Love Found On A Toothbrush

Sometime in October, Digibook Africa made a call for Short Story Submissions. I responded to the call with the following 2,415 word story which made it to the top 25 Shortlist, indeed a huge achievement for me in the Literary world. As a celebration of this achievement, below is the story I submitted that got me this far. Enjoy ❤

Image courtesy of Polar Dental

Musembi had a bad case of halitosis.

It is unfortunate that he was unaware of it.

Every time he opened his mouth to speak, the pong that emanated from it reminded one of rubbish, that had long been ignored by the rubbish collectors. It was something his poor wife had been forced to put up with for the longest time. It did not help matters that Musembi loved to talk. Breaking the news to him that his mouth stunk to the high heavens, was akin to dealing his esteem a cruel blow.

His wife Cecilia, had since taken it upon herself, to ensure that he brushed his teeth twice a day. Knowing his tendency to protest, whenever he sensed that he was being coerced, Cecilia masked these daily reminders with tenderness. She always offered to line the toothbrush with a generous amount of Colgate Triple Action, before calling him sweetly.

With a boyish grin on his handsome face, Musembi would always approach the sink, right outside the bathroom and do his wife’s bidding. But this, Cecilia had since noticed, only offered temporary relief. The next morning, as soon as he mouthed a “Good morning dear” to her, she would be hit smack in the face by the bad breath. By midday, the repugnant smell would be at its worst.

It was like a never ending battle and Cecilia sometimes wondered why nobody else noticed and told him about it. Perhaps the blow to his esteem wouldn’t be as cruel, as when your own wife communicated her displeasure, with your bad breath. On certain occassions, the assumption of a connection to witchcraft crossed her mind. She was however quick to dismiss it as absurd, coming from a christian background.

Musembi was a hardworking, young man running his own hardware business. He was equally, easy on the eye. Perhaps there were some jilted lovers who still held something against him. Even though Cecilia had never been to a witchdoctor before, she knew that there could have been a possibility of this issue with bad breath, being a ploy to draw them apart. What else could explain it? She often questioned herself in frustration.

Two years of marriage. No children yet. Their sex life had indeed suffered significantly as a result. She had since run out of excuses to give whenever her husband tried to get intimate. She just could not stand being kissed by him nor his panting over her with that repulsive breath. It was better that they just avoid the deed altogether.
************
On a daily basis, Cecilia would board a bus to town where she worked as a shop attendant, in a clothing store. Three days a week, it would be early in the mornings when she was working the morning shift. The rest of the three days, it would be at around noon when she was working the afternoon shift.

In the mornings, the bus was mostly quiet with serious faced, officially dressed individuals going to work. Nobody spoke to the other. It was as if the whole idea of reporting to work every morning did not appeal to them. Everybody chose to mind their own business just as Cecilia liked. Some would be snoozing while others, would be glued to their phones, probably going through their social media activity and catching up on the latest political news or celebrity gossip. It was rare to encounter someone, rudely peeking at your phone messages in the morning hours.

The radio would possibly be tuned to Classic 105, where the two popular breakfast show hosts, would be discussing whatever controversial topic of the day. It was mostly marital issues and many times, Cecilia wondered if she would ever have the guts, to call in and open up about her husband’s terrible breath and how it was affecting their marriage. As a matter of fact, she doubted if she would. Her love for Musembi could not allow her to air their dirty linen in public. Most of these callers did not even sound authentic.

In the afternoons, is when all the action took place. Quite frequently, there would be a preacher in the bus. Possibly a man, though there were some women preachers too, with a hoarse voice, vocal chords possibly damaged by all that frequent yelling, these bus preachers engaged in. The sermon would be on whatever religious topic the Lord had placed in the preacher’s heart that afternoon. Indeed, it was hard to tell whether some of these preachers were called by God or simply cons. Anything was possible in Nairobi.

Many, always tried to convince everyone, that they were not interested in offerings. Ironically, they would often end their fiery sermons with, “but if you feel the urge to give, you can do so.” Alighting commuters would then pass by on their way out, while dropping coins into the preacher’s hand. It was mostly coins, so Cecilia had realized. A number, would instead look out of the window and pretend to be deeply engrossed in their own thoughts. Cecilia was one of those who looked out of the window. She was on a tight budget and focusing on these bus preachers, whom you were not even sure of their spirituality, would only end up guilt tripping her into giving something.

Other times, it would be a sales person in place of the preacher. These ones took advantage of the traffic jam to hop into commuter buses, a small bag in tow, packed with a handful of whatever products they were marketing. Unlike the preachers, they rarely yelled. They would instead deliver their sales pitch in their normal tone of voice or slightly louder for everyone to hear, then proceed to walk down the bus aisle, urging commuters to purchase. It could be a herbal product, deworming tablets, picture books for nursery school going children or a sticker with those funny Swahili and Sheng’ quotes. The ones that matatu drivers and touts loved to stick in the interior of their public service vehicles.

“Madam, this herbal toothpaste is the real deal and it only goes for a hundred.” One such sales person convinced Cecilia, on a random afternoon in the bus.

She had been listening to him a couple of minutes ago, droning on about the benefits of the toothpaste and had particularly paid attention to the part where he mentioned that the herbal toothpaste, got rid of stubborn, bad breath. Musembi had never tried using a completely natural toothpaste before. Perhaps this could help with his halitosis.

“Did you say it gets rid of stubborn bad breath?” Cecilia now asked the sales person.

“Completely!” The man replied emphatically.

“What if I use it and don’t get the desired results?” Cecilia challenged, just to get the man’s reaction.

“Did you save my number?” The sales person immediately countered.

“Yes I did.” Cecilia lied. She had been partly absent minded, while the sales person mentioned his digits, then repeated for emphasis but she did not want to seem dumb.

“Then call me if you have any complaint through that number though I doubt there will be any. None of my customers has ever complained.” The man obviously had a healthy dose of self belief.

Cecilia would end up purchasing the product.
*************
That evening, she called out sweetly to Musembi, the new light greenish in color toothpaste, generously lined on his toothbrush.

“Yes dear.” Musembi answered, approaching the sink. He brushed a hand across her lower back as was his habit, whenever she called him to come and brush his teeth.

“Ah, what do we have here?” He sounded surprised, at the sight of a different colored paste from the usual triple stripes.

“It’s a new herbal toothpaste I bought today from those sales persons in the bus.” Cecilia offered, honestly.

People who had stayed in marriages for a lengthy period, usually said that in a healthy marital union, there was bound to be something unique about your spouse, that endeared you to him or her. Cecilia often wondered if this teeth brushing ritual, had become so repetitive, that it was now that very unique thing, that endeared Musembi to her.

“Herbal products are good.” Was all Musembi said, before dutifully brushing his teeth.

That night, he was surprised that his wife agreed to love making, after a lengthy period of rejecting it. She even let him kiss her unlike those other times when she had gently declined. The next morning though, Cecilia would be instantly disappointed, when her husband turned to her to say “Good morning dear,” and it was like she had not put in any additional effort the previous evening, in ensuring his bad breath was kept at a minimum. It even smelled worse than previous mornings, when he was still using the Colgate Triple Action.

She was thoroughly convinced that she had been duped by the sales person and was not even going to waste her credit calling him to complain about the issue. That morning, Cecilia’s moods were totally dampened. It did not help matters that she had enjoyed wonderful love making the night before with her husband.

A friend noticed her bad moods at work.

“Cecilia, are you really okay?” She questioned.

“Clearly I’m not!” Cecilia retorted. For the first time, she let her frustration with her husband’s breath get the better of her and narrated to her work mate, the struggle she had been having with it and how she had bought a herbal toothpaste, only to end up disappointed that morning.

“When you are getting married, they never prepare you for some of the small issues you will have to put up with.” Her friend murmured sagely, when she was done. “My husband used to have the smelliest of feet. I tried everything from ensuring he wore clean socks to work every day, to airing his shoes outside, to advising him to powder his toes and it never worked. Funnily enough, he never seemed to notice it himself.”

“Then one day, I decided never to let it bother me again. I simply carried on with the routine I had since gotten used to of ensuring his feet hygeine was maintained. Then as if by miracle, the bad smell disappeared. When I asked him eventually what he had done, he told me that he had equally started to pay attention to his feet hygeine. We have never had the issue since.”

At the revelation from her workmate, Cecilia did not know what else to add. Her friend had a valid point, so she realized. Perhaps she had been focusing too much on Musembi’s bad breath, to the point where she had let it affect her marriage. Maybe she just needed to keep on ensuring that her husband brushed his teeth twice a day until by miracle, the problem was solved. But her friend was not done yet.

“I think you should tell him about his bad breath. It might be possible that he does not smell it himself.” She adviced.

“To be honest, I have lacked the right words to break the news to him.” Cecilia confessed.

“Tell him when he is in a good mood. That way, it will be less offensive.” Her friend offered.
**************
The following month, Cecilia missed her period.

She was slightly reluctant to believe that she was indeed pregnant lest it be a false alarm, until the pregnancy test she took confirmed it to be so. She knew that Musembi would feel elated at the news. He had always expressed his desire for a large family with several helping hands. She also suspected that she had conceived that very night, she had brought home the new toothpaste and made love to her husband.

Cecilia had followed her workmate’s advice to be more tolerant of her husband’s breath. She still routinely lined his toothbrush with the herbal toothpaste, twice a day. Somehow, she could tell that there was a slight difference. The breath was not as pungent as it had been before and she was equally not as impatient about it as she had previously been.

