15.

African American Art Print Poster by Artist Sarah Jenkins

There is no doubt that religion has always puzzled me.

In the village, it was only Priscilla and I who used to attend service. Neither of our parents went to church. But we went all the same because we assumed it was the right thing to do. It also gave us a valid reason to avoid house chores for a few hours on Sunday mornings.

And if we did not feel like doing any in the afternoon, we could always lie that a church member had sent us on an errand after service. In truth, we would be lazing about by the stream, catching up with some of our other friends who might have also told the same lie, who knows.

Soon after father’s death, I once gathered enough courage to ask mother why she never went to church and her answer was curt.

“What will church help me with?! ” She had posed in response.

I knew mother was still grieving. Even if she never said it, I could see it in her eyes when she sat next to the fire most evenings after our meal, staring into nothing. No tears. Just stony eyes which ironically, spoke volumes. Our only response was to lay down our mats and go to sleep. We never knew just how long she sat there by the fire alone. In the mornings, she was always bright and early, a complete opposite from her previous solemn self.

Mother never forbade us from going to church though. On rare occasions, my siblings would also join me and Priscilla for service. Priscilla is the last born in her family so it was mostly her.

The village pastor was as dramatic as they come. He spoke of hell fire in such a threatening manner, we were left convinced that we would not escape it, as long as we did not repent and accept Jesus. He would bob around the makeshift pulpit condemning witchcraft, fornication, polygamy and all those ills associated with the devil. It was like this every Sunday. Sermons on just how real, hell fire was.

Some villagers attributed the pastor’s demeanor to the fact that, he still held it against his congregants, for failing to raise enough money to build a better church. Others thought he was truly called by God judging by a particular story about him making the rounds.The rest who avoided his church altogether, were simply not willing to give up their traditions at the prompting of a strange, short man or they saw no need to change, what they considered the norm in their lives. I believe our parents fell into this latter category.

The story that congregants of the church loved to narrate as proof of the pastor’s calling, was of one family which had been having trouble sleeping at night for a lengthy period. Every time they retired to bed, strange noises would be heard coming from the roof. As a last resort, they called the village pastor who held a powerful prayer session in the home. That would be the last of the bizarre occurrence.

If he could pray successfully against evil forces, then he was truly after God’s own heart, so they concluded.  I like to think of me and Priscilla as spectators and not very much interested in proving the credibility or none, of the pastor’s.

Here in the city, church is very different. There is a large parking lot where people park all types of cars. The church is built of stone, very spacious and aerated with overhead screens and an assortment of musical instruments for the choir and praise and worship team.

The pastors are always impeccably dressed. Their wives well put together. I’m sure if our village pastor came here, he would instantly feel out of place with his disheveled appearance and simple bicycle. The pastors here are all driving such wonderful cars. The sermons equally vary. It is not always the same thing being preached.

On Sundays, Mama Ken in her beautiful African inspired outfits will sit on the pew, next to her husband, nodding at everything the pastor says. Ken will be fidgety and would go out before service ends. Angie would have that bored look on her face. She will also eventually find an excuse to go out.

Here, it is seemingly allowed to wear trousers to church. In the village, wearing trousers as a female is highly frowned upon. The gossipy village women would not hesitate in calling you out on it. Your peers will alienate you for being openly brazen in your dressing. Your father would probably beat the living daylights out of you for bringing shame to the family.

Being the help, I’m expected to sit through the whole service. Many times, I do not really understand what is being preached. The pastor speaks in that twang’ that is very similar to Angie’s. I would rather be home sleeping after working for 6 days straight. But I know that is just but a pipe dream. Not in Mama Ken’s house. I have to be in church with them every Sunday whether I’m up to it or not.

At the end of the service, she would then gladly introduce me to her church friends as her help. She will act like she is so grateful to have me, although I suspect the real reason behind her introductions and her insistence that I attend service with them, is just to prove how Godly she is to her friends. Her church friends will in turn smile in awe, their carefully applied lipsticks glinting in the sun.

They will question why she never showed up at the cell group meeting last Sunday for her residential area, to which she will openly lie that she had to work in the afternoon. I will be there, standing in the shadows, trying to look invisible for I know that Sunday afternoons are reserved for outings in Mama Ken’s house. The ones I’m hardly included in. Never for boring church cell group meetings.

