What if you saw your father murder your mother? Watched your mother bleed to death? What if you then saw your father behind bars as you testified to get him put in jail?
What happens to you when you have to live an entire life with this memory? This history?
“He talks about God. A lot. Not that I mind those who talk about God, or even those who talk about God a lot but I want him to talk about that one thing that is the reason we are here. I like God, (because you can love God but not like him). I will explain. Say you had a dog you bought for 45K and you fed this dog and brought in someone called Orlando to train it to sit and not cough when visitors are eating and your children came to love this dog furiously like a family member and then one day that dog started coughing when visitors were eating then it’s fur started falling off and your child, the last born, the oops baby, said, “This dog is old, dada” and you told them no way is this dog old, he’s only a teenager. But then one day you are in the boardroom at the office having a meeting with “long jaws” from upstairs (that’s how you all refer to the VP-Operations) and your house-help calls and says “Mark amegongwa na gari” and you think, that is impossible, there are bumps on the street you live on, but then when you go home, Mark is dead.
When a dog like that dies you just can’t like God in that moment even though you still love him. Do you see what I am saying? You can’t like him because you have to explain to your inconsolable “oops baby” why that dog died, why anyone would run over Mark. Why there are so many bad men driving on the roads, killing dogs that cough when visitors are around. Most importantly you have to offer an answer to the most eternal question in your fatherhood so far, “where do dead dogs go? Do they go to heaven?” “Is Mark in heaven, dada?”
Anyway. My point is that I don’t want to talk about God all the time even though I love him. There are times I just want to talk about other things – things that God made. Because I know that even though I’m not talking or thinking about God, He is there. I want to know that when I open a fridge He is there somewhere with the leftovers from last night. Or when I stand outside the bonnet of my car as they fill my sprinkler tank, that He is in that water. I want to know that He’s there when I get my favorite socks, rolled into a ball by the help, he is in that roll. I used to have some sessions with pastor Gowi for an hour and a half every fortnight and he wouldn’t talk about God even once until at the end when we stand up to pray. I liked that. God liked that. We just knew God was there and He was listening and we didn’t have to call his name for Him to know that we loved him. Or even liked him. I don’t think God is needy. He is jealous and wrathful but I don’t think he’s needy. God doesn’t sulk when you don’t mention Him all the time. Because He’s God.
“If there is something I want to come out strongly in this article,” Simon Waweru is saying, “it’s that God has made me, he has made everything possible in my life.” Of course God is listening even where we are at Java ABC. It’s cold outside and we are huddled in a booth with our mocha (his) and herbal tea (obviously mine given that it is only the two of us). Of course God is listening to him and God knows that I’m hungover from the previous night, Friday, but he knows that a man has to do what a man has to do. Simon has dreadlocks and he’s dark with one of those strong manly faces. I only mention this because there are men with feminine faces. They have fragile noses and pretty lips. Their eyes look like a gazelle’s. Swipe an eyeliner on them and you can mistakenly buy them dinner. Not Simon, he has a man’s face, and it’s this face , a bullish head with round solid features, that he lowers over the table and says, “it’s because of God that I have travelled to Europe and America, something that I wouldn’t have imagined would happen to me, given where I am from. So this story for me is about God’s providence.”
This story for me is not about God. Not in its entirety. It’s about many things presided over by God but it’s not about God. When he says “where I am from” he means Kaptembwa area of Nakuru. I have not been to Kaptembwa but from what he describes his childhood, it’s a place of squalor. It’s houses in plots. It’s families living in one roomed houses separated by a curtain, like the house he grew up in. It’s polythene paper strewn all over, twirling in the dust. And Nakuru is dusty. It’s electricity lines running close over houses. Humming transformers. Stray dogs that might or might not end up in heaven. It’s children running around barefoot or in old bathroom slippers and of grim men rising from this dust to do menial jobs in factories or the market, or in town or as butchers, like his father.
