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Have you ever watched a grown man cry, ugly sobs and tears streaming down his cheeks? Well, I have. It was a gut wrenching sight. Meet Zion. A class seven drop out who has hustled through life to own a small village kiosk. He is a
doting father who loves his children with every inch of his being. He loves life. Zion married for love. She was an educated woman that loved his zest. She came from the kind of family
that had some wealth, not too much, but lived like kings. Barb was lovely. Zion remembers when they first met at a bar. He offered to buy her ‘one’. She declined, because she didn’t accept drinks from just any men. But Zion knew the way to a woman’s heart: make her laugh. Four months later, they were
Their relationship thrived, mainly because of their shared love for the bottle. Zion would sell in his shop to make just enough to buy them a meal, and alcohol. In the village, traditional liquor is cheap. And it came with a kind of high that was addictive. It came with utopia. But this was short-lived. Barb soon fell
pregnant. They were ecstatic. Zion remembers having the “talk” where they were to give up drinking. He remembers Barb cradling her still yet-to-be-noticed belly. Parenthood was they salvation they needed.
They had Isaac, and one year later Maria. In between the two, Barb’s discontentment with the life Zion offered began to manifest itself. She wanted more. Zion was working hard enough. In fact, he wasn’t working at all- who calls sitting in a village kiosk where one buys goods worth 100 at most work? He wasn’t good enough. His jokes quickly ran stale. Their home was so cold, that not even the heat from
the open fire could thaw it.
Barb resumed her trips to the bar. She would drink until ten in the night. Sometimes she wouldn’t come home at all. Zion remembers the countless mornings he went ‘hunting’ for her, bar to bar, den to den.
When he found her, he would carry her home in her drunken stupor, put her on their marital bed, and head to his shop with the children. For the days he couldn’t find her, he would return home, and wait. She always came home. Every time the alcohol wore off, a shouting match would commence. Mostly it was Barb reminding Zion how useless he was, how there were men working their asses off to take better care of their women, how she would leave one day. Zion persevered. Because sometimes when remorse
came, Barb gave the best make-up sex he’d ever had.
They added one more to their brood in between the drinking, the fights and the make-up sex. And then ten months after Amani was born, Barb left. When Amani was born, Zion found out she had been exposed to the HIV virus. He just knew. Barb had brought ‘the disease’ home. In the village, the HIV stigma was still deeply entrenched. Zion remembers that day vividly.
It has been three weeks since Barb left. She took the children with her, abandoning them with her aged parents, and heading to Nairobi. But that is not why Zion cried. He cried because his youngest child had gone off his medication. He cried because he saw death knocking on his door, reaching for his baby. He
just wanted his babies with him. I watched as his lower lip trembled, begging if there was anything I could do. His eyes bled with pain. His heart bled for his children.
‘AMA’ popped onto his screen. Jay repositioned his head on the pillow, in effect repositioning his body
on the couch. The light from his phone, held between his long fingers illuminated his face in an
otherwise dark room. Outside, the merciless African sun had settled in for the night.
‘AMA’: Ask me anything. He pondered for a split second, a naughty smile playing on his lips. Then he started typing something, before swiftly deleting it. Instead he wrote: “Can I buy you coffee sometime
“Sometime soon?” she responded.
“This Saturday. Take you somewhere nice”. (Winking emoji)
“I’d like that”
“Is a date then?”
“I have always loved your smile”
Sarah was a cautious girl, or at least she had been. That was just how she was raised. Growing up, her mother had taken it upon herself to constantly remind them of the dangers of being a girl in a man’s world. It was emphasized especially when she got to adolescence, her body curving in all the right
places. No boys were allowed home. Not for whatever ‘excuse’.
But education had afforded Sarah a life away from home. The carefree life of most students she saw at the campus baffled her at first, but quickly that kind of life began to fascinate her. She started to be enticed. Although her mother’s voice remained etched at the back of her mind, she mastered the art of
Sarah didn’t have the extra-ordinary enchanting beauty of soap opera characters. What she had was charm that always drew people in. Like the way her eyes creased at the edges when she summoned her
heartiest laughter. Or how she bit her lower lip when angered. She lacked the self-consuming attention seeking attitude of her peers. She was in a different place from what she’d been accustomed to, and
different is good, no?
