For someone to pull of that kind of heist within – what, ten minutes? – he must have been a seasoned thug. He must have been someone who had been watching me all this time; taking notes on my daily routine, observing how I run off to Dylan every time he woke up crying, monitoring how I buy my stuff in bulk because it is cheaper and shadowing me. That late morning, as I sat outside doing laundry, my phone spilling music from the bundle of clothes on my side, he must have been there watching me sing along, so blissfully unaware.
“Mtoto analia,” my mother’s voice came from behind me. I thought that maybe I should leave the phone behind because I could still hear it from the bedroom, but something in my head convinced me otherwise. So I took it, followed my baby’s voice to the bedroom and picked him up. This boy did not cry when he was born, but he waited until we got home from the hospital to make up for all the tears he was denied during delivery. There was no moment he could hold his tongue still. But on this day, it did not take him long to settle down. As soon as he kept quiet, I went back outside to continue with the washing.
I get to my spot, sit down and I notice there are things missing from my set. The big tin of Ariel detergent that I had just bought was nowhere to be seen. Neither was the mtungi of water that mother had just bought. But for some reason, the Sta Soft was left behind, standing next to the pile of dirty clothes, probably wondering why it was not good enough to be stolen.
I called mom.
She had not seen anyone come into the house, and both the front and back gates were still locked. This thief must have jumped over the wall, took the mtungi and detergent, and then jumped back out. When asked by my mother if she had seen someone walk past her just now, the lady who sells charcoal near our house said, “Eeeeeh. Your younger son. I did not see well, but he was carrying something yellow and red.”
That Kama, my elder brother, had stolen from us was not what irritated me that day. That, we were used to. What annoyed me was that I knew exactly how this was going to play out. I knew he was going to sell them to the first person he could find, take the money to a watering hole and drink it all, disappear for a week or so, then come back apologizing to mom, and mom would forgive him. It was the way things worked at home and it bothered me.
So when mom turned to me and said, “Pole Monica, I will buy you another Ariel,” I was disappointed but not surprised. I wished that was the point.
This was not about getting another tin of Ariel. This was about respect. This was about the fact that the earliest memory I have of Kama is us fighting over something I cannot even remember. We have never been friends, me and him. Hell, we have never been family. We are related, but we are not family. The blood that flows in him is the same one that flows in me, but we have never been siblings. And this feud goes back years.
He was in Class Eight when I was in Class One, and we both went to Ndarugu Primary. Even then our headmistress would call me out during the morning assembly, asking me to see him in his office afterwards. I knew exactly what he wanted. I was not in trouble. My brother was.
Kama had come to school drunk. Kama had gotten into a fight and beat up a boy within an inch of heaven. Kama and my other cousin had skipped school. Kama did not do his homework. Kama was seen doing sijui what with sijui who sijui where.
But they could not give him a letter to take home to my mom because it would never make it there. So I was the one being sent with letters instead. And when I did, well, that would attract the horrors of his fury upon me. I was the snitch that deserved stitches.
At home, my cucu had tried pretty much everything. Kama had been chapwad a good one, and when that did not work, she had called her police friends and had him locked up to teach him manners, but these things did nothing to help. Actually by the time he was getting in, dude had hardened. He had to be pushed to sit for KCPE, but then after that everyone pretty much washed their hands of him. Everyone except mom.
When a job opportunity opened up for her to go to America, she turned it down, because who would take care of her boy when she was gone? If you have ever given birth to a child then you can understand where she was coming from. Parenthood is one of the most confusing hoods anyone can ever find themselves in. It is about keeping faith that there is a chance your baby will get better. It is about not giving up on your kid even when it does not make sense. It is about loving your son even when he makes it so difficult.
One day an uncle of ours who stays majuu called and suggested that Kama be taken to an approved school. Mom said no. She said, he will go there and interact with other wakoras and then get worse. That is how he stayed back home. Lakini these days he blames her for it. He claims that maybe if mom had agreed to let him be taken there, perhaps there was a chance that he could have been rehabilitated. That if she had not been too lenient with him, maybe his life would not be the ghastly shipwreck it is today.
It sucks when you think about it. On one hand, this dude has never taken responsibility for anything in his life. In his malignant narcissism he believes it is always someone else’s fault that he is the way he is. He blames everyone but himself. On the other hand, though, he kind of has a point. Mom should have been tougher on him, maybe then we could have been spared of what was to come.
“Why are you refusing me from holding him?”
He had come back home, again, with too much blood in his alcohol circulatory system. It had been easier to deal with him as a sister only, but the moment I became a mother, it became terrifying. Now he wanted to hold my four month old Dylan.
