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…

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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
Unapologetic
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”

 

Always,

Aisha



The Girl In The Picture

(Disclaimer: I leave this poem on my blog so that it can be a reminder of where I’ve come from, and how much I’ve grown, and how much more growing there’s still to do) 

Girl in the picture

I wonder

How does it feel like,

When the thing stuck in your mouth,

Slowly tightens its hold on your neck,

Holding you prisoner as the object of his desire?

When the choking is the sound of your brain

Slowly turning to mush,

Against the picture of your nakedness?

You are the source of his inflated pride.

I wonder,

How does it feel like?

When your feet tread on used condoms,

Sticky with the remnants of his seed?

The tattered picture of your face,

Is the canvas that he lays your worth?

Tell me,

Do you ever wonder?

If he’ll stop staring at your breasts

Long enough to start talking to your face?

Have you ever asked him the colour of your eyes

And you got told the shape of your thighs?

He lowers his gaze to your navel

As if too ashamed to see the reflection of his mother.

Girl in the picture

He pays you off with new shoes

Shopping sprees, rides in expensive cars

I wonder

What’s the price you pay?

When your heart slowly starts to rot

Do you gag on the stench of your dreams?

Does your surrender, your defeat,

Flow out in the form of tears?

Your body is your temple

God’s finest work, your refuge

Your body, an object of his play?

Do you remember,

When proud African mothers

Dug you out

From the forgotten depths of history?

Save the girl child, save the world

Save the girl child, sell her to the world?

Girl in the picture

Do you remember, when she sweated blood

Her callused hands held your crying body

Wiped your tears and fed you her breast?

Once your sustenance, now a medium of exchange?

You are the daughter of queens

Hold you head high

And show respect for their fight

Girl in the picture,

Show respect for the royal blood

That flows through your veins

Dear Men, My Beauty Does Not Lie in Your Eyes

A couple of months back someone posted a picture on Twitter with the comment:  

“Beautiful. Sad we don’t see something like this in Nairobi”

(I had saved the picture but can’t seem to locate it. Will update it if I find it)

When I saw the tweet, and the corresponding statement, I was curious to see what this thing was that we don’t get to see in Nairobi. At first I thought it was one of those beautiful cars, or a complicated road network that can only be found in the developed world. Or even a skyscraper, the kind that Dubai is famous for.

I didn’t expect it to be a woman. That statement implies that there are no women who look like that in Nairobi.  Worse, it also implies that women who look like that are the SI unit of beauty. That is, the standard light skin, straight nose and soft hair kind of woman. The worldwide standard of beauty that has been shoved down our African throats for centuries.

Some time later, on Twitter again, I happened on a now common weaves vs natural hair debate. The guy was complaining about the number of women who wear weaves as opposed to keeping it natural. I countered that many men say that they like their women with natural hair and make up free but when you walk with them on the streets of Nairobi the woman you catch them staring at is the most make up enhanced of them all – weave and all. My final say on that was the day they will start showing love to the Alek Weks of this world is the day we shall stop trying to look like the Tyras.

Finally, about month or two ago, I uploaded a new profile picture. I was wearing make up and it got a lot of attention. Not that the nice comments weren’t appreciated, but I noted that a lot of those were from the people who say they want natural looking girls.  And then later in the day, my pal who hasn’t seen me for a long time, commented that it seems that I’ve now started putting on make up. For the record, I have been wearing make up on and off since I was like 18.  At the moment I wear it occasionally mostly on special events and such.  But according to him I was ‘ruining’ my natural beauty. Thing is,

These different incidences made me think of the pressures an African woman has to conform to a certain look. No matter what we choose, there’s always someone ready to criticize.

Growing up as African women, I don’t think we’ve ever been allowed to feel that we are fine as is. From an early age, the notion of what is beautiful is programmed into us. From the dolls we played with, to the women we saw on TV, they all had a certain look. I remember as a kid going to the salon with my cousins. They all had long, thick, soft hair due to their mixed ancestries. Mine, although not really short, was more African.  The hair dressers would always ask me why my hair wasn’t as “nice” as theirs. Tired of hearing this I once asked, “How would I know? Why don’t you go ask God? I then stopped going to the same salons as them. Because of that, I’ve had a crazy relationship with my hair. Would you blame me if  I decided to go the weave way?

