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The bearded ‘praying mantis’ of Nyeri

Kimathi Mutegi @kimathimutegi

Once upon a time, in 2011 or thereabouts, a group of us was seated on the verandah of a family house on a chilly Othaya night.

The reason I was deep inside Central Kenya was the burial of a classmate’s elder brother. Poor fellow lost dignity, job and eventually family to drink and sank into depression.

And instead of lying in bed and sulking the entire day in self-pity, he confronted the melancholy with the most popular anti-depressant on the market –the bottle. But this overwhelmingly common therapy has one catastrophic flaw, it never works.

Consequently, our friend’s brother sank further into the deepening pit of hopelessness. So what did he do? He unplugged the liquids’ brakes. In the end, he was found dangling from the roof of his house, very dead.

And despite having just covered him, a man slightly above our age group, with soil a few hours before, my buddies were already at various levels of intoxication, thanks to constant sips of the bottled fire shipped from the city.

I had been sober —of anything gaseous or liquid—for about three years (still I am) and was beginning to wonder if I would ever get used to my new observer role, the designated chauffeur, when the night air was ruffled by the unmistakable sound of a mouth running on grade 10 liquor. It was belting out incoherent Kikuyu circumcision songs punctuated by the occasional burp.

Our host said the singer was their neighbour and if we were lucky, we could witness a drama they had been treated to in regular installments. The thin, tall bloke, probably in his early 50s, was hanging for dear stability on a rickety gate post. He looked like an agitated, bearded praying mantis.

But as the swings gained momentum, he began to increasingly look like a pole dancer with a serious deficiency of talent. It wasn’t long before Newton’s theory triumphed and the pole dancer dug, first his knees, then moustache into the dewy grass.

He regained his rickety feet after a while and staggered towards the timber house, spitting out grass and demanding food. He was also threatening to hit someone with the plate if whatever he was served didn’t contain ‘a dead animal’.

I was feeling sorry for the family I pictured hurdled under the bed in fright because in as much as I had never witnessed a wife thrashing, husbands don’t issue empty threats where I come from.

My heart broke when after a moment of verbal deluge between the inebriated husband and his very angry rib, there was a loud smack followed by a wild scream of pain.

My body was stooping through the fence en route to defend my mother’s playmate when the man flew out the door and cluttered under the makeshift utensils rack outside.

The woman emerged after him adjusting a leso and brandishing a smouldering piece of firewood. It was the first time, outside of a Cynthia Rothrock movie, I had seen a grown man whipped like a boy by a woman.

The ninja, now short of his antics, just cowered under the meshed structure, belting out distress calls to his mother as the wife scored hit after hit of some well-schooled pain. And indeed, an elderly woman emerged from the shadows, spitting, cursing, shooing.

The beating stopped and the grandmother helped her sobbing son up and led him away towards her hut, promising food and declaring some women worse than snakes.

It was a scene that so defied the Meru man in me that for a moment, I wondered if the smokeables I had so wholesomely abused three years before had “burst” and I was now “seeing things”.

I wasn’t, because my buddies were still there. And they seemed more amused than shocked. In fact, they were sharing tales of a neighbour or relative or random fellow they knew, who regularly gets a similar or better ripened thrashing. It is a common thing, they dismissed the shocker and blamed it on “kunyua ukerigwo” (drinking oneself stupid).

It was a culturally shocking event I worked hard to forget –until Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu and Interior CS Fred Matiang’i happened, two weeks ago and noticed that there are nearly three bars for every school in the county.

However, it is the spirited fight-back alcohol is waging against efforts to contain run-away effects of bootleg on Kiambu’s male population that gave fresh life to an unanswered question from that past.

Why is Central Kenya so affected by negative effects of over-indulgence yet bootleg is common in most areas of the country? Could the problem be beyond the illegal bitter liquid?