Fireplace Wits

We crouch together below his feet. Tugging, poking and unintended slaps are heard within the hurdle. One calling the other heinous names and others laughing it out. Another lamenting the loss of the spot they occupied last week. Yet another squeezing tightly to get as close as they can. Together the ensemble of 30 plus children form a circle around the burning fire. The owl that circles the night skies probably shakes its head at what men would do just for a taste of something it would never understand. This pulling, pushing, pinching and face making is something not too old to us. In fact I remember it being there by the time I joined the assembly. When after having a family meal and dutifully taking the dirty dishes to the kitchen we would scramble for all the available space next to the fire. At the extreme end is the royal chair, that chair that none of us has ever sat on as much as temptations to risk it run high. My granddad had said that just as the fruit at the garden of Eden, anybody who occupied this chair will know something they wouldn’t have liked to know. A Pandora’s box should be left shut, he said. And like all dutiful kids who will never learn the answers to some of the questions in life so we obeyed. A few grumble here and there but that is all the attempt we ever did to sit on this chair. It is old, older than me perhaps, all of us I suppose. My dad says he doesn’t even know who came first, him or the chair, cos even in all the ages he has seen it around it has maintained its polish like an angel that never grows old.

He knows how to make an entrance, this old man. I believe he watches while the fight for the closest space next to him rages on and waits until all the tears of pain are wiped away with laughters of love. He waits till apologies are passed or noses are twitched for failed apologies. He waits until we hug it out in the spirit of family. This old man who has warned our parents from intervening in our fights, waits for calm to ensue. That’s how we would understand each other, so he said. Sometimes you got to fight the people you love so you know how much you hate to see them hurt. Right he was, nay he always has been. I suppose he derives his massive wisdom from the numerous days he spends below the mango tree with bees circling his whitish hair like a God given crown. A crown for raising a family that know more fights than WWE yet laughter reins through it all. To the eye that observes, this is a home plunged in chaos but to the one that participates joy has never been more abundant. In a world filled with wisdom he has learnt to listen to our stupid ideas with his watery eyes, occasionally adjusting his huge glasses that somehow fail to cover his thick nose. The wrinkles in his face stretch the limits of his mouth akin to a smile.  This old man has been the pillar that holds us strong, the love in our hearts and the courage through our bloods. When we wrong others, he would place his stare on you until a tinge of guilt forces you to apologise then he would smile and turn away. He is a man of a few words who punctuates his speech with phrases like, “this is what I think” but “this is what I know”. He would never shy from telling you the truth but that’s only as long as you ask for it and when you defy his advice he would give you the look. My dad says that look has been the only thing consistent with his face, that once he wants was a serious talker, more like me. But you know what they say, if life doesn’t teach you to listen then it sure will teach you what to say. And what to say, he surely knows.

Like a mascot after a tug of war game he settles in his seat and gets to it,

Äs you can see I have been around for sometime and I have seen much, but not all. Life never reveals all it just reveals as much as you want to know. And me, I haven’t asked to know much. Because the more you know the more you have to do about it. I have been to the races where the adrenaline pushes your limits to an all new high. I have been to the fights where one walks away on the shoulders of his peers while a red eye walks on the cheekbones of another. I have been to the peaceful river, the river of whose tranquillity speak of depths un-waded and cool waters never experienced. I have been there, where the voices of friends speak to your heart to do something that you are reluctant to do and yet you will agree. I’ve stood before my parents and promised never to do it again and moments later, whoops! I did it again. When the voices were raised to the unacceptable high I have denied that voice. When the goat got a near death beat I have said I wasn’t the one. Well life is a fairy tale and sometimes the line that separates reality and the fairy tale is the consequences that reality come with.

The other day I was at the tree, the mugumo tree that separates our land and your other grand dad’s and it reminded me of the silent night many years ago. When under that tree I stood with the most beautiful woman I had known then. I held her hands, touched her hair and counted every time she took a breath. I had drawn her closer and closer to me as I succumbed to yet another temptation. She was fair, fairer of them all and had this sweet voice that when she spoke my mind rolled like a tape recorder that recorded whatever she said. After every meet I would replay this recorded sounds over and over again in my head and I would smile myself to sleep. She was a little older than me but I didn’t mind because while the lost kid found its mother goat, and as the lonely cricket called to other lonely hearts, I was not alone. While the little bird listened to its mamma sing a lullaby and the plants in the farm grew inch by inch, I too grew inch by inch deeper in love with her. In the fading light her long black hair rose with the gentle evening breeze and reflected the last embers of the setting sun giving it a goldly finish. In all my life I had learnt that everything happens for a reason and the reason as to why this evening she finally succumbed into my arms I haven’t yet understood. Not that I have sought for answers but some answers are just not worth the pursuit because for me oblivion and ignorance on this and other few is the best I would love to know.

Her eyes a little teary from all the sweet words I whispered into her face shone like the clichéd light at the end of the tunnel. Her hands in their desperate bid to hold me tighter trembled a tiny bit. But that was ok, I thought, because tonight she was in my arms and I won’t let go of her until she was alright. Or until my iron fisted dad found us, whichever happened to come first. I don’t know how long that moment lasted but one thing I do know, it has been the shortest time of my life and while ages and ages since I wish I had a remake of that scene. There are things I wish I did differently.

He then turns to us, as our ears hang on the last words he just spoke. He watches the apprehension that has enveloped and how engrossed on this story we are. Then he lifts himself up and starts to walk away. The moments seem to take longer than usual but he knows it’s coming so he keeps walking. And just as he’s about to disappear in the dark, I call onto him and say,

“Babu, What would you have done differently?”

By this time we all have eased ourselves noiselessly next to him and he heaves a sigh that lifts his shoulders then sets them back easily, he says,

Unless you can keep them, don’t make promises. Let your words count for the man whose words don’t count shouldn’t speak at all. Good night kids.

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