WHEN YOU EAT TOO MUCH

Dead dried up purple flowers were spread all over the compound. No more were falling, the tree was completely bare. The old man sat beneath the jacaranda tree, looking for what shade that could be found underneath the branches from the scorching sun. It’s likely that he didn’t know where he was. His only company was worry, a tangible thing that sat on his chest and sucked away all his air.

Like a madman, his fingers were twirling a coin round and round, round and round. Sometimes slow, sometimes fast. He could hear Kamaru and the other children playing near the granary, a game that on any other day he would have encouraged and even joined, but today the thoughts in his mind held him down like a sack of potatoes.

His granddaughter came out of the house carrying a cup of watery porridge and set it at his feet. Even though he averted his eyes, he knew in his mind how her bones showed through her skin, how hollowed out her cheeks now appeared, how dry her lips now were and how she looked like she could be blown away by a gust of wind. It pained him.

The rains had failed again. Prayers to the deities had gone unanswered. The face of luck was turned away from them. Food supplies were dwindling and watering holes were drying up. Like him, no one knew what to do about this situation.

Scouts had been sent out far and wide to look for a way out. It was not looking good. Madeze’s son, the latest scout, had been gone for two weeks. Madeze didn’t speak much these days, the former storyteller of the village now reduced to mumbling the same thing over and over. He knew, even without being told, that his son was no longer of this world. He felt it deep inside, as only a parent could feel, the snap as the rope connecting their life force was ruthlessly cut. The light had gone out of his eyes a long time ago. It wasn’t just the drought that made his body gaunt and his eyes dead. He no longer had anything to live for.

The old man shifted on his stool. So much had gone wrong over such a short period of time, and it was only likely to get worse. He couldn’t remember the last time he had something solid to eat, but it wouldn’t have mattered much if he were alone. After all, he’d been eating all his life, and old men like him didn’t need much sustenance. He would be fine, yes, but that was a hollow victory. He had to think of Kamaru, who at nine was an innocent too young to understand anything about life’s struggles; what a drought meant for their family. As long as he got to play with his friends, like he did now, and come home to a plate of food, his little world revolved in the right direction. He had to think of Nalia, at fourteen still too young and fragile to have the weight of the world thrust upon her shoulders. Already she knew that the food they had would only last three days, a fact he’d failed to hide from her, and now he could see she was eating even less in a vain attempt to make it last. It broke his heart.

He desperately wished he could turn back the clock. Maybe things would have worked out differently if their mother were alive. He wished he had a way to dig them out of this hole they found themselves in. He didn’t have many earthly possessions, but he would gladly sell them all if the children, the light of his life, never had to go hungry again. Just then the rays of the sun shone upon the coin in his hand and made it sparkle, and just like that a plan began to take shape.

Silver it was, with the engraving of a phoenix on one side, and a single feather on the other. It was said to bring luck upon anyone who took ownership over it. Mzee wasn’t much of a believer of luck – hard work and reaping from it was all he knew – and yet…. Didn’t he have it in his pocket when he’d gone to ask for the village beauty’s hand in marriage, even while knowing she had rejected all the young men in the village?

He could sell it, but money couldn’t be eaten. He couldn’t even say that he would buy food with it as none of them had the strength to walk at least a day’s journey away for it. Thankfully, they wouldn’t have to go far. He knew the one person who could help them right here in the village.

Roiyo was the village chief. He was a big, round man, with a honeyed tongue that could convince a cheetah to change its spots and grant him use of them. Rumor had it that he was the cousin to a big time politician in the city. Several times a year, a convoy of big cars could be seen heading to his compound, trailed by a large cloud of dust and exhaust fumes. One time a helicopter had landed on the children’s field and the occupants driven to Roiyo’s house, sending tongues wagging.

It was like scarcity never hit Roiyo’s house. In fact, he’d never looked better. It was said that food was delivered to him directly from the city every week. He’d taken to selling miniscule portions of food at very exorbitant prices, causing many people to sell or barter their possessions to him to sleep partially full. Roiyo was a good man, most of the time. His major flaw was that he liked things. Many things. Shiny things. He like to flaunt his old gold watch, using any opportunity to ‘look at the time’ while angling it towards the sun to make it sparkle. He would love the coin, how it shone in every light. Maybe that would get them enough food for a month, after which only the deity knew.

*Originally posted in STORYMOJA

DADDY ISSUES

My earliest memories of my father are of him not being there. He had another family, and I guess they needed him more than I ever did. I remember suppers my mum and I ate alone, the food I insisted she leave aside for him, and even though he didn’t show up most times I was always happy to see him. I loved him, and that’s all that mattered.

