Celebrating East African Writing!
“Dear Lord, I just need five minutes of your time. See I have no problem with the way things in my life have been going. You have given me ten children from four different women; and I am grateful… but I was wondering if there is a woman out there who will love me…?”
If my father ever prayed, I think this is what he would say. I have a habit of doodling on books in pencil whenever I am bored. Being in high school, my friends would joke that my “known” family members couldn’t fit if they were to hang onto the branches of an oak tree. I am the first of his ten known children. My last encounter with my father erased any memory of anything I may have had before. It left all the parties scarred apart from one; the antagonist. At the time, I was being naughty…or is it being a boy? I would deceive mother that I was going to play with a friend at their house.
Being a six year old, the thought of his leaving the house was more than his mother could ever ask for. Peace and hearing would return. It was a Tuesday. After school, instead of going to play, I would go into town to Joshu’s kiosk in front of the cinema. I would always get some candy. Father was not well off, but was among the few literate men there were. Mother was the envy of the neighborhood and they did little to hide it. Everyone knew me as my father’s son. She overworked to compensate her luck.
I was at the shop helping to take stock when I saw father across the street. I darted out. I didn’t have anything to say, it was more of an adrenaline response. Cars obscured my view but when the traffic eased out, father was nuzzling with some woman. They crossed the street while holding hands. The woman, surely, was not mother; at least not my mother. Father finally saw me and didn’t even miss a step while at it. They seemed to move in a dazed way, as though not walking but drifting.
“You remember Laura, don’t you?” He asked
Laura? Could I even pronounce the name? Father knew that I had never heard of this lady let alone met her; but he was a learned man. He couldn’t avoid the obvious no matter how grave the situation, so he chose to be civil about it. Laura twitched a smile and managed a giggle to draw my attention to the person in question. I was concentrating on father with a great deal of questions, answers, realizations, innocence and alarm which stiffened my six year old cheeks. I said hallo. He drew it from me.
“What are you doing here?”
“Mum sent me.”
“Ok. Hurry back home”
He ruffled my hair and with this, they left as ineptly as they had approached. His voice seemed to echo from another world, where he was my father giving his usual modest measured advice, not someone’s man with another woman. I watched their backs, so I would believe that it had actually happened. The woman with her clumsy sandals below the cotton outfit composed of a confusion of styles and conflict of different cultures I later learned was tie and dye. It did nothing for her.
You should have seen my mother. Father with his one jacket; the only good one I must add. I ran from the kiosk, my vision confined straight ahead like that of a blinkered horse. I did not wish to see where they were going. I took a matatu home, and the journey was too short if you ask me.
The normal 15 minutes sped along and I found myself at my mother’s gate. I complained of exhaustion, and mother did not believe me. She prodded and I lied that Wanja, the sister to my friend had come home. Mother laughed because she knew that I had a crush on her. Later, she called me down for dinner, but I feigned sleep. I did not know how I could dine at the same table with the man who walked around with another woman in his arm. I was six years old, but I felt like I could choke him, if I did not choke on the food myself!!
I did not sleep much, so the next morning, I cleaned the house, picked up the milk and left for school. I was now avoiding mother. What was I to say? True, I was young, but I was not imprudent. Evening came and at dinner, father was absent so I took the chance and confessed.
“I saw dad yesterday”
“So you didn’t go to Wanja’s place?”
The blow to my head caught my confession about father’s mistress at my lips.
“Why were you in town?” She inquired.
(Whack! Whack!). . . and the blows continued to rain. By now I was bowling my eyes out. I thought mother deserved the truth but maybe she didn’t want to hear it. When father did finally come home, she asked him to help her discipline his son because I was spiraling out of control.
I was grounded for a while. It felt more like house arrest. From where we lived, along the congested paths we called streets; a child could be heard coughing from somewhere deep within the core of the infant’s body. The cough was long and so loud that it could be heard over the murmurs of the people who used the street. At the end of it, the mother would calmly put her lips on the wet congested nostrils of her baby and suck them free. The mess would be spit and fall gently by the side and with her bare foot, rub it softly into the earth. The cough had, for long, been irritating me. When I watched them, I was grossed out. You would never see a man do that. How lucky we are.
