Another trip down memory lane to August 2016, my friend Bree was visiting the Coast and on this particular morning, we had decided to spend some time along the calm Mama Ngina Drive, betting our chances on seeing at least one ship docking. Just so you know, this is the same Bree who is afraid of large water bodies, and is also a make up artist, which explains why I had to wait for a whooping one hour before she finally showed up.
During the waiting time, this gentleman walks to me with tattoo charts and asks whether I would like to have one.
You see, despite the fact that I always found tattoos attractive and complimentary to people’s skin, I had never thought I would ever get one, temporary or permanent. I have always thought tattoos mostly speak about who a person is on the inside; their fantasies, dreams, hopes, fear, insecurities. They, just like other forms of art, stand in the gap between a person’s voice and the outside world that seldom cares to listen.
Tattoos, to me, represent an attempt by a human to break away from the chains holding them down in one position. An escape route to freedom. An expression of who they would really want to be, if they aren’t already that. Tattoos, just like babies, give someone something they are entirely responsible of. And that to me, is the most beautiful feeling in the world.
So, when this guy asked whether I would like to have a tattoo, I didn’t even think of it. I quickly settled on a butterfly icon, which was to be neatly placed on my upper left arm.
To say I was excited would be an understatement because with every movement of the ink, I kept bending my neck just to have a look, in case things weren’t going as I had wanted them to. At some point, the guy almost gave up on me with my consistent nagging:
Him: Usipotulia utauharibu wino huu dada
Me: Is that really a butterfly?
Him: Don’t worry. It will come out just fine. If it doesn’t, we are right next to the ocean. We will wash it off.
Me: Has that happened before?
Him: No. But that is because I have never come across a lady with such a generous amount of body hair. Girl, do you ever cook?
And we laughed it off like we had been friends for quite some time, with him explaining how the tattoo will fade off completely after three months.
Deep down, I wanted the tattoo to stay with me forever, only that I detest pain too much I can never subject myself to getting a permanent tattoo. I wanted to watch the tattoo with every breath I took, not that it had any particular meaning; like those people who love hard enough they get tattoos of their partners’ names, or those who lose their loved ones and they only seem to find closure by tattooing their names somewhere close to their chest.
No. I wanted mine to be just as beautiful as it was. I wanted it to be there so I could stare at it in moments when I was feeling low. I wanted it to be a perfect example of a decision I made that I would never regret. I wanted to feel it every time I turned in bed because I lacked sleep. I wanted it to stare back at me, wishing me luck even in silence. I wanted it to reflect who I was, although not known to many. That I was a little girl still finding her steps, crawling through life with so much uncertainties. That I was still waiting to be fed by other people; to be looked after. To be asked whether I was okay, whether I was cold, whether I needed to take a walk, whether my duvet was cosy enough. But still, if they held me too close, I would stumble and fall. I needed them to let me be on my own at times, so I could grow from a caterpillar into a butterfly, and fly away in search of something better.
I still remember people’s reactions when they first saw the tattoo. Bree wasn’t surprised. She admired it. She was the first person to tell me it looked good on me, even went ahead to caution me against getting into the water before it dried out completely. I remember, later in the day, sitting with her by the beach, gently doing away with the ink toppings, revealing a flat patch of a black butterfly. And that is the moment I realised it was all I wanted.
I remember also, how most of my friends judged me and silently handed me over to the devil. How others said I was taking a wrong turn; that I was giving in to the earth’s desires. I remember how another said how only cheap girls get tattoos. But all that didn’t get to me because I knew whatever it was, I had already made the decision and I was going to live with it. I wasn’t going to live in constant fear of what people will say about me. I was going to have things done my way, so I didn’t bother telling them it was temporary anyway.
I still remember my mother’s reaction when she saw it immediately I went home:
Mum: Hizo ni nini umechora kwa mkono?
Me: Ni tattoo. But it will fade off after three months.
Mum: Are you sure?
Mum: Sasa itakusaidiaje?
Me: Huwezi elewa mum.
Mum: Basi nifanye nielewe.
Jeeez! That was a tough thing to do. My mother was still coming to terms with the fact that I had pierced my ears two times, yet here I was trying to explain why I got some ink on my body, the ink I so claim will fade off with time. She couldn’t just get it.
Mum: Hiyo Mombasa yenu itanionyesha vituko.
And I am glad she never bothered about it after that. In fact, she grew to love it to the point that when it started fading off, she blatantly asked whether I would get another one, and I could see the sadness in her eyes when I said No.
I don’t know how I felt when it finally faded off. But I loved the thrill it brought me while I had it. I loved the stares even from strangers. I loved the disassociation I felt. I loved the belonging I got from people who understood the real meaning of art. And loved it all while it lasted.
That is it for today. We have a brighter day tomorrow!