Celebrating East African Writing!
Written by Gathoni Wa Wairura
It’s Monday afternoon, the sunshine is bright outside. But Chéri’s room is dark and reeks of vodka.
She walks around, alone, kicking the empties on the floor. Her fists are clenched, her hair’s undone, and her eyes red and tired.
“Only last week I looked eighteen, no one believed I was thirty-eight! I had two wonderful colleagues – Olga and Betty- I had and an identity. Look at me now!” she says, looking at the mirror.
“An identity! Ha, that’s a laugh. Guess you had a boyfriend too!” a Voice says.
“Oh him, the cause of all my misery. He burned my wigs and my extensions over a fight last Thursday, a fight that he caused,” answers Chéri pacing the small room.
“You caused it, you introduced them, at that party. You saw them flirting, and what did you do?” asks the Voice.
“Well, I made myself pretty, that’s what I did, more makeup, my red lipstick became redder, my curly hair became straighter, longer. I almost looked like Olga, who almost looked like Betty, who almost looked like Cameron Diaz. And you liked the new me, and so did my friends. Why blame me now?”
“I am not blaming you, just reminding you of the order of events,” the Voice says.
“I know what happened! I came to Europe to make money. I had to fit in, be like everyone else, and joined the race to look like Cameron Diaz. With my lightened skin and blonde hair I made it as far as Friday. You were quiet for three years. You smiled when I smiled.” Chéri says as she sits on the bed, breathing hard.
“Then on Friday morning, they came to work looking like cover models of SHE Magazine. I hate cleaning hotels! Betty looked at me in shock and said “What happened?” And Olga sneered: “OMG, you look like an African!” I was so humiliated! My whole body shivered, while my best friends just gaped at me, when they saw my naked face and kinky hair.”
Chéri grabs her hair and pulls it violently. The Voice tries to interrupt, but Chéri yells.
“Then they said my hips were too big. My hands shook so violently I poured coffee all over. I threw the cup at Olga – she got me fired for that. It’s all over now!”
“It’s not over. You look fine now, we both do. We’re the real us. Look at that afro, those brown eyes, that beautiful chocolate skin. Look at those supple, natural lips. It’s not about Olga, or your imaginary boyfriend. You are angry because you realize you’ve been living a lie! Starting with your name, Njeri. Which Mugikuyu woman calls herself Chéri?” asks the Voice softly.
“Arrgh, I hate your guts!” Chéri screams.
Finally a sharp noise, the sound of broken glass. Njeri just sits there, staring at her bleeding fist.
“So here we are, Njeri. Both broken and bleeding, but human. We had to be broken first to be whole.”