Her earlier childhood memories.
Her mother’s boyfriend touching her breast. A stinky, scary man with hands the size of a tree’s roots. Her mother walking into the room and whacking him over the head with a pan or something from the kitchen that makes a metallic/thud-y sound when it meets the back of the head. Blood. Cussing.
Her mother coming back from the hospital with her half- sister, who she immediately falls in love with, with her small, perfect mouth and tiny feet.
Her mother constantly in bed, not eating, not bathing, just crying. Her half- sister constantly crying. Her auntie coming and screaming at her saying, ‘Jacinta you will kill this baby!’ and then leaving with her half sister.
Another of her mother’s boyfriends, one who doesn’t touch her breasts this time but who drinks all the time and shouts at her mother and at her.
Her mother in a dress, braless, crying while drinking.
Her mother stabbing that boyfriend in the middle of the night after a copious amount of drinking, cussing and fighting. “I slept at the neighbour’s house that night because the living room was full of blood.” (He didn’t die. In fact, after a week he was back at home being nursed to good health by her mom).
Running away from home.
Coming back home because her mother is sick and is dying.
Her mother’s coffin being lowered into a deep grave beside a thicket of banana trees. The soil is wet and the grass glistens with dew.
A tall man holding a hat later telling her that he is her father. Her staring at him with the same look with which you would stare at a photo of a polar bear.
“Technically, I started fending for myself when I was a child. I don’t have any recollection of the feeling of being taken care of, you know, someone worrying about you the same way you’d worry about a child, that something might happen to them. Something like a car might run over them or a dog might bite them or they might fall in a ditch. I didn’t get that. Nobody has ever worried about me, rather, I haven’t felt the worry of others. When you don’t have anyone, no family to speak of, when you find yourself alone fending yourself, it doesn’t feel like something courageous. It’s just something you have to do. To survive,” she says. She’s 36 now and she has an amazing hairstyle which has got nothing to do with her age incidentally. It’s a natural hairdo, something you’d see in a 80s video. She has a purple flower stuck in it which makes her look like she’s from a wedding that ended too soon.
Her first job was at a bar in Tena Estate. Her job was to wash beer glasses. She worked till 4am, standing at the sink in an old apron, washing glasses, greasy plates and dishes. She washed hundreds of thousands of beer glasses until whenever she belched she would smell barley. After her shift, her wrinkled and raisined hands resembled the neck of a tortoise.“ I don’t use glasses in my house to this date,” she says. They remind her of that bar and that sink and that moment when her life felt like living perpetually in suds, which isn’t as sexy as it might sound.
She lived in a room in Umoja with two other girls, one who went from bar to bar selling belts, shirts, shoes, mosquito nets, boxers, padlocks, socks… The other girl worked in Industrial Area packing boxes in a hot, windowless room. She hardly ever saw her housemates given her nocturnal schedule. And when she saw them she was always so bone tired, she would look at them through half closed eyes. “Those girls were essentially thieves,” she said laughing. “One day I went back home from work and found the house empty.” They had stolen her clothes and moved out. A very satanic move if there ever was any because they even took off with her panties. [That part, the senseless cruelty of it all, made me chuckle necessarily] “I couldn’t afford the rent in Umoja after that event so I moved to Kayole.” In Kayole she met Wangeci.
(There is always a moment where you feel a story take a turn whenever a girl called Wangeci enters the stage. You always just know that someone will get stabbed.)
Wangeci worked for a bearded Indian fellow who owned a spare parts shop on Kirinyaga road. She worked as his personal assistant, whatever that meant. But whatever a personal assistant for an Indian fellow selling parts in Kirinyaga road did, it sure was lucrative because Wangeci lived well by the standards of the neighbourhood. She owned a big screen television set. And her doorway had a welcoming mat. “The only big screen TV I had seen that time was in that bar I worked in.” Wangeci also often came home in a taxi. A taxi! She had nice clothes and wore lipstick and high heels and, unlike her, owned more than two pairs of shoes.
