I closed my eyes and listened to the sounds around me. The occasional birds tweeting back and forth. The rustle of Napier leaves as the wind whistled through them. The most distinctive sound was that of motor vehicles rushing along the highway, just a few hundred meters from where I sat.
I sat inside a shallow hole dug in the soft earth of a subsistence farm belonging to a man I didn’t know then. A man I was just about to meet.
I had come from one of my many smoking sessions during that phase of my life. The garden was one of many situated along a mostly-deserted footpath which served as a perfect smoking spot and a meditation spot, qualities afforded to it by its low human traffic presence.
Usually I would slowly walk the path from my mum’s house where I lived at the time and scout for favourable conditions for my usual practices and today I did the same, except when I got to the end of the path where I was supposed to turn back and head home, marking the end of my trip, I looked around and saw a hidden grassed spot further along in a garden with tall maize plants. From my deduction, the plants were three months old. The cobs had not matured but the leaves were long and green and the stems sturdy and tall. “The owner will reap a bumper harvest” I thought to myself.
I glanced along the path to make sure no one was watching me trespass into someone’s property and quickly jumped over the five sticks acting as the owner’s entrance coming from the path. I walked along the side of the garden and to my delight the grassed spot I had earlier spotted had shallow holes where Napier grass had been uprooted, creating a distinct separation between the maize and the napier grass which grew into the large piece of land going far back into the land parallel from the path. I sat in one of the holes, made myself comfortable, lit up the J and slowly inhaled. I was nervous. I smoked for 5 minutes, at which point I was already feeling stoned, as was expected. I got lost in the euphoria and the feelings of ecstasy for a good 10 minutes till I started dozing off at which point I decided to take my phone and check my notifications.
‘Brian retweeted …’
‘7.1 Magnitude earthquake …’
‘Desmond posted 5 new pho …’
I looked up from my phone and just a few meters from where I sat, an old man stood, glaring at me. Gray hair covered his head. I could see the hostility and confusion in his furrowed eyebrows. He was dressed in an old, striped black suit. The black color of his suit was faded but not in the way bleach fades clothes. His faded suit was courtesy of entropy and being worn many times. Fuck! My heart started beating fast. Fuck fuck fuck!
I looked down at my phone as if ignoring his presence. He started approaching me. I smiled at him but he maintained his air of hostility. I callously said ‘Hi, how are you?’ in my mother tongue, as if trespassing on private property was the most normal thing to be doing at 4pm on a Sunday. The man didn’t respond to my greetings with the normal ‘fine thank you young man, nice weather we’re having’. Instead he said ‘who are you and what are you doing on my property?’. He had covered the distance between us and was hovering above me as he looked down waiting for a response.
I looked at my phone and decided to use the excuse which came most easily to me. “I am writing a book” I said. “I like seeking out secluded places to write. They’re very conducive for the flow of ideas” I continued. He looked around and not seeing a book or a pen anywhere close to me, he asked “where is this book you’re writing?” At this point, I breathed a little easier sensing that the worst part was over. This man was willing to be convinced and I had experience in the industry, what with being a marketing practitioner and all.
I stood up to meet his gaze and introduced myself. Everyone knew everyone in this town. Everyone knew everyone but me. “My name is James Ogoth. Son of Awim.” He instantly recognized the name and adopted a more inquisitive than hostile attitude towards my presence on his land.
He warned me about trespassing people’s property in Gothi. “If one of my sons had found you and asked what you are doing on our farm, you wouldn’t have been able to convince them of your scholarly intentions. There is maize here and napier grass over there. If they had concluded that you were a thief, that would have been the end of you. Do you understand?” “I understand sir. I had not thought about my actions up until you opened my eyes to the ignorance that would have gotten me into a lot of trouble. I saw this spot from the path over there and decided to invade its solitude. It’s very hard to find places to write anymore” I could still smell the marijuana on my breath. What a funny situation I was in.
After convincing the old man of my noble intentions, he asked what I did and I told him I was a student at the university. Old rural folks have a special kind of reverence for a well-educated fellow as was evident in the string of curious questions he followed my answer with. “What do you do at the university…Oh science, nice. You know, you children are the people who will bring development to this place. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o used to bring us Chinese tourists around.” He stared into space nostalgically, remembering that time Ngugi wa Thiong’o brought Chinese tourists to Gitogothi. “They didn’t do much. They just stared at the donkeys.” He laughed for a second but soon after his expression turned back to a look of sadness. He expressed a desire to see the house owned by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o refurbished to something useful. “The land his house is built on is not producing potatoes that can be sold for profit and neither are there any cows to milk or goats to slaughter for meat. Maybe they should convert it into an institution of learning or a museum. They could teach our children things.” He tried to come up with names of courses taught at institutions of learning he’d heard about but he couldn’t come up with any.
I was getting bored and I had already diffused the situation so I made to leave but the man said “You can stay and finish your book. If anyone finds you here tell them that the owner of this land, Njamba Wa Maathai, gave you permission to sit here and write your book.”
“Actually, you should meet my son Kariuki. He’s a good farmer. He keeps chicken, geese and goats. Then you can introduce yourself to him and tell him that you’re writing a book. You can tell him how we met too. Tell him that you will be coming to this spot to write your book.” I had just been invited to trespass again. I laughed internally at that.
“I sure will sir”, I said as I sat back down to write my book. I watched as Njamba Wa Maathai left to go back to his home. That was when I decided to write something. I would be remiss to repay the stranger’s good will with total deception. I wrote this short passage you’re reading now as a way to honor my words to Njamba Wa Maathai then I lit up the remaining joint I had and thought about how weird the last hour had been.
I had just found a new way to make friends.