Story: Kenyan Edition ~ Nakumatt Ukay, Westlands

Train Car stories ~ Short fictional stories inspired by real train commuters people and I’ve intentionally not given the characters names. If I see you, I just may turn you into a story. 

Special thanks to Rahma, Ruqayya and Aysa for the Swahili translations and names. 🙂

Date: 26th February 2016

There was no point of discussing how hot it was on this day. Nairobi, Kenya only knew the difference between hot and hot and the tightness of the outdoor car park at Nakumatt Ukay, Westlands only made it feel hotter.

It appeared that the heat didn’t bother them, they sat in a white pick up truck (the one pictured above) – the type you see in the movies where the scenes are set in Africa – the type of truck that a car enthusiast would be able give the correct name of; anyway, they sat in it with the windows down seemingly unbothered by the heat.

From the short distance a girly giggle and the mature laughter of a young woman could be heard, a true mother and daughter moment, with daughter on mother’s lap, sitting in the left passenger seat playing with toys typically found in a Kinder Surprise.

The little girl, fair skinned like her mother, had her hair carefully braided back from her forehead to nape and still had her uniform on, a well-fitted checkered red and white pinafore. In that moment her only pleasure was playing with her toy with her mother, her only fear was that the toy would no longer work.

The mother, sporting a semi-processed hair relaxer, the kind that when the wind blows on ones hair it rebelliously stays risen at a 45 degree angle. It was apparent her hair was sending her a message of rejection that the relaxer wasn’t working, but her hair was the least of her fears. In the moment, in the moments past and in the moments to come her continuous pleasure was knowing that her daughter was loved, cared for and laughed everyday; her only fear was that as a mother she’d become Mama – a fear that forced her knees to the ground daily and her eyes lifted to the heavens. Many mornings and evenings her knees were sore and her eyes were puffed, but pray she did and will continue to do.

Stroking on her daughter’s hair she remembered the day her life changed.

She stood staring at the wooden door of their village bungalow for a good five minutes before deciding to make her way in. The house, built by her great-grandfather had been inherited by her Papa, he passed shortly after her fifth birthday, a freak accident they said, while others timidly claimed the accident was caused by her mother, at 15 years old, she didn’t doubt their accusations.

The house wasn’t spectacular with its consistent brown walls some meters high and a matching two step staircase leading to the dusty aged front door. The front however did accommodate a porch of some sort, if Mama was especially idle you’d find her out here hunting for the latest town gossip – of course she never left the house to execute this task, sorry for anyone caught roaming by the house when she was out on the prowl – a story must be told, whether you had one or not. “Mchokozi” (Bully) had been what the market women called her, never to her face though.

Before entering the wooden-windowed panelled house she turned her head to the left, vividly remembering Papa’s chair in the corner. Stories of their linage were told to her by her father in that chair. Her mum sold the handcrafted seat weeks after her father passed, apparently she, as a child, had wailed too much by the chair and at five years old she was old enough to know what death is “Watu wana die all the time. Ndio hali ya maisha!” (People die all the time. It’s life!) She wailed all the more when she got back from school one afternoon and noticed the chair was missing.

With her survey of the house done and a gulp for luck, she walked into the house on her tiptoes, she wasn’t sure where Mama was, being home so early from school would startle her. Imitating a hunting lioness, she moved around the house, only she wasn’t hunting she was preparing her stance for self-defence.

Entering the sickly blue living room, of course decorated after her father died, she spotted her wide, scaly and dusty size 37 feet with the left crossed over the right. She gulped unknowingly – Mama wasn’t asleep, to think otherwise would have been foolish.

“Karibuni Ma..Mama.” She was sure her heart had failed just uttering those words.

Mama, was round, just round, her clothes fit her so tightly you’d think it was painted on her body and the low cut hair didn’t make her appearance any better. She was round from head to toe, so round that if she was pushed on a hill she’d probably roll down with ease. Mama never had money for anything necessary, but a bottle of Tusker, a local alcohol, which was readily available in the house when Mama wanted to entertain the guests that lived in her mind. Mama hosted them frequently and nobody else was invited.

Mama, thankfully had her beady dark eyes closed and she made a sound to acknowledge the greeting, the kind of acknowledgment familiar to every African child when they didn’t know if they were in trouble or not, to leave or stay – to leave and get in trouble for leaving without permission or to stay and get shouted at to leave. Indecision also irritated her Mama so she decided to leave.