Boys are provided with role models from all walks of life, based on what they do and  not how they look; the first black President of United States, Freedom fighters, The first Man on the Moon, people doing tangible things that they can aspire to become and can work towards regardless of how they were born. But girls however, most of the women who are in the spotlight are famous more for what they look like or what they wear. So from a young age, it takes a lot of time, and endless battles with low self-esteem and self-doubt for a woman to finally reach a point where she’s comfortable in her own skin. To finally accept that she can’t change who she is, so its better just get on with the business of living. And still we don’t catch a break for it. Everyone seems to have an opinion of how they want us to be.

Every woman is unique in her experiences and back ground. For some women, how they dress be it clothes or hair, is like armour; to help them fight their daily battles. For others, their varied personality dictates their aesthetic choices.  When a woman decides to wear a weave, go bald, or keep a natural fro, why does it have to be a topic of constant debate? Can’t it just be as simple as how she chose to wear her hair rather than a capital offense to the entire male population?

Many men claim they are looking for real women. Women who are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside. And yet there’s endless conversations everyday about how a woman should or shouldn’t look. And guess what, we’re listening, consciously or subconsciously. And some of us will change thinking that’s what suits you.

When I look in the mirror, no matter what look I have on, I am still the same person with my hair curled or straight, lips fully glossed or barely there, dark skin or simply fair. I bear the same name – woman. I still have the power to bring forth life and nurture; power to raise girls who the male species will love and delight in, natural or covered in make-up. Because I know that even as they talk, I hope they see the same thing I see, just a woman.

If you want African women to be more substance than smoke screen, then change the stereotypes and the conversations.

A poem for Aisha

My friend wrote this for me. Thanks dear. 🙂

Aisha

Dear Diary,

Today I celebrate my friend,

You see she turns thirty and is a bit apprehensive,

Thirty’s such a defining age you see,

Kind of when we meet reality,

And start building the dreams we dreamed,

When we get comfortable in our skin,

And only keep friends who are true,

Thirty’s when we need wisdom from God,

To separate the wheat from the chaff,

The point at which we view the world from above,

When we cease to live for Fridays,

When we can see beyond the horizon,

Thirty’s the age at which we realize,

That single or married doesn’t define us,

And thin or fat doesn’t irk us,

Because we know what we are worth.

Thirty’s that defining age,

When we stop playing games,

We love with a passion,

We live with a purpose,

We shun the haters,

Because we know what we are worth.

Thirty’s the age at which we cease to exist,

But at which we choose to live,

Because we have enough experience,

Etched in our minds, carried in our hearts.

Diary,

Please let her know thirty’s a beautiful age,

And that she’ll have a friend always,

One who’s been there before her,

And will always love her.

Let her know that,

I wished her a very happy thirtieth.

(c) Amondi

The Sound of Africa/ When the Battle is Over

The guns have stopped

The silence echoes their deadly intent

The child with a broken body,

Won’t stop screaming

Blood scorches his back

The bloody rivers that rush down hill

To cleanse him of his father’s sins

The guns have stopped

Africa’s wailing voice

The only sound heard from space

Broken houses, shattered pelvics

The future of Africa rebuilt on Rwandan skulls

Grasses made of human hair, ochre paste made from blood

The Savannah is silent with groans of pain

The guns have stopped

The desert people use the stars to mark their paths

They hide in bunkers, where stars don’t shine

They twinkle hopefully,

In the empty deserts of Libya

The desert people are blind to their paths

The guns have stopped

The earth’s belly is full, fed on Africa’s flesh

The limbs of Nigeria

The indignity of Somalia

The mad eyes of Cote d’Ivoire

The weary feet of Uganda

The bowed backs of Kenya

The earth is full, it burps

Its spew out the oil, the colour of rage

It vomits diamonds, dead irises staring

The guns have stopped

My friend’s yearning eyes look at the sky

She dreams of her land, her home

She imagines the feel of her soil, the scent of her Africa

Closes her eyes and feel the sunlight of Zimbabwe

She licks the tears and tastes the rain from Harare

The guns have stopped

The rain is finally falling

Heavy clouds, carrying the hopes of a million flesh robots

It’s finally raining

We hold our arms wide open,  faces upturned

And receive grenades of blessings

Africa is rejoicing

Africa is free

1 Week to 30: 9 Random Things About Me

1. I am shy: Kindly spare me the rolling eyes. Really I am. It was worse when I was younger. I couldn’t speak to people. Especially boys. Over the years I learned to overcome it, and cover it up by being loud. But it still happens when I’m caught off guard. A random compliment can throw me off completely and one of the downs of being light is that it is evident! But I recover quickly. So next time you say something to me and I seem a bit aloofish, just consider that maybe I’m tongue-tied 😀

