The silence was sublime at House 672, Nzambani Park. Mr. Nzomo had forgotten how quiet the neighborhood could get. After weeks of screeching toddlers, barking dogs, and get-togethers, finally, there was peace and quiet.
Finally, he was alone.
The holidays were over and the Nairobi folk had rolled their boom box Subarus back to the city. He could gladly settle down on his rocking chair, sink into the feather stuffed pillows Margaret had knitted for him and let the mellow tunes of Palestrina lull him to sleep.
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
Mr. Nzomo ignored it, hoping that whoever it was would get the message and go away.
“Patrick! I can see you on the rocking chair. Open up, I wanted to return the salad bowl I borrowed.” The old woman with too much make up screeched from the window.
Mr. Nzomo grunted and turned his back to her, trying to return to his sleep.
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
“Patrick!” The woman screeched tapping her fake nails on the glass.
Mr. Nzomo turned, glaring at her. “Nobody cares about your damn salad bowl woman, can’t you see I’m trying to sleep?”
The heavily made-up woman persisted in tapping the window relentlessly. It worked as Mr. Nzomo hobbled off his rocking chair and stomped towards the door, unlocking it.
He opened the door and reached for the bowl, but the woman pulled it out of his reach. “Aren’t you going to invite me in?”
“No!” Mr. Nzomo said as he made another attempt at the bowl.
The woman who was much taller in her heels brought it above her head.
“What do you want Linda?” Mr. Nzomo asked exasperatingly.
The woman scoffed through her large nostrils. “I told you, it’s Mrs. Smith Hyphen Summers now.”
Mr. Nzomo sneered and made to close the door but the woman barged in before he could. “Honestly Patrick, I told you to let me come and dust up the place for you. It’s filthy in here. You know how Margaret was about keeping things clean.”
She said as she shook off her heels and headed towards the living room, shutting off the music.
Mr. Nzomo scowled. “I’m not in the mood to entertain Linda!”
She whipped her head back frowning. “MRS. SMITH HYPEN SUMMERS” Linda enunciated.
“I’m not going to call you that ridiculous name, not today, not ever; an old woman like yourself marrying a man half your age. Now can you please leave? I was about to take my afternoon nap.” Mr. Nzomo complained.
“Is that why you’re a grumpy little sour puss, and on your birthday of all days? You know they say that sleeping too much is not good for the bones.” Mrs. Smith hyphen Summers started as the door swung open behind Mr. Nzomo.
Like so many of her questionable tidbits, Mr. Nzomo found this piece of knowledge hard to believe. He turned towards the door and saw a familiar face.
The woman at the door was younger and thinner than Margaret, but everything about her reminded Mr. Nzomo of his late wife.
“Aunty, you were supposed to wait for the rest of us.” The woman, much younger than the first, with no makeup on at all and stuffed into a drab tablecloth of a dress tittered as she glided in, taking off her shoes as well.
She looked just like her mother.
Mr. Nzomo shook himself back to the present, biting back the tears. It was days like these that were hardest for him, especially after those long lonely three years.
“What is this, a public toilet?” Mr. Nzomo barked at the young woman.
“Hi dad…” The woman said giving him a quick kiss on the cheek.”
“Aunty…” The woman began as Linda brandished her new wedding ring at her. “Sorry, I meant Mrs. Smith Hyphen Summers.” The young woman corrected herself, much to Linda’s pleasure as she headed in her direction.
“What did you do with the other ring anyway… did you sell it to buy that ridiculous makeup you have on?” Mr. Nzomo growled.
Linda ignored him. “About time you got here Eve. Here’s the salad bowl.” Linda said handing the young woman the empty salad bowl.
Eve stared at it perplexed. “Uhm… where’s the salad?”
Mr. Nzomo roared in laughter. “I doubt she knows how to make one, let alone what a salad is. Look at how fat she is.”
“Dad…!” Eve reprimanded Mr. Nzomo softly.
“Nobody told me I was supposed to bring salad.” Linda said as she slumped into the seat next to her and turned on the telly.
“Besides, I’m sure Regina will bring a whole assortment of foreign salads to let everyone know how much she’s travelled.” Linda went on.
“Forget the damn salads! Will someone explain to me why a bunch of strangers are barging into my house?” Mr. Nzomo barked back.
Linda’s frown heightened. “We’re your family you old cow!”
The old man waved his hand dismissively. “Same difference… I don’t remember the last time any of you were here anyway. Apart from the funeral that is…” He said as he made for the stairs.
The words were bitter in his throat and made it constrict uncomfortably. Mr. Nzomo couldn’t help but admit that it would have been a lot easier to go through the grief with family around.
Then again, everyone was dealing with the loss in their own way.
