The Cupboard. That’s the term we used to not at all fondly refer to the wooden structure that is a relic from my parent’s wedding once upon a time in 1991. It was aptly named (by yours truly of course, can’t you feel all the creativity I put into it?), I believe, for the term gives it all the pomp and splendor it deserves.None whatsoever. When you hear ‘The Cupboard’, you picture a simple thing, quickly put together by a guy in a roadside workshop, who has a wife and seven kids waiting to eat of his sweat, three of whom have repeated Class 8 more times than they’ve eaten chicken. You picture plain. Cheap. A bit run-down but necessary nonetheless.
It’s a bit of a pitiful structure, really. It stands sadly against one wall of the dining room like an old woman watching the rest of life pass her by because she’s too old to keep up. The Cupboard used to be the main piece of furniture in the room, monopolizing the whole place in all its roan majesty. We keep all our cutlery and crockery there, after all. As well as keys, pressure lamps, Christmas decorations from 2002, pesticides, record books for the farm, and anything else that looks like it should be thrown away but then again no, maybe we’ll need it in future so we’d best keep it around, even if in the event that that time does come we’ll not know into which drawer we stuffed it. I hear there’ll be a shortage of decorations in the Christmas of 2038 so you can’t tell us nothin’.
Then came the dining table with its detailed embellishments and polished surface and stole our hearts like the smooth criminal it is. No, really it’s the smoothest thing you ever laid hands upon. Such an arrogant table it was, it usurped The Cupboard from its position of power and quietly and quickly the old woman faded into the woodwork. Quite literally. It couldn’t compete with the fancy table and its posse of even fancier chairs. We forgot all about her, even though we incessantly complained that the table had been made too high. Seriously, as you ate at that table your elbows were practically at the same height as your shoulders. Do you know how terribly frustrating that can get, especially for those of us to whom there isn’t much with regard to stature? All my dad retorted when we complained is that it was made for the high and mighty.
Yeah, that’s the look we gave the first time too.
Well, The Cupboard still stands. It still holds 90% of all the utensils in the house. ‘Vyombo vya wageni’ are kept there, with all the reverence they deserve in a typically Kenyan home. That tells you how much we need that cupboard. Without it my mother’s boast to hospitality wouldn’t be worth a farthing. Some of the doors are coming off their hinges, but you can tell The Cupboard still manages to pull itself together and get the job done. The roan is no longer deep; it now just gives it a washed-up look. I like to think of the faded color as the grey hair that the elderly are so generously bestowed with. They’re supposed to be a universal sign of wisdom or experience or something, no?
Speaking of greyness and age, on top of The Cupboard rest some family photos, the most outstanding of which is one of my grandmother. Dad’s mother. She is happy. Ecstatic even, because her teeth are all out in a full-on grin and her eyes glisten in happiness, nay, joy. And yes, I did say her teeth…she didn’t lose those like she did the rest of her health. She had been in a bad way and was staying with us in Nairobi as she got treatment. But in that photo you can’t tell. Maybe that’s why I like the photo. It portrayed what she wanted people to see- that she was a happy woman. I’m not sure I can do that; I’m as transparent as the glass doors on The Cupboard that give anyone who cares to look a glimpse into all that’s imperfect that’s within it. Broken promises, err…plates… chipped cups, cracked glasses, bent forks. But the glass doors also showcase my mom’s pretty glasses. Yeah, za wageni. Anyway, my grandmother went to be with Jesus not long after that photo was taken. I guess now the smile and dancing eyes are a reflection of what’s really inside. And they’re permanent.
Every once in a while we clean out The Cupboard. Once a year, I think. Or twice, if Mom thinks we’ve become particularly lazy and desires to jerk us back into activity. And when we do, it is usually laden with all manner of insects and arachnids and cobwebs about as thick as two blankets and a bed sheet. It’s not so much lack of damns to give as it is lack of time. You see, we’re rarely around. Upcountry, I mean. We don’t like it here, but we come anyway. Because we’re practically drugged and dragged here by our parents every year. When The Cupboard is cleaned I can almost hear a thank you in its creaking joints. Things like that are what make it hard for me to remember that The Cupboard actually belongs to my mother and not my grandmother. It has lived with my grandmother all its life but it was actually a wedding gift from my maternal grandmother to her daughter. I’m told it’s our culture. The bride’s mother gives her a cupboard on her wedding day.
Sometimes I catch myself hoping that on my wedding day my mother won’t give me such a plain piece. After all, my mother didn’t take it to Nairobi with her when she received it. She left it behind with her mother-in-law, a sign that The Cupboard had no place in the life and style she was going to pursue.
But that’s only when I, for a fleeting moment, imagine that I’m too accustomed to the finer things in life to appreciate simplicity.
Then I make a quick rebound and I know that she left The Cupboard, not in her past but as an assurance of her future. When she’s old and grey, like The Cupboard, and wants to watch the peaceful sunset of her life, she’ll come back here. To the place where The Cupboard is.
Honestly, I hope she gives me a cupboard like that. I hope she gives me one like The Cupboard.