The giant tree by the roadside was monumental, more so at 4AM.You had to get up that early, if you were to catch the dutiful green minibus that ferried sentimentals to Kericho. We didn’t have watches or any other ways to ascertain time, but we always presumed it was 4AM, if it was early morning.
Because you lived up a hill overlooking the road, spotting headlights from the bend in the lowlands towards the mists of a far off river meant that everything else happened fast. Because if you are still up the hill by then, you are late. The bus took another 25 minutes to get to the monumental tree that was the bus station but if you were not there to see it come around the other bend by the shop and mill, to be in the headlights for once, then where was the fun? This only happened once or twice in your life. Never more than three times.
That seldom happened, however. The lateness. Because you didn’t sleep when it was the eve of going to Molo. You’d wake your grandmother up at midnight, and point out that it was morning. How can’t it be morning yet, how can a night be this long? But she would rebuke you back to your mattresses on the floor, that it was still too night to be morning. Her sense of time having been chronographed into her mind, in your world where time hadn’t yet been segmented into absolute hours and minutes. She knows the time only by knowing how long you have been asleep.
Long before admissible dawn, you’d rouse the poor old girl, again. That you heard something like the bus. No, you usually wouldn’t hear it, the dirt road is too far. But you listened for it in the night, when you couldn’t sleep. Because Mwendwa, the driver, is a revered demigod and he can do what he wants, or so you think. Including leaving you. The old lady would gruffly point out that the birds hadn’t made their morning noise yet, so you’ll again slump to your boy blankets.
Constitutionally, you spend the week before arguing with your cousins about how fast the minibus becomes, when it steps on tarmac. Most of you have never seen tarmac, except Patrick, who comes from Molo. He was delegated by an aunt to live with the grandmother, like the way your own parents delegated you. Patrick knows faster cars, Nissans that he says overtake your miserly minibus like nothing. Every 14 seater is called a Nissan in your world. Your minibus does not see anything, Patrick says, coolly. Before you went on to other things, like, that tarmacs are made of cement.
When grandmother finally decides that it is dawn enough to be dawn, you jump out of your beddings faster than anything else. The tea Grandmother brewed after supper last night is cold, but you wish she wouldn’t bother warming it. She does, either way. Taking her time to break little sticks in the darkness, and striking failing matches. She’ll send you around, because it is the law in the savanna that children are born for sending. People bear children to send. So you go getting kettles and leftover ugali, dutifully.
Tea without ugali in the morning would be an imperial affliction. But not today. The ugali tastes rubbery and it chokes you, and the tea is a nuisance that doesn’t seem to run out. And when you are almost done, grandmother refills your cup. It isn’t exactly a refill, because boys don’t get full servings of anything. But she adds you tea, either way, and glares at you to have some more leftover ugali. You have to.
When you finally get asked to go wash your legs, you know it really is time. You find your travel clothes retrieved from the wooden box they had been hidden away in. Grandmother’s leathery hands are rough as she lotions your face and hands and legs.Thoroughly giving you a shine.