It has been over two decades since I saw Zahra. I cannot even remember her face now because my memory is a dot. If we met on the street, and we most likely have, we’d pass each other just like that. I wish I could see her again, though. You know? Find out how she is doing, see if she can remember me…or what we did. She was my first, you see. The first girl outside my family to ever see my ginene. We lived in a closed neighbourhood in Kisumu called White Gate. My old man moved his second family here a year after I was born, so in as much as I was born in Nairobi, my earliest recollection begins in White Gate. If you know Kisumu, then you know that when you are teremkaing that stretch from Kondele to Car Wash, you will meet three stops in between – Corner Legio, Fourems and White Gate. White Gate was called White Gate because of just that gated community we lived in that had a White Gate. Those were the golden days when olwendas were the matatus and bodabodas were bicycles.
Zahra, one of the daughters of a Muslim man, lived on the floor above us. If you ask me how we even got to start looking at each other’s ginene, I will lie and say that it was because of exposure to The Bold and The Beautiful. When in actual truth, it was just curiosity. We’d sneak out to play, then in the middle, she’d lift her dress and let me look at her. Then I would return the favour. The vagina was as funny looking to me as a penis was to her. To me, her ginene looked as if God forgot to put a koko, and instead slit the junction of her thighs with a razor blade. So I would touch it as ask her if it hurt, and she would say no, and then we would laugh and laugh and laugh and then go back playing.
One day while we were doing these experiments underneath the flight of stairs that went up to their house, her brother, Suleiman, found us. Well, the way I remember it, is that he just sat there on the stairs, and then when we emerged, he said, “naenda kuwasema kwa daddy mnafanya tabia mbaya.” I remember begging him, promising never to do it again. I remember Zahra bursting into tears. I honestly thought Suleiman wouldn’t snitch because we were boys- but he did. Homeboy flipped on me like Marques Houston flipped on Omarion in You Got Served (and if you don’t get this analogy, then you are not supposed to be reading this blog).
See, at the time we had a live-in relative. One of those distant cousins from dala who we called uncle because they were way older than us. His name was Odipo. He stammered when he spoke, so he spoke very little when he had to. My mother was away at work for the most part of the day, and my old man lived in another town, and in their absence, authority descended on Odipo. This man from dala who shaved his head box like Ababu Namwamba, sniffed a lot as if inflicted with perennial homa, and got angry whenever he had to say anything twice. When word got to Odipo that I – a seven-year-old kid, last born of the combined Kameja household – was doing bad manners with the girl from above, he did what every other person would do. He gave me discipline. And for those who went to prep schools that had summer holidays, being disciplined here means he beat me to a pulp. Then threatened to report me to Mother Karua when she came back.
Now, being beaten by Uncle Odipo is not what I feared. That one I could take. What I dreaded is what Mother Karua would do to me if she ever found out. Nyasachiel, I wanted to run away from home and start a new life on the other side of the world far far far away (in Kondele) from my mother as a street child. Probably become one of those kids in torn clothes who walked around Lwang’ni, asking for leftover fish. That was a much better fate than having to face Mother Karua over doing bad manners.
If I am here telling this story, it means, I did not run away from home. Not for lack of trying though. The big white gate was locked, and the wall was too high for me to jump over.
And just like Suleiman, Uncle Odipo snitched. I would have said he ran his mouth, but that was biologically impossible for him. He tripped over his words in between sniffs, and pulled letters out of words.
“Y-yyyy-you sssssee, (sniff) Geo-geooo-george nnnnoooooyud (sniff) gi ny-nyyyako m-mmoro ka gi—gi-mmmulore.” He managed when Karua came home that evening. I had curled myself behind the sofa set as he spoke.
“Nyako mane?” Karua asked.
“N-nny-nnnyinge en (sniff) Zzzz—zzzzzzz—zzzzaahra.”
“Zzzz-zzzzza- (sniff) zzzaaahra.”
So here is the thing. I do not remember my mother beating me up. I do not remember her talking to me about it. She just went back to her room. Which, if you think about it, is worse than being beaten, because now I spent the better part of the following three years (ok, fine. Three weeks) waiting for my discipline. Every moment my mother looked at me a little funny, I kept wondering so now is this the day you light my butt on fire?
