The next time someone asks you to live long enough to blow a thousand candles, shoot them. Old age sucks. When you are a 99-year-old, toothless, has-been snoring in the backyard in diapers, everyone, including yourself, starts wondering what the heck you are still doing around here. You can't enjoy a cigarette. A stiff shot of whisky would send you straight to the morgue. You have no teeth for chewing fatty roast meat. And the young pretty lass with a firm behind walking down the road could as well be a goat. Of what use is life then? But in the unfortunate event that you live that long, and assuming that you retain a brain cell or two for memory, you will discover that you have outlived your usefulness.
But it's highly probable you will not live to see 90. In fact, you will be lucky to see 63. You will die from heart diseases. Or hypertension. Or diabetes. Or cancer. Or HIV/AIDS. At this age it's also possible you will die after a heartbreak from your fiancée, when you hang yourself because they cheated on you. If you don't die from any of the above mentioned, you will still die. So will I. And everybody else I know. You will die whether you have 50 or 92,000,000 followers on Twitter because, ultimately, death has the most followers. My dear you will still die even if your account is verified on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Google Plus, Pinterest, Spotify, Tinder or even on ASKfm. When your heart has stopped beating, your Facebook account will have droves of "friends" professing your high virtue on your wall. Folks will tag you on pictures you took together while you were a mortal.
Death's certainty is as indiscriminate as it is absolute. You will die whether you take a latte at Villa Rosa Kempinski or strong tea at a quarter star hotel. It doesn't even matter whether you can spell "maneuver". You will still die. We imagine that when we live, we are stalked by the insecurities of modern living when all along we are stalked by the prince of Death. The dark knight, always waiting. Always glancing at his watch.
My grandpa has one foot in his grave. He's 90. God has given him 20 more years over the 70 years he has accorded to us in the Bible. But sometimes, at that age, life seems like a punishment, not a privilege. After exams I went to shags to see him before I went home, he had been asking for us for ages. He had three wives, grandpa. Two have since been reaped by death. He has been on the record for saying polygamy was one of the hardest - and most regretful - things in his life. He lives with his last wife. I - together with my elder brother - got there at noon.
When we walk in, we find him slumped in this chair that looks older than anyone who goes to The Mingle. All around him the room frantically clings onto history. The chairs are old and well worn. Those very old chairs that had sisal stuffing and springs underneath them. They are dutifully covered with 'vitambaas'. On the wall hang framed black and white photos. Also old. Photos from the 60's and 70's and early 80's, when he was a strapping young man; good looking, bolstered with life, shaven studiously complete with a cut running across his hair. The essence of 60's cool. There are pictures of him and his first wife, before the devil of polygamy asked him for dinner. There is a picture of the entire Kenyatta's government; Kenneth Matiba grins back. There is an old saggy bookshelf with old yellowed books. The wooden window is open, bringing in light and the sound of chicken rummaging outside. By his side whispers an old Philips radio. A grey stripped cat takes a nap on one of the chairs. I can't see a Bible anywhere, that's because he's half blind.
When we walk in he doesn't show any indication that he has registered our entrance. He sits there, half asleep, half awake. My grandma announces us by shouting that we are home. He arouses slowly. He's also half deaf. So she has to shout our names about 200 times.
"Victor and Dickson are home."
"Ehhh?" he growls.
"Victor and Dickson!" She shouts louder.
"Victor and Dickson!" She's now shouting an inch from his right ear. His good ear, apparently. Poor guy, I think. My big bro, insensitively, finds this slightly amusing. So do I. Unfortunately.
"Victor?" He asks, like he has never heard of me. But he's only trying to register the name in his dated 90-year-old CPU. "Ehh, and Dickson!" My grandma shouts, still haunched over his left ear. "Ohhh, Victor and Dickson? Where are they?"
He smiles. Then without a word, he reaches for his cane by his side, painfully struggles to his feet then exclaims "Wah!" Then he prays; haunched over and leaning and clutching at this wooden cane so tightly the veins at the back of his scrawny hands pop out. But he casts a very defiant pose, like he is telling old age, "F***k off!" Although his body is a shell, his voice remains uncannily strong, deep and commanding and he uses these colourful analogies to praise God in that way that old folks in shags do in prayer. Prayer, in shags is a poetic narrative, where words are danced and twirled to give prayer this high-art narrative that even God has to take notice of no matter how distracted he might be with Somalia. In shags a prayer is a serenade of words. It's sculpture of words.
He's always been a taller man, grandpa, but old age shrinks your bones. Now he's shorter than my big bro. It's almost as if age is constantly pulling you back to the ground as you grow older. Back to soil. Back home.
After this crispy prayer he sits back down and shakes our hands. He tightly hangs onto our hands for long, grinning wildly. I can feel his hand shake a bit. His eyes, now covered by white cataract, are wide and searching trying to focus on images. Old age cuts deep valleys into his face. He coughs once in a while, a long drawn cough that makes you feel like coughing too. He is thrilled we are home. He asks about the rest of my family. He asks about school - and I tell him everything is good. Anyhow.
It's the most laboured conversation, ours, because we take turns to talk to him, and you have to sit right next to him, to his left, and lean into his good ear and shout your ass out. It's exhausting because no matter how hard you shout, he doesn't get what you are saying in the first shout, so you have to say it twice or thrice. Sometimes he doesn't get it at all, and it makes you sad. Sad for him, yes, but also sad for yourself because you know that's your fate should you live as long as he has.
He asks what I'm doing at school and I tell him I do commerce. He doesn't hear or understand, so I have to explain in detail. But he still doesn't understand. I then change and say I'm studying Money Management. He doesn't hear so you shout again, and again until you see he finally gets it and you can't help smiling with affection. But my smile is short lived because he asks what topics and you can imagine how long an explanation that is, half of which is lost on re-shouts. When it's my brother's turn to take the hot seat, I happily wander out and go look at the graves and the guavas in the shamba, and even from there I can hear my brother shouting, explaining to him what he was telling the neighbour's daughter. I smile.
My grandpa doesn't do anything whole day but sit, listen to his radio, eat a meal and nap. Day in, day out. He's waiting for death. But sometimes death keeps you waiting for long because death is a politician. And the waiting is appalling because you sit and every function of your body degenerates into gross malfunction. Like an old car, all your parts fall off with time.
After Orlando shooting, I have been thinking a lot about death and the process of dying. You must think about how those people died, and what thoughts they harboured when they knew they were dying. How they - with a gun in their faces - prayed and asked for God's intervention and how that never came. You have to think about God and question him. You can question God, right? He won't mind and smite at you, will He?
Still, I don't want to die scared. Or too old to chew. Or in my sleep either. Or, worse, in an electric chair. I don't want to die drunk. Or while drinking. I don't want it to be painful or sad, or laughable, like dying while laughing at a joke and you choke on a steak. I certainly don't want to die after my wife and kids. But before then, before we all depart, we live life. We eat and drink and curse and tweet and eat fruits and forget to watch the sunset. A friend once posted on his Facebook account, "Life does not cease to be funny when people die, rather it ceases to be serious when people laugh." That friend is dead.