Fatherhood

 

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.

 

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Rape

 

 

I am sure you have previously heard stories from grown-up women like me speaking about rape. Mostly we lie. Make it sound like we fell on our backs and our knees trembled in fear the second it happened. Nobody ever speaks about the fight we put up before these marauders let themselves unceremoniously into our thighs. Truth is I remember being scared stiff barely able to hear my voice above the sound of my heartbeat. Mostly I remember the aftermath of the whole unpleasant ordeal, my heart contracting with indefinable fear, and I lay there motionless, looking at everything but nothing. I remember hiding in my bed with my head deep under the sheets, and it was then that I heard her speak in an interview on the television. That voice, assertive and sure taking my fear, unit at a time and turning it into a fighting spirit. She was a rape victim and had survived the worst. She was a prominent American figure, and she spoke so fiercely, and for the first time, I shed tears, not in weakness or in memory of his spiteful breath panting on and on at the nape of my neck. They were tears of jubilation, tears of conviction that made the memories fade, tears of strength. I now knew that I did not have to hide, I now knew that a rape victim could speak out and have people listen to her.

 

 
While it is said that a beautiful day begins in the morning, I can recollect that regrettable fateful day starting like any other day. It was graduation, and with our smiles, the class of 2015 tagged along with their gladness with feelings of accomplishment and raw expectations. The joy of a graceful end to four tiresome years. The Vice-Chancellor declared us graduates at the graduation square, and we threw our hats in the air ready to be productive citizens of the nation. To cement the memory of this day, I took all kinds of photos with family and fellow graduates before we excused ourselves for a final class BBQ party in the evening.

 

 

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Alien

 

 

There are times I have taken a matatu and sat next to a stranger. A big man with broad shoulders and even a bigger smile. A man with an atmosphere of graciousness all around him. A man who looks like he plays part-time Santa Claus in December. A man who would be readily adored by kids. Just about when we are making a turn at Laikipia University on a journey from Nakuru to Nyeri, he turns to me, and I look away from my phone reluctantly. Then he exclaims about the school and how he studied there forty-seven years ago when it was just a kindergarten. When the entire region was a forest, and the number of trees doubled the number of people. In a half-baked attempt to be nice I put on a fake smile like the joker in Batman. I nod my head to show concession on how much it has changed. Then I stick my face back to my phone screen and plug in my earphones deep in my ears to avoid any more conversation.

 

 

Other times at the highlight of my melancholy I have cried in the bathroom. Days I have had my heart contract in indefinable fear of the future. When reality has unravelled before my eyes, and I have reluctantly plunged into depression. I have had a long shower and let my tears join the trickling bath water. These have been times when I have been engulfed in a loneliness so vivid that everything thing inside me has held, yet the insistent throb of my heart has pounded with both fists like a revenge mission. Tears just flowed and left a glum to sign off the fact that I could not be with the people I loved.

 

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Monday 8am

 

 

The first day is always the toughest. It is usually a Monday at exactly 8 am. You walk into gawky stares from people who seem like they have nothing better to do with themselves. Judgemental looks that feel as if there are tearing you apart limb by limb trying to decide whether they like you or not. The looks that make you feel as if a person’s competence nowadays is judged by their outward look. Like you walked into a nasty gossip about you.  You get stuck within the first few weeks trying to come up with what it is with you that is not likeable. You flash back your whole life in scenes trying to remember a time when people did not like you and the reason they did not.

 

 

It comes to you eventually, that one time in your class back in Primary School when the teachers and students all, kind of, hated you. Not for any particular reason really, at least not of your own doing, but because of your father, he owned the school. Teachers were stuck in between acting friendly to you and still being fair to all other pupils and your schoolmates loathed how you were always favoured. And this had made the space in your life shrink to a cold, pale discomfort like a vacation house in winter. You had to be transferred to another school, the one that your father did not own and truly, you discovered that the special benefits you used to have were no more. Regardless, you liked it.

