Garry, likes to talk about his beard as he does his lawn. His home is a medium sized cottage like Brickhouse up on a hill somewhere in the heart of a university in a Sub-Saharan city in Africa.
Dark, rugged and slightly hunched from so much time spent trimming his grasses, getting Russian’s shit — his neighbors dog —off the concrete footpath, or when he’s not on all fours peering into the grass, trying to make sure there are earthworms down there doing there own tilling, he could be heaving his spraying can across the small place, hydrating it.
It’s how Garry feels about his lawn. He talks about hydrating it. He talks about feeding it. He says when he throws crumbs out over the Verandah for Russia to find when he comes around with his moist nose parting the grasses, he is not only doing the dog a favor but the grasses are getting a pretty much better deal than Russia.
Garry started keeping his beard around the time he married his wife; Helen.
That was in 85. There’s just been a coup and things were a lot more difficult than they are right now. You didn’t know what was going to happen next, he would say. He had met Helen at a dance held at a friend’s place. She had been invited too and she was attending with a couple of white people from the construction company that was doing some project in the city.
He couldn’t remember much about the circumstances of her attendance now. Hell, he could not focus on anything that night other than the light-skinned creole whose smile made you want to say hallelujah.
Four months later a young soldier walked up to the government house with his gun and a couple of friends and requested to be president and everything just tipped sideways.
And here I am, he would say, it’s been twenty years since the most important person in his life slipped away from his side and became a memory.
He’s got only his lawn now, his second most important friend. And maybe Russia, when he comes around to let Garry ruffle his brown fur.
Then there are the grandkids. Those are nothing to compare anything with. They were God’s expression of mercy on him. They reminded him that his life isn’t in vain. That there’s life after life, and love after love.
Garry’s favourite grandchild is Jeremiah. Others call him Jerry. His mom does. His schoolmates too. But to Garry, Jeremiah is just plain Jeremiah.
Right after Helen passed, Garry decided to take off his beard, start a new look. It was difficult to stand in front of the mirror in the morning and not have Helen come up from behind, wrap her arm around his waist, rub his beard and tell him how handsome he was.
So he contemplated shaving it off. Jeremiah was 3 when Helen passed away. The little bundle of joy would pull at his beard and it would tickle him so. Garry loved the boy specially. He left the beard because he loved to have the little boy pull it gently, sticking his tiny fingers in them and running it the way his small comb did.
Back in the 50s, beards were a thing. In college, it was hip, it was rad, it went well with the tight fitting flowered shirts and bell bottoms. It was an era of high heels and disco lights, sideburns and Harley Davidson bikes, much of what went on was copied from Satu afternoon westerns that were shown at cinemas and the way the few white men who still remained in the country dressed.
Nowadays, sitted in his cane chair, a cup of tea in his right hand and one of those dailies in the other, Garry likes to think that a lot hasn’t changed.
“It’s all like a merry-go-round. “ he’ll tell Jerry who often came to visit him. “most of what we did, your generation still does. You just take the old and make it older by making it look like its never been done before. “
Jerry would argue with his grandfather who always smiled at him in that same patient glint in his eyes that has been reserved for him since he was a toddler.
Recently, Jerry has been visiting more often. Garry knew these visits were not unconnected with a girl named Patricia across the street. Jerry had made his confessions a while ago. His grandfather had smiled and asked how old she was.
“Hm, that’s a good age for a girl to be going off with a man.”
“I know.” Garry winked. He rubbed his white bushy beard. “your grandma was twenty-three when we met. “
“Really?” he beamed.
Garry noted right then —once again —that his grandchild actually took after him. His high forehead, pinched nose that came down from some branch of the family that isn’t quite west African. When he smiled, his well-defined brows curved into each other and his mouth widened making you notice his beards. Those beards —they were turning out to be like his. But not quite. He would talk about it later.
For now, the lad needs some coaching on matters about the ladies.
The grass needed some attention so Garry was there in front, just picking off the waterleaf.
Jerry stood on the verandah and watched him bend double and strain over the greens. He stared for some time. His grandfather was on one knee, the other one supported the arm that wasn’t working. He gently put his arm around the stem and pulls it, the vegetable would come clean off with root intact.
Jerry took the three steps in one stride walking towards him.
“Grandpa, people eat that. “
“I know. That’s why I m taking them off.”
Jerry stooped and started helping out. He scratched his beard with one hand. He took off vegetables with the other. His grandpa glanced at his movements.
“You know what my neighbours would turn my front yard into if they find they can harvest water leaf here?”
Jerry smiled at the thought of his grandfather going berserk over the footpaths that would inevitably criss-cross the yard as people came to forage for vegetables.
Jerry scrubbed at his beard again, this time more forcefully. He winced in pain as his nails dug into an acne that was hiding underneath.
Garry looked at his grandson with the worried peer of a surgeon looking up a woman’s baby cavity.