“Don’t be like that dad. Where are you going?” Eve called out after him.
“Bed…! Seeing how easily you let yourselves in, I’m sure you’ll have no trouble letting yourselves out!” Mr Nzomo complained taking the first step.
It was getting harder to go up with each year, especially without Margaret’s help. It was getting harder to do anything really.
“Can you at least let us try and make your day special?” A young man called from behind Mr. Nzomo.
The old man turned and nearly jumped at the sight of him.
“Who the heck are you and why are you so fat and hairy?” Mr. Nzomo questioned squinting up at the giant of a man.
“That’s beginning to get really old dad. Stop it!” Eve reprimanded him as the young pudgy man stomped in, boxes wrapped in colorful paper stacked in his hands.
“Happy birthday dad...” The man said dejectedly.
Mr. Zomo dismissed him with a wave of his hand. “What would make me happy is if you stopped eating everything in sight. I always told Eve. Don’t feed him all those viazi (potatoes).” Mr. Nzomo said with an even cheekier wheezy laugh.
“Dad…!” Eve called after him.
“What? I told you, its nap time and I get cranky if and when I don’t nap. I want to take my nap!” Mr. Nzomo barked.
“No worries. You’ll have your nap when we’re gone.” Eve said urging the man to come in.
“You’re such a darling Brian. Ignore him. You can just put them over there, in the corner.” Eve said giving him a quick kiss on the cheek.
Brian smiled back as he put the presents away.
“Mum… tell Anne to stop licking my things, it’s disgusting!” A disgruntled teenage girl in skinny jeans and a tank top with the words ‘look don’t touch’ written on it strolled in.
When she made eye contact with the old man, she stared at him as Mr. Nzomo stared back. “Is this what passes for greetings these days?” Mr. Nzomo questioned her. “Waacha (Hello)?”
“Aa (Hello).” Anne replied timidly, avoiding Mr. Nzomo’s eyes..
“Nina! Don’t be rude, wish umau (grandpa) a happy birthday!” Eve ordered.
“Happy birthday…” Nina started as Mr. Nzomo interrupted her.
“Where are the rest of your clothes?” Mr. Nzomo growled at the young girl. She tugged at her tank top, eyes to the ground.
“That’s what these young people wear these days Pat. Get with the times.” Linda shot out as Nina grinned in her direction.
“Not in my house. And besides, anything that Linda approves of cannot be a good thing.” Mr. Nzomo shot at the girl as her smile died out.
“Put on your sweater darling and come help susu (grandma)…” Eve started as Linda shook her head. “I mean your aunty… come help your aunty make that salad she was supposed to have made.” Eve called out as Nina obliged begrudgingly, heading in their direction.
“Aunty my foot… and get her actual clothes Eve. None of these excuses for clothes. Your mother never dressed you in those ridiculous things!” Mr. Nzomo complained as just then, a small ball of energy shot in and clung to his legs.
His heart melted as he looked down at the ear to ear smile on the little person staring up at him.
“Happy birthday gukas…” She said as she handed him a card with a monkey-faced creature that Mr. Nzomo assumed must have been him.
The name ‘gukas’ had stuck from when Anne was younger and unable to say Guka (grandpa). Mr. Nzomo didn’t mind it though and took up calling her gukas as well.
“She asked her teacher to help her make it for you.” Eve said motioning towards Anne’s grinning face.
Granted it was the best gift Mr. Nzomo had ever received.
He took her up, tickling her and unleashing a hearty snorted chuckle. “Thank you gukas… and I have a present for you too.”
“A present…?” Anne called out surprised.
“Yes, just for you.” Mr. Nzomo said as he tickled her some more. She giggled madly.
“I thought you were going to bed.” Eve shot back at Mr. Nzomo eyeing him pensively.
“Nonsense… I can’t sleep with Linda here and all her racket anyway.” Mr. Nzomo said as Linda rolled her eyes.
“Sticks and stones Pat… sticks and stones…” Linda said as she went about fixing Nina’s make up.
For a moment Mr. Nzomo allowed himself to take in the scene; His sister, daughter, son in law, grandchildren, the laughter and joking. Where silence had reigned for a few peaceful minutes, noise had defiantly returned.
Still, surprisingly so it was absolutely welcome.
Mr. Nzomo allowed himself a brief glance at Margaret’s picture that hung above the chimney. Her warm smile towered above all of them as bright as always.
Somewhere in her dimply smile Mr. Nzomo allowed himself a brief moment of interruption from his grief. Perhaps not all disruptions are entirely horrible, he thought.
Just this once it might do me some good, don’t you think so Margaret?
“Let’s go find that gift won’t we gukas?” Mr. Nzomo said as he led Anne up the stairs, somehow much stronger than before and actually glorying in the noise below.