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Last Man loses pet dog, Taika

By Makau Kitata

It was the weekend of my sister’s traditional wedding. On Friday, our in-laws came to negotiate the bride price. On Saturday, their men slaughtered a goat. Their women cooked lots of chapati and pilau. Then they prepared muthokoi, to make it a real Kamba wedding. The entire village came to the party.

For months before this ceremony, my sister’s boyfriend visited in the evenings to chat with my mother. My sister always saw him off. “Last Man, mind the dog for them,” Mum sometimes requested me.

She urged me to follow them from a distance with my dog, Taika. Though Taika barked fiercely at strangers, she had become accustomed to Jonas. I was mother’s eye; my dog gave me a sense of power.

I loved my dog, Taika. I had named her Tiger because of her white stripes and ferocity, but villagers could not pronounce that. My mother once told me, “A man who owns a dog does not eat all his food.” I always reserved some food on my plate for Taika to lick clean.

This Saturday, all the village dogs attended like politicians who had received a memo for weekend allowances. Every village boy worth his name stoned a dog. So, the mongrels operated on the fringes. 

Taika was not keeping close to me. She was minding big dogs from nearby villages. As the only dog in season, big dogs fought for her, flattening a sizable part of my mother’s maize garden. But she never seemed to mind it. It was Taika, my dog.

The deejay played energetic Kamba tunes. The boys shot up to a scissor-knee dance. 

Spare that for the night!” overzealous Christians grumbled. 

Deejay changed to Kikamba gospel tunes by Ngina, my sister’s friend. The songs blared out, and the artist jumped into the middle of the compound alongside village women. They shook their behinds, some left to right, others up and down. Boys and men watched and whispered. Cousin Musembi edged towards me and said,

 “These days, a woman who can’t shake her behind will not get a husband.”

Since when did dancing become a qualification?” I responded.

A man should shake a leg; a woman, her behind.”

As they served food, Taika emerged from the maize field locked in copulation with an enormous dog. Both were pulling away from each other. Taika was gaining ground and squealing towards me. In time, they were right in the middle of the compound with the eating party. 

Tell me, Grace, what do you think of these dogs?” giggled my sister to her maid of honor.

Cate, you are not supposed to see that.”

Women looked at the pulling pair, then turned away, scandalised. Men eyed the women and started murmuring. My sister would not take it any longer.

Last Man, I’ve always known you have malice against me. See how your dog is behaving?” she shrieked. “Take them away before I smack you.”

I could not shepherd Taika to enter the maize field now. Her hero was pulling her in the opposite direction, where the women sat.

Then my cousin Sombe, his face oily and murky from a pilau scramble, broke from the group of boys. His cheek swelled from a chunk of meat he was munching. He looked like a madman chewing at a large roll of miraa.

Sprinting towards the pile of wood our in-laws had piled for the firewood, he snatched a mighty plank of wood – a pestle used to pound the maize in the mortar.

I missed tripping him as he rushed towards the two adjoined dogs. Lifting the pestle high like a man killing a snake, he brought it down between the pulling pair. Whack! The dogs separated with an eerie yelp.

Big dog squealed away into the maize plantation while Taika, her back bent towards the ground, circled the compound looking for me, moaning. I dreadfully locked her in the kennel behind my room.

Throughout the night, people danced and wished my sister good luck in her new role. I took countless visits to the kennel where Taika trembled, alone.

On Sunday morning, I went to look for her and share my food. She was dead. I got tongue-tied as a lump stuck in my throat. I walked around, blind, with a heavy heart.

Wrapping her limp body in a cloth, I walked down the slope towards the river where I usually played. I looked for a flat space between two eucalyptus trees and dug a dog’s grave. After lowering and covering her, I cut some hibiscus flowers from a nearby bush and spread them over the tiny grave. Then I said a prayer and walked home.

Last Man, where have you been?” asked my mother after noticing my plate was untouched.

The lump in my throat exploded as I tried to speak. Tears splashed down my face as I rushed to my bedroom. I stayed there and refused to come out even after my sister and in-laws demanded to see me before leaving.

He loved his sister too much and can’t stand to see her leave,” said my mother after trying in vain to get me out.

My sister left that morning to become part of another family. They thought I was crying about losing her, but they were wrong. I cried for Taika. To me, she was not merely a dog. She had a name.

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