Kileleshwa is quiet. Not as quiet as it were a decade ago, but yeah, it’s quiet. Like a woman on the first day and a half after she’s married. She cooks and cleans with some gentle silence, dressed in her man’s baggy shirts and boxers, making all humble gestures that no one would believe she’s the same woman when she will be shouting and yelling the roof down 10 years later. Kile could be the perfect environment to scream and yell because neighbors there have no time to stick their noses in your business. Also a bad one for extra toxic partners. Those spouses who opt extreme routes out of companionships. Those folks who rather they slithered throats of same persons they once referred to as the love of their lives. Whatever turns love to that kind of sourness gives me chills. I suppose such corpses in kile go for days unnoticed because again, neighbors have no time for other people’s domestics. Anyway, that’s far from my point today.
Kileleshwa is where I was about a month ago. I was there to meet Milkah. Now that, doesn’t sound like a daughter of a Civil Servant if you ask me. She requested I use it as her character name and I obeyed. Her mother works for the government. I mean the previous government. If they were to live where I live, we’d be calling her Mirika. And her mother, waMirika. But she’s from the leafy suburbs and people there are civilized. They call your name exactly how your name ought.
Milkah is slightly taller than 5.4. She’s a bit plump, her hair is coal black. She has big eyes that light up when she smiles. I know her from High School. She was a year ahead of me. We developed a thickness like that of thieves when we became bunkiez at some point. Bunkiez was a name we had for guys who shared bunk beds. I don’t know what y’all call them nowadays. We have not always been in touch since School days though. Azimio la Umoja – One Kenya contributed a big one to our unpremeditated reunion. We found our way back to each other’s lives through social media campaigns. We both believed in the Baba na Mama political anthem. Ironic how we both can’t directly testify to the effectiveness of the slogan, having been raised by moms. Milkah and I relentlessly sung along and loudly to fom ni baba na mama, whereas in our homes, fom has forever been mama; mama doing what mama’s gotta do because baba pulled an incredible shot but did not wait long enough to hold the Trophy. Milkah was, still is, those girls who you fear to talk to first, because she has an intimidating attitude. She is those girls who look like they were born ready for trouble. Ready to come at you or pick an argument, for the slightest of reasons, like Annie in the Young, Famous and African reality show. But then, when you get into her spaces and you actually vibrate on the same wavelength, she’s the sweetest of humans you’d never find anywhere else.
Her mother’s mansion In Kileleshwa is heaven on earth. When she called asking to wine with me, she insisted we meet at her house because she didn’t want to deal with tears in some restaurant while in the middle of slicing steak then end up with a bill for a meal she hardly touched. I understood. But only after getting to her place. She had an outburst immediately she saw me standing by her door. I could tell she had been anxious prior to my arrival. I’m quite as emotional. You cry in my presence, I help you cry. We had a moment by the door after which she showed me in; Poured me a cup of caramel tea, a bun and a large omelet which I did not eat because, me and onions, we do not see eye to eye.
“I have daddy issues. At least that’s what my therapist told me.” She said smiling sheepishly.
And you look fine with it huh!
“Well, it hasn’t always been like this. I have had terrible days.”
Says the woman who couldn’t pull herself together earlier huh!
“Haha! On the real though, I have been way worse than what you have just seen. I have had days when my mirror was my enemy. On those days, I couldn’t stand in front of one because I hated that image. That image that was staring back at me. I hated what I saw.”
What did you see? I asked, trying not to sound like psycho analyst.
“Rejection.” She said with tears balancing off her eyes.
You know shiku, it’s one type of damage to grow up rejected by your dad but it’s a whole other level of destruction to be rejected by two dads.”
You know, Milkah, I actually don’t like it when people call me shiku. When y’all do that, I feel like you are robbing me off my power by trying to evoke the child in me. It makes me feel small. Okay! I know I’m physically small but… No! I don’t want to feel it. I don’t want to deal with smallness regardless. And before you even say I’m being petty, I’ll let you get away with it this one time because of the emotions in this room right now. But henceforth, just call me Wanjiku. I wore one of those emoji smiles that makes a serious message sound sarcastic, so as to control damage. Of course she didn’t buy it.
“Wow! That was quite a speech Wanjiku. I should probably introduce you to my therapist. She said looking like she was about to ask me whether I needed a hug but she chose not to ask anyway..
No, thank you. I’m not mad.
Haha! I don’t care what you mean by that. But I ain’t about to see anyone that is supposed to analyze my feelings. Naah! Not necessarily.
No one is analyzing, but ok, ok! Let’s pretend I understand for the sake of peace, yeah?”
We both laugh.
Yeah, let’s… You said something about two dads? How is that possible?
“Apparently. I have two dads. Both absent. My mom got married when I still very young to understand. A year old or thereabout. I didn’t have that piece of information until the day she told me about my paternal dad. I was twenty two. All the while, I grew up believing her ex husband, let’s call him Kimathi, was my dad. When I found out he wasn’t , everything made sense. Like why he never showed a glimpse of interest in me after their separation. He was aloof. Whenever we met, our discussions were made up of his responses to me and not him initiating a conversation.
I haven’t always been a city girl. I moved in with mum after I joined Highschool. I lived the better part of my life in Meru with my mother’s parents. My mum moved to Nairobi to further her career in teaching and eventually landed into the big offices. The kind of offices with red carpets and lounges as waiting areas. That’s how she ended up with a home here in Kileleshwa.
