Fiction

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

African American Art Posters-Pinterest

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.