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Snippet of the Novel
Wamukoya Netia joined his mother in her kitchen and sat opposite her by the fire as she prepared the evening meal.
“A grown man like you should not sit in his mother’s kitchen,” she admonished.
“Nothing has happened to me so far, has it?” he asked leaning forward to fan the fire for her.
“You ask the elders,” she said. “They will be shocked to learn that you are still sitting by your mother’s breasts.”
Wamukoya Netia ignored her comment and continued fanning the fire. After some time, he sat back and looked at his mother stirring the pot of vegetables.
“You look worried,” he said.
“I am not worried,” she denied. “My only worry is that you have fanned the fire too hot and now the vegetables will burn.”
“I know when you are worried,” he said. “I can see a furrow on your brow.”
“Okay. I am worried,” she conceded. “Don’t tell me that you are the only Wanga who has not heard that the Nabongo intends to choose his heir today.”
“And how does that concern me?” he asked.
“You are one of the Nabongo’s sons,” she said.
“He does not recognize me as such and so it is better not to regard myself as his son,” said Wamukoya Netia. “Besides, we all know that Kweyu is the choice for the throne. The choosing of the heir was already done a long time ago, before I was even born.”
His mother looked sadly into the fire.
“I wish you could have more interest in the goings on of this land,” she said. “You don’t know what fate has in store for you. You just don’t know.”
She was deep in thought. Wamukoya Netia was about to speak when a young boy rushed in and said, “Wamukoya Netia, the Omukhaye wants to see you.”
The Omukhaye, being the first wife of the Nabongo, held a prestigious position among all the women in the Kingdom. Her authority was unquestionable and many women, especially those who married into the royal family, had to be sent to her for training and advice on how to be good wives and mothers. All the children of the Nabongo were her children and their mothers could not prevent her from seeing them or even raising them if she decided to do so. She had taken a liking to Wamukoya Netia from the time he was born and was almost more of a mother to him than Nasienya, his mother.
Wamukoya Netia told his mother, “Let me heed Mama’s summons. I will eat my evening meal with her.”
“It is okay,” said his mother sadly.
This had happened so often, and she was now resigned to the fact that she had to share her son with the Omukhaye. She could not help thinking that this would have been easier if she had many other children like the other wives of the Nabongo.
Wamukoya Netia went to the Omukhaye’s kitchen where some servant girls were preparing the evening meal. They started giggling as soon as he leaned on the doorframe and the Omukhaye who was sitting at a corner weaving a basket stood up quickly and shooed him out.
“Eeh Netia!” she exclaimed. “How do you just enter a kitchen full of girls like that? They may burn themselves out of shock and I will not be able to explain to their mothers what happened.”
“I came to find you Mama,” he said. “I was told you were looking for me.”
“Yes,” said the Omukhaye. “But I’ve always told you not to seek me out in the kitchen. You must go to my reception hut and send one of the palace guards to call me.”
They walked together to the Omukhaye’s reception hut with the servant girls still giggling in the kitchen. Dusk was fast approaching, and the setting sun cast long shadows on the ground of the neatly swept boma. Puddles of water could be seen here and there, and the grass was wet from the recent downpour.
On entering the reception hut, the Omukhaye went into an inner room and came back with a calabash of boiled monkey nuts.
“Eeh Mama,” said Wamukoya Netia. “Shouldn’t we just wait for the evening meal? The nuts will ruin my appetite for obusuma.”
“Don’t worry,” said the Omukhaye. “You are the son of a Nabongo and must be fed like one. You are too skinny. And don’t be so sure of yourself. Maybe there is no obusuma today!”
“I know there is obusuma,” said Wamukoya Netia. “I entered the kitchen just to confirm it.”
“Sit down,” said the Omukhaye laughing. “I have already learnt that if I start an argument with you, I will never win. Let us discuss something serious.”
“I hope it is not about the great summons at the Mwiboma,” said Wamukoya Netia.
“How did you know it was that?” asked the Omukhaye.
