I racconti del Premio Energheia Africa Teller

Momma’s girl_Jane Kambura Kimathi, alias Zhanet Kendi

donne africane 6_Africa Teller 2000.


Dare to be a Lion!

Dare to stand-alone

Dare to have a purpose firm!

Dare to make it Known…

“I tried to recall the rest of the song but I couldn’t. I thought that it

was to be blamed the lump that was blocking my throat more than the

tears that were blurring my sight.

It was one cold night she had taught me this strange song. I was too

young by then to ponder deep into the words and get their true

meaning or feel their actual weight. But all I was sure of was: it had

always given me a sense of belonging and courage. It was always

there in my mind and heart to make me bold whenever I was afraid

and it always brought a glitter of joy when annoyed. Despite my

innocence, the song had always made me more daring!

… And now here I was on top of a hill almost eleven years after

when this strange song was written in my mind and its powerful

words embossed on my heart and all that I could remember was the

night she had taught me the song and only a few sentences to crown

the memory.

I was the little girl again… crying for a lost doll and a dad who

couldn’t love me, crying for all the reasons that’d loosen the gatevalves

of a little girl’s tear-wells, and not omitting any of the

incidents coz she was always there… As my mind continued

cherishing those long lost moments and trying to recall the words of

the strange song, I found the bitter sweet irony of the whole set up

and swallowed hard choking back sobs.

… But all that had been yesterday.

That was momma.

This was today. Without momma.

“It’s going to be miserable. In more ways than one” I thought

miserably as my wandering thoughts were held captive by my eyes

that were focused on the valley below…

In the scenario I could see the village below with its tin roofed

houses, and the large gray stone house surrounded by shabby gardens,

wild with a riot of flowers. Directly behind the house there was the

public cemetery…

Ground covered with grayish-brown, grass faintly touched with

green, the cemetery was ancient, windswept and I’d be right to say

savagery beautiful from my site. The tombs were all arranged in rows

some with statues and others with only a cross on top. And though

some looked more dull than others, they were all marks of faded

white marbles.

I felt a chill down my spine as I recalled the hurting facts that were

beneath one of the oaks. I felt a strong urge to go to cemetery.

Something I had never done before and would never imagine myself

doing so… but before could, I watched a little figure of a girl walk up

the clear road that led to the cemetery. As she opened the gate and

closed it behind her, I watched my six years old sister Sandra holding

doll under her arm, like a muddy parcel, her faded boots trudging

through the cemetery grass.

The girl took no notice of the graves through which she journeyed until

she came to one that was below a tall huge oak. I watched with horror as

she laid her doll on the bottom of the tree and walked to the mould like

spot not far from the bottom of the oak. I watched as she put her foot on

the marble and attempted to clear the dry leaves from its surface.

An unmarked grave.

It was momma’s grave.

“A pain that was always there to remind us of our previous troubles,

anxieties, doubts and love” I thought as I rose to my feet and started

walking downhill still watching the little girl on the cemetery below

and I thought I saw her jumping…

…I hadn’t thought of anybody else feeling what I was feeling inside.

How could she? Why did she? I wondered painfully. She had always

been so considerate. How could I ever forgive her for not telling me

that she’d be gone this soon.

“I won’t live for long” She had told me one night as we sat by the

glowing light of the three stoned hearth that was the only cooker I had

known at home!

“You want to die?” I had asked quizzically as if the word “die” spelt

all the world of evil.

I never thought that it was true. But one day it all began.

“Like a nightmare…”.

The sounds of the organ music drifting up the stained ceiling board of

the little church. The voices inside the small room rose in a powerful

unison as they sang the familiar song.

“Tempted and tried,

We are often made to wonder,

Why it should be thus all the day long,

While there are others, living about us,

Never molested though in the wrong…”

But this morning the song sounded so strange, I could barely open my

mouth or move as I stood staring straight at my mother’s coffin.

Everyone knew she had died of a deadly disease. She had been a

good mother. A loner. A lioness in adversity and now that she was

gone, only us, Sandra and I knew that she had been excellent because

the rest of the crowd had been bought by the horrendous lie that she

had died because of her immorality.

“Amazing grace,

How sweet the sound,

That saved wretch like me

I once was lost but now I’m found,

was blind but now I see…”

The sounds drifted again as the voice slurred

far from my hearing…

“I no longer have a race to run”. I thought bitterly as I recalled of one

day when she had told me that and she had laughed at my amused

impression and – “It’s never over!” – She had smiled with tears filling

her eyes.

