I didn’t interview any mothers or fathers last week. I was out camping in shags the whole week, listening to nature’s heartbeat. Which means I don’t have a story. As a filler I will tell you a story about the day some boy punched Tamms in school.
But first I will tell you what kind of girl Tamms is.
If there was a war raging between us and Tanzanians and all able-bodied men and women who can RT secondary-source information and take pictures of their food on Instagram were called to war, and I found myself leading a very small ragtag platoon stationed on the Namanga border and I wanted someone to sit in a room alone for long stretches of time manning spying equipment, listening in on the enemy’s conversations and reporting back to base, I’d pick Tamms. Not because she’s my daughter and I’d trust her with it but because she is the kind of person who can sit alone in a room and delve into the minutiae of listening in on bland enemy conversations. She notices details; grains on wood, shapes of clouds, such things. She notices if I trimmed my beard or if I missed my weekly barber visit. She will notice if I buy new shoes. Or a belt. She notices if I change the strap of my watch. She also has high emotional intelligence; If I go to pick her up from school and I’m in a foul mood, immediately she gets into the car she will have one look at me and say, “You are tired today, papa?” which is our way of saying, ‘you are not happy today.’ Kim, my son, on the other hand will simply say, “I’m a bit hungry.” But then again he’s only 8, so his constant hunger rises about everything else. “Tell me when you are very hungry,” I will tell him.
Tamms was born at 7:05am on a Friday, January 11th, 2008, one of her half Luo and the other Kikuyu. I only mention this detail because ironically, when she was born those two halves were out there killing each other. On her day of birth, outside the hospital walls, the world as we knew it was ablaze with post-election violence. Churches were being razed to the ground; men, women and children were being shot or hacked to death, houses set ablaze, troops of displaced families, villages, moving in long lines to higher ground, running battles on the streets, batons and teargas and sirens…basically shit hitting the fan. This was two weeks before the distinguished and now late, Kofi Annan and his sexy white beard got the two big boys in a room and said gravely, “Okay gentlemen, I don’t want to know who ate whose lunch but is there a way we can make another lunch? …Er, Baks, do you mind not chewing gum? This is serious, man.”
The same day Tamms was born, Raila announced mass rallies to be held in 30 places the following week. Newspaper headlines bore death and angst and entitled men with hard stares. Hate floated from the ground like mist in a swamp at dawn. The country was like an ugly varicose vein, but on the face. This was the melee my first child was being born into. But I was delirious with joy. I didn’t care if they brought in Koffi Olomide and his Quartier Latin Band to run the government. I was a father, I was born anew. The world would now know that my seeds work. Finally I would be called Baba Nani.
I held her in my arms before her mother did. This is an unimportant detail but one I like. At 3.55kgs, she weighed a little more than a pumpkin, a messy pumpkin, because babies come out looking slimy and swollen in the eyes. She was so tiny and I couldn’t believe I had made something that breathed and had toes and could yawn. That engineering was puzzling if not humbling. I was only 30 years old, a pivotal age where you either start cocking up your life or steer it somewhere else.
Then she grew up.
I liken childhood to one of those Euro Trains passing through a tunnel. It’s a blur. The speed distorts everything, even the memory of it. You will miss the detail if you blink. One moment you are kneeling down to tie her shoelaces, her holding the top of your head for balance and the next she has her own life, she has her own needs and she wears clothes you don’t understand and listens to music you can’t begin to fathom. A flash in the pan.
The other day she asked me, “Do you know Dababy?”
I asked, “Da-who?”
“Dababy,” she repeated.
“Whose baby is that?”
She smiled wearily. “It’s a rapper.”
I wanted to ask why he’s called Dababy. Was there no other name he would have picked other than Dababy? But I didn’t because then I would have sounded like my dad who might have wondered why anyone would be named after 50 cents or even worse, a snoopy dog.
“What about XXXtentacion?”
“Is that also a rapper?” I asked anxiously because it sounded like something that could electrocute you.
“Never heard of him.”
“What about 6ix9ine?”
