Ambition

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.

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Disappointments

image

Tears stream down your face
I promise you I will learn from my
mistakes
Tears stream down your face
And I…

There are many things that I am not a fan of. Things that I would be lax about if not for the guilty hesitation that comes from knowing that one of the people around whom my life revolves would disapprove of them. For instance, sometimes, I don’t want to study, but I remember that my father is somewhere cutting down on his luxuries so that I attend school. Sometimes, I don’t feel like showing up for a meeting, but I realize that whoever will show will not be able to go ahead with the cause because of my absence. Sometimes…

Guilty hesitation is an unsettling feeling. It is a dull thud at the back of my mind, but it is incessant. Dadam… Dadam… Dadam… It goes. It is like a red light putting up tent in the depths of my soul to warn my conscience. It is always ready as rain, perhaps to ensure that it asserts its being clear of blame should I choose to ignore it. It is not a feeling in a hurry. It makes it clear that if you let it, it will cuddle up and stay forever with you. It assumes the background music to your everyday activities. It is not the soothing kind of background music. It is not the kind of music you barely hear as an undertone when the preacher is speaking. Rather, it is annoying, restless, attention seeking. It judges you without trial. Hesitation is a feeling that grew up in hell. I know it, because it feels like it is bitter and wants to get back at us for having been raised in more privileged backgrounds.

Yet I do not know who I would be without this ugly feeling. Hesitation is what has helped me steer away from disappointing the people around whom my world revolves. It is the alarm that goes off in your mind right before you do something irresponsible, and reminds you that you do not only answer to yourself and to God about your life, but to the people who have invested their emotions into having relationships with you.

Many happenings of our lives are steered in one way and not another because of the fear of disappointing one person or other. In fact, for many, rather than fear, it is a preference against disappointing the people we live with or work with. Granted, sometimes we are obliged to disappoint; sometimes it is our responsibility to disappoint. Most of the time, however, disappointing people is not a tag we want to our names. For instance, while disappointing society on our choice of career is something we cannot (and should not) apologize for, inconveniences such as being late or absent for a meeting without excusing ourselves or doing schoolwork in a mediocre manner are vices I personally want to learn to shun until they are no more.

Yet I am human. I am fallible. I disappoint. I make decisions, knowingly or unknowingly, that bruise the people because of whom I am. Sometimes it’s like I’m on a downward spiral; like I’m skidding down a hill and they’re giving a trophy for whoever hits rock bottom first. Sometimes a plethora of unfortunate events seems to, loosely put, attack me, and fighting the mishaps seems a losing battle.

I’m talking about that point when I feel like my body has suffered an electric shock. I feel like I have been burnt and dehydrated and I’m all carcass now. At these moments discovering a mistake I made does not come as a surprise but an “Of course, if it could go wrong, it had to go wrong.” Little obvious things start escaping my mind. I forget my phone at a friend’s. I lock my keys in my wardrobe. I fail to send a text message about a meeting… It’s overwhelming.

However, perhaps these are my troughs. Perhaps the damp air at the lowland swamp is the only way I will appreciate the breeze at the summit. They are hard to live with- our weaknesses- but they are the color of life.

To a friend, and to my friends:
Because of you I am.