In short, she was the most glamorous woman she had ever met. “I asked her how I could live like her and she said by meeting interesting people. I told her I wanted to meet glamorous people and she said, “you can’t be glamorous if you wash dishes the whole day.” She invited her for a night out the coming Saturday. “I told her I was working but she said, the hell with that, call in sick. She even let me borrow her clothes. I remember I wore her black dress which was very tight on me because I’m hippier. She wore black leather pants and a top that twinkled like a million stars.”
They took a taxi (a taxi!) to a house in Ngara. There were so many Indian men in that house, it looked like a stadium had just emptied after a cricket match. Everybody seemed to be smoking or chewing something and laughing. There were other girls in very short clothes. And there were also bottles of alcohol. And then there was sex happening in rooms. You opened a door accidently while looking for the washroom and you’d run into a hairy brown ass, so you shrieked, “ngai” before shutting the door quickly lest you were invited inside.
“I didn’t drink, I had never drank after seeing how it killed my mom but at some point a very young-looking Indian guy who looked a whole, 21 or something, offered me something which I put under my tongue and I got so light headed, I remember, lying on his thigh as he stroked my hair. To be honest I don’t remember anything other than Wangeci starting to scream at me in the taxi (a taxi!) as we headed back home. She was accusing me of trying to take away her man, her Indian boss. I don’t remember even talking to this guy.”
By the time they got off and were now walking the short distance to where they lived next to each as neighbours, Wangeci said, “show me your phone if you are telling the truth!” She handed her phone because, “I had nothing to hide.” But then Wangeci went to her phonebook, typed something and shoved her phone in her face. There was a name saved J. She had never seen that number or name before in her life. The J could have been anything from Jagdeep to Juma Mosi.
“You took his number!” Wangeci screamed at her. They had stopped outside some vibandas that were now empty, seeing as it was 3am.
“Whose number?” She asked.
“Who the hell do you think? I take you to a party and you could have taken any of those men’s numbers instead you take my man’s number!?”
She tried explaining that she didn’t even know who her man was among those men. She also doesn’t remember taking anybody’s number. “Maybe one of the men saved his number while I wasn’t looking,” she told her.
“Bullshit! You are a whore! A thieving whore!” She was screaming in her face, jabbing at her chest with one very painful finger, it felt like being jabbed by a very hard, frozen half-eaten carrot. “I said, ‘look, you are drunk. I don’t want your man.’ Then I deleted that number as she watched, but she wasn’t having none of it, so I started walking away from her. I needed to sleep.”
She had taken a few steps when she felt her grab her arm to turn her around. “That’s when she stabbed me on the arm.” (Did I not warn you about Wangecis?). She pulls up her blouse and shows me the stab wound. Of course it’s been many years now and it’s no longer bleeding. The scar looks like the mouth of a Mud Fish, if a Mud Fish is capable of blowing a kiss.
Wangeci was immediately remorseful and took her to a 24-hr clinic which wasn’t really 24-hr because the door was closed and the clinician – a man who looked more like an abortionist – was asleep inside. She was given a tetanus shot and bandaged up. We all know how hard (and boring) it is to do dishes, now imagine doing dishes with a knife wound to your arm? She couldn’t imagine, so that’s how she quit.
Wangeci, out of remorse or guilt, offered to pay her rent that month but also offered to show her how to earn money without doing dishes. The job turned out to be the oldest profession on earth. No, not bread baking, prostitution. But of a different variety, she says. “Three times a week, Wangeci told me, we would be required to entertain men in that house in Ngara. All I had to do was just wear nice clothes and sit with men, talk to these men.” They were always too focused on drinking to bother with anything else, Wangeci told her. Plus most of the ones who came to the house during the week were elderly, so the most they would want is someone to talk to or maybe a cuddle. “They are gentlemen, I promise.” Wangeci told her. “And if they want sex, you can offer sex which won’t last long.” (Perhaps because they’d nap in the middle of it all).
“I didn’t like the idea at all. I just didn’t,” She says. Turns out Wangeci was a different type of PA. “ It sounded like what it sounded like, prostitution. I had seen my mother with various men because she wanted to be taken care of and I was repulsed by her choices. How was this different? In fact, this was worse, at least my mother was in a relationship with these men. But then also there was the question of money. I was jobless.” And her arm still hurt a good one whenever she lifted it to wash her face or hang a towel on the bathroom railing.
