My father died in May 2000. I don’t remember the exact date of his death, neither do I remember the date of the funeral. It was 14 years ago and I was a child. I was having a conversation with my good friend Just Jere about going Indian style and building on what our parents gave us. Instead of struggling on our own, maybe it is okay to appreciate, value and take advantage of the resources and knowledge our folks have. Basically that we are not obliged to go out on our own and start from scratch. This got me thinking about what my father left me.
My father made me love books.
One of my earliest and fondest memories of my father is sitting with him and laboriously reading articles from the Daily Nation. I would trace every letter with my finger, pronouncing the vowels carefully and looking up to him at the end of each sentence. I did not understand anything I read, but he applauded and seemed absolutely delighted every time I correctly read out a phrase, no matter how long it took. I basked in in his approval and this motivated me to go through the next sentence. And the next. This was while I was in nursery school.
Once I could make out actual words, we graduated to reading his magazines. Those were the days when going to the Post Office in Nairobi was a big deal. (We are the Rongai Originals by the way…) We would travel to Nairobi and check our mail. He had a billion subscriptions, mostly to car magazines and engineering stuff. It didn’t matter. We read them together. Then one day I got my own magazine subscription. Sparkle magazine, with that parrot on the the cover. We read them all together. And wrote them letters. And tried out their recipes. Beautiful memories.
I remember once we went on an expedition- Nakumatt Mega had just been opened, and us Rongai people could go stock up on luxuries such as cheese and shower gel. Nakumatt Mega was divided into sections- on one side was all the domestic stuff, and on the other side was the book shop.
One day my parents had promised me that we could go to the book shop and pick out a book for me to read. So we did our shopping. Then we went to the check out counter. I panicked. Why are we not going to the book shop? We paid. Is this a joke? Did I do something wrong to deserve this? We left the shop and went to the car. Why are they punishing me? We started driving away. I had been bubbly and happy before, spouting the endless nonsense that children typically do, but I had been growing more and more silent. My parents asked me what was wrong several times. I could not respond because it was obvious- why did are we not going to the bookshop? Eventually, as we were driving away, I realized that this was my last chance. I tearfully asked about my book. That they had promised.
They laughed and we went back in. I picked the fattest, biggest encyclopedia I could find. Then we went home in peace.
By the time my father died, the seed that he had planted in me had grown strong. I loved books. I loved to read. I had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. And I thought it was all me. I did not realize that he was the source, that he had led me down this path.
I read voraciously. I remember that after he died, we could not leave soon enough. By the end of the year, we had moved to Zimbabwe, where more books awaited me. Zimbabwe was a curious country. They had municipal libraries that actually had volumes and volumes of books that I could borrow. By the time I was 12, I had devoured books about slavery, Terry Prachett’s fantasy universe (with most of the innuendo lost on me), colonization, fantasy, anything they had I read it.
My next big treasure was USIU. I cannot describe the joy I felt when I realized that I could borrow 4 books at a time for free. I read about human sexuality, about colonization, current affairs, history and yes, some books about marketing. At times it felt like classes were interrupting my reading and binge drinking- a necessary evil.
And here I am today. When I think of my father, sometimes I feel a pain in the pit of my stomach. Like something has caved in. He should be here. why isn’t he here?
The pain of losing someone important never fully goes away. The loss that you feel cannot be fully described. Your friends cannot say the right words. It cannot be understood. On the 1st of May 2000 I, realized with a deep and painful understanding that I would never see my father again. In 2014 I realized that he gave me something that will never ever be taken away from me. He made me who I am today.
My father. My own personal hero.
Rest in peace Mr Muthui, this is my tribute to you. Your legacy lives on.