Tuesday, 23 June 2015

You played a bad hand well

I never knew my parents.  I hear their death was tragic, I know no details.  Anyone I have ever asked about their demise, grows graven and tells me that we should let go off the past, and look toward the future.  Any insistence on my part, returns either a blank retreat into self or undisguised emotive pain.  I know I may never find out what happened. 

I grew up living with various relatives, rotated and shuffled like a retread tyre.  At the end of my puberty, I was living with my aunty and her husband.  Between them, they had five children.  What was intriguing is that none of the children shared a similar mother and father, except the last one Kababy, whom they jointly had.  They were privileged children.  Especially Kababy.  They welcomed me into their home.  Told me I was their sixth child.  They never said that I was the house help too.  I did all the house chores as well as my accounting course at a college in the city.

I met Maria when she moved in with the family next door.  She was somehow related to them – the people next door, and was offered room and board for work as she attended college too.  Hers was explicitly stated.  She worked for a meal and a bed.  I knew she had been rescued from an abusive place.  She never talked about her past.

We met daily at dawn for four years as we did our respective residences’ laundry.  We talked over the one and a half meter cement backsplash of the wash area.  Of our tribulated past and present.  The crying we had seen and the things we had been to.  We dreamt aloud of our future.  Embellished and painted our lives, with a nascent hope that there was more to our future than our now.

I woke up one day and Maria was gone.  No one could tell me what happened to her.  I missed her.  But I was used to peoples departing from my life.  Over time and life, I forgot about her.

Until today.  I met Maria again today.  After twenty years.  She served me my camomile tea at the spa.  I did not recognise her then.  I did not even notice her.  When I was leaving, she followed me to the car park and stopped me with an “Excuse me Madam”.  She told me who she was.  Words failed me.  Glad to see her.  I asked her, “What happened?  Why did you leave?  Where did you go?”

She told me.  And then said, “Remember when we used to talk about our future, I could tell you really believed in yours. I never really saw how my life would ever be better.  We were dealt a bad hand, you and I, but you played a good game.  I live with Kababy now, by the way.”

“Which Kababy” I asked?

“Your cousin.  The last one.  We live together.  Near here, at the shanties.  In some way, I am doing better than she is.  She is a “working woman” and has a drinking problem.  I used to envy them, the children of the home, especially her.  She was lucky.  She knew who she was.  She knew her parents.   Someone cared about her.  She had a good start in life.  Then she got it all wrong.  But sometimes I think it does not really matter where you come from.  Because even if I had been her, I would still be where I am today”.

I was saddened.  Oh Maria.  Oh my Kababy.

She grabbed my hand.  “Thank you.  I want you to know, that those four years were the best years of my life.  I want to thank you too, for being what we said we should be.  For showing me what I could have been.  You played a bad hand well”.

image from www.etsy.com

Monday, 22 June 2015


She knows her life is crap.  Worse than crap actually.  There is no future where she is at right now.

Her job is killing her.  Call by call.  Meeting by meeting.  Form after form.  Useless task after another.  Death by work.  She cries every day at work.  Because what she does is neither right nor enough.  Ever.  That is what the big boss man tells her.  He says she is an incompetent bumbling idiot and if she ever thinks she is going to get anywhere on this earth working like this, she must be a fool.  She believes she must be more than an imbecile.  He must be right.  Look at him.  He is filthy rich.  The write-about-him-in-the-dailies type.  Business-mogul label.  Give-him-awards kind of man.  Billionaire-under fifty or something like that.  He sits at the right hand of the business god.  Maybe she should go back to school, get her degree, another job.

Her mother is dying.  She has been dying for the last 10 years.  She wonders why her dad died quickly and her mother has been dying for so long.  She misses her dad.  Really misses him.  Life was good when he was alive.  He was a generous and giving man.  Look at even how he died.  Kindly.  No fundraisings for chronic bills.  No panicked hospital runs in the middle of the night.  No lunchtime dashes to see if mother survived this emergency.  Late returns to the office, where the big boss man docks a shilling for every minute she is late.  Maybe she ought to put her mother in a convalescence home. 

