The Day The Kiln Did Not Fire
This yellow batz glaze is highlighted with terra sigallata underneath to show off the great texture. The texture was hand stamped with an old batik stamp. My friend Todd over at Peace through Pottery was kind enough to let me illustrate the story using this lovely piece. It reminded me of the vibrant pottery produced over the years at our Gallery, Paa Ya Paa in Nairobi, Kenya. Please visit his blog and esty shop .
The Day The Kiln Did Not Fire - a Short Story by Hana Njau-Okolo
Saturdays usually started early, when Baba’s booming gramophone record player interrupted dreams and their endings.
The 1970s song was Baba’s favorite; about a man’s longing for his chiquita bonita from Guantanamo Bay. I remember the chorus well since its first release; we had the 78 rpm vinyl.
Back then, I liked the way the singer held the “aaa” in “Guantanameraaa…” I still do, because endless possibilities lie within that note; it captures freedoms, young and old.
I remember an immense feeling of sadness on the day the kiln didn’t fire at the gallery. I was maybe twelve or thirteen years old and up until then, my worries were minor. Days were filled with episodes at school and escapades at home.
Classwork. Homework. Avoiding red ants. Ducking chameleons. Hunting for Black Mambas. Hands made of clay.
As sure as the cock cried crow Timothy had fired the kiln every day since he’d finished building it.
“Come,” he would announce, “look inside!”
All the mugs, jugs, heads, hands, plates, bowls, and vases would be lined-up, waiting to be fired. Some were baked clean, others with color and gloss.
The difference was in his face that morning. He moved noiselessly about, placing decorative items in the kiln. I was not sure, but the downturn in his lower lip hinted at a scowl.
“Good morning Timothy?” I smiled and looked for his every day honey-sweet grin.
“How are you?” His whispered and disappeared into the kiln.
Fresh and stale purple trumpet shaped Jacaranda blossoms littered the small paved area surrounding the kiln. Fagio [broom] in hand, I started towards a pile. I fancied the repetitive motion of sweeping the area every Saturday morning. It was soothing. It reeked of life and rhythm. I still to this day, fancy the repetitive motion of sweeping, of mopping the floor on my knees, of really connecting with labor. Question is how will I ever instill the value into my good wife, the one I am looking for?
In and out he went, his herky-jerky movements drawing attention to the muscles beneath the off-white T-shirt. A furrowed brow tentatively hovered over his eyes. They were the color of fury.
We all thought we knew him. He had single-handedly built the kiln and become a master at working with clay. And he was generous with his knowledge. Baba, Mama, artists-in-residents, and workers on the compound, we all regularly gathered around to watch him work the potter’s wheel.
He’d lean forward, to the left or to the right as he coaxed the sludge into shape. Hands gently melding soft moist clumps of clay; his thumb pressing, smoothing, widening, thinning, and applying the right pressure, all the time. And when he stooped to scoop water from the bucket, his movement was fluid, in rhythm with the foot pumping the pedal.
That day, like a ball of tightly wrought yarn, he began to unravel. As if he was trying to undo history.
That day, surrounded by his lovely works of art, something triggered the hurt rippling beneath the surface. The months of abuse endured at the hands of Idi Amin Dada the brutal, despotic dictator known as the “Butcher of Uganda”.
That day, Timothy the refugee, and matters previously inadequately attended to, reared ugly heads.
That day, I saw a grown man cry. I saw a man go mad. I heard the thunder in the clip clap of his malapas [flip flops] striking against soles hardened by life’s rough path as he stormed off the property, responding to a command only he could hear.
“I’m coming, I’m coming!”
I remember a torrent of abuse spilling from his lips; don’t ask me specific words. I remember he did not come back for many days…
The day the kiln did not fire ushered in a new consideration, one that revealed itself further in adulthood; a draft blueprint for navigating life’s more trying situations.
This story is a condensed version of one in a collection of short stories I am writing for publication.
Copyright © Hana Njau-Okolo 2009. All Rights Reserved.