When I ask him what exactly he remembers about his childhood he says, “people having sex by the roadside,” and “ blowing condoms as balloons” and “burning tyres in the estate and watching the black smoke rise in the air.” Even though he was only six and a half in 1998, he also remembers how his mother died and he remembers his grandmother accompanying him to the police station or a place where there was an ununiformed policeman asking him questions about the death of his mother. He doesn’t remember much, and of course everything is hazy now because he was only six and half and it was a long time ago anyway, but he remembers the comfort of his grandmother seated next to him as the man, the policeman, asking him to recall exactly how he remembers his mom dying.
What he remembers is that his mother and his father were akorinos. “I remember them fighting about something and my mom leaving with me for my grandmother’s house,” he says. His mother used to work in a supermarket in town. “I don’t know why there was a curfew in 1998 but I remember that this one day my mother didn’t come back from work and we were worried. Because of that curfew we couldn’t leave to go look for her so we waited until dawn to go find out what had happened to her.”
Together with their grandmother they set off to look for her in his father’s house, that was not so far from there. When they got to his father’s house, which was one of the houses in a line of houses, his grandmother, stood right outside the door and asked him to check if his mother was inside. So he knocked at the door and called out his mother’s name. She was in there because she responded. He opened the door and stepped inside. This was just after 7am, the house smelled warm because the windows had not been opened, to mean the house smelled of sleep. “I recall hearing my mother’s laughter (odd, I know) from behind the curtain that separated the bedroom from the sitting room.” he says.
He stepped forward and parted the curtain. He says for some reason, he saw his father, without his mukorino turban, but just a bandana or sorts which he used to wear underneath the turban, he’s holding a butchers knife and he’s slicing his mother’s throat. He remembers his mother stumbling and clutching at her throat as she staggered a little, as if in that final moment of death, she still thought she had a chance to escape the room and escape death. She collapses at her son’s feet. At his feet.
“I was only six years and I don’t remember so many things in greater detail but I will never forget the amount of blood that was coming out of my mother,” he says. “It was a lot of blood. A lot. It was bright red and it was coming out like a fountain, as in spurting out like a burst tap.”
“Did she scream, did she try and say anything, your mom?”
“No, she didn’t scream, but she had her hands on her throat, as if trying to stop the bleeding.”
“Did she have her scarf on?”
“No,” he says.
“Did you look into her eyes?” I ask. “Did they look into yours?”
He’s quiet. Not the quiet of trying to gather his memory, but just a quiet of not having a thing to say. Or more to say. Not to me. Not about this.
“I don’t remember.”
What he remembers, though, is looking up at his father and their eyes locking and him, upon realising what he had done, stabbing himself in the belly several times. Or maybe twice. He doesn’t recall. But he remembers him also falling and his grandmother screaming behind him upon seeing her daughter in a pool of blood and then things become hazy; neighbours gathering in the plot, shock, murmurs, then he remembers little else. He remembers that brief encounter of interrogation with the ununiformed policeman. Moving in with his grandmother. He doesn’t remember his grandmother crying. He doesn’t remember the funeral. He remembers, though, seeing his father behind bars the day he was being interrogated. And that is the last image he has of his father.
His father’s family wanted to come for him, he says, so he was shipped to Eastleigh to live with his uncle. He hated it. “I was a naughty child and I couldn’t get along with my aunt.” He says. After three years he was shipped back to Nakuru to live with his grandmother. “I recall that my grandmother and my relatives used to hide all photos of my mom from me.” he says. “Maybe to protect me. Maybe they thought I’d forget if I didn’t see her pictures. I remember that they started doing that because sometimes when we’d get into a disagreement I’d take my mom’s picture and cry holding it against me.”
One of his mom’s sister’s who lived in Shabab took him in. She had a daughter who later became like his sister. “I wanted to belong, to be normal like other children with parents, and my aunt told me that I could call her ‘mom’ and I did but I was disappointed because that word came with many expectations for me and I felt like she didn’t meet them.” He says. “She provided for me but I didn’t want all that, I wanted to be loved and I felt like she didn’t love me and I grew up hating her.”