“Whose baby? Mtoto wangu? Na you’re drunk?”
It was not happening. If Kama thought for a second I was going to let him touch my son, then his head must’ve been leaving him.
“You’re denying me my nephew. You know he is named after my father?”
My father. Not father. Not Our father. My father. The way he spoke about dad, you’d think he had a different one from the rest of us. On days such as these when he came back home smelling like he had been flushed down a bar toilet, he would not listen to being told otherwise, he’d say, “My father is the one who showed me how to drink. He is the one who took me to the bar. Who are you to tell me to stop going?”
I have never really met this man he spoke of. I was told that he bounced right after I was born, so everything I know about him, I hear from stories. The few time he came by cucu’s place, I saw him, but I cannot remember much of it. But be that as it may, even if he taught Kama how to drink, I am pretty sure he did not teach him how to be a drunkard. Or worse, an asshole.
Two things happened in 2013.
The first: we were just fresh from one of his usual cycles. This time he had come back home soaked, and in his drunken stupor, he had punched some of mom’s windows, breaking them. Then he had disappeared for a couple of weeks. Came back home to beg for forgiveness. Mom in her eternal grace had said, “Ni sawa,” and just like that he had been forgiven. After all, si she had even replaced the window panes?
But Kama being Kama was always just a bottle away from doing some other shit. This one evening he came back home wasted. We had made rice and potato stew, but because it was not a lot, it was not self-service. Mom was serving plates when Kama walked in demanding food. He was given.
“Niongezee stew,” he said.
“Sawa but let me first serve everyone and then ikibaki I will add you,” mom said.
Do you know what our homeboy did? Pissed, he grabbed the pot of rice and overturned it onto the floor. I mean, how dare anybody refuse to add him food?
I had learnt a long time ago that when he got like this, the best thing to do was take my baby to our room, lock ourselves inside and call my other brother. The eldest of us all. You would not believe Mbugua came from the same womb as this one. He is so good yaani you’d think he was raised under the bosom of martyrs. He knew how to fix things.
“Why did you have to call Mbugua?” Kama came up to us the next day, “Kwani hapa si kwetu? Me I cannot come here and eat?” Then he turned to mom, “And you, your daughters are just prostitutes. Malaya tupu. They go outside and get babies and they are allowed to bring them to your house, but me if I drink even small, you refuse me food.”
His insults did not hurt me as much watching him get away with it did.
The final straw landed in January the next year. The Saturday before Dylan’s dedication. I cannot for the life of me remember exactly what I was doing in mom’s room that day, but I remember sitting on the bed and watching a hand snake its way through the window. At first I wanted to scream, and then I noticed the face. I do not know what he was trying to reach for. I am pretty sure he didn’t either. What we both know was that one, he did not have permission to take it and two, he did not expect me to be there.
“Kama what are you doing?” My voice startled him and he pulled his hand quickly, almost hurting himself trying to get away. I told on him to mom. She confronted him for a change. He denied it. Words were exchanged. And when I saw him come for me, I remembered my training; took Dylan and locked ourselves in my room.
“Ukijifungia huko ndani you think umejificha sana?” he was right outside my door. “I can come in there, kill you, kill that your baby and then kill myself. Kwani what is death? Si hata babangu alikufa?”
The only reason I stayed for Dylan’s dedication was because Mbugua is the one who had organized it. That Sunday morning as we prepared for church I kept thinking, I cannot stay here anymore. I do not know where I will go, but sikai hapa anymore. I knew that had been the alcohol speaking, but even if it wasn’t, Kama had both the guts and bad taste to see his threat through.
I packed a bag with my clothes and Dylan’s and then told mom as we were leaving for church, “After church sisi we are leaving.”
“Monica what do you mean?”
“We cannot stay here anymore, mom.”
“Where will you go?”
“I do not know. I will figure it out.” (I would later that morning speak to Wambo, my sister, to speak to her friend who lived in Nai to host me at her place.)
She knew why. She did not argue. She did not try to stop me. She simply gave me fare to come to Nairobi and watched as I quickly walked away from home, hungry for air.
I was 21.
I was 19 when I first met Daryl on the night before my TOEFL exams. An uncle had suggested that I sit for these papers just in case we got lucky with any of the applications we were sending out for universities abroad. It is funny when you come to think about it; that we grow up speaking English at school for twelve years, it is our language of instruction except when learning Kiswahili, and we are even tested on it at KCPE and KCSE, but still when applying for university, I still had to sit for yet another basic exam to prove that I could speak, read and write English. Test of English as a Foreign Language, they call it. How long does anyone need to speak a language before it stops being foreign?
