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Last Man and the flood mangoes

By Makau Kitata

Rainy seasons were great moments for boys to play in our village. We waddled in the brown pools and took a front seat by the river crossing. Here, we watched and marvelled at the strength of the river, cheering whenever a tree or someone’s crops raced by.  It was a treat not to be missed.

Grandpa had been a policeman. In retirement, he had taken to fruit growing. His orchard was a wonder of fruits we had never seen in our village. There was always a fruit in season in Grandpa’s orchard. If not macadamia, it was oranges; if not guavas, pawpaw.

Grandpa had planted a new breed of mangoes; boy-height trees that always bore huge yellow fruits, unlike the usual tall giants of the village. When they gave fruits, they had more yellow mangoes than leaves. They dangled and pulled down the branches which had to be supported with stakes to keep the heavy fruits off the ground.  They looked like a multitude of milk-laden breasts, inviting a child for a suckle. I salivated every time I walked by Grandpa’s garden.

Grandpa never harvested the fruits nor allowed the family to eat them. He sold all to traders who parked small pick-up trucks by the road. We watched with ravenous appetites as the harvesters cleaned the fruit trees.  If any fruit dropped, Grandpa would let it rot on the ground rather than have anyone in the village eat it. Unbeknown to him, I would do a round and stealthily collect the fruits to enjoy them in hiding.

“Last Man, who is the child stealing my fruits?” Grandpa would ask every morning after inspecting his farm and noting a child’s footprints.

“I have no idea, Grandpa,” I’d respond. “I’ll keep an eye out and tell you,” I’d lie.

Grandpa would look at me suspiciously and let me go. But I lived in a hell I could not escape. “What if I get discovered?” I would worry. Legend had it that he had killed many thieves as a policeman. A boy would be nothing to him. I feared.

This rainy season many farms were eroding into the village river. We waited downriver to get some of the fruits and sat by the banks cheering every time a banana tree washed past us. Grandpa’s farm was washing into the river with the fruit trees riding high on the flood. When the river started delivering mango-laden trees, everything changed. Some boys tried to swim to them but were stopped by the rushing water. Then down came the mango tree I had coveted for ages. I grabbed its branch like a person saving a drowning milk cow. We dragged it to the grass and picked up all the yellow fruits.

“This is manna from above,” I shouted to my friends. “Thank God for these floods. We have a chance to feast on forbidden fruits.”

I picked the mangoes and ran to share them with my auntie, Nduku, who was breastfeeding my baby girl cousin.

When Grandpa saw me, he followed into the house to find me enjoying the fruits with Auntie. Noticing the feast on the table, he threw off his raincoat.

“A flood fruit belongs to no one,” Auntie remarked.

Grandpa had had enough. He walked out and soon stormed in, wielding a stick.

“Last Man, I knew I would catch you one day,” he snarled.

“Leave the boy alone, he only fished this from the floods,” intervened Auntie Nduku.

“And you are the one teaching the boy to steal from me. How long have you been at it?”

He wouldn’t listen as he whacked me till blood flowed from my back. When Auntie Nduku tried to protect me, he cracked her head with a blow. She now struggled to protect the baby. The blows were tearing into our backs and heads like the storm outside did to the land.

As we tried to scream, he screeched back a riot chant. “You shout, I shoot! I will ….”

So Auntie Nduku and I suffered the barrage of strokes in silence. The only sound was the explosion of the strikes, like thunder in the rain. We quivered and sniffled, unable to cry out for fear of more brutal blows.

When he left, my auntie told me.

“I will never call my daughter Mumbua, after his wife. It reminds me of this rain and that bully’s wife.”

“And what will we call her?” I inquired.

“We’ll call her Mwende, the loved one.”

Auntie, but that name is not in our family.” I pursued.

“From today, your cousin is Mwende.”

When my uncle returned from the city, he could not understand why the name had changed. He could not call Mwende, or any name chosen by a woman, leave alone a name that did not belong to his mother. He called her Avril, instead, and said it was Christian.

In time, I grew up to be the family spokesman in Mwende’s wedding. When they called me to give a speech, I talked about the meaning of my cousin’s name.

“Avril Mwende reminds us of the season and love,” I said, as raindrops sounded on the reception tent. “Her name in our family means the beloved. So, Mr. Kariuki, as you marry our girl, you are lucky not to struggle to tell her ‘I love you’. Just call her Mwende.” The celebrants laughed at this trick in a name.

I could not proceed with the speech as I choked when I looked at my auntie and saw her crying. Tears jerked into my eyes, too. Handing over the mic to the MC, I embraced her.

“Not the rain, again,” she whispered to me.

We would not stop crying for a long time.

“They love that girl.” Exclaimed the MC.

“I didn’t know you were such a romantic.” Said cousin Kasee, taking me behind the tent to calm off.

The rain subsided and my relatives boarded their cars, and the hired school bus to travel back home. As they drove away, they were all talking of the affection that had made a grown man like Last Man cry. But they were wrong. I did not cry because we were giving away Mwende to marriage. I cried because the sudden rain reminded me of the bloody beating Auntie and I received for eating flood mangoes, once upon a time, in the village.

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