So she (reluctantly) went for the first hang-out. Same house; blue high gate, an old tree upfront, a parking lot full of cars. The girls in the house looked at her with naked aggression, like they wanted to stab her good arm. “That first day I was very lucky, I got an elderly gentleman, maybe 62 years or so. He was very kind and talkative. He kept calling me “pussycat.” Which might sound very strange when you read it but when spoken in a gentle tone by a whizzled old-ish man, might make you close your eyes with warmth. “Nothing happened. The man gave me 3,000 shillings because I wasn’t drinking and he liked that,” she says. “That’s almost the amount I was making in a month as a dishwasher in that bar!”
Money is alluring. Easy money is pure seduction. Defying her pressing and urgent sense of morality, she went back a few days later. And the next and next until one day the elderly man told her, “maybe you should do a course in something you enjoy.” What she really enjoyed was buying shoes. There is no course like that in any institution, unfortunately. The next thing she enjoyed was looking beautiful. So she went to a Hair and Beauty School in town. “I was conscious of my accent and of my looks. The girls in that school were so beautiful, they looked like dolls.”
By this time she wasn’t going to the house in Ngara anymore. “My Indian friend had decided that we would be exclusive. He moved me out of Kayole to Ngara, near him. I spoke to him a lot about life in general. To be honest I saw him more like my mentor.”
“If one would sleep with their mentor.”
“It was complicated in that the physical intimacy, the sexuality of it all was perhaps only 10% of the relationship. He wasn’t into all that. I think he genuinely liked me.” She paused. “I think he was lonely and needed to escape every so often.”
“Did he ever talk about his life?”
“Never. And I never asked. It was a line I felt like I needed not to cross. I did the talking mostly. For instance I told him about my insecurities at the beauty school; how I spoke mostly and how I looked compared to these girls. He told me one thing that I will never forget; that if you dressed really well and spoke really little, people would be intrigued by you.”
He travelled occasionally to Dubai. He was in the fabric industry but he also dabbled in Tanzanite. “Whenever he would travel he would bring me clothes and shoes. Even though he paid my rent and sustained my lifestyle I knew it was not sustainable in the long run. At the back of my mind I knew I wasn’t earning an honest living. I wanted independence. I admired women who did their thing from their own sweat but I realised that I needed a head start.”
She finished her course and he opened a small salon and nail place for her. She thrived. “I realised that I was really good at the business, but not as a beautician. I was hardworking and very driven to do more and more, plus I wanted to prove to him that I was just not someone who sat back and got supported. To see me not as a burden or a project that just takes money. I wanted him to be proud of me.”
“Did you see him as a father?”
She pauses. “A father?”
“Yeah, like a father figure. You never had one.”
“Maybe.” She shrugs.
One salon became two and two salons became three. Then she started selling human hair. Tons of girls wanted to look like Beyoncé and her human hair business started making money, so much that she decided to cut out the middle-man and go directly to the source. For the first time in 2011, she got on a plane and almost fainted with bewilderment and gratitude.
But then when she came back the Indian fellow ghosted her. Rather, he wasn’t texting her back. She was worried sick, so much so that she broke their one rule; she called his phone. A man answered. Someone younger, perhaps with smoother skin. She introduced herself as a business associate. He said he was his son. The man said, “I’m sorry, my dad died a few days ago.” Something to do with a diabetic coma. “He was cremated yesterday.” Of course she crumbled with shock and grief and for weeks she remained in a state of shock and disbelief.
It’s been many years now. Her business is going great; closed all but one salon, branched into retail. She met a man who moved in with her, but he was one of those biashara guys who don’t do biashara but stay at home the whole day, watching sports on her TV or talking on the phone with her credit; wearing wife-beaters, so she caned him. But by that time she was already pregnant and a baby came forth. She says she is unable to sustain any meaningful relationship because she expects the worst from relationships. “I’m afraid that the destructive genes of my mother are with me.” I told her I didn’t think there are genes like that, just habits, perhaps, but what do I know.
“Maybe my most successful relationship will be with that Indian man. What if that’s the case? What if I’m doomed not to find a meaningful relationship?”
“Yeah,” I said. “But also what if you do?”
The registration of the creative writing masterclass is open. Do the thing HERE.