“Because it is the only topic of conversation in the entire country right now,” he answered.
“Well, I want to hear your opinion on it,” said the Omukhaye.
“Why should a wise woman like you seek the opinion of a youth who still has dew behind his ears?” asked Wamukoya Netia.
“Eish! Wamukoya Netia with his sweet tongue,” admonished the Omukhaye playfully. “I am not wise. I am merely a woman.”
“You are wiser than most men,” said Wamukoya Netia.
“And with your youth, how many men have you met and talked to so that you can make such a comparison?” Asked the Omukhaye.
“There you go!” exclaimed Wamukoya Netia. “At least you have admitted that I am still a very green youth.”
They both laughed. Their conversation always flowed easily with much teasing and joking. They talked to each other more like friends or like a grandmother and grandson than like mother and son. A mother and son had to respect each other, and a son could never argue or quarrel with his mother. However, a grandparent was treated as being in a grandchild’s age group and their relationship was much closer. Conversation was freer and the subjects that could be discussed were not restricted.
“Give me your opinion anyway,” said the Omukhaye, sitting opposite Wamukoya Netia and taking a handful of monkey nuts.
“My opinion is that there is too much drama and farce being placed around the whole thing,” said Wamukoya Netia. “The Nabongo already had it set in his mind many years ago that Kweyu would be his successor. Why must he call the entire Council of elders to confirm his choice?”
“Very true,” said the Omukhaye. “But the calling of the Abakali beLitokho means that the Nabongo himself is questioning his choice and he wants it validated.”
“I said you are wise,” said Wamukoya Netia laughing.
“Now, let us be serious,” said the Omukhaye. “Please, listen to my words carefully and internalize them. I want you to start preparing yourself. A time is about to come when you will be the only other option for the throne besides Kweyu.”
Wamukoya Netia was dumbfounded. He was about to protest when the Omukhaye stopped him and said, “I want you to do this very quietly. Do not tell even your mother. If you need any help or advice come directly to me. You know the wise elders say that a person running alone thinks he is the fastest runner. All these harvests, Andabulwa has thought he is the fastest runner, but the moment has come when he has to run alongside others.”
‘Andabulwa’ simply meant the undisclosed name and was used when gossiping or saying something negative about someone whose name you did not want to mention.
Wamukoya Netia continued looking at the Omukhaye in shocked silence. He had never had any ambition to take the throne. He knew that he was a reject and the Nabongo and the elders treated him as such.
“Mama, I love and respect you,” he finally said. “I don’t know why you are leading me into a trap. You know that slippery ground does not recognize a king.”
“Wamukoya Netia look at me,” said the Omukhaye. “Have I not been more of a mother to you than your mother Nasienya?”
“You have,” said Wamukoya Netia.
“Have I not loved you more than the very daughters I gave birth to?” she asked.
“I am not privy to your inner feelings,” said Wamukoya Netia.
“Is it not I who personally presented you for blessing before the elders?” the Omukhaye persisted, ignoring his sarcasm.
“I was too young to notice,” he said.
The Omukhaye smiled and said, “Do not doubt me my son. I would not have led you down this path if I was not sure of what I was doing. I love you and cannot mislead you. When the right time comes, I will tell you why I am doing this.”
“Then if you are so confident,” said Wamukoya Netia. “Why do you want me to go about this in secret? The same elders you talk about also said that a person who conceals disease is exposed when mourning for the dead starts. It will all come to light and I will be branded disloyal.”
“Wamukoya Netia,” said the Omukhaye sternly. “I will not allow you to question me anymore. Always remember that a mother uses her son to hide her mistakes.”
“Mama!” he exclaimed surprised at the sudden change in her tone. “What are you saying?”
Try as he may he could not decipher the meaning of her words.
“You will understand in due course,” she said.
At that moment, there was a light tapping on the door and one of the servant girls came in with the evening meal.
“Let us eat,” said the Omukhaye. “Hunger and conversation were never good companions.”
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