The road from the city to the little known borderline rural village traversed a thriving coffee farm with patches of dense woods in between. It then snaked through the borderline village.
The greenbelt of coffee bushes and magnificent trees veiled the sleepy village from the prying eyes of the city. No sooner was a change of land use notice erected at the farm’s entrance than roaring bulldozers and raucous power saws descended on the farm. When the engines fell silent, the green belt had been decimated to pave way for elegant maissonettes. A source of livelihood for borderline folks vanished unceremoniously, leaving the rural hamlet exposed to the city’s gawking. An overwhelmed city has a knack for space to dispense off its excesses.
Conversion of the coffee farm into an upmarket residential suburb and expansion of the single lane tarmac road should have awakened the borderline folks to the forays of the city. Traffic out of the city through the borderline route swelled. Beyond the borderline, the road winds through sprawling rural villages all the way to the foot of the Abandare ranges.
When street lights were installed up to the borderline, local folks assumed it was just the sophistication that comes with hosting important people in their vicinity. The street lights shown the way for the city’s influx into the rural hamlet. The city began courting the borderline village in slow and measured advances. A cajoled borderline village warmed up to the city’s charm.
I followed the city’s foray to the borderline particularly captivated by the rural-urban camaraderie. Futurists speculated ‘the city’s truly fabulous lifestyle’ as bound to emerge along its fringes. I am not the kind of gullible or excitable urbanite, easily won over by hypes and fads. On the contrary, I am imbued with an acuteness of perception and steadfast eco-consciousness.
The flat in which I resided in a congested Eastland suburb of the city had no back windows. My front window had no view beyond the adjacent flat. I happened to be excessively accosted by the aroma wafting from the kitchen of my opposite neighbor. The aroma of her cuisines was fairly tolerable, but I longed to evacuate the pervading scent of her strong perfume which caused us incessant sneezing.
I got lured over to the borderline by the prospects of cleaner air, less littering, less noise, less commotion and an unobstructed view. And my desire to reside in unpolluted surroundings was beautifully granted. Behind the apartment I moved into is a half-acre plot planted with maize all seasons. It has a few avocado trees (the grafted variety) and lined with tall Grevillea Robusta trees along its hedge.
Adjacent to it is a farm of about two acres of neglected coffee bushes interspersed with towering Grevillea trees having interlocking canopies. A thick mesh of nests are patched up to the tips of the Grevillea trees. Birds of different sizes and shades troop into these nests. The early morning harmony of the birds’ melodies is a symphony to behold.
But I was most enticed to occupying this apartment by the cool breeze coming through the back window of my abode. It was among the few scattered apartments that emerged along the edges of the borderline village which were visibly out of tune with the rural homogeneity. What a pleasant serving of Nature’s therapeutic bequests complemented by a menu of urban conveniences.
To the left of the apartment is a typical rural home where an octogenarian granny lives. It is sandwiched between the apartment I live in and two others as you move towards the main road. Surrounded by a garden of sweet potato vines and lush bananas, it speaks of the good old days of uninterrupted rural ambience.
To the right is another farm of about an acre planted with napier grass that is usually let to overgrow before harvesting. A rattling of the fodder by the wind scares my wits out as I wait for the sluggish night guard to open the heavy metallic gate on an occasional late return home.
The access path from the main road can get quit dusty or muddy. No qualms about shoes getting a coat of dust or caked in a conspicuous red soil mud. On venturing into the city streets, your residency on the borderline can be distinctly picked out. A street shoe shiner prods you for tidings from the borderline as they clean your shoes. Cabral paving on the borderline paths might not be too far-fetched a dream.
The urban foray has not diffused the local dialect which is still predominantly spoken here. A couple of my daughters’ new friends who are indigene to the borderline speak Gikuyu. So I’m having it a little easier in my efforts to make them polish their mother tongue. Hoping it dilutes the hybrid Swahili-English – English-Swahili slang they conversed in the city’s Eastland.
Borderline natives appear fascinated by the urban incursion and the habits of urbanites who have come to live in their midst. While the village urbanites find much to emulate from their guests, the urban villagers see little to absorb from the borderline. But the former are not just gaping and getting fascinated by the urban foray. And not only assimilating the ways, perhaps even the waywardness of the urban people. They are out to make a living out of the urban foray.
