Somewhere between the confines of the blue mesh and the white walls of Mathare was where Dave Kalalei Junior learnt to accept his fate. Going in, he had sworn to never let the crazy people doctors anywhere near his head. He was alright. He was of perfect health. In fact, his father was the one who should have walked through those gates.
His father, David Kalalei Sr is one tough cookie. He was raised in Baringo county, where I assume he literally had to cross rivers, fight crocodiles and brave storms just to get to school. He actually raised himself..I don’t know why I claim he was raised. His hands are calloused, of course, because he did construction work for years to win the heart of his angel.
David’s mother, Junior’s grandmother (keep up), was the kind that could not keep a man. Strange men were what he grew up calling father. At one point, he started calling his mother’s boyfriends “Uncle”, because he felt he was misusing the paternal term on people who did not deserve it. His mother loved him. She only did not know how to show it. He brought his report cards home when he scored As, which was always. She lit her fires with them. Don’t blame her. She could not read. She was not like those grandparents who could not read but still sent our parents school because they knew the value of education. No. Maria Kalalei could not understand her son’s success. She sent him to school to keep him away from home. Her boyfriends liked peace and quiet, and David was neither peaceful nor quiet.
Adolescence caught up with him early enough. His voice deepened by the time he was 11. He was taller than his uncles by the time he was 14 and had a chin full of hair by 16. The uncles feared him. But real men do not show fear. Not towards a 16-year old son to the woman you are bedding. So they acted tough. They whipped him for “being disrespectful” and sleeping past sunrise. They threw his homework to the pigs if he left a bull unattended. They tormented him all day when he was home so that he could leave, but he could never leave his mother. He loved her, even in her incapability of finding a man worth her heart.
Then David became stronger. He grew muscles from the hard labor uncle after uncle made him do. He became the best wrestler in his small village. Nobody messed with his mom anymore. For a while, she was single and life was good. It was the two of them against the world. He would have loved for things to remain as such, but his mother had a testosterone weakness.
One evening, he came into the compound from the sty and heard noises he had not heard in a while. He rushed into the house only to find his mother giving herself to his best friend who he has asked to wait for him in the house. David Kalalei lost it. He hit his friend with the club he kept behind the door.
His mother screamed.
David remembers this scream. It was the scream that confirmed his mother’s weakness. The scream that called to the neighbors to save her from him. It was a fear scream. A scream that pierced his soul and shattered him to bits.
His best friend lay motionless on the ground, a pool of his blood soaking the ground.
He tried to talk to his mother, but she was hearing none of it. He wanted them to run. To get out of the house that had memories of uncles who would beat her, uncles who would refuse him food that he had worked so hard to get and uncles who destroyed his faith in paternity. His mother kept screaming to the neighbors. She wanted their help from her monster son. The monster David who had slain her beloved Goliath.
The neighbors took him to the chief and Goliath to the clinic then the district hospital. Goliath survived. He was still breathing when they got to the district hospital and did not have any serious injuries. His gods were alive. He had only lost consciousness from the scare his friend had given him, not from the club blow. And the blood was just an open wound that was salvaged by 4 stitches.
David did not have as much luck as his ex-best friend. The chief gave him an ultimatum.
Apologize to Goliath and pledge to be his cattle boy forever or leave the only place he had ever called home.
He asked to see his mother.
When he got home, his mother could not look him in the eye. She asked him to leave. She said things he can never repeat to his sons. She locked herself in her room until he was long gone.
He left home with nowhere to go. He only walked. One foot in front of the other. He walked until it was too dark to see his own hand and he walked some more. By daybreak, David Kalalei was dehydrated and had blisters all over his feet. Do you know how much you have to walk to have blisters all over your feet? David does. The blisters could not allow his feet to touch the ground. Maybe that was God’s way of telling him he was in Canaan.
The sun may have shone on him for hours and a snake might have slithered past him.
Dave Kalalei Jr tells me his oshago has lots of snakes. They don’t go to his father’s place. He has only taken them to the place their mother found him. He tells them he felt the softest of hands touch him.
“The touch of an angel. My mother is father’s angel,” Dave says with a smile. It is a genuine smile. A smile you get when you have seen an angel.
Sylvia says she found David sprawled on the ground. He was well built and had nothing on him other than his clothes. That is how she describes the first impression she had of her husband. Not handsome. Not tall. Not dark. Just, well built, with nothing other than the clothes on his back. She says she sat with him for hours, looking at his face. David always disputes this. He says he woke up as soon as she was near him. Men and their egos. Sylvia took him home. She did not know what she would tell her father if she came with a well built man who had collapsed in the sun with nothing but his clothes, so they made a deal. Two strangers with no background story struck a deal with the Earth as their only witness. She would walk home ahead of him and after a few minutes, he would follow. He could not miss her father’s homestead. It was the one with the permanent houses.
David’s soon to be father in law was a construction foreman. He had been hospitable to the young man and after a few grilling sessions, he offered the young man a job. That is how David’s hands became calloused. He worked for his Sylvia. He woke up for her, had meals for her and went to sleep for her.
It may have been the love he had for her but soon enough he was better than the builders Sylvia’s father had. He promoted him to assistant foreman after one and a half years.
When he finally had the courage to tell his boss that he wanted his daughter’s hand, the older man told him that he already knew. Perhaps while the two lovers shared stolen looks of longing, the father was watching. He was, after all, the foreman. His job was to watch his workers. He only asked him to be as good to the daughter as the father had been to him. And David keeps his promise.
He adores his angel. He tells everyone that she saved his life.
“Hi, my name is David Kalalei and this is my angel wife, Sylvia Kalalei.”
“Good afternoon, this is my wife and angel, Sylvia. She saved my life.”
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I am David. This is angel here is Sylvia, my wife. She saved my life.”
They got married 5 years to the day Sylvia found him on the ground and lifted him higher than he ever thought he could go. The ceremony, held in her father’s compound, was only attended by the bride’s side. To lessen the absurdity of the strange sight it was, they did not have the traditional 2 tents. Guests had the hot hard ground where everyone sat and witnessed love in all its glory. David joked that the ground represented his family. That their guests sat on it because he was the man and had to lift the bride and her family high. Sylvia knows he was not joking. She knows him well enough to read between his lines.
David Kalalei lost his mother 2 years after he had Dave Kalalei Jr. The news broke him. He thought he was done with her, but that is a story for another time.
Every evening when they are at their maternal grandparents’ home, David calls Dave and his brothers to watch the sunset. He loves the sunset. He watches it facing the direction he came from. The direction that his home for a time still stands. Everything fades away into darkness and he is taken back. He tells his sons to do better. Be better. His sons find this to be true. They want to be better than him, because despite having an angel to call his own, David has demons of his own.