The night she disclosed to Musembi that she was pregnant with their first child, he gave her that look of utter surprise then broke into the widest grin she had ever seen on his face.

“I cannot believe that we are finally going to have a baby! We need to start thinking of names!” He gushed and Cecilia decided that now was the best time, to address the issue of his bad breath with him, seeing that he was in such good moods.

“Er, Musembi, there’s something I have been meaning to tell you but always lacked the words to.” She began, uncertainly, still not very sure how her husband would take it.

“Go ahead, I’m all ears.” Her husband was eager and unsuspecting.

“Have you ever wondered why I always made sure you brushed your teeth twice a day?” Cecilia inquired softly. For a moment, Musembi was thoughtful.

“Not really. I have never thought much about it before. I always assumed it was out of love and care.” He finally spoke up. “Or was it because of my bad breath?” He suddenly surprised Cecilia by offering.

“Um_Yes. I just did not know how to tell you without offe…..” Cecilia began to explain but her husband stopped her mid sentence.

“Is it still as bad?” He instead questioned.

“Not as bad as it was before.” Cecilia was honest. “I think the herbal toothpaste I bought helped even though I did not believe it would at first.”

“And never once did you think of leaving me because of my bad breath?” Musembi was still quizzical.

“Of course not! How would I leave my husband for something as trivial as bad breath which can be sorted?!” Cecilia was suddenly offended by Musembi’s question. Leaving him had never crossed her mind even when the frustration from his bad breath got the better of her.

“Then I think we found our love on a toothbrush, as mundane as it seems. This child you are carrying must have been concieved the night you brought home that herbal toothpaste. I can never thank you enough my wife, for being so tolerant of me.” Musembi now murmured, gathering her into his arms.

As Cecilia lay on his chest, listening to his heart beating rythmically, she couldn’t agree with him more.

Sheng’- Kenyan Urban Slang
Matatu-Public Service Vehicles in Kenya

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Playing Hide And Seek

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The first time Kassim kissed Awino, they were five and playing hide and seek. As their overzealous friend Bobo counted, Kassim and Awino ended up in the same hiding spot behind some overgrown bushes. Then in one swift motion, Kassim planted a sloppy kiss on Awino’s lips.

“Yuck!” She reacted, pushing him away, while wiping his saliva off her lips with the back of her hand.

It was not exactly what Kassim had expected but being five, he had no idea what to expect. He simply kissed Awino because it seemed like something to do, when the two of you were crouching behind some overgrown bushes.

***

At 12, Awino had blossomed into a shapely pre-teen.

She was a head taller than Kassim, with already defined hips and perky boobs. Kassim particularly liked her almond shaped eyes, long neck and skin the color of dark chocolate. To him, who had grown up in a household of very light skinned, chubby, Arab women, Awino stood out.

To get near her, Kassim pretended to borrow books as an excuse to end up at their door. Mama never had an issue with Kassim going over to girls’ houses to borrow what she considered, education related material, as long as it was only that. Had she known that Kassim harbored a secret crush for a non-Muslim girl, she would have thoroughly been opposed to the whole book borrowing idea.

Mama had always made it clear that she desired all of her children to get spouses who shared in the same Islamic belief. Kassim’s elder brother, Abdul, married a Muslim woman. His sister, Muna’s husband was also Muslim. It was only his other sister, Rashida in high school and him, in upper primary, who were still at home with their parents, but he knew Rashida would soon be married off to an “upright Muslim man”.

He also knew that they would marry her off, before she got a college education and that she would quickly end up pregnant, with her first born. Then another and another would follow. He had witnessed all this with Muna, who got married when he was eight and was currently expecting her third child with her husband.

***

Awino liked Kassim. She liked him more than a friend, even though the butterflies she always got in her stomach whenever she saw him, thoroughly confused her. She never got them when around other boys, no wonder her conclusion that it had to be more than neighbourly friendliness.

Slightly shorter than herself, Kassim was slender, had lovely, light skin with shiny, black, curly hair. During the school holidays, he would shave off the sides of his head leaving only the top middle. Awino liked him better with this hairstyle but extreme shyness prevented her from complimenting him.

Whenever Kassim showed up at her door to borrow books, dad always asked, “Is it that Arab boy?” to which she would reply, “Yes dad.”

“Such a careless boy! Why does he always forget his books at school?!” Dad often retorted, without raising an eyebrow from his newspaper, which he loved to read when he got home from work.

There was a significant age gap between dad and mum, no wonder dad’s penchant for deftly scanning through some pages, then calling out to mum whenever he saw something he thought could interest her. He never gave her the newspaper to read but loved to “educate” her in this patronising manner that often repulsed Awino.

If it was politics related, dad would be deeply engrossed, so much that he failed to notice the Arab boy, coming over to borrow books from his daughter. It was at times like this that Awino took maximum advantage of her father’s absent mindedness.

Often, when the househelp alerted her of Kassim’s arrival, she would dash to the bedroom she shared with her younger sister Adelaide and spruce up. Sprucing up entailed brushing her hair afresh and applying a generous amount of Vaseline on her lips. Even these acts confused her for she rarely saw the need to spruce up before seeing other boys. Kassim must have been special.

When she finally got to the door, he would break into a sweet, somewhat shy smile. It was always, “Do you have your Kiswahili Mufti? I forgot mine in the desk,” or “Could I borrow your Science exercise book to compare notes?” or “Do you have your Maths book? Mine has some pages missing,” to which Awino would gladly lend if she had them with her. Later on, Kassim brought back the books. Sometimes, the same evening. Other times, the next evening.

“Are you sure it is only books that Arab boy comes to borrow?” Mum once questioned suspiciously, eyeing her daughter’s lips which glistened with freshly applied Vaseline.

“Yes mum.” Awino tried her level best to make it sound innocent though she also suspected that Kassim liked her back. What could explain his frequent borrowing and his apparent joy at seeing her?

“I hope so.” Mum would only say, resuming her cooking on the gas cooker for if dad failed to eat at 7 sharp, there would be an endless lecture on the essence of punctuality. Such a bore. Awino often wondered to herself what her mother had possibly seen in a man, 20 years her senior, with grown children he shared with a deceased wife.

When she came of age, she had promised herself, she would not get married to an old man.

***

At twenty, Kassim broke Awino’s virginity. It happened behind some overgrown bushes where they had once hid as children while playing hide and seek. Not necessarily a very romantic spot to break one’s virginity, but the only private place they could find to satisfy their curiosity of each other’s bodies.

The kisses, though rushed, were expertly delivered, this time around.

***

“Hafsa seems like such a lovely girl, don’t you think?” Kassim’s father began thoughtfully, one lazy Sunday afternoon.

Hafsa, was the daughter of a family friend and coincidentally, the same age as Kassim. Like his sisters, she was very light skinned and always clad in a tightly secured hijab and flowing buibui. On some rare occassions, she would cover her whole face, leaving only the eyes. At Eid, her hands and soles of her feet were usually adorned with intricate, henna designs that stood out from her skin tone.

Kassim had since grown so used to these Islamic habits by Muslim women, that he considered Hafsa, a sister. So his father bringing her up randomly in conversation, sounded somewhat suspicious.

“I have never paid attention.” Was all he could reply to his father’s comment.

“But she’s always visiting with her parents!” Father pointed out incredulously that Kassim wondered where the conversation was headed.

“A girl like Hafsa can make a good wife. She is very well mannered.”

“I’m still studying, Father.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean now. I meant later. These things have to be planned early.”

“But she’s like a sister!”

“Makes it even better! You know her that well to consider her a sister. Think about it.”

“I have a girlfriend.”

“What?! Who?!”

“You don’t know her, Father.”

“Is she Muslim?”

“No.”

Father stood up, fuming while glaring at his son, who calmly sat on one of the dining table’s chairs. Kassim had not meant to break the news to his father in this manner, but with the way he was pushing about Hafsa, he had been left with no other choice but to let it slip.

Of course he had not expected anything different. His parents had often made it clear that their children had to date, if any and marry within their religion. Such close mindedness, Kassim had always dismissed it as such.

“What do you mean by she’s not a Muslim?!” Father now growled. From his position, by the dining table, Kassim could make out the long strands of wispy, white hair, peeking from his father’s oversized nostrils. He had significantly aged in recent times.

When Father got angry, even the tip of his nose sweated and there would be small, visible beads of sweat.

“She is a Christian.” Kassim revealed.

“But we are Muslims! You of all people should know that!” Father shouted.

“Father, times have changed. What is different between a Muslim and a Christian? We all worship the same God, different names…”

“Clearly, you have learned nothing all these years!”

“Father, I…”

“Quiet!! Not another word from your mouth!”

And with that, Kassim’s father stormed off.

***

“It is that Arab boy’s, isn’t it?” Awino’s dad spat out, the day mum broke the pregnancy news to him. The way he said “Arab boy’s” betrayed his disgust at his daughter’s antics.

Awino said nothing, eyes firmly fixed on the floor. She was nursing a headache from the countless blows mum had rained on her head earlier, at the realization that she was carrying the child of a Muslim boy. Though she suspected that the rage was also mixed with mum’s frustrations, of living with a significantly older, patronising man under the same roof.

“Answer me!” Dad now shouted. “Is that which you are now carrying that Arab boy’s from Block 5?!”

“Answer your father.” Mum ordered, rather calmly when again, they were met with silence from Awino.

Awino now looked up. The first face she could make out through eyes blurred with tears was that of her sixteen year old sister, Adelaide, standing timidly by the door leading to the corridor, a genuinely, sympathetic look on her face.

