Yes, take me for instance. I sometimes ask myself: why should a silly happening. . . a girl’s and a boy’s school affair. . . why should such a thing affect one’s life? You know such affairs- Papa used to talk about them- a gift of a pencil, a stolen sweet, love letters copied from books. . . all ending the same way. . . teardrops on paper circled with x-x kisses. Maybe Papa was right: a lot of words is poison: a few words are sugar. Later, I was to see cases of sugar words turning out to poison. . .
Now this boy mama. His name was Joe. Joe Ajowi. ‘Ajowi omena kibul’ or so he praised himself. He and I were in the same class at Sigoti Primary School. Girls can be cruel, mama. I used to read his letters to the other girls. We would then giggle and laugh at him, all the way from Sigoti to Dunga. But his gifts of pencils sweets- these I did not tell anybody. It was all childish and a game that amused us.
And then we were late in school one Friday. We were watching a football match between our school and Akado Primary School. We called them Tangatanga FC and we called ourselves Kieleweke FC which they resented, of course. Kieleweke lost to Tangatanga. Joe Ajowi walked me home and we talked about the game.
Then he talked about his dreams. He said he was going to work very hard: go to a secondary school. . . University. Yes, he was going to become an engineer. . .and make me his wife. His ambition was to build and design a bridge over a river. His father, he said, had told him he could marry after completing school and he wanted to make me his wife after all that.
Can you imagine this? At that age then? It felt good mama. Hearing him talk like that. But, boys were more confident about their future than us girls. They seemed to know what they wanted to become later in life: whereas with us girls the future seemed vague. . .
Several years later, I had found it increasingly difficult to penetrate his inscrutable face till it became eventually painful to summon even a minimum of emotions and tenderness in him. My eyes, heavy with grief and sorrow discerned nothing. Absolutely nothing mama. And my mind had become a white blank dazzling the eye like the sun at midday.
You see, I was in that stage of exhaustion that comes from an accumulation of sleepless nights, heated, ceaseless, directionless thoughts- that stage in which a woman is irritable, ready to break at the slightest provocation without she herself realizing her danger. It was a pity he could not share in my agony. And so, mama I had felt the shame of a child who sees a grown up suddenly caught in the act of chasing a butterfly over fields and roads.
Often, I was in a mood of ruthless self analysis. I wont lie. At such moments, wading through the nightmare of guilt and shame and self-hatred, I would feel tender towards him and the impulsive desire to confess, to clean my breast was very strong. I hated him mama. However, the more my hate grew the more I knew his power over me: I wanted his body; once again the wild plunge into darkness unknown, an orgy of revulsion, desperation and attraction.
Jealousy and fear of what he had been doing behind my back ate into my rest and peace, mama, and many are the times I wished he had kept to his word:
No matter my appetite, I’ll always eat at home.
Sometimes, I would take a fresh look at my relationship with my husband but all I ever looked into was an abyss and deep inside I only saw a darkness I could not penetrate.
How things change! Alone in the house sometimes, I would keep alive memories of hope and bitterness, wondering what mood I could now trust, seeing that one so quickly and frequently without warning, changed into the other.
How? I asked myself over and over again in my repentant moods, how can one really master the art of dealing with the most vital matters by letting events take their own course? How could you coax your mind from its wandering and keep it to the original oneness, stepping back from it in a bid to understand things in a much better way, mama? How?
And so many a time had I tried to give what I felt a captive form in words- cupped hands raised to the heart in prayer. Things were moving so fast and yet I felt powerless, too weak to act. Have you ever felt this way, mama? Under the power of a little soul searching and meditation (a habit I had acquired of late) I seemed to rekindle the memories with a glint of nostalgia, bitterness, hope and admiration- mixed feelings for that which was paradise. But suddenly, despite the scenes that unfolded before me as I went down memory lane and the face that stood vividly before me- had I crossed the river of time? – I wanted to laugh. I had just remembered a scene I couldn’t cast into my pot of forgetfulness. No mama. Not yet.
“My God, Sofia, he is so perfect. He is the most beautiful being in the world,”
Joe whispered, awe in his voice as he bent, eyes closed, to kiss his son’s small forehead. I laughed softly as i reached for them both.
“How many newborn babies have you seen?” Looking at him with love and tenderness, i added,
“And boys are not supposed to be beautiful, they are supposed to be handsome. But he is perfect, like his father. Well, maybe his father has a few faults. He is a dreadful scoundrel. I wonder if this little one will be as bad.”
He sat on the bed beside me, oblivious of the disapproving nurse and the astonished doctor. One arm craddled my head into his shoulder; the other was wrapped protectively about the infant snuggled into the curve of my arm.
“Hopefully, having such a beautiful, level-headed mother will temper my influence on him. I wonder how soon he will be able to hold a hand of cards?”
There was a mischievous gleam in his eyes as he chuckled softly.
“And maybe we would better just hope for your being a beautiful influence, I am not so certain about the level headedness.”
I laughed softly.
“I am not so certain about those cards.”
Suddenly, my eyes widened and i could not help it but cry out in alarm.
“What is it?”
His eyes lifted from my stricken face to the physician. Beside me, our son had drifted into slumber. He could see no reason for alarm but i clutched his hand with almost deadly strength.
“It’s beginning again. Lord, it can’t be.”
I tried to breathe.
“I thought the pain went away as soon as-”
My words were cut off as pain seized me.
Joe came up off the bed. The nurse slipped between us and picked up our sleeping son. Then the physician quickly examined me. Fear had stabbed through Joe. The bleeding and pain. He had heard these were the times when neither stopped.
“Are you ready ma’am?”
The doctor raised amused eyes.
The response had echoed in the room. Two confused gazes fixed on the physcian, one startlingly white, the other glinting like darkest obsidian.
