SHORT STORY: Everything is broken

Saturday July 15 2017

Sometimes we would go with my mother to visit

Sometimes we would go with my mother to visit her parents, and she would smile and laugh and call me “my lovey.” I was not sure that she was the same person I knew from home. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYANGA | NMG 

By VERA OMWOCHA
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My mother was never wrong. She was the smart one; the village woman whom people consulted on who she thought would win elections. “This Kibaki will win,” she predicted.

And the village women would walk away knowing that indeed Kibaki would win Kenya’s 2007 general election.

When my mother said I was stupid, I had no reason not to believe her. “Why are you always this clumsy? Have your hands been eaten up by weevils so that you can’t hold anything?’’

Those words would be repeated every time I broke something in the house. I heard those words so many times that I knew that by the time she got to “clumsy” her hands would be on her waist.

My mother’s roaring voice would make food catch in my throat and I feared it would choke me.

My favourite moments were when there was a celebration of a newborn baby in the village, and my mother would dance and chatter with the other women.

Or when she went to visit her parents. Sometimes we would go with her, and she would smile and laugh and call me “my lovey.” I was not sure that she was the same person I knew from home.

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You might think me clumsy as well, and I will not hold it against you. You see, however much I tried, my hands could not carry anything made of glass from point A to B. That is how I came to use plastic plates and cups, exclusively bought for me.

One afternoon, my mother came home with a plastic green plate and red cup. My sister, Ann, laughed when she saw the utensils, and said that she also wanted a colourful plastic plate and cup.

They laughed together, but I did not know whether to join them or not, or even if we could have a light family moment. Perhaps I need a plastic body so that I don’t feel so broken.

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“Why are you standing there as if you’re watching a film? Go and pick vegetables from the garden and take them to Mama Cherop.’’

Mama Cherop sold her vegetables at the nearby market, and mother would give her some of her’s to sell on her behalf.

One day, I was sitting by the path leading to our gate, biting my fingernails and listening to the sounds of the village, when I saw him.

I knew the sound of his bicycle. I knew how he would hold the handlebars with just three fingers. I had noticed how he enjoyed riding, swinging from left and right.

Then he turned my way, and caught me looking at him. I wanted to run back to the house when he got off his bike and walked towards me. My body felt too heavy to move.

‘‘Why do you always look like this?’’ he asked. “Like you are in anguish, vulnerable. I see the sadness in your eyes.’’

I wanted to tell him that I was fine, that my mother did not harass me, that she was struggling with her clothes business in order to pay my school fees. That it was okay that I only saw my father on the councillor campaign posters.

I wanted to show to him that I was not “vulnerable” and “anguished.”
But I could not speak. A huge lump formed in my throat, and the saliva in my mouth dried up.

He crouched, and held my chin up so that he could look into my face. I wanted him to take me wherever he went with his bicycle.

“You look beautiful when you smile. Don’t be sad anymore,’’ he said, and promptly rode away.

“Why do you always scream at me mother? Am I a bad child? Mother, can we talk? Mother, do you… love… me?”

I rehearsed the questions in my mind over and over again that evening.

“Stupid girl. Now have you started talking to yourself?” my mother said, eyes wide with contempt. “I hope God is not punishing me for marrying that stupid man by making you go crazy. You should have gone with him.’’

That was her truth — my father and I were stupid.

She walked off and the words I had been practising died in my throat.

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She’s dead now. The pastor conducting the funeral service said she had gone to heaven. I’m not even sure she wanted to go there.

I would have loved to see her face if she found herself in heaven without her consent. She hated it when people decided for her.

I hear my father is coming to pick up Ann and I. He did not come for the funeral. I overhead Uncle Mote saying that mother had said she did not want him 50 metres near her, in life or in death.

Ann has been crying since mother died. My eyes are dry. I could not get tears out of them even when my aunts wrapped their wide arms around my shoulders and wailed. Even when Aunt Penina rolled on the grass and threatened to jump into the half dug grave, I did not cry. 

“You look beautiful when you smile,” is all I was thinking of.

They said I must have been too traumatised to cry, for who doesn’t cry at the loss of their mother? \

Every night, I close my eyes I see my mother in the coffin, shouting at me to sleep. I hear the echo of her voice in the house. I am both happy and sad; complete yet broken.

I hope father has plastic cups and plates for me to use. I’m tired of breaking things.