“Nope. Never heard of him either. Are these real people?”
She sunk into silence.
“Pop Smoke?” She asked half heartedly.
I know Pop Smoke! Rather, I knew of him. Read about him in the New York Times.
“I know him!” I cried. “The guy who died, right?”
When she turned 13 last month I wrote her a thirteen-paged letter in ink in my horrible handwriting. Each page had what I wanted to believe were words of wisdom, life skills; things like love, respect, humility, confidence, avocado, life, boys. Eg, on boys; “Boys will treat you how they see you treat yourself.” On humility; ‘You are not better than anybody else because of your perceived privilege or talents.’ On Avocado: ‘Don’t fraternize with anybody who doesn’t eat avocado or anyone who talks trash about avocado.’ Such like things. Hopefully she will keep it and refer to it once in a while when teenage proves uncertain and anxious and she feels marooned by emotions and feelings.
I also realise that my window with her is closing very fast and her ecosystem is about to start changing drastically and she will perhaps start doing things I don’t understand like piercing her face or tattooing the back of her calves or just things that look scary or just unhygienic from where I stand. And because there is no time, occasionally we take long walks in Karura with Kim in tow (grudgingly), bored out of his ass, telling us, “I’m about 30% hungry now.” Doing those walks I try to subtly drum in her the importance of happiness, freedom and independence. Make your own money no matter how little it is, I tell her, that way you get to control your own life. I realise that I’m slowly turning her into one of those girls we meet and we say, “Man, that chic is so idealistic and complicated,” when they don’t fit into the familiar box we want to fit them in.
Shopping with her gives me migraines. It tires me. I have little patience for walking down aisles looking at things. The things she wears are strange. I call them “things” because they resemble clothes. I could never guess what shoes she would like. Or what colour. She loves tops that show her navel. I see other girls her age in malls dressed the same. It’s a thing, it seems. Their thing. Navels are in, bare shoulders are out. She’s a quiet girl, very lowkey. She enjoys the back of rooms, where shadows fall. She loves obscurity. She doesn’t post her pictures online. At least not where I follow her on Instagram. Maybe she has two accounts; one which parents can follow and see the pictures of flowers and puppies and the other where the real ratchetness lives. And it’s all good. I love my blood pressure as it is now.
I love her, but I also like her. A lot.
She’s gotten tall suddenly. She’s the second tallest girl in her class. Only three other boys are taller than her. Which means she tries to stoop, to hunker down not to attract too much attention with her height. I try to tell her as often as I can, “I love your height. You are elegant. Don’t look down while you walk. Chin up, let the world see the beauty in your eyes.”
It’s one of those shorter boys who punched her in the face.
It’s always the short ones.
It happened on a Friday. She couldn’t stop crying. I only learnt about it later that night. I asked what happened and she couldn’t even articulate it. I was enraged. Oh, I was mad. I felt my ears grow hot like someone was blowtorching them. He punched her AND used the “F” word at her. In case you are wondering, the F word in question wasn’t, “fauna.” “What’s this boy’s name?” I demanded. She told me. You don’t ever forget the name of the boy who punches your daughter in the face. I will always remember that name.
My poor baby, punched in the face by some little caveman. I pictured her in the playground, embarrassed, humiliated, defeated. I felt murderous. To calm down, I lay flat on my back on the carpet. I once read an interview where one movie actor said it helped him calm down when he’s very angry. It didn’t help. I just pictured someone punching her fragile face with his fists, her staggering back a bit from that force and it filled my insides with molten fire. I’ve read tons of articles which tell you to take a walk when you are mad, so I took a walk down at night, just around the block. But I was still so angry.
I fantasized numerous ways I could grab that boy off the streets, throw a dark hoodie over his head, bundle him in the boot of my car then drive him somewhere desolate, the edge of a forest, or a Athi River, somewhere I’d get him out under the dark omnibus sky and place his hand on a rock. “So, you like punching girls in the face, huh? Turns you on, huh, you little prick.” Then I’d lower the hammer on his right fist so hard all the bones would crash. I’d derive pleasure from his screams. I’d sit on another stone and light a cigarette [I don’t smoke, I’m just being dramatic] and look away from his pitifully wailing form, into the yonder darkness.
