Imani (Part 4)
I try to steady my ears, but the words are too distant. My mother’s voice is a sad whisper, scratching my raw heart and making it bleed into my chest. Imani’s muffled cries burrow a deep hole in my soul, so that an emptiness starts filling me up, ridding my breath of freshness, tightening my chest, and parching my throat.
I hate hearing other people cry. It throws me into a dark pit, remembering my own darkness, pain, and sometimes, forcing me to relive the times I have been most vulnerable. Times when I have been beaten to nothingness, my soul crashed, my body covered in fresh wounds, and not even my crying shone light to me.
I hate hearing other people cry because it reminds me of softness and vulnerabilities; how we shy away from these things, hugging our pain within our bodies, afraid of shame and guilt, afraid that the world will see the cracks within the perfect shells we have created around ourselves. So we keep this pain within ourselves, and it eats us up, isolating our hearts and souls, eroding flesh from our bodies, so that all that is left is dried bones, and choking ashes.
Only then, do we break down and cry.
I hate hearing other people cry because I begin imagining their pain, and the imagination slowly seeps into me, and I weep as if it is my own pain. I imagine their days of hurt turning into weeks, months, and maybe years. I imagine them curled on their floors, heart racing, anxiety filling their limbs so they are unable to do even the softest of things; running a hot shower, brushing their teeth, breathing.
I imagine their feeling of unworthiness, because it is the one thing that comes with unimaginable levels of pain. I picture them standing in front of a mirror, and the reflection kicking them in the abdomen, reminding them that they are nothing but empty bodies, wrapped in dusty desires and misguided wants.
Their cries make me weep because I have been here before. I have struggled with these feelings until my heart, body, and mind got used to it. Until I couldn’t take it anymore, and my soul burst into flames, burning all the things I have desired, wanted, dreamed about. Burning all these things my heart has always beat for, these things I have been working towards. Until all that was left was nothingness; a body wanting to walk out of its skin, because its life has just ended.
I weep because I still cringe at the amount of strength it took for me to regain all these things. The hours I spent in front of the mirror, repainting my image in a way my mind envisioned. Writing poems for myself, whispering softness in my ears, until the flowers began to sprout, slowly, rushing out from all the openings in my body. Until I felt their fragrance filling me, reaffirming that I have been worthy all through, even though I couldn’t see it.
I weep because I know no one cries at the first instance of pain; it takes courage for the tears to finally show up.
Imani’s cries intensify, and I hear my mother’s footsteps approaching, stopping shortly in front of my bedroom door. I dread her knock, and start drying my tears and straightening my dress. But when her footsteps resume, she is headed towards her bedroom. I hear her constant pushing and pulling of drawers. I hear the familiar creaking of her wardrobe door. Something metallic falls to the floor, and I bet I hear her curse beneath her breath.
I don’t wait to hear what follows. I drown four tablets of painkiller on my bedside table, and hope the drowsiness kicks in immediately.
As I slowly start to fade into the unknowingness of sleep, I hear my mother’s own muffled cries, and my heart shatters afresh. It takes me back to the the nights I spent huddled outside her bedroom, hearing her muffled cries and occasional coughs. To the mornings she showed up with red eyes, and waved off my questions with an ambiguous, “It is nothing. Ni kama napatwa na malaria.”
My heart shatters because my mind remembers my mother’s own pain, and how much she tried to hide it from me, for years. When the drowsiness finally engulfs me, it is the memory of my mother’s mysterious pain that lulls me.
The banging sounds of doors and chairs being dragged wakes me up, hours later. The extra bed in my room is nowhere to be seen, and the emptiness in its place fills me with chills. I hope it is not what I am thinking, I think to myself as I get up, and make my way towards the guest bedroom.
My mother is standing on a low stool, taking out the blue curtains from curtain rods, and replacing them with white ones.
“Are those not…” I begin to ask, but my mother calmly places a finger against her lips, flashes me a bright smile, and gets back to work. I remain at the spot, wondering what she now knows about me, about Imani, and whether she still feels me shrinking myself in her presence. These thoughts run in my head as I watch her spreading a set of white bedsheets, places a white towel in the bathroom, before finally leaving the room.
“Welcome home,” she says to Imani, who is still in my father’s chair, her eyes roaming about the tens of family photos mounted on the wall. I want to ask her what how it went, but there is a wall of conflict between us; my mother.
“Your room is the last one at the end of the hallway,” my mother says.
“How long is she going to…” I start to ask, but my phone starts ringing; a new number.
I ignore the first ring, the second, but when it starts ringing for the third time, my mother shoots me an angry stare, forcing me to pick it.
“Hello.” I speak into the receiver.
“I know you are with Imani, and I am coming for her,” the voice on the other end says, and disconnects the call.