I get home at 10pm, partly because of Oduor Jagero’s True Citizen book launch, and partly because the house has been unbearable lately. It happens to the best of us, especially when you have a mother that you nicknamed Karua. She who drives a Toyota Cami, the 5” 7” high poet with dreadlocks and devils on her chest that prick your debauchery when you hug, drops me home. Crickets ululate at my arrival. The neighbor’s cat does a dance in the dark. It purrs a gutted purr as the Cami peels away and disappears into the 10pm darkness of the badly lit Madaraka Estate. I wait until the red tail lights wink goodbye, before I push the key into the lock.
People are talking. Three familiar voices. Two are talking at someone, who defenselessly tries to make his case. You wait and listen to the tone of the conversation.
“What is the hurry, mum? I want to spend more time with my business. Why am I rushing off to do a masters degree when I have an empire to build?”
“But your mates are doing Masters. Your cousin recently graduated with a first class from Strathmore and they have offered her a scholarship for masters. You on the other hand graduated with the same First Class Honours and a CPA K, and yet all I see you do is slash grass with those worn out rubber shoes.” That is Karua.
Neem cuts in.
“But why can’t you find a job and rear your rabbits on the side?”
“Do you know what it takes to keep rabbits?”
I push the door before anyone responds. I manage to buy time for the recipient of that question, but not long enough. For as soon as I walk silently past the three without so much of a hello, the argument continues. I hear Dee say that he is not going to work for anyone. There is a cold block of ice in his voice. He says that he might consider doing his masters, but only after his business has been established. And even if he did, he will not work elsewhere other than Bunny Geeks – his rabbit firm.
Neem tries to cajole him. Karua’s fuming. Her heat keeps the confused August cold at bay, as well as plays its part in global warming. She reminds him of how much she has gone through to care for us all after February 25th 2005 when her husband died. How she had to struggle with school fees for 6 children with a shitty net salary of Ksh. 10,000. How she has fought court battles from hyenas who wanted to take away my old man’s wealth after he had gone to schmooze with our fore fathers. How an uncle came and beat her up for it at home, as my step sister watched and cheered from the sidelines. She reminds him that there was no single time she ever missed visiting day in high school. That we never lacked school fees, and for the rare times we were ever sent home for fees, she worked her ass off to get us back there.
“You are ungrateful brats. You have no idea how I have struggled with you and George. And this is how you repay me?”
All this while I am on my phone. Half of my brain is nosy, so it tries to listen to the conversation going on in the living room. The other half is trying to beat the high score that my little nephew put on my game, Subway Surf. I crash just before I get to that high score when I hear my name being mentioned. I crash again, deliberately, and as the character in the game rams into that oncoming train, I hear myself wish that Karua would crash like that too.
We owe our mothers a lot. Especially single mothers like Karua. They have fought battles to give us the lives that we have now. They gave a warm home when our father’s sperm was absent, housed us in their wombs for nine months. Stuck their heads in the toilet while at it, and then at the end of the term, they went through agonizing hours of labour.
For that alone we owe them our existence.
And it does not end there. We suckled their breasts, ran to them when some bully broke our arms, or our hearts. They hawked in weathered Volkswagen Beetles so that they could buy us Reebok sneakers on Christmas Day – they kind that always make you run faster. They put their honour on the line when they bribed someone so that we go to Maranda High School instead of Kisumu Boys. And when the bell tolled prematurely for our fathers, they wear the trousers and guard us like a lioness guards their cubs.
So a simple thank you is not enough. A hug on both Father’s Day and Mother’s day does not quite cut it. It comes close but no cigar.
But where does it stop? When does the lioness realize that the cubs are now grown into vicious lions with bushy manes? Or in my case, goons with sad red eyes, a chipped tooth and a penchant for telling stories.
Dee and I are the rebels in the family. Two black sheep who are giving their mother blood pressure for pursuing their dreams. The script in the family is that these two musketeers have been misled by the treacherous city of Nairobi. For my case, it is because after four years in university studying law, I have decided that it is no longer my thing. It does not interest me as much. I want to write, and that is my sin. Karua is getting a hernia over it, which is not fair according to the old timers, pensioners and uncles in the family, because she just had an operation the other day.
So she has called everyone to ask them to drive some sense into these two rebels. To remind us how hard life is. That have a good life, we need a good degree, and a good job. A job for which we put on suits in the morning, hang jackets over our seats, swivel around for a minute then get cracking. Jobs whose relevance is seen only at the end of the month. Decent jobs that will get us decent wives, who will bear us decent kids.
For this reason, I have been called into interventions, the latest one being last weekend when my uncle who is an attorney in town sat me down with some mzee. The mzee is from ocha. He has laboured breathing, and when he greeted me, to say he is a neighbor from ocha, he exposed his missing front lower teeth. It is a monumentally gaping hole that looks like a target for an Israeli missile. Through his gap, his tongue peeks like a naughty kid when lowered his jaw to mention his name; Ogal Mira.
Ogal Mira is the kind of relas from shagz you do not know, but tries to explain to you that his dala is not so far away from your mother’s dala. That when you stand at Karua’s dala, and you look over the escarpment on the other side of the river, you can his dala. You nod. He thinks it is in agreement, and giggles.
“Ochal gi wuon mare.” I hate random old people you do not know telling me that I am a spitting image of my father. Mara oh, your noses are flat and fat, like an atawara’s ass. Mara oh, you are black like strong tea. “Jalego be ing’eya?” He asks if I recognize him.
