Me, Bob Marley and my Favorite Cousin Connie

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November 29, 2016 – 18:02h

When I boarded the bus earlier, I had no idea where I was to alight. Then I saw this Catholic Church and I knew that this is where I was headed.

So I alight, and head straight to the confessional.

Me: (As soon as i am seated in the confessional) Hello

Priest: Good evening my son.

Me: Well, I don’t know. Does it seem good to you?

Priest: How long has it been since your last confession?

Me: Twenty Six years.

Priest: Oh. And what’s changed now?

Me: Well, I am not here for a confession really. I guess I just have a story to tell and I was hoping you’d have an ear for me.

Priest: Of course I will be your ears.

November 29, 1998. 18:02h. This is the earliest memory I have of my cousin Connie. My mama and I have gone to visit her sister (Connie’s mom) in Nyahururu town where she lives.

Connie is 18 and I am 8. I know that because we were born on the same day but ten years apart. And as mama and her sister chat and laugh endlessly in the house, Connie asks me to take her into town to buy something. I don’t remember what, but the idea seems appealing to me.

Oh, name is Ngatia and I don’t like people. Not really. They talk too much and I have a short attention span. I guess I just like to sit down, listen to music and just let my mind disappear to wherever.

But Connie is different. She seems to get me and one of the first things I remember her saying to me is;

Connie: Do you know what your name “Ngatia” means?

Me: It means I am grandfather’s grandson because I am named after him

Connie: (Laughs and rubs my head) No stupid. It is Kikuyu for “Lion”. You’re my little lion.

I like that. But I don’t say it. I guess I do, but it is through a tiny smile as opposed to verbally.

And on the way to the shop, Connie takes a detour to the Thompson’s Falls and we take pictures as we pretend to be fetching water with our palms at the top of the Falls. It is relaxing.

And she keeps singing, “Holy Mount Zion. Holy Mount Zion…. We jammin’ I want to jammin’ with you…” And on our way back home, I ask her what song that is and she says it’s Bob Marley’s “Jammin'”

Me: Who’s Bob Marley?

Connie: (Genuinely shocked) Really? He is only the best singer to ever walk this earth. What? You don’t know Bob?

Me: Well, I know John DeMatthew. Does that make me less stupid?

Connie: Relax little lion. (Singing) Oh pirates yes they rob i, sold I to the merchant ships, minutes after they took I, from the bottomless pit. But my head was made strong, by the Hand of the Almighty, say we fight in this generation, triumphantly. So, won’t you help to sing, another song of freedom, it’s all I ever had, redemption song. Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind, have no fear for atomic energy, coz none of them can stop Jah time. Coz how long shall they kill our prophets, yes we stand aside and look? Someone say its just a part of it, we’ve got to fulfill the book. So won’t you help to sing, another song of freedom, coz all I ever had, redemption songs. Redemption songs.

Connie has the voice of an angel. All I can say is “That’s the loveliest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Connie: That’s Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”. When we get home, we’ll listen to more of his music, yeah?

And just like that, I fall in love with Bob Marley’s music. And this memory of Connie and I walking the streets of Nyahururu town as she sings and as I marvel and vanish in her voice and the song; this memory remains etched in my mind forever.

November 29, 2000. 18:02h. I am holed up in my room listening to Bob Marley and reading a storybook from the Moses Series (Moses and the Mildred) when my mom knocks on my door.

Mama: You in there Ngatia?

Me: (Singing along to the radio) Play us some music, this a reggae music. Roots Rock Reggae, this a reggae music!!

Mama: I guess that means I can come in. (Once she’s in the room) Now I won’t be talking to my son because he’s always holed up in his room listening to Bobo Mare (Bob Marley) and Mighty Kong’i Kong’i (Mighty King Kong), is that it?

I turn off the radio because there’s no way for a son to inform his mama that he’s simply addicted to music. Reggae music. Especially not when the mama in question subscribes to the “Reggae listeners are Rasta and they smoke bhang and they grow dreadlocks, school of thought

And she informs me that Connie’s younger brother has died in a road accident.

But I don’t know her brother. Well, we met a while ago but he’s not my most favorite person in the world. So I just shrug and say “OK” and switch the radio on again. A few days after this, mama takes me to a physician to check if I fall within any autism spectrum. But I am 10 years old now so I have no idea what autism is and I don’t care much either. But since I don’t get enrolled to any special programs after this, I just figure that the paediatrician gave a negative answer. So mama hence concludes that I simply have an attitude problem which can only be rectified with the rod. And so from now on, she spares not the rod, nor any other thing that’s lying around in the course of a beating. Not even a flashlight, or even an overripe avocado. And Bob Marley is banned from the house.