2. I’ve never cooked ugali. I can feel your raised eyebrows and whistles of disbelief. See, the thing is at home, the staple food is rice. So that was the first thing we were taught to cook. But we do eat Ug, but since there was many of us, there was always someone else cooking it. And whenever I invite my friends over, they always ask me to do Swahili food. Enyewe to be honest, I have no idea how this happened. I love eating it, I’ve just never cooked it. So I ended being a girl who can cook biriani in half an hour but can’t do ugali. My girl tells me I should forget getting married to a Luhya man.  😦

3. When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut. I was fascinated by the night sky. I would take walks at night looking at stars and counting constellations for hours. I once read that there was a shower expected that night, so I set up a mattress in the backyard and watched the sky. And I got to see this huge comet, orange and it moved from one end of the sky to  the next. It was amazing. Then one day I discovered I was afraid of heights. Yeah, that was the end of that dream.

Check out these pics, I felt woozy just looking at them!

4. I have this thing about my toes. When people look at them, I get the urge to hide them. I don’t know why. I know they’re unusual looking (yes, unusual not weird!) so I’m self-conscious about them. Weird thing is even if I’m wearing closed shoes, and someone looks at them, they just curl. Very strange.

(These are weird toes!)

5. You know that thing they say about women being great at multi tasking? Well, it skipped me. I can’t multi task worth anything. When I concentrate on one thing, I close off everything else. I annoy the hell out of my pals. Like when we’re hanging out and there’s a show on and I won’t hear the convo cos I’m listening to the show. I suspect I might also have a nothing box in my brain like men.

6. I don’t embarrass easy. You know why? Because when I was around 12 the most embarrassing thing happened to me. I was at my grandma’s house with loads of my cousin. So I went to the loo. Now, the person who built that house had a weird sense of humour. First the loo was those ones you squat. Secondly, it was a bit raised. 3rd, the window was pretty low. So the first thing you did when you went to the loo was make sure the window is closed. I was too pressed. The next thing I hear is loud laughter. I look behind me and I see that I was mooning the whole group. Plus one of my cousin’s pal whom I had a huge crush on. FML. So every time an embarrassing situation comes up, I tell myself, you survived mooning your crush, it really can’t get worse than that.

7. I have weird memory patterns. Very bad short-term memory. There was this time I was talking to my friend on phone, and she asked me to do something for her. Immediately after her call someone else called me. When I was done with that call, I couldn’t remember what my friend had told me, I had to call her back and ask her. However, I have very good long-term memory. I remember things that happened 10 years ago. With clarity. I remember phone numbers of people who I was in high school with. Landline  phone numbers from the 90s. And I remember birth dates, but not always who they belong to. So I’d be like today’s someone’s birthday but I have no idea who. The question is, when do the short-term become the long-term? Someone help?

8. When I was like 10, I chased my cousin around the hood with a knife. I don’t remember exactly what he did, but I took a kitchen knife and ran after him screaming “Today I’ll kill you.” My cousin had to go hide behind his mother (wuss) So I stood there ranting like a mad person well kid and the whole hood came out to see. My mum whipped me proper for that. I honestly don’t know where it came from. I haven’t had any such moment since, but it’s comforting to know that I have it in me, you know, in case I get a role in a movie and I have to be the deranged killer 😀

9. I get easily affected by small things, but when a real crisis happens I’m calm enough to handle it. I think I’m just a contradiction. Sometimes, I get upset because I went to the supermarket and couldn’t find my favourite brand of yoghurt and I was really looking forward to having that yoghurt. It can ruin my whole afternoon. But I get into a mat and realize I left my wallet at home and face a mean looking makanga, and I calmly try to come up with an alternative. My pal is constantly telling me, stop sweating the small stuff. I’m still learning.

Signed

Aisha