 

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14.

Well seasoned banter. African Art courtesy of Pinterest

With the troubles back home preoccupying my mind, it is such a welcome relief that Abel is finally leaving the house. Angie mentioned that he will now be staying at the University hostels. Finally, I can be more comfortable. It has been such a struggle for me, working in this very same house, where a young man imagined how easy it would be to pounce on me. It has really made me question the male motive. I would rather carry on being a virgin than give in to such kinds of advances from the opposite sex.

Being 19, a lot of adult things do not make much sense to me. It is almost like being in a fog. You know that you are supposed to act like a grown up but the whole idea of being grown up is still not very clear. I wonder if my friend Priscilla goes through this too. But I have always known her as one who takes life easy. Even when teachers were openly ridiculing her at school for not performing, she took it in her stride. She never showed that she was affected by it up until the time she quit school.

Priscilla’s husband recently bought her a phone and the first thing she did was rush to mother’s and request for my number. When she called me, she sounded very excited just to get a hold of me. I asked about the baby and she said he was doing fine only that he kept her awake most nights. She equally mentioned that it was unfortunate that someone was malicious enough to steal from us.

We still do not know who took the coop and the chicken. I doubt we ever will. And then Priscilla’s credit finished. I could not call her back. I haven’t yet received my salary. The little extra I had, I sent it to mother the day she told me about the theft. Mama Ken is not the kind of employer whom you can ask for an advance. I can tell that she is very glad that Abel is leaving the house. More so because she thought me and Abel were up to no good. I wish she knew that I have always felt harassed with Abel around me.

But I should not expect anyone to understand me around here. I have since learned that adulthood entails handling some of your problems by yourself, the best way you know how to. By now you would have thought I would have been accepted in this house, but that is not the case. I am an outsider and will always be in this house. As a matter of fact, I ought to be grateful for the free lodging and food. Sometimes, when Mama Ken is really angry with me, she likes mentioning how she has provided me with a place to lay my head and food. I take it to imply that I’m the one who needs her not she who needs me although I’m very tempted to doubt this fact sometimes.

The thing with these urban dwellers is that they expect their domestic workers to always feel indebted to them, the same way uncle expects mother to feel indebted to him for getting me a job in Nairobi. They also have this weird attachment to food. An employer can lock up all the foodstuffs in the house when they are out, for some crazy reason that the help will spend the rest of the day binge eating, if the food is left out in the open.

They like to treat us as if we are greedy hyenas who cannot control our appetites. I keep hearing them giving the excuse that food is expensive yet they still get to stock up on all these luxury foods that us villagers have never even heard of. Sometimes we only eat what we are not supposed to out of innocent curiosity.

Koki, Mama Brian’s help from next door told me that when her employer is out, she makes sure that she has eaten to her fill whatever food is available. On some occasions, she also finishes up Mueni’s food, the 2 year old last born daughter of her employer’s, when the child won’t eat. I asked her why she does so and she disclosed that Mama Brian is very stingy with her food. She rarely gets full during supper. The woman’s eyes are always on her, to see how much she has served on her plate.

I did not tell her that I have my meals in the kitchen  where I have easy access to second helpings without my employer’s knowledge. Mama Ken barred me from the dinner table very early on. It bothered me for a while why they excluded me from the table until I realized just how much never ending house chores made you hungry. Now I can always choose the kitchen over the dinner table where nobody is monitoring my food intake. The employers can carry on calling it greedy, but we house helps know it is the only way we can keep our energies up, to effectively run their houses.

I know Koki always has these questions and stories for me because she likes to compare notes being way newer in the court than me. This is why I often times withhold information from her. You just never know whose ears the news would land on and I like to pretend that, I do not engage with the other house helps as per my employer’s instructions.

 

13.

“Yellow Chicken” by Franceska Schifrin

Some people seem to delight in the misery of others. That is the only explanation I can give to this occurrence.

Mother called me today morning. She said that when they went to sleep the previous night, all 4 chicken were in the coop. When they woke up in the morning, the chicken and the coop were missing. I can’t even begin to put to words just how annoyed I am. Who would do such a thing?!

