This is my story, told by my aunt Lulu who knew me from the day I was born.
Babies and young children were bathed in basins in my family. Hot water would be poured into the basin, followed by cold water. You then poured a bit of the mixed water on the soft inner skin of your wrist. That is how you know if it’s not too hot for the baby’s skin. Every woman and young girl in my family knew that.
I remember my nephew as a big-eyed, beautiful baby who rarely cried. Those eyes said a lot and grew to different sizes depending on his need or emotions. I dotted on him and loved looking into those big, expressive eyes. Such a delightful baby! I recall walking into the room one evening when his dada (nanny) was getting him ready for a bath. She cooed at him and sat him in the water basin. The baby immediately looked at me with the biggest, glassy eyes and an unknown feeling forced me to lift him off the basin and onto my chest. Only to notice the red, hot scald spreading on his bottom. Dada had forgotten to cool the bathwater! I held the child while Dada made profuse apologetic sounds to him and tearfully ran off to get the cold water. Standing there holding the child trying to sooth him, I suddenly realized he hadn’t cried or whimpered. The two adults in the room, Dada and I, were in tears and a panic but the baby just clung to my chest without making a sound. Is it strange to wish for a baby to cry?
He was six years old this time. A healthy boy running around with his siblings and friends. He learned well, ate well and behaved well. There was nothing for any sensible parent to worry about, but a small part of me did. He loved mangoes. I called the children in one day for mango slices and they could all pick a piece. I watched him walk towards the plate first staring with longing but not making a move to pick one. I saw him watch his favorite pieces disappear into his sibling’s mouths fast. I saved a piece for him and handed it to him where his mischievous sister grabbed it. He looked at her, his resentment and longing evident in his eyes. He made a move as if to grab his mango back but said nothing. The sister paused for a second as if daring him to say something. I held my breath and silently urged him; “Speak, Child…”
He didn’t, and she swiftly popped the fruit into her mouth.
I watched him go through so much in silence. I am not saying my nephew didn’t speak, he did! my nephew just didn’t speak when it was most important for him to speak. I don’t know why! His silence during these important or urgent moments put him in awkward situations. I silently urged him to speak up for himself, until my age was too advanced for me to hold on to my thoughts. I thus started whispering and later on loudly requesting him to speak up. When his father firmly said he would study Engineering, he stared quietly at the biology leaflet on the table. When his mother introduced him to a good girl, he stared with a frozen smile and threw away letters from his sweetheart. When she later announced their wedding date, he stared long at her sparkling ring. In all these moments, I looked him right in the eye and said,
He did not.
This is my story told by me, who still doesn’t know himself.
A lot of things do not make sense to me. I for example, don’t understand why someone can willingly induce hurt. It doesn’t make sense to me that a parent can hurt a child willingly. Or anyone would take what he doesn’t need to deprive someone of it. I just assumed everyone would share this perspective, but life taught me differently. A very big part of me still believed in fairness. I trusted the universe, the forces, the planet, God, to align life into a perfect balance. I had faith…
It however took me a lifetime of regrets and mishaps to realize that faith alone doesn’t stand time. The faith I have in the love between my siblings and I don’t stop them from grabbing my favorite toy and keep it away from me. Faith doesn’t stop pain and misunderstandings; faith just IS and what we do with it moves life into different paths.
I made the mistake of thinking questioning faith is a direct stab that dissolves it into nothing. So, I lived life with limited choices in the name of keeping faith. I wouldn’t dare to question it out loud. My faith in my parents therefore put me in a study I wasn’t passionate about and paved my entire life career. I hid behind faith and let decisions happen to me instead of taking charge of them. On a time of great decision making, I froze and screamed my desire loud within myself, willing faith to take charge and allow it to happen. It didn’t happen often; my life was therefore a collection of everyone’s and everything’s choice but mine.
Those around me accepted it. When deciding on what to eat in a restaurant for example, my fiancée would simply order what she believed was my most likely choice. She was often wrong, no matter how silently I willed her to pick what I wanted. I ate a lot of things I don’t like, for many times. She accepted my silent nods. So did my family, friends and most who knew me. My aunt Lulu however, did not.