 

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Damien

 

 

Moved to Nairobi last week and found a journal in the clothes cabinet of my new apartment. I am as pleased as anyone would, to find out that the previous owner of a place I now call home, was contemplative and took time to write a journal. Other people find possessed dolls and hidden cult caskets, I found a journal. Reading another person’s life in their own handwriting, to a writer is like discovering treasure. They are honest, vivid, raw and bare. It might be against the law, but if the law was a little bit interesting, we would all read the constitution on vacations.

 

 

Well, we are a family, let me share, a little for everybody. No gluttons please, there is enough to go round…

 

 

March, 2013; Protective Parents.

Mother will not let me leave the house. She has been going on and on today ranting about discipline and responsibility. All because I left piled dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. It is a bunch of bullshit. They wanted me to pass my final high school examination, and I have given them a clean 75 points KCSE certificate.

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Hidden Thoughts

 

 

She pants a step ahead. You follow closely behind as a dog does to a master. Her pace is slow, too slow and you secretly hope she was faster. You cannot outdo her speed for two reasons; one, you do not want to be an overly competitive moron and two, you like how her ass bubbles up and down before you as she jogs. She is exhausted. She signals you for a break, and you oblige. She places her palms heavily on her knees and breathes fast and heavily. You are scared she could pass out. You stop a distance away from her and observes her with eyes full of pity, like a sympathiser in a slaughterhouse. Unsaid, you quietly envy her determination.

 

 

Running three kilometres has never been a problem to you but today is her first day. She is not accustomed to such kind of resilience. You want to be helpful; you do not want to look like a self-gratified arrogant buffoon. You do not want to be the guy who sneers at her effort. You ask her to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. She squints at you from the corner of her eyes as if what you are saying is Calculus. Regardless, you persist, breathe in using your nose and then breathe out using your mouth. Nice and easy. The look she gives you makes you sure that that gibberish is not going to cut it.

 

 

You let go, give her a couple of minutes to make her breathing comfortable. When she finally let’s go off her knees and lifts her eyes to yours, you can tell she is ready to keep going. You ask whether she is okay and she ignores you and makes to start running again. She prefers not to speak when she is running, maybe, it is scientific as one of the way to conserve energy during a morning jog.

 

 

That last look she gave you before she started running settles a little longer in your mind. It is as if she is angry and the jog is some punching bag for the angry emotions. For a moment you think it is a look you have never seen, not once, in the last three years, you have dated her. Strange. What could it be? Is it something you said, something you did not do, something you did? That last one shreds your serenity like an electric guillotine. It is always about something you did.

 

 

Unknown, you start replaying your activities the past few days in your head vividly. It has been a while since you brought her flowers, red roses. She loves those. You make a mental note to correct that as soon as you can. There is no record of foul play in your head the last six or seven days, so you move on to the past two weeks. Still, nothing. You give up. Truth be told you do not, you just get distracted again by her bubbly ass. You reach and smack it playfully, but she does not even turn to look at you. You are disappointed.

 

 

You put your mind back to the jog. You like the vapour your breath causes to the air in front of you in the early morning breeze. You try to make some fun shapes with it like an expert smoker. She glances at you a little and then back to her front path. You can almost swear she gave a little fuck about what you are doing. One small little fuck.

 

 

Just past the river when you are about to make a turn to start the uphill track, is when you first see him. He is cold, he has been crying, and you can tell he looks very unsettled. He is a small boy. Barely eight years old. You turn to the lady who by now has also already discovered the boy. She slowly comes to a halt very close to the boy. She loves kids. She could leave you to play ball with the neighbours’ kids. And from the window, you can hear them chatting and counting goals like they are age mates. Kids dig her. Kids do not dig you.

