Oftentimes, I wonder if Zara will ever understand the extremes I’ve gone through to cushion her life. Last evening, I had to drive all the way down to Uhuru Park to bring her home. She’d spent the better part of the week planning for that demonstration, one I still have ill feelings about. If only she knew, that the bulging of her chest, the widening of her hips, placed a target on her.
She’s fifteen now. Likes to wear shiny lip gloss, statement earrings and brightly coloured clothes. She’s so vibrant, that I contemplate meeting her in public places because everything about her is so noticeable. It doesn’t help that she’s at puberty, her burgeoning body is blossoming so beautifully, makes me wish I was sixteen all over again even though my teenage memories are tainted.
“Well, Hello, Mrs Zawadi. I thought I told you I can bring myself home?” That’s how she greets me, by the second name and her agenda in cue; our conversations are always straight to the point. She was pretty angry that I picked her up yesterday, and now, today, I’m here to take her home.
“How about a thank you, mum? You are the most wonderful mother in the world!”
” You are the queen of self-flattery, in fact, you already applauded yourself! I don’t think my false flattery is needed any more”.
“Please lock my car door. I have other places to be.”
“You should be there, not here. I’m gonna go back, see you at home?”
“Darling you are really testing my patience. I need you to sit your ass down, in this car, and let’s go home. Don’t make me give you a reason to call me crazy now”.
“Mum, I told you I don’t work well with threats. What? You’ll hit me?” This. The way she asked questions boldly, stood up for herself and spoke her mind still baffles me. When I was her age, I took what was offered, no questions asked. It was the right thing to do, heck! the obedient thing to do. But now, my fights with Zara only show that what it was, in fact, was fear. Fear that I’ll be reprimanded for saying what’s on my mind and also, that older people were always right. How I wish I knew that even fools grow old.
“Zara! You this child?! Me? Are you asking your mother what she can do to you? Ma nyathi nga?”
Zara looks at me, quietly. She goes silent every time I scold her and unknowingly transitions to our native language, Luo. It was always the same question, whose child is this? It’s as if she recognizes the deep-seated disdain and anger in my heart whenever I pose this question. It’s the question my mum asked me when she deduced that I was a tragic child. All these years and I’m still hurt and defined by this very question. It breaks me, and every time it escapes my mind and lands on my daughter’s ears, I apologize. It’s so hard to admit to myself, that my daughter is so much better than me, in ways I can only wish for.
“I’m sorry child, but you need to come home, you’ll be safer there” I offered.
“Mum, I organized this campaign. I really want to see it come to an end. Besides, it’s part of the project for the Rise fellowship. This is my opportunity to learn. Please let me. ” Zara begged.
“Nyatina. Zara, my child. There’s so much about the world that you will not learn in class. Things that can break you. Things that only, I, can protect you from”.
“I will learn from the school of life. That’s your next line, right?”
“Zara! Weeuh! Do I have to tell you everything in black and white? “
“Yes mum, because I don’t appreciate how communicate in bits or is it parables? Tell me, are you Jesus? Like you are saying something but without saying anything. For once, make me understand you!”
“What’s your campaign about?” I ask, even though I already know.
“Pushing for the implementation of The East African Community Sexual and Reproductive Health Bill. I thought you knew that already?”
“How are you doing that today?”
“We’ve partnered with several healthcare providers to offer free cervical cancer screening, and HPV vaccines and we have psychologists on board to talk or sexual and gender-based violence survivors and help women that need access to recovery centres, get new homes”.
“Wow. That’s great work you are doing child. I didn’t imagine it was that intense” I’m honestly awed by Zara right now. How could l not see, this passionate, amazing little woman grow beyond my hands and create an impact on the world?
” Thank you! Can I go back now?” She asks, impatient.
“Actually Zara, can I join you?”
Her face lights up with a smile and I can literally feel my heart dancing.
“Are you sure mommy?”
“Come with me!” She excitedly climbs down the car and bangs the door, I almost regret this decision, but I’ll scold her later at home.
There’s a group of women, sitting on beautiful lesos, spread on the ground. They seem to be so engaged, nodding heads, and rubbing each other’s hands. They all pull in for a hug, and the girl in the middle is in tears. My curiosity pulls me towards them.
‘I’m sorry people, but this is my mother. I fondly call her Mrs Zawadi. Can we Join you please?”
“Sure, Zara! Mama Zara, welcome to Tandika leso” a Younger woman in a red lippie offered.
