Thursday, December 18, 2008


As the friendship between the little boys matured, Charles Milayi would start to exchange visits with Thomas Jamoko.
At first, Milayi’s mother protested when she learnt that the young Thomas Jamoko was coming to visit her home. She was a widow—a poor widow. She had one cooking pot and less than five earthen platters and bowls. Like their grandparents, the Milayis still used crocodile scales as spoons. Mrs. Milayi had exactly one bag of grain she hoped to last until the next harvest, which was three months away.
By contrast, the Jamokos could serve lunch to two hundred people and still be on their feet. They had hundreds of metal spoons and fancy chinaware. The Jamokos had so many cattle that, often, some cows were not milked. That is how rich the Jamokos were.
Food aside, for clothing, Consolata Milayi had one dress, and Charles Milayi only had the school uniform for his clothing. That is how poor the Milayis were.
"Milayi, you like bringing trouble on us. We have no oil with which to cook for your spoilt friend"
"Be fair Ma. Tom is just like me. He eats everything I eat," the little boy complained.
"Milayi, since when was this Tom Jamoko like you? He is a Jamoko. He only eats meat. And look at you. You don’t have a shirt on your back, and have no trousers on your buttocks. How can a Jamoko be eating what you eat?"
"But he is my friend, Mama," responded the boy in tears. For him, Tom was the dearest friend outside home.
The boy was right. They were real friends. The young Jamoko occasionally gave him an old set of school uniforms, pencils, and some new book to read. Milayi had sported the donated uniforms even though they were a size or two too small for him. Meanwhile, whenever Jamoko’s old uniforms suddenly would disappear, his mother would assume that her careless son had lost them in the playground.
"No, I do not want you to cry, Milayi. It is just that you have to know that a poor man does not walk in the same party as a rich man," Mrs. Milayi implored her son. "Charles, a poor man goes fishing for food, while a rich man goes fishing for fun. Haven’t you watched the Jamokos as they fish along the Kuja? They return part of their catch back to the water. And a rich man hunts the buffalo for its horns and skin, as poor folks struggle over its meat. The Jamokos behave like Father James, the White Priest, who fishes for fun."
"Mama, we are not poor," the boy responded in a very sure and measured tone, all to the total surprise of his mother.
"What, Charles? We are not poor? Yet we eat beans and arrowroots most of the year? Yet, you have no shirt with which to cover your back?" his mother had responded after a brief pause. She surely was surprised by the boy’s remark.
"Didn’t Father James say that poverty is only in a person’s mind, while wealth resides in one’s heart? You think we are poor. In my heart, I feel rich," the child had waxed amazingly wise, taking his mother aback in the process. She would for some long minute stir her bubbling pot of red-millet porridge in silence.
"Milayi, now, you want to cause trouble with your strange ideas. Father James never said a thing like that," she had declared hoping to silence the boy.
"But that is what the story of the Rich Young Ruler is all about. Mama, you were there when Father James read the story?" the Grade Four schoolboy had said, again sending his mother’s head spinning. The young boy had a rather strange perspective on life. Mrs. Milayi was convinced that modern schooling was turning her little boy into some kind of wise adult. "How can poverty—her obvious poverty—be wealth?" she wondered in silence.
"Now, go to the river and bathe. It is getting late. And don’t imagine that you are rich. Charles, you are poor. You are very poor. One of these days you will bring shame to this house by inviting the Minister’s Daughter for lunch," his mother had dismissed him, using bathing in the river as an excuse.
The boy of strange wisdom left for the river, with his dog named Tom, in pursuit.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Milayi wondered what she would cook for the rich man’s son. Inwardly, she was intrigued and touched by the wisdom coming out of her son’s mouth: poverty is only in a person’s mind, while wealth resides in one’s heart. These words of her young son appeared to have given her the courage to face the day. She instantly resolved to entertain the Jamoko boy.
Thomas Jamoko did come.
Mrs. Milayi treated the two boys the way little boys should be treated: "Boys eat potatoes and vegetables and cassava. That is what they dream about in their sleep. In their sleep, most boys never dream about some meaty dish. A boy wakes up with cooked cassava or potato in his hands," she had persuaded herself to believe. And she could have been more right than wrong. Most boys of those days loved sweet potatoes. Encouraged by these thoughts, she cooked potatoes as well as she could.
The two boys ate the sweet potatoes on the grass under a shady tree in front of her house. Then they enjoyed some ripe guava that nature provided in abundance. Potatoes and Guava, kind of an odd mixture, isn’t it? But if they became constipated on that day, Mrs. Milayi would have taken that as a sign of good feeding.
Mrs. Milayi was too ashamed to have allowed the "rich boy" into her meager abode that even lacked a three-legged stool.
Between rounds of sweet potatoes, the boys played some marksmanship game—shooting at domestic lizards and hedgerow birds with homemade bows and arrows.
Later that day, Thomas Jamoko returned to his home, truly believing that the outing had been a special adventure. Kids are kids, rich or poor.


Novel by Joseph R. Alila)