 

 

This one time, you had an argument, and she stormed out of the house, and went outside for ‘fresh air.’ Moments later, through the window, you could see her seated with one of the neighbour’s small kid by the stairs as she poured her heavy heart to him. The boy was only five years old, but from the expression he had while listening to the conversation, you could tell he understood everything. To this date, whenever you meet the small boy, he tells you not to beat Esther again, or he would tell his father who is a policeman. Once or twice, you have tried to explain to the small boy that you did not actually ‘beat’ Esther, but your defence is always treated with absolute contempt. So you walk around knowing that you are a branded enemy of the neighbourhood’s five-year-olds because you ‘beat’ one of them. The other day he had a new water toy gun, and as you walked home from the grocery market, he pointed it at you with the gun and sprayed water to your face. From his look, if it were a real gun he would have shot you. You know better than to cross Esther now as she has a battalion of five-year-old guards with guns.

 

 

Today, however, is a different story altogether. She squats next to the boy by the roadside and begins an interrogation in a calm and concerned voice. The boy’s name is Kaniaru. He had been roaming the streets for the past three days. His mother woke up one day and left – no goodbyes, no nothing. She just vanished into thin air like the NYS funds. Since then, Kaniaru has been looking for his mother. He inquires on whether you have seen his mother, a woman in long blue dress and a PCEA women council headband. Of course, you have not seen his mother, but you somehow wish you had better news for him. Your heart melts down like a toffee candy in the mouth. You could swear by your good eyesight there are tears in Esther’s eyes.

 

 

In situations like these, she always comes up with a plan. She asks Kaniaru whether he has other relatives and he says he has a grandmother in Murang’a. From Nyeri to Murang’a is a comfortable one hundred kilometres. She turns to you, and a single look confirms her decisiveness. You have to get him to his grandmother. She says, and you agree. You both terminate your morning jog with hearts heavier than the sins of hell.

 

 

Esther and Kaniaru walk a little ahead, and they go on chatting about where he studied. The subjects he loved and all that. They become fast friends, and before you can say Usain Bolt, you become a third wheel. She brings him to the house and tells him to take a shower as she excavates for clothes that could fit him. All this time you make pancakes. That is all you can do; she has the rest figured out. She makes calls, to the police, to the chief (you never even knew you had a chief). At last, she tells you that the both of you have to get Kaniaru to his grandmother personally. You do not agree with this because you had other fun plans for a Sunday but you do not want to be the Satan in this whole situation.

 

 

Kaniaru eats breakfast like it is the first meal he has had in days and both of you watch him. None of you touches the pancakes. You just sip coffee a little and off you leave the house to Murang’a. None of you has been to Murang’a, but Kaniaru says he can remember the way to his grandmother’s home. The matatu ride to Murang’a is a silent one. Kaniaru places his head on her lap, and she puts her head on your shoulder, and they are both fast asleep. You stay wide awake thinking about the activities in the past few hours.

 

 

There are moments that your problems must cease to matter and put other people ahead of your needs because that will not only be a kind action but evidence that humanity has not lost all its goodness. You become an advocate for the 7.5 billion people on this planet.

 

 

Two hours later find the three of you in a small dusty Probox headed to Kandara town in Murang’a, then Kigumo village where Kaniaru’s grandmother lives. His memory turns out to be a perfect compass, and you find the grandmother just as she is about to leave for church. She is overjoyed. She tells you that Kaniaru’s mother has a mental problem and she has been praying God to have her grandson back. She welcomes you and spits on her chest severally, a custom of blessings among the Agikuyu. She gives you tales and tells you that she had to go to church and thank God for bringing her grandson to him.

 

 

All this time, you try to explain to Esther what is happening. She is Meru. She only knows greetings in Kikuyu. After tea, Kaniaru and grandmother are headed to church and you are headed back to town. It is late afternoon when you get to town, and you dive into Unity Café for lunch.  Mukimo and fry meat makes the long journey ahead manageable.

 

 

Again, you travel in silence. An uncomfortable silence. You can tell that there is a lot in her mind. You can never dig for information from her. The only way this works is to make her comfortable to want to open up to you. Do you want to lie on my shoulder? You ask, extremely determined to lift off the weight of her troubled thoughts. She does not respond she just places her head on your shoulder, and you consequently place your head over her hair. No one sleeps, you just cuddle like that in silence occasionally adjusting your position to get more comfortable. The scent of her shampoo fills your nostrils, and you fall a little deeper in love with her.

