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I was turning 10. In first term February. On a Sunday, I think. I was very excited, turning a year older was a big deal to me. Being Sunday, we used to attend church in the morning hours, take lunch then go for compulsory ziesta. The whole school that is. But that afternoon, the teacher on duty did not come to check on us. So after my classmates pouring water on me, we gathered around one bed. And opened some type of toothpaste. I don’t remember its name, but it was sweet and had so many colours, blue,pink, green and white. And we ate it. Pretended it was the birthday cake, sung happy birthday songs and ate toothpaste. I felt happy, finally I was an year older. Closer to adolescence.
My best moments that year and the next, were when it was our class’s duty to go wash the dining hall. It used to be washed at night. So every class had to sacrifice an hour or two of preps once in a week to go do that. I used to run and wash the front part. And for the next one hour I would spend star gazing. The stars in Kinangop used to twinkle, they were millions of them and huge. At times we could even spot some planets with our naked eyes. Especially the one with a halo around it. I enjoyed that time. It was me time in the middle of all noise around me. I didn’t hear anyone else, I simply lost myself to the various patterns in the sky. I formed shapes on the sky, bears, children or even houses. Looking at the stars, everything seemed so possible. So very doable. I knew I would grow up and become someone who deals with the star and sun. The word astronomer did not exist in my books by then. I knew all about light years and the energy matter of the sun. I loved the sky.
I loved my friends. I wasn’t necessarily closest to any. But I loved all of them. And for as long as I remember, I was a confidant to most of them. I knew their secrets, I advised them on various issues. I knew I was wise. And that strength did not bother. It did not set me apart from the others, instead it made me fit in. Everyone was comfortable around me,and I in them.
I was scared of demons. Actual demons. My mum back at home, used to love watching Nigerian movies. She would chase me away since most of them were for above 18. However, the next day she would go to the shop, and the help would finish work at around 8. We would then sit and proceed to watch those same movies she had watched the previous night. 60% of them had devil worshippers and demons. I got scared of them right then. I used to sleep holding the same help whom we had watched the movie with. At school, at night, I couldn’t stay near windows, I knew the demons were staring at me waiting to possess me.
I was close to the principal. Being a performing student, and one of the oldest students in the school(old means I had stayed in that school for more years compared to others) and the only kamba in that school, saw me being a favorite to several teachers if not all. The principal used to once in a while take five of us plus other students of our sister secondary school for trips. For example we went to Naivasha, Elsamere. And I remember everything that happened there. Good memories we made. I was a happy boarder. My school mates would differ with my perspective. Like most children taken to boarding school in primary, for them it was torture. They will claim the githeri we ate each day made them miss home. I never got home sick even once. I never missed home.
After all ,school was heaven for me. It offered me stability. Something lacking at home. I had friends in school, all my friends at home were older than me by over 5yrs. In school each time we opened, besides one new face or two, all other people were familiar. At home, I found a new house help every single time I closed school. By every single time, I mean that by the time I was in class seven I had had 30 househelps. Thirty.
My journey with house helps begun when I was 5yrs old. My mother who I had stayed with ,for the first time in my life ,for a few months moved to another town after giving birth to my sister. In between 5 and 7 years, I lived with 4 house helps.I only remember vividly the last one I stayed with before being taken to class three. But I remember part of what they used to do to me. One used to beat me with the ends of a ruler each time i poured food, to compound matters, the 5-6yr old me was a very messy eater. The other used to cook for me githeri almost each day, and I really hated it considering we had a shop so I couldn’t get why she could not just cook rice or ugali. One used to make me run up the estate at nine at night or ten so that I keep her company till she sleeps. All kids used to go swim in the river except me. And when I did and she heard of it, I was slapped till my next door neighbors heard the sound of that slap. I hated being slapped, not even my own mum had ever slapped me on the face. My mum, who remember I was not so used to, only used to see me once in a month. So I couldn’t report or snitch on any of them. They were the mother figures and fathers in my life since they had the final say. Thus even when I went to live with my mother in class three, I never got around to remembering they were just helps, to me they had as much importance as my mother.
