Tim was a completely different person in the presence of his family, but even worse when his mother was around. Martha kissed her son’s forehead every chance she got, burst into song and dance in praise of him and prepared his meals differently.
It irked me, how everyone else seemed very comfortable with their weird dynamic. His sister’s calling him omuoyo, mama’s heart. She examined me like a doctor does when Tim brought me home for the first time. She seemed particularly bothered with my relaxed hair because she thought I was imitating white women. I’ll probably run out of ink if I were to list the things about me, she didn’t find desirable. Martha and I were off to a bad start, but I was convinced my mother would make the worst mother-in-law, so I sat through it.
We spent most Christmas holidays in Nyamira, the kids loved playing with their cousins, catching up and sharing their dreams to attend posh high schools after primary school. Our oldest, Sasha, loved and adored her grandmother to bits. Maybe it’s because she looked everything like her, even the way she spoke her mind, caring less about other people’s feelings. So, when I announced that we’d be spending Christmas at home, where I was born, she did not hesitate to announce that she’ll rather spend time in the city if she wasn’t going to Nyamira.
It had taken me eleven years of marriage to convince Tim to allow me to bring the kids home for Christmas to my parents. He was pleased when Sasha’s rebellion came about without his influence, and he supported her, proudly. Distraught, I resorted to gifts and promises to change Sasha’s mind but her mind was made up. One reason she always wanted to be in Nyamira for Christmas, was because Martha always threw her a birthday party two days before Christmas and it got better every year.
I dropped the kids off at my in-laws as was the tradition, spent the night and left for home the next day. Honestly, all I wanted for Christmas was not to hear Martha talk about how she almost died because of my husband. She’s told this story for twelve years now and every time, it begins with, “Have I ever told you?”
Whether you said Yes or No, she’d proceed. “Tim almost had me killed while we were still living in Mombasa!” For the first four years, I acted as if I was listening to the story for the first time, sighing heavily, even screaming ‘Oh my God!’ to show surprise. Then, in the years that followed, I’d excuse myself to take a call or change the baby’s diaper, or check if Tim is back. But whatever I did, no matter how long it took, she’d proceed with the story.
“I was escorting my sister, Beatrice, her soul rest in peace at the bus stop when it happened.” She’d then pause, stare into the skies and shake her head warily, whispering her sister’s name, like the pain flooded her memory again.
“We were like identical twins. Shilingi kwa ya pili. We even wore similar clothes often and our husbands thought it was childish. Please, remind me to show you, our pictures.” If she wasn’t making matoke then you’d be lucky that she wouldn’t draw out her old photo album, showing you pictures of people long dead.
“Tim really liked my sister Beatrice that she cried non-stop after she boarded the matatu to travel back home. He was screaming, throwing his legs in the air that other road users were concerned. Unluckily for me, child theft was on the rise in the nation at that time, so a group of men approached me, grabbed Tim and ordered me to sit down. Ironically, he stopped crying when they held him and the small mob that had gathered instantly judged that I had stolen my son.” Martha would pose for dramatic effects at this point, waiting for you to wonder, and ask concerning questions, like creating suspense.
“The more I tried to defend myself, the more the mob grew agitated as they gathered stones and sticks. Quite frankly, I was ready to die because of my son.”
“What happened mama?” I’d ask to show interest.
“Tim looked around himself and noticed the unfamiliar faces, then he saw me and screamed out to me. An old man in the mob suggested that they put him down, if he crawled towards me, then I would be his mother. Tim clutched on me so tight and I stood up and walked away silently. My son!” She’d finish her story. On some few occasions, she’d talk about the man’s Solomonic wisdom, that he was heaven-sent. On my drive home, I smiled broadly because I was going to be reunited with my siblings all over again.
My happiness was short-lived when I received a call from Sasha crying hysterically, with loud bangs on the door.
“Mom! Please come get me. Shosho is cutting me!” my daughter screamed.
“Sasha! Where are you? Who is banging on the door? Why is she cutting you? Where has she cut you?”
“she says it’s what makes me a woman! I’m bleeding Mom!” she cried. The bangs on the door had intensified and my mind went into panic mode. I remembered Martha asking if I was circumcised. She had been opposed to Tim marrying me because I was an incomplete woman. I was crying when my sisters placed a call to Martha, issuing threats and demanding that no one touches my daughter until we arrive there. Sasha was still crying on the other side of the call too when the loud banging stopped.
“I’m coming for you, Sasha. Please be calm. We are coming. How bad is the bleeding?” I asked.
“Not so bad. I can handle it. Please rush here mom. I’m scared.”
“Stay close to the phone, we are on the way,” I affirmed.
Tim was busy defending his mother and their traditions during the four-hour drive to Nyamira. He was adamant that his agreeing to marry an uncircumcised woman didn’t mean that his children would escape the knife. He was a man of stature and he would not disappoint his mother twice by allowing his daughters to abandon tradition. My two brothers and half-sister, Darma were visibly displeased by him that by the time we drove into their compound in Nyamira, they had already discussed divorce.
Fresh tears flowed when I held Sasha in my hands and my two younger daughters. Martha was looking at us through her window, never stepping out to greet us, even though I had a few words for her. We didn’t wait for Tim to arrive before we left because he was travelling home to be with the children while I was away. I felt very betrayed by him and was in no condition for a conversation.
“I never want to come back here Mom,” Sasha cried as her younger siblings burst into tears, clasping my thighs.
“You never will child. Never.” It’s been four years since our separation. Tim still stands by his mom and thinks that our children have abandoned tradition by not being circumcised regardless of the medical implications linked to it. Sasha was cut, but not her genitalia, her inner thigh was cut during the struggle but she healed afterwards. Christmas is better at the coast though.
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