The language_Caroline G. Mbuthia
We silently watched between us as her marked beauty and cologne interrupted
our feckless, dreaming surroundins. Kimende’s stew stained
shirt was the only thing that audaciously competed with the ladybird’s
marking. But its haphazard artistry paled next to her spotted symmetry.
The interlude was a welcome one, as I needed to let my statement sink.
I also wanted to watch Kimende a while as I hardly ever saw him in
thought. It actually seemed like he had borrowed a young philosopher’s
face, that he may wear it for a day and it looked very uncomfortable
“What do you men leave your past? Kale! I know your name means
‘the past’ but do you have to go so far in the name of a joke? Why not
just change your name and leave the jokes to the comedians?”
If it wasn’t for the ‘borrowed look’ expression that I had witnessed a
few minutes earlier, I might have been offended at Kimende’s trying
to make light of the matter, but I realized that it was fear masquerading
“It’s just something that I know I have to do. Don’t ask me how, it’s
laid deep in my heart. I can’t go on like this. I need something new.
Kimende paused a while then remarked you are sounding weird maybe
you need to go to the land of ‘todo’. it’s the only place I know with
My interest was piqued and I perked up my ears.
“The only thing is, it’s said to be a mythical land. Some people say it
exists, some say it doesn’t. They say you can only get to it by foot and
that only those who believe in it get there”.
I was a man who had reached the edge and was ready to believe in anything,
something I could cling to. Anything… something… a thing.
I was sometimes known to be impulsive and this was one of those times
I proved true to my character. I packed a backpack and left late afternoon
with the little information I had. I was sojourner and sojourners
were brave pioneers. Didn’t Kimende say this place was seen by those
that believed. Well, I had put mind where my heart was.
I journeyed for two days through the woods asking several people
whether they knew anything about ‘Todo’. Few had heard of it and those
who had laughed it off saying it was all utopia. It didn’t exist. Some said
they had never heard anyone go there and come back speaking about it.
On the third day, I was getting weary, but I still had enough money so
I was not worried. I was determined. As dusk was approaching, I saw a
middle aged man with a long brown coat and a steadfast look coming
my way. His gaze seemed fixed forward as if there was something he
had to get to soon, yet his eyes were open toward me. There was something
else I read there, I couldn’t be sure but it looked like kindness.
I instinctively stopped him and asked him if he knew of ‘Todo’ or the
people. He never spoke, only smiled at me and turned back and walked
me in the direction he was pointing. Towards the skyline where the horizon
looked so peaceful. He walked me a mile then gave me his coat on
noticing that I was cold. I had a jumper on but I shivered through it. The
wind penetrated its fabric.
Before, I could protest, he was off leaving me touched by the mute
strangers act. I walked for three days, when I came to a quiet part of the
woods where the bushes were cut and the grass was short. The forest
had cleared out into what I realized was an open area much like a camp
where tents were pitched up, woodsheds abounded and hammocks hang
My heart beat in trepidation and excitement. Could I have found it. As
I drew close I saw many children who saw me too and came running.
Several people stood in the field. I tried to look for a place to duck as I
saw a dozen young children run and jump at me, causing me to fall and
us all in the joyous process. Where they really happy to see me or did I
look like someone they knew?
As they helped me up laughing, they led me to the elders who embraced
me heartily, while the women shook my hand. In all the excitement, it
had taken me a while to realise that everyone here too was mute. Much
like the kindly stranger I had met earlier. They made me sit on the grass
and fed me first then they ate. I was then taken to a constructed thatch
surrounding to have a bath.
I was overwhelmed by the hospitality and didn’t say no to anything. Besides,
these people seemed to be mind readers, they knew everything I
wanted even before I wanted it. So much for language!
As I bathed, I recalled the past few events and things I had noticed. This
place didn’t seem to have a particular tribe or race. They seemed to be
an amalgamation from all the corners of the earth. They dressed differently-
some like the nomadic mountain tribes in skin cloth, others wore
wooden clothing like I did, but most wore long gowns that almost
reached their ankles.
Yet they were all one in their unspoken language. I didn’t think that this
was what I was looking for but since I was here I decided to treat it as
an adventure and see how long I would last.
Every evening, the people would gather round a campfire when the moon
was out and gaze at the stars and marvel at the heavens. They would
each mutter themselves or the skies but I could not understand. It was
A funny thing they would do is that they would play drums and hit metal
lids together while clapping, and rejoicing. What a cacophony that
made but it was melodious to them. Therefore, I too danced and rejoiced.
There were different living and sleeping agreements too. Some would
lie outside, others on their hammocks beneath the stars and some in the
wooden constructions which I couldn’t really call houses. They were so
In all things, I had become frustrated at trying to ask about anything,
the ‘Todo’ didn’t seem to appreciate language. Whatever I wanted to do
or learn I just had to observe and then do. As the weeks went by, I found
that I had little use for most of the things that I had carried in my pack.
None of them seemed to matter here, not even my watch. People marked
time by the tasks that lay ahead and events and seasons.
I gave out most of my clothes and jumpers but I still kept the coat. I had
grown attached to it. It signified something a transition. An ushering into.
Whenever anyone got angry, sometimes they would click and this
showed their anger. As soon as one realized it, he would put his palm
over his lips and repeatedly pat them making a ‘wa-wa’ sound. (Much
like what we do with babies sometimes.)
This meant that he was sorry and was asking for forgiveness. The offended
party would then cover the ‘clickers’ lips with his own palm and
stop him from the ‘wa-wa’ process. That meant pardon had been given.
As the weeks turned into months I realized that the music ‘cacophony’
was no longer that. It was starting to have rhythm. I was learning to listen
with my heart and not my ears. I too realized that I enjoyed talking
less and less and preferred this language of demonstrations. You could
call it acting, but it was real. These was no myth. This utopia was real.
I was living it. I was in it!
With the passage of time, I became comfortable and fitted right in this.
This was now my home, I had left my past. I had realized my dream, I
But no sooner had I began to think like this than the elders realized it.
Like I said, the ‘Todo’ were mind readers. They motioned for me and
explained that this was a transition land. I had to leave. I had got the experience
I had learned enough to go out and teach others who needed
to know. It was now upon me to teach the ‘Todo’ language.
Somehow I understood. I knew it from the bottom of my being and the
feeling didn’t bring any sadness with it. Just a clear sense of peace and
There was much rejoicing at my learning that gave me a sense of ‘déjàvu’
was it just a year ago.
I knew not where I would go, neither did the elders. But the stars would
lead me as they did the others. Had I not learned how to read the time.
Wasn’t it all clear in the skies?
The time had come and the place would follow.
It was all in the seasons. A season that was and a season that would be.
I was in the between. Between the coming out of and the coming intolay
the find. I had found, and now I needed to walk. The transition was
about the walk. I had to walk the walk. But then a question came to my
mind, could I talk the talk?
And the answer was so clear on my lips and it brought no contradiction
with it. I no longer knew how to speak it. I had lost my language. Try
as I might, I could not form the words. I too like the others had come
out not speaking.
The ‘Todo’ had transformed me. I was no longer the same. I had left my
past, I had a new identity!
As I walked into the city, in the whistling cold, I saw her standing before
- Interrupting my vivid clear surroundings in her starched grey
dress upon a clear blue day.
“What is your name?” She inquired.
I could only point behind me.
“Where are you from?”
I could only look at the stars. My past did not matter. ‘Ya kale ni ya kale’.
Only where I was going. Only what I was to do.
As I began to walk, I gave her the coat. I had moved on and I hoped that
she too, would follow.
She to… to do.