THE CHILD MAMA RAISED

Dear Wanjeri,

You’re eight now and life is about to change. One morning in June, you’ll want to enter your parents’ bedroom like you’ve done every morning but the door will be locked. And when it swings open, your father won’t explain why one side of the bed is empty.

In fact, he’ll barely look you in the eye. You, unaware of the world rapidly unspooling, presenting the unspoiled comfort of routine will be directed out of the silent room.

There will be no school that day. Your Githurai home will soon be filled with people. They’ll come with eyes like leaking faucets and the women’s arms shall constantly dole out hugs and back rubs.

No one will explain the reason for the gathering to you, least of all your brother. He’ll barely speak. You’ll see him with shoulders raised in distress, arms folded around his torso in sorrowful origami. Years later, you’ll look through the funeral album and discover that you’re the only one of her children smiling in it. You’ll be particularly embarrassed about two sets of images; in the first, you’re sitting crossed-legged, cheeks bulging with pilau and flashing a closed-lipped smile, the second will be the entire wreath-placement series where again and again you’ll be captured chin up, teeth out; barely registering the mould of earth at your feet.

Hours before the dreaded pictures, you’ll be ushered into your nyanya’s room. It’ll be crowded and her bed stripped down to the zig-zaggy ropes of her bed frame with a form wrapped in white fabric laying on it. Someone (perhaps Ma’Mkubwa wa Malindi) will tell you to kiss her forehead and tell Mama goodbye. Is this where she’s been all this time? This makes no sense. You’ll stand on your tippy toes anyway and obediently place your lips on the form’s smooth temple. They’ll make contact with the cold, hard surface—a sensation you’ll never forget. You’ll be whisked out of the room and told to sit with a young cousin.

This letter is to brace you for the years after. It is to tell that little eight-year-old that it wasn’t her fault her Mama died. This letter is to tell her that though she’ll eventually forget her Mama’s voice and patch up memories with other’s anecdotes, she’ll find her Mama everywhere: in the professional and love letters her father will meticulously file away, in the newspaper section of a public university’s basement storage and in the clothes she’ll eventually fill out.

Best of all, Wanjeri, Mama will come to you in those unmistakable high cheekbones, that love for dancing, that big laugh, that smile and the way you love like breathing.

One morning in June your life will change immeasurably but you’ll be alright.

P.S. Stop worrying about those images you dread so much. They just show the kind of child Mama raised; a happy one.

Yours-in-comfort,
Wanjeri.

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