She had always been a good friend to me.

A very good friend.

And here I was standing like an idol as I watched her dark brown

coffin covered with a white cloth and a big red cross on the top…

Fantasizing that somewhere in another dimension of time and space

momma and me were still good friends laughing, carefree and loving.

“Or maybe not!” I thought wearily.

“Maybe I don’t know when to let go. It’s like living in a time trap…

My father hadn’t been there all through the antagonizing ordeal and

now here he was! Everyone thought that he had a hard time-just

accepting how sick momma was, and now here he was, standing

beside me crying like a baby. I was betting that he’d bring home one

of his other wives now that momma was gone… And it struck me like

lightening! A voice that I knew so well.

Too familiar to go unheard.

And too clear to be forgotten for even a single second.

“Often I wonder why I should journey over a road so rugged and

steep while there are others living in comfort while with the lost I

labour…” I wiped the tears that were threatening to roll down my

cheeks if let to do so. It was my sister Sandra.

She had been mommy’s pet and the poem she was reciting was one of

her favourites. She had learnt it earlier in baby class and I could

remember vividly the first day she had learnt to put the words

together. She had recited it over and over again. And she would tell it

again and again to everybody who came her way…

“… My mighty plans have failed. And my heart is made to bleed…” I

could scarcely hear her voice now as it drowned in the sobbing

congregation… “Much from my many faults I don’t suffer. And I

wonder why the test. While I’m doing my best I’ve borne shame…”

Her voice trailed off into sobs and I saw her blow her nose and smile.


She had smiled to the crowd. She could afford a smile amidst all that

was going on around her she was only five. And without a momma. Her

momma was gone, she’d never again feel the warmth of her momma’s

embrace. I was better off. I was fourteen. I had known of her love,


“Sister” I heard a voice and little fingers tugging my long ones. When

I looked beside me, there was Sandra, staring straight into my eyes as

if expecting her momma to emerge from the wet layer that was

forming in there. “It’s okay”. She said softly tightening her grip.


How could it be okay! My mind snapped dangerously as I tightened

my grip on her minute wrist.

“Let’s go to the kemetry,” she said softly releasing my arm and taking

hold of my dress.

“Not kemetry. It’s cemetery” I corrected her. Yeah to the cemetery!


“The wind lulled as if fearing to waken her, feathery drifts of dew

coating the leaves beneath my feet gave me chills. The moon through

the cloud looked down upon what had once been a bush of flowers

and the reflection made me shiver.

All her stain was hidden beneath the red earth to prove that she was gone

She no longer existed.

“She had slept on the previous nights and she’ll even tonight” I

thought restlessly.

And she won’t waken when the voices around her or footsteps

trampling the dry leaves breaking the silence on top of her.

I sat on the marble and I could feel the dump leaves on my bare legs.

My mother was here, her grave unmarked. According to our culture,

my grandparents had refused mother to be buried in their family plot.

On impulse, I brushed some dry leaves closer and lied on my side as I

thought of how good it was to feel this close to her.

“She had died of Aids and everybody had considered her as an

outcast”, I thought miserably trying to distract my thoughts from her

grave that I now lay on top. I could no longer prevent tears from

pouring out of my eyes. I cried. Something that I hadn’t done much

after her death.

She had begged me not to cry, but nobody cared anymore not even her.

I had alienated from the world by my birth as a bastard. I had grown

up in a cruel world unable to live like the other children. And in time,

I was withdrawn, creating a world of my own full of dreams and

fantasies, where no one except my mother was allowed to enter. I

painted pictures of life, because the colors of reality were too harsh

for me to accept.

At the age of ten, my fear for reality had started drifting off but it

wasn’t different. When other girls of my age were engaged at their

activities, I insisted that I didn’t mind. I was content to live my own

dream life apart from everything and everybody. Except with my

small sister and momma, who my entire life apart from time in school

evolved around them.

Relatives and friends had tried to keep me out of my fairy tale land

and they had brought me back to reality with the help of momma to

face the facts of whom I was and why. To face the sharp claws of a

mom dying of Aids with no one to help me in helping her through it.

I had kept the dark side of my nature hidden as I helped my mom

live with Aids and the dilemma of watching my younger sister grow

while her momma was so helpless. In fact I was a deeply emotional

woman, capable of great hatred, capable of suicide and to men I was

always a savage.