I remember her intense eyes seeking mine out when I got lost in my internal decision battles. When I was younger, she simply looked me straight in the eyes as if waiting, pushing for me to say something. With time, the intense looks turned into gentle whispers, then grew louder with the years always saying the same little sentence. This same sentence was shouted to me on my wedding day as I stood holding the hand of the bride I barely knew. She looked radiant, smiled at me sweetly as the question rang out:
“Do you take this woman as your lawfully wedded wife….”
I blinked, with my heart willed the universe to understand that I don’t know this beautiful woman and have no idea why we are getting married. I willed the universe to give me time. I willed it with all my heart…
That’s when aunt Lulu’s voice rang out strong and raspy from old age, “Speak, child!”
I turned, looked at those sharp intense eyes as she looked at me from her seat. And I, for once in my life, spoke…
I might claim to have known her for my whole life, because I have memories of her from a very young age. I don’t think however that would have been true. So, I say I have known her for as long as I can remember. She popped into my life to fill blank spaces, at least that’s how I see it. For instance, one of the first times I met her was when I was denied what I believed to be my right. My parent might have taken something from me without a good reason. I remember then the blankness that occupied my puzzled mind wondering why I couldn’t have it! Then she showed up, hot and demanding. She filled up the blankness and moved me to action. I threw a mighty tantrum, added some hot tears and shrieks that dissolved my parents into willing givers. Once I got my way, I looked at my new friend with awe and delight. I realized that she was a great friend to have and I made a decision to keep her close.
And thus, our friendship grew with my advancing age. She saw me through my first attempts to social interactions and even my first romance. And every time something went wrong, I could call on her. When I failed my first exam, she stood by me reminding me that I did everything right and the teacher might be threatened by me. When I lost my first best friend after telling her secret, she stood by me and reminded me that I did the right thing. She stood by me through a lot; so much that what started as hurt would dissolve into a solid resolve in my gut. She made me cry sometimes, but not light cleansing tears that clear the knots from your chest. She made me cry red, hot and acidic tears that fell from a tight chest and short breath. She made me scream sometimes, like a wounded beast cursing the universe for its misfortune. She even made me destructive at times, then I would want to spoil everything that happened; throw on walls, rip off fabric, tear through layers of flowers…
After she left to mind her own business, I would find myself surrounded by ruins; words I couldn’t take back, burned souvenirs I couldn’t get back, bleeding knuckles from hitting walls, swollen eyes from hot tears, sourness in my belly… So much destruction in such a short time! I didn’t like the aftermath, but I also didn’t want to lose my friend. Despite all that I broke because of her, her presence gave me strength. She lit a fire inside of me that set my being into motion like an engine. I honored her and gave her a name, ANGER.
Anger and I stayed friends for many, many years. She grew with me, she became a part of me. The longer I lived, the more and heavier tragedies I met. I lost a parent and every part of me deflated. Anger came and stood by me, lighting a fire in my belly so that I screamed and cursed, I cried and stormed. It didn’t feel better, it didn’t even feel good, but it was alive and better than blankness. So much happened, and the two of us grew closer and closer until we were almost one. She didn’t need to light a fire in my belly anymore, she shared it and became my belly. I walked with anger, I brewed inside my chest. I was anger myself.
One day after a strong moment of anger, I woke up in the middle of spoils and evidence of all my destruction. I looked around at the torn connections, wounded souls, destroyed relationships, broken glass, … for the first time I got scared by what I could do with anger. I started wondering why anger and I were friends. I tried to recall how she came to be my friend and a big part of me. Did I meet her through somebody I knew? How were we introduced? Did I find her on the side of the street?
I had so many questions for her and I realized that I didn’t know much about her aside from how I react with her. I realized that she might be with me for a reason. What made her so hot and restless? Why do I react like that with her? It occurred to me that I may have a better chance of finding the right answers if I got to know her better. So, I called her to me and introduced myself;
“Greetings, Anger. My name is Person”.
And she said;
“Hello dear Person, it’s so nice to finally know you. My name is GRIEF”.
It was like a soft kick in my gut, the first time I saw her! Soft enough to not cause pain, but solid enough to rattle my organs and leave me breathless. She is beautiful!