After breaking the news of her pregnancy to Kassim, who had requested for time to gather enough courage to tell his parents, it was Adelaide she had next told, but her sister could not disclose the information to anyone, as she was sworn to secrecy. She had instead witnessed silently, Awino avoiding on numerous occassions to cut up onions, for the smell suddenly made her terribly nauseous.

When mum had insisted that evening that her sister help in cooking, again Adelaide had witnessed silently as Awino tried unsuccessfully to hold the vomit in before dashing off to the toilet. She was there when mum demanded to know if Awino was ill and when Awino tearfully revealed that she was in fact 3 months pregnant. Then the blows to her head from an enraged mother had followed.

Awino, who was set to join campus the next month had clearly dissapointed her parents.

“Yes, it is, dad.” She finally acknowledged.

“I should have known! No wonder that Arab boy would never stop coming to our house!” Dad remarked, almost triumphantly, that he had been right all along with his suspicion.

“Do you see how much of a disgrace your daughter is?!” He now turned his anger to a hapless mum. “Do you see that at 20, she decides to go ahead and get pregnant for none other than a Muslim boy?!”

“I had no idea there was something going on bet…” Mum began to protest.

“Shut up woman!” Dad rudely cut her off mid sentence. Awino resented him even more. “You, together with this, you call your daughter and I are going over to that Muslim’s house to tell them about this shame they have brought to our family!” He added firmly.

***

The two elderly men nearly got into a fist fight, when Awino’s father dropped the bombshell of his daughter being pregnant. It took the loud, racking sobs of a shattered mother, who happened to be Kassim’s, to make them calm down.

“My son will only marry a Muslim girl from an upright family!” Kassim’s father made a point to announce in a show of defiance.

“I did not say I wanted your son to marry my daughter! We are Christians and shall only get married to those who believe in the same things we believe in!” Awino’s father was not one to be defeated. Kassim’s mother had since stopped sobbing, but was now rocking herself back and forth, as if in intense pain.

“Then what brought you to my house?!” Kassim’s father shouted.

“To inform you of the shameless son you have brought up!” Awino’s father shouted back.

“It is your daughter who is shameless! She probably seduced my son and then got herself pregnant!”

“That is not what happened!” Awino found herself crying out defensively, without meaning to.

It thoroughly broke her heart that Kassim, in the presence of his father, did not dare speak up to defend her. Instead, he stood quietly, a safe distance from his enraged father, head bowed, like he was ashamed of himself or ashamed of her. She had no idea which, but the pain in her heart was unbearable.

“Come! Let us go! We shall not allow ourselves to be disrespected in this manner!” Dad suddenly decided, grabbing her forcefully by the arm. He literally dragged her out of the house.

***

Five and a half months later, Awino delivered a beautiful baby girl. She came into the world with a piercing cry, after dreadfully, long hours of horrible, labor pain, light skinned, with shiny, curly, black, hair that clung to her delicate head. By then, Awino’s family had moved from the Block of flats to a different estate, possibly from the shame that their daughter had gotten pregnant for an Arab and she was no longer in contact with Kassim.

Though faced with opposition from her parents on her name choice, she named her daughter Aisha, in remembrance of her roots. Perhaps someday, she and Kassim would indeed gather enough courage to stand up to their parents and rekindle their love for each other. Her only hope was that it would be soon before his parents got him a Muslim girl to marry.

 

 

 

The Archives

The Kenya National Archives, Image courtesy of Jambo Nairobi

When they say Nairobi is not your mother’s, you better believe them. Yesterday afternoon, I alighted at Nyamakima, grateful to have made it safely to the city and to a new life. Father had given me strict instructions in the morning, before I left Eldoret, to call Uncle the minute I got to Nairobi. He insisted that Nairobi was big and confusing and a new person could easily get lost.

Uncle was supposed to come pick me up at The Archives. He was also the one supposed to give me directions to get to the place. So the first thing I did as soon as I was out of the vehicle was to call Uncle. The phone rang, once…twice…then Uncle hang up.

“I’m in a meeting. Call me after 30 minutes” A message followed soon afterwards.

For a moment, I was at a loss on what to do. Here I was, a heavy backpack with my belongings, very new in this big city, wondering whether to wait for Uncle’s meeting to finish or to take the initiative and head to The Archives. Was it a building? What kind of building was it? I had no idea.

I quickly scanned the environment and noticed just how busy everyone seemed. There were vehicles everywhere. Crossland…Crossroads Travellers. White Nissans, as we called them instead of vans, with the telltale yellow stripe to indicate that they were Public Service Vehicles. Former Transport Minister, the late Michuki’s legacy still going strong.

Boards overhead announced the destinations they were heading to. Narok, Nakuru, Naivasha, Eldoret… I could not read all of them. I was tired and overwhelmed by all that I was seeing. I simply wanted to get to Uncle’s home.

Hurlingham…that was where Father had said his cousin lived.

Uncle is actually Father’s cousin but if you wanted a relative in high position to help your daughter, you did not refer to them as a cousin but something closer, like a brother, perhaps. No wonder Father had warned me against calling his cousin anything else other than Uncle. He was the one supposed to pay for my college tuition and I in turn, had to patiently reside in his house until that time he deemed fit for me to join college.

“Excuse me, how do you get to The Archives?” I asked a buxom woman, with a toddler and several, heavy luggages. The child, a boy, stood quietly beside his mother.

“Oh, you want to get to The Archives?” Her voice was unnecessarily shrill.

It reminded one of a witch’s cackle but I have never encountered witches, so I just assumed it did, judging by how annoying it was to the ears. The thing with Kenyans is that they have this annoying habit, of repeating what you have said in a statement, that comes across as a question.

“Yes.” I replied politely, to what should not have been a question in the first place.

“Go up, when you see a junction on your right, follow that junction all the way to the end. The Archives is visible at the end of the street.” She offered and though what she had said made little sense to me, I decided to trust her word.

“And do carry that backpack at the front. There are a lot of thieves at this time. Si unajua ni January?” She instructed.

Indeed, it was January. January was always marked with scorching heat. It was as if God decided to move the sun closer to the earth at that time. I was sweaty, having been in a vehicle for 5 hours straight. I could not open the window, because the woman sitting next to me, had a small baby and was complaining of the wind, although I felt like she was just making a fuss for nothing.

A little wind on a very hot day, did no harm to a baby that was in fact, warmly dressed in woollen clothes. Every once in a while during the journey, the baby would let out a piercing scream. I was convinced that she must have been hot but I could not tell the mother, seeing that she acted like she knew what was best for her child. So I had endured.

January was also touted as the brokest month of the year with many having overspent during the Christmas festivities. No wonder the lady had taken it upon herself to warn me of thieves. They must have been stealing more at this time of the month. Following her instructions, I decided to carry my backpack at the front even though I felt ridiculous and like a woman with child.

Someone offered to carry the luggage for me, I politely declined. He could have just been one of those cunning thieves the woman had spoken about. The ones who disappeared down a corner and you never saw them again, together with your belongings. She had instructed I go up and that is exactly what I did. I went up till I saw a junction on my right and followed the direction all the way to the end, only to be met with another street.

Hadn’t she said that The Archives was visible at the end? The only thing I could make out were tall buildings, very close to each other and so many people. I was convinced that Nairobi is where everybody headed to make a better life for themselves. Otherwise, what could explain the large number of people on the streets?

“Excuse me,” I tried to stop a lady but she ignored me. Did not even bother to look at me. I watched her walk past as if nobody had just spoken to her. As if I was invisible. I was scared of asking men for directions. Father had insisted that I only ask women for directions. They could be trusted, unlike men, who could not be trusted.

Funny, that coming from a fellow man, but Father had once lived in Nairobi. Sometimes, he would mention just how life could be expensive in the city, but would always point out that there were plenty of opportunities, especially for youngsters. I did not want to dissapoint Father, so I had purposed to be obedient to Uncle until I graduated from college. I still had no idea what I was going to study but Father was convinced that Uncle, a Lawyer by profession, would guide me on the best career choice.

“Excuse me,” I tried to stop two young ladies, deeply engrossed in animated conversation. These ones looked at me, their faces glowing with the excess make up they had applied, as if I had just dropped from planet Mars and carried on conversing. They even burst into laughter, just for effect, as they walked past.

There was a shop selling phone accessories nearby. As a last resort, I decided to walk into the shop and ask for directions. A young man was at the counter, eyes fixated on the street. He turned two lazy eyes at me and said, “Yes, how can I help you?”

“I think I’m lost.” I confessed. At this point, I was not really paying attention to Father’s caution.

“You look lost.” He mentioned, much to my chagrin.

Just why were Nairobi dwellers so rude?! I wondered angrily, to myself.

“Damn right I’m lost!” I would have loved to retort back but instead asked meekly, “How do I get to The Archives?”

“Eh, huku ni mbali sana na Archives.”  He informed, suddenly energised, as if my ignorance of Nairobi had stroked his ego and probably, reminded him that there were some people having worse days than him. “Huku ni River Road!” He added.

“But this lady directed me to walk straight to the end of this road and I will see The Archives.” I lamented.

“Eh, that one misled you. You see that street at the end, turn right. You will see some matatus. That is Tea Room. Walk up to the end of that road. That is Accra Road. There, you can clearly see The Archives.” He offered. For some reason, everyone I asked directions spoke of The Archives being at the end of the street but I still had some faith left.

