Deep scars. Deep deep scars. Anger. Resentment. Regret. Chaos. Darkness. Hopelessness. Death.
When they tell you that it’ll all get better in time. It’s absolute nonsense because if they could hear the pounding of your heart, they would know your end is nearing. Yet they keep repeating, it’ll all get better…in time.
Time passes. Days turn into weeks, then months, then years. Yet your brain still remembers the pain as if it happened only yesterday. You can no longer cry out loud, because they won’t understand. When the weeks turned into months, they assumed it had all gotten better. Except, it didn’t.
You’re still breathing. You’ve never felt this great in a long time. You tell yourself you’re ready to take on new challenges. You’re bold, brave, and stronger than you’ve ever been. And yes you are. But the scars, they are there for a reason. For every new beginning you get, a message is sent to your brain, that you’ve been here before…tread carefully.
Your heart starts pounding again, your anxiety is threatening to reap your new found confidence to shreds because why, your brain still remembers the pain and it’ll do everything in its Supreme power to shield you from ever curving in. And so the fight begins again.
And again. And again. And again.
They keep telling you the reason it still hurts is because you haven’t yet healed. That maybe you haven’t forgiven. They don’t know that this isn’t about them, this is all you. Somewhere along the way, the enemy got left behind and you picked yourself up as your worst villain. Life can do that to you. Love can break you like that.
Them? They healed. They learnt from their mistakes. And they changed. They long to make amends and they get down on their knees begging you for a second chance. No, a third, maybe even a forth. If you were really counting, it’s actually a sixth chance. But your brain, your brain still remembers. Its all it ever does, remember. You embrace them with open arms but you tell them that place you both once where, it no longer exists. You wish them well and off their way you send them.
They begin a journey without you, and it is one you spent days and nights praying for. Even years. They’re loving someone else the way you wanted them to love you. You remember those days and nights you spent on your knees begging them to change, to get help. For you. For us. You kept saying. When you cried so hard your nose bled for hours. When you locked yourself in and counted the seconds as they turned into minutes, then hours, on a cold cold bathroom floor. Sobbing. When morning came and you discovered that actually, there was still plenty of room down the abyss for things to get worse. Because for a second, just a split second you thought, if they see me hurting this much, they’ll change.
You thought wrong.
You’re battling walls. You’re scratching and punching air. You call for interventions but you’re back to square one the moment the doors close. How can they all help you fight demons they know nothing about? There’s a battlefield in front of you. But you’re a lone soldier. The bullets keep coming from every angle. You keep taking fire. Mayday. Mayday. But help isn’t coming. It will never come. Before you know it, you’ve hit the ground. Dead. It’s gone. Everything you’ve ever worked hard for. Gone.
It’s all gone.
The clock never stops ticking. How is it you seem to be bruised beyond repair and they seem to be doing okay? Why is it that the victim always suffers more than the perpetrator? Why is it that a stranger gets to reap the fruits of your hardwork, your pain, and everlasting wounds? Why couldn’t they be the person they are now with you? You ask them. Proudly, they inform you that it took losing you to make them better, to make them who they are now. Deep down you know that they’ll never ever be good for you.
Because your brain still remembers.
Does it ever stop?
Complicated. They stand before you, everything you ever wished for, but also everything you wish to forget. Total amnesia. It’s a past you never wish to revisit, a present that baffles you, and a future that can never be. That’s how damaged you are. Still, you keep asking yourself, why me? Why me? Oh Lord, why me?
Time. They keep telling you. Time. You keep hearing. Time. You’re now telling yourself. What will it take to make it all go away? Just love yourself, they say. But what if you love yourself too much that it increases the risk of damages if you ever choose to surrender again? What if the price you pay now is more than the one you just finished clearing?
You tell me.
How do broken people love again?
Teach Me. Show me.
Just don’t tell me, time.
Because I want to love him like I’ve never been damaged before.
I really do.