“Please let me go,” he’d plead tearfully.
“Why? So that you can punch another girl in the face?”
“No, I swear, I won’t do it again.”
“ So why did you do it?”
“I dunno…I’m sorry.”
“Does your dad punch your mom in the face?”
“Do your uncles punch your aunts in the face?
“No. Please, let me go, I need to pee.”
“Do you punch your sisters in the face?”
“I don’t have sisters?”
“You are an only child?”
“Better for all involved. Nobody needs two of you around.”
“Please, sir. I need to pee.”
“Pee with your fist.”
“So where did you learn how to punch girls in the face? On Youtube? On Tiktok?”
“No, I swear I won’t do it again.”
“Are you on Tinder?”
“I really need to pee, please.”
“Pee in your pants.”
I also thought of doing much more horrible things to him. Like putting his right fist into a pool of piranhas to strip off all flesh. Just horrible things. Things you wouldn’t think of doing to someone else’s child. When I went to bed I was still angry. I stared at the ceiling for long. I told God, remove this hate from my heart tonight. I called my brother and told him the story. He was more furious than I was. He only has daughters.
The next morning God had removed maybe 40% of the hate. I couldn’t wait for Monday to go to school. To see this little shit’s face. The weekend dragged on like a pregnant walrus. On Monday I was in the deputy headteacher’s office at 8 on the nose. I was spoiling for a fight. I was ready to be very disagreeable. To fight for her honour. “What are you guys raising here, wolves in boy’s clothing?” I asked. They were aware of the incident, they said, and they were sorry it happened. They would investigate and get back to me with a full report.
Investigate? I asked. Like setting up a commission of inquiry? Leave no stone unturned? Did they intend to call in forensic experts? Were they planning to dust the crime scene for fingerprints? What are you investigating? I inquired. A boy punched my daughter in the face, there were witnesses! They asked me to go back home, they’d call me once they got the true story. I said I wasn’t going home. I’d cleared my whole day for it. I’d wait outside the office if it took the whole day.
So I waited outside the office as they conducted their sleuthing. I leaned on the railing and watched school life go by. After an hour I was called back into the office and said they really had to investigate further, they would call me at the end of day. They didn’t. I called the class teacher the next day. He gave me some cock and bull and promised to call me back. He didn’t. Then they stopped picking my calls. So I called the headmistress who invited me for a meeting the next day. We sat in her office with the class teacher [a man] and the assistant class teacher [a man] and a part of me truly hated them for taking this lightly. They had established what had happened, they said. It was a squabble over a pencil, which turned out to be my daughter’s. I was furious. The class teacher said, “We understand your anger,” I asked him, “Do you? Are you gentlemen fathers?” They said they all were. “Do you have daughters?” They said they only had sons. “Then you wouldn’t understand my anger,” I said.
Look, if it was Kim who had gotten socked by another boy and he came home crying I’d have pulled him aside, out of his mother’s earshot, and told him, “Next time that boy punches you, punch him back, hard.”
I asked the teachers; “What are you guys doing here? Looking away as boys punch girls? What message are you sending the other girls in her class, that it’s business as usual when a boy punches you?” I said I wanted the boy to be made an example of. “You can’t normalise behaviour like this. Show the rest that this is unacceptable.” I would have loved him to be flogged in a market square, but this isn’t 1908.
He was punished. And he apologised to her. I asked Tamms if she was happy with the punishment and the apology she said she was. Quite honestly I wanted her to know that I fought for her. That next time I will fight for her. That I will stand by her, protect her honour. That I will not hesitate to take on anybody who phits her to the edge of the forest and harm them. Then pee on them.
They are now friends with the boy, she tells me. It makes me sick. Obviously she doesn’t take after me in that regard because once in a while I think about that boy and the edge of the forest, a hammer, and a cigarette.
I’m still hawking my books; Thursday and Drunk. Click here to buy.