I mouthed a Thank You, I doubted the young man at the shop heard, as he had resumed his previous demeanor of lazily looking out at the street. If someone could get paid just for watching people walk past and cars drive by, then Father must have been right that they were plenty of opportunities in Nairobi.

By then, my legs were beginning to ache and my only desire was to see a building with the words “The Archives” inscribed. So I carried on, afraid to walk too close to the busy road for the matatus were being driven like they were on a roadtrip to hell. I saw an elderly man nearly get hit by one of those old buses. He quickly jumped out of the way, surprised. I think I was more surprised that he had been able to do that given his age but this was Nairobi. Anything was possible here.

A street boy rudely bumped into me. The backpack nearly fell off.

“Nini wewe! Angalia pahali unaenda!” He growled menacingly.

I held my breath as he walked past. He stunk.

Clutching at my backpack more possessively, I resolved to search for The Archives until I found it. Eventually, I did.

On seeing the pale yellow, colonial style building, with the distinct words “Kenya National Archives”, I nearly jumped with joy. Finally, I could breath a sigh of relief. I was careful though to watch for any carelessly driven matatus as I crossed the road, eager to get to my destination. I could almost picture just how proud of my efforts Uncle would be. I was a first timer to the city yet had managed to get to where he was supposed to pick me up without any directions from him.

As I got to the front part of the building, I chose a spot where I could make a phone call to Uncle. I had previously put my phone on one of the side pockets of my backpack. Instinctively, I felt for the pocket only to be met with nothing. Frantic, I put my bag down to check. The whole pocket together with my phone was missing. In it’s place were tiny loose threads hanging out.

**********

Uncle would find me at dusk, still at the same spot waiting for him.

“I told you I was in a meeting, why didn’t you call me back after 30 minutes to get the directions?!” He admonished. “I would have sent someone to pick you up!”

“I couldn’t!” I gulped, thoroughly ashamed of myself that I had annoyed Uncle even before I got to his house.

“What do you mean you couldn’t?!” He sounded exasperated.

“My phone got stolen.” I revealed quietly.

“Hii ni Nairobi.” He reminded and I felt thoroughly stupid.

“Get in the car. We will figure out your phone crisis at home.

 

CALLING ON WRITERS AND POETS

Image Courtesy of Google

Are you a Writer or Poet?

Would you be interested in contributing to www.definitelylorna.wordpress.com, poetry of any length or a short story of between 1,500-2,000 words?

African themed stories are highly encouraged, though it would equally be refreshing, to read stories from other continents.

This is an upcoming blog therefore, submissions are voluntarily for interested persons. Hopefully, this can change in future.

Include a short bio of yourself as well as a recent photo together with your short story or poetry and send to lornalikiza@yahoo.com.

A separate profile of the Writer/Poet will additionally go up on the blog.

Looking forward to hearing from you 🙂

Let’s Write!

 

(Upcoming Kenyan Writer, Scholastica Memusi’s Short Story http://www.definitelylorna.wordpress.com/growth-warrants-change was recently featured on the blog. She makes the first Guest Writer.)

 

 

Strange Obsession

Man and wife were at it again. Isaiah could hear them bickering from the outdoor, communal bathroom as he scrubbed himself clean. They were frequent in their arguments and loud enough for the voices to be heard in the next plot. Sometimes, it was about something that had been kept where it shouldn’t. Other times, it was the woman complaining about how much she slaved away and just how much the man was unappreciative.

A quick glance into their compound, through the barely there wooden fence, that was almost collapsing and you were met with a neglected compound. A sense of misery hung in the air. No wonder they were never peaceful.

“Argh! Usiniletee!” The wife shouted.

She wanted the man to cease with the provocation. Today, for once, the man fell silent immediately afterwards.

Isaiah knew the man. He was one of those estate drunks who downed illicit brew and proceeded to rant about whatever was on their mind. It could be scandalous, words that needed to be censored, funny or incomprehensible. As he poured water all over his body to rinse off the soap, he wondered which sane woman, got married to a drunk.

Once he was clean, he patted himself dry with the towel he had previously hung on the portruding nail behind the door. Tying it tightly around his waist, he picked up the empty bucket and the soap dish and made his way carefully, out of the bathroom to his single roomed house.

Isaiah also knew the woman. She was petite and might have been once attractive before the ravages of an unhappy marriage, had transformed her into a somewhat, tired and frustrated looking individual. There was something else too about that woman. Whenever Isaiah, went behind the toilets and bathrooms to brush his teeth, he could always see her just standing there, looking. It was a look of curiosity. Never suspicion.

One day, she had shouted a greeting. Isaiah, surprised at fast, had only replied politely. She said nothing afterwards but made no attempt to leave her usual spot. He was tempted to conclude that she did it on purpose, but instead of causing him irritation, he found himself equally wondering whatever was so interesting, with someone brushing his teeth. As a matter of fact, Isaiah was not the only tenant. There were others who occupied the 10 single rooms in the compound, shared the toilets and bathrooms and of course, brushed their teeth at the back.

It was not like Isaiah particularly enjoyed this sharing but this is what he could afford at the moment. Sharing could be inconvinient sometimes. Sharing meant enduring the unmistakable smell of urine on the cemented bathroom floor, courtesy of those people who urinated while taking a bath. An annoying habit, he had since concluded, seeing that the toilets were just next door and everyone had a key to whichever of the two you shared with others.

Sharing meant rushing to the toilet when pressed, only to be met with a huge lump of excreta sitting on the stained toilet bowl, as if daring you to ask how it got there. Somebody who was uncouth enough had of course seen no need to pour water to sweep it away after the deed. Sharing meant ignoring all these inconviniences and acting as if you were satisfied, when deep down, you wondered when your turn of blessings would reach.

Isaiah dressed quickly, eager to make it for his evening shift on time. He worked as a Cleaner in the Housekeeping department of a 5 star hotel. He had been assigned the hotel rooms. Fancy spaces that could certainly not be compared to his one roomed, modest house but there were still guests who were unreasonable enough, to leave the toilets and sinks dirty in the rooms. Status it seemed, did little to change some of these uncouth habits, that some people picked up.

The pay at the hotel was reasonable and the random tips a welcome surprise, but he still had two other siblings to take care of. Their parents were dead so that made them orphans something that Isaiah rarely shared with anyone. His siblings resided with his grandmother in the village. He was the only one in the city and quite determined to ensure that they all got secondary school certificates. Were it not for his secondary school certificate, he doubted whether he would have been working at the hotel.

After he was done dressing, he looked at the time on his phone. It was 4pm. He had to hurry if he was to be at work by 5pm. Luckily, it was just 15 minutes away by matatu.

“Heading to work?” The woman’s voice startled him, the minute she spotted him at the back, retrieving the doormat he had hung behind there earlier, to dry.

She was standing there, like she always did on countless occassions and Isaiah might have jumped in fright, had he not been used to this strange habit. It was also the second time she had made an attempt at conversation. The first being weeks ago, when she had greeted him. For a moment, Isaiah wondered how she had guessed right that he might be about to leave for work.

He contemplated whether to reply to the question or ignore it altogether and quickly settled on the latter. Dusting his mat, he walked back to his house, wore his socks and shoes and locked the door, checking a second time to ensure that the padlock was indeed secured in place.

Evening shifts were not as busy as morning shifts but they often dragged and by the time Isaiah was closing his at 11pm, the only thing he could think of was his warm bed. He was lucky that the hotel van dropped off people, who resided near their workplace, at their respective homes. By 11.30pm, he was already alighting at his usual spot a bit further down the road from his house. There was this thing about hoteliers that made it inherent for them to protect their privacy and especially where one lived.

This was just one of the downsides that Isaiah had quickly realized about his field, being in the industry for close to 3 years already. The fact that you spent a significant amount of time, surrounded by hotel luxury and serving wealthy guests made you subconsciously conclude that, you needed to hide where you lived from your colleagues and particularly, if it was something you knew they would not deem fancy. He had been alighting at that same spot from as far back as he could remember. He doubted any of his workmates knew the exact house he lived in.

Making the short walk to the gate, Isaiah was grateful that another day at work was over. The stretch though dark had always been safe, so he was never particularly afraid walking alone at this time of the night. Sometimes, he wished that he had a wife to go back home to, but he had since shelved any plans of dating seriously until his siblings finished school. These city girls could not be trusted and the last one he had dated, had this annoying habit of always asking for money.

He could make out a figure in the distance as he neared the gate, but dismissed it as someone else coming home from work, until a voice spoke up.

“Why do you ignore me?” It was a woman’s voice and Isaiah instinctively knew who it was.

A chill ran down his spine, just as the neighbor’s wife came into view. Unlike those previous days when she was always dressed modestly in a skirt and buttoned up blouse, tonight she had on a short, pink dress revealing her shapely legs, that fluttered lightly in the night breeze. Her hair that was always hidden in a headscarf, was now combed into an afro, which framed her face beautifully. He had been right all along, that she might have once been a beautiful woman, but this was no such time to admire what he thought strange.

How had she known that he came home from his evening shift at this time? Why was she waiting for him, dressed in such a manner? He had no desire whatsoever to get into trouble with that drunk of a husband she had. As he fumbled with the gate latch, not answering her question, he realized that his hands were shaking from fear. Everything about this woman made no sense to him and now she was forcing conversation with him.

“Why are you running away?” The woman persisted. She placed a warm hand on his. Isaiah quickly moved his away from her touch.

“T_This, Whatever it is you are trying to do is not right.” He stammered, eager to get away from her. The gate was now open.

“What is not right about a woman loving a man?” The woman questioned, a look of hurt on her face.

