The Place You Call Home

Our journey started long before my feet could meet the ground. It must have been past nine o’clock at night when we heard the chants outside your parents’ house. Your Father, Omutete, stood up and approached the door but it was your mother who knew it before they begun.

She pulled me aside and said, “You have to promise me that you will protect our daughter, listen, I know people think you are lazy and a drunk, but she needs a Father and you are the only one I trust. Do not even mention my people, because ever since I came here they have not bothered to visit me or send their best wishes. My own mother has forgotten me, but what would you expect of them given that I married beneath their expectations? Now, listen, I have wrapped some ten thousand shillings in this lesso and packed a few clothes for Maria. You have to go with her and protect her. I will not ask anything of you again, and Juma, you should not come back here. These people will take everything away from you when you can have three meals in a day.”

She placed you in my arms and threw the strap of the bag around my neck and pushed me out of the house through the small back door that led through the cow shed. I stood there for what seemed to be my whole life, thinking of a cold glass of busaa and a few women singing my praise. How could I have told you the truth then? For years, I went back to that night wondering what happened but nothing comes to mind. So, I held onto you and walked away carefully making my way through cow dung and maize fields until I got to the road where I boarded a matatu to Kisumu.

They said that my brother and his family were burned alive and their property destroyed by cattle rustlers, but I know that those were not rustlers. They were Omuchai, my brother’s rival, and his men out to avenge a business deal gone wrong. Weeks later I heard it on the radio that they believed I was also killed in the fire because I had gone to visit my brother that afternoon. Maria, I told you that our journey began long before my feet met the ground, but I was never prepared for the life of bitterness that followed.

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The man from the Sea

And so it was that Neema went to the Sea. I visited the beach every night hoping to get a glance of the little girl with eyes as big as the moon, and palms as soft as the love of the sun, but she never appeared.

Image Courtesy of Pinterest- user @sinsaymo

The man from the Sea never visited, and with time I learned that one pearl ‘amani’ kept turning black every time I returned home from the beach. It darkened with every visit, and I feared it would lose its appeal, so I stopped waiting for them. I prayed for Neema and wished her well, but there are some things that a woman never forgets-the love of a child for instance.

My husband, the one who dwells in a mnazi den, stopped coming home and I had the nights to myself again. I sat on my mat, watched the moon and sang myself to sleep. Those were the days when the women laughed into the night, and the children chanted their prayers as the men thought about dawn.

The weavers created the best carpets and mats.

The cooks prepared the best bhajias, kaimati, andazi and kokoto. Those were the days I tell you…but even then Jabali was but a little one, his feet finding their way around the sandy beaches we graced. He had his mother’s eyes, charcoal floating in milk, and his father’s shoulders.

Years later, this little gem would be the one who unleashed a wrath worse than the heat from the sun.