Mum, you found me on social. You tell me you didn’t sleep for the first day after. You spent the night hours going through it. My profile. Like a miner, chancing on a speck of gold. Digging into earth, hoping, praying even to find treasure. You started at the beginning and watched as I unfolded online. From a boy to half-man to man-man.
You couldn’t exactly tell where it was that the softness left me. But you felt it ebbing away. The tone of my posts becoming angrier. The mushiness fading into the background. And the curtain of manhood cascading in to hide the boy behind it. A shell of him reappears. All skeleton, and muscle. Hardness. Nothing sweet, or human.
Then somewhere in 2019 something changes. You can feel the curtain being pulled again, open this time. And some semblance of softness reappears. It is not clear why this is happening. You tell me, you felt it from the tone of my Facebook posts.
Last week you sent me a message. You felt it was time. I saw it. I ignored it for a week. I confess that at the time I wasn’t sure if I should answer it. I convened a small council to help me with the problem. My wife thought I should meet you. My male friends thought I should not.
“Si alikuacha? Anataka nini basi? Aende!”
Forgive Njogu for that. He has always been the hardliner among us. However, my wife has my ear when I am vulnerable. In the morning, as she prepares breakfast. She argues your case. In the evenings, as she backs into me in bed. She argues for you again. So consistently that I respond to your message.
“Hello, yes we can meet. Please suggest a time and place that is comfortable for you.”
From the tone, I think you can decipher that I wrote that with her watching over my shoulder. Insisting that I must be respectful. “Babe, she is still your mother.” And no, I do not get to use all caps. She reads it after I am done. Kisses me and clicks send. Then we wait.
You respond in an hour. Asking us to meet here at the Indian restaurant at Capital Center. You would rather I come alone. I insist, my wife must be present.
You attempt to insist. You think that after such a long time, we should speak in private first before letting others in. Plus, there are secrets that are bound to be spilled; “Kagutui ka mucii gatihakagwo ageni.” The oilskin of the house is not for the skin of strangers.
I refuse. If you want me there. She comes.
You of course, capitulate. You lost the right to demand anything when you walked away.
So we agree 4pm Monday. I ask that you keep time.
You walk in and I see you right away. You have changed dramatically. Your skin no longer has the tautness to it that I remember. Folds of it create meanderings on your face. Creating a haunting vision of it. As if to say, time passed through here. Your walk is still yours. Though it lacks its dexterity. It is slower now. You are still you but older.
I stand and wave. You see me. Only instead of coming to us directly. You turn and signal someone. An older gentleman comes up the stairs. You point at us. He takes your hands and guides you towards us.
This is new. I didn’t know you were bringing a guest.
He extends his hand as he gets to the table. I accept it. His greeting does help to massage what no doubt would have been an awkward greeting. My wife hugs you. The type of hug we reserve for in-laws. It says, “I respect you, but please do not sleepover.” I extend my hand. You graciously take it. Then you slide into the chair the gentleman has pulled.
We have 7 seconds of silence as we try to figure out who should speak first. He does, motioning for a waiter to come to the table. The waiter brings 3 menus. My wife and I will share. He makes his order. You don’t. Asking for time. We ask for water. Only.
“So, I know you must be curious as to who I am.” He begins.
I am. Considering you did not want me to bring my wife Ma. I would like to know why a stranger is seated at this table. In what should be a private conversation. He explains. You two are married. You just celebrated 15 years together. He shows me his ring proudly. I do my best not to vomit. You left me 15 years ago.
My wife, perhaps sensing the bile building up, jumps in. Sort of bringing the meeting to order. Setting the agenda, we are here to have a conversation. Just that. No one expects healing or reconciliation. But answers are necessary.
You finally jump in. You are ready to give answers if I ask the right questions. We begin with me looking you in the eye;
“Ma, why did you leave me?”
He tries to budge in to explain it for you. I ask him to stay out of this.
“Ma, I want to know why you left.”
You had to.
Because you just had to.
These are not the answers I came here for. If you don’t want to answer my questions. I can leave. My wife stops me. Soothing me, asking for patience. Assuring me that answers that have been buried for over a decade, will need some coaxing.
“I had to leave son.”
“Yes, but why?”
You had met someone. You fell for him. And dad found out. He wanted you to end it. You would not.
“Is this the guy?” I ask pointing at the man next to you.
“You chose him over me, your son?”
“It’s not like that.”
“Then explain to me what you mean.” I must have raised my voice a little higher than necessary. The family next to our table all turn and look at us. My wife apologizes.
“Your father couldn’t accept that I could love someone other than him. So he asked me to choose, family or my lover.”
I jump in “And you chose your lover?”
“Did you ever think of me all those years Ma? 15 years is a long time, did you ever think of me?”
The waiter comes back. He places our glasses on the table, and a bottle of water next to each glass. He goes back to bring the gentleman’s order.
“So did you ever think of me?”
Because you were young. You got married young, you never got to be a girl. Away from your father and your husband. Being with this new man who was disliked by everyone who’d ever known you was freeing. Like a zoo-bred mastiff finally being let into the wild.
“And the price was leaving me?”
“Do you regret it?”
You avoid answering the question. You explain that after the high of living a new life had faded. When you two found out that you could never have your own kids. I did come to your mind. Not very often, but often enough.
“Do you regret it Ma?”
“No.” If you had to, you’d still leave again.
You say it with such finality. That, that I have to leave.
I barrel up from my chair, and before he can stop me I am up and running towards the exit. My wife following closely. Almost shoving the waiter down as we go down the stairs. Past the people coming up. I open the car, get in and I just break down. She starts the car. Eases into Kimathi street and drives.
When I come to, we are parked outside our gate. The headlights are off, My wife is staring at a bush through the darkness.
“Do you regret it?” She asks.
“Meeting her, your mother.”
Be gentle. Trying to fit again in these long-prose writing shoes.