 

 

Eventually, you get back home. She stops momentarily for a small chat with her kid friends by the stairs and then joins you as you get the door. She walks in, and you follow closely. She loves to kick off all her clothes away after a long day, but she does not even remove her shoes this time. You walk to the bedroom throw away your trousers and shirt such that you are only in your vest and boxers. You let the cold house air of to bring back sanity to your mind. After a while, you decide to join her in the living room.

 

 

The moment you walk in, she just races into the kitchen and disappears behind the kitchen door. You do not understand what is happening. All over sudden, she breaks down unexpectedly as you try to convince her to open the kitchen door for you so that you can speak. She sobs uncontrollably, and you approach the situation like an alien lab dissection. You had felt this was coming all along. You had only hoped it did not have to be this heavy.

 

 

Ultimately, she opens the door slowly and lets you in and after a long hug and hot chocolate; you are both seated on the floor of the kitchen opposite each other observing each other cautiously trying to pick cues from each other’s expression. At this point, there is not much to do, but to sit and watch her tears flow quietly from her face. She looks like she has some serious weight holding her down but to avoid saying the wrong thing; you just hold on to dear silence.

 

 

She finally opens up abruptly, like an unpredicted hail storm with a short statement, I am pregnant.

 

 

Feature Image by Mukiri Gitiri.

Campaign Girls

 

 

 

Elections found me working for an aspiring governor. A big man with a big smile for the crowds and deep pockets, deeper than the boreholes he dug for the locals to aid in their water problems. He knew what to say and when to say and the exact ways to mould it when saying it. And when he said it, even when it was gibberish, the red flags went up high, and the locals pledged their loyalty. He had made his fortune from his family wealth, but when he spoke about himself, which was quite often, he said of how his intellect had made him a successful business person. He gave us tales of his big cup of excellence, and like the dummies we were, we sat by his feet sipping slowly in coveted admiration.

 

The March long rains came and fell with both hands, the water gouged out deep channels and swept away twigs, leaves and the top fertile soil. With it, we marched into the rural areas and dived into the locals’ conscience and asked for their votes in the primaries. We met them tilling their gardens, feeding their babies, taking out urine drenched mattresses from last night’s atrocities by the young boys, basking, and drinking. Sometimes we met their dangerous unwelcoming dogs or abandoned houses, but we never relented. The Jacaranda beautiful purple flowers collected into small groups on the murram roads beneath the intrepid trees and with it, the beauty of Central Kenya shone like the morning star.

 

*

 

I got a job as a Data Entry Clerk for the big man’s gubernatorial campaign. I cannot correctly recall how it happened because it took place while I was under the magnificent alcoholic haze. It was in the club back in 2016; our Governor-to-be was having expensive drinks with his friends on a table close to ours. My friends and I had just completed our final examinations in campus, which was the reason we were draining red wine like we had won the Nobel Peace Prize. Our neighbours were getting louder with each bucket of ice they ordered the waiter to bring.

 

It started out as a dare. The big man thought he could make his way to Parliament and his friends sneered in disbelief. A little later, he said bluntly and insistently, ‘I will even run for governor to prove you idiots wrong.’ That is how his campaign started. He bought drinks for every lady in the club that night and when he approached our table, and we told him our reason for celebration, he instructed us to be at his house 8 am on Monday, he would be the first to hire us. Our salary would be Ksh 30,000. That is how my two friends and I got our first job, on the same day we cleared the last paper in campus.

 

His gubernatorial bid was a dare. But then, a wise man once said, it is not how a race starts, but how it ends that matters. The next day, after the hangover had subsided, I called home and broke the good news that I had completed my four years in school of nursing and at the same time got a temporary job. My parents were elated, mostly because they never had to pay my rent again.