The borderline village has become a hub of divergent ways of eking a living which I bet you can’t encounter in any other place on earth. A section of the borderline population is headed to work on the farm or delivering fodder for their zero grazed dairy cow. A growing number is destined for all manner of work in the city.
Feeding the appetites of the emigrant population has spawned an economic largesse. A largesse shared out through vigorous business ensuing in the chains of kiosks lining up the borderline’s arteries of travel.
A consistent flow of Matatus taking people to and from the city is yet another eminent urban trait that won me over to this realm of the city’s escapade. In just a minute’s wait I have hopped into a Matatu en-route to the city. I am assured of catching a Matatu home after a late night sojourn in the city. Urbanization demands fast and expedient mobility of people, goods and services at all times. Even during the most wizardly hours of the night when a rural village ought to be quiet and sleeping.
The buzzword here goes that ‘the borderline village is growing’ and the price of land has shot through the roof. This has been the bone of contention between Nyakeru, the octogenarian granny and her two sons. One became an instant millionaire after disposing off a chunk of the land he inherited from the patriarch. Albeit his status was only short-lived. The other held on to the land, but eventually warmed up to the idea of the quick windfall.
Gloom stalks Granny Nyakeru in her twilight years. Her once magnificent house has become diminutive in the middle of the storied flats. But it endures defiantly as if making the statement “I am not going anywhere in spite of this unwarranted intrusion”. The flats have inhibited her quick access to her immediate neighbors through their common boundary and with it too went their random chitchat. The sparking of the thin strands of electric cables mounted on top of the flats concrete fence makes her skin crawl.
From the shade of a Muiri tree outside her house where she normally whiles away time, another flat obstructs what used to be a clear view of Witima village across the River of Women. She hails from Witima and casting her sight across gave her reassurance that her kin was well.
Half her husband’s unmarked grave lies in her compound while the other half extends to the compound of the adjacent flat. At least the patriarch’s head is on the half of the grave within her compound. The owner of the flat, a crafty residential housing developer is responsible for imparting the millionaire status on the sons of Nyakeru. Both lasted a few months as a millionaires before reverting back to their ordinary selves.
When he contracted for digging of a septic tank in the corner of the squeezed compound, the flat owner was unaware the patriarch’s grave extended there. The patriarch’s remains were almost stirred safe for Nyakeru’s timely screams before digging went deeper.
There are no more prophets left since the prophecy of the iron snake trespassing through the land of the Gikuyu a century ago. Unscrupulous speculators took over from the prophets. During those days, seers foretold approaching blessings or calamities. There was no one to forewarn the people of the borderline village of the impending infringement. And hence the advent of the concrete jumble which is uprooting their homes, their trees and their alleyways. And eventually sitting pretty above the graves of their forefathers.
Nyakeru claims to wield a curse from her husband which she lately threatens to pronounce. The consequences of awakening the patriarch would have been lethal for her family. She almost got the curse off her chest during the grave incidence. By taking soil off the patriarch’s grave, Nyakeru believes the flat owner became prone to the consequences of the patriarch’s curse. Though the ramification on the flat owner may not be as fatal as that of the scions of the patriarch’s loins.
Nyakeru was third in the patriarch’s order of five wives. She beat her co-wives in extorting the affection of their husband using her charm. Lying on his death bed, the patriarch insisted on having Nyakeru around him to administer her tender care. She was often by his bedside feeding him millet porridge from a small gourd and waiting for his last words. During his sunset days, the patriarch was unhappy with his children’s wrangles over his wealth of land. Nyakeru knew his final words were not going to be pleasant.
Witty Nyakeru convinced him that she would restate his wish as explicitly as he would like it conveyed to his family. The patriarch cleared a lump in his throat and then mumbled inaudibly. She did not hear quite clearly whether the patriarch uttered a curse or who it was directed to. Then the patriarch fell silent and his heartbeat slowed down. Nyakeru may have interjected a curse from being pronounced on her sons. They were the most aggressive in the patriarch’s stable.
In the cutting of a drink, sons of the borderline village apportion blame on the patriarchs for leaving their progeny vulnerable to this eventuality. They can’t fathom why, from the vantage view of the city atop the elevated borderline village, the patriarchs couldn’t have foreseen the city’s radiance edging closer.
A determined city would not have listened to the patriarchs’ emotive attachment to their ancestral land. They underestimated the urban foray on the borderline. They ought to have cheated the advancing city by moving farther into the ancestral territory. The sons do not find any reason why the patriarchs should have passed a curse on the progeny. And needn’t waste time rectifying the miscalculation of the patriarchs. For the progeny is only accosted by an inevitable dawn.