The crowd appears pleased. Some even murmur amongst themselves as they create space for me and Zara.
“Mama Zara, during this session, we share amongst ourselves, the horrors of rape, abortions, defilement, gender-based violence, intimate partner violence and basically everything that affects our mental, emotional and physical wellness. As women, we understand that we feel much better when we learn that our experiences aren’t ours alone. So we reaffirm and help each other get back to ourselves. There’s also professional help if need be”, she said.
But the mention of rape instantly robbed the joy I felt in my heart after seeing what Zara has been doing. Basically, it’s like a wound that rips wide open, bleeds profusely, and then patches up but never really heals. Sometimes, I feel like people see through it, especially when I make love to Bernard, my adorable husband.
“He said he’d grab me by the throat and strangle me to death if anyone ever heard of what had just happened. Then he spat on me”.
“Who? Mum, are you okay?” Zara is restless, I can hear the beating of her heart, and the long deep breaths she’s taking.
“No child”. I’m already snorting and tears running down my eyes. My make-up is already in ruins.
“I was raped by an uncle. I was fourteen. He’d come for a job interview and he stayed at home for a few days. It happened two days before he left”.
“Mum?” Zara lay on my bosom, tears in her eyes.
“Zara, please let her speak “, the lady interjected.
I still get startled when someone knocks on my door, even during the day. Uncle Zachary called me from the store that afternoon, but I was too tired, so I pretended not to hear him. He came knocking on my door, and before I could respond, he let himself in. It’s these little things he did that annoyed me. He never asked before doing anything. The day he arrived, he locked the gate before papa came back. Mama always said that “he’s just too responsible”.
His was gloomy, but the sight of my body brightened his eyes. He edged closer and grabbed me by the neck. I thought he’d kill me, but he did worse. He kept on asking me questions, asking me to call him by his name and slapped me every second I didn’t. It seemed as though he drew pleasure from my whimpers as I said his name. It felt as if my body was clumped by my hands, and it just needed to run away from my grasp. He killed me, but the dead don’t die.
The look on his face still terrorizes me in my dreams. He sternly warned me never to mention it to anyone and never to let any other man touch me if not him. Five months later, while in school, collecting my admission letter, I fainted.
I woke up to my infuriated mother, who demanded an explanation of how I got pregnant.
“Zawadi?! You get pregnant and you didn’t think to tell me? Who is he? Who is the useless boy you have been sleeping with?” She was screaming.
Tears welled up in my eyes all over again. My father was by my side, rubbing my left hand.
“You had better start talking!” She screamed again.
“There’s no boy mama, it’s Uncle Zachary” The pain I felt in my body must have given me the confidence to speak.
“My brother? Are you mad?”
That’s how mama handled the situation. She found it so hard to confront him or tell her family about the incident because what will people say? Papa was pissed and swore to kill him if he ever laid eyes on him, but he never came back.
I was shattered to learn about the pregnancy that had since been terminated because it was ectopic. I mourned. For the girl, I used to be. My innocence and how my parents treated the situation. Somehow, it felt like mama blamed me for maturing up early. That if I had smaller boobs, wore covering clothes and responded to uncle Zachary, he wouldn’t have raped me.
When both of my parents died in a road accident two years later, I ran away from home the night after their burial, because I couldn’t imagine living near uncle Zachary again. I’ve never gone back home, I don’t intend to. It’s the reason why I never want anyone close to Zara.
It’s the reason Bernard and I live in separate houses despite being married. Now, I think the reason I married him is that he asked, and still asks for consent before we make love. While he has been quite understanding, I think I’m ready to tell him why.
“Mum, it’s defilement. When you are raped by an older person and you are underage, it’s not rape. That’s defilement”, Zara offers.
She wipes my tears as she engages the crowd.
“Well, I definitely never imagined that my mother would have gone through this. It’s quite evident, that women are actually preyed on by people so close to home. Could we press charges now? Mom?” She’s now wiping her tears.
“He died. He was a teacher, saw it in the obituaries, but I’d like to spit on his grave!”
“That’s too harsh mum, but thank you for sharing your story with us. We appreciate you”.
I’m contemplating, whether I should tell Zara about her father on our drive back home. The boy I first loved. But I hope that now she understands why I’m so protective of her. Why I don’t approve of her using Ubers to get back home and why friends and relatives don’t spend nights at home? I know that the school of life will probably teach her how to care for herself, but I’ll always stock up the pepper spray, just in case!
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