Mama: (After hurling a piece of hot ugali at me because she’s angry that I was humming “Get up! Stand up!” around the house) I don’t want daimono’s (Demons’) music in my house! You hear? You can listen to it when you grow up and buy your own radio and ‘drink’ bhang with your friends!

November 29, 2006: 18:02h

Bob Marley: (Singing loudly from overhead speakers of a dingy keg bar) Lord, I gotta keep on, moving! Lord, gotta get up, now! Lord, I’ve got to keep on, moving, where I can’t be found! Lord, they’re coming after me!

Me: (I am at a table with Connie inside this smoky, semi-lit joint. We have a couple of full keg jugs on the table and a freshly opened packet of cigarettes) This song makes me sad.

Connie: You’re drunk.

Me: That too. But this song man, it saddens me even when I’m sober. I guess it makes me think of Bob being alone and scared somewhere.

Connie: (Laughs uncontrollably)Your mama should see you now. She’d die of anger.

I have just completed my KCSE. I’m 16 now and she’s 26. We are in Nairobi’s Pipeline Estate.

Connie: “Stir it up.” That’s the only Bob’s song that makes me sad. Makes me cry most times even.

Me: You’re lying. You don’t cry

And I believe that. Connie is to me, what the Pope is to a staunch believer. She has no weakness, there’s nothing but perfection with her. She’s my best friend.

So after finishing both jugs and a few cigarettes to add on the high, I tell her that she’s the best thing in the world for me.

Connie: (Rising up) Yep. You’re totally drunk. We’re going home.

But instead of going home, we make it to a football pitch where people learn how to drive and ride motorcycles illicitly of course and also where people go to smoke some weed.

And we find a nice quiet spot. And she retrieves a bent up joint from her Timbalands. She’s always in jeans and Timbalands. I don’t think it’s weird at all.

As we smoke up, we share her earphones as we listen to Capital FM’s Sunday Evening Reggae Show. And playing currently is Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry.”

Bob Marley: I remember, when we used to sing, in a government yard in Trench Town. And then .. Would make the fire light, as it was what would burn through the night. Then we’d cook cornmeal porridge of which I’d share with you. See, my fear is my only courage, so I got to push on through. But while I’m gone…

Connie, me and Bob: (Connie and I seated on the grass, smoking grass and swaying from side to side as we sing drunkenly) Everything’s gonna be alright! Everything’s gonna be alright! Everything’s gonna be alright! Everything’s gonna be alright! No woman no cry (oh no no) don’t shed no tears (no woman), no woman no cry. Coz my little sister, don’t shed no tear, (no no woman) no woman no cry!!!

And by this time, our index fingers are in the air and it seems like nothing’s ever going to come between Connie and I. I guess there’s nothing as beautiful as watching the sunset with your most favorite person in this world as y’all smoke joints drunk and as you listen to Bob Marley from their Nokia 3310. Such moments are priceless.

November 29, 2007. 18:02h

I am in my first year first semester and I am pursuing a bachelor of laws. Mama keeps saying that I wanted to be a lawyer even when I was four years old. I don’t know how many four year olds know what a lawyer is. Maybe I was just that weird or maybe she’s usually just exaggerating. Or maybe she never misses out on a chance to show off her 17 year old law student. If she knew I had turned into bhang “drinking”, Bob Marley listening dude, phew! There’d be no place on this earth for me to hide.

I am at Connie’s place. She lives in pipeline still with her mother who is some sort of a secretary at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

Currently, Connie is teaching me how to cook. Well, I know how to cook, but according to her, I “only put stuff in the sufuria, add cooking fat and water to it and boil the shit out of it.”

Of course I refute that allegations with the strongest superlatives I can muster.

Connie: Will you drop your pride already? I’m trying to teach you how to get laid here.

Me: What?

Connie: Women like a guy who can cook. And I don’t mean just boiling stuff. I mean real cooking. Tasty meals that turn them on.

Me: I’m 17, Connie. I’ll get laid when I’m ready.

Connie: So says every loser I know.

Me:,Know many losers, do you?

Connie: Hey! Stop being smart with me and come here.

On the TV is an ongoing Morgan Heritage “Live in Amsterdam” Mix.

Me: Morgan Heritage? Do they even sing reggae? Come on Connie. Don’t tell me you’re wussing out on me.

Connie: There’s a Bob Marley mix somewhere around there. Play it then come on over to the kitchen.

