When she was just a girl
She expected the world
But it flew away from her reach
And the bullets catch in her teeth
Vicky exhaled as she let her heels make contact with the ground. It amused her how she always had to stand on tip-toe to hug her son, yet this challenge didn’t discourage her from holding on to him too long. Brian leveled his head as his mother let go of his neck. He smiled. Like sunshine, his smile was. His biceps did not enjoy the freedom his neck had just been awarded, and Vicky’s grip on them persisted. She tilted her head and looked into Brian’s almond eyes, holding her gaze so much that for a moment it appeared she was in a stance.
Vicky was standing at the old bridge. A storm was brewing. Although it was only three o’clock, darkness had enveloped the scenery. The river below, the trees that lined it, the dumpsite that graced its banks, the abandoned car on the bridge’s pavement all looked like a photograph taken with the sepia tone option of the camera turned on. The wind blew hard. Vicky held on to the bridge’s rails like if she did not she, like the tree leaves, would become airborne. Her handbag held her skirt in place and she did not care much for the grey top she had on. She had bought it right there at the market stalls near the bridge which were now empty because the traders feared the imminent downpour.
Vicky looked to her left and saw the beautiful Glenvore estate houses neatly lined up to the horizon. They were medium-sized houses with unattached servants’ quarters. Behind the houses was expansive land, with a small forest of trees serving as fences at the edge of fruit farms. Some houses had littered on these spaces swings and see-saws and bouncing castles and monkey climbing structures.
Vicky bit her lips in pain and contorted her face when she saw bordering these trees the slums in which she had been brought up. Thunder clapped and she let out a cry, secure in the knowledge that the thud would drown the sound, and perhaps alleviate a little of her pain. As the drizzle intensified, tears flowed more and more boldly down her cheeks.
It came to her how she had thanked God for giving her brains, because to her it meant that she had only to stand Koch slum for the earlier parts of her life, and as long as she played her cards right, cross over to Glenvore. It came to her how she had walked around with her head held high by the confidence that the kids at Glenvore would not be richer than her in her later years. It came to her how easy it had been for her to deal with the discrepancy in social class when she went to school unlike most other Koch kids. All because she saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and had a rough idea how to reach it.
One night changed her life. One night and an alcoholic father changed her life. Despite her efforts to not think about it Vicky remembered 19 years later the unfolding of that night’s events to precision. She remembered how he was angry about something and threw her out. She remembered how she had made the innocent move to seek haven at her friend’s. She remembered… she remembered how friend turned foe and robbed her of one of the things she prized most. She remembered how scared she was, and just for icing on the cake, how the devil decided her long wait for her periods would not come to fruition.
Indeed, you never know how strong you are until strength is the only option you’ve got. She installed herself in another side of Koch and knew how it felt to work a whole day and earn 30shillings. She knew how it felt to have to work at night, and to have men catcall her and touch her inappropriately, and to be unable to do anything about it. And then she learnt, to speak up for herself, to catch abusive words and throw them back where they came from. She learnt that out there in the cold, silence was not golden.
And she learnt that the University of Nairobi was not the only way for higher education to get got. She learnt that no matter what if she loved herself, and her son, she needed to pick up where she left off. She learnt that for all its unforgiving nature, life still gave you a way out. She learnt, that there were men out there that still deserved her love. And she learnt that there were truths that were best left untold, that to be a bigger man meant to not tell her beloved father, a recovering alcoholic, that the pregnancy was not her fault.
“Mum, are you ok?” Brian nudged. Vicky looked up. She saw her son. On face value, he looked like the kind of boy mothers would not want near their daughters. He was the kind of boy whose looks would drive anyone to make wrong decisions. She knew though, rather hoped, that knowing as he did her story, he would do better than make a woman suffer the pains of an association with him.
For the children of ‘Koch slum near Glenvore estate’, that your stories be told, and heard.