Month: September 2017

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.

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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.