Monthly Archives: July 2011

Short Story: The Jasmine Tree

The rain had finally stopped.

She walked out of the house, closing the door behind her. She was careful, dragging it slowly so that the rusted hinge didn’t make a sound to announce her departure. She stood still for a few seconds, listening, making sure no one heard her leave. Once certain, she continued across the yard, slowly making her way to the edge of the cliff. When she got there, she  allowed herself to breathe in the cool air.  It was always crispy for a short while after it rained, a relief from its normal hot and sticky. She was free, even though it was just for a few moments.

She looked out at the sea below, in the fading light of early evening. When she first came to this house, her first glimpse of it gave her the one ray of hope from the darkness that her life had become. In the early morning it was a soft grey, waiting for the sun to wake from its slumber and illuminate it. During the day, in the height of Mombasa’s unbearable heat it was a bright blinding blue throwing shards of lights. It was difficult to look directly at it. When it was raining it turned an angry metallic grey. Right now, in the aftermath, it was a darker blue. By night fall it will be an inky black, deep and mysterious and a bit daunting. She loved how it changed colour at different times of the day.  In the distance the sun was in its final descent, almost touching the water; a liquid ball of orange fire. Birds dotted the sky, returning home from a hard day’s work. It was quiet now. In a few minutes the calls for prayer will signal the beginning of night.

She walked around the small garden, looking at her flowers. The viluas were ready to be picked.   She absently plucked a rose. But her favourite were the yasmini flowers. They were 5 bushes at the edge of the garden, next to the fence made of old mabatis. The green leaves were dotted by the white flowers. Their scent filled the whole garden.  I should pick them she thought. But she liked seeing them on the tree first, a reminder of their fragile beauty. If not plucked as soon as they opened, they started to die, turning brown at the edges. It was bitter-sweet; how beautiful they were and how short their lifespan.  Some were scattered on the ground, discarded and already turning brown. She felt like that sometimes. Then there were the young ones, not yet opened. They live to die another day. Her youngest daughter, Shadia liked picking them so she’ll call her later. But not now. She needed some time alone first.

She makes her way to the bench near the trees. She had asked her husband to put it up for her, after she was done planning the garden. It was the early years of their marriage and he was still eager to please her. It was nothing elaborate, just 2 pieces of wood erected on the ground and a board nailed on it. But it was enough to sit on and look at the ocean. And it had been a victory against her mother in law. May God rest her soul in peace.  She sat down and finally allowed herself to think of what had brought her here.

She had seen him today.

She had been in the market accompanied by Hamida, her house girl. She was examining the coconuts. You have to be careful when choosing them so that you don’t end up with one too young. Or an overly mature one. She shook it to make sure it was full of  juice then tapped it with a small stone listening for the hollow sound.  She then told Hamida to break it just to be certain. “Ikiwa ni mbaya ujue sikulipi”  she told the vendor. “Mama usijali, nazi zangu zote nzuri” he responded in the sing-song Mombasa accent. She looked around her absent-mindedly planning in her mind what she would make for dinner. Cassavas in coconut milk and fried fish. Or maybe some mahamri. She was lost in thought and at first didn’t notice him. He was standing at Mzee Abdallah’s gahwa stall, a small coffee cup in his hands. At first she didn’t recognize him. He was taller than she remembered. And she could see by the way the kanzu he was wearing fit him his skinny frame had filled out. But it was his stance that gave him away; slightly leaning on the leg he had broken as a child. His face was half turned away from her and she could see he had grown a beard. She almost turned away, thinking it was one of her false sightings. In the beginning she had looked out for him everywhere she walked. Those days her husband didn’t let her out of the house alone. He accompanied her everywhere. So she had been discreet about looking. But she had searched every face. It was torture, those days; His smile in someone else’s lips or someone with  exact shape of his eyes. But never the real person.

But just then he turned as if sensing that someone was watching him and there was no mistaking that face. Her breath caught and the gasp that came out was masked by the crack of the coconut breaking. Their gazes held. It must have been just a few seconds but it felt like hours. She stared at this man, almost a stranger, with the face of the boy she once knew. His eyes crunched as if puzzled, and then he looked away. He hadn’t recognized her. But how could he? She was one of the many buibui clad women moving in the market. Her face was hidden by her niqab, just revealing her kohl lined eyes. She could be anyone. And yet she couldn’t avoid that pang of disappointment that settled in her stomach. She doesn’t remember the rest of her shopping trip only that it felt like her heart was pounding in her mouth.

To be continued…

The Face in the Mirror

I look at the face in the mirror.
A face I’ve seen a million times
I look at this strange face
I feel like there should be some change on it,
Some sort of mark that will signify my life.
But this calm face stares back, emotionless
This face that hides the scars
A face I’ve seen a million times…

I don’t know how long I stood like this.
Don’t really remember…
It feels like a lifetime ago; it should be a lifetime,
I’m struggling hard to remember that girl that I was yesterday
Who was I? And who am I now?
I stare hard at the mirror,
Hoping the girl on the other side would answer
The one who has my face, challenging…
How can that person represent me now…
How can I feel so different, so detached to that face?
This stranger  I’ve seen a million times?

I write…

I walk, I learn, I run.

I dream, I write, I lament.

I lose, I wait, I stagger.

I listen.

I leave, I cry.

