Unscathed


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As he turned the pages, he glances at his shaking hands. The letter falls into his lap. Geoff closes his eyes and lifts his head, sweeping away the stirred memories of his childhood and the dark shadow of his past. Tears rolling down his cheeks, trailing down to his chin. He twiddled his thumbs with random thoughts clouding his judgement. His mind racing from one memory to another.

Geoff saw his mother kneeling on the dirt path outside their house, in his mind’s eye, begging their father for mercy. He recalled his father’s arm, whip in hand, raising it once more to lash her. Her grey dress, bloodied and soaked in a gentle drizzle and her perspiration. His brothers were screaming, calling out to their mother, as Geoff bravely asked her to look at him, as they huddled at a distance behind their father, out of his reach. She looked up at Geoff and gathered the courage to charge her father, moving swiftly from her kneeling position, aiming her shoulders at his middle. Her shoulder smashed into his pelvis. Their father was caught off-guard, clearly alarmed by both her speed and reaction. He fell, head first into the gravel patch behind him, with a crunch and a small cracks. The sounds echoed off the side wall of the house, magnified, alarming Geoff and his brothers, as they screamed in hope and relief, that this once, their mother over-powered their dad, during one of his disciplinary episodes.

Soon, their mother’s shadow is cast over their dad. He lies there, eyes closed, trembling. His eyes flutter open, as the boys approach. They pounce back, fearing him lashing out once more. Then they notice the whip lying at a distance. Geoff reaches for it and runs with it, throwing it into the fire at the edge of the compound, to burn with the rest of their trash.He draws his breathe deeper and more freely, racing back to stare down his father, alongside his mother. Neighbours suddenly appear. First one then three and soon, most of them are standing over their father. He jerks, as if to scare them off, abruptly sitting up to fend them off. Their faces are filled with anger and disgust, at the recent and past scenes burned deep into their minds. His trembling gifting them more courage.

Mother looms in larger and closer. Her face is menacing, as she stares him down some more and evenly delivers her final words, ‘This time, it is you who will leave. I say this once and should you ever think to come back or even imagine you can lay a hand on…’

‘We will be wathcing out for you. You are not welcome here, EVER! ‘ the chief interjects. ‘if you do, we will finish you off!’ The crowd cheering their support. One man roughly pulling dad up to his feet. All his pent up anger and power suddenly unavailable and unthinkable. He is out-manned and head down, avoiding all eye contact but face contorted with remnants of his rage. The man smacks his shoulder, daring him to a final tussle. He capitulates, falling onto his knees, face racked with tears of more furor. He is unrelenting and hurling insults at their mum. A few punches are landed by angry housewives smacking the back of his head. His friend and neighbour lands a final punch on his jaw, sending him sideways into the dirt. His reaction is silence, as the din of voices and murmuring grows into shouts of accusations. The Chief calls everyone to attention and the crowd disperses, as he raises dad onto his feet, quickly cuffing him. He hangs his head, unwilling to look at his family, relieved to leave the scene and spend time away.

Mum huddles and hugs us, as they walk off down the trail to his hut. Our youngest brother wailing after dad, calling him home, unable to understand the turn of events, at the tender age of two. Our four year old brother watches and follows my lead. Mum beams at us with a sad face, then finally, realising the nightmare may finally be over, she squeals with delight, jumps to her feet and swings our youngest brother onto her hip. Martin takes her other hand and I follow, feeling less anxious and hope washing over me, as we walk into the warmth of our hut, leaving the kitchen fire gently burning and a pot stering away the contents of a mixed dish of legumes and maize.

Our neighbour, whom we call Aunty joins us, chattering away with mum, celebrating her courage and casting glances at us, as she prepares to feed us. Little Jamie is fast asleep on Mum’s lap, with the back his neck leaning on her arm, between her elbow and up-turned hand. His feet sway as she works to shed the peas into a basket, dropping the pods onto the floor. A baby goat scampers in, picking at the tasty green pods. Aunty shoos him out and follows with a scattering of succulent pods to keep him outside. We eat quickly, eyes searching the door, hoping dad will not return. Mum tells us he will not be back and ends all conversation, sending us promptly to bed. We gather on our bed of straw, onto the blanket and pull another one over our heads. Jamie snoring lightly and soon Martin follows suit.

