My mother once threw a shoe at my face. It was a nice sneaker, she had bought it for me as a birthday present from town together with the cake, but when she got home, I was nowhere to be found. My friend had invited me to an adventure to the forest, so without the permission of the house help, I disappeared not to be found for the entire Sunday. That day when I came home with a dry skin and filthy clothes from swimming in the river, I saw the freak on my mother’s face, and I could have almost sworn she had been worried sick to the level of tears. She could not even speak to me, she just gave me a blank worried stare and there the shoe came flying to my face. The house help took me to the shower before she threw the other shoe or the cake. The memory I hold on to from that day was her the expression on her face, scared and resigned.
I have a son now. He is seven years old. It is just him and me now; his mother left when he was five. She said something about feeling unfulfilled in her life. That motherhood was not going to be her eternal task. She wanted to travel, discover and build her career. Before she left, she took a piece of my sanity away by dragging me through court hearings with regards to the custody of my son. She said she wanted to keep him and that he would be better with her because I was always working and the judge agreed.
It is a law in Kenya that a child would always be with her mother unless she was not in a position to tend to the child, until the age of eighteen. It is an unfair law, like the hundreds of others we let rule our lives without asking important questions. Our law turns a blind eye on abortion, yet it happens on every corner of the country. The reason is that we are a cultured society that prefers blindness, rather than temporary darkness. For this reason, women will just get rid of a baby in an illicit shed or a shanti, and the father will never be given a chance to determine the fate of what is half his. In the same way, the illegality of the practice makes so many young women do it the wrong way in secrecy and shame, some even permanently harming their bodies. It is not an educated culture if, in its wake, it leaves more bodies and misery like a small massacre.
Initially, I had thought this infatuation would be over eventually, but months passed on, and my house grew cold, uncomfortable and deserted like a summer house in winter. I lay in my bed lifeless night after night with only memories running wild in my mind. There was this painting on the wall, it was not really a painting, but I always thought about it as such. So, one day I am coming from work, and outside the apartment I hear yelling, shouting and what sounded like a fight from inside the house. I stop momentarily, outside the door and I wonder, what could he have done now? My son was barely five years old, it could not be that bad. I walk in and find that he had coloured the living room wall with permanent markers. Half the wall was covered by lines from different colours; it was not even a drawing, it was a painting, an abstract painting. His mother was batshit nuts; she was crying from frustration. She was screaming in a broken voice; I bought you a drawing book, bigger than a table, why would you foul the walls? Ehe? My son, with one of the markers between his lips, would look at her from the top of his eyes, head bent down as if almost apologetic and mischievous at the same time. He was a little man, aware of what he had been doing all along. I knew this because it was all me back then when mother threw a shoe at me. I look at the painting on the wall and make a mental note not to get rid of it, to let it just stay there.
What took me back to the courts was a little bird that had caught wind that my wife was about to travel to Saudi Arabia from a recommendation by a friend. She was going to chase opportunities on another continent. There, my lawyer was able to cook up the hazards of living in Saudi Arabia for a black child and the judge after much convincing, let me have my son back until his mother came back. Even then, my son would have to spend two days each month with his mother’s parents just to make sure that I was feeding and treating him right. That would have to do for now. It would just be my son and me now.
I would make up stories for him as he lay on his bed, there was once a man, he sunk into a hole as he walked home by accident. The hole was deep, and after several attempts, the man realizes that he could not get out, at least not by himself. The person who came by first was an engineer who threw the man some engineering tools in an attempt to save him from the hole, then went on, on his way. The man stuck in the hole could still not get out. The next person to pass by was a teacher, the teacher looks down at the man in the hole and advices him to apply knowledge to the tools and get himself out of the hole, and then he walks away. The man in the hole tries to follow his advice but cannot get himself out of the hole. Third, is a drug dealer. The drug dealer throws the man some pills down the hole to help him forget his problem, and for sure, for two hours, the man forgets his problems and is comfortable until the pills wear off and his mind snaps back. The next person to come over, is a soldier and without a second thought, the soldier jumps into the hole, and when the man demands an explanation, the soldier calmly replies that he had been in that situation before and the only way to get out would be to do it together as a team.
My son would sink into his thoughts and ask me, did they get out of the hole? I would say yes because working as a team always led to success. That he and I would have to work as a team since we were the only ones left. His little lips would draw a smile, and he would fall asleep probably dreaming about being an engineer, a teacher, a drug dealer or a soldier. I would make a mental note to leave the drug dealer part of the story the next time I told it to him.
The last weekend we went to his grandmother’s house as required by the buffoon judge that had made the ruling, I sat on a bench beneath a tree as his grandmother told me how her daughter was suffering in Saudi Arabia. In her last conversation with her, she said that her new husband beats her regularly and yet, she is expectant with his baby. I felt pity. We are always convinced there is more to life such that we never realize the little fine line between happiness and misery.
This takes me back to a time I was reading history about Jameson. One of the founding fathers of the Jameson Irish Whisky, James Jameson, in one of his many expeditions to Africa, bought a ten-year-old African girl for the price of six handkerchiefs so that he could watch her being devoured alive by a tribe of cannibals as she screamed and writhed in pain. He made a drawing of his amusement and later went on to colour it when he got back to his country. It is the same thing that happens in Saudi Arabia when an Arab man sees himself more superior than a black person and treats her with contempt unfit even for a dog. I never understand why the colour of the skin has drawn so many lines in our world. A tweep (Twitter People) once said that the only way we would behave in a united front as humans would be when we faced a ruthless enemy from another planet. Somehow, I agree.
My son will begin asking questions about his mother soon; then I will have to make up another soldier – drug dealer tale as I figure out what to tell him. Eventually, the stories will not cut it, and I will have to tell him that his mother from whom he came from, and whom I once held on my bosom and pledged eternal love, is being humiliated and slapped around because of the colour of her skin. The colour both of us have too.
Ps. The next time you go buying Jameson Whisky for glamour and a perfect evening, stop a while and listen to her wail as the canines pierce her neck and blood, red as crimson squelches out like a broken tap, do you hear that? Do you see the blood when you close your eyes? Do you really want that in your conscious? Now, carry on, Good Evening.
Feature Image from FineArtAmerica, a painting by Henry Gerson.