Child…

May you never settle for less than you are worth
May you never take the path of least resistance
May your feet carry you to new lands
May the beat of your heart be in tandem with the God of your life
May you keep searching, moving – making…
May your eyes never take the night sky for granted
May your presence bring hope
May you remember that time is a gift
May your silence always be in wisdom…

 

Advertisements

My Marigold

I can tell she’s making an entrance from the sound of her walk – believe it or not. And the change in pitch of her voice. She can’t keep still. There’s a beautiful energy about her. There is something about the way her eyes light up, that I can’t quite put into words. They are sharp and familiar.

Every word she says is a bolt of energy and she means it twice as much. You can’t double-cross her and she comes in more colors than is humanly possible; vermilion, emerald, turquoise and fifty shades of indecision. She wants things one way, then another way. She walks away mid conversation and hides in places in her mind you can’t reach even if you wanted to.

I can smell her in the air as she walks past me. Quick and poised. She’s young and independent. Her face is powdered and on her lips; her favorite mauve lipstick. Though she won’t say hello, I can tell she’s here. I haven’t seen her in years but I can trace her out like a dotted line on the back page of a newspaper.

A chill runs down my spin as I get up to go meet her. Marigold has always been a part of my life and she probably will be forever. She was always in there somewhere but I only noticed her more in my later years. She spoiled me with affirmations and gifts. With her, I always had more than I needed. She would come to my rescue like a swarm of bees, much to the dismay of many. Marigold was my angel – she still is.

You ought to hear Marigold laugh; everyone does! It is beautifully sly! No one ever laughed with such honesty. I lived out part of my childhood on living room floors, behind couches, listening to adult conversation. The sound of laughter was a good sign. But from Marigold it could have been anything! Even scorn. Sometimes as she laughed, she would clap as if to approve that indeed she had been humored.

Marigold has magic in her hands. When she used crayons to drew fishing villages on manila, the river seemed to flow northward. The atmosphere was abuzz with activity. She taught me to appreciate the sights and sounds of the simple life. Happiness was already neatly woven into the fabric of life and I never had to look too far to find it. It could be conjured up from within if I perceived life with the right pair of lenses.

I see her peering through the door. Her eyes bright as day when she should be asleep. I ask her if she’s okay. She replies yes. I linger longer searching her eyes for Marigold and like a child playing hide and seek, I notice her yards away; the corner of her dress blowing in the wind. I call out to her. She answers.

Marigold is here.

As the night continues on, I lie down staring at ceiling thinking about my old familiar friend. I wonder where she travels to when she’s not here with me.

Would we?

If we knew then, what we know now 
Would we have loved then, like we love now?

If we saw then, what we see now
Would we have stayed then, like we do now?

Love was the warmth of your hand in mine.
It tasted like gentleness,
And shone in kindness.

But now, I deserve,
And you demand.

Love was never mine to cage; 
Nor yours to keep.

And only now do I see -
You cannot trap that which is meant to be free.

 

The Brick Clad Walkway

Even after years of living in this place, the world still feels strangely unfamiliar. And it still takes us by surprise how every waking moment has the enormous potential of changing the entire course of our life story – dragging us further inland.

“Tie your shoelaces before you trip and fall.”

Those words, put into motion Njeri’s resolve not to love her father as sincerely as she had intended to. Those words took up the front row seat of her mind and struck all the wrong chords. A deep disappointment had been birthed.

If you can, allow me pause the frame, and paint you a picture.

Njeri had been building an elaborate castle in the sky for a few months now. Her innocent mind, gave her limitless freedom to create and recreate. She knew what clothes she would wear that day. She knew what shoes to wear too; shoes that would enable her run into father’s arms – successfully. The artistry of this encounter mattered.

For many evenings now, she had watched with much envy, as her classmates run down the brick clad walkway, finding embrace and reassurance in their fathers’ arms. Those moments, she observed, very distinctly marked the end of a school day. All was forgotten. They were home-bound. She wanted to know how this kind of love felt.

After mother pointed him out, Njeri started her run from across the room. This was the moment she’d been waiting for. Her little feet hit the ground; her heart was in flight.

“Tie your shoelaces before you trip and fall,” she heard him say, as she approached him. As Njeri silently mastered her shoestrings into a neat bow, the castle she had so caringly built was coming undone. Something inside her little chest broke. This strange man had just erased a very crucial part of her life story and he didn’t even know it.