The letters fall onto the floor and are soon followed by the photo album’s loud thud. I sit up, opening my eyes, to seek out and pick the scattered pages and photographs. The last picture of our Mum, glowing, happy and smartly dressed at my wedding stops my momentary clean-up. I stare at her smile and realise how much she has endured over the years.

My wife walks in and stares at the letters and photos I have placed onto the coffee table beside me. She sees the photo of my Mum and smiling, she sits next me and kisses my lips gently and longingly. Her eyes flutter and she opens them, looking at me intently. She places her head on my shoulder and lingers there, still smiling. I stop and consider my luck at ever finding her. An intelligent, practical woman, small in stature but with a strong but caring heart. Her 154cm frame is slim, with a small paunch around her middle. Her legs are long and slender, as are her arms. She keeps her hair short now. Her small heart-shaped face is very pretty, and her inner glow is accentuated by her elegant pieces of jewellery. The scent of vanilla gently wafts off her soft skin, with the warmth of her neck teasing my senses. Mwara sits up and pours me some coffee, a good cup of Ethiopian espresso. I take many small sips and the warm liquid reminding me of how deeply I am loved.

When we met in 1965, at Nairobi’s Royal Technical College, I was graduating within five months and she had another two years to go. Our courtship lasted seven months and we married, as she continued with her studies. We postponed having children for another two years. She graduated with honours, after I barely scrapped through. It did not matter to her and I threw myself into my new role as a medic at a government dispensary. She later enrolled as an teacher assistant a city primary school.

Mwara understood my family background and her relationship with my mother, led me and later my mother to a place of healing. She loved us to renewed comfort within ourselves and gifted us with hope of a bright future. My father just died and I find my history catching up with me, drawing out all my troubled and forgotten issues. My mother spent her days busying herself but mournful about the few years they had shared. Once he left, he never returned, after earning himself twenty-one years in prison and then a short marriage to a very drunken, selfish woman who terrorised him into an early grave. I came out unscathed and now it is time to say goodbye to the stranger I still call Dad, after nearly a five decade absence. We raise ourselves off the couch and head to the door and down to the Church for his Memorial Service. I am glad I will never see him again, but a twinge in my heart tells me this notion will take me time to come to terms with. We both sigh gently, as we take our seats next to Mum. She is quiet and quite serene in her demeanour. Service over, we exchange greetings with Dad’s wife and leave for the safety and comfort of home, with Mum in tow, to spend the afternoon washing away the last vestiges of a difficult past, over good Kenyan tea and samosas. It is done and I can draw a deep breathe once more.

 

 

 

 

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Growing up African!


via The early years – Adventures of an African father

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My uncle shuffles into the room, his jacket turned in at the lower edges. His knees are bent as he stoops forward, arms giving him momentum as he manouvers towards his favourite chair.  Aunty walks in with a tray laden with a flask of steaming mixed tea, which she intends to place on the coffee table in front of me. I rise to my feet and take the tray from her, carefully placing it on the table, then pouring both of them some tea.

The tea, normally rich and dark, with far too much milk flows quickly and is a soft and light brown, with a hint of milk for colour.  After my Aunty’s brief prayer for our time together, we exchange greetings once more and sip the tea in a pleasant quietness.

Uncle clears his throat and places his cup onto the stool beside him. Aunty picks a call on her mobile and leaves the room. He turns to me and spells out why i have been summoned. Aunty swarms in, with a plate full or steamed arrowroot and sweet potato slices and sets them down before us. Uncle throws her a glance, as if to ask her to leave. She ignores him and offers the traditional treats and he takes the plate from her avoiding all eye contact. He bites into his arrowroot pieces and sips more tea which Aiunty quickly tops up.

