You need to grab a cup of coffee for this post.
When I met Wangui, now 4, at Kenyatta International Conference Center, she only had six teeth. It was one unforgivingly chilly morning, 0630 hours. When I shook her hand, it was so hot she'd poach an egg. She was attending a prayer breakfast meeting that happens once a month. She was too quick for her age. She strutted - ok more like wobble uprightly - like she owned the place, like she has been there as long as the Kenyatta statue has been facing Mount Kenya - pun intended. She'd disappear under the tables while fellowship happened. Something about seeing many feet with no heads enthused her. You'd hear her giggle in between people worshiping and praying. In a room with fifty-odd people from different churches, less than a handful people in the gathering knew who she'd come with. A few thought her parent/guardian to be so mannerless dragging a child out of her bed that early. The lil ninja was having time of her day.
But something er someone was tagging on my dreadlocks.
"Hi Wangui " I whispered at her. This toi did not respect prayer but I am certain God did not mind.
"Nathatha thothej!"She whispered back
Thotheeeeej!" a few decibels higher.
I was in trouble. Is it safe to say I fear toddlers for obvious reasons? First, I don't speak Childnese and I wasn't understanding what she said. I do not have a sweet tooth but I always carry lollipops in my bag pack for kids such as these. Those huge ones that fill your mouth forcing you to a momentarily speech sabbatical. I thought it would shut her up - my intentions - as I deciphered her hexadecimal speech to what thothej meant. She pried it from my fingers, dove under the table but not before saying thanthii!. Asante.
Ha. * huge Mulika Mwizi street light blazes above my thick skull*
Yes she meant sausage. I knew that when she said Thanthii for thanks. If she had a few more teeth I would have heard what she said at first. Then I forgot about her. An hour later she was back at me, with this huge puppy-eyes for thothej. Feeling like a Thothej Whisperer, I went with her downstairs to the restaurant's kitchen, got her two thothes. After I never got to see her until after the fellowship was over and even then for more thothes. Eish child, kwani babako yako ni mse wa mjengo? Hii appetite ni prayer item!"
Thing is, Wangui who up to a few months prior meeting her, stayed with her mother, was almost officially under custody of her dad, a stylo-savvy hunk of a brother called Harris. I had met Alis (what we call him after someone shrubbed his name) sometime in 2008 during an Uji Plot some friends had organized and he didn't talk much. He's the kind of chap that does not laugh audibly and the only evidence that he is laughing is his face contorting and never-ending tears. I met him at a point he was tring to put his life in order. He bore this expression like he had been to hell and back several trips, each time he got to hell was hotter than the last. He had that look like he was just back from his last trip to the devil's lair. Whatever had happened there is a story for another far off day. It's around 3 years since Harris took custody of their child. No. The court was not involved. Child's mother willingly gave up the child and moved on, got herself in a different house and that was it. So Harris is the mother and father Wangui knows.
And he knows how to spoil her!
At this point I should tell you about James. He has this five-year old daughter called Kiki that I have never met. His situation is a little pitiful. He could only spend a handful times in a year with his daughter who has a thing for water bodies. When I met James 4 years ago he was in between seasons, in between the altar and the door. Further from a morgue but nearer a grave. He was badly messed up but hopeful. The only potential in this guy at anything in life was just potential to become.
He was visibly trying to put his life in order but the gaps between his fingers and toes grew into a larger yawns each day. There was the occasional pub trips. Then the mother of his child served him with a "never ever talk to me again or I swear I will" notice. From what I had gathered from James whenever we had coffee every twice a year, she was the kind that hits you with a Bible on your face. I had asked him to move nearer my village then - the closest bar was 30 minutes drive away. It worked but not for long.
