My mama taught us how to cry on the inside when things got tough, to cry out loud publicly was cowardly, a disgrace to God and to her. Crying on the inside is hard and involves all of one’s might, you find yourself scrubbing pots and spoons harder than before, you weed an extra acre, you wash even the clean clothes hanging on your wardrobe, you boil peas, beans and sweet potatoes not to eat them, you just want to boil and parade the damn things on your kitchen table, you sing your favorite PCEA song – when mama sings Amazing Grace on repeat the whole day God has no option but to come down and rescue her weary heart- when the sun sets, you sleep early and wake up with swollen Ohuru eyes and repeat the same ‘crying on the inside process’ until you overcome whatever it is you are going through. For the past week, I have washed and re- washed all my curtains, cleaned all my pots for hours until my hands hurt, scrubbed all the stair cases in my landlord’s four storey apartment, boiled sweet potatoes and beans but slept hungry, and played on repeat – Great is thy faithfulness. I do not want to talk about it; I do not know where to start. How do you talk about Garissa University Attacks without being engulfed by a sudden need to just hurt someone really really really bad?
I have a baby sister – a tall fireball- getting radicalized by the 8-4-4 system in Kenyatta University. Mama gets gigantic seizures every time she calls and her phone is off. Mama calls her children when it rains, when there is any accident on some South African road, when the lights fail and come back with a higher voltage, whenever Babu Owino makes a press statement, Whenever Ohuru makes one of his emotive speeches, whenever she feels cold and warm at once, whenever Mohammed Ali airs on KTN …Many a nights –seven o’clock – mama has stayed up late listening to that annoying safaricom lady sing the ‘Mteja Hapatikani’ song. Mama has on all those occasions engaged the robot lady on a shouting match demanding to hear her baby’s voice, she then calls me all panicked, you can feel her racing heart draining life out of her as she recounts the number of times – sixty eight- she has tried to get through to my sister unsuccessfully. You cannot calm her down, there is nothing you can do to reassure her because her baby is missing – for thirty minutes- and all she wants is to hear baby’s voice. On several occasions she has tried to call Olive Mugenda, the Faculty dean, the watchman at her baby’s hostel, Githurai MCA, if she had a way to get through to the Thika Road Sacco Matatu Chair, she would call him too, there is no rest until her baby is found. In between calling the whole Country and sharing her mind with the Safaricom robot she prays and mama prays until the heavens come down. Whenever she prays for us, we open our eyes to just stare at her – she turns into this beast – threatening God, blackmailing him, reminding him of promises He undertook to deliver thirty years ago, blessing us and our hundred generations to come, God cannot fight with my mama! I cannot explain the relieve in my mama’s voice when she calls to inform me that her baby has been found safe and sound in a lecture theater going about her business of getting educated before proceeding to head out to buy meat and apples to celebrate her child’s safe return. She has done this all her life, for all her children. I have multiplied my mother’s worry a million times in attempts to fit into the shoes of those parents whose babies were killed at the Garissa University Terror Attacks, I have gone numb.
Our parents have a plan- a grand plan- They give us life, they raise us, they lift us up on their shoulders when we pass our exams, they force the whole clan to arrive at our graduation with shinny flowers, huge success cards and drums of sour porridge, they cry at our wedding, they bribe their grandchildren into massaging their arthritis as they narrate incomplete stories of their childhood, they die and we congregate from far and wide to bury them, that is the plan. For so many years the plan has proved fault proof and parents have continued to enjoy life fully prepared and guided by their grand plans. That is why whenever we – the children – visit the village over the Christmas Holiday, our parents always take time to give us the grand tour of the land, pointing our favorite sites on the land mostly an isolated corner marked with trees and green shrubs, they are always consistent with their remarks – It may not happen now but the day it happens, the day we fall never to arise, we want you to bury us on that corner – that has always been the acceptable road map of events. Children bury their parents.
So, when unfortunate events – terrible events – oh my God why did it happen events – when terror strikes, and the children die first upsetting our parent’s grand schemes of things, it destroys them, and even though they will not say it because most of them just like mama cry on the inside, even though they move about like things are okay, they die daily. They become these empty beings who now have to contend with strangers from far and wide talking and engaging in debates about their children. They watch the news and struggle to get familiar the hash tag #147isnotjustanumber, in their hearts they loudly wail their babies name hoping for their return, but they know the truth, they will never return, ever. When we sleep, there is one parent crying out – its #148 not #147, my baby is #148, baby #148 is my baby. When we sleep these parents turn and toss in bed trying to hold to happier memories of their children, they remember everything from when their children were born to that unfortunate day they were admitted at Garissa University, all of these parents will remember to forget Chiromo Mortuary.
I wish all the father’s of these children would meet and cry and allow us to cry with them but they will not. They are busy packing up dreams, dreams they had for their children, dreams their children shared with them, they have been packing and unpacking such thoughts since Garissa terror attack happened, but there is no space to store them, no land to bury them, no garbage pit to throw them in, and so they have packed all their children’s memory and sealed them in their hearts, hearts already clogged with unimaginable pain, bleeding hearts that will give in at any moment now and there is nothing we can do about it, because even if we want to, even if we tried, we simply cannot understand.
To these parents, there will never be #148 laughs, there will never be #148 graduation ceremonies, there will never be #148 ruracios, there will never be #148 hugs at every Christmas holiday, #148grandchildren gone, #148 pride moments gone, #148 babies to bury them gone! They now have to sit and re- write their grand plan, they have to delete all those happy and lively clauses that would have seen them smile and laugh at their children’s success, they have to cancel all those beautiful names they had marked out for their grandchildren, they have to hustle hard now because their investment, that one child that promised them a better future is gone. There is a woman out there who now has to get familiar with the term ‘childless’ for her only child is now six feet under, and children who reside six feet under are not counted as children anymore. We really want to help, I want to help, be that one child to these parents but I know it can never be the same; it will never be the same.
My mama is not longer excited about my baby sister’s return to the university at the end of this month, She would rather have her baby float happily in the puddles of star times illiteracy pools – how else do I explain baby sister’s addiction to keeping up with the kardashians and BET- than have her report back to the University. She does not have to tell me just how scared she is, scared of some evil coward stepping up to ruin her grand scheme of things, she does not have to say a word. Her sunken eyes and her new sharp tone and shaky rendition of Amazing Grace explains it all. This is the true to all Kenyan Parents whose children are lucky enough to be alive today, they want nothing more, not even success or upright moral behavior from their children- they could be addicts, party animals, pregnant, liars who have squandered all fees – Our parents just want their babies alive, in whatever state! Every day, away from their babies breeds this torture mind game of what if in the minds of our parents, Every day their kids stay alive, is one more day of hope for the successful execution of our parents grand scheme of things.
I have tried to cook up an inspirational punch line to conclude this story, to make everything seem better, there is none; there is no happy ending to this story.