The White Corolla
-An excerpt from the thing around your neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
There’s this chief in my place: A Tall, conniving fellow, in his mid-fifties and the very epitome of a man afflicted by the ‘big man syndrome’. He is also the sole proprietor and owner of The Marsh Farm; a local joint, that I secretly believe, is his own way of promoting not-so-irresponsible drinking and combating chang’aa dens in Mukongorone village. He is in this way, able to kill two birds with one stone i.e. perform his chiefly duties and still have his eye on our village ‘ethanometer’. His avicide tendencies don’t end here. This fella, with his fifty years, his cream-colored chief’s uniform and all; left his family and wife and moved in with a much younger woman. Of course, after these, there were a few ruffled in-laws and friends of the estranged wife that swore to make the man’s life a tad difficult. You see, with the fragile cohabitation and calm pace of life in Mukongorone village, such an incident is bound to send out ripples and shock waves that might unhinge certain aspects of Mukongorone life. This is how it flows; neighbors side with someone and their neighbors side with the other party and that’s when Gitonga decides that his cows’ milk is too goo to be given to Mwenda’s shop, since Mwenda supports the chief’s decision to abandon his wife and then when Nkirote goes to buy milk at Mwenda’s shop, there’s no milk but three shops down at Mama Nkatha’s shop there is a full pail of it --Gitonga approves of her. See, that’s how fragile life is here, and the chief knows it but what the hell! He had to disturb the peace. As such, things tend to be pervasive here, with amorphous and undefined boundaries, and as such, when the chief’s issues spilled over our hybrid fence (part bougainvillea, part barbed wire), I was not surprised.
I came home someday to find the chief’s white Toyota corolla parked outside our house. It is one of those early 2000 models that were common with estate drunks when I was a boy. The white is more like a white hue, etched and scarred with time. Only one of the wheels still has its hub cap, the other three have black rimmed faces that are reminiscent of those rims that Nigerian police vehicles in Nollywood movies have. I wondered why it was parked here, outside our house, in our home, we who minded our business, maintained neutrality in all matters and kept our opinions to ourselves. I approached the vehicle, and gazed inside. It was empty save for a suitcase in the back. I let the matter rest for now; after all I was just from school and hungrier than a wolf. More pressing matters lay between me and the sufurias in the kitchen than with the chief’s wrongly parked vehicle. That was the first day the chief parked there. I should have known then that it was not a random occurrence but the nascent beginnings of a new normalcy. The chief would park there for a few more days before I finally asked my mother why Chief was turning our compound into his own private parking space. With an overcast look and subtle hints of amused wonder, my mother said, “He’s hiding from those who spy for his first wife and because he wants the vehicle to be in a place where the new wife can easily access it without much trouble.” There it was again, the avicide instinct, claiming two more birds for the chief.
Some weeks back, I attended an area meeting to discuss an ongoing water project. This project was being undertaken because for about two months, we the residents of Mukongorone village had no water. All the area homesteads came together, and the idea that new water pipes be laid to bring water from another source, was hatched. It was a follow up meeting, held at the Marsh farm, on an open lawn section, where the progress of the work and the financial technicalities surrounding the project would be discussed. I was there as my father’s step-in and unofficial mouth piece. In attendance were some of our neighbors, the chief, one young man (probably in his late twenties) whom I had never seen before, and the bespectacled Mr. Mwirigi, who liked to refer to our area as ‘the Muthaiga of Gatimbi location’ after he had finished construction on his two-floor house; excuse the fact that it was the only house of that stature in the neighborhood. Needless to say, I was the youngest at the meeting. Many things were said: things about how water flows through pipes, how pipes are bought from Indian-owned hard ware shops in Meru town, how the pipes are laid down by strong young men, and how these young men and the people who supervise them are paid as per certain agreed upon rates. But that’s not all that happened at the meeting. There were other discussions, discussions that came up when the topic “overall project managers” came up.
“Chibo, atekuu?”(Chief is automatically in, isn’t he?) One proposed. “Are! Chibo? Chibo akaarega. Uju e nguge i nyinge Sana.” (Not the Chief. He will refuse the mantle. He’s always up and about in his affairs) countered the meeting’s secretary. The chief had earlier on excused himself to answer a phone call (the sixth one since meeting started) and was therefore nowhere near as this heated discussion about him was going on.”Babue, butiije chibo? Bwamwekera mantune jaa, bukamwara mwanki munka nguge eje irike. Muthomi uga utare manager kiproject erea e nge?” (Don’t you all know the chief’s ways? If you appoint him into that position you will have to placate his ‘big man’ ego until the project is done. Muthomi, can’t you help out, after all you were once a project manager?) Muthomi was the young man in his late twenties. He responded by turning down the offer and making some vague argument about how busy and unavailable he was. With Muthomi out, and the chief disputed, some of the men at the meeting started shifting straight on their seats, posturing themselves and checking for missing M-pesa messages, and updates from inactive Whatsapp church groups on their devices: they were in this subtle manner, subconsciously nudging, but consciously waiting to be called upon to help. After much pleading, three men did accept the responsibility. But not before they had made some weak counters. ‘I have not finished harvest work’ (on his 1/16 acre of a plot) one said. Another guy, not so creative said, ‘I am busy. I won’t be available.’ We all know just how convenient an excuse ‘busy’ is. The chief came back before the meeting adjourned. We had to revisit the selection of the managers. He was fitted in…somewhere.
See, this ka-egocentricity makes people incapable of volunteering for simple responsibilities, unless those responsibilities are recognized and grandly titled. That meeting was a long one but am glad I attended, if I had not I would not have come to know this side of the chief. Honestly, when I first heard about what the chief had done, I thought to myself, a’int a man/woman entitled to pull the plug on a marriage if it is no longer suitable? Shouldn’t we get up from the table, when happiness and love are no longer being served? Thus, the chief was entitled to his decision. That was my opinion until the meeting. Now, I came to see here was a guy whose perspective on life was lopsided, severely bent towards his side. His life was one-dimensional. He was no romantic, no believer in happiness but he did believe in something else--something vainer. He did believe that he needed someone younger and easier on the eyes to show off to his friends, and someone to make him look good. Avicide instinct!
On another note, remember that fragile nature of Mukongorone life I told you about? Well, it has now been four weeks since chief started parking outside our house, now Nkatha won’t sell me milk. Nkt!