Mother suspects some young men who idle in the village. They are rumored to engage in petty criminal activities but nobody seems to produce enough evidence to incriminate them. I’m sure whoever stole the chicken will fetch a good price for them at the shopping center.

Then they will pass by our homestead later on, pretending to be concerned while gloating secretly at the misery of mother. Or they will completely avoid the homestead, until when they are completely sure that their crime has been forgotten and therefore, gone unpunished. The nerve of brazen thieves! This however, is not the only problem that mother has to deal with. The other problem is uncle.

For some reason, uncle’s village wife and 3 children have been having frequent meals in mother’s house and sometimes, demand money for their various needs from her. So far, mother has put up with it since uncle makes her feel indebted to him for getting me a job in the city.

I still do not understand why mother kept this particular piece of information from me when I was home visiting. I did not see any of my cousins nor aunt near the homestead the whole duration. But as soon as they were sure I was gone, they must have resumed their previous bad habits.

I’m beginning to lose all respect for uncle. I told mother this to which she made me promise not to say anything to uncle. My mother does not like ruffling feathers. Besides, it is disrespectful for a younger one to question an older one. In a way, I feel sorry for uncle’s village wife. She has no idea that uncle has an additional wife in the city who recently gave birth to uncle’s child.

But that is no excuse for uncle to make mother feed and cater for his other family’s needs! And especially now that the chicken have been stolen and mother has lost another source of income. She used to sell those eggs that the chicken laid to her immediate neighbors. Perhaps it is uncle who gave instructions to his children to carry out the theft. I would not be surprised. Jealousy can turn anyone into a monster.

I have always thought that uncle meant well but it seems I was wrong. We did not ask him to get me a job in Nairobi. The whole idea was his. So to make mother feel indebted to him is wrong. Had I stayed in the village, I’m sure I would have found other means to help mother financially. I can make hair. I would have definitely plaited the village girls’ hair and made some money.

Meanwhile, Abel has kept his distance. After that incident from a few days back, I am still fearful of him. Today morning, he left in the company of Baba Ken. Something to do with admission at the university. Sometimes, I cannot help but question what such uncouth people are going to do there.

University is where the privileged in society go to acquire degrees and get good jobs so that they can be able to drive good cars and live in big houses in nice environments such as this one. I guess that pretty much answers my question. Abel is uncouth, but definitely privileged.

I have not shared with anyone what Abel tried to do to me. Not even with the ever inquisitive help next door. The one that Mama Brian replaced Jesca with who always wants to talk whenever she spots me outside. That girl can ask a million questions in a very short time period. If I am stupid enough to say anything about Abel to her, I bet the whole court will know within no time.

But Abel is the least of my worries as long as he does not get near me. I’m more worried about mother. Maybe she should get a dog. We used to have one in the past but our youngest is very scared of dogs. For her sake, father gave out the dog. It is times like these when I wish father was still with us. Nobody would be pestering mother. But they keep doing it knowing there is nobody to defend her.

 

 

 

 

A Request To Beta-Readers

Google Images

Firstly, let me state that we value your honest feedback as published and unpublished writers.

Beta-readers according to the definition on Wikipedia, are non-professional readers who read written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling, as well as suggestions to improve the story, its characters or its setting.

One of my good friends happens to also be my beta-reader. As a book enthusiast who reads a lot and specifically enjoys African fiction, she has gladly read each one of my manuscripts this year, that I have requested her to read and offered her feedback at the end.

As an unpublished writer, I sometimes cannot help second guessing myself. I also must admit that negative feedback concerning my written work is usually the hardest to take. And yet I’m the kind of writer who has on certain occasions, requested someone I was not well acquainted with, to read my work. There is always that hope that they may like what they read and offer tons of praise and encouragement, right? Wrong.

On most occasions, when I have asked this particular category of people to read my work, their feedback has been_Um_ not necessarily positive or just a tad bit positive. I am human and to hear someone I have requested to read my written work, who seems conversant with literary stuff, tear down my writing, only serves to heighten my insecurities. I find myself wondering whether the feedback would have been different, had they known me better, perhaps as a friend or a published writer. But then it is not always a guarantee for people who know you very well, to always have positive things to say about you.

