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.
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