What I remember, though, is that now it became a running joke. Even long after Uncle Odipo moved back to shagz, everyone in my family kept calling me Zahra. But not like that. They called me Zzzzz-zzzzz-zzzzzaaaahra and then sniffed like Uncle Odipo. Many times, it was to make fun of me, not Uncle Odipo. Many times it was humiliating. Many times when my siblings called me like that, the flames in my chest wanted me to punch someone in the throat. One time, I did.
You would imagine that with the thrashing and the constant goading, that would be the end of me and girls. But that is just because you have a weak imagination. There were others. Remember, with Zahra, we did not have sex. We were just messing around. With the others that came, we did the thing. The first one was a girl who I cannot even remember. Still in White Gate. She did not live in White Gate, though. Her mom sold groceries outside the gate, and on occasion, we played. This one time I propositioned her for chudex and she said sawa. When nobody was watching, we went to the back of the apartment block, and we did it.
I do not remember this because it was my first time. Well, that is not the only reason. What stood out was what she said to me just before I put it in. She said, “usinikojolee ndani yangu.” That statement bothered me a lot. So much that once I was inside her, I suddenly got an urge to pee. She didn’t know, but a kadrop leaked in before I pulled out. I was nine. No orgasm. I just got tired of holding back pee.
It is only when I became an adult that I realized why she had told me not to pee inside her. Unlike me, this one had had some sort of sex education. Someone had told her that it was wrong for a boy (or man) to pee inside her. For me, the only sex-ed I had received was that sex was wrong, and doing it attracts the same kind of punishment as failing exams – discipline. And so what is a boy as curious as he is defiant supposed to interpret that? Have more sex, so long as you do not get caught (by snitches like Suleiman). Donge?
But I did get caught one other time.
I was older then. We had moved from White Gate to Migosi, and there I met this girl called Linda. She lived on the house right opposite ours. She was my friend’s sister. I have never really thought about it until I started writing this article – but I really need to keep away from my friends’ sisters, eh? Fun fact – Linda’s brother, Davis, is the one responsible for my broken tooth, but that is a story already written here.
Anyway, we weren’t caught on the first time. Or second. Or even third. I cannot remember how many times Linda and I did bad manners. I only remember the last time we did. Another neighbour, Beryl, was having kids over at their house (right next to akina Linda on the left).
So here is the thing. Mama Beryl and Baba Beryl owned the shop we bought everything from. And the shop was hapo tu karibu. You could even throw a stone and it would break a bottle of Fanta on the counter. Now, Beryl said we all play hide and seek. And if you are laughing, you already know how this story goes. Linda and I decide to hide together while Beryl seeks. Other kids scampered – one behind the wall unit, a stupid one behind the sofa (that is the first place one would look), a clever one inside a kitchen cabinet. Now me, I pulled Linda and said, “twende huku”. I pushed a door and got into a bedroom, and hid behind the door. It was the master bedroom. Nobody would think anyone would go into the master bedroom, right? And after sijui three minutes of not being found, we started chudexing. I mean, if they couldn’t find us during hide and seek, how would they find us fucking?
What I had not accounted for, was the house help. For some reason, she just had to be coming to clean the master bedroom at the time Linda and I were getting busy. She saw us through the door hinge space, and just started screaming. I looked up and saw someone charging towards us with a broom. And I told Linda, “Let’s run.” Somehow, she did not catch either of us. In between screaming from the basement of her lungs, trying to beat us with the broom, and trying to catch one of us, she fumbled the bag.
We ran out. Linda went kwao, me nikaingia kwetu. And I would have been home and dry had it not been for one thing. My slippers. My goddamn slippers. I was prepared to deny everything and swear on my ancestors that I had gone swimming in Kapenesa, but in the haste to run away from the scene of crime, I forgot my slippers. I did not even realize it until I got into the house, looked down, and saw that I was barefoot. If this was Cinderella, it would have been romantic. But it was not. Those slippers were evidence. Red Bata slippers, newly bought.
Now, I was also known to lose my slippers a lot. I could use that. I chose to use that. In the evening, my brothers – Deo and Nimrod – said we go play one touch. But as I stepped out barefoot, Nimrod was like “where are your opato?”
“But si zilinunuliwa juzi?”
“Eeeeeh. Lakini sijui ziko wapi. Ata leo sijatoka kwa nyumba, but sizioni.”