I rarely saw my father. Most times he would call my mother to meet him outside the house. When he finally came home I remember him so tall over me, car keys in hand, trying to look interested as I ran circles around him and telling him some nonsensical story from school. Or asking to play with his gold watch. His phone. Showing him my books, the food I’d kept aside for him, anything to make him proud of me. Anything to make him stay longer.

I couldn’t stay a child forever and as I grew up, the cracks in our relationship turned into giant fissures. It wasn’t more glaringly obvious than when my father decided to finally come live with us when I was fourteen. I’d gone from the girl with virtually no father to the girl with a hovering father almost overnight. I hated it. We fought over everything. He wanted to assert his authority but in my mind he had none over me. My father had made his choice years ago. He hadn’t been there when it counted, and he didn’t know the first thing about me. How dare he try to pretend otherwise!

One thing about growing older is knowing that there’s a time to just forgive and try to forget, otherwise bitterness will build a fort around you then you’d be stuck. That moment came when I examined my life and noticed the destructive patterns I had all stemmed from the need to find the love and validation I never got from my father. I had to remind myself that this was MY life, and I needed to live it for myself, not as a reaction to something I never had.

For a long time the only things I felt comfortable talking with my father about were school things and official things. It was awkward. It still is sometimes, but he tries. He’s a good father to my siblings and I’m happy for them.

Sometimes I look at him and I get so ANGRY. Does he know he broke his little girl? Does he care? He was supposed to teach me about love. He was supposed to teach me about acceptance. I hear fathers do that.

YOU CAN KEEP THE FLOWERS

My friends tell me I should be sad you’ve moved on. The songs tell me that I should be mad you’re successful without me. The poems teach me how to cry,supposedly it is cathartic. As if tears can patch up the new hole on my heart.

All that advice is very confusing to me. You see, I’m used to moving on. I never expected us to last. I heard the words we spoke to each other, meaningful then, hollow now, and in the end, just words. I saw your shifty eyes waaay before your feet started moving. We started ending when we begun.

Maybe you were surprised by my nonchalance. Maybe you wanted me to rant and rave against the universe, pound a fist upon my heart and declare that I would never love another. Part of me wanted to do that, because even now I still wanted to please you, but what would be the point? I could have held you to me, made the promises you wanted to hear that I could not keep, but in the end, all I would have been left with was your body. You were already gone, sweetheart.

The biggest part of me knew that you were my past, and I locked you safely there in a box with my other Almosts . I refused to give you any more of my time, you’d already taken enough moments in my dreams.

My friends tell me new your relationship is not going well. The songs tell me I should rejoice. The poems teach me that this is what it feels to be vindicated.

Me? I know you’ll look for me soon, and I’ll greet you like I do any stranger; with frosty eyes and a fake smile.

THE TREE

A slight wind was blowing. The deep green leaves of the lone tree swayed gently. It already promised to be a great day.

 

The land was dry and arid, seemingly untouched. Over the horizon, the sun was just making its first appearance of the day, the reddish- yellow rays spreading like tendrils on the ground. The first rays felt good on the chilled leaves of the tree. This was the best time of the day, when the coldness of the night was replaced by the warmth of day.

 

The village stood to the right of the tree some distance away. To the left was the communal shamba. One could see the tilled land and the rows upon rows of maize that had been planted in preparation for the seasonal rains. That had been done months before. Rain was scarce in these parts. When it did rain it was never enough for the villagers to reap a bountiful harvest. The tree had watched as the villagers toiled and dug into the shallow soil, planting their seeds with hope in their hearts. It had watched as they had performed dirges and chants to their deities asking for rain. It had watched as, when all else failed, the people had wandered home dejected. That had been the case for many seasons and the villagers had learned how to survive on the little food there was. Most of them engaged in barter trade with the neighbouring villages. The women were skilled weavers while the men were hunters. This kept most families fed and clothed and also took care of the less fortunate ones. It was the way of the community.

 

The mango tree’s musings were interrupted when it heard the loud cock-a-doodle-doo that was always a sign of the birth of a new day for the villagers every day like clockwork. At this time, not many people would venture out of their huts, most of them too busy with the mundane tasks of making breakfast, washing up and getting ready for the day. This was also the time when someone came to the tree for a quiet moment to think, sometimes to watch the sunrise, and other times for clandestine meetings and such. Children sometimes came to pick fruit from the branches. The tree was where everyone, in one form or another gathered and let their guard down. The tree had seen and heard its fair share of good and nefarious acts happening between its shadows and knew a great deal about the villagers. More than they would be comfortable with, for sure.