“I’m going to need your help one more time.”
“One more time?”
He looked at me, not comprehending. I fell back onto the bed, smiling.
“I think what the good doctor is trying to tell us babe, is that we are not quite through.”
Joe searched our faces, the truth dawning on him.
“Oh Lord! Twins?”
“So it seems.”
The physician nodded happily.
“You’d better step lively ma’am. This one seems more impatient than the first.”
The doctor had time for only one hastily given instruction.
Impatient; strong-minded, defiant.
All those words and more filled Joe’s thoughts as he stared with disbelief at the tiny squirming form of his daughter. She entered the world as if she’d had enough of waiting. Her eyes were not the dark obsidian he had expected but a compelling white like her mother’s. And her hair was the softest whisper of downy lightness. His surprised gaze met mine as he cradled his daughter. I could tell he felt none of the boastful assurance his son had inspired in him. This whimsical, beguiling creature, so much a replica of her mother, promised to be completely unpredictable.
“My God, Sofia. Twins.”
It was all he could say to me, but love filled his eyes.
“Is that really surprising?”
I returned the gaze, sapphire depths returning his love.
“Oh my! Joe.”
I gasped faintly. Upon seeing his startled expression, i laughed tiredly.
“Just teasing.” I said.
“I think two are quite enough, don’t you?”
I seized his hand and drew him down beside me.
“Nurse, i would like to hold the rest of my family.”
Happy day. Beautiful isn’t it? Several months later, I was sitting beside him with my dress billowing out around me in a life-of-its-own heap and listening to his tearful story. The tears were his, mama, not mine. I don’t know what he expected from me. Did he actually think I would kiss away his manly tears, tell him I loved him bunches and heaps, then go ahead and stick by him just like that?
It’s an odd thing about love, mama. Just like you always said when someone you love cries, your heart melts. But when someone you don’t love cries, you look at them and think, why are you doing this? Why are you telling me this? And that’s how I felt seeing him cry: nothing. Mama I felt nothing at all except rage at his action and presumption.
On that particular day, on the other side of a central aisle the crowd before us pressed solidly up to the foot of the stage- a collection of bodies and heads of shaven skulls and woolly ones, of rags blackened by dirt and grease. The faces seemed to have lost all trace of personality. As if some giant eraser had rubbed out their individual traits, they had taken on a common mask mama, the anonymous mask of a crowd. A heavy odour of sweat and of stale smoke rose like a fog, but none seemed to care at all.
The church was ventilated by four windows, but on that particular day on a Christmas eve these were serving as seats or as resting places for the audience- the poor in spirit.
“There’s no discrimination at the Lord’s house,” i remember the preacher saying, “children we all are, of one great father, He, the indifferent Judge of all regardless.”
He had followed me to church. Of course to apologise for what he had done. And that’s when I angrily shoved him and aimed for the door. I was fed up. I had to leave, mama. I headed home where I knew I was racing against the clock. It wouldn’t take long for my friends to find me, and when they did, I knew they would be so
supportive that I might be persuaded into talking to him again.
First they would do the men are dogs bit, then gradually, like cold chocolate syrup coming down the neck of a bottle, they would say what a shame it was about the break up and all.
Do you remember Saida? Of course you don’t. Well, those days you had your quarells with Papa i used to run away to their place to escape the chaos you two created. I wonder why you never came looking for me. Did you ever notice i wasn’t around for a good period of time? Well, Saida, who owned all the Miss Manners books and studied them as though they were a guide to life would start talking about the disappointed friends and wondering whether or not I was obligated to offer an explanation for what I had just done.
And you see mama, I knew myself well enough to know that I would use the f- word to describe my feelings about the relationship- and that would get me looks telling me I had broken some unwritten girl code.
Achieng’, would of course cry. And she would of course, expect me to hold her hands and fix everything. I knew that not one of them would listen to me- I mean, really and truly listen about what a heart breaking- not to mention an ugly thing Joe had done to me.
I could hear Ludy say,
“Men are dogs. We all know that.”
But she would dismiss what Joe had done. . .
And who had thought of life as a thread one could continue weaving into a pattern of one’s choice? H’m. Do you remember, mama, when you used to say it’s pointless to resist fate? Impossible to escape its meanderings?
Well, you were right. Joe and I met ours on that day. I had grown tired of his bad treatment- the beatings, abuses, his silence and bad mood swings. Not that i knew exactly what i wanted him to say, mama: but let a man and wife at least share their anxieties about everything: their past, their hidden secrets, their constant fights. After all, a mad man was not dangerous so long as he was talking, was he?
When he showed up that evening, dead drunk as usual, just when i was almost through with packing my stuff, i was struck by anger and elation. We argued. As usual. After which he gripped me by the elbow and i struggled for words but he hit me again, oh, so hard mama i couldn’t believe the nerve. I struck him back mama. Yes, i did. He’d struck first, after all fair is fair. But when the shit hits the fan, let’s not expect clean air, shall we? Blow after blow after blow after blow after blow. Then i gripped him by the neck and thought, i was never going to let go. Blow after blow, blow after blow. I had blood on my fists, on my tongue and in my nose. . .
You see mama, a visit to the doctor’s office two weeks ago had proven something, I was HIV positive, and was entering motherhood again.
Papa was right too. To wade across life’s streams is something we often do, but always in different paces. Time comes when we have to move on, sometimes not prepared to pack our own, but only abide by nature’s commands- never sure of what’s in store but prepared to make sacrifices and take surprises however unpleasant. We all wade across life’s streams, not even sure of our return, but hoping to meet somewhere in life’s maze while searching. . . searching for an outlet, a way, away.
I know Joe is not dead mama, no matter what the coroner said. I know he is not dead, for he talks to me in my head. . .