I put down my thoughts

I create, these fruits of my failures

I turn back and regret

And reach out to empty

I breathe, the dying gasps of love

I aim to please but please don’t try

The sky is the limit, beyond my reach

I write my truth, my simple words

I write in blood, my fears laid bare

I don’t understand lonely

i don’t understand the emptiness in the pit of my stomach,

this constant humming

when the laughter feels like it’s coming from the sea

the bottomless sea of loneliness

i don’t understand when nothing made his home in me

he held my hand and forged my fingerprints in his

pain of my pain,

i don’t understand how the light in my eyes

was replaced by shadows

shadows the shape of my desires

I don’t understand this taste in my tongue

The tangy taste of loss

I wonder when the pot that held my waters

became a hollow cave now brimming with wanting

Lessons from the Last Decade

This post was supposed to be part of my birthday posts, but I somehow forgot about it. But I think it’s still relevant. Enjoy. 🙂

1. Of Dreams and Holding On

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. In high school my pal and I had this book and we filled it with our teenage ramblings and poetry. I still find notebooks at home filled with my writing. I always knew I was going to be a writer. So I always wonder, how did I not start writing seriously until 2 years ago? I guess at some point, I stopped believing that I was any good at it. I lost my dream. So when it came to going to college I picked a safe option, which would get me a safe job. Instead of learning my craft.

I don’t know when it happened, when I took my dreams and shoved them into a box at the dark corners of my mind. Part of it was fear I guess. Fear of rejection. Writing for me is extremely personal, it’s a part of who I am. So I felt that if I shared that with people and they didn’t like it,  then it would be like they had rejected me.

But the good thing with dreams, is no matter how much you ignore them, they never let you have peace until you acknowledge them. And so after years I finally accepted that I love writing, and I can’t NOT write. There was no way I would know if I was any good at it if I don’t take the risk and let it out to people.

I’m glad that I found my way back and it feels good to finally know exactly what I want to do. 10 years from now I see myself in some country with a beach and lots of rain, spending most of my day writing. Always writing.

2.  Women are a girls best friend. 

There are women who say that they can’t connect with other women. They just don’t get along. And they prefer male friends to women.  I get that, I really do. Men bring a different perspective in our lives. They have a way of seeing things that we don’t see, of  analyzing situations that makes it clear for us. And a man is the best person to talk to when you are feelingh low. It’s very interesting seeing yourself through a man’s eyes. Very flattering.

But I believe that if you don’t have a group of special women in your life, you are missing out on a lot. I have a circle of girls that I don’t know how I would have made it through the last couple of years without. Yes, it gets heated sometimes cos after all we are women, each of us a little sun expecting to always shine the brightest. But these women anchor me. Who else can get how a chocolate fudge cake is the cure of everything that ails a woman from PMS to heartbreak, to that b**ch colleague melodrama? Ladies tell me I’m not speaking the truth.

I know, it’s hard to get good friends whom you can trust, but when you do, it’s amazing. These women support me, criticize me, pray for me, teach me, guide me and I know they would be there for me no matter what.  These women help to keep grounded and balanced. It makes me all emotional writing this. I love you ladies. Y’all rock.

3. The past can never be erased, but it can be surpassed.

Like everyone else I have made my share of mistakes. Some because of being young and naive, some temporary stupidity, and some cos I just didn’t know better. And others pure arrogance, thinking that I know better than everyone who has done it before. For a long time, I carried my mistakes like a sign to my door. They were the first thing I wore in the morning and they lay next to me every night. I relived them so many times, they were what defined me. I was my mistakes and there was no room for anything else.

But at some point I just realized that I can’t keep blaming myself for things I can’t change and I was dragging myself down with all that baggage. So I went into a journey of slowly shedding it. Piece by piece I analyzed all the stuff that went down, forgave the ones I needed to, buried those that never need to be seen again and learned the lessons. Most importantly I finally forgave myself. There’s still some residue left, but it’s not significant. It’s no longer limiting me, holding me back.  Not saying that I might never make mistakes again, I’m human after all, but I now know what mistakes are unnecessary. And I can finally say I have laid my past to rest.

4. Losing and Finding My Religion

I’ve always believed in God and for this I am eternally grateful. I’ve never had a time when I doubted His existence. But in the last decade I have had many times I have questioned my purpose in this world and my obligations to Him. Especially so as a woman.

The last decade was spent in moments of self-doubt and internal struggle. I grew up in Nairobi, but was raised in a conservative culture. It was hard, finding the middle ground between these completely different environments. Finding the place where I can fit it, I can claim as my own. I have fallen and risen many times and still fallen again. It was hard to always accept that God was in charge. Not the other way round. I wanted to forge my way ahead, conquer my world and take full credit, I had fought the fight so the medals belonged to me. That was ego and to be able to submit fully to God, there is no place for ego. You are a servant, He is the master. I am still on this journey, learning more every day. Making mistakes and learning to correct them. But I constantly pray that He continues to guide me and lead me in His path.

5. You Can’t Die from Heartbreak

Just like my first kiss, I fell in love for the very first time much later than my peers. I was a late bloomer.

First love is interesting. Because you have nothing else to compare it with, the novelty of it is what makes it exciting. And the naive assumption that you will feel like that forever. He was beautiful in how he reached into my heart and spoke to me. For a shy person, to finally find someone who listens to your voice and yours only, is a  heady experience.

Inevitably, as is with anything that blazes, it eventually burns down. And my walk on air was finally over. I can never forget how that first heartbreak felt. It was like a physical pain and I felt as if my heart was truly broken and I was gonna die. I couldn’t possibly live through such pain. I actually lay down on my bed and waited for the pain to overcome me. And then I woke up the next morning and I thought “I survived it. I didn’t die.” As much as it still hurt for a while longer, it was a liberating feeling. Surviving that first heartbreak helped me in my future relationships. Now no  matter how bad the break up was I always tell myself. “You’ll wake up tomorrow morning”