My most memorable Christmas tale is one twisted between betrayal and heartbreak. It was in December 2003, shortly after completing primary school. We had just been freshly circumcised, and were still learning to walk properly without our legs being a wide distance apart and having to wade on the roads like limping ducks. Myth passed from generation to generation of young men has it that each freshly circumcised had to sleep with a girl in order to be considered a full man. In Kikuyu they call it hura mbiro (wiping the soot). Our generation was not spared, considering AIDS was still a new myth then.
I really didn’t want to sleep with my primary school sweetheart Joyce because I considered myself a good Christian then, as I still believe now. But there was this urgent matter of cleansing that had to be done. It was very important that I grew into a man, chap chap. Joyce and I went to the same school and church. She was also a good Christian and had assured me that she was a virgin. But the pressure was mounting on me, as all the other freshly initiated young men had already wiped their soot. Or so they claimed.
And so I talked to Joyce, explaining to her my predicament with care and detail, and why it was important for me to wipe soot. I also assured her that I would marry her when the time came.
Even as I pleaded my case, I knew that I was merely shooting in the dark. I knew she was going to say no, not just because she was a good girl, but because she was waaaay out of my league. You should see Joyce to understand what I am talking about. She was created in the morning. Sunlight shone most in her eyes before extending to her teeth. Charcoal black hair hugged her shoulders like the long mountain grass swept flat by a strong wind.
So when she said yes, when she agreed to visit my cube on Christmas, I sent my sincerest gratitude to my ancestors. It would be a perfect day to sneak her in since everyone else in the family would have gone to visit grandma. I skipped happily home, forgetting the heavy luggage between my legs.
I did not forget to inform my friends who were now about to revoke me from their age group. I was going to wipe my soot, finally, and aki ya Ngai I was going to wipe it clean, with Joyce no less. I would make a spectacle out my entrance into manhood. And when you come to think of it now, I was scheduled to become a man on the day the son of man was to be born. My friend, there is no such things as coincidences in this world. My fate was written in a stone of gold by Ngai Papa Himself.
Christmas came, and everyone else in the family got ready preparing to leave for grandma’s. They invited me, but I was least interested. I had a bigger feast waiting for me. I just stayed in my cube and waited, occasionally passing time by flipping over the pages of an old Parents magazine.
I waited and waited and waited and waited
I flipped all the pages of the magazine till I knew them word for word. I kept peeping through the door for signs of my savior, but our home gate remained closed and the grass growing near it never changed color. Everything was quiet, except for my short anticipating breaths. Gutiri mwanake mukenu ta mwanake wa Gathungururu e hakuhi kuhurwo mbiro.
When there was no more wait left to wait, I decided to go to Joyce’s home and check why she had taken so long. My neighbor saw me leave and called me in for matoke nyama, my favorite meal, but I claimed I was full. Which was true. I was full of expectation.
At Joyce’s home, her Mum said that Joyce had left in the morning and had not come back.
“Kairetu gakwa kai koriire ku? Kai kariganiirwo? Where is my kasweety? Did she forget?”
I went back home, head hung down and consumed with many thoughts. I met some of my guy friends, the ones to whom I had swollen my chest for earlier. They asked if my soot was wiped already lakini I had no explanation on how everything had not happened. I think I detected an evil grin in some of them. It was like they knew what had happened.
Maish, my best friend then, lived only a few homesteads away from mine. I decided to stop by his homestead to find out whether he knew what had happened, only to find Joyce and him standing outside his cube.
I walked up to them, to talk to Joyce. I was sure she had an explanation. She did. Just not the one I had expected.
“Ndikomaga na ihii,” she said. At first, I thought I did not hear her well. Ati she did not sleep with small uncircumcised boys. The words shrunk me and almost made me fall down into a crumpled ball of dust. But rage came to my rescue. It climbed me immediately like a long distance thirsty lover whose partner had just come back from the dead. I felt it spreading to the rest of my body, clenching first my fists, preparing my legs to kick and teeth to bite.
The only good thing in this story is that I fought both of them Rambo kanambo. I really didn’t care whether I was small or Maish was big. I really didn’t care whether Joyce was a girl. I proved to them that I was man enough, just not the way we had all been taught. Sometimes you have to fight to be a man.
I ate nothing that day, but it was a Christmas that would last in my memory a lifetime. I remind myself of this day everytime Christmas approaches and boys are in a hurry to become men. But the greatest reminder of all is when I see Joyce happily married to Maish with two kids.