I’m leaning on my car at my daughter’s school compound. She’s been away for five days. From the letter wrote to us parents, the heading read, “The Eights Annual Trip Getaway”. You do not write getaway in a letter that should be read by a ’60s parent. A parent who on his first day at the University ordered for fish and caused a fracas at the mess thinking he was served maandazi only to be told it was fried fillet.
There is so much a man whose beard is grey and hair black can take but not that. I’ve not painted my hair for people like Kinuthia wa Garage to soothe my old spirit with claims of, ” huyu hazeekangi, ata anaeza kugawia miaka”. It’s a rare gene inheritance that happens to the first sons of Oduor Ong’ong’o—my father. The old man who uses a walking stick as an accessory and not as an aid. We age with style not fuaaaa.
The use of the word getaway sounded like they would be in a dingy room. Curtains that were once white but are now a dirty cream, closed. Snorting their noses white while grinding on each others gardens and farms till thy kingdom come.
When she gave me the letter two moons before the getaway, I expressed my concern on the use of the obnoxious word. Kwani dad you don’t know the meaning of getaway, I was asked. It is a normal and decent trip, it was explained. Hallelujah decent, it was further emphasized.
I paid for the decent getaway. That is why I’m standing out here, right?
At 37 minutes past three, the school bus drives through the compound. They are here. It stops outside the bus shed for a thanksgiving prayer and a ensure you have everything with you speech, I suppose. After, the doors are opened. The getaway had to be a mean one. The faces that are coming out look like they have
I’ve missed her. You do not have your daughter five counties away and not miss her. She is among the first faces. She looks around in search of a familiar face and I wave at her. The one hand does not seem to capture her attention, so I raise the other. My mwanya smile is not left behind. The smile that made her mother love my broke ass fifteen years ago.
Our eyes meet. Her smile does not meet her eyes. She adjusts the straps of her back pack and walks towards where we are parked. As she walks, she looks around her. A boy running towards their kin. Girls squeaking saying goodbye. A woman doing a body check (using saliva on her thumb) on her son who looks like he wants to hide under the grass and me who is walking towards her.
“Shikamoo mwanangu?” The smile on her face means I’m not doing bad with my Bara accent. “Waambaje?” I egg on taking her in my arms. Her braided head lies on my legal pot belly. If you have to spit on the side because you could cause a trail of saliva when you spit on the front, that is an illegal belly. Her hold is tight, she is yet to speak. “Ama hauna la kuamba?” A kick on my back tells me she has had enough of my fake accent.
“Hey Dad?” It is a casual hey. A this is what you say to people when you meet them even if you don’t want to, hey. Out of worry, I brush her cheek, “hey, are you okay?” She starts to walk to the car and says she just wants to go home. She is tired.
OK. I do not know if she spent most of her time at the beach that the salt made her bones dry. Or is this how the fourteen year olds of today look like when they get tired? Like a Toyota Vitz trying to drive through a hilly terrain.
I bring my KXQ Volkswagen to life. The young lady at the back left asked to sit there which is unusual of her. On any other day she would be seated at the co-driver’s seat to have control of the music and deny me the chance of listening to podcasts. There is a day I was listening to a podcast and she told me, “If I was to describe your podcasts as a person, I’d say they are old, boring and they live in the middle of a forest drinking black tea all day.” I was hurt. A little. “And what do you think can make the boring old person excited?” I asked. “Taylor Swift!” There on, KXQ and I were graced with Shake It Off!
Whenever she is not her usual self, she tends to pick on the skin around her nails. Watching her from the rear view mirror, she is picking on her fore finger. “Don’t you think you should go slow on that one?” I tease her. Our eyes meets briefly through the mirror and she looks away. “I’m curious to find out how the decent getaway was.” She smiles but eyes are fixed on the tinted window looking outside.
She is not okay. The grand daughter of Nyar Alego has her spirit in turmoil.
I take the next exit and park outside a shopping centre. “Why are we stopping?” she asks. “Do you want anything, a drink maybe?” She mumbles in the lines of I’m okay…just tired…but okay…you go ahead. I buy a bottle of Coke from the kiosk adjacent and since the centre offers a car wash service, who am I to deny KXQ a deserving cleanse.
Me: (getting in the back seat) It looks like we will be here for a while.
Her: Wataosha ndani?
Me: Mats pekee. You don’t want to get out?
She nods her head. I take a chug of the gas concentrated drink and I belch.
Me: What? (laughing) Can’t a man yawn in his car?
Her: Oh. I didn’t know that a yawn, which was loud, is also called a belch. Or is it a dads thing?
Haha. Behold the sarcasm of a tired fourteen year old.
Me: You did not have a good time in Mombasa.
Her: It’s Mombasa Dad. Mombasa raha. Who doesn’t have a good time down there?
Me: Not everyone. Not someone whose smile does not meet their eyes. Not someone who picks the skin around their nails. I even had Swift on but wapi.