This was not what being loved felt like.

You see, maybe he meant her no harm. But Njeri had just been robbed. How do you love someone that steals moments and bursts bubbles? How do you love someone that scars you casually? How do you love a father that is a thief of something as irredeemable as time and space? A father that breaks a little girl’s castle…

She learnt not to ask nosy questions and look for prickly answers. The world was as is, and maybe it was better this way.

Njeri for a long time feared to innocently dream things into existence. The higher off the ground her thoughts wandered, meant her fall would be great if no one was there to catch her. And then came the disappointment and grief from the way it all turned out. Oh, how she had wanted to love him. Where was she to put all this love now? And the shame from having expected so much and received so little. She would never speak about this moment. In fact, it didn’t happen. No one had to know.

It’s agony, when the world burdens a little girl’s heart with an untold story. Or when she has to tell a myriad of lies to cover up something she has very little understanding of.

Petals

Trinkets of rain from above, always felt right falling to the ground. Kirabo liked them on her skin too. At that moment, she had to make a quick decision to run inside or stay put a little longer. If she stayed long enough, she would take in the smell of the wet earth. As the drops fattened and the sky darkened, she would step inside and watch intently through the glass hoping for hail and sharp flashes of lightning. The rain, for her, was a sign of something new or the end of something old.

Amari was just the right amount of everything Kirabo wanted, though he had a stammer. Their love came and went like the rainy days that fascinated Kirabo, even now that she was much older; the child in her still alive as ever.

She had to teach herself to quiet the urge to complete his sentences and thoughts because he took a little longer than usual. It felt like being in a car with a timid driver that constantly hit the brakes. But with time, Kirabo grew to be patient, and in those moments of patience appreciated him. He thought her odd, many a time.

No man, had spoken to her through music like Amari did. It was his way of telling her she was gravely dear to him or that he was being hurt by something she did or did not do. Some songs let her know he was confused or that he simply needed time away. Amari always found the right song with the right words. He found it easier to let someone else sing to her what was really going on inside, when words failed him. It excited Kirabo each time he asked her to listen to this particular song. But it did not always end well.

He had his good days when he spoke with almost no stammer and on those days they spent more time together talking about life. Their love, was what you would call, uneven. It was clear to see that Amari loved Kirabo, more than she ever did him. Everything about her marveled him. He liked the way she spoke about life, in a way only a sixteen year old could. He never stopped telling her, that he saw her name in bright lights.

Occasional messages, they now share, still come laced with the innocence of a love that once was. But you see; you can’t chase the wind when you do not know where it will go next.

Ubukhazikhazi

Ubukhazikhazi Balentombi by Samthing Soweto

Thing is, in that moment nothing soothed me more than the sound of a song, that unobtrusively explored my emotions but whose lyrics I did not understand. I wondered whether he was dying a little inside. I was on the other side of his song listening, and trying to align my soul with his, but still, I could not understand a thing he said. How was I to help? All I heard were falling falsettos, that slowed down my mind and made my eyes burn. It felt like I had known him, from a different time and place.

He could not give anymore. If he did, I would not be able to hold it in. In the midst of all his foreignness, he did not hold back. He was giving me his best; sweetly, honestly…musically.

I would not have wanted it any other way.

Can you hear me?

There was this one game that father and I enjoyed playing when I was much younger. He would stuff a polythene bag with dried leaves and stocks and if we were lucky, a few papers we found here and there to create what I later got to learn was a football. The thrill of running after the ball was more exhilarating than kicking it back to father. Other times he showed me how to make tight knots with rope and rubber to create hunting tools he and I would use to trap animals for food.

I grew up in a little village. I had a loving father and an ever present mother. Their love was the strong kind of love that wasn’t hidden from our eyes. Even if they didn’t say much, I could see it in the way father always helped mother lift the firewood or the pot of water from her head and place it on the ground when she returned home. Other times, my mother sang a love song about a stubborn man that kept tugging at her heart strings. They even had a special pot that only they ate from or stored wild honey that only they ate deep in the night. Though my father was the head of the house, my mother was the glue that held us together. My mother often said our father will always be her first born. It was a lie and a truth at the same time.

