When on a road trip, you look for certain landmarks that tell you where you are. You might also look for the same in order to get back on track. Charlie was a landmark and more recently a GPS for me and I am sure to many other people. Lately, if you visited Kisumu, you needed to stop at “Your Choice”. For me it was not just to get a drink and jollificate and a walk down memory lane with Charlie and his buddies, but more to check the old landmark out and see that I was still on track and my friend Charlie and his friends there provided for that excellently. Charlie had established a landmark out of himself that captured his character and personality of warmth, friendship, kindness, empathy, love of the good in life and people, satisfaction and comfort. Charlie and his place served all those in equal measure to all who stopped by to visit.
First time I walked into his place in Kisumu was 2010, it had been a while since we had last met in Nairobi at the theater. There he was. seated on a lounge armchair at the entrance to his joint, dressed in this big mumu shirt and sandals on his feet, surrounded by a posse of very interesting fellas enjoying their sun-downer and banter galore on every topic under the sun. Wenge BCBG was booming from the speakers and it brought back memories of our Alabama at Kenyatta Market! I found my North and felt at home instantly.
Charlie let out a whoop when he saw me from a distance and he got up to meet me and I prepped myself for what was a crushing bear hug. Needless to say there was a lull in activity and everybody paused to check out who this was that merited that kind of welcome. Hehehe! He brought me back to the gang and they all rose to shake hands as I was introduced. Some instantly remembered me from our college days. Needless to say, we had a most exhilarating time and in the course of the evening I was inducted as a fellow into the “Institute of Chartered Drinkers” by one hilarious fellow!
I first met Charlie in Mombasa at the Little Theater Club and our friendship was instant. We did so much stuff together including being members of the Mombasa Memorial Cathedral choir led by the super soprano Rosebud Mubiru. Others from LTC and also in the choir were Esther Kassimu (RIP), Catherine Ngaracu and Judy Kudwoli nee Akech. I know!…Surprise yeah! Yes Charlie was a church goer and was there religiously seated in the church choir pew along with the other basses ready for the service to begin. Many times after church we congregated at his house in Buxton for that famous oven broiled mbuzi (goat meat) and warus (potatoes) and of course the “baridi”!
Charlie’s wedding to Maria, and at which I was a bridesmaid, was held at the Catholic cathedral…a testament to Charlie’s versatility in his matters of faith and God. His wife was Catholic and Charlie consented to a wedding at the Catholic church and not his regular Protestant one. The reception was naturally held at the LTC where moja baridi and stories and taunting of Salim the waiter would go on until the wee hours. This is also where we also meet the other side of Charlie. The artist, the organizer and producer / director.
Charlie’s magnetic personality drew people to him like water is to parched earth. He liked to share anything interesting he found with those around him. He paradoxically had a shy personality and sometimes seemed not to be aware of the effect he had on people. So one day when I visited him at his house, he asked me to listen to the album Ipi Tombi and then he mumbled something about a stage play based on the same as he lit that inevitable mozo. I was blown out of my listening reverie and said to him…”That is huuuuge!”….He gave me this poker look face which meant he was serious and so I just asked him where and when he wanted to start. Then the big smile and he says…”You would know! You’re the actor! You would have to produce / direct because I couldn’t do it on my own!”
I got my first ever chance to produce and direct for LTC. And assisted by other LTC mavericks like Patrick Obath, Wangoi Kanyonyo, Jean Koch, Tom Muchura…and a tremendous cast we pulled off one of the best ever African theater musical performance to ever be seen on the LTC stage and possibly Kenya! It was great and suddenly Charlie was the go-to guy if you wanted to stage an African script here. The jinx on African theater was broken! He had opened the floodgates and shown the possibilities and soon more African plays tumbled onto the stage.
Charlie was like comfort food. He and that jolly rotund belly of his which he comported so well unlike other big belly people I have seen, and which he joked about incessantly, made you feel at home and like you were in the company of jolly Santa. He was light of foot despite his burly self and emanated tons of energy when he set out to do something. Every time was like Christmas with Charlie. He was hurly burly and had a joke for every situation. His laughter was liquid sunshine and it melted ones heart.
I talked to sis Eddy and hubby Olu and Charlie’s sister Grace this morning during which time they broke the news to me and we exchanged condolences. I said to Eddy…”You know…Glad we got our chance for one more time with Charlie in December last year!” Eddy said “Yeah! We sure did!”
And so this man Charlie performed his last and exited stage right. Charlie-Boy is gone but memories of him are powerful…The music he loved, the friends he made, the gardening he did in his backyard, the many fish tanks he built, the cooking and sharing, the hand in business and entertainment, the jokes, the laughter. This man Charlie has taken his road trip…but the landmarks of himself and the good friend he was to so many of us, will remain…Forever chiseled in the landscape of our memories.
So long buddy. So long Charlie.
©njeriOsaak is a trained Journalist, Public Relations Professional and a College Speech Communication Teacher / Consultant, currently based in the United States.