The first time a man touched me, it was at home. I was barely 6 years old. My parents used to travel a lot for work. Most of the time, it was just me and the nanny. That afternoon, she was giving me a bath. She used to sing as she did it. Her voice felt like a thousand birds taking off at the same time. Controlled chaos. But I loved her, and she loved me back. The house was one of those colonial era bungalows. The ablution area was set at the tail end of the house. In case the piping leaked, it did not cause the house to smell too much. If you needed something from the kitchen, it took you 3 hours to get to it.
I remember, she left me in the basin and went to go get something from the bedroom. I can’t for the life of me, remember what exactly.
He lived with us, my uncle. He was one of those stray relatives parents allow to live with you before they get their shit together. He never did. Somehow he found his way into the bathroom. And he squatted over me as I played with the water, naked. He smelt like old tobacco and the bottom of a brown bottle. I did not like him. He reached out and fondled my penis. I did not stop him. I did not know what was happening. It felt wrong. He looked and felt hungry. Not the food type of hungry, it was a different kind. I did not then, have the words to describe it. The nanny came back in and asked him to leave. In that playful but serious manner women use when they are faced with danger. We told no one. But curiously, we were never in the same room alone again. She made sure of it.
The second time it happened, it was in church….
We are seated in a cold, empty room in the recesses of the Consolata Shrine on Waiyaki Way. The door is closed but if you listen hard enough you can still hear the drone of vehicles on the highway. We are hosted by the kind Sisters of the order of Mary Immaculate. They even bought snacks and drinks. No one has touched them. There is too much darkness in here for food to bring joy. The single bulb in the room is mounted stack in the middle of the room. There’s a picture of Jesus on the wall. Someone tried to remove it from there, you can see the scuff marks on the walls. They probably wanted to make it comfortable for the atheists here. We are seated in a circle. If you came in you would think this is an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Curiously, everyone here is anonymous, some are alcoholics.
Normally I only attend events where there is free food, and an open bar. Free alcohol has the tendency to loosen even the most uptight of men. And trust me, there’s always a good story when that type drink too much. Today however, I was asked to come in by Teresia, the fine lady who runs a counseling program for women who have suffered sexual abuse in Nairobi. She almost always buys me food whenever I attend her events. Except for this one time we were working in Pumwani, and she bought me bread and Soda ndogo. I almost broke our friendship there and then. Everyone knows it is dishonorable to buy a man the small soda. We only accept madiaba! The half liter fanta. Our friendship survived that trying period and now she calls me from time to time to her programs. I am usually the lizard behind the framed picture. Listening but saying nothing. Then I get to write those stories for them. It is cathartic I am told, seeing your story out in the open, but maintaining that veil of confidentiality however thin. She has however, noted an upsurge in cases of sexual abuse in men. Yet they have no one to talk to and nowhere to tell their stories. She knows my story. My experience with sexual abuse. She felt, I added a necessary element to the circle gathered here.
We are 7 men in total here. We were supposed to be 17, 10 men found ways not to be here. I admit, I had a ready excuse. No man looks forward to admitting that he was sexually assaulted in the presence of the other men. Teresia is the only woman here. She however, keeps a respectful distance. She stays hidden in the shadows as the men speak. The Sisters who are hosting us left as soon as all the snacks were ready.
We took their phones as soon as the came in. No distractions. That is the rule. They have nothing to occupy or distract them. Seated there, the men fidget. They twiddle with their thumbs, then with their arms. They do not come out easily, their stories. No one wants to go first. I choose to go first. I have told my story a few times before, so this is not as uncomfortable for me as it is for them. Kamal is next. He remembers the way his brother used to touch his chest when they went swimming. It was not what Kamal thought a big brother should do. A slight bulge would always appear in his brother’s pants when he did that. If they were alone, it would grow bigger, and his eyes would take on this hungry look.
Brian was raped by his father. He woke up one night to find a drug dazed man on top of him. He didn’t go to school the next day. His mother said nothing, except to pat his head and tell him.
“You are a man now!”
He ran away from home a week later. He has never gone back again. He has HIV.
Njoroge’s parents died when he was 3. His Uncle took him in. Every day when uncle went to work, aunty took her clothes off and asked him to touch her. She always got hysterical when he did it. It only stopped when the Uncle walked in on them. He beat her senseless and sent him to boarding school. As if that was the solution.
Frank played rugby in high school. He is a big guy. The type you would not entrust your girlfriend to, when you are away for 7 months working in Dubai. His coach assaulted him in the locker room when he was 21. How does a 6ft 3′ man tell other men that someone who was a father to him raped him? He once broached the issue of abuse with his teammates. He remembers one guy saying that if you get assaulted. You probably wanted it.
Kariuki is silent throughout. He listens. He does not look into the eyes of anyone as they tell their story. Instead he sits there, his back carved with his face looking down. He looks like a gentle rock. When he speaks, finally. His voice has that booming quality men hoped they had. His son took a razor blade to his wrist. They found the body a day later. He was a teenager who preferred his room to chilling with his old man. His teacher liked little boys a little more than was socially acceptable. In a world where we glorify the silence and resilience of boys. He had no one to talk to. In the letter he left his dad, he recounted how, when he cried as his teacher had his way with him. The teacher would reach out and whisper in his ear, “nyamaza, wanaume hawaliangi!” The teacher got a promotion after the story broke. He was too good a man to have done it.
There’s a T-junction at the intersection of Mama Ngina Street and Simba Street in Nairobi. The spot is just opposite Kencom House, you can see it while seated on those white and red City Council benches. If you stand at the corner of International house, you can see the Hilton Hotel in all its splendor.
The spot is sandwiched between these 2 massive buildings. The result, it is always cool regardless of the weather. It is a popular corner should you find yourself in town waiting for someone without the funds necessary to get into a hotel and sip some juice as you wait. The only downside, you will be serenaded by the smells coming from Teriyaki, the Japanese restaurant. The smell of hot Soy Sauce dripping off of cold cuts of chicken. A tragedy really, enjoying the foreplay of smelling the kuku, knowing full well you will never touch its thighs.
This little spot has always been a favorite of mine. Growing up, this was where my mum would pick me up when I came home from boarding school. The school bus would drop us off at KICC, it was a short walk to the spot. We met at exactly 2 pm. She never once failed to show up; regardless of where in the world she was the day before. Then, we would head down to Sonford that joint that sells chips and chicken. She will never admit it but she loved picking me up. It gave her a much needed excuse to indulge in her favorite habit of eating unhealthy food. I think it was also her penance. A way of seeking forgiveness from me for throwing me in boarding school as a child. Dad was always a little busy making just a little more money.
It was run by priests, the school. It was supposed to be a safe place for busy parents to send their kids. After all, priests love kids, especially white priests. I was the altar boy. I had my own white cassock and would carry the bible after the priest in the procession. It was a position of envy. I used to wonder how priests survived not being married. i found out later, his secret was to kiss little black boys. The adults would cheer after all, white priests are the closest thing we have to Jesus. I got my first french kiss from him. It did not feel holy. You wonder why I did not run off and tell somebody about this? Simple, who would have believed a 14 year old boy that Father Stefan, who looked like Jesus incarnate was kissing a black kid behind the altar? I remember the look in his eyes as I waited for him to draw his tongue from the back of my throat. I finally had a name for that type of hunger.
It was desire!