And they helped me look for slippers I knew weren’t in the house. In vain, they said sawa, let’s go play ball. And we kicked it around until the earth started getting dirty. When we got into the house, our help sent my sister to go buy unga for supper. And when she came back, she carried much more than maize flour. She also carried news from Mama Beryl – that she would be holding on to the slippers and only give them to my mother when she came back from work. Then she told the whole world what had happened.
Karua walked in with my red slippers, I ran into the toilet.
“Geeeeeeooooorge!!!” My mother called.
“YES?” I answered from the loo.
“Where are you?”
“Haiya, finish and come to my bedroom.”
If my mother summoned you to the bedroom, then you knew what was about to happen. You said your final words and walked into the incinerator for your cremation. But I was not ready to die just yet, so I pooped for 45 minutes.
She didn’t even bother to come for me. She just waited. And I also waited. We played chicken until I was the one who came out. And as soon as she heard me flush, she said, “George, bii ka!” I walked in having written my will – bequeathing everything I owned to my favourite brother, Deo. I was ready to face my end, and hoped that the world would remember me fondly.
Surprisingly, she did not beat me, and that is why I lived to tell this story. She made me tell her the truth and then forbade me from seeing Linda ever again. Then sent me away with my slippers.
I know there are those of you reading this while rolling their eyes at my mom’s parenting. I can see why you are like “why didn’t she talk to you about sex and bla bla bla.” The older folk are like, “where is Uncle Odipo when you need him?” But here is some context. I am a lastborn. I am the bone of the family -both on my mother’s side and in my father’s household. I was 9 when I first had sex (but since I wasn’t caught the first time, they believe that Linda was my first at 12). Very likely I was the first one to even have sex in my family.
My mother was not ready to talk about sex with her kids – she probably had planned to do it with my elder brothers and sisters first before, get some experience, you know, before she could even talk to me. And my sibz were not even having sex. Then all of a sudden, her youngest was out there deflowering his friend’s sister.
It must have been a shock to her. She probably did not know what to do or say. She probably thought such things are for my father to take care of. She knew how to punish – for school suspension, for failing exams, for talking back at her, for breathing hard next to her when she is stressed, for swimming in Kapenesa, for eating fare and then walking from school, for going to harvest honey from that beehive inside the thicket we called Museveni – but not for sex. Now that was new territory, even for her. She is not from this generation of parents who were open about sex with their 12-year-olds. And I cannot fault her for it, because as long as you are doing your best to raise your children the best way you know, then nobody should ever call you a bad parent.
Be that as it may, though, I ended up not knowing anything about sex, though I kept having it. At least not from anybody. I learned from experience. Getting caught was no deterrent. I was a repeat offender. Getting discipline did not scare me that much either, so now what? Everything I know about sex I learned from the job, and even though I started early, I cannot say I ever knew what I was doing until I was 25 na huko. And boy have I made a ton of mistakes. Some stupid, some I will never recover from. Mistakes I do not have the word count to get into details of. Mistakes I probably wouldn’t have made if I knew then what I know now.
I consider myself lucky though, you know? Imagine if things were different. Like it I was a girl, or if I was from a highly religious family, or both. Like Zahra. Imagine if I was a Zahra and got pregnant. Imagine if I was a boy, but had feelings for another boy and we were caught pants down (in every meaning of that phrase). This story would have been completely different, and most likely, more tragic.
Anyway, I hear there is a comprehensive sex education thing that is the works to be taught in schools. A number of people do not want it because they (for whatever reason), believe that teaching kids about sex is giving them a license to have it. As if school kids have ever needed an excuse to have sex. As if they used to put kerosene in our food in high school as a culinary decision. As if people like me do not exist. As if we turned out fine, and not by chance. As if high schoolers having sex at funkies do not realize that they are actually committing a crime that could land them in juvi. As if there are no boys learning about sex from XVideos, wondering whether they are lesser men because their kokos are not the side of River Nyando. As if, there aren’t others like me for whom sex doesn’t mean to me what it means for others – such that when some chick says ati she cannot be with a dude she is not in love with, we roll our eyes and think to ourselves that her hairdresser must have pulled her braids too tight. Because what’s love got to do with it?
When I listen to some of the reasons why some people are opposed to kids being talked to about chudex, I wonder whether they are the ones high on bat food. Or I am.