When would the blasting end? The room was quiet, filled with tensions adrift. The last phone call had everyone in the room holding their every breath. There has been an accident was all that had been said, a car had knocked my sister off a motorcycle as she went out to buy diner and rushed off leaving her wounded on the ground. The anger was once again swelling up inside me threatening to burst, with the rapid fires of a distant AK 47. That was just another night in juba, but the pain of having a loved one hurting somewhere else on her own had us all feeling lost. Was this how feeble our existence was in the world. The pain etched on my father’s face had made him grow older in the span of five minutes. His breathing was shallow and restless, I felt helpless that this man whom we knew to be so strong could hurt with no respite in sight.
Moments later a call came in it was mother. She was going to Nairobi that evening to check up on my little sister and father was to do the same the next day. The information that was trickling in suggested that she had a broken leg and needed surgery. At that moment the world seemed to be caving in around us and it felt exhausting. The years had drained me of hope and at that moment I felt selfish, like my heart had been hidden from my loved ones for too long. I rose slowly and walked to my room, my thoughts vacant and my heart heavy with the feeling of powerlessness.
We had a secret, my big sister and I. It was the only thing that came to mind as I lay on bed, the silence was exacerbating, the darkness consuming and me. That look etched on my father’s face was all that I could see at the back of my mind while I thought of her, my daughter. Would she have been asleep at that moment? Would she have to grow up knowing the agony of war? What would she tell her friends about me? I had just survived a mugging that left me scared and angry about my own life’s prospects, a catch phrase of my high school head teacher for naughtiness, “you’d not make it to 24” was stuck in my head and some part of me was beginning to believe it. Was this it, the ultimate descent into apathy? I had only these thoughts to keep me company. What I’d give to silence my muse, all I needed a new hope that it was part of a grand illusion that faded with sunlight.
I don’t know how long I slept but when I woke to check-up on my father, it was half past 7 and he was on the dining table having breakfast. He told me his travel plans and gave instructions on what to do. I waited on the news of his arrival at Nairobi with a bated breath wondering how my sister was feeling. For a week they watched over her and she began recovering before the feelings started dissipating. But the thing that had brought me to juba was not yet done. I had grown tired of having the secret haunting all my thoughts. I had a week or so to plan how to tell him.
The thing about secrets is that they always seem so big until divulged. That day I told him about his grand daughter for the first time and lied about it as a prank began to haunt me as I started talking. Would I have to tell him meeting the mother, or about a life plan that seemed unachievable? I needed to know more about myself other than the jaded view I had of what to expect in life. I had expected the month or so spent in juba would clear up my head but it felt draining knowing that so much was hanging in the balance, my future and my daughter’s. I had to finish school and/or had to give her a dinka name before she grew too old to reject it.
For many years I had known that it was going to be a lonely life. In a family full of loners, it was almost impossible to tell how someone else would react when confided in but since telling my big sister of my secret, I felt somewhat anchored in following my goal to find a way to provide for my daughter. I had gotten used to the cold shoulders from friends who didn’t understand what was going on in my head, everybody seemed to have this perfect idea of a family life. A father provides for their children and I on the other hand seemed uncaring for my daughter’s welfare. I had gotten a girlfriend and was constantly being barraged with questions about what I was planning for the future. Working hard in school didn’t seem enough and the emptiness seemed to grow more each day, I needed someone to share my world with and yet that seemed to be my biggest mistake. I had moved away from the 3-bedroom hostel in which I and 2 other friends stayed, to live in a bedsitter apartment. Until the day she had moved in, the relationships between my friends and I had been easy going, they would come over to spend time and see how I was fairing. Then one day they staged an intervention. I walked in with a story of how offended I was about what my sister and girlfriend had conspired, but ended up getting lectured about how I was being used and was too blind to see it.
They all took turns to tell me how wrong it was for me to stay with my girlfriend while my baby’s mother was suffering elsewhere. In truth I had guessed it was coming but the relations between them and me seemed to sore when I didn’t seem to heed their advice. I still took her out and did everything a boyfriend was expected to do but we fought more often. I was slowly feeling the exhaustion of being at cross-purposes with her and my friends and began to wish for more time on my own. Wasn’t it enough that I seemed to be carrying the future of my daughter on my shoulder without having to deal with my own world falling apart? It had after all been 20 or so years of being a foreigner no matter how hard I tried to fit in with my Kenyan peers, I had been ganged up on so many times that I’d almost learnt to accept the inevitability of my loneliness. I had also noticed that the only thing anybody ever wanted from me was money, how fitting it was in my love affairs. The foreignness of the cash-notes once they were in my possession amused me, I would have friends for a night and they’d stare vaguely at me when I needed help. So after I broke up with her, I was left to choose what to do with my time, almost friendless and unhinged from the need to be surrounded in a false security that everything was alright.
The day I got mugged though, I realized just how fragile life is, that look in my mother’s eyes as I was being pushed on a wheelchair to the x-ray room in Eldoret hospital tore my heart in two. I had woken up on the taxi ride to the hospital and trying to figure out where I was. Pieces of memory came in as I was being wheeled into the emergency room. When I recovered some energy there was a strong urge to fight. I was being held down so the doctor could shave off my Afro and stitch-up the wound on my head. The morphine dulIed the pain for the rest of the night but I woke up in agony. I had to limp my way to my hostel and figure out a way to break the lock since the keys had been stolen. So many curious eyes met mine as I struggled on my way limping. The whispers didn’t seem to faze me until I met my friends on their way back from school. Elijah wanted to call my mother and tell her that I was hurt badly, I refused knowing how she’d react and I had after all been to hospital. The next few days were spent in agonizing silence as everyone else tried to comfort me. The week before I was mugged had tested our family’s unity; I had in anger said harsh words to my mother and father and refused to take any calls from them. Lying on bed, I felt imprisoned by my own thoughts, the pressure at the back of my head was the pending research papers. The sluggishness of my movement and the constant headaches felt punitive but I was determined to keep going.
All I had growing up was my family, my big brother was always smiling, the image stuck on the living room wall at the back of our television. The family photo was taken in 2004 and it includes an old camera that my father carried around with him when he came to Kenya to visit us. That was the last time that we were all together as a family before I started high school and my big brother university. The years from then onwards dispersed our family to different parts of Kenya and later the world. There has hardly been a Christmas celebration with the entire family together, but we’d always felt at home in December when we took family photos with other relatives. But in those days we had a simpler life, we cared not for money or other people’s opinion of us. The only thing that we had going for us was the education we were embarking on, it was the only thing that our parents had given us and everything else didn’t fit into the fray, until that moment when I saw desperation in my father’s eyes. The way he taught us dinka and the repetition of our family tree seemed like a distant past of happier times.