Uncle leans back, suddenly as if totally satisfied by the refreshments, he picks his notebook and asks about things my sister and I need from our father. I share a short basic list, wondering why an intermediary is necessary, as we are both adults and speak with him often. I am amused, as is my Aunty, whose brow suddenly creases, as she sips her tea. Curious. I ask indirectly, if there is any cause for distance. His words are delivered slowly and evenly, “Your father is taking on another wife.”

I take a pause, calmly placing my tea cup back onto the stool in front of me and listen, noting his particularly cold demeanour and even voice.  Aunty drops her tea cup, the golden liquid staining her small cream rugs. Uncle slowly rises, face contorting with anger and impatience and slowly exits the room. I stand and run into the kitchen for a floor cloth and wipe up the tea, sweeping up the pieces broken cup.  She is my mother’s sister and is as startled as I am at the reason for my visit. Our hearts are crushed and our warm blood spattering within our chests, like the golden drops of tea. We work quickly and in silence, cleaning up the mess. We rise onto our feet, it is then she draws me into her open arms and hugs me for a long while. We are both silent but in shock. Three weeks after Mum’s funeral, a wife has been found to replace my mother of 49 years. The shame is too heavy to bear.

Uncle watches us over the top of the stairs, as he stands in the shadows, watching and waiting. As I pull away from my Aunty, I feel her warm tears soak into the left shoulder of my cotton blouse. She shifts to return with the wet floor rag into the kitchen and I rush after her with the dustpan holding the pieces of the broken cup. It is then I realize how irreplaceable her sister and my mother, is to her. I bid my goodbyes to her in the cold kitchen and she leaves through the back door, gently sobbing with her back to me.  I walk to the front door, perfectly aware of my angry uncle’s small frame lurking in the shadows. Thoughts of angry retribution on him flash through my mind, then I turn and say goodnight over my shoulder. He startles but shrinks further into the shadows at the top of the stairs. I leave, head held high and determined never to speak to him again. It is indeed the end of a very sad little man I had considered an ally. It then occurs to me how cowardly wicked he has become. I smile as I leave his compound, pitying my dear aunty.

A visit to the village of my grandpa


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The holidays are here! Mum tells me she has a great, big surprise for me. I pack my tiny suitcase and manage to squeeze in my school uniform, eager to leave and meet her at the school gates. Trembling fingers, nervous energy gets me moving faster the. I can think. Is that our car horn I hear? Pulling my jumper over my t-shirt, I free my face into the warm, fuzzy dorm air. Other students in my dorm are packing their clothes and books, desperate to get out into the world of warm sunshine, families and community.

Minutes later, I run across the grounds, my thin legs struggling under the weight of the small suitcase and duffle bag. Heart pounding, shoes thudding, as I make my awkward way to the school gates, only slowing down to meet the gaze of my class teacher, quietly beckoning me to a graceful walk, with her warning stare. As we fall into step, marking the register, as we leave, I glance back and wave goodbye to my teacher. She continues to stare, as if to warn me detention would be my first punishment the next term.

I swing through the gate, undeterred, daring her in my head, as I pick up speed towards my Mum. There she is, leaning against our little car, smiling, with arms open wide. In minutes, our brief embrace is over and we climb into the small white Japanese car, already weighed down with our light luggage. Mum swings her legs in, ignoring the stares of the other Mums, and envious of her independence as a single mother and ability to buy her own car, just as she runs her own life. Leaning back, I turn and wave a friend goodbye. She smiles and waves back, as our car lurches forward. Mum’s driving has not improved over the term, but we speed off into the long drive to the main road.

