This is a 4-part story of a mini-series on conversations around trauma.
You are not a victim for sharing your story, you are a survivor setting the world on fire with your truth. And you never know who needs your light, your warmth and raging courage.Alex Elle
My name is Maya: my mum named me after her idol, Maya Angelou. Up until the age of 10, I lived an idyllic life in rural Kenya with my grandmother. My mum lived in England and worked hard to provide for us. We wanted for nothing. However, I missed my mum, she’d left when I was only five, and I longed for her to visit. Grandma explained that she couldn’t visit because she had issues with papers, I didn’t know what that meant and didn’t care, all I wanted was my mum.
When I was 11 my mother finally visited. She looked like an angel. Her skin was lighter than I remembered. Her hair was very long, orange-like and silky – like the silk on baby maize cobs – and flowed all the way to her larger than life buttocks. Her boots made her inches taller. Her jeans were so tight, it was like they were painted on her legs. Her blouse even tighter – I could see her red bra that matched her lips. I couldn’t believe this woman was my mother, she spoke in a peculiar accent and her lips pouted as she spoke. She also insisted on speaking to me in English.
“Hey honey!” She said as she crouched to hug me, but all I could do was stare into her eyes because I’d never seen eyes like that before – they were green and sparkled. It was hard to believe the woman before me was my mother. Grandma’s look, on the other hand, spoke a thousand words. She stood a few feet away, hands on her hips and a murderous look.
It took two men and 5 trips to take mum’s suitcases and boxes into the house.
“What happened to your skin?” Grandma asked contemptuously after tea was served. I couldn’t understand why grandma was being so rude.
“What do you mean?” Mum asked flatly. I had a feeling neither was happy to see the other.
“It’s lack of sun mum, and it doesn’t bother me, so don’t worry about it!”
Grandma kissed her teeth so loudly I was sure they heard it in England. I couldn’t understand why she was being so mean to my mother – the one person who provided for everyone, including one of grandma’s brothers.
Early the next day, I jumped out of bed excited to see what mum had planned for the day. Grandma was in the kitchen, more stoic than the day before.
“Where is mum?” I asked excitedly. I could hardly contain myself.
“Good morning to you too….. honey!” Grandma was the queen of sarcasm.
“Your mother has gone to the city to run some errands, now sit down and have some breakfast.”
I was unhappy mum didn’t take me with her. I wanted to spend all day and night by her side. I was in awe of my mother. She was so beautiful, and I loved her. Over the years, she’d managed to send enough money to buy a 5-acre land, build a stunning four-bedroom house for us and set up a farming business for grandma. In addition, she sent me to a good school and employed people to help grandma around the house and on the farm. I was aware she worked her fingers to the bone to be able to provide these things, but I didn’t want her to leave, ever, even if that meant missing out on all the stuff.
Mum didn’t come back that night and I couldn’t sleep a wink – my mind took me to very dark places, so I prayed.
The next day, late in the afternoon, a car pulled up in our drive. Grandma rushed out of the house, almost half naked – something she’d never do even if the Queen of England visited, but for whatever reasons, she came out of the house without her obligatory leso (sarong) she tied around her waist no matter how expensive the clothes underneath.
Mother came out of the car, she was dressed in white from top to bottom. From the passenger’s side emerged a very white old man, older than grandma I presumed.
“Guys, this is my husband!” she said breathlessly – it was like she’d been running. I did not like that; and when did grandma and I become ‘guys’ – I was beginning to dislike this mum. I half-heartedly smiled at the man. I wasn’t ready to share mum with anyone. Grandma extended her wrinkly hand and managed to say a very clumsy hello, but she didn’t smile. Mum’s homecoming was beginning to feel like a nightmare. For me, a husband meant complications, for grandma it probably meant more money although she didn’t look thrilled to see him. Either way, I didn’t like the feeling that was coming from my guts.
Once inside, our house help offered beverages, I just stared at mum – I had endless questions but couldn’t verbalise any. Her husband, Robert, was very pale – like the albino kid in a nearby village, and his eyes sparkled. I couldn’t understand a word he said despite my mother paying a private tutor to teach me proper English and how to speak it. I could see the disappointment in her eyes. Robert, however, seemed impressed enough and smiled at me constantly and referred to me as ‘sweetheart’. Old fashioned grandma didn’t like that and muttered things under her breath every time these people called me honey or sweetheart or baby. And they reminded me of a quote my teacher constantly used when teaching the importance of thinking for yourself: a colonised mind is a very dangerous mind. I had a feeling mum was beyond salvation: she’d been brainwashed to act like a westerner.
In the evening, they sat in the gazebo, an elegant structure with no walls that mum had insisted on building. There, they sipped wine and smoked cigarettes and snacked on imported peanuts. Watching my mother smoke was scary – I didn’t know women could smoke. Meanwhile, grandma was having tiny seizures and praying loudly in her bedroom asking God ridiculous questions and proclaiming mum was not the daughter she raised. I didn’t join in the prayer sessions because I didn’t condone most of the requests she put to God, like striking people down with great vengeance – I did not want to be part of that. I simply watched mum and Robert from the comfort of my bedroom as they laughed and kissed and warmed themselves with electric heaters. I fell asleep wondering where they would sleep.
Part two coming soon
Photo credit: Unsplash – Randy Fath