Seated under a gnarled tree outside her dilapidated house in the drought-ravaged Kishushe village in Wundanyi, Mama Sophie Mkakina, 72, is an abject portrait of loneliness.
Her rheumy eyes, squinting to minimise the glare of the afternoon sun, stares at the mirage dancing on top of the distant bush as if waiting for a long-awaited friend who lurks nearby but just out of her sight.
“I worry because I don’t have long to live yet my son has abandoned me. I only wish to know whatever great wrong I committed to make him not come to visit me in my old age,” she says.
Her voice, shaky with age, is heavy with despair. Hope, more than anything else, has kept her going. However, after years of waiting in vain, the tenuous thread of forlorn wish that her only surviving son will one day return is about to snap.
Then, a dreamy smile creases her lips. “My son is a musician. He sang ‘Stella’. People love his songs,” she adds.
Mkakina’s case echoes dramatic tragedy; a mother honored for siring a famous son and pitied in equal measure owing to her perennial state of penury from what is considered neglect by family members.
Her son is the legendary musician Freshley Mwamburi. Popularly known as Freshley, this celebrated crooner is renowned for his ever-green single hit ‘Stella’; a song that has become synonymous with pangs of betrayed love.
‘Stella’ is so addictive that it has become the undisputed unrequited love anthem that trends every year on May 17th. Ironically, as Mwamburi soars in popularity and his musical career gets national and continental recognition for his contribution to the growth of the local music industry, neighbors say life for his mother has taken a vertical nosedive pushing her into a great state of destitution.
Ms. Janet Ngele, a neighbor and a cousin of the musician, says the old woman is suffering from neglect. Ngele claims Mwamburi has failed to go home to see his ailing mother despite several efforts by the mother pleading with him to come.
She says she personally talked to him and explained to him the sad situation his mother lives in. “I talked to him all about his mother. He promised to come but never did. This is tragic,” she says.
In the absence of the son, neighbors have taken up the responsibility of taking care of the old woman who is currently besieged by old-age ailments including asthma. In 2020, they fundraised to build a one-room house for her after the mud-walled house she was living in collapsed.
While men built the house, village women dug a pit latrine for her. Ngele says Mwamburi was informed about the neighbors’ plans to build his mother a house with hope he would turn up.
“He never came. He only sent roofing material for the house,” she says.
Mr Stephen Mwakisha, another neighbor, says the old woman’s wretched living conditions were too agonizing for the neighbors to bear. He discloses that the decision was reinforced after severe floods as a result of a heavy downpour in mid-2020 that nearly swept her away.
He further adds that her old house had so many cracks that she used to sprinkle hot ashes on the cracks to repel snakes and scorpions that slithered in from the bushes around her house.
“We don’t have much to ourselves because this place is very dry and we have serious problems with stray elephant that frequently wreak havoc in the village. However, her condition is pitiable and we had to build a room for her to keep her safe,” he says.
In a quiet reminiscence, Mkakina recalls Mwamburi as a young man who dropped out of school to pursue his personal interest. She says while they were in Mombasa, she gave him money for fare to go for music practice with his band.
Born in the cold hills of Werugha, constant asthma attacks forced her to move to the dry lower zones of Kishushe where the weather it was warmer. “He has never been here since I moved. I do not know what wrong I did to him,” she says.
She admits that though they sometimes talk over the phone with Mwamburi, he does not keep his promise to visit her. While in the past she used to send a neighbor to Kishushe shopping center to show her son the way home, she no longer does it.
“He never turns up. It was embarrassing sending neighbors to wait for him in vain at the shopping center,” she adds.
The last time she met him in person was two years ago during a funeral of a relative at their ancestral Werugha home.
Kishushe location acting chief Ms. Ethel Mose says the old woman has become the responsibility of villagers and neighbors who check on her wellbeing. She adds that the musician has never been to see the old woman.
“The old woman needs help and it’s the neighbors who come to her help. The son has kept off,” she said.
When contacted, a morose-sounding Freshley Mwamburi dismissed the claims of neglecting his mother.
He blamed his woes on toxic politics and said some neighbors hated him for his success. He added that a politician he refused to compose a campaign song for was behind the push to cast him in bad light.
“I visit my mother. Those stories are mere nonsense. The politician I refused to create a political song for is hitting back at me. Ignore them,” he says.
The musician has been a frequent guest at events in the county. During the celebration of Malaika festivals in Voi town, Mwamburi was a guest artist accompanying the CEO of Music Copyright Society of Kenya Dr. Ezekiel Mutua.
He was also the main performer during the swearing in ceremony of Governor Andrew Mwadime at Mwatate in August.
By Wagema Mwangi