My mum used to be one of my initial beta-readers. Mum does not have a background in writing but since at the time, I was just starting to come out of my shell as a writer, she was generally the closest person I could somehow trust with my work. Mum has witnessed some of my moments of disappointment in writing. She has seen me being taken round by Editors when I was trying, albeit unsuccessfully to get into Print Media as a columnist. She has offered her advice, her encouragement and blessing concerning my writing.

Funnily enough, every time I shared my manuscripts with mum, she would always have an issue with the names of my characters. It would start from sentence one. That was basically her only critique which I rarely agreed with simply because, it never made sense why she wanted me to change the names I had chosen carefully, for my characters. And in as much as mothers mean well, I realized soon enough that I needed a beta-reader, who would delve deeper into my written work and offer more solid feedback, rather than quickly pointing out that they did not like majority of the characters’ names. I ceased sharing my manuscripts with her, although I would gladly share my published books with her someday.

The title of my post happens to be a request to beta-readers and with good reason. I understand that many times you have our best interests at heart. You would really like us to improve our writing and plots. But as a writer who has experienced beta-readers bashing her work in the past, I would suggest that you purpose to always start with the positive feedback, before you get to the negative feedback. Also, drop the comparisons. The worst thing you can ever do to an upcoming writer requesting your feedback, is to compare him or her with an established writer. I personally believe that every single writer has a different writing style. We can never be the same in our prose delivery.

The common mistake that some (or many, depending on individual experience) beta-readers make is the constant desire to quickly point out the mistakes. Not only does this crush the writer, but equally makes him or her believe that all their efforts have amounted to nothing, if the number of mistakes in their work are that glaring to readers. So much that when the positive feedback follows, it hardly sounds genuine enough. More like a consolation for the otherwise crappy piece of work, they have slaved away to come up with. Writing is not easy, I kid you not.

And I’m sorry to say this, but I bet there are many aspiring writers who have given up, after receiving feedback from a beta-reader delivered in this manner. Understand that it takes a lot of courage for any writer to share their work with someone else. Our writings happen to be some of our deepest thought processes. Therefore, the best way would be to first mention the positives, no matter how little before you proceed to what you think needs to be changed. The message it passes to the writer is that, you appreciated their efforts in seeking opinion from you in the first place and are well meaning, on the aspects you would like them to change or improve on. Remember, even the writers with the most mistakes in their work, have a potential to improve their written work.

What have your personal experiences been with beta-readers? Did you consider their feedback constructive? Has a beta-reader ever crushed your spirit and how did you get back up? I would love to hear all about your experiences in the comment section 🙂

 

12.

A painting depicting fear. Google Images

What is this?

Is this how attraction is supposed to be?

Is this how a man communicates his desires to a woman?

“You know I want you. I have wanted you from the very first day I saw you and I know you want me too.” Abel confessed a while back. He had suddenly grabbed me by the waist and declined to let go even though I struggled to get out of his grip. The bulge in his trousers was obvious. I could feel it on my behind and I was scared.

Avoiding Abel is becoming impossible by the day. The fact that it is always me and him in the house at daytime, makes things even worse. Mama Ken has already given me the lecture.

“Do not play innocent with me Coretta. I know there’s something between you and Abel.” She accused. “I hope you realize that Abel is my husband’s nephew and whatever is happening with the both of you will not work.”

Nothing has happened. I do not understand why Mama Ken is always on my case. I am not the one who brought Abel to the house. If she did not like the whole idea of it, she should have just communicated her displeasure to her husband.

But Baba Ken can be firm. He has this way of shutting down his wife. I have witnessed it before. On those rare occasions, I see a meek side of Mama Ken come out.

This is the first time that Abel has initiated contact. It caught me off guard. Here I was, cleaning the surfaces in the living room and suddenly, male hands were on my waist. All those other times that he got near me, it was only to make me uncomfortable or to whisper things into my ear. He never placed his hands on me.

That I have tolerated. Even secretly liked it. This however, I could not tolerate. It felt inappropriate. Like I had no right to my own body.

“I don’t want you!” I announced angrily, trying unsuccessfully to push him off me.