(This piece was inspired by a scene from the Criminal Minds TV show, Season 14, Épisode 9- Broken Wing)
I traveled back in time today. I had to. I couldn’t help it. And I have papa to thank for that. This is exactly why I never go back there. That place. The home that haunts me and the people heaven created to love me unconditionally, yet they never did. Papa especially. How can mama love a man so vile he takes pleasure in his own daughter’s pain?
Edmund, that’s the name of your greatest tormentor my love. It’s what I call him whenever I want to get even. He wonders at my audacity and if he could have his way he would hit me senseless just like he does mama. I see it in his eyes. I also see the way his hands shake and his fists knot in bridled fury. The last time he tried it I sent him flying flat on his stomach. My fifteen years of teaching self defense had finally paid off. If mama couldn’t put him in his place, I would. And I did. Now I am paying for it.
You should have seen the twinkle in his eyes today. You remember how his eyes start dancing whenever he stirs up something and waits for it to brew? I watched him today, with the intensity of a boxer facing her opponent in the ring, daring him to cross the line yet again. You should have seen how his Adam’s apple kept twitching from both restraint and excitement. He was on home ground, so that gave him the upper hand…although that never stopped me from acquainting his face with his floor in a much more intimate manner than his feet ever will. Only this time, it was my tears he was feasting on when he croaked, “still no man in ya life huh? Shouldn’t be surprising. No man would want ya knowing you were fucked by that-” I had inched closer to him so he could say that derogatory name straight to my face. Lucky for him, mama stepped in, like she always does and pulled me away.
So yeah, I thought about you today Alfredo.
Oooh, dear Alfredo. You should see me now. I look nothing like the girl who used to make your stomach get all tied up in knots, and send shivers down your spine and all the way to your feet until you couldn’t help but break out in dance. On certain days you said I left you speechless. You should see me now, perhaps you would understand why papa’s eyes dance so happily at the sound of my breaking heart. My head is all hair and my eyes keep sinking into the back. Although mama will tell that it’s my face that’s all eyes, because now that I’ve lost so much weight, they look like two huge holes leading to an endless abyss. I don’t feel pretty anymore, but that’s okay.
Time has not been kind to me Alfredo. But neither were you. If your love has kept me alive all this while, I wonder how mine couldn’t give you the will to keep fighting, to want to live more than anything, to be with me. Just as I do now, fighting to stay alive for the part of you you left me with, without even knowing. He is both my torture and my joy. He is you, but he also isn’t…will never be. How could you say you love me but still leave me? I could have shared your pain, I wanted to, desperately. In fact, I did, and still do. Now I have both your pain and mine to carry alone. And soon I’ll have to carry our son’s too when he learns about how his papa left.
I used to think that our love is the only constant thing in my life that the years have not tempered with, but I was wrong. Because on days like today, I hate you. I hate what you did to us.
How could I not see it coming?
I never had to ask you. I always knew. It was always there, your unfaltering love in the face of danger. You had many a secret up your sleeve but your love could never be that. It was neither subtle nor lukewarm. Neither was it overpowering or burdensome. It was just…enthralling. Captivating. Hypnotizing. I knew the day I looked into your eyes that I would forever be your willing prisoner. Every now and then my mind wonders to that mid-summer morning when it first happened. I had not woken up that morning hoping to find love. But I found you.
It had been a while since I had given up on ever encountering something…or someone as extraordinary as you. You feared nothing. You always looked danger in the eye and forced it to smile back at you. You lived every moment as if it were your last. Perhaps if I wasn’t so consumed in your love, I could have seen, maybe even sensed or heard the monsters you were trying to keep at bay. I had once entertained a fairytale ending for myself, but I was only five then. Since then, I had seen too much of life to even entertain the possibility of a love that could rival one straight out of a Regency novel. And with a father like mine, the tide was tuned away from my favor even before I came into this damned world. But there you were, in a wrong place and at the wrong time. The stars never saw you coming my Alfredo. You smiled my way and changed the face of my fate immediately.