Back then, however, these were not questions my head could form. I was fresh out of high school and the idea that I could end up going majuu for uni was all the motivation I needed to sit for those papers. I left home under the pretext that I would be staying at Wambo’s friend’s place, but of course I did not make it to Nyamakima. I went to my boyfriend’s house. Nobody would know anyway. It is not like my mother had the presence of mind to think that I would end up anywhere else.
That night, at Michael’s place in Kinoo, everyone was getting ready to go out. Not me though. I was trying to go to America. I needed to study for my exam the next day.
“I promise we will not be out late.” Michael implored, “Daryl is coming with a car…we will bring you back.”
Nothing. I did not even know who Daryl was at the time, and when he arrived at the apartment, I heard akina Michael say to him, “Kuna mtu hapa anaringa kuenda out.”
“Hapo kwa bedroom.”
The door opened and this chap walked in. He had a small face, a tuft of hair on his chin, a body that was not trying to impose at all, and his skin looked like a gentle evening, just before it gets dark. He would try where my boyfriend had failed.
The next time I saw Daryl after that was at Michael’s funeral at the Langata Cemetery. He was there to bury his cousin, and me the father of my unborn child. I wanted to go say hello, but I did not think he would remember me, and surely that was not the time or place to walk up to a bereaved person and say, “Hey, remember me? The girl you once tried to take out dancing the night before my TOEFL exams? Yeah, so funny story, I did not get into university, but look, at least I got pregnant!!!”
A couple of months would pass before Daryl found out about his little nephew and called me. I did not even know he had my number. Shit, I did not know he even remembered me. I suspect whoever gave him my number must have told him about Michael’s child because he asked, “How are you guys doing?” and the way he asked, I was certain he was not asking after mom and my siblings.
“Tuko tu sawa.” I lied. We weren’t doing well. Not with Kama’s drunkenness and what not.
Halfway through the pleasantries as can be managed by, well, a man and his deceased cousin’s baby momma, Dylan woke up from his sleep, crying every bit of air from his lungs. I was still on the phone when I went to pick him up.
“Whose baby is that?” Daryl asked.
“You must be kidding!”
“As a matter of fact, yes I am,” I said, even though the pun flew right over his head. “I am serious. I have a baby boy.”
“Is it…is that…is he…uhm…Mike’s?”
“Yeah, he is.” I said, laughing at his disbelief.
I could not get one word through after that. Dude started mumbling animatedly, then apologized, hung up and immediately called everyone to tell them that Mike had a kid. He told his aunt – Mama Mike, his sisters, Mike’s sister, his own mother and before they could even know how to say his name correctly, they were already buzzing my phone in excitement, asking how we are doing and begging for pictures.
When I moved to Nairobi after my brother threatened to kill me at home, I lived in Nyamakima with Wambo’s friend. A part of town busier than a mad man’s brain. Nairobi in itself was not new to me, living in it was. I used to sneak from home, jump into the first 2NK smoking, stay over at Mike’s place in Kinoo for a couple of nights then leave. The adjustment of settling in here long term killed me, but because I did not want to overstay my welcome at Wambo’s friend’s place, I moved out the second I got a job. A friend had called to say that there was this chap with a kasmall digital marketing agency and would I be interested in filling a newly vacant social media manager spot?
Dylan and I moved from Nyamakima to Ngara with the first salo I got. I was being paid 20k, rent took 11 of that and we survived on the rest. We would make it work. As long as we had each other, we had everything we needed.
“By the way, mnakuanga wapi I come visit you guys?” Daryl asked one day when he called to check on us as he had grown fond of doing.
“Nilihama. Tuko Ngara these days,” I said.
“Are you serious?”
“Why wouldn’t I be serious?”
“Coz me naishi hapa Ngara NHC.”
We had been neighbours for a while now and we did not even know it. Well, not exactly neighbours, but we stayed in the same neighbourhood. His place was an easy five-minute-walk from mine. And when those two finally met, they connected just the way God intended. He raised his arms the way a student raises his when he is sure he got the correct answer, and Daryl carried him with a love so big they can feel it from space. They started going on dates, and sometimes they let me come along.
It has been four years and some since those two met, and siku hizi if you ask Dylan who is father is, he will tell you, “Me sina daddy, but I have Anko Daryl.”
I only had 200 bob left that morning. There were two options here; either use it to go to work or buy food for Dylan and I. So I called in and told Steve that there was no way I was going in. He flipped. But it was not my fault. He had delayed my salary and not for the first time.