“You all pretend that you don’t but you do!” Abel retorted, now pressing his body into mine. This is how I could make out the bulge. The disgusting prick! I decided then that I did not want this to happen. Whatever it was that he intended to happen.

“Let go or else I will report you to your aunt!” At the mention of his aunt, he suddenly got his hands off me.

Terrified by the whole ordeal, I fled to my room and shut the door. If I had a key I would have as well locked the door but Mama Ken has denied me one. She once stated that there was no need for me to have one.

But I suspect that the real reason for denying me a key was to make it easier for her to inspect the room without my knowledge. My mother did not raise a thief so I have nothing to hide! But at that moment, for protection purposes, I pushed the bed to jam the door.

“Coretta!” Abel’s voice startled me seconds later, through the jammed door.

“Coretta!” It sounded urgent.

“What do you want?!” I demanded, still terrified. I was literally shaking.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to treat you in such a manner nor scare you.” I was not too sure if he was being sincere. No matter how much he begged, nothing would make me push the bed away from the door.

“I understand that you are just doing your job and I should respect that but sometimes, I can’t help myself. You are too beautiful and I like you…” Whatever was he rambling about?

I did not respond.

“Coretta, say something!” He pleaded.

I said nothing.

It then dawned on me that as long as Abel is in this house, I am not safe. Being the help puts me in a very vulnerable position. It’s not that situations such as these are uncommon. I have seen it happen in this very same court that my employer resides in. Husbands preying on hapless house helps and sometimes getting them pregnant in the process.

In my case, it was the nephew to the husband constantly harassing me. But I have now had it! Since Mama Ken never believes me, the next time Abel tries the same, I shall make good on my threat and instead of reporting him to his aunt, report him instead to his uncle. I know Baba Ken is more reasonable than that wife of his.

 

11.

Young man portrait painting by eydii …

There’s a new occupant in Mama Ken’s house.

His name is Abel.

It is pretty obvious that Abel won’t be staying with us for long. He is Baba Ken’s nephew who came when I was away in the village. He is waiting to join University in May but I can already tell that Mama Ken does not want him around.

If I previously thought that Ken was bad news, Abel seems worse. You can just tell from looking at him. When I arrived from the village and found him at the house, he gave me one of those looks. Those looks that communicate a lot without words. Those looks that immediately warned me that I ought to be careful around Abel. But yet sometimes I can’t help being curious about him.

Unlike her own children who dump their dirty clothes in the laundry basket outside the downstairs bathroom door, Mama Ken makes Abel launder his own clothes. He does it, albeit reluctantly. She also warned him about his habit of watching movies the entire day.

This particular warning, Abel seems to ignore. He still watches the movies whenever my employer is out and wears those jeans of his in the house. The ones with large holes at the knees. In my village, wearing tattered clothes exposes the poverty that has afflicted your family. In the city, wearing jeans that have holes in them seems to be cool.

I have so far done my best to avoid being around Abel but without much success. The young man always seems to find an excuse to get near me. Like the other day when I was washing utensils by the sink, Abel must have crept up quietly behind me. I was only made aware of his presence when he whispered, very close to my ear, “You are beautiful.”

I swear I could have died from shock. But the young man seemed unfazed by my reaction to his gimmick. With a naughty grin on his face, he proceeded to dump his dirty plate in the sink. My heart was beating wildly in my chest. I am not sure whether it was only from shock but also from delight at having a man show that much interest in me.

You see, I recently turned 19 a few days after my return from the village. In a way, I feel like I have not experienced as much as my friend Priscilla has. It is not that I want a baby. I do not feel ready for one at the moment plus I do not have a husband. But I must admit that I harbor a curiosity for many things. And especially a curiosity about love and how it feels to be loved by a man.

Something however tells me that Abel is not sincere. Every time he tries to get close to me and succeeds, I experience mixed feelings. One is a bad feeling that he is up to no good and the other is a somewhat good feeling that he is paying attention to me. A mere househelp.

Mama Ken must have noticed this. Whenever she is home from work, I can tell that she is watching both Abel and I like a hawk. After Ken’s incident, I feel like whatever little trust my employer had in me previously has significantly diminished.