 

A boy was walking up the narrow path leading from the village to the tree. He was a thin, pale waif of a child. His brown pair of shorts was threadbare and torn at the hip, hem and along the waistband. Even in the morning chill, he was not wearing a shirt. The small chest was bare and exposed to the elements, his little ribs showing through skin that appeared too thin. The boy walked with a slow and unhurried gait, akin to an old man walking with a cane. It seemed like a joke, especially since a little boy was much more likely to be seen skipping around as a result of the excess energy all children seemed to have.

 

The boy stopped beneath the tree and looked up with eyes that were shadowed and held no childlike innocence in them. Eyes that had seen too much of the evil nature of humanity and had learned to accept it. His face was sunken, his eyes almost lost among the planes and angles of his face, his skin looking pasty and paper thin, his lips cracked. For a long time, the boy just stared up at the tree, saying nothing and remaining motionless. Then, as if a string had been pulled, he wrapped his arms around the big trunk of the tree and started crying in earnest. Great, big gulping sobs that shook his light frame and came from deep down in his heart.

 

It was heartbreaking to watch and listen to. Yes, it knew it was a tree, but there was such a wealth of emotion displayed that even a stone would be moved.

 

The boy’s name was Boni and he lived with his uncle, who was the village chief, and his family. The boy’s parents had died of a snake bite in their sleep a few years ago. He had been nine or so. Back then he had been a happy little boy. Full of life, with eyes that sparkled and a ready smile. He had been a frequent visitor to the tree even then, coming with other boys as they looked for mangoes. When his parents passed on, his sadness had caused his natural light to be snuffed out.

In private, they made the boy sleep in the barn with the animals, on a tiny wooden cot that barely fit his frame. They gave him only a thin, old sheet to cover himself with at night, regardless of how cold it got. They made the boy work for his food, making him do most of the chores in the house. Even after all that, they denied him food many times because of some imaginary streak of dust the wife had ‘seen’ or some unnamed mistake only they knew about. The chief’s son, though around the same age as his cousin, was encouraged not to talk or even acknowledge his presence in public.

 

Under all this strain, the boy grew increasingly haggard. Those who inquired after him were told that he was still grieving. No one knew the truth because the chief and his family would pretend to really care about the boy if someone was watching.

 

The boy had stopped crying for the most part. The occasional sniffle and involuntary hiccup could still be heard as if the boy’s body hadn’t yet released all the pent up emotion. He slid down the tree and sat on the ground, his back resting against the bark. For a moment, all was quiet again. It seemed loud after the turmoil of a few minutes ago. Gradually, the usual morning sounds started trickling in: – the song of an early bird, the rustle in the underbrush as various living creatures scurried around looking for their first meal of day, the sound of the wind blowing through the leaves. Such peace didn’t last for long.

 

After some time the boy stood and looked up the tree again. He squared his shoulders and grabbed the trunk, his intent clear. Whenever he could, he liked to climb the tree and look for mangoes. That was usually his only source of sustenance whenever he was given no food. No one knew about it, he was very careful.

 

On this day, however, following the crying jag that weakened him even farther, Boni could not find the strength to pull his weight up the tree. He tried for a few times before he grew frustrated and sat back down again. The tree watched as he drew his knees up to his chest, put his arms around them and dropped his head on top of his knees, the picture of hopelessness and misery.

With a little nudge from the tree, a fully ripe mango fell from the tee and landed near Boni’s feet. He looked at it for a moment before he cautiously picked it up and bit into it. A smile appeared on his lips as a thin trail of juice trickled down his chin. It was the first thing he had eaten in two days and it tasted like heaven. The tree watched on indulgently, as the boy ravenously ate the mango, skin and all. It made another mango fall and watched as the boy’s joy increased.

It was all the thanks the tree needed.

Nepenthe

I’m not supposed to feel like this on a Tuesday.

The Tuesday before the Friday of my birthday.

Nothing’s wrong, but I don’t know what’s not right.

I’ve tried medicating myself with the sugar from my early birthday cake and the lollipop and chocolate my siblings bought me.

I’ve tried to bask in whatever little sunshine there is.

I’ve tried the music route, been listening to my favourite rock songs since morning.

I haven’t talked to my friends in a while. I haven’t seen them in a while. I’ve had opportunity for both, but I get tired just thinking about it.

I can’t even engage on social media. My Facebook wall has been reduced to occasionally posting random quotes because my brain is tired and I happen to have internet.

I was going to bake a cake for my co-workers on my birthday, but now I don’t know if I care or not.

I’m supposed to write, deadlines are catching up, but I’m still here looking at my keyboard. The stories are there in my head, but I get so tired just thinking about it.

