Read part one here
Read part three here
Read part four here
Change does not change tradition, it strengthens it. Change is a challenge and an opportunity, not a threat.Prince Philip (RIP)
Later that night something happened to me that I didn’t understand. It was years before I fully grasped the magnitude of that single event.
A few days later, the dynamic duo took me to the big city – I’d only been there once before. The purpose of the city visit, other than eating KenChic chicken and chips, was to get me a passport. When they told me a few days later that I would be accompanying them to England, I nearly exploded with excitement. I couldn’t sleep for days as I imagined the wonder that was England. I imagined skyscrapers, spotless streets, smartly dressed people and wonderful children. Little did I know that the reality was somewhat different.
Grandma wasn’t as excited as I was and didn’t hide her discontent.
“You cannot take her to England, she’s not….”
“She’s my daughter! I can take her wherever I want!” mum screamed.
“Don’t worry, I’ll still send you money!” she added sarcastically.
“I don’t need your money.” Grandma said half-heartedly.
I could never understand why grandma and mum had such a strained relationship. They clearly didn’t love or respect each other, yet they always did good things for one another. It was hard to know if they did this out of love or obligation.
From the moment grandma learnt I would be leaving for England, she decided to parent me properly because “your mother is the devil woman with no maternal instincts!” And whose moral compass was, apparently, out of whack. I didn’t believe the things grandma said about mum so I zoned out – everything she said went in one ear and out the other before she could take the next breath. I was simply a young girl about to embark on a journey of a lifetime and was not about to let grandma and her bible bashing lectures crush my dreams.
“Grandma, mum is not morally corrupt, she’s just well-travelled….. and modern…. and there’s nothing wrong with that.” I calmly defended mum against the latest accusation from grandma. She didn’t answer but her demeanour and eyes told me everything I needed to know. Over the years, grandma had perfected communication antics that didn’t require words – one look or hand gesture said more than a thousand words narrative.
Before we travelled to England, mum, Robert, and I travelled Kenya from the mountains to the beach to the animal parks – it was magical. I saw things I’d only ever seen on calendars and in books. Robert was blown away, “we will definitely be retiring here darling,” he said to mum as he kissed her on the forehead. I was beginning to feel some love for him, mostly because he loved mum and he wasn’t entirely bad.
England wasn’t exactly what I expected. Don’t get me wrong, the airport was magnificent, however, the further out we travelled the drearier it became: the streets were not as clean as I imagined, and people looked like people. I imagined people in England walked with their chests out and heads high, but to my dismay, they walked around in thunder faces and pursed lips. The route to mum’s house was littered with red and yellow cones like it was under construction or something. In my damn mind, I imagined roads were paved in gold. Again, my damn mind believed England was full of white people but as the SatNav on the cab driver’s dashboard counted down ‘time to destination’, the number of black people counted up. I was homesick.
Mum and Robert didn’t live together. They didn’t tell me this, instead, mum and I and our luggage carrying mostly food were dropped off in a place that looked like a jungle of concrete blocks. Robert went somewhere else.
“Isn’t he coming with us?” I asked.
“Nothing to concern yourself with,” she said as she beckoned me to carry the luggage up a flight of stairs. I couldn’t believe we had to lug 4 heavy suitcases up several flights of stairs. Where were the workers? And it was very cold, I couldn’t feel my feet by the time we were done unpacking and storing things away. It took forever for the house to warm up. It was a one-bedroom apartment, and everything seemed so crammed together. The kitchen was so tiny I was sure grandma wouldn’t fit in it – grandma was a large woman whose backside had its own postcode! The appliances were half the size of those in grandma’s kitchen. There was a little balcony that looked like a junkyard. The living room had one ugly sofa, a bookcase and a TV bigger than the walls. Mum saw the look of disbelief in my eyes and let out a laugh, a bitter long laugh.
“Close your mouth honey, this is how we live in England. Now go have a shower, it’ll warm you up.” I didn’t want to ask where I would sleep. The bedroom was smaller than grandma’s bathroom, I couldn’t understand why mum would build such a beautiful house in Kenya and live in an apartment smaller than the one she built for grandma’s househelp. This saddened me so much and I knew I wouldn’t find happiness in England. Later I realised the bedroom was for me, mum slept on the ugly sofa that turned into a bed at night. That night, was the first and last to spend together. We fell into a routine that was bound to make me an unhappy angry teenager.
Mum worked 12-hour 6-day night shifts in a care home, she was always so exhausted. She’d come home in the morning a few minutes before I had to leave for school. Then cook before sleeping in the bed and I wasn’t allowed to wake her up. We hardly interacted; on the rare days she wasn’t working, she’d fall asleep on the sofa halfway through conversations. If grandma knew she was leaving me alone at night she’d walk to England and march me back to Kenya, but I was under strict instructions not to tell her anything. I didn’t say anything to protect them from each other.
I hadn’t seen Robert since we arrived from Kenya although he texted often. He was kind. He deposited £30 in my account every week ‘to help’. It was mum’s idea to open an account for me, “it’ll help you learn about money, honey,” she said as she presented me with a debit card. I was excited to have my own money. I was not sure if mum knew Robert sent me money and I didn’t tell her; the money went a long way to help me integrate and assimilate into my new environment and my new friends.
Although I missed grandma and my life in Kenya, I was beginning to like England, especially the freedom to raise myself.