 

We worked from his mansion. He had three, so it did not matter that he used one of the houses as the campaign headquarters. The living room was the size of a basketball court and the bathrooms the size of my apartment. The carpenters came on Monday and converted the living room into an open office, and right there we began working. I would receive massive amounts of money and distribute it to the campaign ground workers to distribute to the voters. Every voter we asked for a vote was entitled to a Ksh 200 note. Most of my days would be spent chasing Ksh 1000 loose change in 200s. In a day, around Ksh 500 000 crossed my hands.

 

My other two friends did other things in the office daily, and as usual, there can never be a group of women without gossip. It started three weeks after we started working. The big man walked in rage and flew upstairs, we all stood stunned in awe wondering what the devil had done. A little later we heard struggling and screaming from upstairs from a lady. What surprised me most is that within those three weeks, someone was living upstairs and we had never seen her. A little gossip later we learned that it was the big man’s wife. It was against the rules for the wife to leave the house. She stayed locked up as the big man made plans and money for the family. I was infuriated and just like that my admiration slowly started turning to abhorrence.

 

It was the mansion’s custom to burst open a bottle of whisky at the end of a successful week. The big man’s whisky cabinet was bigger than his bathroom which was bigger than my apartment, so I hope that can draw you a vivid picture of its size. In those parties, I discovered Hennessy, Platinum Label, and Jack Daniels. Beautiful drinks that cost more than my salary. It was in one of those parties that things started to get incredibly wrong. I was standing by the printer when the big man approached me and asked why I was working on Saturday while I should have been enjoying the river of whisky courtesy of the big man almighty. I was dumbfounded that he cared. Then it happened, he put his hand on my bum and made to grab it like I was his. Part of me was immobile, astonished with despair like those rats that lose hope in laboratory experiments and lie down in the maze to starve.

 

His wife attended that party in particular. She was the one going around serving the drinks. I was even more scared about her feelings about my ass in her husband’s hand than the actual big hand that tried again to grope my unlucky ass. I did not speak, I was frozen but moving away from him. I took a seat and waited for my shock to subside before I took my things and left the ‘office.’

 

When I left I was so sure I was never to come back again. As if the night was not yet done with me, as I waited for a matatu to take me home, which was extremely unlikely considering the neighbourhood it was, the big man’s driver pulled over and told me to get into the car, that he had been ordered to take me home. I was one part resistance, two parts grateful so I got in, and he ferried me back to my place.

 

I could not help thinking about my situation. I was certain that this would never have a chance of a good ending. I drifted back to that moment when he placed his hand on my bum and then tried to do it again. I was so sure that other people in the office had noticed. Even his wife. When I called home the following Sunday afternoon, it was to say that I would be going home. Mother picked the call and could not stop ranting about how happy she was I had not asked for rent. That I was a big girl now, taking care of my problems like a grownup. I ended the call exceedingly sure that there was no going back. I had to make a living for myself.

 

 

*

 

 

Monday morning found me debating whether it was all worth it. At 10.00 am when it was two hours past the time I was supposed to get to the office, I got a text message. It was from the big man according to Truecaller. It was short and extreme in brevity. It was like it was typed in a speedy, careless, go-to-hell sprawl, like something I would write fast before going out to the grocery market. It said, ‘report to work.’ The big man was calling; it would be rude not to answer. So at midday, I walked into the office like a loose girl doing a walk of shame on a Monday morning.

 

The primaries came, and we lost. With it, we became an independent party and even pressed harder for votes. The campaign speeches grew longer, and the Ksh 200 notes increased to Ksh 500 notes. We used land cruisers to get to places young boys had never seen automobiles. We promised electricity to people with no roofs and fertilisers to individuals with no land. We even hired bloggers, and I sent them Ksh 1027 to post nasty, made up rumours about our primary opponent. Still, after all that, the poles still said we were 2% behind.

