said. “So you just like the article if you can’t be bothered to comment..”
“Yeah,” He said. “Only nobody says “like” anymore, you say “I heart it.”
“I will have you know that I stopped saying Instragram, I say The Gram.”
“Good for you, Biko. You are now cool.”
“Thanks, I heart that.”
You see on the right? You have some of your all time reads there. We also created an archive for old stories on the calendar there on the right. Below it is my Facebook page and Instagram. In fact just click “Follow” we see what will happen? Or should I say, “Heart me?” At the very bottom are all those Blog Awards I have won. Please don’t ask, they are for my ego. Just let me be, OK? Life is hard enough.
Look, I will let you explore the house on your own now.
I just want to say one thing before I go feed the dog. That I’m grateful that you have continued to come here every Tuesday to keep us company. That you take time to share and to comment. That through this you have all remained respectful to me and most importantly to yourselves. I don’t take it for granted. Most importantly I’m happy that we have never quite forgotten about what this was about from the beginning (to have a laugh and look at life through a more jocular prism) even though sometimes I forget and bombard you with sponsored posts. But come on I can’t pay for Tamms swimming and dancing lessons with Hearts and laughs.
As I get into the next phase of my journey (I will be introducing something exciting here pretty soon) it would be nice to continue coming by here for a tete a tete once in awhile even if you found a new house on a new hill where they allow you to touch the radio. (That kinda sounded naughty). And if I start sounding 40, please just roll with it, it’s not like you will remain young forever yourselves.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an old dog to feed omena.