Momma’s girl_Jane Kambura Kimathi, alias Zhanet Kendi
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
“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!”