Luke’s life changed before he could even understand the meaning behind the word itself. There was no exam. No preparation for what lay ahead. Just a sudden, violent swing that pushed him into a life he had never expected to lead. But that’s the thing about life right? You just never know what happens next.
He remembers being at his grandmother’s place. Luke is one of those kids whose grandparents are a 30bob fare away. Some people have it easy. If I want to see my grandparents, I have to climb up hills, go through a forest of fire, swim through a sea of ice and brave a storm. And that’s only if it doesn’t rain on that Got Agulu hill because that becomes a different story. He was dropped at his grandma’s by a woman whose name he doesn’t remember, but seeing that we are not using his name here, I don’t think this woman’s name has any significance. On him was a backpack with two pairs of trousers, three shirts and a game of monopoly. He does not know how to play monopoly.
Now all grandmothers, no matter how evil a mother-in-law, love their grandkids. His adored him. He was the light to her dimming eyes. Her face lit up any time she laid eyes on him. But she was old and weak. There was no way she was going to take care of an eight-year-old kid by herself. She considered boarding school but he was her grandbaby. He needed to be home, not holed up in some dormitory with random boys just because she could do nothing about it. Then grandma had an idea. It was a risk but it was all she had.
The next day, after breakfast, Luke was given a piece of paper that had instructions on how to get to his uncle’s place and sent on his way. It took him about an hour to get there. He stood by the door for another hour, gathering the courage to knock. The door swung open about two hours after he got there to a man he had never seen before. This man, in pyjamas, at 12:30 pm on a Tuesday, sported an unshaven face and dried up drool running a thick white line from the corner of his mouth to his cheekbone [you felt if your cheek has a bone too right?].
The man looked at him, and him at the man. Droolface asked what he was doing there. Was the little boy lost? He didn’t have any money to give to strays, he said. His uncle spoke to him as if he were a cat that had meowed him from his dreams.
“I am not a stray. My grandmother sent me”
“Well, go back and tell her I don’t know any old people, much less their grandies.”
He explained that his grandmother was Rose, from Roysambu. That she had sent him to live with him for a while, before his parents came back. He said his mother’s name. That seemed to have done the trick. He watched as sleep was cast out from the man’s eyes. They were his mother’s eyes. That was what assured him that he was in the right place.
Saying that the inside of that apartment was a mess will be an understatement. Luke uses the word ‘disarray’. Nobody uses a different word for ‘mess’ to describe a few clothes scattered while looking for an outfit. It is the only out of order word he uses so I know he must have looked it up. He says he did. There was a sufuria with mold at the door. He wondered how his uncle had not stepped in it on his scuffle to the door. Worn clothes hung from the ceiling and in the kitchen sink. There were clean clothes under the bed and he found a spoon in a couch cushion. He didn’t ask, because it was not his house. People don’t take it kindly when you visit them and start by asking what cutlery was doing in the seats. In his head, he was only here for a few days until his parents came to get him. Nobody came.
A month later, schools were opening. His grandma came knocking. She had his uniform and all needed effects to get a class 3 kid to school. She did not come in. She never did. Not for the 4 years he lived with his uncle. Any time he brought up his parents, his uncle, always drunk, would ask him to shut up. He would say he did not know. That parents abandon their children all the time. He was not special compared to these children. He should be thankful to have a roof above his head.
Before sitting for his K.C.P.E. exams, Luke’s teachers asked the class to fill in their details and those of their parents on a form. He asked if he could bring the form home to be filled, because he did not have some of the details. Details like his father’s name. His uncle, in his constant drunken state, always referred to his parents as “my sister and that prick that took her away”. The form did not have enough space for that. At home, he pulled out the form, woke up his uncle from another of his smashed sleep and asked for his father’s real name. The uncle got up and staggered to the wardrobe. He rummaged through the pockets of the one jacket he owned and came back to the couch. He threw folded pieces of paper on the table.
“There. You are old enough to understand this English. I have no answers to any and all questions you may have,” and with that, he slumped back to sleep. Luke picked it up and unfolded it. The first page held the face of a woman with his uncle’s eyes. The second page was the proceedings; from taking the body from the mortuary to the time the body would be lowered to the ground. There was no vigil.
His eyes rested on the eulogy page just as his uncle began snoring. It hit him. The gravity of what he held in his hands became so dense he felt his fingers give way as the pages fell to the floor. His eyes stung. For a minute, he forgot how to breathe. He wanted to run away but there was nowhere to go. He had exams in four days, plates in the sink and his mother’s eulogy on page three.
“She was beautiful, my mother. She had the same eyes as my uncle, but hers held a kindness I have never seen in this world. Hers were not bloodshot like his. Her eyeballs were the white of fresh milk. And you know what the cause of death was?” he lets out a bitter laugh. His laugh has known no mother’s touch. He pulls out his phone and shows me a photo of page three.
‘Cause of Death: Drunk Driving’