“OK, I am MPESAing you your salo right now, come to work.” He said. And he did send the money, and as soon as it landed in my phone, I immediately withdrew it then told him I was not coming in. Remember that friend who invited me in to this jobo? Well, when she had also had enough of his shenanigans and said she was leaving, he sent her her salo via MPESA then promptly reversed it. Knowing that, there was no way I was letting him know that I was quitting just like that.
But before I had even called him to say I was not going in that day, I had called The Client to tell her I was not attending the next Friday status meeting.
“Why?” she had asked. I told her everything. “But what do you mean he has not paid you and yet we have paid him?”
It is funny how people ask that question what do you mean so and so did this or that? As in, what else could it mean?
“Listen, me I want you on this account. So if you decide to leave, let me know. The account is yours if you want, you can manage it from the office.”
That same Friday I went into The Client’s office, got myself a desk, a Mac and a pay rise. When Steve came to the office to beg for that account back, he was told that to get it, he had to talk to me. He tried. I did not want to hear it. After he left the office, The Client came over to my desk and said, “He says that you people are subaruing him on the TL over something….eeerrm, what is a subaru?”
Dylan started crawling months later. That apartment in Ngara was becoming too small. I needed space for him. Somewhere he could walk about freely. Someone at the office said that behind EABL there were some houses I could check out. They were big one bedrooms going for pretty much the same price as that bedsitter in Ngara. You have to understand, however, that big does not mean the same thing for everyone. Back then, that new place in Ngumba looked huge. Maybe because we did not have much.
We moved again. This time with just a mattress, a meko cooking gas, a plate and a spoon. It was not much, but it was more than we had when we left Nyamakima.
It was a good idea to celebrate Michael’s birthday like that, I thought. It was his family’s idea. On the 25th of February 2015 – two years since he passed away, we all gathered by his graveside in Langata. It was the first time we had been together like that. Something death usually does; uniting people who never knew each other. His mother and siblings, myself, his son, akina Daryl, his uncles and aunts and a few other friends. It was something real nice. A man of God prayed. Then after, we headed over to his uncle’s place nearby.
“Si you let us go with the boy today?” Mama Michael asked.
Up until this point, you have to understand, I had never been away from my son. But come on, what kind of person would I be if I denied her this? She had just come from her dead son’s memorial service. In any case, it would be good for Dylan to start getting used to that side of the family.
I let him go. Then went over to Mama Michael’s place in Komarock the next day with a change of clothes for Dylan, stayed the weekend there, and then just like that it became routine. On the times he was at his grandma’s, I would leave jobo, go get stuff for him from home, then head over to Komarock. I did not mind it at all until I changed jobos (this one was a happy transition, lol) and moved to The Agency. Everyone who has ever worked in an ad agency knows the kind of crazy hour’s people keep. Now imagine working for pretty much the mother of all agencies.
Of course Dylan ended up spending less time with his grandma.
If I am to be honest though, time was not the only reason I stopped taking Dylan to his grandma’s place. Here is the thing. After some time it became clear to me that this interest they were taking in my son was all superficial. They wanted a perfectly taken care of child in their house. They wanted a son, but with zero responsibility.
I would be at work and a message comes in with requests. Come with Weetabix for the kid. Send money for Dylan’s milk. Unga ya uji imeisha. Buy diapers on your way back. This one time, I was asked to buy a potty for Dylan to use at his grandma’s place. And it all refused to make sense to me.
We had all these things at our house. I only took Dylan to Komarock so that he could bond with his father’s side of the family. But how can you tell me you cannot spare 50 bob to buy your nephew milk? A potty? That is a one-time purchase and it would not cost anything more than 500 bob surely. It was not as if Dylan would need a new potty every day. He was the son of a high school graduate widow, not fucking Asahd Khaled. If we were going to raise this child together, then both of us needed to pull our weights. Otherwise it did not make sense.
When I finally decided that Dylan and I would go back to surviving the way we used to; by ourselves, was that too unseemly? I don’t think so. I would go back to leaving him at a day care center the way we used to when I still worked for The Client.
The way it worked was that if you worked late, The Agency would get you a cab home. But there was a catch. Well, two actually. This cab service would only be given for people who worked after 9.00pm. Also, it needed guys to carpool. Meaning you probably had to wait for other people to finish so that you go together. Meaning that leaving time was probably not exactly 9.00pm. You’d end up leaving an hour later.
I barely got to spend time with my son, but what to do?
The day I knew this could not go on was when I went to pick Dylan up from the Day Care Center and as usual he was the last kid to be picked. The center was run by this old couple from their house, who employed a few guys to help fend for the kids during the day. It was always impossible for me to go get Dylan before the dusk. At that time, most of the other kids are long gone and he is left there alone and lonely.