And so as Bob’s “Natural Mystic” plays, she teaches me how to cook saying;

Connie: I can assure you that there’s a very small number of 17 year old virgin ladies left right now. We’re in 2007 and girls are in quite the hurry to lose their virginity. You’d think it’s a heavy load just hanging between their thighs and they can’t wait to get rid of it.

Me: We still talking of cooking?

Connie: Yes we are. When you bring a good girl home, I want her to be a virgin. You deserve to lose your virginity to a virgin, OK little lion?

Me: Yes mom.

And she shows me how to bring out the best taste in your meat. And what to add to your veggies to bring out the best taste in them. Everything to Connie is art as far as cooking is concerned.

And as we eat later, she says;

Connie: I cherish these little moments we spend together. One day you’ll be a big lawyer and you won’t want to associate with the likes of Consolata here because I’ll be broke and dirty and you’ll be too good to even share a drink with me.

Me: You’re quite the bitch sometimes, you know that Connie? Now where did that come from?

Connie: If that were to happen, just know that I would be OK with it, OK?

Me: Whatever. You’re my only family Connie. That means something to me. So quit being insecure and let’s listen to Bob Marley in peace.

Connie has a drinking problem. She’s always had it. It’s a problem because it’s always coming between her and whatever job she manages to get.

And she gets a false sense of entitlement that convinces her that she’s too good for some jobs. Like that time when she was some director’s personal assistant, she quit saying that the 24,000/- untaxed salary wasn’t adequate and that she deserved better. She was 24 at the time.

Then she got a job as a receptionist at a busy law firm and she quit because the work was too much.

Initially, her salary used to go to buying her clothes and her liquor, but lately, the liquor was getting more And the clothes were reducing. And she was in the habit of verbally, emotionally and sometimes physically abusing her boyfriends.

November 29, 2008. 18:02h.

Earlier this year, Connie and I had a falling out. And she got a boyfriend and I got a girlfriend. And we had spent many months without seeing each other.

What happened was, in February, I had just reported back school from upcountry for my second semester of my first year at the university’s school of law.

Connie was a bus conductor but she was threatening to quit because the job wasn’t safe. It was during the 2007/08 post election violence so her reason made sense especially since her bus pried the Nairobi-Nakuru-Kericho-Kisumu route. So I suggested that she should quit and look for a job in the bus companies whose vehicles didn’t have to venture “beyond enemy lines” namely anywhere past Nakuru.

And she took my advice and quit. Then one evening, she came borrowing money and vowing to return it shortly.

I had in my life KES. 1,300/- only. Not a cent more. Connie came to me with a five mile long story. Her mama was kicking her out, her boyfriend was stingy, she needed to renew her Good Conduct Certificate if she was to get a new job, etcetera.

Because she was my best friend and everything, I loaned her KES. 1,100/- and was left with 200/- to cater for my lunch for a few days at the university mess. And she promised to give me back the same in three days tops.

And the three days simply never ended for her. And I felt betrayed. Like she had treated me the way she was treating all those other morons she called family. She was my only friend in the world and she had treated me like she didn’t care. And to make matters worse, she drunk the money instead of renewing her Good Conduct Certificate.

So when she calls me at 18:02h on the November 29th, 2007 with the news of her miscarriage, I don’t feel a thing. No pity, no anger, no regret, nothing. Not even sorry for her loss.

And listening to Bob Marley doesn’t feel the same anymore. I’m listening to “Kinky Reggae” and “One Love” and I feel nothing.

Just one short year ago, if I heard “Iron Lion Zion” anywhere, I’d stop to dance. Now, I don’t even notice when Bob sings. It’s like a part of me just went dark when she betrayed me. A beautiful friendship lost to 1,100/- measly shillings.

November 29, 2011. 18:02h

I’m still a university student largely because someone found it a great idea to go on strike causing the school to be shut down for almost a year.

And my girlfriend’s pregnant. I am afraid I’ll make a bad dad because I’m 21 and not ready to be a father.

And Connie knocks on my door with a tall story about how she and her man are done. She’s 31 now and drunk and stinking and dirty. One year ago, she had another miscarriage.

And again I feel nothing for her. Her request is to stay with me for a few days as she figures things out but all that’s in my head is how she’ll cramp my style. How I just want to be alone and how she will come between me and my peace of mind. So I lie to her that my girlfriend will be home shortly. And how we have some serious stuff to talk about. Truth is, my girl is upcountry trying to find the best words to use to tell her parents that she’s pregnant.

So Connie leaves and I feel relieved.