At first it was the wind and the sounds from her that caught my attention. I stood ashore and marveled at the feeling of the wind on my skin. It was gentle sometimes, and harsh when she was temperamental. The same with the soothing sounds that came with lazy waves rippling on its surface or gently nudging the ocean side. These same sounds would turn from a caress to a whiplash of rolling anger that lashed and punished the sand, rocks and trees near the shore. The same anger that would penalize an unfortunate fisherman or traveler on water and form destruction.
Once my attention was captivated, I stared at the ocean and took a long, lung-puffing breath. She smelled of secrets! If secrets could smell, that would be it. Smell might be the wrong word for it, but my nose surely caught all forms of it. I smelled musk and wetness with a hint of salt. Then I smelled sea-life and growth, but then I thought I smelled rust or maybe warm ice. All these danced in a slow mingling circle around my senses, not strong enough to be smells but subtle and persistent enough to not be called smells.
My chest was alight with delight and in my excitement, I ran to her. I realized as I got closer how small and insignificant I could be next to her enormous presence. The introvert in me embraced that like a warm fluid blanket as I slowly walked into the water. It was cool to my skin in contrast to the blazing sun above. I walked further immersing my body in the cooling sensation and marveling at the vast beauty around me. She hugged me then, and it felt like home. I realized then that I had been homesick, for a place where I hadn’t been before. This felt like it and I didn’t want to miss it anymore.
So, I went back to the ocean every time. I would walk towards it and fill my lungs with its smell of secrets, look into its vast layout, open my arms wide and walk into its cooling embrace where I could stay for a while and be home. It was love! I loved being with her and missed her when life pulled me away.
I can testify that love comes in many forms because she loves me back. I know she does because I have felt her warmth around me and the cool salve of her water on my hot skin. I know because she loved me enough to be her own self with me and allowed me to learn more about her. I got to learn that just like a manifestation of her complicated smells, she sways in strong all-consuming emotions. Once in a while the storm comes, and one never knows where it comes from, how long it’ll last or even who and what it’ll drown. When the storms caught me in her embrace, I would hold on and ride through them. Sometimes my presence calmed the storm and brought us back to a peaceful embrace. Sometimes the storm brew and grew so thunderous that it carried me in a violent whirl. I would get lost in it and wake up bruised and beaten floating in the once-again calm water of the aftermath. The water cooled my bruises and I closed my eyes in relief ignoring the destruction floating by my side. Or occasionally, I would try to save some bruised beings or entities near me.
Such was love ___ such was my love for the ocean. I want to stay and love her! The cooling hugs afterwards were worth the storms and even the ocean elements that could end my immortal life. It felt like my home, complete with its chaos. It felt like home even when though I couldn’t breathe under water. Even when the salty water burned my eyes to swollen-red slits. Home, ___, where I floated on secrets, cooling water and fear of the next storm.
I fell in love with the ocean and went through storms and brokenness to realize that it cannot be my home. I, being a small being incapable of taming a temper goddess. I, being a land dweller who cannot live and breathe in water. I, who needs fresh water to live. I, who mistook temporary comfort for home. I, who clung to that illusion of home for so long and forgot to build my very own home. I, who is a mere human.
I fell in love with the ocean. And one day, I walked away never to return. I will get a whiff of the musky smell of secrets and long for the mystery of her. I will see her near my path and get a tug of longing so strong. I will shed a tear or a lot more when I think of her. But I know for sure that I will stay on land and make my own home, because the ocean and I cannot love each other to life.
You used to walk around as a full being. Full of life, full of love, full of anger, full of yourself and full in any possible meaning of it, in your own way. Those near you felt it and walked next to you also full. Once in a while, someone would get a little empty, and your being would overflow and fill them up again. And you would get your fill from overflowing ones near you when it got empty. It is good and peaceful, and it is natural. So natural that you do not recognize the process. Just like the way you don’t recognize your own breathing or the beating of your heart. Or even the flow of your blood. You just lived and you were FULL.
The one day, you met empty souls. You met those whose beings missed something. Those who had unquenchable thirsts and hungers. Those whose needs are never really satisfied no matter how much they receive. There are people whose cups are never full, because somehow they accumulated holes under them and may never discover that. They keep tirelessly trying to fill their cups to no success. Some have empty cups simply because they never learned to fill them up. Or they don’t meet those who can walk with them and learn the fulfilling process together.