In my younger years, I often bumped into Kimathi. He came out to me as unemotional. I always thought he was like so because he lost mum. Felt like he regretted losing us. He wasn’t inhuman or anything. But thinking about it today, I sort of feel like he only put up with me out of courtesy and not love. He never once asked how I was doing, whether I had eaten, whether mum was ok or how things were at school. Nothing! My wellbeing was the least of his concerns. Eventually I stopped running to him. I changed my route to school with expectations that he would later miss me and come looking. Wishful thinking that was. I never saw him again until after High School. I found out where he was working, from a friend of his. He had moved to Nairobi as well. I went to his office one evening after classes. I had joined Utalii for cooking classes. His attitude hadn’t change much towards me but I’d hoped to win him. I wanted to win him. I wanted to have a dad, I guess. We did lunch a couple of times, he gave me financial support whenever I needed and I called him as often as I could, that was everyday by the way. Until I realized it wasn’t mutual. He had closed the doors on me. He wasn’t exerting the same effort to build the relationship. I gave up.
A couple of years after that, my mum introduced me to another family. We were at a relatives wedding that day. It was one of those sunny Saturday afternoons when another woman was preparing to be quiet for a day and a half in show of humility and submission to her newly wedded husband. My mum couldn’t have picked the worst time and place to deconstruct my emotions. She pulled me aside to introduce me to this aged yet classy woman. She looked well kept, those women who spend their late husband’s pension living a life their husbands had denied them when they were alive. She said she was my dad’s mother. That wasn’t Kimathi’s mum. I knew her. This woman here today was happier or she was pretending to be. Unlike Kimathi’s mum who did not cower from showing her disgust towards me. This one was excited to meet me. She spoke a lot. Much of which I did not hear out of disorientation. I managed to gather that before her son William died, he asked her to find me. I don’t know why mum felt it necessary to put me off my stroke that very day and in that manner. Such sensitive introductions don’t require an audience. It is only fair to make such contacts privately where affected parties have room to express their true feelings and thoughts. That for me was the longest moment I had to feign affection and probably for her as well. I had to fake excitement while deep down I was oozing pain and anger. I mean, where the hell or earth was her son when I was struggling with identity? Why didn’t he find me worthy of love when I was conceived or born? Where was he when I was struggling to explain to other kids why I had a feminine Sir Name? Where was he when I needed a dad to show up at my school’s parent’s day so he could scare those small boys who made fun of my toes and lips? When I was battling illegitimacy? You know, when you have a female Sir Name, it is evidence enough to the World around you that you are an illegitimate child. A rejected and unwanted child.
At this point we were both soaked in tears. Partly because I could relate.
Where was her son when I needed a dad’s unconditional love so as to feel secure in my flaws. When I needed his guidance Wanjiku! You know, I think it’s a safe space to have two parents consulting each other about what’s best for their child. They said two heads are better than one. Right?
Right! I said in a frail voice.
This man William, when I needed him to show me how having a good relationship with a man looks like, where was he? When I was forcing on the wrong dad for love that he could not give because he wasn’t my dad, where was he? Why the need to acknowledge me in his death? That’s some dunged up selfishness. See, I will never know how it is to be love by a dad because his lifeless body is lying somewhere six feet under. Selfish man!
How did it go after that? Did you consider seeking solace with your new found grandma’.
No. I felt like accepting to join their family, meant I would have to live in the shadow of a man I never met and never will. It’s pointless.
My entire childhood was filled with wants and needs of love and validation. None of my three parents were present to do that. I hardly ever saw my mum. She was rarely in Meru and when she came, I always felt like she did her best to be away from me. The weekends she was home, she spent with her friends at the locals then left for Nairobi before I could tell her of a classmate who painted my bag with ink or of a book I lost and was needed to reimburse the school or of a cut I got on my right palm from a rusted piece of sheet for a science experiment on Friday. She knew nothing about me really. I always felt insignificant in her presence. Almost like I didn’t matter. I couldn’t talk when she was around because nothing about me amused her. She barely ever looked at me even when she was speaking to me. I never saw her laugh at home as hard as she did with her friends. I felt like I reminded her of her past pain, trauma may be. She was however big in providing. I never lacked. She paid fees always in time. And I take it that maybe, that was her way of showing love. Now as a mum, I understand her. Sometimes as single mum’s we get caught up in errands in pursuit for a living that we subconsciously forget that physical and emotional presence are equally as important to a child as financial stability is. Women who balance off all those aspects, are different kind of superheroes. It’s a very thin line.
Failing to balance does not make us bad mums anyway. Parenthood doesn’t come with a manual. Everyone is doing it the best way they know how. I know that better now.
How’s you relationship with you daughter like?
I actually have about 10 minutes left. I have to pick her from Kindergarten at 3pm. I wouldn’t say I’m a perfect mum. I am only trying to do better everyday. I am intentional on presence. I want to be there. I want to be there to pick her from school, I want to be there to talk about her day at school, know what her teacher’s name is and how my daughter feels about her. I want to know her friends. I want to know why she came come happier than usual or why she is sad. I know when we are grown we all have gaps that our parents failed to filled. We all wish our parents were a certain way. But one thing I do not want my daughter to ever feel, is unwanted. Especially not by me.
So, Milkah, are you a single mum by choice or by circumstances?
Not by choice no. I’m a sucker for love and family. My daughter’s father broke up with me because I don’t have a foundation for a good family. He said he didn’t want to be with woman who didn’t have a relationship with her mum. Funny how it’s entirely my fault that my relationship with my mum sucks.
Well, Life happens, right?
You got to run to pick that offspring of yours. We don’t want to keep her waiting.