So this day I went to pick him up and found Dylan on that mzee’s lap, feeding. Seeing him on that old man’s lap, almost falling asleep, it broke me to imagine just how much I was never there for my son. I was missing out on being with him, leaving him to scrap for affection from people he did not know. I had become a stranger to my son. Even those days when I managed to get back home early, it was too late. I’d get home, pick him up from daycare, wash him and his clothes and then start cooking his supper and meals for kesho, and by then he was already tired and dozing, and I had not even held him for all of five minutes.
And that shit stabbed my heart something bad.
I could not quit my job. Quit and do what? I had not even been to campo yet. Everything I knew about my job, I learnt on the job. I needed the money for both of us. Dylan was growing up so fast like he was on some kind of manure. Soon he would need to go to school, and then what? It pained me to imagine that sending my son away was the best thing I could do for him.
So I called my mother and asked if he could take care of him for me until I figured shit out. She said sawa. The next weekend, Dylan and I were on a 2NK, heading back to the very same place we had run away from a year or so before. But at least I knew mom would sooner die than let anything happen to her grandbaby.
Let me tell you what depression looks like. It sneaks in when you have to see your baby once every two weeks because you cannot afford to see him every weekend. When you call to ask your mom how he is doing and you’re too late because he already fell asleep. It is in knowing that everything will be all right, but that still sucks because it is not you who is making it all right. In him not being to tell the difference between his mother’s voice and his aunt’s.
Depression moves in when you sacrifice everything, and dedicate yourself to your work, only for your boss to keep insisting ati “there is nothing you’re doing.” You are amongst the first people in and one of the last ones to leave, yet in his eyes, hakuna kitu unafanya. His words marinade in the resentment in his chest, travel up his throat and spill from his lips, and it is amazing how none of it is lost in translation. And they shrink you into something you never imagined you could fit into.
Depression fits itself into the little spaces that ignorance creates. When you do not know what you ever did to deserve that kind of bile. You’re told you’re lazy so many times you begin to believe it. Damn, every time you are being summoned to the office for one thing or the other. If it is not about your indolence, it is about the fictional time you’re spending in the other department. Like that one time he called you for an earful and asked, “Do you want to be in digital or creative?” he went on, “I have reviewed your access card and you’ve been entering that door way more frequently than this one…”
Depression finds humor in the little ironies of life. Because at the time of this reprimand, you had actually lost your office access card, so how exactly was this review happening jameni? How can you review a lost card?
A year goes by like that. You had imagined that you could sit out this storm. That this thing your boss had in for you, this searing hatred, would someday go away like a bad flu. It does not. Shit is not a homa. It is a cancer getting worse in stages. It is almost as if the more he sees you, the more your presence turns his blood to mala.
Your life becomes a chore you hate having to do. You’re a walking eulogy. You get tired of people asking you how you’re doing because you’re tired of telling lies. When you meet people, you wear a mask. You perform. You do not want to be that person who ruins other people’s joy simply because you no longer have any. So when a colleague or a client asks, “How was your day?”, you know they cannot handle the wretchedness of honesty, so you tell them what they want to hear. You smile and say, “Good. And yours?”
Because Depression is about being strong.
It is about being in a matatu going up Valley Road on your way to work and looking away when you pass by All Saints Cathedral and pretending as if it does not remind you of your Michael’s funeral. It is about pretending until your pride forgets what you look like…until your conscience hides from you because it doesn’t have faith in you anymore.
Depression hates friends like Brian. The ones who know you’re not fine. The ones who insist on sticking around. So on the day you go to him and say, “I am tired, Brian, I want out,” and he says “I know, but just hang on until we get you another gig,” and then two weeks later you land another job, you can hear depression fall on its knees, gasping for air. When you sign a contract for the new workplace and serve your notice you can see the Depression on its deathbed, with plastic tubes running in and out of its nostrils. You can hear the life monitor above him beeping hopelessly as it tries not to maintain a straight line.
But Depression is not the kind of cat that goes down without a fight.
It refuses to let you go. It puts you through a shitty handover on your last day of work, a Friday. It insists that you do a handover for accounts that you did not handle. Accounts that were not even clients anymore by the time you joined The Agency.
Lakini Brian- that enemy of Depression – stays back with you. “Si they want you to do it? I will help you do it.”
The new jobo pays 20k more. The first thing you do is go back to Njoro and get your son back, and you hire a house help. This time, it is going to take more than just money to take you away from Dylan again. As for your in-laws, or any other person, if they want to see your son, they are always welcome to come to your place. One day when he is grown, Dylan will understand why I raised him the way I did. He will know that he was born of a witch who wouldn’t burn.
As told by @MonyqueXO to Magunga Williams.