“So why are you home from school so early?”

Let the games begin.

Still positioned to leave the living room, her head was the only thing she could move for fear that she may need to run in an instant.

She suddenly found herself thirsty, her throat dry and her voice box trapping her words, she fought through – battle one of many today.

“Ma… Ma… Mama, I… I… the Principle… Principle… school… home… hooo… me…”

In her head she was making perfect sense, but Mama convinced her otherwise when an object flew her way accompanied by the bellowing of Mama’s baritone voice “YOU BETTER SPEAK UP AND START MAKING SENSE OR ELSE!!” Mama may have been round but she was quick and had perfect aim – a perfect throw worthy of a gold medal in javelin.

Mama was ready for battle and so was she, “speak up?” But Mama wasn’t ready for her to speak up the way she did. She neatened her oversized purple school shirt with her right hand, while holding tightly to the hem of her grey school skirt with her left hand – the object had hit her leg this this time. She was ready to speak up and be as sharp as the tips of the collar of her well starched school shirt.

“Ma!” That caught her attention.

“I was sent home by Principle Mr. Mwangi. He sent four of us home because our school fees have not been paid. So Ma! That is why I am home at this hour, when I should be in school making something of myself. I am home because Tusker stole all my school fees!” She hadn’t realised that during her speech her arms had performed a dance routine worthy of any hip hop video, from pointing to the clock to pointing to the bottle of Tusker to emphasise her brave points.

She expected an assault to the body but nothing. Instead her mother laughed from the pit of her round stomach, filled with the heaviness of Ugali, a staple made from maize. Mama faced staring directly in her daughter’s eyes, it became dark all of a sudden even though the sun shined bright.

“You talk as if you are not a woman! Look at a you! Hips wide enough to build houses on. Soon your chest will be bigger than the watermelons I carry,” she shook as she spoke “and you come here to tell me you are home early because school fees were not paid? Eh! You are a commodity, with diamonds beneath your legs. Sell them! Make your ‘worth’ back so you can go to school! EHHHH! You’re surprised by what I’m saying?!? Don’t be! Because all I know is that from this day forward I will not support you financially… You were brave enough to address me as if I’m your classmate, so go ahead, be the BIG LADY you claim to be.” Her mother’s arm swung from side to side above her head to emphasise the words “BIG LADY”.

She found something funny in the moment, Mama’s laugh intensified and the darkness continued to fill the room.

Gobsmacked by what Mama said, she tried to move, she wanted to cry, she wanted to curse her, she wanted to scream “HOW DARE YOU?!” but nothing. Mama’s suggestive words hurt more than the object that kissed her leg earlier. Looking at her mother she could only feel a deep sadness for the mother God had given her. Wickedness had seeped so far down into Mama’s soul that Mama could not separate herself from it. She was wickedness in living form.

“Ma, I pity you! I pity you very much. Nakuhurumia sana! Eh!” She had to repeat it a few times in English with sincerity and in Swahili to emphasise the depth of pity she had for her mother, as if speaking Swahili would make her see sense.

“Whoever did you wrong, you must forgive them Ma. Unforgiveness has consumed you and it is a sad sight. I can’t even defend you in public when the market women compliment me at your expense they say “look how well you turned out, sorry for your Ma eh” – I can’t defend you because they’re right! You are an unforgiving and unrepentant bully and I will not allow you to sew such dirty crops in my heart. The madness stops now. The cycle ends today!”

“Maaaameeeee maaaameeee. Why are you crying? Is it because you want to play with my toy? Ok mamee take. Play with my toy ok and don’t cry, ok?”

Back in the pick up truck and no longer in the sickly blue living room she kissed the forehead of her caring daughter whispering prayers with each kiss. She finally understood that it was not her fear of not wanting to be like Mama, that would stop her from being like Mama, but it would be forgiving Mama that would prevent that from happening. It’s as if God wanted her to relive that day as a reminder that forgiveness was the way out from the stronghold of bitterness. Eradicating bitterness would prevent her from being Mama. God would have to work the late shift and some overtime to help her live this truth, but she knew she’d be able to do it, her first step was to teach her daughter the beauty of forgiveness. Wiping her tears, she kissed her daughter’s head once more whispering a prayer ~ “Thank you God.”

By @OlayideM

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