When Muchoki was around twenty, just after they got initiated at Kayahwe River, he got a sickness that seemed to deepen as he grew. A plague was spreading across the villages .The elderly men said that since the times of Chuma and Iregi- the pioneers of the clan-no such plague had visited the area. Cleansings were offered. Sacrifices were made. Ngai healed those that had been sick. Their mothers took over from Him and nursed them to health.
Only Muchoki didn’t get well. His skin draped loosely around his departing soul. Each day he had a new ache.Gradually, he grew into a thin stick of boy whose ribs stuck out and eyes had the anemic colour of death. Finally, they sunk in like two caves to the underworld of ngomi or spirits.
When the medicine man said that he won’t get well, two hefty young men carried him from the village to the edge of the forest. Dying in a house would bring more death upon that household. They collected big logs of hardwood trees and lit a fire beside his dying self. The fire was meant to keep him warm in his last days-and ward of hungry hyenas before he died. The young men left him there-half dead- and headed back to the village. Elders designated his younger brother Kuria to check on him every morning.
The next morning Kuria went to check on him with trepidation. Muchoki was now tremulous and on the last throes of dying. Real men gave a fight against death; Muchoki was no exception. His eyes were heavily jaundiced; his face had a grim patina. His limbs had already acquired the cold stiffness of death. His body was here, but his soul was with Agu and Agu, the ancestors who were there at the beginning of times. Kuria took his head gear, covered him with his old blanket, stoked the fires and left. It was evil to watch a brother die and Ngai claim his own.
Kuria reported to the elders that his brother was in his last moments under the sun. They gave thanks to Ngai and poured libation on the ground for him to bless his ways in the next world.Wasn’t he a young man who blessed everybody with his cheerful ways? When Kuria entered his mother’s homestead wearing his brothers head gear, she didn’t ask any questions. He raised his hands to the mountain and uttered ‘aromama kwega kuraga’.May he rest in that good place where it rains eternally.
The following morning Kuria woke up and took his flock to the fields. He was sure by now his brother’s body was being feasted on by hyenas. When he reached the edge of the forest where he had left his brother, he was taken aback. A thin sceptre was basking in the blazing fire. Who was this man? Who had stoked the fire that now its flames leapt like angry spirits?
It was misty and he couldn’t see clearly. He checked on his hunting knife in his scabbard. It was an anathema for member of his age group-kamatimu or junior elders to venture out without a weapon.One could meet any of the’ kiania utuku’-a feared beast that wailed mournfully in the night. Kuria ploughed the thicket of ferns and undergrowth and hurried to the figure. Was it a spirit? His head swirled when it became clear.
The two brothers looked at each other for a long long time. Kuria thought he was looking at a ghost, a man who had come back from the land of ‘ngomi’, the living dead. He was frail. His face carried the ashen sheen of the world yonder, but his hands were alive.
‘Kkkkkuria witu, niwandehera rwara?’ Asked Muchoki with a guttural voice. His trademark stutter was more pronounced.
Kuria my brother, have you carried for me a fingerful of snuff?
Kuria immediately reached for his waist and removed a small bundle of banana skins. With trembling fingers, he opened it and took a liberal helping of the aromatic snuff. Tradition demanded that one tastes his stuff before offering it to a guest. But now there was not time for such social formalities. With trembling hands he handed the snuff to the figure, now upright and warming his anaemic hands on the fire.
When Kuria took his brother home later that day, they changed his name from Chege to Muchoki. The one who came back.