I have always valued my job no matter how tough it sometimes got. And especially after seeing how much my being employed has helped mother in the village, I value it even more.

Honestly, I am not sure if I will be very successful in avoiding Abel but for the sake of my job, I will try.

The Merchant Of Venice As A Once Upon A Time Set Book In Kenya

Mislike me not for my complexion, the barnished livery of the sun…

This is a line from the Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, a set book I did in my last year of high school, which pretty much made no sense to me. I hated reading that book and for the mere reason that the English was a handful. There is no doubt that William Shakespeare is one of the greatest writers to have ever lived but I question the relevancy of his work to an East African setting.

I bet many who read the book, can agree with me that they could not really relate to it as much as they did to Half a Day, an additional set book which was a collection of short stories, from the African continent. Specifically from North Eastern and Eastern Africa. Whoever settled on the Merchant of Venice, for our last year of Secondary School Literature study must have been quite ambitious. We really struggled with that book.

You can imagine an East African student born and raised in an East African environment, trying to decipher the hidden meanings behind a 16th century play written in the English of that time. And while some sections of the book made for some good comic relief, like the aforementioned line which always got us giggling, as it referred to a Moroccan Prince whose skin, we assumed from the description looked like ours, a greater majority of the book was simply gibberish.

It did little to make us appreciate the literary prowess of our own African writers, whose books would have been a worthier choice for Literature study. As a matter of fact, my copy of the Merchant of Venice is still gathering dust in my metallic box, the one I used in high school.

 

Domestic Pains: Diary of a Househelp, my serialized novel, resumes in the next post.

10.

llustration original fat chalk pregnant African woman style tribal Iemanjá – @Arkane

My best friend was beside herself with joy when I eventually gave her a surprise visit.

“When did you come?!” She demanded excitedly, offering me a seat outside her house and two ripe bananas to eat.

‘Wednesday morning.” I revealed, equally excited to see her after such a long time.

“You mean you have been here 4 days already and I didn’t know about it!” She feigned offense.

“But at least I showed up eventually!” I reminded with a laugh.

It is indeed true that Priscilla is heavily pregnant. Pregnancy has made her add a lot of weight. Her face even looks swollen and the stomach is so large now, you might think she is carrying twins.

“You went to the city and forgot all about us in the village.” She proceeded to accuse.

I knew she did not mean it. People in the village spoke like that to anyone who had been to the city. It was more of a figure of speech with a light touch.

“I did not forget all about you. I wouldn’t.” I chuckled.

Priscilla sat on a low seat directly opposite me, rubbing her stomach every once in a while.

“I tell you, pregnancy is tough. I cannot wait to have this baby.” She suddenly mentioned out of the blue. This was my cue to question her about her husband. To which Priscilla laughed and revealed that they had been dating secretly even before I left the village.

“Why didn’t you tell me?!” I interrogated.

“It was supposed to be a secret, remember?” Priscilla was amused.

“But just how did you manage to get that shy guy to date you?” I insisted.

“See what Nairobi has done to you. You now call young men guy” Priscilla quickly pointed out.

I could not help it. Being around Ken and Angie must have had some significant effect on me. But I was still curious.

“So how?” I pushed.

“Let’s just say he’s not as shy as he looks.” Priscilla replied coyly.

“And were you two doing it while dating?” Before I could hold my tongue, the question had already tumbled out. There is no doubt that being still a virgin, I am somehow curious about what exactly a man and woman do together.

“Doing?” There was a sudden look of confusion on my friend’s face and I immediately regretted asking my careless question.

“Oh, forget I asked.” I tried to quickly brush it aside.

“I know what you mean.” Much to my surprise, Priscilla said with a reassuring smile. I swear I could have died from embarrassment then. Even my armpits suddenly felt damp with sweat.

“Just so you know, we were doing it.” She added cheekily. My eyes grew large.

“You were?!”

Who would have thought that Priscilla would have been engaging in that which married couples engaged in? We used to attend the village church most Sundays where the Pastor, a man of short stature, with a hoarse voice and a penchant for dull colored frayed suits, would constantly remind us of how fornication, would give us a direct ticket to hell.

