Sat on his grandmother’s red, faded veranda, he watched as the town people hurried about, herding livestock and children to shelter. From the hill on which the house sat, anyone could easily see what this town’s life was. He inhaled the heavy air pregnant with rain and moved further into the veranda’s shelter.
This was the arid lands after all and everyone knew that the rain, though rare, came with a vengeance. The thunder gave a sense of foreboding and he watched a neighbour guide her old father into the house with a look that grew more impatient and apprehensive with each step.
Since he had returned- for the August break- he was cautious about the words that he spoke. A tinge of an accent had slowly formed and was colonising his tongue. His tribal language had taken residence in the far corners of his mind from months of unuse. It sounded familiar the more he spoke it but every word brought ridicule and cultured a detachment from his kinfolk. His Aunts were quick to quip up warnings of the dangers of forgetting his heritage. They took it upon themselves to aid his condition by advertising him to eligible bachelorettes as ‘the learned foreigner in need of a cultural anchor’.
Coming to live with his grandmother for a few weeks came as a relief. His mother had cheerfully pointed out that this would allow him to soak in all he had forgotten and fill in what he did not know. He wished he could wear his exposure in the same relaxed manner his mother did hers. Her accent was different but no one dared to ridicule her, her confident aura dispelled derision. His uncle had driven him out in his farm pick-up truck, praising his resilient shock-absorbers every time they hit a pothole or a bump, which was ever so often. The back ache from that eight hour drive was just beginning to wear off.
He had missed the simplicity of this life. His grandmother, who was a tad bit too proud of him, awed at all he did and nick-named him ‘Eveready’. His eagerness to help and resilience when working likened him to the batteries sold at the shops- or so she said. She had had electricity for a number of years but insisted on carrying her metallic torch about and praising it whenever she used it, always stopping to note how long it had been since the last battery change. Her memory was funny in that way; it skipped over some names and faces but vice-gripped these logs.
The rain poured down without warning and he beamed at the joyful noise of children playing in the rain. Buckets and basins that had been set out began to fill and the dry soil rose up in dust from the rain-splash. In a half hour, he knew the ground would be thick mud and the road unmanageable. His grandmother brought out her favorite rocking chair and set it beside him. They sat in silence. They watched another neighbour calling in his children with his head ducked and a hand on his wooden gate. His grandmother made a clucking sound and turned to him: she had forgotten to bring in the rest of the grain set out to dry and close the ghala. He smiled at how long it had been since anyone spoke to him of granaries and maize. He slipped on his gumboots- wellies as his friends called them back in school- and took a set of keys off the rack from behind the door.
The granary was a hill away, he would have to go through the town center and up past the other townsfolk farms to get to it. He suddenly became annoyed at how much distance he had to cover and how wet he would get. His grandmother took his hand in hers and pressed her lips to it, “Eveready!”she said in a sing-song voice. He beamed at her, squeezed her hand and set out in a jog, sloshing past his neighbour chasing wet children with a kiboko; forcing them indoors. The streets were empty save for the occasional hunched figure bounding homewards.
He began to laugh.
At the warm rain and his soaked feet and the slippery mud he was trekking through. He began to miss his town even before he left.