On the ribs of Mwichina village lies an equally hidden village. It is called Ebuyofu. It is gay and reserved. If you are not careful, you may not notice it because of its quiet demeanour. Many are occasions Sunday travellers to Elureko have passed through and not seen anything of it. It must be the second most innocent place after heaven and the folks aren’t boasting even.
Ebuyofu is a remote village unperturbed by the false smiles of the world. People here are true and honest. If they tell you you are ugly, they mean that you are ugly and you might never be called ‘in-law’, not even in jokes. If they tell you your daughter will be married to a rich man with a large farm, start preparing a shed for the cattle because indeed dowry is on the way. And if with a smile they tell you they’ll beat you up, go buy the medicine for a swollen nose.
But Ebuyofu is not just known for its truth and sincerity. In those trees, in that forest of humanity and openness of the human heart, amidst the huts that house a lovable breed of humans in the Wanga kingdom, lies a home approximately one hundred metres from the Inyiriri river. There rests a serene compound fenced in openness and the eyes of passing travellers. It is there that when you enter you will find our man. Rokan Asman Ngosia.
Now how does one present Rokan to a complete stranger and still hope to be understood? Where should the narrative even start?
In a certain August, I think I was in class two, we followed the chanting circumcisers through Lubinu towards Ibokolo. August is this season of putting the boys to the knife and into manhood. We would have gone up to Sabatia had the envious sun not set so unceremoniously earlier and reminded us of the wrath of waiting mothers. Those were days we still had legs to hop us into Butere, Shiatsala and back. That is, if along the way there were groundnut and sugarcane farms.
So when the sun was almost hitting ground, we entered a home in Mwichina. The candidate, realising that we were entering his aunt’s home, danced himself almost lame in an attempt to solicit a better gift from the aunt. Some aunts would give whole bulls while others would give only a cup of water; this young man seemed to need both. He jingled the hand gongs in the air, circled them above his feathered head and rotated his waist in an artistic mastery to and from the ground. Many men came to dance him into his aunt’s home and occasionally put a shiny coin on his sweaty forehead.
Among these welcoming men was this man more jovial than the rest. His face beamed in a big smile. He was dressed in a yellow shirt with a single button around the chest, a yellow pair of shorts, a gum boot in one leg and another leg painted in the grey of the riverbed soil. He had come right from the farm, which explained why he still had a hoe in the hands. Now he danced so expertly in the crowd, moving backwards as he faced the approaching initiate, and I wondered where Kanda Bongoman sought talents. His heels never touched the ground and the legs were bent at the heels for the dance. He moved the hoe from this palm to that and flung his hands in the air with the flexibility of a pro. That was the first day I saw Rokan.
About two years later, when I had forgotten about him, Rokan reappeared. I came home from school and found a visitor helping mother to winnow the maize harvest. From the way he had turned white, he had been at it for hours, probably since sunrise. Mother introduced me to the guest. When I stretched my hand to shake his, he jumped up alarmed and crossed his whitened palms above his chest in protest. He said he could not greet his cousin with “dirty” hands. That was to open a water hunting session. He dashed into the house and apparently remembered he was a guest so he could not open the bedroom door to access water. He rushed back to where I was still standing and apologised. Said he’d be done in a minute. He ran towards the house of Namwiru, my small-mother. There he met a bolted door. Then there was only one other option. He decided to run to the river a kilometre away and came back twenty minutes later, clean and panting from the run. Then as he neared me with outstretched hands and a smile, ready to greet his cousin, he slipped on the canvas from where the maize had been being winnowed. And he fell right into the chuff to stand up a white man with patches of black where the mouth and eyes were supposed to be. I grabbed his white hand and forced him to greet me, which he did with a deep frown, complaining something about dirtying his cousin.
One day, he visited us for the Eid. Those days, Eid was marked as a community thing across the kingdom and everyone participated regardless of where he went on Friday or Sunday. Though he had not been fasting, he kept singing to others the positives of fasting. That day it rained. And we all know what happens when it rains on a festive day, one where you crush rice until hell drops.
At first it was our neighbour’s wife who went to the bush and found the door locked from the inside. Then a respected guest from the mosque committee came complaining that the bush door was not opening. Eventually we had a caravan of Muslims with full stomachs and impatient eyes staging pilgrimage outside the bush. They danced mildly and shook their stomachs to shoo them into false relief. Yet even with their prayers, the door would not open and no sound came from within.
We hired a claw hammer from a local carpenter and began working on the iron-sheet door. It finally gave way. Immediately it opened, Rokan stepped outside the latrine with his shoes raised above the head. He waded in the mud and stagnant water as he went away mumbling something to himself. I later saw the shoes neatly wrapped in a polythene bag and tucked under his bedroll in the hut we shared. He later complained that bad people wanted him to soil his shoes. He was nowhere to be seen from the next day.
I was not his best friend.
Being the village celebrity, children will always find humour playing around you. So we used to pull pranks on him and he hated it. We came to learn that bursting a milk paper near him scared all the hell from my cousin. So we would wait for meal times and blow into the thing. Then one would step at the opening with the heel of one leg and drop the other leg on the inflated paper. Upon the burst, he would dash into hiding at the back of the house. He feared two things: the police and this burst. The burst was the only thing that would remove him from the latrine. Since I was always at the fore front, my cousin swore never to look me in the eye. But that was then.
I have been listing down all the cousins in my life. For every cousin, I was listing down all the sins they have committed against me. For some of these sinners, one page was enough. Others needed more space and I had to forgive and assume some crimes for them to fit and remain in the syllabus. Yet there was a page that remained blank. Apart from the name, nothing down there. So I’ve decided to bring that name here and fill the page with anything I can remember of this hero. God bless Rokan Asman Ngosia.