We had an orchard at our farm in Iten. On a section of land that was sunken and completely surrounded by a grassy terrace, we grew orange, lime, lemon, loquat, plum, peach, mulberry, apple, avocado, mango and strawberry. Over time the orchard acquired a twig fence and a gate that was attached to the trunk of a giant podo tree we always referred to as Father Christmas. I feared passing under the shadow of Father Christmas because I was told that it hid an enormous python that slept at a hollow inside its trunk during the day and slid out at night, roving around the farm, looking for a plump boy to devour.
Right next to the podo tree, was our chicken house, which was sadly empty. We had acquired a flock of Rhode Island Red, as had many farmers around, with the best intentions of rearing them for meat and egg, only for a honey badger to sneak in at night and suck the blood off half the stock. The surviving half descended into manic cannibalism after that and we had to slaughter them all.
I spent most of my childhood in the orchard. Mostly because I was a shy and sensitive child, who preferred my own peace and quiet rather than the rough and tumble that accompanied any association with my classmates or siblings. But it was more than that. It was in this orchard that I spent time with Kabon, my great-grandmother who died thirty years before I was born. I don’t know how to explain it but her spirit would swell and fill up the orchard when I was there, and we would have the most animated conversation for hours on end.
She was everywhere; in the rustle of leaves under a sudden wind; in the eyes of stray cats that would look at me from a distance, only turning brave enough to come close when I gave them pieces of meat; in the tortoises I would always find walking about, which my mother never allowed me to keep, instead having Rough Hands carry them off to Saint Patrick’s High School.
Kabon was a dim figure, always hunched and garbed in a skin cloak that bore that piss-like smell of old age. She would only listen to me as I spoke. At times, when I closed my eyes, she would come and trail her fingers over my shoulder. I would always ask her to take me back to her world but that would only make her fade away.
But I remember one cold day, when fog poured like thick cream over the orchard, I heard her scream and I immediately closed my eyes. And there I was, inside her low-roofed hut which lay amongst the rocks of the second Kerio valley escarpment. She had clutched my grandmother, then a tiny baby, over her shoulder and her eyes had turned a glaring white from fright. “Kiprop,” she said. “I am all alone in the hut and my husband has gone to hunt for elephants. I just saw a dwarf walk outside my hut and I don’t know what to do.”
I walked outside. I remember how the sun shone on the nape of my neck, just hot and irritating then as it was in the world I lived in. Before me were a cluster of thickets and I saw the dwarf trying to hide inside. I called out to him and he walked to me, a tiny man with a grey beard, a skin wrap over his loins and a quiver of arrows over his shoulders. The dwarf held his shaking hands before me. “I don’t come to harm anyone. I am just looking for honey. I have family too.”
I walked back into the hut and told Kabon so.