How was I to know you had traded yours for mine?
At the top of these stairs, on a door to my right lies a five year old with a smile exactly like yours Alfredo. When I open that door, he ‘ll awake from his light sleep because he’s been anxiously waiting for my return, just like you used to…and like I’ve been doing these past five years. I’m gonna hold that boy so tight in my arms all the hate I feel for you right now will leave through the pores of my arms. And then I’ll forgive you, again.
A dark cloud loomed over Pangani Village. It was a night to remember, a mystery never to be solved. Who had slain the sons of Pangani’s royal bloodline? Like a thief in the night, a ghost had entered the chief’s residence and took a knife to the throats of the thirteen male descendants of Pangani the Great, including the reigning chief himself, Ganizani Pangani. The attack had been silent, swift, and deadly…until the last born daughter of Ganizani’s twelfth bride spotted the lifeless body of her father as she tried to make her way to the latrine.
Fear gripped the faces of the women, but there was something in the eyes of the men that didn’t sit well with the royal family’s head of security. It would be hours before the local police made their way to the small village, it was thus his duty to get to the bottom of things before it was too late.
Kamwendo instructed his men to gather all the men in the makeshift community hall. They would tell him exactly who was behind the killings before the break of dawn. He had five major suspects in mind. No, six, now that his great nemesis was back in town. These men had not made it a secret that they loathed the chief’s family and it’s supposed shady dealings. But they were wrong, the village had grown bigger and better under Ganizani’s reign. There was more money in the people’s pockets, more wealth. It was only jealous that was eating up these foolish men.
“The five men, you know yourselves. Come to the front right now,” Kamwendo commanded.
There was no movement in the crowd. The men all just stared at him like he was the biggest fool to have ever walked the earth. “The first suspect should be you Kamwendo!” Someone shouted from the back.
“Who said that?” The chief of security asked. No response.
“You’re all cowards!” The officer barked. “How dare you slay your fellow man in his sleep? Why not fight him like real men in broad daylight? You think me a suspect?” He scoffed. “My family has faithfully served the royal family for four generations now, four!”
“It is also known that your family has been after the title for generations.” This time he could see who had spoken up because the young man, about five foot eight, well-toned body, and with an unshakable confidence that could bring most men to their knees was sitting right in the front and glaring at him challengingly. The two young men weren’t strangers to each other. In fact, they were rivals. It was only a few moons ago when the son of Chima the carpenter, one Sanana had gone ahead and married Kamwendo’s betrothed. A war had been declared, and both men were determined to come out victorious.
“Lies! Lies! Lies!” Kamwendo screamed into Sana’s face. The young man never flinched. He held his nemesis’ gaze and dared him to make a wrong move.
Without his power as a royal officer, there was absolutely nothing about Kamwendo that was threatening to the young scholar. Indeed, Sanana was the pride of the village. He was the first man to obtain a degree from the highest institution of learning in the country. Four years ago, he had left behind him a village torn apart. Supporters of the corrupt and abusive royal regime felt that education was a white man’s tool intended to blind the black man so he could forsake his heritage. Those that stood on Sanana’s side, popularly known as the traitors, Sanana’s father and his four other loyal friends argued that education was what the village needed to rid itself of the corruption, abuse, and plunder going on in the chiefdom, spearheaded by the royal family. Sanana was supposed to be the son who would liberate them all from all such vices.
Kamwendo had hoped Sanana’s departure from the chiefdom would be permanent. During that time, he had managed to ingratiate himself to the royal family and won their favor. Thus, at the tender age of twenty-three, he was made head of security. Unlike his predecessors in his family who felt they were the rightful heirs to the throne, Kamwendo never coveted the throne. He had learnt through the futility of his father’s schemes that it was easier to maintain power and control from the back. And now the untimely assassination of the royal family had put a dent in his elaborate plan.
