Frankly Told: Grandmother’s Hands

Frankhie Muthumbi
5 min readApr 10, 2024

--

Photo by @Frankhie Muthumbi

From outside, the door threatened to burst open weak only to the force of the laughter of those within the room. The rest of the house felt like a cemetery so hesitation filled him as he reached for the door handle. He admittedly had assimilated into the gloom of it all.

Still, he pushed and wrapped his fingers around the brass handle. It was almost warm to his touch or maybe his mind was playing tricks on him. The door swung open to the full frontal force of joyous conversation and he felt alien to the energy as he stepped over the threshold.

“Wha-what’s going on?” he asked in a voice that still carried notes of the sleep he had just woken from.

“Grab a seat and some food!” he was forced into the circle by one of his cousins, his question unanswered.

He paused; his body language like a lost puppy, looked around before he submitted to the request and trudged over to the table where he poured himself a glass of orange juice and piled a slice of homemade pizza onto a paper plate. He looked around but could not see any serviettes. He shrugged and turned back to the hurdled group of his relatives who had since gone back into the depths of their “Remember when…” conversation.

He looked for a gap he could squeeze into, craning his neck around the numbered seats to find it. One of them took note of him and shifted to create enough room for him on an ottoman, to which he gratefully obliged. Placing the plate on his thighs, he sipped the warm orange juice and cringed as it went down. It must have been sitting on that table for a while, he thought.

“… So I am here trying to tell him, “Yo! Cucu is behind you!” This fool is just continuing to tear some meat he had stolen from the pot,” the story went on. “I’m nearly smacking him but him ako ndani ndani. Inside completely. A lost case-”

“But you know the way I like nyama,” the main character of the story defended himself.

“Yeah,” they all agreed and the storyteller continued. “I just threw up my hands and said, it’s you and God now.”

The group sat and leaned into the story, hanging onto every word to the point of almost finishing the sentences as they trailed out of his mouth, between a smile that filtered a lighter undertone into what he was saying.

Cucu, came and chapa’d me,” his cousin interjected again, punctuated with laugher. “I don’t blame you for giving up. I mean if it is what will kill me, I will gladly take death! That meat was worth that beating and I will do it again!”

They erupted into laughter similar to the one he had heard as he stood outside the room. The dots connected.

“I think you are the one who has been beaten the most by her,” another one of his cousins threw in. “If we are being honest, half of us were not old enough to be there when she had the energy to pull out that stick of hers to beat us when we were acting silly. It was a wild time.”

“Unco,” the first cousin spoke up again. “You remember that time for getting the water from the well?”

Wueh!” his uncle exclaimed, a hand on the small of his back as if he was reliving the wounds he had marked on him by that day.

“Let me tell you, she was my mother but my goodness, I thought she would kill us!” He continued. “I don’t even remember well what we were doing that caused her to be so angry- Oh! I remember! We were throwing rocks into the well.”

“Ah!” the audience exclaimed.

“Even me I don’t know why we were doing that,” his uncle continued animatedly. “I just know we were doing it. Then cucu, without us knowing, was creeping up behind us through the maize. Before we knew it fwap! Fwap! Fwap! Everybody; scattered. Me, I thought I was smart running through the maize but I tripped over the roots. Wueh! The way she was on me like white on rice! Aish, I think that stick must have gotten into my blood system with the way she delivered that beating!”

Laughter carried the narration like a gentle cloud that hovered about the group. Who knew black could look so bright? The warmth tickled him ever so playfully and pulled at the edges of his lips until he gave in. The rest were in fits of sweating and gasping for air. Something inside him felt guilty for smiling even though the joy of it all was contagious.

He was mid-bite into his pizza when the conversation shifted focus and the spinning bottle landed on him.

“Since you’re the youngest, I think it would be nice to know what you remember about her,” said one of his female cousins with a smile.

He looked around at the faces, eager to hear him. The bite of pizza struggled to go down and the expectation on the faces made him force it down and into the wrong hole causing him to choke and start coughing. He picked up the juice and gulped it down to relieve the meal that fought its way down. Once his body had regained composure, he thought for a second and smiled.

“Her hands,” the thought seemed to take him to a different place.

“I remember her hands, they were so rough!” he expounded. “Now hearing these stories I can see where those came from I guess but I can’t even imagine being beaten by her hands. One slap and I would collapse.”

A few smiles and almost laughs found his audience.

“I don’t think I have a story that you all have not been there to experience but I think by the time I was born, she was tired from you all.” They chuckled again. “I just wish I knew how you were all carried by those hands, they looked so soft but they were so hard. When I saw her milking the cows, I felt sorry for the cows.”

He giggled at the things he was saying and the chuckles caused a chain reaction that dialed the laughter into soft nostalgia and the group beamed with smiles at their memories.

“Hmm, yeah. Our grandmother’s hands,” one of the cousins broke. “A good memory that one.”

--

--

Frankhie Muthumbi

Perfectly Imperfect || Human, Alexithymiac Poet, Writer, Musician