The benign borderline perseveringly bears the blunt of the urban foray. The land is no longer able to absorb waste from the people’s metabolism as is conventional in a rural village. Waste from the area is ferried tens of kilometers to the city’s infamous vault of filth. When garbage trucks fails in their routine, some people have begun to toss around. Incoming urbanites have carried the waste tossing habit over to the borderline. A grossly notorious habit in the inner city suburbs.
One morning Nyakeru woke up to a heap of garbage deposited on her vines and yet another right above the patriarch’s grave. Irked by this desecration, Nyakeru thought it’s time she conveyed her husband’s curse. But she isn’t sure what the patriarch wanted to pronounce. She’s wary of spelling doom on her own offspring.
Just like the household waste, the borderline land is unable to swallow the harvest from people’s bowels. The lushness of the banana crop in Nyakeru’s compound has been enhanced by wetness percolating from the septic tank serving the apartment I live in. She is devastated that the patriarch’s remains also choke in this awful dampness leaking just a few meters from his grave.
The borderline people have no shortage of ingenuities to tackle the surmountable harms. A truck emblazoned ‘honey sucker’ on its belly siphons out the mess accumulated in the septic tanks. The sludge is said to be emptied into city’s sewerage system. For sending its surplus population to be accommodated along the borderline, the city is made to take back the unsurmountable consequences.
Nyakeru implores her stubborn sons to cleanse themselves and their children off the intrusion they occasioned on the patriarch’s land. And to appease the patriarch for antagonizing his spirit and his bones. Enraged spirits never rest easy.
The mischievous sons pray the cleansing will keep both the patriarch’s and Nyakeru’s spirit at bay in years to come. They wish to savor the city’s bounty on the borderline free of any visible or invisible obstacles.
In my quasi anthropological inquiry, I stimulate Granny Nyakeru into an animated conversation about the borderline’s past. I’m regaled by her reminiscence on why this river meandering across the borderline village was christened ‘The River of Women’. She nostalgically recounts how women bared their all while bathing in the jets of water falling on a rock beneath a rapid occurring in the borderline village.
A couple of tales abound on why women stopped bathing at the rapid. One castigates two women who brawled naked by the rapid antagonizing the easily irritable guardian spirits of women. The guardian spirits exposed women to drooling eyes of perverted men. Another attributes it to clearing of the thick reed surrounding the rapid. Yet another version goes that it coincided with the arrival of washing basins in homes.
Of late, the River of Women from which local folks fetched water is slowly acquiring artificial inlets. It has begun to incur the kind of torment borne by the River of the City to which it drains. A persistent foam forms when water hits the rock below the rapid. Folks have stopped sourcing their water from the river fearing it has been poisoned with alien effluents.
I have been scrutinizing the concessions that the rural village has made to the urban foray. Notwithstanding my strict eco-centric view of things, it’s apparent the rural-urban harmonious co-existence is fast getting skewed. The urban foray hilariously spread its tentacles deeper into the borderline village.
The in-between aboriginal homesteads in some sections of the borderline village are hounded by flats and detached or semi-detached urban houses. The burgeoning urban features increasingly take sway over the rural ambience. Nature’s therapeutic bequests are declining.
At this rate of transformation, the borderline is emerging from a blurred rural-urban enclave and mutating into a satellite town annexed to the larger megalopolis. It has acquired the colloquial name – ‘the city’s bedroom’.
A group of natives have remained disgruntled by the unrelenting urban onslaught on the borderline. They have tried to agitate for the buffering of the borderline village from further encroachment. Contamination of the River of Women has been their most persuasive rallying point in a desperate attempt to secure their water source. The last ditch effort to jealously protect the natural bequests and eroding sense of community they once cherished goes unheeded. No one wants to limit a spirited city on how far it can travel or the harm it causes in its territorial conquest.
The conquest increasingly overhauls the rural order that the natives have known for many years. The hapless rural hamlet will eventually succumb. However, it might take a few more years before the city engulfs the borderline village. When the courtship between the borderline rural hamlet and the city is eventually consummated.
Surviving natives of the borderline will experience an urban eclipse on their rural village during their life time. Akin to the rare total lunar eclipse of the earth on the moon during the blood moon phenomena.