You met those souls. You who so naturally and unconsciously lived in pouring what was overflowing from yourself into others and receiving other’s overflow. So, you naturally poured your overflow onto the empty souls, and they rejoiced in it. They enjoyed it so much that they asked for more, and you poured just a little more. Suddenly you start tilting to pour from yourself. You are not overflowing anymore. You give all the overflow and receive nothing in return. Because empty souls don’t know how to share. They don’t have what to give back. They wouldn’t even know how to pour if they accumulate excess. Empty souls need refill, and you will never have enough to refill them when you don’t know why they are empty. So, you tilt and pour, bend a little more and pour, and before long you get down to your knees to pour…
You now have an almost empty being, and it’s taking a toll on you. You feel the pains of bending too low to pour. You feel the empty thirst in your chest and do not know what to do. You are almost flat on the ground trying to pour more into them, but you don’t have much left. They notice your diminishing flow, and ask for more. They wonder why you don’t pour that much anymore. They ask, and ask, ask. You have a few drops left and are flat on your tummy. That last pour may be your bridge to becoming an empty soul yourself.
You may pour to the last drop and start your life as another empty soul searching for drops from others. This may take a lifetime. You may hopefully meet an overflowing individual who is conscious of the process and take you through the journey to refill. You may even discover the meaning of it all and stop the last pour, and start the work on refilling yourself up again. You may go into all possible directions with your being! One thing is for sure, only you can refill that cup before anyone else can even try to do it. Nobody else can restart the flow for you.
My dear readers, we have all been overflowing or empty souls at one point or another in life. We have met givers, receivers and users in life. Some of us ask for too much and feel deprived when those near us fail to deliver. We walk around hungry for more, attention, possessions, memories… this hunger preys on those near us. They feel the burden of never being enough, they feel our dissatisfaction. On the other hand, some of us give too much to those around us. It may be due to the need to feel irreplaceable, or accepted. It may be for many other reasons out of my limited understanding. However, giving without receiving (as is receiving without giving) is sad and unfulfilling. And those receiving from us get accustomed to it and may even start expecting or demanding more. Leading to a regrettable circle of disappointment and resentment.
No matter where you belong in this narrative at the moment, the answer to a more fulfilled life isn’t in everybody else around you. It is within yourself. Ask yourself why you don’t feel like you are ENOUGH. Ask yourself why you don’t feel like you get ENOUGH? Find yourself. Fill yourself. Do that before you overflow onto or drink from others.
This is what usually happens in my mind every time I see a baby:
“Oh My God! Why are you shoooooo cuuuuttee??? Just look at those big pweety eyes and shoft cheekies for me to smoonch!”
And these are things that usually come to my mind every time I think of babies; soft bums, giggles, heart-melting grins, tiny adorable clothes in so many cute colors, bows (I don’t know why!), that gentle unique baby smell, mushy feelings, butterflies and all that. You get the idea. I do also think of the other stuff like dirty diapers, burps, screaming toddlers and sleepless nights, but not as often.
My experience with babies is not limited at all. I am such an “auntie”! I mean show me a baby and I will stick to your life like a leech. After stamping the “Baby Lover” seal on myself therefore, I settled to daydreaming of the time I will also be a mother with a smile on my face. I mean, with all this love for babies, being a mom felt pretty awesome. I could even picture my womb sitting on a plush couch, sipping an unidentified brew and smiling at me in peaceful anticipation of the coming adventure. Well, that was until I, for the very first time, had to stay with a baby for a whole weekend!
I was pretty excited when I got the request to babysit for a whole weekend. I already love the little muffin and we were going to have lots of fun together. We did have fun, for exactly two hours, after which I learned that babies cry when hungry and cry some more when you try to feed them. Then pause to dance to a random song on TV, only to cry again because… I don’t know. They probably remembered why they were crying in the first place. But the first day went on pretty well. The first night had me waking up every hour to check on the baby who turned out to be a pretty good sleeper. Yet somehow, I couldn’t sleep in peace.