“Go back to your husband!” Isaiah ordered, trying hard not to loose his cool and draw unnecessary attention from the plot, to them.

“But I don’t love him!” The woman protested.

“Just go!” Isaiah repeated for emphasis.

“Come with me. Don’t be afraid.” She said reassuringly, her arm outsretched. It was all that was needed to break Isaiah’s resolve and as if in a trance, he found himself following her into the dark.

 

 

 

 

 

Growth Warrants Change

By Scholastica Memusi

Lonely in Africa. “story” by Loui Jover.

The only way Africans knew how to bid one goodbye was to hold a proper feast. As much as Wambui did not want anything extravagant, her family wouldn’t take no for an answer.

So as per the usual, the feast had to include nyama choma and a bunch of drinks and as typical Africans, if you invite people to a get-together, the bill is definitely on you. Surrounded by a table full of family and friends, she could not stop smiling, but deep inside, she felt loneliness creeping in.

What would happen now that she was moving away, would she be able to
survive on her own? Away from everyone else, new surroundings? She was used to being the noisy one in the room, but she knew where she was headed, she couldn’t be the same person. People would find her weird if she walked into a room and just burst into laughter.

She would have to give them time to accustom to her loud personality. What they wouldn’t know was that the noise she was making was just a façade, to hide the loneliness that would creep in every time she decided to keep to herself.

How was she going to survive this?

Her flight was on Sunday afternoon. The hugs were tight, the farewells touching, but as soon as she stepped on the plane, she felt empty. This new chapter was going to be difficult.

Her phone buzzed.

Mercy was calling.

“Hey quizn, I just got onto my flight. Where were you? I missed seeing you at Roadhouse.”

“I was trying to finish up an assignment. Sucks I missed out on the nyama and drinks. Anyway, go make us proud, we’ll be awaiting the graduation invitations and of course your awesome valedictorian speech.”

“I feel homesick already and I haven’t even left yet, lol.”

“You’ll ace this, you have always been the bright one.”

“Thanks love. Time to leave. I’ll holla once I’ve landed.”

“Safe flight.”

The lump in her throat kept getting bigger and bigger. A tear almost escaped from her eye but before she even had a chance to shed any, the lady in the next seat asked for help adjusting her seat belt. A welcome distraction.

An hour later, they landed in the ‘land of 1000 hills’. This was going to be home for the next year or so.

“Breathe in, breathe out. You got this. All you have to do is take life one step at a time.”

She sent out a quick text to Davies.

“Arrived safely, headed to the hostel.”

“Great! Make us proud little sister.”

“Will do. 😊 ”

There’s just one thing missing. Mum hadn’t called to confirm that her baby girl had landed safely. But how could she?

There was a horn blaring in the distance, the bus had come to pick her up. Right on cue, otherwise, she could have broken down in public while lugging around a humongous suitcase twice her size.

“Amakuru! Hope you had a good flight and are now ready for classes.”

“Yes, I am.”

“Great, let’s go then. Is that all your luggage?”

“Yeah, tried fitting everything in here coz I didn’t want to heave around more than one suitcase.”

There was no time to sit down and sob about being alone in a new country. It was time to put on a smile and blend in. After all, there was no way she could survive without friends.

******************

As the days went by and she slowly started adapting to the new schedule, she barely had enough time to look at her phone. Her friends would check in ever so often as they promised they would.

Wednesday:

“Found a house yet?”

“Yeah, was lucky to find two people who needed a housemate.”

“Great, when do you go shopping?”

Thursday:

“Found a mattress and utensils?”

“Yeah, was directed to Nyabugogo market, we even got a meko. Tonight, we are having some decent ugali for supper 😊 .”

Wednesday:

“Week one and I have 3 assignments due. What life is this?”

“Kazana mami. We are praying for you.”

Monday:

“Who invented MATLAB and why? This life is torture ☹ “

“Haha, soma, si wewe ndio ulitaka Masters?”

The days went on, the messages got fewer, the deadlines got hectic and the tears and sweat were in abundance. Was she ready to do this?

Mum was telepathic. It’s like she always knew when her baby girl was in trouble and would send a text demanding a phone call.

‘Please call me, thank you.’

“Hi, mum.”

“Hey, how is the going? Is the food any good? Is it as clean as they say it is?”

“I have eaten too much rice. I miss githeri and ugali.”

“Kwani hawana unga? Tell us what you need we’ll send it over. Can it come by bus?”

“Their ugali tastes meh. The unga here is too fine so it doesn’t come out as good. It takes longer to cook. And will you manage to send over stuff?”

“What do you mean it ‘tastes meh’? Just send me a list. I’ll get your brother to send them over.”

“Great, some decent ugali…ooh yeah and uji.”

“Are you planning on opening a shop? Sasa unataka unga ya wimbi pia?”

“It’s just a few things, unga ya ugali, ya uji and some honey as well. Ooh and Kericho Gold tea bags”

“Just send me the list, I won’t remember all these things by tomorrow morning. Plus, I am about to go to bed.”

“I will, let me finish an assignment that has a midnight deadl…”

*****************

She suddenly woke up.

She had dozed off on the sofa in the student’s lounge. She needed to get that assignment done before midnight. She sent a quick text to Davies;

“Hey bro, I need a few things sent over.”

“Cool, send me a list. I’ll try to send em before the week ends.”

“Coolio.”

She kept counting down the days to when she would be back home. This kept her going. Often, she checked her phone. No new messages, no missed calls. Life was happening around her. It was time she stopped feeling sorry for herself and started enjoying her life.

But all she wanted was a hug, someone to ask if she had been eating right, sleeping well and how her studies were progressing. Her advisor asked if she was doing ok, and she said she was.

When she was quiet, her classmates would know something was wrong, after all, she was always the loudest in the room and had this laugh that was just infectious. But when she went home at the end of an 18-hour day, all she did was curl up and cry into her pillow to muffle her sobs until she fell asleep.

It was going to be a tough year, and she did not know how she was going to survive. All she knew is that she had to keep fighting. She was not a quitter. Her guardian angel was watching.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”

Scholastica Memusi is an upcoming Writer/Blogger from Nairobi, Kenya. She currently runs the blog http://www.mimimemc.wordpress.com. To read her full bio, click on the “WRITERS FEATURED” page at the top.

What Aunt Catherine Said

Tusker Lager (Kenya). Image courtesy of roodonfood

Mum owned a pub.

It was one of those small, estate drinking joints with metallic chairs painted black and simple tables draped with branded, plastic table covers. It could be Senator Lager, Tusker or Pilsner Ice logos on the cover. Mum’s were quite old, torn in some parts to expose the rough, wooden surface underneath, but that was because she bought the already existing pub from another person. The only thing she had changed was the name of the pub to “Sparks.”

There was a counter with high metallic chairs and a display of the various alcoholic drinks to complete the interior of the pub. Njeri, the barmaid, was mostly at the counter. When she was not around, a young, skinny man who simply went as Denno, worked the counter. Njeri was particularly close to mum. She was a short, busty woman, very light skinned that it instantly reminded you of ripe, yellow bananas, with neat dreadlocks that fell up to her neck area.

Njeri loved to converse with the patrons. Whenever she opened her mouth to speak, a broken, front, upper tooth was clearly visible. I was aware of the fact that she had once been married to a man who beat her up on a frequent basis. When she had gathered enough courage, she had walked out of the marriage, her two young daughters in tow. The broken tooth would remain a constant reminder of that violent past.

I did not like going to mum’s pub on whatever errand. There were whispers I had been privy to. People said that mum was a prostitute who had given birth to three children with three different men. In the past, I would dismiss the whispers as idle gossip until Aunt Catherine convinced me otherwise. Aunt Catherine often disagreed with mum. I never quite understood the issue between them but they always argued bitterly whenever my aunt came around unannounced.

It was during one such disagreement that Aunt Catherine had sat me down, an impressionable 16 year old and told me what mum did for a living. The pub, she said, was just a cover up for mum’s trade. I never told mum what her elder sister had disclosed to me, but it was like my perception of my mother completely changed from that day.

What Aunt Catherine revealed, made me take a critical look at our family dynamics. Neither of us shared a father. I was the first born, my brother Ian was 12 and the youngest, Ciru, was just 4. My name was Dama, short for Damaris, having been named after my granny as per tradition. Ciru’s father was mum’s current boyfriend.

It was the longest that mum had stayed with one particular man, but that was because Ciru’s father had agreed to educate both me and Ian. I never knew what he did for a living, as he was rarely home and mum would quickly lose her temper, whenever you became too intrusive for her liking.

In a way though, I liked my sister’s father. I even addressed him as dad whenever he was around. He was a man who commanded respect, but would seemingly melt at the sight of an excited Ciru, jumping up and down excitedly at his arrival. He was more like a father I had never had. He also was significantly different from mum’s previous choices.

The last boyfriend that mum had was a layabout that had began leering at me. I was around ten at the time and had immediately told mum about it. Her reaction was to kick him out for good. It was good riddance to bad rubbish actually, seeing that he rarely left the house. Mum had to feed him in addition to feeding her children too.

My mother had some funny tastes in men. Being the eldest, I had witnessed several walking in and out of her life I had even lost count. One had left her pregnant with Ian and others seemingly took her for a ride before Ciru’s father came along. Relating all this with what my aunt had said, I could only conclude that she was right and that the gossipers had been right all along.

That revelation ignited in me some kind of hatred toward mum, that I had never felt for anyone else before. I concluded that she probably deserved all those men walking out on her. Many times, I wondered how Ciru’s father tolerated her. He seemed so refined to be with a woman who sold herself for money.