“Are you excited to visit Grandpa?’ Mum asks, with a glint in her eye. She is humming before I get to answer and I smile, eagerly watching the road ahead, as we speed across the outskirts of town. Before I  fall asleep in the warm, hazy sunshine, we turn into Grandpa’s road. I sit up, watching the trees and fields glide by. Within minutes we arrive and I am craning my neck out the car window, laughing as Grandpa races out of the cow shed towards us. My door swings opens, as I leap out and embrace him with both arms, taking in the smells of soil, manure and fresh cut hay. His fists are full of hay and he laughs as he picks bits of the hay off my hair and shoulders. Mum comes round and greets her father. His eyes mist up and he hugs her too. We walk arm-in-arm into his old little bungalow and the air cools as we step over the threshold. The tin roof creaks as twigs and leaves drop onto it. The rooms are bright and airy.

As we sit by his old fireplace, we sip mugs of strong tea with milk. This is the only place in the world where the tea tastes as good as ice-cream. The slices of bread are fresh and taste heavenly. Everything has been prepared over a wood fire. The tea burns and I gulp down some more, unperturbed by the heat. My body adjusts to the heat of the tea, cooling my whole being. Mum and Grandpa catch up on all the family news. I watch my very sweet and quite domesticated Grandpa spoil his daughter and grandchild.

This is a world I love, filled with open fields, small single-storey houses, some thatched and others with tin roofs. Cows bellowing out to one another and the children herding and chasing the goats back home. The sheep are back and the bleating quieting down. I begin to doze off on the arm of the chair, lost in a world of dreams. Grandpa gently places a small soft blanket over me, barely touching my frame. Mum watches and smiles. Their voices fading into the background, as the sounds of the fire crackle back to life. I drift off into my land of dreams and freedom. Tomorrow brings new experiences and a perfect beginning to my school holidays.

The meticulous manager


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Katy sits at her glass desk, watching her team through the glass wall. Her gleaming glass top, reflecting the morning sun on her perfectly manicured hands, as they flit across her keyboard. Her iPad screen glowing onto her neatly made-up face. She takes a pause from her busy morning at work, to sit up and pull her skirt over the top of her knees. Katy quickly looks up and through the glass walls at her staff, searching out their movements to determine their output. Every data entry coordinator seems engaged and Katy sits back a little in her chair.

She picks up a dishevelled pile of documents from and begins to put them in order, reviewing their urgency. All tidied up, she began to sort their priority and sorted each pile onto her desk. Katy looks up again and scans the room, watching to see if anyone on the team needs her help. They continue quietly, intent with their transcribing and telephone conversations. She decides to leave soon after five p.m. and re-briefs the shift leader on what the evening’s targets are, as she heads to the door, carefully making uniform strides, her back straight and head up, with her handbag carefully perched on the crook of her arm.

Her car is parked perfectly in her parking space. Katy sits with her legs and chest well distanced r from the controls. She turns the key and waits for the usual two minutes, before driving off. She heads home, stifling a yawn, as she pulls up her windows and turns on the air-conditioning to keep her face from perspiring.

Once home, she takes time to park right between the lines, then locks her car and walks into her apartment. Katy unlocks her door and walks in, throwing her handbag onto the sofa, as she kicks her shoes to the door and undoes her tight hair bun. She pushes her shoes from the day before away from her, as she launches onto the sofa. Last night’s packet of crisps sits open on the coffee table before her, as she reaches for the TV remote underneath them. She takes off her jacket and throws it onto the chair beside her, as she slides onto her side on the sofa. Her head rests onto a packet of biscuits on the sofa under the cushion and she groans, as the packet is crushed and crumbs fly all over the floor. She closes her eyes, drifting off to sleep, as her cat litters the floor with her canned food. Katy turns away and lies on her back, with the chocolate on her crushed biscuits melting onto her cushions. As she drifts off into a light sleep, she makes a mental note to get up early and start cleaning early tomorrow.

Katy’s light snores bounce off her living room walls, as her kitchen tap drips onto her dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. Her cat plays hide and seek with a few strewn meat wrappers next to the dustbin. Flies buzz and hit the closed kitchen window in the lazy late afternoon heat. The smells of stale garbage wafts into all the rooms, adding to the warm air of the apartment. The cat looks out of the streaking siting room windows, perched on the messy dining table, covered in used plates and old magazines. Katy snores and the cat shifts to the window sill reclining in resignation, shifting dead flies and cockroaches on the sill, shifts uneasily and finally sleeps.

