Probably the worst way to begin a letter, but I was knocked down by a car yesterday. It happened so fast, that I do not have all the details you might need. In between deciding to spend the remaining cash on my last meal, or saving it for transport to work the following day, I found myself lying in a pool of human waste, mixed with dirty water and dog urine, with a healthy amount of it flowing into my mouth.
There was a crowd which quickly gathered around me, trying to lift me up, to examine the extent of the damage. I do not remember how it all felt. Not the pain. Not even the taste in my mouth. What I remember though, is how quickly I thought of you in that moment of oblivion.
I was ten years old when I first saw you. Climbing onto the roof of that thing we called a house, you held my hand and urged me on. You kept winking at me. Kept saying “just stretch your leg a little bit more, you will get here.” It was scary, but with you at the other end, holding out your hand to me, it felt safe.
I remember your hand on my bald head, trying to hold me as the wind at the rooftop threatened to blow me away. I was so tiny, and you were too tall for my liking. And huge. With a permanent smile plastered across your face. Your hands were so massive I thought they would block my vision.
I continually pushed you away, until the wind blew my dress over my head, and the other kids drowned themselves in laughter, pointing at whatever it is they were pointing at below my belly. It was the first time I cried out loud. The first time I was ashamed of being a girl. The first time my femininity brought me to shame.
You held my hand. Wrapped your hands around me, and rested my head on your chest. You let my tears wet your grey t-shirt. You didn’t say a word. Neither to me nor to the other kids. For those few minutes, your chest was the home I so much longed for.
I still remember your smell that evening as you carried me back home because I was too ashamed to walk on my own. It was salty. Rusty. Gloomy. If I could have licked it, I am sure it would have tasted of metals, syringes and broken hearts. Nasty as it seemed, I remember it because it was the one thing that stood for me when everything else was falling apart.
I was eleven years old when I was found unconscious in my bed in the middle of the day. They say I was unconscious for three hours. That previously, I had gone without food for two days. I had refused to talk to anyone about anything that was bothering me, if there was something in the first place. That I breathed heavily and threatened to fill the room with my emptiness. That I spoke like someone on the verge of dying.
I do not remember any of that, however hard I try. What I remember is when I woke up, I was blustering your name like a child learning how to speak. I wanted to see you. I thought you would be there to offer your chest, one more time. I wanted your silence to speak loudly to me. I wanted your emptiness, just like mine, to fill the entire space.
I woke up screaming your name, which makes me remember the wonder that filled the room, with hushed voices asking, ‘Who is Joe? Is he her father? Or brother? Or someone really close to her?”
Nobody directed the question at me. I do not mind. I was a mere eleven-year-old whose voice and opinion didn’t matter at all, unless I was lying on a deathbed, and my voice was needed as an assurance of life.
I was a tiny creature surrounded by individuals who never bothered to ask me who I really was. They were little, I agree. Probably younger than I was, seeing that most of them fed on their mucus willingly. They, just like me, were lost in a world where adults dumped their kids in an institution and drove off to continue with their wilding.
They, just like me, were torn between enduring the long hours of classwork, and fighting for their voice in the world. All of us were struggling to thrive in an environment we knew little or nothing about. Struggling to heal, at that young age, from the screaming voices that covered the air any time we went to sleep.
We were stuck in the middle of a school we didn’t choose. In the middle of a madness we had no idea of. Spinning grounds. Hurrying feet. Tasteless food. Spring beds. Dirty washrooms.
In the midst of all that, I thought about you. About the insecurities within you that blended to form a perfect home for my soul, which was constantly trying to run away from itself. About your voice in my ears every time you warned me against not listening to myself. About the fear in your eyes that day I told you someone had touched me inappropriately.
I remember the sadness on your face as you listened to me. I remember the faraway look in your eyes. Your heaving chest as you tried to contain your tears. I watched as you picked your book from the ground and walked away without saying anything.
Back then, I didn’t know what it meant. You walking away, leaving me alone and cold, with nowhere else to go. Because my mother was only there, physically, but never bothered to listen to whatever was going on with me. Always busying herself with perfection, just enough to overlook my needs and wants.
Right now, though, I realise how much it must have been for you. Me laying out all my troubles and fears unto your feeble heart. The heart of a child. And you, continually taking it in until it was too much.
I should have known then, that the heart tires. That the heart tires from walking and starts dying. That the strength of the soul fades away every time it is subjected to torture. That when we push too hard, or pull too hard at the heart and soul, they break into pieces.
Right now, I am at a better place to understand all these. Should I say I’m sorry? I am not sure it will make any difference.
Saying your name out loud immediately I regained consciousness taught me one thing: The heart tires but never forgets.
Yours in Illusion,
(This is an excerpt from my story, Illusion, published in When an Stranger Called; an anthology of 13 short stories by 13 Kenyan writers. In case you would like a copy of the book, it goes for KSh990. Reach me via 0718853372)