The Story of Becoming — Lessons from my Grandfather

January 12, 2009

The Story of Becoming — Lessons from my Grandfather

My grandfather’s ashes atop this morning’s dew
Unyielding dust filled with collected memories
Hidden under the gazing African sun
A dance that leaves one empty a matador’s dance with a bull
But for what? A covenant with the unwilling?
Or perhaps to placate the heavens

I remember waiting for my grandfather to tell me
The tales of life before the drought
And the accompanying strangers
Would they ever leave? I asked
The silence that followed answered
With the whispers
Early in the morning we walked towards the river
With banana leaves whistling our praises
We bathed in the cold waters imbued by warm blood
In the distance the ancestors sang,
“the torch bearers of tomorrow have come, make way”
And so begun the journey
The year grandfather took me to the big fig tree
His tired eyes beneath a wrinkled forehead
Did his voice belie his sorrow
Or was it soothing my troubled youth?
As we sat between the gigantic roots sticking out like knuckles
Clinging on to every word we dared not say
He took my shaking hand in his firm withered grip
His finger nails the colors of untold stories of a life
A spirit tormented but strong
In the distance a shooting star
Saluting my grandfather
Who left shortly after, to follow
As the darkness crept around us
Grandpa, his eyes now closed
The moon’s shimmering dance in the skies
Invited the chorus back into my father’s house
Where we embraced and I, I slowly
Became a man.

Nducu wa Ngugi

Ngugi’s poignant story of his time with his grandfather is also a metaphor for the passing of life itself. We think that the old are the voices of wisdom, authority, and tradition when all they ever share is the face of our lives at a further point, their maps prefiguring ours. Such is the stream of life that keeps connected the unwilling insolent young and the pain-ridden exhausted where all the years in between is fleeting manhood. So on the roots of the big fig tree below a shooting star sat Ngugi and his grandfather. How ironic is it then to remember Rudyard Kipling’s now less thoughtful words: “you’ll be a Man, my son!”

Gwee Li Sui


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