Since none of our parents had the guts to talk to us about sexual activity, the Pastor’s sermons, most;y delivered in a fiery manner, were just about all the sex education we could get. And although we knew that his warnings often fell on deaf ears, seeing the ever increasing number of pregnant, unmarried village girls, we chose to refrain from that which would annoy God.

But judging from Priscilla’s revelation, I must have been the only one who adhered to the Pastor’s teachings.

“Yes. The first time we did it, I ceased to be a virgin. The second time we did it, this is the outcome.” Priscilla now disclosed, pointing to her stomach. I could not help being all the more curious at that moment.

“How is it?” I asked.

“Ah, it’s just a man panting over you for a couple of minutes and then he’s done.” It was Priscilla’s turn to get embarrassed.

“Didn’t you like it?” I was genuinely concerned.

“The first time I didn’t, but once I got used to it, it was okay.”

“Do you mean to tell me that you two were doing it while…” I made a motion of a large stomach with my hand, to mean pregnant.

“In the early stages of the pregnancy, yes.You don’t know these men Coretta. Sometimes they want it all the time and if you deny them, there are others who will willingly give it to them. But hey, the act is better explained when you experience it yourself.” Priscilla quickly explained.

“I’m even surprised that you haven’t bagged yourself a city boyfriend yet. I hear they give you girls money unlike here…” She added teasingly.

“It’s a bit hard to date when you have a strict employer like mine. Plus I haven’t really taken a fancy to anyone yet.” I informed.

I would then proceed to tell Priscilla about Mama Ken and her family. How she had once worked in an aeroplane and lived in a house with an upper and lower floor in a beautiful, middle class estate in Nairobi. I even told Priscilla  about Ken’s escapades with the girl he used to bring to the house. And about Jesca who had quit and the one who had replaced her. All the while, my friend seemed deeply intrigued almost like she could not believe my good fortune at getting to experience all this.

Indeed, I was happy to catch up with my friend. These are some of the things I occasionally missed about my old life.

* * * * *

Just before I left for Nairobi, Priscilla delivered a healthy baby boy. He had so much black, curly hair that literally covered half of his forehead and such tiny, chubby limbs. She named him Mathias, after her father-in-law.

I know for a fact that I will miss everyone in the village terribly. But duty calls and I have to return to the city. And so now, I’m occupying my seat in the bus headed to Nairobi, waiting for it to fill up.

9.

House Of Wonders Painting – Forodhani-zanzibar by Juma Hassan

The village never changes.

It is us who have been away in the city who change.

There is no doubt that I have changed.

I have been here only 2 days and some things which appeared normal to me, slightly over a year ago before I left, now look absurd to me. Take today morning, for example.

I caught two of my siblings walking out barefeet and can you imagine I scolded them. I even went as far as demanding to know where they had kept the sandals I had brought for them from the city. Before, that would not have been an issue to me. I also used to sometimes walk around the homestead barefoot.

But the city has a way of changing someone. I am not sure whether it is a good or bad thing. The looks on my siblings’ faces told me straight away that they were wondering who I was at that moment. I didn’t seem like the sister they knew previously.

Mother mentioned that I have added weight when I arrived. I know I have. I cannot even fit in some of the clothes I went to the city with. But I like how I look. I even feel more feminine. Like a grown woman now not a young 18 year old girl.

Mama Ken gave me a two week leave from work. I wish she had extended that period, but I know she cannot do without me, picking up after her house occupants.

Since it is the April holiday season, Mama Ken’s family will be traveling to Zanzibar for a week. I heard her tell her children that they have been to Mombasa so many times already. Zanzibar would make for a good change.

I only have a slight idea where Zanzibar is. Somewhere outside of Kenya.

Last year, I did not come home for Christmas. This year too, it seems I will also miss Christmas in the village. I doubt if Mama Ken can give me two leave periods in a single year.

You know, I complained about this to uncle at the bus stage as I was about to board a bus to the village, but he silenced me. This is unfair. Even uncle’s boss lets him travel home for Christmas. Why not me? This I asked uncle to which he accused me of “beginning to grow horns”. The term they use to describe a child who is getting spoilt or a wife who is suddenly changing for the worst.

I kept quiet.