Jack is cheating on her.  She knows he is.  She just has not caught him.  She needs to talk to the IT guy to find out how to put that spying thing on his phone.  He complains about everything.  There is always a hole in one of the paired socks.  The electricity bill is high.  The watchman doesn’t open the gate fast enough.  The food tastes boiled.  She always on FaceBook.  Her chama wastes her time.  The children are noisy.  Maybe she needs to pay more attention to him.

Her kids are maniacs.  Jack does not know the whole story.  He is not home much now anyway.  Last week at the kid’s birthday party, they licked the sugar from the bowls, splashed the guests with water, pummelled an adorable little girl and peed in the jumping castle.  They never listen to her.  Sometimes she can bribe them.  Yes, it is wrong.  Doctor Dobson says it’s wrong.  He can feel free to come and sort them out.  They broke the neighbour’s chandelier and scoured another’s car.  She will have to pay for that last one.  She is not paying for the chandelier.  Children admitted into your houses are done at your own risk.  Her wall decor is charcoal kiddie graffiti.  Horrible black pictures.  She has not returned their teachers calls this week.  She can’t.  I never went to see her last week after the red note summons in the diary.  The teacher can paddle her own canoe.  What happens to kids in school stays in school.  Kids at home is hard enough.  Maybe she needs to take them for counselling.

Her maid is stealing.  The red ugly tea set her godmother gave her at the wedding is missing.  How does a whole tea set walk off the shelf and out the house?  And the jik and omo never last until the end of the month.  Maybe she needs to get a stock book system in that house.

Thank God Jack’s parents are dead and he was an only child.  At least she only has one set of inept siblings to deal with.  Her sister is being evicted.  She needs rent.  She works.  Where does she take her money?  Her brother needs her to arrange the bride price thing for next week.  He also has no money.  Maybe she needs to put boundaries for those two.

She is overwhelmed. She wears the tiara of defeat.  It’s the burden that cannot be cast onto the cross.  Maybe one day, things will change.  Maybe things will never change.

image from http://www.irlandnews.com

Monday, 8 June 2015

When I grow up

When I grow up, I am going to be like my neighbour.

Every day, early in the morning, Bonnie pads slowly and sluggishly down the stairs.  Blue pinstripe shirt, top buttons undone, tie hanging across the open neck, sleeves folded twice back.  Always clean shaven, rimless glasses, jacket slung over his shoulder.

He rounds the block of flats, goes down the steps, to the parking where he gives Mutua the night watchman final instructions on the car wash job.  Bonnie is always in a hurry.  And Mutua is always slow. 

Bonnie circles his car.  Panguza haraka Mutua.  Kwani usiku mzima hungeosha hii ngari.

Lakini boss si umeingia asubuhi.

Wachaa?  Ilikuwa saa ngapi. Hii dent imetoka wapi?  Ilikuwa hapa jana?

They squat.  Squint.  Rub it. 

Sidhani.  Hi ni rangi ya blue sivyo.  Kulikuwa tu na hiyo dent iko na rangi ya yellow.  Ya yellow ulirudi nayo Saturday asubuhi, na yule mama yellow yellow.  Ilikuwa siku ya yellow. 

They laugh.

Hala.  Sasa hizi dents zinatoka wapi?  Mutua finish finish.  I am going to be late.

Bonnie stands up slowly.  Rubs his eyes.  Turns towards the block of flats.  Sees me on our ground floor balcony looking at him.

You can see the thought flit across his brain; did I hear his dent and yellow story?

He says hi.  Squints.  Red slit eyes. Does the hand rub from mouth to side of neck, shakes his head a bit.  Stretches one hand out, like he is trying to get a kink out of some muscle. Walks towards me.  He is wearing eau de beer.

Heavy morning?

No.  Last night.  Long night.  Long last night.
I cannot wait to grow up. 

image from http://www.memo.tv