We all knew each other in our little community and we had principles that saw to it that we lived in harmony with one another. Conflict was rarely heard of – if ever. The children were never allowed to go hungry. Theft, we were taught from very early on, was not beneficial. The women cooked together and shared ideas while the men went on hunts and panned a way forward in times of crisis. When death visited us it was a terrible time. The mourning took weeks and sometimes months. We made songs to let them know we missed them and thought about them often. I wondered if they heard us in that other world father told me they go to. Death was never an end. It was an entry to the next place we all go to.

Growing up, we sat by the fireplace in the evening while the sun sunk into the sky. Our elders shared stories with us about the times that were. The children got to know about the fierce battles their forefathers won and lost. They got to know through these stories what they should do in times of trouble and in times of plenty. It was by the fire and smoke that stories of love and loss were told and new songs were hatched. The fireplace taught the boys to be men and the girls to be warriors in their own right. It was by the fireplace that I got to know my ancestors down to the ninth generation. Song and dance always filled the air and this was where my little feet learnt the rhythm of the land.

My people have known pain and loss. The kind of pain that bites at your heart and will never let go. An unredeemable pain. We have been robbed, demonised and hurt in more ways than I wish to talk about because the memory of it hurts more than death.

I was only eleven when gun men surrounded the hut that I lived in with my brothers and was taken. I watched as my father was tortured and killed. My mother was violated in a way I find hard to express to you. They lay their bodies on top of her, one after another, while she begged for them to stop. My head was held and I was forced to watch. If I dared to even blink, they whipped me. They left her there bleeding and so drained of life, there was no need to administer a final blow of death. She was already on her way to the other side. She could hardly move. She wasn’t fighting anymore. I don’t know how to explain what I felt but it was something found in the middle of raw anger, sadness, frustration and helplessness.

They gave me a load to carry and told me I was now theirs. I was suddenly a man and life was about to change. I wasn’t in my body for a long time. I seemed to levitate somewhere above it but being in it meant feeling things that I didn’t have the courage to. I wasn’t ready. With time, they gave me a nickname and a gun. Later, a woman. A kind timid girl my age or younger to pleasure me. Even though I didn’t want this to happen, it was a source of entertainment to my abductors and so it happened. It was no surprise that one morning we found her body hanging from a tree with a pregnancy believed to be mine.

My mother survived. She was found by a few other women of our community that had been lucky enough to escape. Mother was nursed back to health. It took a while but one bright morning it was announced over the radio that the war had finally ended. Peace had finally come they said. But what was peace to the mothers that lost their children and watched their husbands brutally murdered? What was peace to the mothers who fell pregnant and now mothered children of wicked men? What was peace to a mind in a body that had been violated and left with the memory of its tormentor? What was peace to eyes that saw and bodies that still carried marks of death and war? What was peace to a community scattered and massacred? What was peace to the spirits they broke?

I’m in a far away place right now. I traveled here in the night. The moon was bright and the smell of gunpowder was everywhere. I am not quite sure what sent me here but it ended my life. It might have been a bullet from a gun or something in the ground that I step on. As I lay in the cold and stared up into the sky I asked it to swallow me and put me out of my misery. In my final moments I remembered my father and asked him for forgiveness. I wasn’t brave enough when he needed me most that day when he tried to fight to protect us. I asked my mother to forgive me for what my eyes perceived while they hurt her so deeply. I said farewell to my brothers and sisters that I had not seen in seven years and asked the ones that had gone ahead of me to receive me well.

I see my mother but she doesn’t know that now I watch over her from the heavens. I watch as she cooks my favourite meal of cassava with millet and groundnut paste. I walk with her as she goes to the missing persons hut and tries to summon me home in song and tears. She doesn’t know whether to bury me and put up a gravestone in my memory or hope that one day I will walk back into our compound as a grown man and take care of her. Inside this hut she talks to me and tells me she misses me. She shows me the food she’s made and reminds me how much I enjoyed it. On nights when I ate it I slept with a smile on my face till the morning came, she says. How can I tell her that I hold her face in my hands and gently wipe her tears though she can’t see me? She shuffles her feet and dances while she whistles a sad tune. I dance along with her and in that moment our feet speak a language we both understand – the rhythm of our land.

I’m missing from her eyes, but I’m not missing from her heart. We’ll meet again. Stay strong. I’m watching over you.