Celebrating East African Writing!
In a family of four boys, and being the only girl you would think that Elizabeth would have all the time in the world to look at herself in the family mirror, one that was stationed in the verandah right after the sitting room, it invited any one coming or leaving their residence to take a quick glance at their reflection. The verandah unlike all the other areas in the house was cool, because of the breeze that the endless trees that Mark had planted blew. At that point Elizabeth gazed at her image, she often wondered how the women on TV managed to keep such a sleek figure even after giving birth to children. It always baffled her, after every child she had, her body was never the same, and it just kept on changing.
She had three children and her tummy had never been the same, it had gone from being flat, that had been one of the things that Mark had liked about her. When they had met in the market place, could not help but stare at the beautiful slim woman, who was wearing a skirt that almost fell over her knees, giving him the opportunity to glare at the beautiful long legs. Her breasts lay shyly over her chest, and her stomach was flat, he wanted to run his hands over it. And he did, after their wedding all he would do was touch her stomach, at first she assumed he was doing that to see if she was pregnant yet, a few months later when she actually became pregnant she realized that she had given him a lot of credit. He was just a typical African male, forever clueless.
Nonetheless even after the birth of their three sons, nothing ever changed for their family the love for each other increases.
After she gave birth to her second son, Elizabeth slowly began to realize that she might actually become the only girl in her family, and eventually she did, she loved every moment of it. Though her two teenage sons, Dan and Timothy actually treated her as one of the boys.
“Mom,” James would call her as she lay on the sofa, catching on some sleep, though she was pretended not to be.
“I am only closing her my eyes.” She would tell Jake her last born that had only joined class four that year. Naming her son Jake proved to be a mistake, especially in the Kenyan society, almost everyone, erroneously referred to her son as Jack.
“Kwani these people don’t watch TV.” She would roll her eyes in disdain.
Eventually she got used to it. Even Jake was now writing his name as Jack, after his class one teacher had caned him several times for not spelling his name correctly.
Maybe his name was Jack, after all, in his birth certificate, school registration, they had his name as Jack and from that day only his mother called him Jake.
“Mom.” James called his mother; they were watching a football match. She was sleeping on the sofa; the food was on the jiko in the kitchen, Timothy was cooking. They knew that if they wanted to know the food was almost ready, all they had to do was look at their mother’s nose, any sudden movement especially a twitch meant it was time to check on the food. Any sudden sound meant that the food was just about to burn, and any sudden body movement meant that the food was burnt and they had to get to it before she got up, otherwise, they would have to contend with a thirty minute lecture on ‘why you should not cook and watch TV at the same time.’ Which they hated!
She did not mind her boys watching football, anyway if she did not let them, they would hate her for life and they would keep on reminding her that she was always telling them not to watch TV, yet she was a number one fan of specific programs, namely: Soaps.
As for her husband Mark, he was never a football man, neither were his peers, he always came home from work immediately then alongside with Elizabeth they would spend the rest of the evening talking loudly from church issues to work, making it impossible for the boys to watch TV in Peace.
“Mom.” James and Timothy exchanged a naughty look with his brother. She looked at James.
“What is Wayne Rooney doing today, did you see he missed that shot.” He would give his mother a serious look like she understood what he was blubbering about.
“Who is that?” She asked with a quizzical expression on her face.
“Ah, Mommie!” he would pretend to be dismayed. “Who doesn’t know Wayne Rooney?”
His mother would roll her eyes and go back to her sleep.
“What about Nani?” he would probe further as Timothy would anticipate his mother’s response.
“Nani?” she would open her eyes, glance at the television. “The ugly man running after the ball.”
Timothy and James would burst out laughing. They love teasing their mother just for kicks.
“There is nothing interesting about these footballers.” Elizabeth would start. The two boys would look at each other with a resigned look, once their mother began talking there was no way of getting her to keep quiet.