I first lived with my father in class two for the December holidays. I was afraid of him at first. He was a police officer at Machakos. My mum took me to him, and left me with him alone after three days. When the other kids went to play, I was scared of going too far lest he beats me. Police used to march across the town on Mondays and Fridays in the morning. Again, I didn’t go to watch them afraid he would be mad at me. He even bought lots of fruits and stocked them in the house, some fruits I had never even eaten. Guess what? I never touched even one of them, I was scared he would get mad. At that age, the people I had lived with had used the brooms, rulers and sticks generously on my body. I had been straightened to their liking of never taking or doing anything until I’m told so. You see with your parents, they can beat you alafu they console you after that. With a house help, they beat you and then instruct you stop crying lest the beatings continue. And so my dad had to always question me on why he didn’t see me with other kids when marching or why I’m not eating all those fruits. Apparently he was cool with anything. For lunch, when kids were being given 20bob or 50 bob for any one who was given a lot, Mercy was given 100 Bob. And that was in 2002. I used to eat and take the other children for shopping in the nearby market every single day. I sponsored over 10kids every lunch time. Irony is, in 2016 my father still gives me the same amount of money for lunch. But one can’t unlearn behaviors instilled over two years in a single month. I still wasn’t that free with this cool dad.
Come next year, in class three, I was taken to boarding school in Kinangop. People usually feel pity for me when I say that. But for me, by then, I was cool with it. It meant the only beatings I would now get would be from my teachers. For me it meant adventure. And finally, I would speak English fluently. To say I was excited would be an understatement. I had butterflies in my stomach. And I fell in love with that school that I spent 6yrs of my life in.
However, as explained in scarred, my relationship with house helps was always skewed. I shouldn’t have been that attached. Remember I used to sleep holding them. So I would come from school, and find that the one I left is no longer there. No good bye. And so I would begin the journey of knowing and trusting this new one. Just to come back again and not find them. I hated that. I yearned for someone I trusted and loved, to stay.
If there is one house help I ever loved was the born again Faith. We stayed together for 2 yrs. I opened my heart to hers. She in turn loved me to the extent that I was sure of it. My mum at times used to tell me and my sister that we belong to my dad and she belongs to her parents. I interpreted that to mean she didn’t love me if we couldn’t belong to the same place. But I was always sure of Faith’s love. Regardless of where she belonged. She never allowed we to watch those Nigerian movies, instead she cleaned the verandah for us children to play. She even at times allowed us to play hide and seek in the house. Then when I came home after class six third term, I did not find her. She had gone. No goodbye. No chance to even say I loved her for the last time. She was a black beauty, and now I would never see her face again. I questioned my mum on her whereabouts every single day of that holiday. I blamed myself for not knowing her home. I only knew where she came from generally, I didn’t know the exact location or village or sub village. I only knew her by one name,Faith. I considered going to look for her in that district, but I had never been there and neither did I know the directions or way of getting there. I mourned faith. I didn’t mind her going if she had to, but a good bye would have been in order. My mother told me that she had gone to get married, and I knew that, that was a lie. The Faith I knew had big dreams for her life, and they did not include marriage, at least not at her age. My mother upon further questioning from me claimed that Faith had gone to be a Sunday school teacher. Despite how ridiculous that sounded, I secretly wondered why I wasn’t enough for her that she had to go look for other children to love. I wondered if she loved those kids as much as she had loved me. And there was my first heart break. I mourned for love gone too soon for the whole of that holiday. I didn’t feel like playing anymore. Nothing gave me pleasure. I weaned off my habit of sleeping holding the house help since I didn’t like the one who had been brought. I simply wanted Faith. My Faith.
The next year was the one I talked about here. I got depressed. I didn’t even know what was wrong with me. And that was how I started building walls around me. Portraying to the world that I was okay while empty inside. I yearned for all the friends I had lost. I felt worthless and undeserving. But few things used to liven me up. English classes being one. The whole school used to call me Mwende. My English teacher was the only one who called me Mercy. And I adored her.She used to only ask me questions when they had defeated everyone else, and in most cases, I got it right. She knew my potential and didn’t allow me to sit on it. Not just in class, even spiritually. She was our spiritual mother. We used to pray in the morning and after preps in the evening. She taught me how to close my eyes during worship time, it allows you to focus on God alone. She answered all my questions on the bible. And they were many. And to top it off, she was the one who taught me how to use pads. And went on to tell us about out reproductive systems and how it was okay to find a little wetness in between your legs once in a while. She explained cramps and assured us that all those things we found strange were normal. No one had ever told me all that. She was the first and the only one. By class seven, I was beginning adolescence. My boobs were larger than other girls in our class. She had a huge body. She encouraged me to remove my sweater, that it was okay to have boobs. I didn’t have to walk slumped and in sweaters so as to hide them. Madam Kariuki, that was her name. If you ask my former school mates, they will say she was the strictest teacher that ever walked that ground, but for me she was an angel that guided me on several lanes. I would have been lost without her.