Running errands for mum suddenly transformed into an irritation of sorts. I sulked and dragged my feet each time she asked me to do something for her. If she tried sending me to the pub, I flatly refused. Sometimes, I could make out the look of hurt crossing my mum’s face, but my heart had suddenly hardened towards her. I no longer wanted anything to do with her and would have gladly moved in with Aunt Catherine, if possible.

“Your mother tells me you have become very rude nowadays.” Ciru’s father admonished me one evening, when he randomly came home.

I knew that mum had shared with him about my attitude and like any concerned father would, he had taken it upon himself, to get to the root of the matter.

“Is that true?” Dad now prodded sternly.

I stared at my feet and said nothing. In that moment, what Aunt Catherine had said played over and over in my head and I felt as if I could explode with the anger I felt towards mum.

“Look at me when I’m speaking to you!” Dad suddenly startled me with his harshness.

“Why are you stressing your mother?!”

In that instant, I don’t know what got into me but all I remember is blurting out ,”Did you know that she was a prostitute?” and a hot slap from dad landing on my face in the process. He looked at me outraged, clicked, then got up from his chair and walked out.

I did not know how to react afterward. My cheek felt hot just as hot tears sprang into my eyes. I suddenly felt ashamed of my actions. What had I been thinking, speaking in that manner to a man who had been gracious enough to educate both my brother and I? Had I now made him change his mind about us?

Ciru’s father did not utter another word to me for the rest of the evening. I also preferred to stay away from the living room where he was likely to be. There was an eerie silence in the house. It reminded me of the silence we had met at granny’s home, the day we arrived after receiving news of her passing. Silence I had since realized, always meant that something was terribly wrong.

I wondered whether, dad and mum were thinking of an appropriate way to punish me and whether I would ever have the guts, to face dad after what I had done. It was the first time he had hit me but I concluded that I probably deserved it, with the level of disrespect toward my own mother, that I had displayed. In a way, I still felt justified for resenting her but then, thoroughly guilty for letting dad know that I was resentful of mum.

Later that night, mum came into the bedroom to talk to me. There was a visible distressed look on her face. She seemed like she had been crying earlier just from her reddened eyes. I curled away from her on the bed, determined not to speak to her but she simply sat on the edge of my bed, not saying a word.

“It’s your Aunt Catherine who told you I was a prostitute, right?” She began, after a long while of silence. There was a hint of utter disappointment in her voice.

“Look at me Dama,” Mum instructed. She was not angry. Surprisingly, gentle. Slowly, I turned to look at her.

“Did she also tell you that I was raped at 15 and that is how I got you?” Mum now dropped the bombshell.

I had not expected it. There was a ringing in my ears that would not go away. My own mother?! Raped?! Me, the product of that rape?!

“You were raped?” The sound that escaped from my throat sounded more like a croak.

“Yes. The man who raped me was Catherine’s boyfriend. She has never forgiven me for sleeping with her boyfriend. Of course that is what she thinks happened. Nobody in the family believed me.” Mum now narrated.

“Even granny?” I questioned, tears running down my cheeks.

I loved granny. My memory of her was that of a short, shrivelled woman with a ready, gentle smile for everyone. I never once thought she had any ounce of insensitivity in her but it seems I might have been wrong all along. When I had told mum that her boyfriend was giving me funny looks, she had not doubted my statement even once. Instead, she had taken immediate action.

“Yes, even your granny.” Mum now clarified. “What was she to do when Catherine was telling everyone who cared to listen that I was a slut who had slept with the man she wanted to get married to?”

“Is that why you and aunt always fight?” I asked, now gaining a new insight on the whole feud. I was suddenly filled with gratitude for my mother, for raising me notwithstanding, the circumstances she had concieved me in.

I could not help feeling utterly ashamed of my actions. All this time, I had held it against my mum yet she had actually been a victim of sexual violation, while my aunt was simply vengeful. I was now convinced that my aunt must be very evil to have twisted the truth to me in that manner.

“Partly.” Mum replied quietly. “Your aunt was right, Dama. It was the only way I could survive. After I got pregnant, I became an outcast for sometime. The man also distanced himself from my claims. I dropped out of school. I had to fend for you.”

“Your granny only began speaking to me later when you were bigger and had started going to school. Aunt Catherine for some reason, still assumes I lied and she hates me for being in this trade even though I haven’t engaged in it for years. I hope you beli…” Mum’s voice trailed off.

“I believe you.” I mumbled. “And I’m so sorry for my behavior lately. I hope you and dad can find it in your heart to forgive me.”

“Your father is okay. He just did not expect such kind of rudeness from you, but I told him that it must have been the work of Aunt Catherine and he understood. As for me, you are already forgiven.” Mum assured with a smile.

That night, before I went to bed, I took out that new pair of skinny jeans that Aunt Catherine had bought for me as a present for my 16th birthday. It was rugged at the knees and sky blue, just as I had always wanted but on this night, I did not have any desire left to wear that pair again. Wrapping it in a black polythene, I dumped it into the rubbish where it belonged.

 

 

CALLING ON WRITERS AND POETS
********
Are you a Writer or Poet?

Would you be interested in contributing to www.definitelylorna.wordpress.com, poetry of any length or a short story of between 1,500-2,000 words?

African themed stories are highly encouraged though it would equally be refreshing to read stories from other continents.

This is an upcoming blog therefore, submissions are on a voluntary basis for interested persons. Hopefully, this can change in future.

Include a short bio of yourself as well as a recent photo together with your short story or poetry and send to lornalikiza@yahoo.com.

A separate profile of the Writer/Poet will additionally go up on the blog.

Looking forward to hearing from you 🙂

Let’s Write!

The Man On Facebook (Part 2)

Nude African Woman Drawing – Il Suo Dolore by Alison Schmidt Carson

(A continuation from The Man On Facebook Part 1)

KK’s house was tastefully furnished in brown. Brown leather sofas, a brownish glass table, a brown carpet with large biege circles. Brown African carvings standing on all four corners of the room. Even the curtains were a lighter shade of brown, going all the way down to the wooden flooring.

There was a door opening out to the balcony where KK had put woven brown chairs and a woven table. It was almost like this man was obsessed with brown. Enid had never seen so much brown in one particular space like it was in KK’s house and yet it blended well together.

“You have a beautiful house.” She found herself complimenting.

“I try.” Was all KK said, smiling ruefully. Weird how he took compliments.

“Come, let me show you the bedroom!” He then quickly decided, grabbing Enid’s hand.

Enid had expected to see more brown but was pleasantly surprised when she got to the bedroom and saw other shades of colors. At least he had a nice blue chequered duvet, cream curtains, a black dressing table, an inbuilt wardrobe and a cream floormat.

On top of his dressing table was an assortment of male products. Colognes, male body lotion, after shave…The more Enid got acquainted with this man’s house, the more he surprised her with his personal tastes.

Then suddenly, KK pulled her into an embrace. It was not the side hug that he had given her outside the gate but rather a full, almost sensual embrace. Her face was buried in his chest and she could now take in the whole unique scent of his cologne. Previously, she had just been catching whiffs of it as she followed him up to his house.

“I have longed to see you in person.” KK was mumbling, still holding her close.

In that moment, several things ran through Enid’s mind. She was not very sure what his intentions were. Did he want them to have sex? Was she ready to do it on a first meeting? Then she begrudgingly realized that she liked being embraced by him.

But when KK eventually led her to the bed, all of Enid’s defenses became alert.

“No, I don’t think we should…” She began to protest only for KK to cover her mouth with his, in a languorous kiss. “You know I love you.” He whispered in between kisses. It was hard for Enid to reason rationally at that moment.

A part of her wanted to push him away and jump up from the bed. She barely knew him and had only conversed with him previously through Facebook and over the phone. What if he had lied that he was single? What if he had a girlfriend or a wife or even children? Would he think that she was too easy for giving in too quick? She had no intention of pushing him away this early on with her goofs.

And then another part of her wanted to just lie there and savor everything that KK was doing to arouse her further. His hands travelled to her breasts, her hips and finally to the fly of her fitting jeans. She did not stop him when he lifted up her top and expertly unclasped her bra. She did not stop him when he fondled her breasts and rubbed her nipples. Neither did she stop him when he struggled to pull down her jeans.

And when his fingers probed underneath her panty and into her folds, whatever reason was left in Enid flew out the window. Once she was fully undressed, KK quickly undressed too. She could hear him fumbling for condoms, all the while planting kisses all over her face and neck. Enid would only have a vague memory of him putting on a condom, before he slid into her and then she was moaning in ecstacy with every thrust into her.

She surprised herself even. She who had never been very vocal before during sexual activity. Perhaps it was the fact that she knew they were there only by themselves. A desire to abandon herself to this adventure. There was something about KK. There had been something about him too on social media. She just had no idea whatever it was.

***

KK would immediately change after the deed. He claimed that he had to urgently meet with some business associates. Enid really wanted to believe him. Surely, that steamy session they had just shared meant something. He had even mentioned it himself that he loved her.

She watched him take a quick shower and get ready. From her vantage position on the rumpled bed, still undressed and smelling of KK, she thought he looked handsome in jeans. Perhaps the meeting had suddenly stressed him up, she tried to convince herself. He will get back and all will be okay. All had to be okay. He would not have sent her fare to Nairobi if he did not want to spend quality time with her over the weekend.

