My grandfather was a young boy when he first saw them. They had six digits on each limb and very smooth skin that glowed unlike normal humans. Though they looked human, they spoke without opening their mouths in a way that was clear and a language that could not be described. They said to him that they meant no harm and that they were from a place far away in the stars…
They say children observe without inhibition. To my young grandfather, these strange people were a subject of curious fascination. They would speak to animals an even plants. They would do very unusual things that are impossible for a man to do. A few months before he died, he whispered to me in a way that was almost incoherent that he had seen them again. He said he had been walking along the stream that ran at the foot of his land when he saw them standing by the boulder that marked the last beacon of his land. He claimed they hadn’t aged at all. He hadn’t seen them since that time in the forest but it now seemed like they had never left after all. He had spent all his life trying to tell people what he saw. Naturally not one ever believed his fantastic tale. You see when he was young, my grandfather had a habit of creating these imaginative tales to entertain his parents and siblings. At one point, they started worrying that spending months in the forest herding cattle with his great grandfather had started wearing him down mentally. Eventually, they gave in to the realization that these stories were a part of his personality.
His great grandfather was also a man with a reputation of telling strange tales. Contrary to modern theory, he claimed that the Kikuyu had come from the far north, a place called Nekemte. Disease and constant attacks from the tribe of tall and dark people from the west had forced his ancestors to break into small bands and head south. The common understanding was that they would later regroup at the foot of the mountain of God. It took them many years and by the time they reached the mountain it had been five generations. They later came to settle at the foot of Koraba that is now known as Mount Kenya. In his narration he claimed that on reaching Koraba, they found these strange looking people with six digits on each limb; who did curious things. On consulting with God, the tribe seers declared these creatures evil and a danger to mankind. They directed the clan to organize themselves in readiness for war. They engaged these beings in a battle that lasted one hundred moons. In the end, we won and killed them all. At least that was the narrative according to the legend of the time.
When my father was a young boy, he too went herding cattle with his grandfather for months at a time in the forest. In those days, the land was still wild and so vast that they had to place beacons everywhere they stopped so they could find their way back. These journeys were long and lonely at times. After all, there’s only so much two people can tell each other after spending months trekking through the forests and wastelands. My grandfather would always tell him that if he ever saw anything strange and frightening the best thing to do was to keep calm and still until it [whatever it was] passed. My father was to later see many frightening things like lions but never anything strange. He too considered my grandfather ridiculous with his ludicrous strange tales.
Times changed and following the invasion by the british my grandfather went into the forest to fight as Mau Mau. The war lasted many years and many of our people were killed in what later came to be known as the struggle for independence. He had seen many of his comrades in arms die in the most undignified ways. He had experienced the horrors of war in an involving way that would be etched in his mind for the rest of his life. When he came back, he was a changed man. A far cry from the story teller he had been in his better days. The forest was gone, and all he had left was a five acre piece of land and a wife and children that he hardly knew and needed to reacquaint himself with. Of all the stories of war that he later would tell his children , one stood out. When he was in the forest, he always felt like he was being watched by the strange beings from his childhood. On dark silent nights, he would feel their presence. It was they were always watching him. The day before he got out of the forest he thought he heard them call out his name. They spoke in his head and just as before it was clear.
In the years before he died, he was a shadow of his former self. He was quiet most of the time and unable to feed or clean himself. He would come out to meet the sun sitting in his favorite colonial era chair just staring into space as if in a trance. I believe he got tired of speaking to a world that would not take him seriously. He still had that strange light in his eyes of a boy who had seen something incredible. He died still holding on to his tale.
During my grandfather’s funeral, I noticed these two strangers who were standing by the grave. They looked ageless and their skin was smooth and it seemed to glow. Their faces showed no emotion but strangely I felt their sorrow. Deep and hollow. It was a feeling I had never felt before. When they looked up, our eyes met and for a moment the earth stood still and and I felt my knees give way. I collapsed on the ground. I could hear a woman’s voice in the distance telling mourners to give me space to breathe. I felt them loosen my shirt and they started fanning my face. When I came to, the strangers were gone but I knew who they were.
Though this is a work of fiction, I dedicate to the memory of my grandfather whose tales captivated my mind ever since I was a young boy. He died before he could tell his story.