“What reason would I have for killing the royal family when I know I would be the obvious suspect?” He was now standing on the podium, addressing the villagers like a king. “I know what you all think about my family, however, killing chief’s family in such a manner would do more harm than good for us. Everyone will think we are just as wicked. Yes, I’m aware of the propaganda some of you have been spreading in the village.
“You’ve turned the people against the royal family with your nonsense about child abuse, forced marriages, under-age girls, ” he laughed.” If a man thinks a woman ripe, then she is. Period. You speak of corruption and plunder when what the royal family has been doing is managing your resources for you. If not for them, you would have minerals sitting in the ground for centuries to come, never benefitting from them. And you would have land filled with weeds and thorns.”
“But aren’t they guilty of all these things they’ve been accused of?” It was one of the famous five, Akina the shoe maker. If not for Sana, the two men would be in-laws.
“Says who?” Kamwendo asked. “Since when did honoring our culture become a crime in this land? The daughters of Pangani have always been ready for marriage. They’re taken from their mother’s wombs ready to serve their future husbands. It’s always been their purpose. And this land that you claim we’re selling to the government and the Chinese? This is all for the good of this village. We have so much land we don’t know what to do with it. What is wrong with giving it to people willing to give us money so we can feed our families and expand our farms?”
Murmurs rocked the room once again.
“The people have never seen that money!” Sana roared. “Our people are dying from hunger and diseases that can be easily cured. We are not saying don’t sell some of the land. All we are saying is that use that money to make the lives of our people better. We can’t keep relying on herbs to protect our sick. Our women keep dying in child birth, our girls-“
“Didn’t the royal family build you a clinic? What more do you want?” Kamwendo asked.
“That’s true!” A sharp voice echoed through the room. There was silence as everyone turned to look at the speaker. Somewhere in the middle of the seated crowd, a short man rose to his feet, nodding his head proudly and profusely. “Our good man here speaks the truth,” he said, his eyes searching the whole room for undivided attention. But everyone knew who he was so they murmured even more.
“That’s not a clinic, it’s a useless shack, a mortuary!” Someone shouted.
“There are no medicines there so what’s the point of saying we have a clinic!?” Another shouted. “There are no real doctors there. Those fake healers keep killing us!” They went on and on and on.
“Silence!” Kamwendo fired a shot through the tattered tented roof and sent the room into glacial silence.
“Thank you my good man,” the short man nodded appreciatively, ever more profusely.
“Shut your cheap dirty mouth Kachepa,” it was another of the famous five, Miyanda the Maize farmer. He was sitting just a few feet away from the man of the moment. “We all know why you worship the royal family like that. It’s those eight fat cows in your backyard. We have no time to listen to sell-outs here. Let real men talk before we stick you in the ass of one of your fat animals. It wouldn’t be a long way after all.”
“Did you hear that! He insulted me!” Kachepa cried excitedly to Kamwendo.
“We are diverting from the real issue here,” Kamwendo said. “We are here to find out who wiped away the entire royal family, leaving the chiefdom without a single heir.”
“Who says there’s no heir?” Sana Asked. “The royal family has more than thirty daughters and the late chief had more than twenty wives during his very short tenure as a chief.” Murmurs in the room.
Kamwendo was laughing. “Here we go again, with all this talk about women. You’re a married man now, why are you still so obsessed with women?”
“It’s because I’m married now that this issue has become even more important to me,” Sana said.
“So you think just because you left the village for a bit and learnt how to read and talk like a muzungu that now you know better than all of us?”
“I never said that, that’s your own inferiority complex speaking,” Sana retorted. “And leave my wife out of this. She’s none of your concern, has never been.”
Sana chuckled. “My point is, in as much as we need to find the killers of the royal family, we need to ask ourselves why someone…or some people felt justified in wiping out an entire family in the first place, specifically the sons. People are angry Kamwendo. They want to see change. When people have fought monsters for so long, they too risk turning into monsters.”
“Should I take that as a confession Sana?” Kamwendo asked.
“You can if you have the balls,” the young man fired back.