By day two, I was rather sleepy and chipping off a little from my cheerful auntie armor. The baby then decided that I was her very best friend and my arms were officially her personal space. I was then to walk around the house singing as she occasionally backed me up and screamed her displeasure if I tried to sit or stop the march. I walked the house for what felt like hours before madam decided to fall asleep and I in my full grown-up glory and wisdom gave the nanny clear instructions to watch over the baby as I ran out of the house. I’m not proud to announce that I went back five hours later, took up my pacing while singing with the baby until she slept then took my sore back to bed for another sleepless night. Needless to say, the baby’s mom’s face was the best sight ever for me at the end of that weekend.
The three days with madam Cutie-with-the-Talent-to-Scream-Down-a-Generation made me see my life in a very different way. For starters, my womb is no longer a content goddess looking calmly at me, it has now taken the face of my boarding school matron, looking at me with slight disapproval and a good dose of judgement as she tsks and shakes her head. The thought of a future motherhood seems less dreamy now, though still quite attractive. My Baby-Thoughts-Package now also includes; feeding wars, sore back, a very, very high pitched soprano of baby screams, mid-day escapes to a childless place for sanity, and a lot of puree smudges. All in all, baby-keeping, parenthood, or whatever its termed is not like chewing gum, everybody can do that, duh! So, as we start this week Lovies, I hope we really pause to think before making some tiny humans. I mean it IS hectic.
My bibi and I walked into a roadshow once. It had a huge banner with “Siku ya mtoto wa Afrika (Day of the African Child)” on it. A choir was screaming about the importance of talking to children. The message went a bit like: “A child is not equivalent to an animal, you can talk and he/she will understand…”. I recall thinking “yeah, we should really talk to our children…”.
I was eight years old!
It’s just recently that I noticed that I don’t think of my past as my “childhood”.
I just think of it as “when I was younger”. I didn’t see my 8-year-old self as a child, just a young person.
I, like a lot of the people around me, grew up way too fast. Some of us locked our inner child away before even re-growing the teeth we lost. There are elder siblings who grew up to raise their younger sisters and brothers. There are hungry kids who needed to earn their bread and counted coins before they could count their fingers and toes. There are little old guys staring out with big eyes at screaming parents before they can recite the alphabet. There are even those who were burdened with obligations to keep family names, businesses, traditions, before they could see enough to decide their own way.
There are children locked up in remote areas of our beings, forgotten but always there. And once in a while when our guards drop, they come out. They play, they are mischievous, reckless and free. Yet sometimes they come out, see what happened to the shell they have become and feel cheated or a little hopeless. There are old children in most of us.
I used to get confused when the little girl came out, I still do at times. Sometimes she giggles and wants to run around. So, I would call my girls, spend a lazy day at home and be merry. Other times the girl comes out hurt and bruised. So, I lock myself in, try to remember when my parents were taller than life, and rock myself to sleep. There are days when I crave my mom’s favorite dish and nothing else seems satisfying then. So many different ways, triggered by memories, scents, sights. The confusion clears only when I recognize that it is the little girl in me peeping out. A few days ago, I mused on what to do with her. I write today with the decision that I shall treat her like my own daughter. When the little girl who was never allowed to be, peeps out, I will embrace her. I will bathe her, feed her and sing her to sleep. I will pace the room singing on the days that sleep is elusive and dreams are painful. I will make her a herbal tea when she has a flu. I will run when she is restless. I will visit loved ones and hug them when she’s lonely. I will rub coconut oil into her thick wild hair and comb it until it shines. I will gently scold her when she misbehaves and show here what to do differently. I will love her, and protect her for who she is and what she means to the woman I hope to be.
For those who recognize the little child inside, this is for us. This is for all the little old children inside every one of us. May we nourish them. May we realize that we can love them enough to heal them if broken or to grow them from love received before. May we realize that we are these children, and we are the grown-up shells from them. May we love them, care for them and build them. Only then can we gain enough growth to channel positively to the world around us. Here is to the little old children within, may we BE.
This is what I know of creation:
It has two parts. The first, the part that gives life, I can’t claim to understand. There are way too many theories and beliefs. I being a mere mortal wouldn’t dare to try to explain that.
The second, I lived through and still do. This is the part I want to tell you about. I am living well, I have good life moments and bad ones, just like everyone I know. And there are times that life gives me nothing but the dry soil beneath my feet. Life gave me the dry earth of disappointment, dried up memories, —
I walked with that weight on my shoulder, my back bent to stitches. Until the day I started pounding the soil with frustration. I pounded, fueled by all the pain, fear, anger and insecurities of my life. I pounded until my flesh bled, angry tears falling and sweat dripping.
