From the talk swirling across town, he cannot be a day older than forty eight. Two years shy of clocking five whole decades of toil, exertion and suffering, fifty years of accepting fate,of rolling over to misfortune and living with the saying that rest will come when he’s finally laid to rest six feet under. He must have given up hope, heck, I would have.
He stands six foot one inch tall, albeit with a slouch. He’s lean, almost bordering on skinny with jutting out shoulders and sharp clavicles. With his bedraggled oversize coat that looks borrowed, he exudes a determination untypical of a man in his situation. Having been born partially deaf and in abject poverty, he found his calling in juakali; repairing bicycles and household ware.
As I watch him pound the crooked rim against a block of wood, I can’t help but wonder about his motivation, or what goes through his head as he goes about his business. It’s five o’clock in the evening when they stand over him. The older one, a girl about twelve years old is deftly balancing a bucket of maize on her beautiful shaven head. I always find girls with oval shaven heads beautiful. Her skin is dark brown with an enviable smoothness. She delicately holds her younger sister’s hand in her left hand. You see, the younger one, about ten years old, is partially blind. Blame it on cataracts. I do not shy from really looking at her since I know for a fact that she can’t see this far.
At first you’d think her eyes are closed, but on closer observation, they are slitted. Her pupils seem to be dancing underneath the eyelids. She only gets to fully open them when she’s still, mostly when seated. When it happens, her eyes are shrouded by a cloudy mass. She’s shy, as she keeps pulling her kanga over her head to ward off those staring. Her sister asserts that she can see, which translates to seeing blurry moving things. Can she identify people?I muse, or does she rely on her ears, on the ability to know people by their voices, by the sound of their footsteps, by their touch, or simply by their smell.
A wave of sadness washes over me as I watch the elder one tap her father on the shoulder to announce her presence. He momentarily lifts his head to acknowledge her, ordering her to join the sister on the concrete flour and wait till he’s done.
After ascertaining that the bike is fixed and running, the man reaches into his pocket and hands Timothy a twenty shilling coin. Too stunned to voice his disapproval, he only shakes his head and joins the coin with others of its kind in his pocket. Here, in this business, no one tips, the patrons pay as if its an unnecessary expense,as if its something they can fix by themselves if they had the luxury of time, only that explains the frugality. With enough competition, Timothy can use as many coins as he can get, no matter the denominations. What Alex turns away, Timothy accepts, his life does not allow him to pass up any opportunity.
Today, he’s had about five customers. Two who came to have their punctures repaired and the others with minor bicycle problems. He’s made about a hundred shillings which are intact since he skips lunch.
Having put away his tools, he washes his oily hands in the water held in the half-cut five litre container. With no soap, loose sand will make do. His hands are calloused, with blackened palms and toughened long nails you’d think they are talons.
As has become routine, he buys cabbage the size of a child’s head along with overripe squashed tomatoes and sends the girls ahead to ready supper. Their mother is blind. She spends her mornings out basking in the sun, and her afternoons under the shade knitting table spreads. Never mind that no one buys knitted spreads these days. Her evenings are spent in her kitchen’s hearth, keeping her daughters company as they prepare meals.
On good days, they get to eat cabbage, or omena. On normal days they resort to the indegenous vegetables sprouting in their farm. When things are tough, they skip through breakfast and lunch.
Has she ever thought that she was cursed? Yes, countless times.
Because how then can you explain my misery. How else can you explain my children’s conditions. Out of my five, only two are normal. That one is going to turn out as blind as I am, someday. This one can’t walk. The other one is always sleeping, too weak he also can’t walk. My heart aches for him. I can’t lose him. I always pray that they bury me first. Look at me, too blind to do anything. It is better if I just die and save these girls more suffering. Their father is ever toiling, he won’t even take a day to rest and I’m afraid one day he will drop dead from too much sun and little food. His bones are weak, I don’t know how long he can work those metals. But what else can I do? What else can my family do?
She breaks down, crying, sobbing and beating her breasts I don’t know what I can do to console her. What can a girl like me, who’s never known how it feels to live in her state do or say to abate her anguish?
As she gathers herself enough to drink the glass of water I’ve offered, I wonder. I wonder if this life is a good thing for all. I wonder if sometimes giving up is the better choice. If questioning God or cursing the earth we walk on is justifiable. I wonder if suffering is a good portion as is happiness. I wonder why some people get to have too much of the former and very little of the latter. I wonder why sometimes help takes too long, why good fortune skips some doors.
Is there such a thing as generational curses?Is it fair when one’s misdeeds come haunting somebody else years later? Does the universe really keep an account of things in order to repay them in due time? Is there such a thing as fate? Do we have any control over how our lives turn out to be?
We may not know what is in store for us, what lays ahead. However, I hope that there’s enough courage in us to face it. I hope that when life deals us with lucky cards, we get to share, we get to remember all the Timothys around us, that we get to give them a reason to look forward to tomorrow. That they get to forget about their troubles, even if its just for a second.