He walks in, small and proud, wizened yet with bright and shining eyes that looked around in wonder.
Wakia maitu he says to me. I wonder who he is. He seems familiar, I just can’t place him. But his respectful salutation tells me a story. Wakia awa I reply, the formal greeting for a man who has greeted me as his daughter-mother. We repeat the greeting – Wakia maitu, Wakia awa.
I realise who reminds me of, he’s a much older version of my younger brother.
Ehe? He continues to smile as he looks around my dining room with a clear sense of wonder.
He walks upto my grandson. Na uyu no? He asks.
My grandson looks at him in confusion and stares back to me. What’s he saying Cucu? he asks me.
He’s asking what your name is I reply. Tell him I say to my grandson.
My name is Wylie he says.
Ati atia? He asks in bewilderment. Ati Waii-Ree?
He turns to me and he begins to question me asking which of my ancestors – the wizened man’s brothers, sons, nephews or uncles my grandson was named for. I stammer in my response trying to explain that his other name, his middle name, the Kikuyu one that the old man is searching for, is Njenga. Embarrased that my grandson defaults to his Christian name, a name that has a letter that isn’t even part of the Kikuyu language.
The old man nods in affirmation telling me that he remembers when his son Njenga was named. He tells me the story of how the boy was such a maize thief. If his mother would leave her maizecobs roasting unattended even for minute she would come and find them gone. The old man laughed in rememberance. His son as a small boy became Njenga, nicknamed for the bits of maize that he would leave in a trail behind him after his thefts.
My grandson looks between us, and tugs at my shirt. What are you and the old man saying he asks?
The old man meanwhile looks at me and asks the same question – Aroiga atia? He seems confused because he can tell clearly that this is my grandson. After all, the boy called me Cucu, yet neither of them can understand the other.
I look at both of them and with sudden clarity I know my place. The realization cuts through me.
I’m the chasm in the plateau. A jagged tear in the fabric of lineage.
My ancestor on one side, my descendant on the other.
I am the break.
It never seemed like a big thing when we moved to the city. My daughter started attending primary school which was a melting pot of cultures, communities and tribes as is the case in so many cities, and before I knew it English became our lingua franca. She told me the stories of her day in the language of her teachers and her friends. And she stopped speaking Kikuyu.
I only really internalized years later that she no longer used her mothertongue. She could understand it but wouldn’t speak it. Decades passed and then her son was born, named for my brother and grandfather, and his grandfather. There was never any chance that he would speak his mothers mothertongue. Between my daughters clipped city English and daily shots of Nickelodeon he never stood a chance.
So there I stood, between an old man returned miraculously to his future, and his great great great grandson, named for his only son, both representing the very essence of my being, past and future, disconnected by a language I allowed to be lost.
In response to the prompt Modern Families