Kamwendo furiously rubbed his hand against his forehead in a bid to control calm his escalating emotions. He didn’t need to give Sana any more reason to think he was the better man. “So, you think slaying the royal family will fix that?” He asked. “Because of such foolishness, a succession dispute looms over us. Who is going to rule us now? We have killers in our midst right now, meaning no one is safe.”
“The only people that aren’t safe are the ones who insist of going against the people,” Sana’s father said.
“Is that a threat?” Kamwendo asked.
“Do you feel threatened Kamwendo? Have you ever acted against the will of the people?” He asked.
Kamwendo appeared tongue-tied.
“I would also like to say something.” A grey haired man seated on the far left in the third row raised his hand, his head bowed to the ground. Everyone in Pangani, young and old could recognize that strong enchanting voice in their sleep.
“Ah, Bakuyi, speak our wise one.” Kamwendo stepped down from the podium to sit on one of the high chairs. The room fell silent as everyone waited for the old man to speak.
Bakuyi was revered and feared by both men and kings within Pangani village and beyond. He was a man of a few words, but whenever he spoke, his words were gripping and memorable. Two chiefs who had disregarded his role in the chiefdom had died the most painful death and left behind embarrassing legacies that would haunt the royal family forever. And now the whole male blood line had been wiped out because they refused to heed his warning against incurring the wrath of the people. Pangani village accredited all its bountiful years of prosperity to the wisdom of the old man, and rightly so.
From his sitting position, Bakuyi raised his head to look at the young man in front. “A single bracelet does not jingle,” slowly but surely, he stated. “Listen, not with your ears, but your eyes.” He paused, slowly turning his head to look from left to right, then back at Kamwendo. “When the Shepard comes home in peace, the milk is sweet,” he continued. “There is no secret in a village, unless the village itself is the secret.” He proceeded to thump his wooden handstaff three times against the ground before lowering his head again.
If Kamwendo had hoped to find answers, he had finally succeeded. The assembly had officially come to an end. Pangani Village was never to be the same again. The dark cloud above shifted as the heavens set dawn into motion.
I have days when I wake up happy. And days when I wake up sad. I have moments when my mind is so consumed by stories of people who have never existed, yet are alive in my head. Worlds unknown consume my being, familiar faces of strangers I have never met beckon me and insist I release them to the world. Shadows follow me in both light and darkness.
Then there are days when I have to deal with the living. The look in their eyes and the stories they would rather remained untold. The stories their bodies tell, willy-nilly. The way they stand, walk, touch their hair or wet their lower lip, the raging pulse as I deliberately brush my hand against their arm, the faraway look in their eyes, the dilated pupils, their eyebrows as they hit their hairline, the sweaty palms and the quivering lips, how they lean forward or away, how they look down when they should be looking up. These are raw stories unraveling before me begging to be deciphered into mortal man’s language. These are stories invisible to the average eye yet my mind rejoices at the obvious interpretation. And sometimes ever so erroneously. It’s in the voices too. When words are mere sounds, maybe even noise, and the tones and intonations carry the message. When phrases turn into full sentences and their attention averted. A slight touch to the sleeve, game over. Where others hear silence I hear whispers of words unspoken and desires unquenched. And then nothing.
These roads aren’t just paved or dusty. They tell stories of years of struggle, a people’s plight, à revolution, and a dictatorship guised as democracy. There’s liberty out here in these crowded streets. Still I wonder if anyone can see the prisoners held in chains by their own phones, careers, and the things they claim to love that will never love them back. The patrons here at my local pub aren’t mere passersby or strangers seeking a rest stop and a quench to the throat. They all have stories that my mind insists on unraveling. These are settings waiting to be explored by an adventurous plot, scenes to be immortalized on paper and remembered to times indefinite. This is my land. And these are my people. I’ve walked these roads before.
