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Darkness at noon as my leading light has now dimmed forever

Peter Kimani

The man who raised me has departed from our midst. He never made the news in his long life—he was 86—though he delivered the news to hundreds of Kenyans in different pockets of this country, as a driver for the Nation Courier service.

When I became a writer, the irony of my uncle delivering news that I had authored was never lost on me, or even the recognition that my earliest reporting assignment was reading letters in English that relatives in Nairobi had written him. He entrusted me to read and interpret for him, before dictating a response. That was the genesis of my life of writing.

My earliest memory of the man, whom we all called Baaba, long before he delivered newspapers, was his surprise drive to the village in a Ford van branded McKenzie, the agro-chemical firm where he similarly worked as a driver. He was always driving trucks.

Looking back, his journey must have lasted longer than he stayed at home—he stayed long enough to boil a cup of tea, before heading back—but not before giving my two cousins and I a short ride around the village.

Since the van was configured to carry luggage, not passengers, the only view of the world was through a pigeonhole at the door, or a tiny window that didn’t open.

He rode two vans: an older blue truck that turned into a virtual sauna. We called it kia riua—the sunny one. The alternate van, newer had a blast of refreshingly cool air, and which we christened it kia heho, the cold one.

This was my seven-year-old mind rationalising air conditioning in vans!

Many years later, I am touched by the profundity of the gesture of a driver who drives for hours just to give his sons and nephew a ride in a company truck.

Baaba was a slight man with a soft voice and, for the most part, treated everyone softly, rarely raising his voice even when most upset. The first time I saw him loose his marbles was when his son-in-law, who had converted his daughter into a beating drum, arrived for reconciliation talks.

Baaba did not say much on the short walk home from his brother’s house where I fetched him, as my aunt dutifully made a cup of tea and eggs fetched from Nana’s at supersonic speed.  

A cup of well-boiled tea on a Saturday afternoon surely warms the belly, for I recall the big smile that spread as the son-in-law sprung to his feet to greet Baaba, as he approached the homestead.

Baaba did not receive the greeting; he waved a finger at the man and delivered a savage whisper: “Get lost and never set foot here again!” I never saw the son-in-law again, and it’s been decades since.

My vision of the world expanded when Baaba joined the Nation Couriers, first through the tales that he told about his forays to different regions, but also the foods through that he brought home: sugarcane from Kabati; fish from Naivasha; bananas from Meru.

As a crafty teen in Nairobi, where I had migrated for high school, I conspired to get some fresh food items from Meru for delivery to some girl during their school’s visiting day. But Baaba arrived so late so I left without the goodies, and which were safely delivered to my mother’s house!

But it is the gift of reading complimentary newspapers from the Nation that Baaba brought home that expanded my worldview and piqued my curiosity about the possibility of a life in journalism.

He left our midst at high noon last Sunday. We shall bury him on Monday, just hours to the family gathering that he had requested a month ago, “to bless you, my children.” In this late hour, allow me to invoke his name: Paul Ng’ang’a Kigara. RIP, Baaba.

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