He is almost smoke now but she can hear him laughing. A joyful chubby boy with oily caramel skin, fat cheeks and brown eyes. He screams, “Mom! Mom! What did you bring me?” When she arrives from work and she goes back to her handbag and removes a packet of popcorn. He gleams and she gets joy from his laughter and happiness. “Don’t hurt yourself playing, ok?” She tells him softly as she looks up at her house. A three bedroom apartment which is way too big for them but she keeps it because she wants her son to have the very best—his own bedroom and a playroom.
“What are you cooking for us today mom?” The boy bursts out while following his mom like a baby duck, as she makes for her car.
“Spaghetti and beef, your favorite.”
The neighbors outside look at her with wide, fried-egg eyes as if she’s crazy to cook her son his favorite meal. They will probably whisper about her among themselves but she doesn’t care about the incurable gossips, all she cares about is her wonderful son.
“I love you mom.” The boy chirps and inches towards her—tying her up in a tight embrace and for a fleeting second they both create the most delightful picture.
“I love you too,” she says while wiping tears from her eyes as if that’s the only moment she will share with her son.
She gets to her car, a Honda Civic with an accommodating cabin and fold-down cup holders in the back which she felt would be handy because Alex loved those tall milkshakes that sometime spilled if they were not placed on a steady surface. She opens the boot and picks the groceries and hurries to her apartment which is on the fourth floor but before she starts cooking she goes to her son’s playroom and looks at it for a long time. Most of the toys are still new and untouched. Most of them still wrapped in their boxes. She had a fight with her mother recently; she failed to understand why she kept buying all these toys that nobody played with.
“Just because you never bought anything nice for us doesn’t mean I won’t buy them for my son,” she screamed. And her mom hugged her and told her everything would be ok and she should stay strong because everything happens for a reason and God does things in his own time.
She stops leaning on her son’s playroom door and teeters to the kitchen, a slight migraine creeping up in her head. She turns on the burner—boils spaghetti and then fries the beef stew before walking to the living room and turning on the TV and switching it to Nickelodeon. Sponge Bob is playing;
“Alex, Alex. The food is ready, and your favorite show is on.” She shouts from the balcony and the neighbors outside are startled and the kids stop riding their bicycles and playing with their toys and stare at her eerily.
“Alex, do you hear me, the food is ready and Spongebob is on.”
Alex comes running.
“Thank you mom, you’re the best.”
They eat in silence, she tries asking him how school was but he doesn’t respond. She nudges him on the head and asks him if anyone is giving him trouble in school but he just smiles and continues eating his spaghetti while making splotching sounds as he forms his mouth into a smooch and whips the spaghetti up with tremendous speed. He is a good boy, she thinks to herself. A boy who doesn’t invite trouble. He will be a big man someday, girls will fall over themselves to spend time with him. He might change history, perhaps even become the president and the best part is that he’s my son. She smiles;
“Time to sleep Alex.”
It’s unlike him today, he always puts up a fight and says he wants to watch TV some more but today he just sits there his being getting hazy and the ding of her migraine getting louder.
“Alex, come here this instant and go to bed or you will be late for school tomorrow.”
The image on the sofa dissolves and all that’s left are cushions and the untouched bowl of spaghetti and beef stew.
“You didn’t even touch your food Alex, don’t you want to be strong? Don’t you want to be the president someday? Presidents finish their food so they can be strong to rule the country.” She goes to his bedroom and turns the sheets which are freezing cold. She picks up the iron thinking that maybe if she warms them Alex will be willing to go to sleep. After she’s done she goes back to the sitting room.
Alex, Alex, Ale…” Her migraine overcomes her—she wobbles and her knees and hands sink to the floor. Images of a dingy hospital bed flash in front of her. They called it vacuum aspiration but it felt like someone was scrubbing her womb with a chainsaw. The memory explodes in her skull like a Molotov cocktail. She tries to get up but the weight of the recollection pins her to the floor like a ton of bricks. She felt every ounce of pain even though the doctor said she would be under anesthesia. It felt like a saw was being run over her raw flesh.
“Stop, stop,” she hears herself say but it’s already too late. Alex is gone and thick dark blood gushing down her thighs like water from a broken tap has replaced him. It was after high school, the first year in campus. He said he was too broke and young to handle a kid and to be honest neither was she ready for one. She had a choice, go back upcountry and face the full wrath of her parents or try to get a few jobs in Nairobi and give birth to the kid but her friend had a better plan. She knew a doctor who could get rid of her problem with less than five thousand bob and she took her up on it.
She wakes up from the floor breathing heavily and sticky with sweat—remembering all those mornings she took Alex to take the school bus—when she took him swimming and tried to get him to play with other kids in the bouncing castles. How she bragged him to her work colleagues claiming how intelligent he was and that he was going to be president someday. This one time she was scared stiff when Alex suffered a fever and she rushed him to hospital only for the nurses there to laugh at her and tell her that she belonged in an asylum like Mathare not a children’s clinic. It all seemed very real at the time even though she now has a sinking feeling that it was all smoke. She goes to her bedroom and lays down and feels the migraine start to decapitate.
The next morning she wakes up without a headache for the first time in a while. She does not rush to Alex’s bedroom to wake him up and prepare him for school. She does not iron his uniform nor polish his tiny Toughees shoes with kiwi. She does not prepare his favorite cereal nor pack break and lunch in his little emerald green, back to school bag. Instead, she takes a shower silently, dries herself, combs her hair, dresses up and goes to work.
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