I have a lover in my bed who demands the very essence of my being. My body he wanted and got, yet he insists on devouring me to my core. I welcome his lust with both pleasure and reluctance. For the price I pay in this dwelling is not anywhere close to the disappointment he will soon face with unmet expectations. There was never a damsel in distress here, only a heroine with villainous tendencies.
Behold! There’s another lover on my kitchen table, but it’s not the fire from my stove he wishes to contain. He flinches not when I touch him, as he surreptitiously tries to drown my flame with everlasting heavenly kisses. An unholy union of fire and ice, a devils delicacy. Burn. I have a lover in my head who wishes for a place in my heart. The crowd in my head overwhelms him, he says. He cannot compete against wonders without bounds. How is he to know that some contenders were born with trophies in their hands. They need not step onto the field for a race already won. My lover wishes to tame the heart capable of feeling every emotion ever known to man, except for the ones it needs to keep beating. Oh yes, I used to have a lover in my bed. And a beating heart too.
I’m hot and cold, I’m high and low. I’m here and there, I’m alive and dead. There’s never an equilibrium for the ones who run with wild horses. My baby sister thinks me a psychotic genius as she stares at me yet again in awe. She’s familiar with the angels and demons in my mind but she can’t pick a side. I remind her, yet again, that I might be on the side of the white fairies, but I’m not one of them. My older sister thinks me a recluse, an indicipherable code. “The sun is out”, she says for the umpteenth time. How will she ever know that I’ve been to more places than she could ever imagine and that I’ve met people that the rest of mankind is yet to meet? How is she to know that I’ve danced with wolves, dined with elfs, fought with knights, rescued damsels in distress, and even consorted with angels in Eden’s very backyard? I have stolen Cupid’s bow and played with Icarus on the edge of the sun. I have fallen from grace with a slight jolt to my Archiles heel. And like a phoenix, I rose from the ashes with a raging soul. See I have two sisters. The light in my darkness. The axis upon which my world revolves.
I wanna be understood. I also wanna be left alone. I wanna live a life on my terms without explanation or excuse. I’m always misunderstood. I wanna be loved, but not to à point of suffocation. I still wanna be left alone. I wanna be embraced, with my wings open wide, ready to take flight into the skies whenever the need arises. But he will always be my home…if he let’s me in. I wanna be held tight. I also need to breathe. There’s a Stanger in my bed. I’m familiar with her bubblegum scented strengths and weaknesses. Yet every now and then she manages to surprise me. She has dreams bigger than mine, and a head as sharp as a razor. But so is her tongue. There are empty pages on her table. At the tip of her pen lies the six letters of her name, yet when she sets it down to write, a mysterious word appears.
Life is what happens when you’re not updating your Facebook status. When you’re lying on the cold floor, your feet against the wall and your mind consumed by the alternate universe that exists in the words before you. When your lover shows up at your door unnanouced, unkempt hair and a shy smile – a portrait of self-awareness that’s quickly erased by a simple kiss on the cheek. You look beautiful, he says.
Life- it’s in the fleeting smiles, the unrestrained laugher – wild and free, when you hold her hand across the table and she places the other over yours, when she unexpectedly cries because she’s just too happy, when she appears before you in nothing but your dress shirt and beckons you to her, when she comes apart in your arms because that’s the only heaven she’ll ever know. I love you, she says.
Life – when you sit with her in silence yet it’s the most filling moment of your life, when promises are unspoken and a heartbreak looms over you… Still, you keep living the best version of your life because tomorrow is never promised to those who wait for life to happen. They create the moments. They embrace the silence. They shout at the top of their voices. They make mistakes. They fall. They get up. They learn. They love again. So let’s live, they said.
There is a Name and Shame Campaign presently taking place on social media. I love it. But I also hate it.
I love it because it has given survivors of sexual abuse – harassment, and rape the confidence to name names without fear of Judgement or retaliation, to some extent. I love it because it gives survivors a power they might feel had been taken away from them when they thought keeping quiet was better than pursuing justice or telling their truth in a world where the lines between consent and force are way too blurry to tell them apart.