My mom won’t take a break; she wants to do everything: go to the market, cook, do the laundry, supervise our construction site, buy the materials, help with the bricklaying, call Elon Musk and help him run Twitter. So you see, it was only a matter of time before she crashed, and she did, like a ton of bricks.
“Why do you do all these chores when you can get a house help?” I often ask her whenever I am over. She is pushing sixty; if anything she has earned one.
“No, they don’t clean as well as I do,” she usually responds matter-of-factly.
The day election results were being announced. That day Ole Kina punched Chebukati in the face and everyone was indoors because the atmosphere in the country was thick with tension. My mom was on the road with her Toyota apparently taking material to the construction site.
I had suspected she would do this and so I had called her from the comfort of my living room; I think I was in my boxer briefs, idling while spooning a can of yogurt. Don’t judge me, smarter brains than mine have hypothesized that the best creative work is done by people who go through long bouts of doing nothing, and who is a mildly known asthmatic writer to argue with them? But I digress.
I called her, my legs crossed on top of the coffee table and a film of yogurt forming a mustache on my upper lip, which I satisfyingly licked off. I told her not to go out today because there might be fracas. “I know, I know,” she said briskly. I almost called my Old Man to request him to call his Better Half and tell her to drop anchor and stay put. But my Old Man is the last resort who I only call when the house is burning and the water I have won’t do the trick.
Watching the proceedings on TV as the men and women settled or unsettled in Bomas because an event that was meant to be concluded by noon had not begun at 5:00 pm. I became worried and got the erie feeling that the bottom might not hold. More so after one of the top presidential candidates showed up and the other one was nowhere to be seen.
“Mom, are you seeing what is going on in Bomas?” I asked after ringing her knowing she was home because where else would she be?
“No, I am at the construction site, I had to bring these materials,” she said impressed with herself.
I was dumbfounded and you see I don’t use words like dumbfounded lightly. I uncrossed my legs, removed my feet from my coffee table, sat up straight and wondered if some pieces of: iron, wood, and brick were more important than life itself. And so, quite irate I went on to reprimand her. Oh, how the tables turn. “You just can’t stop your life because there is an election,” she said evenly having had enough of my dressing down, I think, as Chebukati blocked Ole Kina’s fist with his face.
It’s luck that there was no chaos after that and she made it home safe.
If I couldn’t stop her from working herself to an early grave and neither could my sisters nor our Old Man that left the Man Upstairs and he did stop her; with a screeching halt on her favorite playground; our construction site.
When I am there my mom is usually doing a little bit of everything, it’s ridiculous. She is giving the foreman instructions on how the design should be coming along, she’s inside the construction itself guiding the bricklayers, she’s outside the gate getting to know the neighbors. “So and so have such vicious dogs,” she comes back to tell me. “That would be great security here too,” she adds cheerfully and I can already see her running across the country looking for German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and Dobermans.
After that, she jumps into her Toyota and within thirty minutes she’s back; dragging a sack of manure to a patch of soil opposite the construction where she is growing sukuma wiki, spinach, and coriander. I am not keen on everything she is growing: God knows I might look away and find grapes and Jack’s Beanstalk sprouting when I look back.
All this happens when I am around; when I have told her she can sit back and be a spectator, so I know when none of us is there she goes overboard. She might even do a few cartwheels while watering her spinach.
And so recently the man upstairs decided to give her compulsory leave. While she was running around, she lost her balance, fell, and sat on her leg. A fracture, the first doctors she visited called it before slapping her foot with a hard thick white cast and giving her a prescription of thirty days at home with little to no movement—which means we all get to attend her like she’s a suckling babe but to her, it sounds like an eternity of torture.
Something else about my mother, Njeri: she has a habit of going to mom-and-pop hospitals tucked in dingy alleys you could almost mistake them for kiosks in order to save a buck when she can afford a proper hospital. It’s the same thing when you try to tell her otherwise. “These big hospitals are expensive for nothing, they will do a hundred tests and then admit you when it is something small that can be resolved in a day…” she goes on and on.
Within two days of coming from her mom-and-pop hospital, her leg was already complaining of discomfort inside the tight plaster and her head was screaming with a migraine. I found her lying on the couch—of course not as leisurely as I had on mine during the announcement of the election results. She looked beaten down, you could have thought Ole Kina had passed by to say hello. While she is usually quick with words, she was drowsy and barely audible. “Your sister is taking me to another hospital,” she coughed before falling asleep and for a moment I was distracted and to be completely honest frightened.
The physicians at Doctor’s Plaza in Nairobi Hospital said it wasn’t a fracture, removed the cast, and bandaged the leg and we all breathed easy. In her heart of hearts I am sure she was hoping the wise doctors would also reduce her stay-at-home sentence to maybe a week, but thirty days it still stands and stands tall.
“You can go through the bible and write your summons; you could even go back to knitting your sweaters,” I joked with her afterward but even though she is feeling better she is still sulking. Deep down I know she wants to run around: go to the market, cook, do laundry, be at the construction site, help with the bricklaying, farm, call Elon and help him run Twitter. But this time round she knows if we can’t stop her, The Man Upstairs will.
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