 

It was a battle to the bone. One that had started out as a simple dare now had become a serious life or death situation. Secretly, I hoped he would not win. He was arrogant, disrespectful and beat his wife. That was enough to make sure he would never get my vote. By the time we got to the final polls on 8th August, he had already bedded my two friends and increased their salary to Ksh 40 000. All but me.

 

The final poles threw him off the gubernatorial seat by a 9000 votes’ margin. A very close shave. He had lost but had made a huge impact on the county. He did not seem bothered by the loss. In fact, even before the announcement, he had me allocate funds to a big party of all his campaign staff.

 

I decided to bring my boyfriend to the big man’s party. Partly because the big man smashed my two friends, they seemed to have grown distant, so I had no friends and also partly because I felt I needed security. At the party, the big man insisted that I was to dance with him and when my boyfriend gave me an okay look I let him take my arm to the middle of the room. It was the longest ten minutes dance I ever had. When I came back, I found my boyfriend already ordered a cab to take us back home. He was furious. These young men and their possession pride (rolls eyes).

 

 

*

 

 

A week after the election, after we had cleared out and our contract terminated, I got a call from the big man. I was curious, so after some few relaxation stunts, I answered the call casually. It turns out, they needed to keep five employees for permanent employment and I had been shortlisted, so he was calling me to let me know that I was being called in for an interview.

 

Before I could make a response, he told me to carry my documents, and he would have the driver pick me up within the hour. This smelt like a distasteful disaster but I had to keep paying my rent, so I got ready in my skirt suit, made my hair look professional and put all my documents in a folder. The driver in a Range Rover was waiting as I left my apartment.

 

I got into the car, and the car sped towards town, then past town towards God knows where. I got unsettled and asked the driver where we were headed, and he briefly announced that we would get there when we got there. Without further options, I accepted my fate and drifted back into a fretful doze.

 

The car came to a halt about 200 kilometres from my apartment. It was a colourful modern hotel. A place where green dominated and nature displayed all its beauty. I now wish I had more time to let the beauty sink in, but my legs trembled and my mouth felt dry. I felt like an anchorless red balloon was floating on my stomach. Quickly I got my phone and shared my location on WhatsApp with my boyfriend and my sister. If I died, I wanted them to know where exactly to start looking for the body.

 

I found him relaxed under a gazebo sipping some expensive German Whiskey. He was in a Bahamas coloured short and a baggy checked shirt. A nasty combination of prints but that was barely within my range of fucks to give. He smiled and stood up to make a handshake with me. I was determined to make this an official interview, so before he even ordered me a bottle of 1800 Italian Wine, I handed him my CV. He pretended to read then threw it aside. In a statement that seemed too calm to be a threat, he assured me that I would get or not get the job depending on what I had to offer him.

 

There are points in life when a woman must accept that she is prey yet besides it, be determined enough to be fierce to level up the predators in the ecosystem. For certain, I knew I would never have sex with him, yet it did not matter, I was in the middle of nowhere, and the choice before me was not even a moral one, more than it was a survival one.

 

I was too engrossed in my thoughts that when he enquired whether I had a boyfriend, I just shook my head distractedly. In plain simple bare and definite words, I opened up my thoughts to him. I let him know that I would not sleep with him in any circumstance even when I needed the job this much. I looked directly at him and told him that I had a boyfriend waiting for me at home. That I love him so much to cheat on him (*rolls eyes, we had only been dating three months). I told him of the family I would want to have with him, a family of three or four kids. All girls. I told him of my accomplishments and what they meant to me. Of my rent and my parents. My fears and my aspirations.

 

I was talking consistently for more than twenty minutes that when I was done, I just stood up and made my way to leave. I did not even know a way out. I just walked. I could feel my heart pounding in my arms. I was certain that in the middle of my pressured outburst I may or may not have called the big man a sexual predator. One part fierce, two parts stupid. The elephant in the room would be how to get home.

 

 

*

 

 

As I type this story, I am home waiting for a call to know whether I aced that interview or not. Otherwise, I am just among the 40% unemployed Kenyans out here.

 

*

 

 

***Based on a true story***