I missed playing with the boys. I envied the enjoyment and thrill seen in their bodies as they fought and cheered. Eventually, I snuck out or looked for reasons to go out. Once I was on the streets with them, I was home. I took part in the local games; one included the use of litter containers. We resided at a place where the filth outshone the metallic dustbins. From far, one could see shimmering circles of dim light, but as you got closer, the dim light took on a different shape.
Clearly, the bins had been well used. The fact that the bins were full did not stop the people from using them. They overflowed with banana peels, milk tetra packs, maize flour bags and the unmistakable chaff of thoroughly sucked sugarcane. People did not have to go to the bins anymore, and this is where the game got interesting. From a distance, we would aim the rubbish at the growing heap.
Surviving the juicy offal emitted from the waste box, we would skillfully throw the rubbish which would hit the face and sides of the cover of the bin before finding its final resting place at the top of the heap. That, my friend, was our version of a “slam dunk!!”
“What are you doing?”
That definitely brought my concentration back to class. Mrs. Njoroge, my English teacher, was not what I would call average. Physically, she was quite tall but was horizontally challenged. Her hair was equally thin; wizened and shriveled I would say. She liked to wear free Kitenge or tie and dye dresses. How I loathe them! Her thin forfeiture caused her clothing to hang onto her body, losing her beauty or feminity, if there had been any.
At that moment, she was staring at a student seated next to the wall. Her gaze was intense, so intense that it showed concern…shock…something close to panic. She blinked twice at me. Was it me? My body was angled forward so that my face was resting on the desk, supported by my hands that acted as a cushion. Running down from the left corner of my mouth, was a stream of spit. Oozing freely, the oil-like liquid first entangled itself in the fingers of my left hand, underneath which it spread and touched on my notepad, soaking it and blurring the writing.
“Get out.” She calmly commanded.
I rose and looked at Mrs. Njoroge, understanding nothing of the words at first. I licked the wetness off the side of my mouth. The effort seemed minimal as I awed at my fingers and soaked exercise book, all covered in viscous ooze. Mrs. Njoroge, now thoroughly furious, towered above me sternly. Shame dwarfed me from inside out, and I hastened to pick up the mess and go out. I thrust my hands into my pockets…yes, even the wet hand, and emerged with a scarlet white handkerchief. I used it to wipe the mouth water from the brown, chipped wooden desk. Then the bell rang.
Relieved, I slouched back to my seat. The students were already making a mock of my escapade, laughing and tapping me on the back, calling me “ule msee!” – Meaning, that guy with a prestigious connotation to it because I get good grades. It is the 1st week of the term. I guess I’m still on holiday. Mother would disapprove. She gave her husband up when she came home to a wrapped bundle of joy at her door. Father denied it but she could have none of it. We went to her mother’s home and have struggled ever since. News about father surface every now and then but we do not keep contact.
Over the years, I have unconsciously learned to be my mother’s man; stretch out my shorts to be the trousers she wants around the house. I had been raised to believe that men are conquerors, providers, heroes. But somewhere along the line, that changed. Maybe it is the times that changed, but women started becoming their own heroes. Maybe it was because their men forgot how to be heroic, or because women didn’t feel the need to be protected anymore, or maybe it was because women had to be their own heroes . . . because of the pain they have to endure in life. Whatever the case, right now I have to go see Mrs. Njoroge before she has a chat with my mom.
© Beatrice Wainaina 2011
This short story was submitted into the Storymoja Urban Narratives : No One Told Me… Short Story Contest. Please comment on the short story for the author’s benefit and then vote on the story. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being weak and 10 being excellent, please indicate where you rank this story. Points will be tallied on the 6th of August, and the winner announced on the 7th of August 2011.