“They look like gunias.” She would go on to describe the footballers. “Like that worn out crate that I use to carry my vegetables to the market.” The two boys would quickly burst out laughing.
“And yet young girls chase after them” she would sneer. “I don’t get it.” She shakes her head in disbelief.
“Mom you are wrong.” Timothy would finally have something to say. “The reason they fall for these men, just like James here.” He would whisper the James part. Both his mother and James would give him a doubtful look. “Its because of the lines mom, Mistari.” He would stress.
“If you aint got the lines.” James would add. “You won’t get the girl.”
“I did not give birth to a gunia.” His mother would warn him. “All my children are very handsome like Ramsey Noah.” They would both sneer. They thought that was an insult coming from their mother, but she was always serious.
Now that the three were away in school, she could get some alone time and look at herself in the mirror. Her body had changed a lot, especially her stomach, a fact that could be attributed to her bearing of three children, Sons to be more precise. The damage they had done to her body was irreversible.
Her belief that Mark would stop loving her because of her distorted figure changed with time. He seemed to adore her even more. Their loved had grown from sexual to that of great affection and respect, With the birth of each of their child, the love that they had for each other just seemed to grow in depths.
She smiled, it was only during times like these, when Mark was away at work, James was in college, Timothy was in boarding school and Jake was safe in class at a nearby primary school that she could afford to steal a mirror moment and see the changes that her body had gone through. On an ordinary day, it all started with her Maasai husband, Mark, he would get up early and lit the fire like he had done all the while they had been married. It was like his duty, after dressing, he would immediately position himself in the mirror as he tried to tie his tie, eventually, he would either stop a passing tenant or call James to help him with his ties, he had been taught how do tie his tie several times but he just could not get the hang of it.
He would grill the poor tenant who would probably be tying his tie reminding him that his rent was a couple of days overdue, the conversation would usually end with an invitation to attend church with the family. After Mark, James would use the mirror to rehearse his lines.
“Girl your teeth are so white, they should have fired Mr. beaver and hired you instead.” James would smile at himself. Timothy and Jake would just watch in disbelief.
“Teeth are so white, that when you wake up and smile people think that the sun has risen.” He would go on.
“Your teeth are so white that I can see my refection in them.” He would smile cheekily. Timothy and Jake would join him in the mirror.
“You teeth, teeth, teeth.” Timothy retorted. “Kwani, you now work for Colgate or something.”
“You are just jealous.” James would respond. “Kijana.” He would point at his youngest brother. “Who is that handsome dude who is staring at you.” He would point at his reflection in the mirror.
“Oh, its me.” He would reply. “My God, I am so good looking.”
He would concentrate on his image. “When God made me, he must have thought. ‘David kando!”
The two younger boys would just laugh. No doubt James was a good looking boy, he was not bad to look at, but the shy Timothy was pleasant to look at, the fact that he was quiet added to his mystery that made girls always wanted to talk to him. He feared them, he thought that he had all the time in the world, hence girls were the least important, KCSE topped. And boy wasn’t he working hard.
After James, Timothy would stand in front of the mirror brushing his teeth, the only part of his body he gave much attention to. He was a hard worker and everyone appreciated that, the girls gave him a hard time because of his looks.
That was until after sitting for only two papers, his head began to ache, he had had the headache for a while but it was becoming worse. By the time of being sent home, he could not even sleep, the next day he was in so much pain, his head was swollen all the way to his neck. The whole family was scared as they rushed him to hospital. Scans revealed that there was a tumor just outside his nasal area of his right eye; they needed a biopsy to find out whether it was a cancerous.
A few days later, he could not breathe, he could not eat, and he was screaming in pain. The whole family watched helplessly as the love of their life drifted away.
The love of their life
Is slipping away
They’re losing the fight
For another day
The life that they’ve known
Is drifting away
A sonless home
A brother less home
A family’s broken heart.
They were losing their son…
© Mary Kariuki 2010
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