November 29, 2015. 18:02h. I’m 25. I’m newly admitted to the bar and I’m a father. And I have a new girlfriend because my baby mama and I broke up. Her parents also didn’t like me too much. Such pressure can yank people apart.

I have just started reacquiring my love for Bob Marley. My ringtone is “Buffalo Soldier”.

I’m home cooking for my new girl just like Connie taught me all those years ago when my phone rings. But the caller hangs up before I can answer.

The missed call is from Connie. When she calls again, I deliberately refuse to answer and my girl gets suspicious.

My instincts tell me that Connie has just been kicked out by her mom again, and now she is looking for a place to spend the night. And now she’s calling to find out if she can come over.

I could easily pick up and lie to her that I am not home but I decide against that for a reason I can’t explain. I guess I feel nothing for her anymore.

I ask my lady who’s home with me to switch off all the lights, lock the metal door from inside and stay silent. That I’ll explain later why. And she obliges me.

And Connie calls and calls and calls but I don’t answer. Then she comes over anyway and starts knocking on the door. And she fits her hand inside the door to feel for the padlock and she finds it locked.

So she starts asking neighbors if I’m around. And they say that they don’t know.Finally, she leaves.

And later in the night, we enjoy dinner my lady and I, and I tell her all about Connie and I. And she asks me to try and forgive her. But the issue isn’t forgiveness now. What i felt for Connie, my trust in her, the feeling of utmost friendship, that was dead. How do I revive that?

And we dance to Bob Marley’s “Wait in love” and fall asleep in each other’s arms on the couch

In the morning, Connie shows up. She doesn’t want much. Only to shower. Could I please let her shower? And I call in sick at work. But my lady proceeds to leave with the promise that she’ll be back again tonight. As she heads out, she whispers in my ear, “She is your family. Forgive her. Love her again.”

Me: (Whispering back) You’re my family. I love you.

Her: See you tonight little lion (She bites my earlobe playfully) I love you.

Connie: (Once my girl is gone) I hear you’re a big lawyer now.

Me: Nah Consolata. I’m just a very small and minute part of a big organization.

Connie: Consolata, huh? What happened to Connie?

Me: Nothing. It’s just, we haven’t talked for years now.

Connie: (She comes closer to me and takes my both hands in hers) If I wronged you my little lion, I’m sorry. I never said this before but you were the only person I could ever really talk to. I love you Ngatia. I promise.

Me: (Lying through my best smile) Why don’t you grab that shower and maybe we could grab a drink later? And maybe listen to Bob Marley. It’ll just be like the old days. Just you and me in Pipeline.

Connie: (Fighting tears) I’d love that very much.

And she bounces off to have that shower happily. But in my head, I’m looking for an excuse to get away from her as soon as possible.

And soon, something comes to me.

Me: (Yelling to Connie as she showers) Yo Connie!

Connie: What’s up dear?

Me: I have a matter coming up for hearing in an hour. Think I can rush off to court then meet you back here at 15:00h?

Connie: Promise? I need to talk to you about something.

Me: Yeah I promise.

On my way out, i leave a 500/- note on the table. When Connie comes out of the shower and sees that, she’ll take it and head out to the nearest Keg bar. That way she won’t be around for when the caretaker changes my locks to keep her out.

And that is the last time I see Connie. Outside, I inform the caretaker that I need to change my locks and that he should have that done by the time I get back home in the evening. He should however wait for the lady in there to leave.

I then buy me enough clothes to see me through the week and move in with my girlfriend for the rest of the week.

Later when Connie calls, she finds that I cannot be reached. I have after all, just changed my number.

November 29, 2016; 18:02h. This morning, mama called to say that Connie committed suicide last night.

Me: Like I said, I am not here to confess, rather just to tell a story.

Priest: Did she leave a note?

Me: No. Not really. That night when I wouldn’t open the door for her, she had to sleep outside. And it rained the whole night. And someone um… Someone um… She was assaulted. Sexually. I think that’s what she wanted to talk to me about. You know, when I promised I’d be back at 15:00h.

Priest: And now you feel like it’s your fault?

Me: No Father. No. Now I wish I could feel like it was my fault. I wish I could feel guilty.

Priest: Where is the burial?

Me: Upcountry I guess. But I won’t attend because I already proved to her that we’re no longer friends.

Priest: That’s pride talking son.

Me: Nah. This is me being real. I never was a hypocrite. As you preach, remember this story father. Remind your flock of me and Connie. Who knows? Maybe there’s a lesson to be learnt in there somewhere.

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