My teacher had once referred to me as promiscuous and superficial.

Shrewd but particularly intelligent.

Through my momma’s sickness I had evaded the pain of watching

her die…

And the pain came. I had not taken a sedative because I had wanted to

be in pain. I owed that to myself and to her. I would be able to bear

with it. Because it was my pain and she had gone through the pain…

Watching us struggle through the thick maze of poverty and she

couldn’t do any thing or much to soften our rough trend on life…

Immediately after her death I had thought that life had gotten

terminated. Through-out the days and nights; I was just there thinking

of nothing, thinking of everything remembering nothing,

remembering everything. I had laughed at the jokes she had ever

made, I had cried of all the pain she had brought in my heart. I often

smiled at the memories of the good times we had shared together. I

had shivered at the thought of the uncertain future. I supposed that I

was in the state of hysteria…

Lying on top of her grave this cold night I let the past wash over me.

Remembering, remembering it all…

She was beneath me.

It was pain.

It was pleasure.

At times I used to think that it was pleasant that she was beneath

there. The greatest pain was.

She was asleep.

Asleep not to hear our cries of pain or answer our questions.

Asleep not to comfort us again. I felt my own tears dampening my

hair as I flashed back on how it had been before she fell sick.

They were the welfare years.

Years that I had been so hopeless. I had been so independent.

I couldn’t do anything for myself neither my sister who was an infant

by then. She used to do everything for us both excluding swallowing

our food but including putting it in our mouths.

She was the only person we owned absolutely and entirely.

She was never a home girl except for Sandra and me. And by herself

she had gone to heights trying to make us understand how it felt like

to have a mother.

She was one of her kind.

She was all the magic that both of us had known. The only mother of

love that we were familiar to… Always there to heed to us.

Always there to blow our noses and tuck us into bed every night.

None of what she used to do for us was a solicitation. She always

knew everything that needed to be done. She was always an angel

who always did what needed to be done at the right time.

She was ever present to do and listen to what I had to say…

But one day it all changed.

We needed her like we had never done before but now she needed us

more. She needed us so badly.

She had always been formidable. She wasn’t formidable to the rest of

the world anymore. She was sick. She had always been so capable, so

reliable, so tireless… “Yes” I thought aloud as I rose from her grave to

feel my left side stiff and feet numb as I felt the chill now that the

wind seemed to be against the trend of my thoughts. I felt cold to my

insides as I thought of how dark it had grown.

I stood on top of my mothers’ grave and wondered of what fate had in

store for Sandra and I.

“Dare to be a lion, dare to stand alone…”

“I couldn’t sing the following sentence nor could I remember what it

was in the rest of song.

I flashed back on my sister Sandra standing on the same spot earlier

in the afternoon as I thought of the contrast of the times both of us

had been there. Her during the day, when the lone countryside was

filled with sounds of birds and voices of humans and I, at night when

the air was still except for the crickets chirping, toads croaking…

Despite the ill circumstances of my birth, I had discovered another

world apart from the rowdy ghetto. All its horizons were boundless.

That’s one reason why I was immune to the villagers and their

opinion over my family. They were to be pitied and not to be feared.

It made me calm to remember that almost all those people were

leading such barren lives. Their worlds were confined to only a few

square miles. How could I let their opinions concerning me and my

family burgle me?

I had decided to beat against the odds and swim against currents.

A gentle breeze was blowing through the oak trees overhead, shadows

playing games over my mother’s unmarked grave. Once long ago I

had hated her and blamed her for all the problems I had in my

childhood, the cruelty of the world and the taunts of the village

children when they learnt that my dad had ran away from home.

But I understood her now and all I could feel was sadness. She had

loved unwisely but perhaps with the whole of her heart and I was

afraid it will be the same way with me too. Only Sandra, painful

memories and some few words of an unfinished song crowned by the

unmarked grave remained of my mother but her blood was alive

inside me and after a long time of bitterness I had learned to be proud

of it but was the fate that was being expressed by the unmarked

grave, unfinished songs and bitter-sweet memories of her?

It was made bright by the memories of the poem she had taught

me once.

“From tomorrow on I shall be sad

I shall be sad from tomorrow on

Not today. Today I’ll be glad

And everyday I’ll be glad no matters how bitter

I shall say

From tomorrow on I shall be sad. Not today”

“And there’s a God

He accepts boxes

He heals scraps.

He forgives and he has a dream with my name on it!”

Yes momma!