He shook his head slowly and went back to uprooting vegetables. Jerry said he would just make some vegetable stew for breakfast. He said that would be great.
Garry heard scruh scruh scruh of his grandson’s nails against his face again.
“Hey.” He pulled the boy’s hand. “Stop doing that. You’re killing your skin.”
The boy rubbed it vigorously.
“It itches me so badly.” He complained.
Garry dropped the vegetable in his hand and rubbed the dirt off his fingers. He pursed his mouth.
“let’s go and sit for a bit, son.”
He rubbed his hands on his khaki work clothes as he climbed the steps one at a time. Jerry did the same behind him.
Jerry got them some water in a jug from the kitchen. He also brought his transistor radio. BBC News was on and the newscaster, someone who Ann himself as Robert Delaney was talking about how the Egyptian government could not be serious with their recent move against the social media.
He grunted in dismay.
“Back in those days, it was not easy to carry on with your grandmother when we just met.”
“Why was that?”
“It wasn’t like now when you made long distance calls in seconds. She worked with the construction company and they travelled a lot, she being their accountant. So we wrote letters that took weeks to get across.”
Garry laughed again, there was a distant look in his eyes.
“Helen always made sure to ask about my beard. “ he said. “can you believe that?”
He shook his head again, wistfully, in the private way that often led to a few tears or more, depending on where he was or who was with him.
“Now I just happened to notice the way you have been treating your beard, son.”
Jerry scrubbed again scruh scruh, his eyelids lowered in painful pleasure. He winced.
Garry assumed a posture for teaching, “listen Jeremiah. Do you really want to grow and keep a good looking beard? “
Jerry said he very much wanted to.
“Now listen to me very carefully.” He said.
“Do you remember what I told you about keeping the green vegetables off my lawn? “
“Those vegetables invite humans, who in turn would come stumping around the place, and you know what such regular stumping around would do to the grasses. During the day dust and dirt collect on your beard, if you always leave it overnight without washing it leads to bacteria buildup which in turn causes pimples.”
“Your hands on your face is like peoples stumping around the lawn. Keep your hands off your face. They carry germs.”
Jerry’s hand was on its way to his face again. He smiled, “you’re the boss, granps.”
Garry looked at him, “are you applying any beard oils?”
Jerry said he did sometimes.
“Do not apply so much. Germs from hands plus the oil you put in your beard, that’s a huge recipe for beard acne.”
“So be sparing with your oil, alright.”
Garry thumbed his transistor radio and BBC News whistled out in spurts of static, voices, static, then voices. He listened a little but couldn’t get much out of the noise so he turned it off.
“And you need to exfoliate regularly. At least, 3 times a week if you want to keep your beard acne free. If your hands don’t bring the germs, well your skin can create its own germs with its dead skin. It’s all the same thing actually.”
“And if you are going to shave around your beard, wait, you shave by yourself?”
“Yes, I do grandpa.”
Grandpa twisted his lips and nodded in contemplation.
“Well, it’s okay if you do it yourself. That’s the tricky part of keeping your beard. It’s best not use a shaving stick. If you are going to keep it in top shape, then visit a hair salon for the treatment.
“Some barbers do what I call attack shaving. Do you understand what I mean? “
Jerry thought for a bit, “In school, there is this barber go to, he shaves you as if he doesn’t want your hair to grow again, he will be pushing the clipper against your skin, rubbing it in vigorously…”
“Exactly! That’s what I mean. In trying to close shave the barber is causing more problems for your skin. At times when you shave like that you drive the hair follicle against itself. That is, new hair underneath are folded back on itself under the skin. This hair grows in, instead of out.”
“Because the skin does not understand what your clipper is doing, it rejects the hair, pus is formed and there you have acne.”
“Oh, wow.” Said Jerry.
“Usually it is best to have your own clipper at home. Dab your face and beard with warm water, preferably using a soft towel. This softens the skin and pores. If the skin is cold, it is hard and abrasive when it comes in contact with the clipper. “
“Do you have a face cleanser?”
“No Grandpa. “
“Get one.” Said grandpa.
Grandpa got up and started for inside the house. He asked Jerry to follow him. They went into the bathroom where he opened a small cupboard attached to the wall, the type that had a mirror on both sides when you shut it. His wife had had it installed as a gift on their 20th anniversary.
It had a long shelf in the middle that separated it into two compartments.
“This is my collection. Simple but functional.”
There were oils, Old Spice Aftershave, moisturizers, a small and medium electric clipper and a few more stuff that Jerry had never seen before.
“Wow.” said Jerry. “can I start right now?”
“What do you mean start right now?” grandpa feigned incredulity.
“Come on pops. “ Jerry laughed.
Garry smiled at his grandson and told him to go ahead.
“Just go easy on the oils though.”
The young boy rubbed his palm together eagerly and set to work on his beard.