Meeting Jay was exciting. He brought a flurry feeling in her belly. He made her laugh. Then he said how he loved how she laughed. They had known each other ten days now, and everything felt surreal. She
even held some resentment against her mother for keeping her away from this. I mean, there were girls in high school that had boyfriends. Their parents knew. They even let them bring the boys home. They held hands. Sometimes they stole a kiss here, and there. She had read the letters they exchanged,
poetically written. But now she wasn’t the outsider anymore.
Jay had changed that.
In the days they’d known each other, they’d met, eh, once. That night in a city club where they both chased youthful bliss. They had danced, and drunk, and danced until the wee hours of the morning.
“Let me call you later today”
Sarah hesitated. The alcohol fuelled night did not curtail her thinking. She wasn’t much of a drinker anyway. Still, his boyish grin was so inviting.
“Let me have yours instead. I promise I’ll call.”
He did let her have his, albeit with so much skepticism she would call him, it was all over his face.
Facebook brought up his name as a friend suggestion a few days later. She was more into the ‘gram’. It was more avant-garde. She was a sucker for good pictures, and people on the gram knew how to pose for those. The façade in some didn’t matter. Still she maintained a FB account. One can never be on too
many social media sites. So when Jay’s name came up, she was in. She stalked his page. She read
comments from previous posts. She scouted for female comments that hinted to an amorous
attachment. She drooled over his pictures. She would stare for minutes on end, God’s near perfect creation. Then she sent a friend request.
They’d moved PDQ:-Pretty damn quickly. They talked daily on the messenger, before carrying it to
WhatsApp. He began calling her, in the morning, during the day, before she retired to bed. They were in love. Call it what you want. Lust. Infatuation. Crush. For Sarah, the late nights, the endless laughter, the
’you-hang-ups ‘, it felt so damn good. It consumed her like a wild fire, and she loved it. She loved Jay.
Saturday felt like light years away. The days dragged. She was in a tizzy. Every time her phone rang, she
hoped it would be Jay. And when it was, she gulped in mouthfuls of air to calm herself.
I had my nerves for breakfast, Monday
Kissing my baby goodbye for the first time
Tickled her to laughter (oh the laughter)
But brought the tears to my eyes
Tuesday shredded my heart/ in a way I never knew it could.
A child weeping for her pineapple piece on the floor
Not knowing she should be crying for the mother she will never know
Six feet under
Wednesday brought some light
Some sun seeping through the clouds
The sound of innocent giggles
Filling the air like balloons
Thursday was like a gust of wind
Nothing to speak of
Except the damage it left behind
Friday danced like a tropical butterfly
May be it was the love swelling my heart
Thank God for small mercies- two days with my baby.
She came to me, a happy soul. She had a baby, eight to ten months in her arms, bright eyed, as if
feeding from her mother’s energy. I remember watching her lips move as she spoke. She carried hope
the way a mother, any mother would.
But I could see through the façade, though she wore it well. Life had dealt her too many blows she knew
how to nurse the wounds. She knew exactly how not to cry. She knew how to not fight the battles she
clearly couldn’t win. Also, she knew when to fight on.
She says she never stood a chance from birth. Raised by an aging grandmother, also HIV positive, in a
poverty stricken household along with seven other children, it was survival for the fittest. At sixteen she
fell pregnant. At nineteen she was married, but not for long. Constant beatings and name calling caused
her to move back to the one place that she’d desperately tried to run away from- home. Then she tried
again. Then again. By 28, she had been through three marriages and birthed six children.
Now she was on her own again. She sat before me trying to change the narrative for her children. She
hoped I would be the miracle she desperately needed. I was not. But I could not tell her that. How could
i? Recently a mother myself, I know too well of the extents I’m willing to go to offer my baby the world.
So how could I not listen to her, implore me with her eyes, her mouth, the child in her arms?
She was beautiful. Take away the pain, and the struggles, and the disillusionments, she was beautiful.