The early years – Adventures of an African father


The sunlight dancing on our faces, bringing a warm end to a cold night, made us smile. We both leapt out of bed, minutes apart, anticipating a beautiful, warm day. My sister tucked her short round frame into her physical education gear and pulled up her socks, giggling as we sang our happy tune. With my back to her, I sang along, giggling at the difficult bits, tugging my thin hair with our Afro-comb. I stopped and stared at the wooden comb, remembering happy days at the Coast, where we went swimming every afternoon, soon after a tetra-pak of cool, flavoured milk. The sunlight continued to dazzle and dance across our room, as we raided ourselves for breakfast and another fun day at school.

We rushed downstairs, skipping a step where we could. I bounced into the hallway, with my sister’s red cheeks glowing at the effort to catch up. We ate our breakfast of bread and milk, then dashed back, to brush our teeth. Our mother humming away, as she served out our breakfast, then humming away again, as she watched us leave again. Father peeks over his morning newspaper, stern and without so much of a smile. Oblivious, we rush out and bound back upstairs, racing to get ready and leave.

My sister giggles, her cheeks glowing a soft orangey-red. Her nick-name, Ka-Nyanya (Tomato) reflecting her face’s soft red fiery glow. She bounces around, singing as she picks up her tiny school-bag, eager to get to school and learn. I watch her eyes twinkle, as she arranges and packs her reading, writing books and pencils neatly, ready for the day, as she does everyday. I scoop my own books off the edge of the bed, into the middle of my small school bag and hear a small crunch, books crashing onto my pencils, eagerly zipping up the canvas and whirling it onto my shoulder. My sister watches with concern, her tiny dark brows peaked in impatience and annoyance at My untidiness. I look past her dismissively, then suddenly call out, “let’s go”, uncaring for the state of my bag and belongings, as I race on ahead, out of the room and bounding down the stairs.

‘Tomato’ squeals and runs after me. We are out of breath , as we jump down the last steps, gunning for the front door. Mum is at the door in two quick steps, ahead of us and promptly turns to us, laughing, as though she was part of our game. More laughter. Dad walks up behind us, door slamming behind him, with a disapproving look on his face. We make our escape into the car, waving hard at him, making our goodbyes. He waves and manages a smile, then turns to run up the stairs and prepare to leave separately.

Mum drives us out of the gate, waving back at Dad, as she looks at us in the rear view mirror. As soon as we are out of sight, she tells us a short story. The rest of our drive gives Tomato ample time for nearly a hundred questions. Mum answers each one patiently and with a smile and Tomato’s gleam with every questions and answer. I marvel at her mind and listen intently. Before long, I am lost in my own daydreams. Soon, Mum is singing along with us, as we navigate the brief traffic into School.

Our friends arrive soon after we get there. Mum is waving us goodbye and one of the nuns scoops up Tomato, giving her a big hug, as she squeals in delight. All her teachers adore her and so do her classmates. Her shy nature keeps her cautious and watching every interaction. The nun puts her back down and briefly places her palm on the top of her head, wishing a good day. She strides off to class and I turn to look for my own friends, as I too, run to my class.

The day moves quickly, with one good class after another. At lunch, I find and smile at my little sister. She is fine and chatting away with another girl in her class. I busy myself with my friends. We play every game we know after lunch, then race to class, as the bell rings. The school day draws to a close, and the nuns ask us to sit and wait for our parents, in one of the classrooms. We read, colour and write our waiting time away.

The man walking around with a mean, angry expression is my father. I see him from the classroom window. His reputation precedes his demeanor. He flashes a smile at the teachers, then glares around the room, seeking out my sister and I. Our teacher, regaining her composure, stands up, aiming to interrupt him and take charge of the room.