When KK eventually left, the house grew deathly silent. Enid decided to take a shower. There was hot water in the bathroom. Just what she needed after all that sweating. When she was dressed, she went into the living room and for the first time noticed a flat screen TV mounted on the wall. She had no idea where the remote control was, so she went out to the balcony and sat down on one of the woven chairs, where she had a full view of the parking lot below.

Later on, KK would show up with a group of friends. Two men and a woman. The woman’s make up was heavily done and she had on those weaves that reminded you of a lion’s mane only that hers was curly, shiny and black. Her male companions were flashily dressed with visible rings on their fingers and sleek phones. None of them paid much attention to Enid.

They simply chose to ignore her like she did not exist. It broke her heart that KK did not even see the need to introduce her to his friends who sat in the living room, having drinks, talking and laughing loudly. Enid had not eaten all day and she felt hungry. Her stomach rambled but she could not interrupt KK with his friends who stayed till midnight.

When they were gone, she finally let KK know that she was hungry.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you, there’s food in the fridge which you can warm in the microwave!” He announced, without as much as a glance at Enid.

At that point, Enid knew that she had made the biggest mistake of her life, coming to Nairobi to visit this stranger she had met on Facebook. Tears filled her eyes but she was careful not to let KK see that she was crying.

When they went to bed that night, KK did not touch her. No attempts to hold her nor speak to her. It was like she was not even in the same bed as him. He simply slept on his side till morning. He also made sure to leave early the next morning. The usual excuse of a meeting with business associates.

By now, it was evident to Enid that she had been used. She had no desire whatsoever to spend the rest of the weekend in KK’s house, whatever those initials meant. Gathering enough courage, she went over to the Jamaican’s door and knocked.

***

“Oh, hi there?!” The lady answered, all smiles. A stark contrast to her previous demeanor the previous evening, when she did not want her son to go downstairs to ride his bike.

Today she was in a wide legged, peach colored, cotton jumpsuit that was so fitting from the knee area upwards, you could actually make out the outline of her crotch. Barefeet as usual. Her dreadlocks loose. But what she wore was the least of Enid’s worries. She needed to know how she could get to town. Her mind was made up. She was going back to Nakuru.

“I need your help.” Enid did not beat around the bush.

“Come in dear!” The Jamaican ushered, stepping away from the door.

“Never mind the silence, my son left with my husband a while back.” She assured as Enid walked in.

Her house had an oriental feel to it. It was vibrant with paintings on the walls, hanging chandeliers, scented candles, floormats and table mats. Too much color and articles for Enid’s liking. These wealthy people could literally confuse you with their over the top tastes.

“What’s the matter dear?” The lady asked in a British accent, tinged with a slight Jamaican accent, once Enid was perched on one of her dining table chairs. She seemed to have a penchant for referring to someone as dear.

“How do I get to town from here?” Enid was straight forward just as tears once again filled her eyes.

“What did he do?” The Jamaican quickly and rightly guessed that whatever was wrong had to do with KK. But Enid was not about to open up to a complete stranger. There was a painful lump in her throat and she tried her level best to compose herself.

After a couple of minutes of the lady looking sympathetically at her, she finally said, “Don’t worry, I will drop you off at Yaya Center, then you can get a bus to town.”

“Whatever it is dear, I hope you both work it out.” She would later remark as Enid alighted from her vehicle. “I hope you have enough money to get you to your destination.” She quickly added to which Enid replied in the affirmative.

Months ago, a friend had adviced her to always have that extra money, whenever she went out on a date as back up incase things went wrong. Mum had given her 1,000shs. She was sure this would get her back home safely to Nakuru.

“Thank you so much for your help.” Enid thanked the Jamaican and she really meant it. This lady had helped her just by sympathizing enough to even see her off.

“Oh, no worries,” The Jamaican quickly brushed her off with a lovely smile. She was beautiful, so Enid decided, as she walked to the bus stage.

***

KK would try to call her much later when she was already home in Nakuru and Enid would not pick his call. He would try again and again and her response would be the same until he gave up. Eventually, she blocked him on Facebook.

She had learned her lesson.

 

 

 

The Man On Facebook (Part 1)

index

Flamingos Painting  by Michael Lee

The first time Enid went to Nairobi was after an invite from someone, who could as well have been a stranger to her on Facebook. He simply went by the initials KK.

A wealthy man by the look of things on his Social Media activity. But then people lied all the time on Facebook, so Enid wasn’t very sure that what she had been seeing, is what she would get.

She went anyway. Out of a desire for adventure, an illusion that she was in love and curiosity. This was not really the very first time Enid would be in Nairobi. Rather it was the first time she would be in the city by herself.

A 22 year old college student from the dusty town of Nakuru or Nax for short or Nax Vegas, depending on what brought you to the Rift Valley town. The home of flamingoes. She had noticed that those who referred to Nakuru town as Nax Vegas, were mostly revellers who showed up for weekend events from other towns, specifically Nairobi.

Nowadays, the flamingoes had declined significantly in number, on Lake Nakuru, unlike how they had been when Enid was a kid. Plus climate change had messed up things and the levels of water had really risen in recent times, so much that the KWS Offices had been submerged. They had to put up some new structures a bit further from the main gate to the game park. And it was now simply Nakuru County. No longer Rift Valley province and Nakuru town anymore.

If Enid was to talk about her town it would be endless. It was basically the only place she knew having been born and brought up there. She even had that brown discoloration on her teeth. The one synonymous with Nakuru dwellers only that hers was not very conspicuous. You had to really pay attention to her while she spoke to notice the dull streaks of brown on her teeth. Nothing like some garish brown she had seen on some people, thank God.

Enid had been to Nairobi before as a kid but her memory of it was foggy. It was a traditional wedding of someone in the family. Those distant relatives that you could not recognize on the street at first glance but your parents knew them very well. It was somewhere on the outskirts of Nairobi but still Nairobi. She had seen the tall buildings and the people on the street and the hustle and bustle of downtown Nairobi.

Now she would be here on her own. KK had sent her the fare. At least he was a gentleman. But he could afford it.

***

Meeting KK had been interesting. He sent her a friend request. She looked at his photos, could not recognize him from anywhere. As a matter of fact, he appeared significantly older. But there was something about him. How he dressed. How he took his selfies. The people he hang out with on his photos.

She had confirmed the request. That was about 3 months ago. And then the “Do I know you from somewhere?” and “You look familiar” had followed. Gradually, over the 3 months, they had gotten to know each other eventually exchanging numbers.

Then one day, out of the blue, KK had confessed to falling for Enid. She had been taken aback at first. All that time, she had assumed the conversations were purely platonic. And then he had insisted that he wanted to see her and would send her money to come.

So here she was, getting an Uber taxi to Kilimani. Wherever that was. It sounded posh though.

“What is the name of that?” Enid asked the chatty driver, when they got to a curious looking building, overlooking a petrol station.

“Ah, that’s Yaya Center. Been here for years!” The driver readily offered. “Haven’t you been to Nairobi before?” He asked.

“Not as an adult.” Enid revealed.

“And from the way you looked I assumed you lived in the city.” It was the driver’s turn to get surprised. All that time he had been in the car with Enid, they had been talking about mundane things. Nothing to give away the fact that his client was a newbie.

“I’m from Nakuru.” Enid thought it best to clarify.

“Nakuru it is! What have you brought for us from there?” The usual question that city dwellers liked to ask those they assumed were from the village. Enid would have literally rolled her eyes, were it not for an incoming call interrupting them on the driver’s phone.

“Sawa, sawa” He kept repeating over the phone. Then once he had hang up he looked over at Enid on the passenger seat.

“We are almost at your destination.” He mentioned.

For a moment, Enid wondered how the driver knew and if it was KK who had been calling. These Uber things were very different from the bodas and tuk tuks of Nakuru that she was used to. It was KK who had actually gotten the taxi for her, after instructing her to let him know when she approached Westlands.

Enid had to ask the person sitting next to her where Westlands was. Luckily, he was a middle aged man who had spent the better part of the two and a half hour journey, peering into his newspaper pages through his glasses. He was also very helpful. Fatherly even. She had alighted at Westlands, where the Uber taxi had picked her up.

***

The driver eventually pulled up infront of a big black gate. She could make out some huge buildings, with wide balconies in the compound.

“Madam, you have arrived.” He announced.

Enid then alighted, her backpack in tow. It was only a weekend anyway and she had lied to mum that she was visiting a friend in the city.

Mum was never the suspicious type and if dad questioned, she always knew how to shut him down, if she felt he was poking his nose too much into her children’s affairs. After all, Enid had been the poster child. The one who had never had trouble at school. There was nothing to suspect, or was there? Seeing that she was meeting with a man she had never seen in person before.

As she dialled KK’s number to inform him of her arrival, Enid realized that she was trembling. From nervousness or fear or both, she could not tell. How would KK look in person? Would he like the effort she had put in her appearance just to look good for him? The newly braided hair, fitting jeans, stylish top, pedicured toe nails  peeking from the front of her open shoes?

He picked up on the second ring.

“I’m actually at the gate.” He mentioned, before abruptly hanging up. Then immediately after, the gate swung open and out stepped KK in person. He was of medium height, comfortably dressed in a T-shirt, a watch on one of his wrists, a wallet in hand possibly to pay for the Uber services, a phone in the other, track bottoms and sandals. From where she stood, Enid could smell his cologne. It was definitely not cheap.