James went underground for a year. I never bothered to look for him. I had tried before to help him, told him off on his face that he needed to man up and stop being sappy. There was this time I told him to grow a spine. We had worked out a recovery plan for him, moved houses even away from bad influence (he had lousy friends). I was sure it would work out and he was optimistic too. Until this night he texts me at 10pm and told me he's stuck in a club, drunk like a sponge. He needed help. I snapped. I sat up and replied to him that he is not serious. I told him I am done praying for him, there was no way i can be saying a prayer for him and he's out in a club having a time for his day. I told him that I told God (I had) that I needed another prayer item and my sufficient eight hours of sleep. I asked him to grow a spine, and if he wants he can spend at the club. Then I put my phone off and ignored his occasional texts after that. He disappeared and I never tracked him down. His previous place of work sued him for atrocities he was framed on (he signed wrong paperwork and it caught up with him). He had spent a few days and nights in jail. He lost on appeal, spent more nights in a cell. It was downhill after that. Flash floods and mudslides Kenya Red Cross couldn't have saved him.
Sometimes, you get to learn to let friends be even when your conscience is screaming expletives at you.
James tracked me down early this year in January. He looked like the first time I saw Harris. Several trips to hell and back, hard lessons learnt, he seems to have been back for good.. He wanted to tell me how he has been but I wasn't ready for pitiful stories. I had a busy day but he insisted he must tell me what's been happening in his life. He had this enthusiasm of Wangui and the thothejes. It was hard to ignore. So I told James "Kijana, you'll have to catch up with me". I had bank errands to do that day. A visit to a lawyer's office. A movie date with a friend who was admitted at Mater Hospital at that time. Wherever I queued, James tagged along. He had stories to tell. Experiences to share. He had so many I couldn't stop him so I let him chatter himself lest the excitement he poured his stories with blew him up. From 8 am in the morning, he finally remembered at 3pm that he was supposed to be at work at 10am. But by the time he left I was happy for him. The best part is that the mother of his child allowed him to spend time and a few days with their child thought they never got to patch things up. Photos all over Facebook. You could tell from his eyes he ain't going back to hell in a long time and that perchance Hell pursued him in any way, he'd figure his way out without landing on his back. Survival tactics of a cat.
So yesterday, I sent James and Harris a Happy Mother's day texts. In a cold mean world where the fathers of our time have gone rogue and now pursue their own daughters and abusing them if they don't oblige to their advances, I was and still is, certain beyond doubt, that these two little girls are in the best of hands. Aren't I proud of them yaani. I have had terrible experiences with men before - relatives and friends alike - and for a long time I was certain that all dark creepy stinking slimy sinister things I cannot mention here. Until God cornered me once and we worked on changing terms of reference.
I am proud of Harris and James. They had options like a bunch of other
sorry men, to walk out on their kids. Let their mothers carry the
baggage. Kwani? Who doesn't like travelling light with a hand
luggage that doesn't call for diaper change? They'd have walked out on
colic, lousy June fevers, terrible twos and the teething. They would
have reasoned that they were young and had more shots in life. They did
not have stretch marks attained during pregnancy of their kids so to the
world they were still on point. But they did not do all these. Armed
with only potential to become they talk a road less travelled. And this
makes me very glad and opimistic that there are a few good men in this warped pathetic
world we live in. They might not be many but these few do make a huge
This is a blogpost to single dads. You easily become forgotten. An afterthought.
And then I remembered single moms too. Three of my sisters are single moms. I've seen them struggle and break their backs time and again to make the ever elusive ends meet. I got a few close friends who are single moms, one of whom I wasn't sure her child would leave hospital, being born prematurely and very underweight, then her employer shows her the door. Her child just turned one barely a fortnight ago and gnaws on carrot sticks like a full time bugs bunny.
Then the mothers whose husbands are absentee fathers. I know a few and my heart goes out to them. How do you bring up your sons without being tempted to tell them "You'll turn into your father, brat". And they bare it day and night. It's worse if the absentee fathers are abusive too. How you brave it so that when your child is asked in school, "How many of you have fathers?" your son also lifts his hand, more grace to you. How do you bring up your daughters who are meant to learn their first basic relationship with a man through their father but he isn't there to teach them? All the grace and peace to them.
Of course I remembered those fortunate families; the ones whose mothers and fathers are actively involved in bringing forth morally upright families. My heart bled. It bled because most kids in such families will easily not even notice how lucky they are. For a moment in their I make the same vow for the umpteenth time hoping and praying that when the time comes and Warhialings check in the planet, I will do the best as their mother and hope their father does his side of things.
And then I remembered.
Be right back -------->