Imani (Part 3)
I drag my tired body out of bed, slip into a baggy hood I ‘borrowed’ from a friend, forcing my mother to ask me, for the hundredth time, ‘boyfriend yako anafanya kazi Odi Bets?’ This time, I don’t frown. Instead, I manage a forced chuckle, splash water on my face, and drag my bare feet into the living room.
Imani is sitting in the huge maroon armchair right next to the door. It is as if she is not there; the chair, in its massive lordship, has swallowed her whole body in ints ancient folds, such that when I look at her, I only see her bald head. It is my father’s chair, this one. Carefully placed right next to the door. It is the first thing you see when you part open the curtains of our main door. His excuse; mzee wa nyumba lazima awe wa kwanza kuona yeyote anayeingia kwake.
You can’t sit there, I want to say. But my mother is too fast in reading my mind, so she cuts me short and instead asks, “Si mara ya mwisho nikimuona alikua na nwele ya red? Au sio huyu niliambia anakaa kama bata?”
Imani laughs at that, her laughter loud and coarse. Not forced, but as if it has been ages since she laughed. Since laughter made sense to her. Since someone said something so offensive in such a loving manner. Since someone really saw her. It fills our entire house, this laughter, and I think I hear something falling in the kitchen.
Still, it doesn’t wash away my want to say ‘you can’t sit there’. Because for all the years I have lived in this house, only my father sits there. It is like a sacred place in the house. It holds memories of my first days in primary boarding school, seated at my father’s feet during the holidays, my tears wetting the hem of his trousers, asking him why they sent me away; what it would take for them to get me out.
“Why do you want to get out so bad?” He would ask, stroking my bald head.
“Because I want to see you everyday.” I would say.
“So, if I come to visit you everyday in school, you will stay?” He asked.
It is sacred, my father’s chair, because I remember coming back to him after he didn’t show up daily, asking him why. And his response was always, “Some things in life are not as easy as you think. You will not always have your way, and those times, it will hurt so bad. But you will rise; stronger, and happier.”
For all the years I have lived in this house, no one else has sat in that chair. Not even when my father travelled for days, or months, or even years. It was our holy ground; looking at it in his absence, and feeling his presence filling us, covering us in love and warmth.
I like that when all these thoughts are running in my head, Imani’s laughter is doing rounds in the house, filling every empty bottle, sealing the cracks in our walls, and lifting the dust off our floors. I like that my mother is immersed in this laughter, the first one since I came home, that she doesn’t notice the growing creases on my forehead, the clenching and unclenching of my fists, and the droplets of sweat forming on my brows.
But when it dies, this laughter, all focus shits to me and I suddenly don’t know what to do with my hands, or mouth, or forehead, or brows. So I drag my feet and sit next to Imani; in my mother’s seat.
It is not sacred, this seat, because almost everyone uses it, despite my mother’s constant cries of, ‘Na ni kama hamniheshimu nyinyi? Si mkalie ya baba yenu pia?’, until she gave in. So nowadays, she sees us seated in it and flashes a big bright smile. She tells me I remind her of herself at my age. How giggly and dodgy she was, running straight to her father at the slightest inconvenience. Crying her troubles into her father’s heart and soul, and coming out happier, less-burdened.
“This one is her father’s daughter,” my mother starts to say to Imani. I do not protest, but I shift uncomfortably in my seat, because I do not want to talk about my parents, especially my mother, in front of Imani. But as fate would have it, my mother misses all my signs of discomfort, including my attempted winking at her, and asks, “Kwanza before ukae sana, mama yako anajua uko huku? Staki kukaa na mtoto wa wenyewe na kumbe kwao anatafutwa.”
I shrink into myself, my insides churning within themselves as Imani flashes a gentle smile at my mother’s eager face, still standing in the middle of the living room. I wait for the churning to reach its peak, before it turns into a fit that knocks me out, letting me out of this awkward situation. It doesn’t happen.
“This is not about my mother; it is about me,” Imani says, and I watch as shock manifests on my mother’s body in form of sweaty brows, a creased forehead, and the clenching and unclenching of fists, before she lowers herself and sits on the coffee table in the middle of the room. Of course, she throws accusing glances at me, as if asking, “Who is this disrespectful human you have brought into my home?”
I want to speak of all the things I have kept tucked away in the corners of my heart ever since I came home, these that have been keeping me awake at night, screaming my throat dry into my pillow, but my voice refuses to find me. Not even when Imani starts to cry. Not even when my mother continually asks me, “What is going on? Umemfanyia nini?”
“Mum, there is something you need to know…” I begin to say, but Imani coughs and cuts me short.
“I’d like to do this alone, with your mother, please,” she says, squeezing my left palm in her right one.
I walk the few steps into my bedroom, head bent, their eyes burning my back, their silent whispers itching my ears. I fall on the bead, face down, and even though I don’t see it, I feel my mother shift to sit in her chair, takes Imani’s hands in hers, and starts to pray.