TULIA, TULIA, TULIA...
Today, on a matatu, I sat next to an old man. He had a thin build and the legs of his patchy and worn trousers hang on his thighs like lengths of loose robe. It reminded me of the thick under-flesh on a large...no fat (fuck being politically correct) woman's arms. He had a thick, wild mustache of blacks and greys that seemed neglected with age. His eyes were filmy, and were etched into receding sockets that were surrounded by a ring of dark eye bags and tired eye lashes; another manifestation of this man's advanced years. His face was a labyrinth of contours and moles, with a forehead that was deeply furrowed. He wore a cap. One of those that are so common with men who do kazi ya mkono. I could not tell what shade it was, but what I could tell was that, at some stage in its life, that cap had had a shade of pleasant blue.
As the matatu raced, nibbling the miles to Meru town, I could not help but be drawn into the ambiance surrounding this man. Too, the morning sun, just appearing from the distant hills sent its blazing rays bursting through his side of the window, so that his features were cast in a sharper contrast and outlined with the sun's golden silhouette. The look on his face, told of a mind deep in thought. He was looking outside the window, at the images racing past, at the tall eucalyptus trees, at the people and children on their way to school, at the shrubby bushes by the roadside, at the empty stands that would be filled with vegetables or clothes or other wares later on in the day; he was looking at everything, he was looking at nothing. The kondakta, as we edged closer to Meru, ushered that we pay up our fares. The old man, when it was his turn, to greet the kondakta's waiting hand, ripped his gaze from the window, looked at the empty hand with the index finger,middle finger and thumb lying open and leaned over a bit to my side so that he could access his back pocket. As he was seating upright again, after paying up and returning his wallet back into its pocket, he caught my gaze. It was one of those awkward intimacies like when you elbow someones rib, or step on someone, or when you rub shoulders--you know--those unintentional acts that force some mutual recognition from both parties. His eyes were empty, forlorn, cast things. There was true sorrow in him; the kind that takes root overtime and emphatically takes its place in one's life.
The kondakta on receiving his cash did turn back once again and look at a man seated in front of us. He was quite elderly too. The sad, old man instinctively said,"tuko na yeye" . He then went back to looking outside his window. A moment later, the other elderly man, the one whom akona yeye, burst into loud laughter which then turned into deep sobbing punctuated with indecipherable mutterings that sounded something like "mtano-ng'ina". This is the kimeru word for 'brother'. The conductor shouted at the man to shut up. The driver was distracted enough that the vehicle swayed a bit on the road; what with an old man suddenly bursting into a shriek in your vehicle. It was a commotion. The sad, old man got up and reached out from his seat to touch the man whose loud cries had now reduced to a gentle whizzing. He patted his back gently and urged him to calm down."Tulia, tulia, tulia.." he repeated these words until the man fell silent and his trembling hands grew more stately. Needless to say, everyone in the matatu was looking at the pair. Some with shock, some with curiosity. some with pity and some ill-cultured ones with blatant disapproval. The man after some few moments of pacification did calm down. He was a bit sullen, and seemed ashamed of what he had just done but he was calm; he was himself. The old sad man, sat back in his seat, looked down at his hands and then gazed out at the rising sun.
In the matatu, passengers who had been strangers just a few moments ago, were now cordial acquaintances and were engaged in hearty chatter about how they knew of someone with a mental problem, about how one of their friend's friend had a cousin who was retarded, about how there's little care for people with such illnesses. All were conversations that typically arise when such an astonishing specter unfolds; personal anecdotes, false confessions of having relatives with such illnesses, the self-righteous jamaa who suddenly becomes the campaigner for rights of people with disabilities and gives the whole lot of passengers a sermon about rights... I thought how opportune it would be for the radio to play Darassa's hit..."bra, bra, bra sitaki kuskia!" Not that I don't believe in all that stuff about human rights, it's that I knew that I didn't have the perspective to really understand how it must be living like that. So I kept quite because I didn't want to join in the orgy of hypocrisy. The one person in the matatu, whose contributions could have had the weight of credibility, was dead silent, gazing outside the window, seemingly unaware of all the murmurs that revolved around him and his. There are other passengers, who remained quiet, but it was not difficult to guess what they were thinking about: they keep looking at the elderly man who shrieked. He remains calm. His hands still shake--just a little bit.
If any of these folks, with their supposedly ill relatives and partially retarded friends were any smarter, they would have know that the man was not insane. He had a psychological disorder that imposed a temporal disorientation of his sense of normal self, and evoked in him another less, sane self. He had bipolar. From the looks of it, he had lived with it. Actually, both of the men had lived with it. While one lived with bipolar, the other lived with its effects. These two were brothers, and now looking at them I could see the close resemblance. The only difference, a slight one anyway, was that one had a mustache and the other didn't. I couldn't help but think about how their brotherhood must have been uniquely built, tested and thus grown over the years. Bipolar is an extremely difficult condition to live with. Taking care of those afflicted with it can be extremely arduous and more often than not it proves too vexing for the loved ones of the affected who are unable to keep up with the numerous oscillations between sanity and absolute lunacy. Often, they relinquish care of the afflicted to mental institutions. The fact that these two had stuck together was indeed exceptional.You might not think it so exceptional until you consider how overwhelming it must be to live with someone who has bipolar.
Think of the many times the elderly man had lapsed, completely losing his senses, and in these moments of insanity, that would last for minutes or even stretch on for months, the sad old man would watch his brother do the most unsavory of things; from stripping and walking around in his birthday suit, to violent bouts where he would attack his own brother, to the more serious depressive episodes where he would try to take his own life. Through all these phases, his brother, the mustached one, would stand hopeless, helpless, utterly distraught with the words, "tulia, tulia, tulia.." as his only instrument to try and quell his flaring brother; I can not imagine the many times that these words had proven futile. The patchy worn trousers also factored in, largely. It must be hard to try and work for a living and still take care of you ailing brother. Good trousers were not the only things that these brothers must have missed out on in life. In fact, it must have been the least. These brothers had probably never played and matched their strengths with the other boys out in the fields playing football and other games, they had never known the great fun of doing little mischief together, they had never engaged in those little fights that siblings are bound to have, they had never talked about girls they were eying; theirs was a life filtered down into most basic constituents--a sort of daily serum. The mustached brother probably did everything for them; bought clothes, paid bills, set up appointments with doctors and I suppose, religiously kept up with all the research being done on the treatment of bipolar disorder. It must be hard, living a life for two. I thought.
By the time I snapped from my thoughts, we were pulling into the main stage in Meru town. There were few vehicles at the stage as it was still early morning, barely 7:45am. We alighted. The kondakta gave out balances to some of the passengers. Some were still talking about the incident. I watched the two brothers alight. The mustache one held his brother's hand. As I watched the pair walk away, I resolved to call my brother.I had really missed him.