I first ‘met’ Grace Ogot through her short story anthology ‘Land Without thunder’ when I was just thirteen years old.
I do not remember where I go that book from but I loved how she wrote.
At the time, I was on an Enid Blyton “Famous Five” and Francine Pascal’s “Sweet Valley High” series and Mills and Boon permanent High, with my only interaction with African writing being the class text book “Read with Us” which I read when I was seven years old.
One of the stories “Tekayo” stood out for me.
I remember the story like it was yesterday. Never mind that I first read it 18 years ago.
Tekayo, accompanied by his son Opija, saw an eagle flying around with a piece of meat. It was a piece of liver, still dripping with blood. He wanted to throw it away but decided against it and roasted it instead. It was the best-tasting meat he had ever had.
After this incident, Tekayo goes on a mission to relive this taste, killing one wild animal after another with disappointing results. He stopped the hunt after his wife died but stayed at home to look after his grandchildren as members of the family who were younger went out to the fields to till the land.
The craving for the sweet liver came to him again, and overpowered him to the extent of him killing his grandchildren and extracting their liver. This was the taste that had his taste buds singing in joy. He killed his grandchildren one after the other, until the day he was discovered.
I remember what he said as his son dragged him away: “Atimo ang’o? Atimo ang’o?” (What have I done?)
Tekayo eventually committed suicide.
I remember reading and rereading the story. I remember retelling the story to my small sister and my older sister. My copy got dog-eared, worn out.
I did not understand how human beings could be so cruel, and my 13 year old heart bled for the kids.
I ‘met’ Grace again in my second year of study in campus. I was all of 23 years. Ten years later and the beauty of the story was still ingrained in my memory. It was a class reader at the time in a Literature unit where we were studying East African Literature.
As a 13 year old, Tekayo to me was just an ogre but I looked at him differently at a 23-year old.
I considered the possibility that Tekayo may not have been an ogre after all but a pedophile. That what he was stealing from the children may not have been their hearts after all but their innocence.
That is how I ‘met’ Grace Ogot.
She whetted my appetite for African literature in a way no other author ever has. I dabbled in short story writing for a while because I assured myself that if I could write even one story as good as “Tekayo”, then I would be home free as a writer to reckon with.
These are the memories of Grace Ogot that I will be carrying forward.
Rest in Peace Grace Ogot.