The Pride of Wangu

By Ted Rockwell

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    Wangu, of the Kibuyu tribe, liked the hot dust of the road squeezing up between his brown toes. The African plain around him was spotted with many colored flowers, showing against the yellow grasses waving in the gentle breeze. Nandi flame trees flashed in the glaring sunshine. Wangu felt happy. He was sure something good was going to happen to him. Already he had found his bwana’s (white-man boss’s) lost cow and now he could see the tops of the huts in his shamba (village).

    Wangu turned to pull on the lead rope to make the cow walk faster, and then he saw the bicycle. It was in the ditch beside the road and almost covered with thorn bushes. Wangu jumped into the ditch and with his panga (machete-like knife) he chopped the thorn bushes away. Then he dragged the bicycle up to the road.

    It was a very old bicycle. Both its wheels were dented and it had many broken spokes. Its chain was stiff with rust. Some bwana threw it away a long time ago, he thought, but it was a bicycle and to own a bicycle was something Wangu had dreamed about.

    Wangu had trouble leading the cow and carrying the bicycle, but he struggled on. A little farther along the road he stepped off into the grass, walking toward his shamba. He heard the neighing of an unseen zebra and the roar of simba (lion) a long distance away. The sounds did not disturb Wangu because he was thinking deeply about his four sons. They were a year or two apart in age, starting at age nine. He thought how much each boy would like a bicycle.

    When Wangu entered the village his oldest son was the first to greet him. “What will you do with the broken bicycle, Father?” he asked.

    His other three sons quickly gathered around him as he answered. “I will make it whole again so that it will be useful.”

    “It is a beautiful bicycle,” his nine-year-old son said wistfully.

    “I will make it even more beautiful,” Wangu promised, putting the broken bicycle in his thingira, a special hut where his wife could not enter. Then he took the cow to its place among his employer’s cattle.

    Wangu began work on the bicycle by taking it apart. For help in understanding how to do it and to borrow tools, he went to the nearby mission.

    Each month Wangu took part of the shillingi (English money) his bwana paid him for the work he did, and walked the seven miles to the ducca (general store) and bought new parts for the bicycle.

    Repairing the bicycle was slow work, but for Wangu it was a work of joy. As he worked, his thoughts kept wandering to the worth of his four sons. He thought of how proud he was of them and of how fine and helpful they were to him.

    Just before he finished working on the bicycle, he decided that his sons deserved to have it. But he couldn’t give it to all of them. Wangu knew that if he did that, the bicycle would cause many quarrels. He must give it to just one boy. He wondered how he could do that without hurting the feelings of the others.

    Wangu painted the bicycle red and yellow; and while he waited for the paint to dry, he tried hard to think of a way to give it to just one of his sons. The answer came to him the night before he would take the bicycle out of his thingira and show it to all the people in the village.

    The next morning Wangu wheeled the sparkling, newly painted bicycle out onto the hard-packed dirt in the center of the circle of beehive-shaped huts made out of wattle and mud. The people came running from all directions, shouting words of praise for the bicycle. Wangu waited for quiet and until his sons stood in front of him. As he looked at them he thought of how well they cared for his sheep and goats.

    “It is my wish to give this bicycle to one of my sons, and I have found a way to do it fairly,” Wangu announced. “The people at the mission have taught us to write our names and some of the white man’s words.” Then he spoke directly to his sons. “Go and get a calabash (clay bowl shaped like a gourd), four pieces of paper, and a pencil.”

    The boys left in an excited rush. Wangu waited, beaming under the admiration of the people. He waited until he became impatient. It seemed that his sons were taking much too long. When they finally arrived on the run he frowned at them.

    “You will each write your name on a piece of paper, fold it so the name cannot be seen, and drop it into the calabash,” he told them. “Then I will lift out a name and whoever owns the name owns the bicycle.”

    When this was done Wangu took the calabash and shook it. He pulled a paper from it. Wangu was the name written on the paper.

    “This is the wrong name,” he said gruffly.

    With his fingers in the calabash he stirred the papers around. Then he quickly took another one and unfolded it slowly. Wangu was also written on that paper. In a fast movement he grabbed the remaining two papers in the calabash and on each one was written the name Wangu.

    All his sons had wanted him to have the bicycle. Tears filled Wangu’s eyes and his heart seemed almost to burst with the great love he felt for his sons.

    Illustrated by Dick Brown