When Sila thinks about it, what she remembers most is the stillness that enveloped their tiny house after.
Sila grew up in rural Kenya in one of those farm houses that dot the extensive tracts of land covered in crops and cattle. Theirs was a tiny family. She was an only child. This is not to say that she had a lonely childhood. Far from it. She had friends from the neighbourhood who visited her home every day and who eventually became the brothers and sisters she never had. She was also surrounded by activities, the usual things that define life in a farm house. A normal and happy childhood; until that one night that changed everything.
The still of the darkness was marred by heavy thumps that shook Sila awake. She listened for a while. Puzzled, she slid out of bed and found her way towards the door. Her heart raced. She pushed the door open a crack and looked to see where the sound came from in the living room.
There are things that, when they happen, shake us up in such a way that we can’t recover and we remain shaken for the rest of our lives. For Sila, it was the sight before her. A disheveled figure, whimpering and struggling for breath, Sila’s mother lay on the cold floor. Cold tears ran down her bruised face. Towering above her, fist raised in might, was Sila’s father. Blooded words sputtered out of his snarled mouth with every fist fall.
Sila looked on in horror. Her mouth wide open in a silent scream, her eyes burning, she locked eyes with her mother. Her mother’s eyes spoke to her in red. Sila knew she had to do something fast. Just as she opened the door wider to storm in, another blow hit her mother. Sila’s mother looked up at her. The look was enough to make her stop. In that moment, her mother’s head sagged onto her chest with the heaviness of pain. Sila felt her heart splinter into tiny pieces.
She tiptoed back to bed, buried herself under the covers and listened. There was nothing but stillness, again. She lay there listening it, wondering if she was imagining things.
As with any farm house life stirred early the following morning. And as she did every morning, Sila went to the kitchen to join her parents for breakfast, a wide smile on her face. Sila’s mother placed a plate full of boiled arrowroots and a cup of strong tea before her.
Only the woman serving breakfast wasn’t her mother. Her face was swollen and pained. She winced with every movement yet she was smiling so brightly it was almost a yell – I’M. OK! Sila looked from her mother to her father. They both looked at her. Then in a voice that she didn’t recognize her father said rather firmly that that is what happens to somebody when they are not careful and they fall. Her mother nodded eagerly and, holding Sila’s gaze, she told Sila to be careful when walking. Sila held on to her cup of tea and willed it to still her quivering body.
Years later Sila holds onto a big cup of tea in a tiny apartment in uptown Nairobi. Tea that she will not drink. Tea that she’ll hold onto until it becomes ice cold like her heart. Last night she lived that night from many years ago. Only this time the floor was layered with a white carpet that is now the colour of her blood. Only this time she wasn’t looking through the crack of a bedroom door. Because this time it was her mother’s daughter on the floor curled into a ball. Sila; her name suggested it. She knew she was next in line. It was just a matter of time.
Now Sila sits on the kitchen table. She looks up to the man sitting across. He eats the breakfast she just made him. Pumpkin cinnamon rolls with a cup of black tea; his favourite. Wiping his plate clean he smacks his lips, burps and smiles at her. She smiles widely; her mother’s smile. It is just about to be still. Finally.