Mzee Mzizi had called his family to a meeting. The chief was also present, because whatever he was about to tell his family needed a witness. He himself felt that the eighth decade was very likely his last.
His wife Nyanya as they liked to address her was seventy years old. She had a habit of snorting especially when she was worried. The rest of the family watched her silently as she snorted and shifted on her stool leaning on her walking stick.
Standing behind her was her son, Kiza, the second and only son left alive. He stood impatiently for the old man to announce the agenda of his meeting. His impatient breathing could be noticed from the rise and fall of his pot belly , his arms crossed above the huge stomach as he scowled at everyone in the room but his dear old mother.
His timid wife Nerea, stood next to him, holding the shoulders of their seventeen year old daughter, their only child.
The chief stood near the old man’s bed, between the two families.
The other family was Lulu’s. Kiza had ensured that there was enough distance between his family and hers.
Lulu clasped her sixteen year old’s hand tightly as he tightened his grip too, understanding that it was just the two of them against the cruel world.
Lulu was the late elder brother’s wife, Gubu. They had welcomed her, fourteen years ago to Mzee Mzizi’s house as Gubu introduced her to her in-laws. They did not fail to notice that she had a son, and Gubu did not hide the fact that he loved the two year old dearly, despite the fact that he was not his biological son.
Then Gubu had succumbed to pneumonia, leaving Lulu and her son all alone. She had been expectant with Gubu’s first child but had lost the baby one month before her due month. It was the stress that she went through after her husband’s death ; several attempts to throw her out of the Mzizi compound with her ‘illegitimate son’.
Nonetheless, all attempts were squashed with the help of her father in law, who was now laying on his bed, on the verge of death.
He was the voice of reason, a true definition of an old wise man. It was him that ensured that Lulu and her son lived comfortably as Gubu’s widow. He always addressed Lulu’s son, Adili as his grandson and loved him as his own.
Lulu shuddered at what would happen when the old man died. She knew she and Adili would be hurled out as soon as the last handful of sand was thrown on his grave. She watched the hateful eyes of her mother-in-law and her son Kiza. They looked at her as if she and Adili had a bad infectious disease.
The old man, cleared his throat. He was weak but he gathered all his strength to sit up. Kiza tried to help him, but the old man stopped him, he could do it by himself, he said.
His rheumy eyes studied every person in the room, each taking a long minute of his scrutiny. Lulu was the last he set his eyes on, he formed what looked like a smile at her and cleared his throat again.
“Ahem! I greet you all my children.” His wavery voice spoke and members replied to his greetings.
“I want to thank you all for heeding my call. They say when a limping deer sees a hunting lion watching him, the deer lays down and pretends to play dead, hoping that he will not truly die…” He paused and glanced at all of them. All but his wife glanced back at him in confusion.
Nyanya snorted, understanding him, knowing too well, she would follow his route too, hopefully in another decade or two.
“My children, listen to my last words carefully. If you need to run to the river to wash off any wax in your ears for them to be clear, please do so now.” He paused again, as if waiting for someone to get out and perform the ridiculous act. Nobody made a move.
“Fourteen years ago, I lost my son, Gubu. I was with Gubu when he took his last breath and all the time, he kept saying, ‘Baba, Please take care of Adili when I am gone.’ ” The old man was saying as Kiza’s hands shifted to his pockets and back, across his chest . Nyanya snorted again as she threw a quick venomous glance at Adili whose eyes were fixed on the old man, Mzee Mzizi.
“I made the promise to my son, that even in my death, Adili would be taken care of, for what good is a man if he cannot protect and provide for his family?”
Lulu’s eyes were watering as the old man spoke. She had thought she had known Mzee Mzizi as an honourable man, like Gubu thought of him. But honourable was an understatement.
“That said, I have thirty acres of land in my name. This land was handed to me by my late father, warning me strictly never to sell it because it would pass from Mzizi to Mzizi lineage. He gave me thirty while my three brothers also got their thirty. Equal share!”
Hearts were beating faster, the members of Mzizi family fumbled and fidgeted, unsure of the old man’s next utterances. The chief watched in amusement as they waited anxiously for Mzee Mzizi to speak. The long silent pauses he was taking to catch his breath were not helping at all.
“A son is not defined by the blood running through his veins, but by his behaviour towards those that take care of him.” He paused and looked at Adili, pointed at him and said,
“Adili Gubu is a Mzizi, he gets fifteen acres.”
The old man did not allow them to react at that time, he had more in store for them. He turned to Kiza’s daughter, pointed at her and said,
“Neema Kiza Mzizi, gets the other fifteen. The land belongs to Adili and Neema unless they abandon their well mannered nature !”