Father gruffly shares our names and I catch my sister’s anxious expression, as she cringes and moves further back into room, hoping to stay a little longer in the safety of the class and camaraderie of her friends. Her sweet six year-old heart pattering faster, as she composes herself and shrinking into the background. Her head drops, as she stares into the floor, trying to avoid his eyes. Her face expressionless, her eyes displaying the terror in her heart. The teacher, watching this, gasps from the front and tries to smile reassuringly, at both of us, as as she motions my sister to her side.

At the front of the classroom, the conversation ends and father rises to his feet, striding out of the room, head held high; defiant but silent. He stands outside the door, staring into space, eyes cold and heart practically still. His expression, a reflection of his difficult upbringing during the brutal and cold colonial state of Emergency in Kenya. Living with unresolved hurt from his schooldays at the Catholic boarding school, in the central Kenya highlands, surrounded by scared, scarred African teens, desperate for an education. Each student living in constant terror of losing family, on falsified charges under a retaliatory colonial government, characterized with paranoia and fear.

The teachers calls out my name, then my sister’s. I rise to my feet, slowly, hesitating. My sister nearly stumbles, her small round frame quickly regaining balance. I look back her, beckoning her to join me. She keeps her head down, dreading every reason to leave the warmth and comfort of this loving and stable environment. I see her and feel her pain. Boldly, I walk through to the back, clasp my sister’s hand in mine, drawing her close to me, with a smile on my face. She smiles back, then nearly stumbles when father pops his head round the door. I hold her hand tighter, reassuring her we are fine. She smiles and moves forward with me. The rest of the students watching us, worried for our welfare but unable to offer a solution, sit resigned in a momentary stupor. Our teacher smiles at us reassuringly and tells us she will see us tomorrow. We smile back and step out into the corridor and the big scary world, waving our friends goodbye, as we step into father’s cold, militant world of narrow perception and misconceptions.

Unbelief and scarcity


A few years ago, I wrote a blog titled following the herd. Now the herd mentality is back, biting down hard on us. A few weeks ago, we had an election. Shortly after that, the results were announced and then the court petitions lodged. Living in an African country means that no election is presumed as credible or legitimate. Why is that?

Africans are great people, hardworking, smart, educated and aspirational. Even as emigrants, they tend to out-perform their hosts, in thriving at the chance to work, as long ass they have the strength to do so. When they get turned away as potential emigrants, this works out, eventually, in the continent’s and people’s favour. Numbers do not lie and I say this, taking the China workforce principle.

So why are African political races and elections deemed neither fair or credible? Africa has a challenge. Too many interested parties, jockeying for resources and trade. Desperate national leaders without a plan, tend to be hungry, even greedy. This is often our undoing. Awards can and have been made to those who offer quick cash for favours. That aside, this is a great continent, with enormous potential.

The herd mentality, that drives a copy-cat social behaviour is only part of the problem. It is starts with a scarcity mentality. Only a few have ample resources, so we must all clamber after the same life standards, leading to a dangerous social understanding; that we must fight once another to the bone. So political contenders who fail, take the next best option of scaring their base support to fight for what others have attained and by any means. So we put aside our strong social and ethnic moraes, to take up the fight in person.

One country impressed me this past week. That was the delightful country of Zimbabwe. After 37 years of decline and rapid-r covered on all fronts, the people witnessed a bloodless coup, that saw the end of their first and only President to date. The most impressive thing I have witnessed after an African army takeover. It is, in fact, a global first, as God, Himself was holding back the people all along, to a certain and undeniable victory. All the r3st of Africa is in awe. The remaining dictators have effectively been served their notice.

Something big is happening in Africa. God is moving, revival is stirring and the presence of the Holy Spirit is sweeping every nation and locality. God is at work and it has Neve been so visible. Africa rising. It is a new day. The glory of the very wealthy and advanced royal kingdoms is coming back, more than a hundred-fold. Africa will rise and shine, to exceed every hope, dream and expectation.