I feel like I’m floating, not necessarily away from people but apart from them. I’m not sure that I care enough to find an anchor to hold on to.

I’m not supposed to feel like this on Tuesday.

FOR WHEN YOUR HEART DOESN’T BREAK

I always thought that love was forever. He said that our love was timeless. I sit here on the floor, twisting the locket around and around in my hands. Outside the window I see the leaves of the lone standing tree in the compound sway to the gentle breeze. There is a lulling quality to the motion and looking at it fills me with inexplicable peace.

 

I still remember the day he gave me the locket. He prepared a lovely picnic for me, and after we were done with our meal, he presented me with a small black velvet box. Inside was a very beautiful sight; a solid gold heart shaped locket, attached to a thin gold chain. He showed me how he had affixed both of our photographs inside the hollow center, beneath which was the engraving: For All Time.

My hands had gone lax, and at this point, I was barely breathing. There are no words to describe the fullness my heart felt at that moment, or the next one when he sat up to loop the chain around my neck.

 

From that moment on, whenever he said he loved me, I believed it. Whenever he said that our love was timeless, his words ran true. After all, didn’t I always have a representation of his heart over my own?

 

I might try to make myself forget how it all changed, when he stopped looking at me with that special light in his eyes, but these events are ingrained in the deepest recesses of my mind. It all started when he arrived. The little one.

 

I always thought I would love my child. The kind of love that is limitless. Isn’t that expected of a mother? I tried, I really did. I would sit hours looking at the child, trying to feel, but it was a fruitless effort on my part. For every ounce of indifference I exhibited, the little one was showered with twice as much love from his father.

 

Slowly, I became normal again. I started to feel something towards the child. Resentment , first, and the beginning stirrings of hate. What did he have that made his father look at him like that? Was he not the one who had always told me that our love was eternal, that we were living our very own happily ever after? When did the light in his eyes go dim for me?

 

 

Finding the kitchen knife wasn’t hard. It was done in one swift strike to the head; he never saw it coming. The hard part was the waiting. What would he say when he came home? Would he be happy? I mean, I did it for him, for us. Now we could resume our forever.

 

I don’t understand how he didn’t see it my way. I had to remove the piece of the puzzle that didn’t fit. It was the only way. I did it all for him, for us. Why, oh why, does he refuse to talk to me now?

So I find myself here. Alone. They tell me I’m locked up ‘for my own safety’. They tell me my hands are tied together because ‘I’m a danger to myself and others’. I hear them say that he hates me, that I disgust him. I thought love would last forever. Silly me.

I don’t think I did anything wrong. I don’t feel like a bad person. Does it even matter?

 

I’m sorry, where are my manners? I should have started by introducing myself. My mama is probably rolling in her grave, she taught me better than that. My name is Miriam, but they call me insane.

I’M SORRY I’M NOT SORRY

I’m single, very single. So single, in fact, that my mum is probably about to call up a church committee to come pray for me.

It’s not like I’m keeping some persons dangling. This is the kind of single where there aren’t even any prospects.

But you’re a man hater, Maureen, said random person of the internet. I read your posts and WUEH! Moto wa kuotea mbali.

I’m sorry…. Wait, what am I saying? I’m NOT sorry. I love men; I just know very few good ones.

My mum asked me when I’ll introduce her to my boyfriend. I told her I don’t have one. She asked if I’ve been looking. I almost laughed at that one.

You see, girls like me, the ‘certified men haters’, don’t have to go looking. They find us. Every insecure, sniffling boy man with a hero complex finds us. They want to ‘change’ us, fix our ‘broken souls’, fight our ‘demons’ , blah blah blah. They’ll come with their ‘I miss u’ texts, their ‘niambie’ texts, their ‘knowledge’ of what makes you tick, and when they say coffee date, they’ll mean soggy fast food chips and a soda. They’ll want surface conversations, like what you’re having for supper (waoh, can I come over?) or how cold it is (do you want me to come and keep you warm?). It won’t matter what you say or how you say it, they’ll always find a way to make it less.

At my age the pressure to be half of a unit is intense. I’m reminded daily that I’m not getting any younger. It’s not that I haven’t had chances to change this narrative, I just choose not to. You see, I use my mind in all things, especially in matters of the heart. My mind demands to be stimulated. My mind wants to get past the tedium of small talk and dig deep. My mind refuses to settle for mediocre.

When my mum asks me why I’m single, I tell her I’m working on myself. What I mean is, in addition to working through my many faults, I’m trying to accept the idea that maybe what I’m looking for no longer exist. Maybe I just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

So I’m single, and mingling nowadays is just too fucking exhausting.