How does he expect me to recognize him? It is the first time we are meeting. Yet he acts as if you are best buddies on Facebook, or he reads my blog and is heartbroken that it was hacked. His grip is rickety, and however hard he presses my hand when we greet with those rehearsed smiles, I still can’t summon a single moment I ever saw that toothless smile.
They sit me down and ask me to quit the hallucinations about changing my career. I remember my uncle asking me, “Now that you do not want to join an honourable profession like law, what do you want to do, write?”
The idiocy of what he implies – that writing is not an honorable profession – makes me want to kick him in the groin. I want to tell him that whereas writers may not make much, they sure make a helluva goddamn difference. Instead, I decide to bite my tongue, instead of his.
“Yes.” I replied.
““Yes wuoda. Even if you write, you still need papers and that Diploma from Kenya School of Law for you to be a good writer. Papers are important. They improve your profile.” Ogal Mira contributes.
I do not know what to answer to such silliness.
“But you can be a lawyer and a writer like Gitobu Imanyara. He is a politician, practices law and also founded The Nairobi Law Monthly.” The lawyer in the room prods.
“But what I want to do is creative writing- fiction and creative nonfiction. Does Gitobu do that too?”
“Who do you know who ever quit law to write stories?”
“There are several.”
“Like who? Name one”
I name three.
“Okwiri Oduor, Tony Mochama and No Violet Bulawayo.” I honestly do not know many, just those three. But even if I only knew one, it would be enough. Because that one person would prove that it is possible. And that inch of hope is all I need. It is enough for me, and if my happiness means anything to these three, then it would be enough for them too.
We go round in circles, but my hallucinations do not go away. My vision of being a learned friend is now obscure like an image reflected from a distant mirror.
That was last week. Yet till today, the hallucinations have not gone away, even as Dee comes to sleep after his argument with Karua and Neem. He comes to the bedroom and asks me to excuse him to sleep. I have to go to my sleeping spot in the living room. And there, I meet Karua and Neem.
“Hi G,” Karua begins.
“So how is work? Have you been paid yet?”
“And what about the column?”
“My payment has been delayed this month. It happens”
“I don’t know. Ask my editor.”
“Yaani you can just eat your money alone without even giving me something small for medicine?”
Silence. Clearly she has no clue who paid the electricity bill and the DSTV, or that I own 15% of Dee’s Bunny Geek Inc. And it’s not like I work in the land ministry.
“So I was at your school the other day, and met your Dean. She told me you performed well, and that you will be graduating with Honours. Good job, son.”
“I went there because I thought you…”
“I know why you went there.”
Karua turns to Neem.
“I went there because I thought that since he got himself involved in campus politics, he must have failed his exams and then lied about it as an excuse not to go to KSL. Only to be told that he did very well.”
I keep quiet. I am switching on my computer.
“I need to talk to you.”
“Seriously mum, I am just from a book launch, and I am tired and I do not want to talk about what you want to talk about now.”
“Just ten minutes.”
“Have you reconsidered what we talked about? The KSL application for next year is already open.”
“So you are not applying?”
“You are not going to Kenya School of Law?” Her tone has changed from that of a soothing mother, proud to have a son graduating with Honours soon. There is bile in her voice now.
“I told you already. I am not going.”
“In that case then, find another place to stay. I cannot live with a son who is such a disappointment. You pack your things and leave. I am done with you.” I pause to let it sink in for a while. “You leave, umesikia?” I hear the finality in her voice, it hammers me.
I look up to see if she meant it, and her look answers me clearly. However, it doesn’t tell me why she is kicking me out for chasing my dreams. It does not tell me why she is so hell-bent in destroying my aspirations, as if she was never like me when she was 23, as if she was never confused with dreams that kept her awake all night. It does not tell me why she was getting worked up that I am choosing to do something that makes me happy, over something that earns me money.
It doesn’t tell me. It is quiet. Those red eyes, they say nothing. Other than confirm to me that I am too much for my mother to bear. I wish they could make me understand this: that if my mum does not believe in me, who will?
She rises from her seat and leaves for her bedroom. I let her. I watch as the woman who held me to her bosom as my father’s coffin lowered into his grave walks away from me. The same lady who closed my eyes so that I could not see the ropes lowering the coffin snap and let the wood plunge with thunder.
The betrayal is a bee sting.
Immediately, I feel cold. When a mother withdraws the warmth of her love, you feel cold. The cold inspires your eyes to burn with tears that feel like lemonade. I hold them back until she is gone, and then I stop blinking. One stubborn drop escapes. I wipe it off with an embarrassing sniff.
Neem stares helplessly. There are moments when a big brother cannot help a lastborn. Moments like these, when he is not sure whether to tell you to listen to your mum, or your inner voice. Moments when he is torn between asking you to read Ephesians 6:2 or take solace in Psalms 23:4. These are hard times for firstborns, and as lastborns understand. So we do not ask for anything. Not even a hug.
I want to tell her I am so sorry for being such a letdown. For being a stubborn, headstrong rebel who refuses to sell his soul. I did not get to apologize for being such a bad investment. I understand that I am such a bad debt, so I also understand if I have to be cancelled off with such step-motherly affection.
I apologize that I am such a disappointment, mum. But to be fair, it’s not entirely my fault.