There was silence at first, then confused rumpus reacting to the old man’s announcement.
“What?Father, you can’t be serious!” Kiza’s angry voice boomed.
“My son, a dying man has no time to dance and flirt with unserious matters.”
“Father, we all know that Adili is not a Mzizi, how could you?
“My son, I requested you to go wash your ears before I spoke but you did not, see how it has cost you.” Mzizi spoke, his voice getting weaker.
“My husband, what have you done?” His wife asked snorting in anger and pain. You showed how little you value your son by leaving his daughter land instead of him. What disgrace is this?” She was angry, raising her voice at the calm unperturbed man.
“My wife, don’t we all know Kiza? How many times has he asked for his share with an intention to sell it? No, this is ancestral land, it must not be sold.This should remain a Mzizi land.”
He sat up again, as if he had remembered something then uttered his next words in a slow but audible way, “My wishes must be obeyed. Anyone who defies my orders will roam the earth like a lunatic.” The words hit home like a hammer to a nail on timber.
He shut his eyes, a hint that he wanted to be alone. Kiza’s family walked out hastily, nyanya also left. The chief followed her leaving Lulu and her son.
“Thank you so much father!” She said, tears quickly running from her eyes.
“Grandpa, thank you.” Adili was speaking when Mzee Mzizi opened his eyes and looked at him.
“Adili, you are a young respectful man. I made a promise to my son Gubu to take care of you even in death…come here.” He said as Adili came closer to the only grandfather he had known. Mzizi spit on Adili’s head and made traditional chants.
“You will soar high my grandson and your mother will be very proud of you.” He said as he smiled at him while Lulu watched as Mzizi blessed her son. She wondered whether she would be any more proud to him than she was then.
The next morning, Kiza’s wife took breakfast to the old man as she always did. She wanted to thank the old man secretly for his decision to leave Neema her father’s portion of land. He had been right, her husband would sell all the land and squander it with booze and other women. She was happy that Neema’s future was secure.
She did not know how to feel about Adili, her nephew. She wondered why Neema would not just have had like twenty acres and the boy some five acres considering that Adili did not have the Mzizi blood in his veins. She shrugged her shoulders in dismissal. Who was she to suggest anything? Kiza had always pointed out that her opinions were better useful if she kept them to herself.
“Baba?” He lay in a still posture, his body cold. She made an ear piercing scream.
Mzizi was buried three days later. It was a huge occasion. He was known far and wide for his wisdom and humble personality. Even his sister-in-law law attended his funeral.
She was nyanya’s sister. She was quiet and it was clear she had only come to pay her last respects to Mzee Mzizi, not any other purpose. Shockingly, she did not speak to her sister. One could almost smell an animosity between the two elderly sisters.
“Did you notice that they did not even shake hands?” A woman said to the other.
“Aaai, whatever divided them must have been such a serious issue if they still hate each other that much!”
But that was quickly forgotten as people resumed to their lives’ activities.
Lulu and Adili hadn’t expected to live in peace after Mzee Mzizi’s demise but things had turned out well after the meeting he had had with all of them. Lulu wondered whether it was the curse-scare that made nyanya and Kiza pull away from her or they had just resolved to act maturely and accept that she was there to stay as Gubu’s widow.
Little did she know that behind that curtain of silence were nefarious schemes to banish her forever from the Mzizi home.
He met nyanya at her house everyday in the morning. Kiza’s house was closer to his mother’s and he would pop in when he had time to chase away her loneliness. But lately his morning visits had a purpose.
“Her sight makes me feel like vomiting, mother.I can’t stand seeing her and that bastard child roaming around, dirtying the Mzizi soil.” Kiza said, contorting his face in disgust.
“My son, I will not let that scoundrel take away what rightfully belongs to you. We will ensure that all the Mzizi land comes back to us. Even if its the last thing I have to do on this earth.” She hissed back.
“Mother, but what can be done? You were there when father made his utterances , and being categorical on what would happen to the person who defied his wishes…”
“Did you not listen carefully my son? ” His mother enquired. “Your father declared that the land belonged to Adili and Neema with one condition. Remember?”
Kiza scratched his chin as he tried to recall what his father had said. He shook his head.
“Aargh, you have too much porridge in that skull of yours. Your father said that the land was only theirs unless they abandoned their well mannered nature. See?” His mother scolded.
Yes, he did remember, his face brightened up but changed at the confusion his mother was causing him.
She saw the different emotions playing around her son’s face. She signalled him to move closer to her and whispered something in his ears. Her words cheered him. Such a brilliant idea his mother had !
TO BE CONTINUED.