When I got pregnant at fifteen mama cursed and threw her wig on the floor revealing unkempt bantu knots. “I did not raise a harlot,” she screamed. “Who is the boy?” she barked after two hot slaps sent me sprawling to the floor. “Is it Ken, the one whose manners stink to high heaven? The one who has defeated even his parents? Or is it Patrick, the makanga next door? I hear the way you call him Pato. Tell me, is he the one?” She picked me up again and another slap sent me to the cold, hard floor once more.
That evening I heard her through the open window of our two bedroom house going door to door across the flat. Her first stop was Pato’s bedsitter.
“Is Patrick in?”
“No, mama. He’s at work.”
“Are you another one of his harlots?” She did not wait for Pato’s girlfriend to respond. “Do you know he has impregnated my daughter? Do you? He can’t even feed himself with that matatu salary of his, how does he expect to take care of my daughter, eh? Shame on him. Shame on him.”
Mama Ken’s one-bedroom house was next. She was, however, not as accommodative as Pato’s young, naive girlfriend.
“Where is Ken?”
“Does it look like I carry him in my pockets?”
“Your stupid son has impregnated my daughter.”
“Was I there holding your daughters legs? Did she not spread them herself?”
“You are satan himself,” I imagined mama saying, but I knew she did it in whispers. Mama Ken was as tall as a tree, with big fat hands. Mama was vulgar but she was not stupid.
After my child was born Mama forgot all about it. She held her and giggled. She told her chama women proudly that she was a grandmother. There were rumors swimming around that my daughter had an uncanny resemblance to parts of Mama but she pushed them aside. “Not even enemies of progress will keep me from loving and enjoying my granddaughter,” she said more than once.
When I got pregnant again at seventeen, Mama did not curse, she did not throw her wig on the floor, she did not slap me hot across the face demanding answers, she did not go door to door disturbing our neighbors’ peace. When I got pregnant for the second time, Mama did not say anything. She went to her bedroom, wore her Women’s Guild garb silently and disappeared.
After she left, parts of her came into my bedroom. I had long gotten used to those parts by now. I had long stopped screaming and fighting their advances. I had learned that retaliation only worsened the ordeal. Parts of Mama knew not to hurt my face. It was my back that was whipped, my ribs that were bruised and my inner thighs that were scalded. They were all places my clothes hid from sight. Places far from prying eyes which could ask questions.
Questions whose answers I did not have; answers that would have been hard to believe.
I had long gotten used to these parts. When they walked in, stinking of cigarettes, aftershave and horror, I walked to the wardrobe and wore their favorite dress only for them to unwrap it with hurried hands. As if even the hands knew they were taking something that did not belong to them.
I lay in bed like a lifeless thing as these parts got in and out of me. While they moaned, I mourned. While they felt pleasure, I felt scarred. They rubbed and convulsed against my skin with wanton need and every time it felt like a hacksaw cutting through wood; a fire burning through a forest. After they were done, I took a shower but no matter how hot the water was, no matter what soap I used, no matter how much I scratched my skin, these parts of Mama never washed off.
Mama came back after the second week. She was excited and jovial. She told me she had been fasting and praying for me. Praying for the spirit of immorality to leave her daughter, praying for the demon of lust to leave my body. She told me that I had been forgiven, cured from the curse. That I should be happy that God forgave me even when I was an unforgivable woman. A wretch who had two kids out of wedlock with two different men.
“Be very thankful, because our God in heaven is a merciful God.”
“Our Lord and Savior had mercy on you.”
“Be very thankful.”
When I got pregnant again at eighteen mama did not scream. Mama did not throw her wig on the floor and demand answers. She did not go door to door disturbing our neighbors’ peace, nor did she go fasting and praying for my forgiveness. Instead, she held me by my hair and dragged me out the door. Then she went back into the house and hurled some of my clothes outside. This time Mama did not want to listen to the mercies of her Lord and Savior. “Any woman who can get pregnant thrice has the hands to feed and clothe herself and her kids,” she screamed.
After she had calmed down, I went back for my kids and the rest of my clothes. For the next three years I made makeshift camps in between relatives houses, friends and sometimes men who rubbed their skin against mine for a meal on my table or a roof over my head.
It’s been over ten years since I spoke to Mama. It’s been over ten years since parts of Mama walked into my bedroom. My kids are all grown up now; Edith wants to be a teacher, Sarah is always singing and Andrew is ever making things with his hands. It’s been over ten years but I still feel parts of Mama inside me; squirming, writhing, burning. But I can’t speak up. How can I tell the world that the scars I carry are from my father, my mother’s husband?
Love this article? We don’t (yet) have the budget to buy space on prime time TV or full page ads in the Daily Nation, so your shares are what help us get discovered. Feel free to whisper us to a friend and leave a comment.