However, I’m growing increasingly tired of not saying anything. It is not like I’m mute or something. I also have opinions. Why is it that uncle is the one who always gets to have the last say in my affairs?

I wanted to complain about this last fact to mother, but could not form the words to, when she showed me the developments, the money I send home has helped her do. We now even have a wooden chicken coop, 3 hens that regularly lay eggs and a big cock, all thanks to the money. Mother says that, she no longer has to work in other people’s farms and that my being in the city, has transformed into a huge blessing.

I am glad that mother feels this way. I have been a witness to her struggle after father’s death. I am also happy that my brother, the one who follows me, is also in the process of getting a secondary school education. In a year’s time, he has grown very tall, I was surprised. Nowadays, he repairs bicycles over the school holidays and gets paid for it. My other siblings are equally doing well. At least my brother and I have eased mother’s burden.

It is Priscilla, my best friend, whom I have not yet seen. I hear she is heavily pregnant now and will get a baby anytime soon. I want to pay her a visit and congratulate her in person. Mother promised to show me where she now lives with her husband.

Can you believe Priscilla married the Carpenter’s apprentice?! Who would have thought that these two had eyes for each other? The young man could barely look Priscilla and I in the eye whenever we visited the shopping center. Priscilla must tell me how he gathered enough courage to even propose to her.

8.

african american art – Cute Couple (Pinterest)

Nothing prepares a parent for the realization that their child could be sexually active.

Certainly, nothing had prepared Mama Ken for the day she bumped into her teenage son’s girlfriend coming down the stairs from her son’s room.

I have never seen my employer react with as much disbelief as she did that Saturday.

Instead of admonishing her son for bringing a girl to the house, she ended up threatening to report the girl to her parents.

“Why didn’t you tell me that girl has been coming to my house to see Ken?!” Mama Ken would then proceed to direct her fury to me.

I knew this would happen. The house help gets all the blame for the misdeeds of her employer’s children.

 

Even if Angie had known about it, I doubt Mama Ken would have berated her for it. Angie has been attending Saturday tuition sessions in the neighborhood for as far back as I can remember. It is because that girl is always preoccupied with her phone no wonder she needs extra coaching on school work.

But I cannot tell my employer this. It is simply none of my business.

“I did not know about it Mama Ken.” I lied, all the while hoping I sounded convincing.

‘How can you not know about it yet you are always here in the house?!” It was obvious that Mama Ken was not convinced.

“Do you realize that girl can end up pregnant?! What will happen then?!”

I nearly mentioned that she should be telling her son that. Not me. But I held my tongue.

“Anything that happens in my house under your watch, I need to be told!” Mama Ken was firm.

“And I don’t even know when you transformed into such an expert liar Coretta. I have always known you to be an honest girl.”

An unexpected praise from my employer although delivered in a stern manner.

“I am not lying Mama Ken.” I mumbled, averting my gaze.

“And go change into something decent! That top you are wearing is too tight!” Mama Ken suddenly ordered.

My face subsequently grew hot from embarrassment.

I had recently got my monthly salary and after sending the amount I usually send home, decided to upgrade my dressing. I ended up buying a couple of fitting tops and thought I looked nice in them by the way. But I must admit that I had not thought about the reaction from my employer, once she realized I now dress differently. And it was certainly not good.

Her mouth had now curved into a disgusted sneer.

“I hope you realize that there are men in this house. I will not have you dress in such a kind of manner!” She added harshly.

Retreating to my room, I was suddenly surprised that my eyes were wet with tears.

Mama Ken has never pretended to be particularly nice to me in the past. I have had to put up with her irritability and her need to constantly remind me of my place in her house. But implying that I was trying to get the attention of her son or husband with my dressing, had crossed the line and had indeed stung.

As I peeled off the “offending” top from my body, I let the tears flow freely. Tears of anger for having to work for someone else and follow all their rules. Rules that governed even how I chose to dress. Right then, I hated being a house help living in Mama Ken’s house.

Later on, when nobody was about and I was busy getting the dry clothes from the dry lines, Ken approached me rather meekly.

“Coretta,” He called.

“I’m sorry I got you into trouble today.” He mumbled apologetically.

Still brooding over my employer’s earlier actions, I only nodded.