“Oh, hi dearie?!” He began once he was done with the Uber driver, a huge grin on his handsome face. An awkward side hug followed and Enid literally had to stop herself from showing the disappointment on her face. But what had she expected? A sensual hug out there on the street?! The Kilimani neighborhood surely looked like a well tended street, tarmacked, with the ocassional cars driving past. She also noticed that it was quiet.

Just the ideal place for the wealthy to reside.

“Welcome! Welcome! It’s so nice to see you! You must be tired!” He was rambling as he ushered Enid into the compound. It was now Enid’s opportunity to scan the new environment. A wide parking lot. Two storey houses that looked very spacious even from the outside. Clean, quiet, a pavement covering the entire compound, two vehicles parked at the entrances to what she assumed were the houses of the owners. A security guard lazing about inside his small wooden post by the gate.

Surely, KK must be swimming in money.

She found herself wondering how his house would look like as he led the way, into one of the two storey units, up a flight of stairs. There was a child of about 4 or 5 struggling to get his small bike down the stairs on the upper floor.

He looked like a mix of Black and White with his brown skin tone and a head of curly, blondish hair. Enid decided immediately that he was a cute child and would have readily helped him with his bike, were it not for a harsh voice that suddenly interrupted them.

“No, now is not the time to ride your bike!” A slender woman admonished, appearing at the door. She gave a disinterested look at Enid before stepping out in a maxi dress that hugged her petite figure, barefeet, with long dreadlocks falling over her shoulders.

“What did we say Jason? No bike riding in the evening. Come into the house.” Her voice was now gentler, as Enid followed KK into his apartment.

“Those are my new neighbors.” KK was now saying. “The lady is Jamaican married to a Briton. They moved in just last month.”

“Oh,” A gasp escaped Enid’s throat. Everything about KK sounded so foreign. She had never really felt it in the course of their conversations but now that she was here, she could literally feel it. Back home in Nakuru, it was rare to have foreign neighbors and especially, people who came from far of countries such as Jamaica.

When they said that Nairobi was cosmopolitan, perhaps this is what they meant. Your next door neighbor could just be from anywhere in the world.

There Will Be Better Days

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I remember the day it became evident to us that father could lose his job. He came home from work, packed the company’s land cruiser in its usual spot, walked into the house, not a single word of greeting to us and headed straight to the bedroom.

We had seen this coming although we had held onto hope. Hope that perhaps the real culprits behind the missing funds would be caught and that father would be exonerated.

It was always something to do with money. Money could easily make you lose your job. Money made people decide in an instant that you could not be trusted. And yet money was always being stolen in government offices.

The real culprits would go scot free but there was always that clueless person who would be used as collateral damage. And more so if their signature appeared somewhere. Father would not have escaped this seeing that he handled the company’s funds.

That evening was the last father would come home with the land cruiser. The land cruiser that my siblings and I had grown so used to. The one that always got our classmates green with envy, whenever it picked us up from school or dropped us off at school, on those rare occasions, when father wanted to be the model parent, who ensured his kids got to school safely.

Not that we had trouble getting to school on other days anyway. We used paid transport to and fro. A private van that mother had settled on. So the land cruiser doing what should have been the school van’s job, was actually an added luxury. One that we relished and made sure to rub into our school mates’ faces, how our father was the Head of Accounts in a government owned, procurement company and we were accorded such perks as a result.

That evening would also be the last we would also reside in the company’s spacious 3 bedroom house. I hear father was told by the disciplinary committee handling his case, that he should be thankful they were not taking any legal action. The only things they needed from him was, to surrender the keys to the land cruiser and vacate the company house as soon as possible.

It’s funny, how quickly life can change. Our once neighbors who cheerfully said hi to us now wanted nothing to do with us. They pretended not to be interested in us while we packed our household belongings onto a lorry we had acquired for moving. I’m sure behind their sheer curtains, they could not fathom missing the action playing out before their very own eyes.

In the work environment, there always has to be someone who thoroughly covets your job and I know this was no different in father’s case. One of the wives in the neighborhood, might have been whistling to herself in the kitchen, all the while knowing that her husband, might be the one touted to take over father’s job.

*********

We moved into a modest neighborhood. One we could afford. It was hard for us to adjust. Being the eldest, I could not help wondering what father had been doing with the salary he had been earning at the company all this time. Of course children are not supposed to question their parents, but that still did not keep me from thinking about it.

From a large 3 bedroom house, we were now living in a tiny 1 bedroom house. Things were tight. Most of our household stuff, we were forced to auction, just to fit into this new place. We were lucky that father had been wise enough, to set money aside for our education, up until we finished high school so we could still go to the same school. But the school van was now gone.

We simply could not afford it and matatus suddenly became a necessity. Our school mates who had once undoubtedly, endured torturous moments of us bragging to them about our father’s job, must have surely been having the last laugh.

Mother was a housewife and father was now jobless and we were not sure for how long. Especially with his tainted image. The thing that must have broken father the most was probably, flipping through the back pages of the Daily Nation and chancing on an unmistakable photo of his, stating that he was no longer an employee of the company.

His cellphone rarely rang nowadays. Nobody wanted to be associated with a thief who had stolen from a government company. Sometimes, I could hear father lamenting. He questioned the unfairness of his dismissal, wondered how he could still be struggling if he had indeed stolen the funds and how ungrateful his employers were despite the years of service he had rendered to the company.

Mother only made sympathetic noises on such occasions afraid to say something that might agitate him further. But when she was alone in the kitchen and I crept up slowly, carefully not to alert her of my presence, I could hear her sniffing by the sink, sobbing quietly.

Life can surely deal you the hardest blows. Father had once been a respectable man who drove himself to work, dressed in well ironed suits, dined with top government officials, was trusted with the company’s money and insisted on conversing in English, now reduced to a shadow of his former self, who now resisted the very idea of leaving the house.

It was up to mother to think of how we were going to survive.

********

I remember the day mother met one of those Network Marketers who pitch business opportunity ideas of sorts to you. She came home in the evening, a glint in her eye like she had seen the light. Efforts to get father to join her in this promising venture were fruitless. He seemed disinterested. Eventually, he snapped and left for the bedroom. That is where he always retreated when it was evident he could not deal with the issue at hand.

We were left in the cramped living room, wide mouthed. 3 innocent faces, looking at their mother who was seemingly our only remaining hope. It was the first time father had openly snapped at mother but given the circumstances, nothing really shocked us anymore.

“Don’t worry, there will be better days.” Mother had assured with a smile and we had believed her.

*********

Soon after joining this new business venture, laden with grand opportunities, mother insisted I accompany her to one of the regular meetings they had. She figured that since I would soon be 18, the legal age for registration into the business, there was no reason to keep me in the dark about that which she was now into. After all, if I joined, we could double the income and live even a better life than we once had.

Disobedience has never been my thing so I eventually gave in.

It was on a Saturday afternoon when I was not at school and the room was packed with eager individuals, all with a purpose  to improve their lifestyle. The one presenting was dressed in a suit complete with a tie. I found this odd being a weekend but in the course of the meeting, I would come to the understanding that this is how serious entrepreneurs ought to always be dressed.

If you wanted to become rich, you had to be visionary. In how you dressed, looked and spoke. The presenter spoke of trips abroad, cars and houses owned by those who had attained the highest levels in the business, how the business had transformed him and his family, what opportunities lay ahead, how much we needed to take care of our health…By the time he was done, I was convinced that mother had joined what I considered a fraud.

They were asking for a lot of money for the starter kit. Something I knew in our current financial position, we could not afford. This I tried telling mother after the meeting to which she ordered me to keep my mouth shut. What did I know? I was barely out of school.

Hurt and stunned, I did not say anything else and resisted any additional attempts to get me to attend those crappy meetings in a stuffy, hot room with a projector, showing all these luxuries you could get if you just decided to join the business.

*********

Mother would embark on pressuring father to give her the start up capital for the business. On many occasions, this quickly degenerated into a bitter exchange of words. It was the worst we had seen of our parents and we were quickly getting convinced that they were better off apart.

Eventually, father relented, possibly from the pressure of the ever pushy mother. There was no doubt that she had changed ever since signing up for that crap. Gone was the submissive and patient lady and in was a woman who demanded and pushed. So father possibly to keep the peace, sourced for the money from God knows where and gave it to her.

*********

The next evening, mother came home proudly carrying the starter kit with all kinds of beauty and wellness products. She placed it on the table in the living room and ordered us not to touch it. We did not. Then she headed into the bedroom. None of us went into our parents’ room anyways so when we heard a piercing scream coming from that direction, we instantly knew something must have been amiss.

Our first instinct was to dash in the said direction.

Right there in the middle of the room, father’s lifeless body hung from a noose created out of a bed sheet tied to one of the rafters. And like a log that had just been cut off, mother came crashing down. The sight of her husband who had just committed suicide had caused her to go faint.

*******

It has been 3 years since father passed on. Nobody talks about the business venture. Mother never got to open the start up kit. I don’t know when she will ever open it or if she has the strength to even do it. It remains in a corner of the bedroom gathering dust with each passing day, month and year.

I know she has never forgiven herself for father’s death despite all the counseling she got from the church, family and friends. She now has a job as a clerk in a law firm thanks to her previous secretarial course. It pays a couple of our bills. We still have our struggles but I was lucky to get a scholarship to university. Over the holidays, I work in the campus library for some daily pay.

Many times I think about father and hope that he is finally in a better place. Perhaps it was best for him to leave this world. This world had let him down. His family had let him down too. But I wish he had left with at least a goodbye and a reason why he felt he was better off gone from us. Maybe just maybe, it would have eased this pain in our hearts.