Yet somehow, these softened the soil. And once past the frustrations,
I noticed the mold that became of the soil, I discovered the use of a soft touch. I saw the strength of gentle molding, and used that. I sang and caressed the soil to the shape of my dreams.
This is how I learned of creation, dear one. This is when I learned that I, am capable of creating. The person I am today is because of the success and failure of my creation. So, I stand here as a simple human, still discovering.
I now stand before you—
Ask me for a mother or father,
I will mold with a smile on my face, adding drops of unconditional love and protection from the bright colors of life. And from the dark ones, I may find some temper or neglect to spice up the mix. A parent you may have.
Ask me for a husband or wife,
And I will mold love, devotion and romance into my soil. Maybe even pinches of jealousy and infidelity. I will add what I have, and you may have a partner.
Ask me for a brother or sister,
I will mold a sibling with multiple colors of adventure, companionship, mischief and even rivalry for you. You may have a sibling.
Ask, dear one. Ask for a friend, ask for a neighbor, ask for a lover, ask —
And I, will collect the sweet and sour essence of my being and mold one for you in all its perfection and imperfections.
BUT, do not ask me for the person I created from the bare, dry earth of my life. Do not ask me to sacrifice the person I mourned and celebrated myself to be. Because dear one, this is one being I cannot give away. Not even to you. This is the being I will always choose.
This is the being I created, remember?
I saw her in a smoky night club. She’s what my cousins would call: “A pretty young thing”. Her face perfectly sculptured and a figure to match. My attention was drawn to her the second I walked in, which was pretty easy, seeing that she was dancing on a chair and all. My friends and I settled near her table and my attention kept drifting towards her. She danced, her movements bold from liquor. I watched fascinated and looked around at the rest of the group with her. The men looking up at her approvingly, nodding to the beat she danced to. One can almost smell their self-importance and pride from the way they looked down on those around them. Or from the way they have a neat collection of thoroughly overpriced bottles on the table. A signpost of those willing and able to spend without a second thought. The waiters eager to serve them, ceremoniously carrying the bottles. The pretty young lady eager to please and bedazzled by quick glamour, is willing to step up on her chair and dance for them. And all eyes, including mine mostly, were on that table. She was literally on top of the club at that moment, but her eyes under the heavy makeup were lost. A slightly hungry look crossing her expression for a second. Hungry for the attention and approval. Hungry for the toasts in her name and the eyes of the few who didn’t notice her moving. It struck me how such a beautiful creature would measure her worth by the approval of others, the lusty looks or the jealous glares of other insecure ladies.
I saw him when getting drinks from the counter of the very same club. A noticeable young man leaning by the bar, a drink in hand. He still held the look of most young men making it out to the world, determined, sharp eyed and still a believer in his unending ability to achieve greatness. He was dressed with care, making every detail seem effortless, although a closer look would suggest otherwise. He seemed like a guy who wanted to look like someone on his way to success. The lady bartender had only eyes for him and ignored my attempts to get her attention. Next to him stood two delighted ladies that he leaned to talk to and occasionally dance with. While waiting for my drink, I watched as he charmed the ladies and offered drinks, and saw the slight cringe on his face when he reached for his wallet. He would keep that charm on for as long as it took, offer drinks to the ladies while nursing a single one himself. Once in a while, he would glance at the VIP table where the spenders sat on clouds of success surrounded by gorgeous ladies. At that moment, his charming face would freeze and the bright eyes fade in a flicker with unmistaken longing. There, is where the good life is. There were one left the house without stuffing a folded bill at the back of the wallet for transport back. There where one spends with a slightly bored look and ladies dance on chairs for the fun of it. It struck me once again on how such a good looking, promising young man would thirst for recognition and appreciation. Even if those who would drink his wallet dry and probably never cross paths with him again.
So, I saw a pretty young woman and a promising young man in a club. This is way too much observation for a person hanging out, I know, but the thing is, I saw them! They however, do not see themselves, which is sad, because it’s simple and easy when you see yourself and let yourself be. And the regrettable part is, the pretty young lady and the promising young man, do not see each other.