Me: I want to know what happened in Mombasa.
Her: (sighing) A lot happened.
Me: And you are afraid I will not understand?
Me: Try me.
“It’s not just Mombasa. It’s everything. It’s me, the people around me then me again and more of people.” She picks at her school sweater on her laps. “Do you think I’m beautiful?” When a child asks you where babies come from you can get away with the supermarket lie. You cannot get away from this. This is a teenager, who is vulnerable, not some other human being that you can lie to. A teenager who lives in a world that upholds plastic perception of beauty.
“I do not think you are beautiful because it is not something to think about. I know you are beautiful.” She presses her lips together. “Do you think you are ugly?”
“I feel like it at times. What if I was shades lighter and skinny, maybe people would embrace me more.” I ask to know why and she says such people are treated like the first produce of a harvest.
“And who are these people in your case?” I ask. “Some of my classmates, neighbours, even strangers.” She rubs her left eye. “I’ve been called names: blackie, makaa, kanono, giza. There was no a specific nickname that I knew of but someone could call me that whenever they felt like it.”
“This also happened in Mombasa?” She nods.
A neighbour would say, “you are so pretty for a black person. ” A child would smile because whose child gets angry when a stranger thinks they are pretty. That is a blockbuster to be shared among their peers over break. An adult, who sees through bullshit, will take it as an insult which they should. You will be clobbered. KOT will have you know you have kiherehere kama soda imetingishwa.
What goes through the mind of a child when they call another child kanono? What is worse they will laugh in mockery and kanono will cower and sulk all day. These little adults are sweet and sour. They know which buttons to press. A child grows thinking that being fat is ugly.
My daughter is a victim. Oduor Jnr’s daughter is a victim. Mtoto wa Oduor wa KXQ is a victim. People joke too much.
She is sniffing on my shoulder. I rarely see her cry. She cries when no one is watching. When she was an infant, she had the strongest of lungs. She always wanted to be in someone’s arms. Her mother’s especially. You would never dare lay her down while she was awake. Not that when she was asleep was better. A child is not a child forever. In the first few years children share their lives with their parents. But there comes a time where parents have to share their children with the world.
Me: Hey…hey, look at me. (she lifts her head) Listen, you are brave. Thank you for telling me this. I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you had to go through all that. If it makes you feel better, when I was around your age, I had my insecurities.
Her: You did?
Me: Yes. I did not like this tooth gap. It made me uncomfortable. I rarely smiled.
Her: But it’s beautiful.
Me: Because I made it beautiful. I had a choice to make and the choice was to own it. Before there are times I used to insert a little piece of white plastic to hide it.
Me: Yeah. The gap, then, was a woman’s thing. It was a sense of beauty. So you can imagine living in a community with such mentality.
Her: Then what happened?
Me: Nairobi happened. I had never seen such tall and beautiful buildings all in one place. So that meant my mouth was opened most of the time, kuzubaa tu. With time I met great people with different mentalities and perceptions. When you are around good people, you smile.
Me: I need to be honest with you. Can I?
Me: You see the guys around us right now: the guy washing mats, those women buying groceries pale, hawa watu wa nduthi and everyone else. They all have a perception of beauty. There are guys that think there are ugly people and beautiful people. Simple. Others will say no one is ugly because beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.
Me: People have preferences. There are men that will prefer light skin women over dark women. Which is okay, OK? And there are men that would prefer thick over skinny. Women as well. Si you guys talk of TDH eh? Tall Dark and?
Me: Baaas…na kuna wengine wanataka yellow yellow.
Me: However, there will be people that will make you feel insecure. Sadists. They will make you uncomfortable. You will become angry at yourself and that will give them joy. Of course you don’t want to make people that make you angry, happy. Do you?
Her: (shakes her head)
Me: You need to believe you are beautiful. Own it. If I tell you everyday that you are beautiful and you do not think so, sadists will come after you. The media will make you feel insecure. You will spend most of your days behind closed doors. When you go out, you hide under baggy and ugly clothes.
Me: Did girls make you feel insecure?
Her: Yes. More than boys did. Actually.
Me: Anyone that makes you feel insecure, is also insecure about themselves. If they are making you cry, someone somewhere hurt them. The bad actions that people make are a consequence of another bad action
Me: And many young girls, women as well, are beautiful little fools. Most of these girls belong to your generation. They believe in the media perception of beauty and stretch themselves too far.
Me: You my girl are not those girls. Do not be that girl. If you do not want the world to love you, you have to love yourself. Because if it loves you, you will be a beautiful little fool.
Me: Your black is beautiful. Your thick is beautiful. You are a beautiful little girl. My girl. Sawa?
Someone opens the co-driver’s door. “Kiongozi, gari iko sete!” KXQ is a clean boy now.
January was a trial. Happy New Year! 😊