Her eyes were neither big nor small. Her nose sat well on her face. Her lips were plump, the kind
Hollywood pays top buck to get. The lines on her face aged her more than she was. But there’s a kind of
beauty that not even the worst ordeal can steal from a person. And she owned that. I wondered what
kind of men had captured her heart, only to break it so mercilessly. I wondered what kind of men she
drew. I wasn’t judging. Life has taught me not to judge. This work has taught me not to judge. It has
taught me that sometimes life throws a curve ball over and over to the same people while others always
get the silver spoon. I have been lucky. I have not felt the kind of pain that cause me to stutter in my
speech, to recompose myself, to search for the right words to define it. I have been lucky, and I’m
But that’s not why I’m here.
I’m here to find kind words to bandage a bleeding heart, to be the light at the end of an endless tunnel.
Help me, what un-poisons the veins of someone who has only known untold pain? How do you sweep
your eyes from a child to her mother knowing you lack the means to redeem them?
Today I’m here to seek answers. If you have the wisdom, tell me, please.
The two most important days in your life is the day you’re born, and the day you find out why. Self discovery. If I’m to be honest with myself, I’m yet to truly tell of my purpose. I know not of a talent I have or a skill I’m very good at. I am yet to stumble upon what it is that truly makes me happy.
Don’t get me wrong, I am happy. But have you seen the way a violinist closes their eyes as they feel their fingers make love to the strings giving sweet sweet music? I want that. I want magic, and fireworks and a loud throb in my chest. I want a fire that consumes every inch of me and I still can’t burn. That is what I’m yet to find.
30 years. That is how long I have been here. I have talked myself out of one thing after another. Like playing the piano – can’t afford the lessons. Don’t tell me there’s YouTube. Or going to school to study IT, only to become a social worker. Or the endless business ideas I want to explore, but cannot get myself to just start.
I seem to lose myself on this journey to self discovery every time I embark on it. Sometimes I’m a procrastinator. Then I run out of time. Sometimes I “wait and see ” , and nothing shows up. Looking back, I have made little effort in propelling myself towards a Goliath desire. I watch it die, then clutch to the ashes with regret.
And regrets have a way of lingering way too long.
I know of the day I was born. It was a Monday. I however are still battling as to why I’m here. What is it I want to be? What is it I want to
achieve? How? When?
For me, the search is still on.
I was looking for a fix
Something to numb the pain
Then I met him.
I remember it was 2. a. m
The music had died down
The crowds thinned out
I was alone
On the side of the road.
The moon was high
I was wishing so was I.
He sat next to me
Offered me a bottle
Strange now, but I brought it to my lips
Took in the bitterness in sips
and held my breathe
He liked to dance
He sang me a song
And he got me drunk
He talked a lingo that mesmerized me
He talked about how a fucked up place this world is
I remember how glassy his eyes looked
And how bad I wanted to touch his face.
Now I remember just how high the sun was
When I opened my eyes to judgemental stares
And something written on my palm
“Someday we’ll meet again”.
A LETTER TO MY DAUGHTER
On the morning of August 29th, you made me a mother, a rebirth of myself in ways I could never have predicted. The first time I held you, I wasn’t sure what to feel. It was a mixture of too many emotions I still cannot fully explain. But you my darling have been a source of many a sleepless night, cranky moods, yet boundless joy.
Just shy of your fourth month, I have seen a million versions of what you will become. You however are absolutely free to choose whoever you want to be, just make me proud. I am here not to clip your wings but to cheer you on. May be I’ll be your ride or die(or whatever new lingo your generation will coin).
What many African mothers forget to do is tell their daughters just how beautiful they are. I will constantly tell you, I will sing it every time you compare yourself to another girl. I will sing it when you wear a frown in front of the mirror. I will sing it even louder for no reason at all, just so you don’t forget how beautiful you are.
I hope you love dancing. Its therapeutic. It is for me, ask around to those that know me. And I hope you love reading. And writing. And talking to yourself. I hope I pass to you something that I’ve loved, and these are those.
My Darling, this journey is just starting for us. May it be a long fulfilling walk. Let me hold your hand even when you feel strong enough not to need me anymore. Still let me. Cry to me about the boy whose eye you don’t catch, or the one you caught but he broke your heart. Laugh with me. Sit in the silence with me.