The next thing that spiced up my existence in the middle of that bad year, was my social studies teacher. Mr.Harrison Mainge. He was the only other kamba in that school. He was tall and thin. And the most interesting teacher I had ever met. Only one teacher in High school defeats him. Almost all songs I remember from primary school, were the ones he taught us in class. He was funny, but never joked with class work. He could encourage and motivate us while at the same time guilt tripping us into working hard. But above that, he got me. Have you ever had a moment with someone in the middle of a crowd and the crowd doesn’t notice? That was us, he could attack me by let’s say saying a sarcastic remark to me, I would get mad, and he would woo me back to laughing at his jokes, all in one lesson. The rest of the pupils didn’t notice any of that. Those two teachers were a sun in the middle of my storm. We even suspected that they were lovers. But to me, they meant so much. I loved them to death. And I knew that in their own way, they loved me too.
In case, you didn’t see this coming, too bad. They left. That same year when they were the only sun around in my life. I don’t remember if they left together but I remember that they were gone. That was too personal. At first when I heard Madam Kariuki was leaving, I rushed to go see her. We met on the corridor. She instantly knew that I knew she was going, she enveloped me in a hug while murmuring to my ears that it would be okay. I cried. For the second time and last time in my 6yrs in that school, I cried. She had tears in her eyes, while looking at me in the eye and telling me to not cry. I couldn’t handle it. Not another loss. I run away from her embrace, and went to cry behind the dormitories. It was almost class time so no one would see me since we weren’t supposed to be in those areas. It hurt. And I cried some more. The pain I felt was worse than when Faith Left. She was a pillar to me, and she knew it and she was leaving. I couldn’t get it.
The last straw was when Mr. Harrison left. At least he had the decency to call me the previous night. He explained to me that everything happens for a reason. And that God has got our backs. Its like he saw right through me for he insisted that whatever it is I’m going through, God would use it for my own good one day. That I should never loose hope in life. For a whole hour he bid me goodbye. Told me it wasn’t personal that he was leaving, some things had to be done. He assured me that I would turn out just okay despite everything. We were seated outside on a bench. And I didn’t cry. At least for him, for a week or two each term, the school used to call him back to help us revise social studies. He was that good at his subject that even the management knew they could never fully replace him. When he came, we obviously talked. But now I didn’t have someone who could randomly call me to the office and feed me while speaking kamba. Who would sincerely want to know how I was doing? And not just in performance? Who would give me timely advice without me even explaining what I was going through? I missed him terribly. My life wasn’t the same without those two. My storm was just that. A storm without any hope. Thus the further I built those walls.
That was when I started growing numb to love, to pain, to joy, to friendship. What was the use of loving anyone if by the end of the day they left? What was I doing wrong that I couldn’t keep anyone who I loved? In case you are wondering about my parents and their love, they didn’t hate me. I knew they cared for me and what not. But they didn’t necessarily pay attention to me. I remember when we applied for High schools in class 8. Most students had already been advised by their parents which schools to choose, as for me , my parents didn’t seem to know if such kind of a thing existed. But I knew they were educated about this things ,my mum had attended a provincial school and had proceeded to college while my dad was the then Mayor of our home place. But I assumed that when I got back home they would be eager to know which schools I applied. My father came for me that closing, and telling him which schools I chose, I could see his mind wasn’t even there. He was simply listening to me, not contributing a dime. And to think that I chose Alliance Girls as a mistake, and as a by the way after lacking schools to choose in the national schools category. My mother on the other hand, was just my mother. So you see, that is why I got immensely attached to these people. They not only loved me, but they cared about the things I deemed important and they paid attention to me.
And they all left. All of them. I grew wary of trusting. I learnt that to get close to someone meant to get burnt by the end of the day. I made friends in high school but I maintained it at there. How my best friend passed into my heart I don’t know. But for those who I got close to, like her, were met with jealousy on my part. I was scared of them getting close to other people, because in my life the people I loved chose others in the long run over me. I didn’t want a repeat. Obviously I didn’t tell them all that, but any time I noticed they were getting close to someone else, I started pulling myself away.
Its just now that I’m learning that it wasn’t my fault. All those losses that is. That people stay for their reasons and leave for their own reasons. I’m also beginning to open up to people more. You are only existing and not living if you still have walls built around you. And I want to live. My life is too short to spend it holding back love, joy, friendships and what nots. Yes in the process my heart might get broken, but what is living if not falling and rising back again? I’m learning to stop reserving back myself, they will never be opportune moments or people to give myself fully to, if not now. Its not easy unlearning losses, but its doable to get over their side effects. And so for as long as I’m alive, I’ll strive to live every second of it fully.

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