I was hanging out at a cemetery close to my apartment the other day. Hold on, keep reading; don’t close the browser window, yet! Forget what you think you know about Kisii, and Nyanza, and most definitely forget what you’ve ever been taught about going-ons at the coast, and the mysteries from places called Tanganyika and Unguja. This is not one of those storos. If it makes you feel better, jungus also hang out here. Well, to be honest, they mostly come to jog, and walk, and walk their dogs, and sometimes even to visit their family’s graves. But more often than not the cemetery functions like a park than a place you plant folks once they’ve moved on to the Great Beyond.
SO, I was hanging out at the cemetery when I met this hulking, very polite, well-mannered dog named Dora. Dora is such a dear. I’ve met her several times now in the evening when her, her dog sibling, and their human (no, he’s not an owner; how crude of you) go for a walk. The first time Dora introduced herself, because that’s exactly how it happened, she just kinda ambled over to where I was sitting. I should have been scared, or at least somewhat worried, but Dora’s excitement, and eager bounds as she raced across the grass to me melted away any misgivings I could have had.
I mentioned Dora’s a polite being. We now have a routine. Once she spots, or smells, me she’ll run over and shake my hand. Basically, she’ll keep going after my arm until I let her slip it into her mouth – makes for a very slimy handshake, but such is Dora’s insistence that I comply each time. Amazingly, as soon as she’s shaken hands, she’s a lot less excitable and quite happy to just sit and chill. She usually plops herself right in front of me and looks around contently. Knowing that Dora won’t be moving any time soon, her human(s) usually have no choice but to come by, introduce themselves and make small talk. It’s through Dora’s greetings that I’ve gotten to know that one of her human’s from Mexico City, and his wife has been to Kenya twice. Admittedly, both times she’s been on safari, and that’s a story for another day.
Encounters with Dora remind me of past experiences I’ve had with man’s best friend. If you were a big uncircumcised boy like I was a big uncircumcised boy, I’m sure you’ve got your own juicy tales about dogs. First of all there was Captain. Captain was a thoroughbred-mongrel, complete with longish black, brown, and white fur. I loved walking around our compound with him on one of those metal chains Kenyans reserve for their canine friends. It was fun imitating what I saw on TV about dog walking, never mind that Captain could damn well walk himself around the entire village, unmolested. Unfortunately, Captain went mad. A rabid dog bit him, and since he himself was not vaccinated, he got infected. Last we heard of him, he’d followed my mom one morning as she went to work. She shooed him back but he never made it home. Even if he had, Captain was beyond help. RIP.
Now imagine my horror when the next set of dogs I met were twin reincarnations of Ivan the Terrible. It was kinda like Jekyll and Hyde, except there was no Jekyll but all Hyde. Double Hyde. Hyde 1 and Hyde 2 belonged to Mm Mungai; she had a dairy farm and I’d go to collect our daily milk supply from her. One evening, it was raining and getting dark, I’d already picked up the milk and was on my way back home. I was happy to have escaped Hyde & Hyde; turns out I’d counted my chickens too soon. Out of nowhere the Hyde twins – identical in short black and brown fur – appeared. We did the whole stare-down-each-other thing. But these devils were in home territory and they could wait all night. I couldn’t; I decided to make a dash for it. Wrong move! They came bounding after me, and not in the friendly, curious way Dora does. The only thing Hyde 1 and Hyde 2 were curious about was who’d manage to bite a bigger chunk off my well-toned calves. I screamed bloody murder as they cornered me into the hedge. Someone came out from Mm Mungai’s house and restrained the two bullies. I walked home, all pieces intact and my pride beyond repair.
As you can well imagine, I was simply looking for a representative of the canine family on whom I could re-assert my dominance. Enter Miki. That was not her real name, but it’s an appropriate one. Again, I came to meet Miki through my duties as the family’s designated milkman – even though this was years later and I’d already faced the knife (and the music) and become a man. So there I was one evening picking up milk from a neighbor’s house when Miki came after me, all bite and no bark. She was out for blood. While one of her humans helped to restrain her zeal for my tasty behind, I made a mental note to always be well armed when I visit. Now you have to imagine Miki: a bag of skin and bones, ribs out like one of those kids you see on a 3am World Vision TV ad. “For just US 25 cents a day, you can …” Her energy was more diabolical than real. But as I came to understand, it was mostly a show for her humans so she could earn her keep and get fed better. Paradoxically, whenever Miki and I met outside her yard she had no beef with me. She used to give me this “it’s not personal” look. Unfortunately, despite the many dog boyfriends I saw sauntering after her, Miki was perpetually starved: the hungrier she got, the tastier my limbs looked.
Several weeks later, I came by and, as usual, found Miki on the doorstep. I walked the last few steps to the door carefully, re-arranging my body posture to demonstrate that I was here for my milk and nothing more. I was not looking for a brawl, despite the 5 foot walking stick I held firmly in my right hand. Miki would have none of it; she had no desire to sue for peace. After all, she reckoned, I didn’t come armed so her and I could have mugithi night. She jumped up intent on sinking her teeth into any part of me. She never got close. I swung my rungu once and she swerved back out of range. Now it was really on; she was incensed that I’d dared defend myself. “What nerve!” she barked at me. All this while her humans had not shown; they were comfortably sitting indoors or perhaps watching from behind the curtains. In any case, Miki thought to teach me a lesson. But I had not dreamt sweet revenge on the Hyde twins for nothing. When she next made a move towards me, I stepped forward, swung hard, and connected my walking stick with her fore quarters and ribs. It was painful. Miki yelped, repeatedly. Defeated, she ran back, tail tucked, to the back of the house. I was finally ushered in to get the milk, and I walked away confidently. Triumphant.
The Hyde twins were eventually poisoned. And no, it was not by me. Turns out Hyde 1 and Hyde 2 developed a taste for their neighbors’ chicken. Well, someone finally had enough of that rubbish behavior and did them in. Despite the bad blood between us, I was genuinely saddened by their death. They were worthy opponents.