He would run away from home and live with a friend. He would go back and live with his grandmother. His father, by this time, he heard had been sentenced to 8-years in jail. He hardly thought about it. He blocked this part even though it played in him like a slow record. He went to school on sponsorships. He joined high school not too far from Lanet. He was popular because he was a great dancer and a great singer. Girls liked him and his moves and his voice. Boys wanted to dance like him. “I liked that to be admired, to be loved. I sought it out,” he says. “I was struggling with issues but I didn’t know I was struggling with. I remember that one day I was required to give my surname and I didn’t know my father’s last name. I didn’t know who I belonged to. So I used my uncle’s name – Gioche: Simon Waweru Gioche. It’s only later that I was told that I was struggling with identity. I wanted to belong somewhere.”
He met a girl called Bancy.
Of course he met a girl. What’s a story where nobody meets a girl? Girls just make a story. Or break it. Every story takes a turn when the man meets a girl. Our protagonists always meet a girl when they are standing under the awning of a shop and it’s raining and the girl is standing there with a slightly shivering lower lip, her wet blouse sticking against her chest because it’s cold and she didn’t leave the house with an umbrella because she had planned to get back home before 4pm and so she’s cold now and her boobs are cold and petulant and they are sticking through her flimsy blouse in defiance of her choices and our protagonist, a gent who is not even a nipple guy, says (to her, not her nipples), “do you know where to get matatus to Pipeline?”
It didn’t happen like that for Simon.
They met in high school, a day and mixed school. She was “light and beautiful,” he says, which is like describing a ship like “big and buoyant.” They dated for the better part of high school. Bancy came from a “cool family,” he says. To mean she had a mother and a father. Friendly parents. “I think over and above liking her parents, they became like my identity.” he says. They broke up. And because he was busy being famous he scored only B Minus in KCSE but then went back to a boarding school and scored A minus earning him entrance into UoN where he studied Geospatial Engineering. Now he is an intern at International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center at World Agroforestry Center in Gigiri.
“Where is your father now?”
“I don’t know.” he says. “I don’t know if he was released or if he is dead, I don’t know.”
“What does that make you feel, that your watched your father kill your mother?” I ask him. “What has that meant for you as Simon?”
“I have gone through many challenges. My teens were very disturbed but I had Bancy and she made me feel like I belonged. But then people leave and you have to remain with your demons and deal with them. I have tried to deal with mine. I’m lucky that I found peace with my past when I found wonderful people at Mamlaka Hill Chapel where a missionary helped me deal with my father’s wounds which I didn’t recognise until much later. It’s through talking to this elderly missionary that I processed my childhood. And it’s helped me. God has really helped me.”
His mocha had come with a small cookie, one of those heart-shaped cookies Java give and most people always just ignore those poor cookies and that, to me, is always like ignoring love. I had been eyeing his cookie for a while and he didn’t look like he was keen to eat it. So I reached out and took it and broke its spine into two. Munching I thought of his phrase, “that he was walking around not knowing that he had a wound.”
“If you were to meet your father today, what would you ask him?”
“I don’t know.” he says. “I forgave him. [Pause] There was a time I heard from my cousin that he was not really my biological father but I never bothered to ask my grandmother because as much as I lost a mother she had lost a daughter and I didn’t know what kind of emotions my inquiry would trigger. So I let it go.”
“Would relief be an emotion you would describe knowing that he wasn’t your real father?”
He says he’s at peace. He says that he’s found strength in God. It doesn’t really matter if he’s his father or not, if he’s alive or not, what matters is that he forgave him and in the forgiveness he has found peace. But he wonders if he has step brothers or sisters. He doesn’t spend time mulling over that but he wonders.
We parted ways and I went to run my Saturday errands with the children. And I thought about him on and off. Thought about his father and where he is and if he ever married again after jail and if so if his new wife climbs into bed with him every night, knowing or not knowing that the man sleeping next to her slit a woman’s throat with a butcher’s knife. Then I thought of how he insisted that I focus more on God and not his father and it didn’t make sense. Well, not until two days later when somehow the Lord’s prayer crossed my mind – Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…” and the coin dropped. God had substituted his biological father! He sees him as his father. Like he would call him daddy, if that would not be offensive.”