"Your Baba was a good man," my grandmother said softly, staring into the fire. The fire cast shadows on her face, making her look like the shadow faced ogres that were said to have terrorized these lands years before our community was even formed.
"He made mistakes, but he was good. A strong man," she said and glanced at me from the corner of her eye. Even though she learned English way before my parents were born, the words still fell from her lips and crashed into my ears like her mouth was rejecting them.
"Your Baba was sent to fight a war that wasn't his. A war he would have avoided if he just stayed home, but he had itchy feet. He couldn't stand to stay in one place for more than one harvest," she said, this time looking straight at me. Grandmother always spoke like she was telling a story, she blamed it on the storyteller's tongue. She said I had it too and the moment I regained my peoples' language, it would flow out of me like a river upstream.
"But Baba is coming back. Baba always comes back," I told her confidently, because it was true and every bone in my body knew so too. My Baba said that his pain is my pain, and if he wasn't coming back, I knew my bones would feel it first.
Grandmother heaved out a heavy tired sigh. I almost thought the fire would go out. Outside I heard the other children screaming and laughing in excitement. I knew Amani's dog, Mbwa Mwitu was chasing the chickens again. I fidgeted in my seat wanting to go out and watch with the rest.
"The journey your father is on is not one he will come back from in your lifetime," grandmother said, choosing her words carefully. I knew she was picking her words carefully because she always avoided my eyes when she thought her words might hurt me.
"My lifetime? Who else's lifetime would my father come back in?'' I asked, not really understanding what 'lifetimes' had to do with Baba. Lifetimes ago were the times the ancestors lived in, and my Baba was not an ancestor.
"Mtoto wangu, my little child..." Grandmother said, looking so sad that I felt like all the stars had fallen from the sky. The last time my grandmother looked that sad is when my baba left, "I guess you will have to learn when you're old enough to bear it. Go play with the other children."
I stood up slowly and left, confused and sad. It felt like baba had gone all over again, but he hadn't even come back at all.
TRANSLATION (SWAHILI) Baba- Father
Mtoto wangu- my child.