One dusty August, I was just walking my luhya legs going to buy kimbo, royco and haria when a high school boy and a neighbor called Zakayo came from behind and said my buttocks are big and move up and down when I walk. And that he loves how I walk and how they move! I was in class 4, unaware of the hostilities of the world and prowling men. I didn’t reach the market! I turned round and ran back home wailing and went straight to daddy and told him. Growing up, it was an insult when someone said you had big buttocks. Mzee was mad and wanted to chew up the boy. People are raising rapists out here. He told me that I should never greet that boy nor listen to him, that he is a very dangerous boy. So Zakayo and I are enemies to date, but the boy has transformed into a fine man. But he is rapey. I cannot forget that pedophile.
I grew up worshipping my daddy. He was my sunrise and my sunset. He was in my life, totally involved in it, present and all over my little space. The first day I was taken to nursery school somewhere in Kapenguria, I grabbed his leg, afraid to be left alone to the world. And he sat in my school for an entire day, outside my class where my eyes and his interlocked. Living in Kapenguria was dangerous by the way. Pokot are pastoralists and cattle-rustling is in their DNA. In fact when M7 asked them to stop stealing his cows and people were mad, I knew what he meant. Gun shots were left, right and center. But my gracious God moved us to Bungoma which has been nothing but honey and milk. And calm. Well, except for tractors carrying sugarcane. So daddy took me to primary school on his black mamba and tied me to a stool so I don’t fall off. He never missed a single parents’ day as far as I can remember. Maybe it was because I used to burst into his room in the morning of AGM or closing day meeting and shake him up, reminding him, “daddy leo ni parents day na tutaimbia wazazi . Si utakuja mapema unione nikiimba?” he would mumble in his sleep and I was sure the message was home. For an entire week, I would practice the song in front of him as he cheered excitedly.
But I admired him. All his students did. At one time, Mr. Pamba fell ill and was hospitalized for 3 months. On the very day that he was discharged, there was a students’ strike from 1 am. His students demanded that he resumes his position as their boarding master immediately. They yelled, chanted wars songs and pelted stones on the house of the acting boarding master. The ring leaders shouted in the songs, “tunataka naniiii?” then the crowd responded, “Pambaaaa”. They matched in front of our house like policemen, then their leader shouted, “Eyeeeeees, right!” then they all saluted as they matched round our house. I was crying, shaken and wanted to drill myself into my mother’s stomach. Daddy left the house and went to the unruly crowd of boys. We could hear them cheering and clapping. And they went back to their dorms. God! My father is life.
Years later in class 7, I was deposited in boarding at Nzoia Sugar primary. That school was like an abandoned and haunted home. Lonely. Cold. Ghostly . It was in the middle of endless hectares of sugarcane plantation, no community around and lonely murram roads barely used by anyone. It was just us and the sugarcane. Occasionally, an arsonist would set ablaze the many hectares of sugarcane and fire would spread from one plantation to the next, and then, Nzoia Primary would be left in the middle of the furnace, like Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego. Flames of fire would rise and swing dangerously around the fence. We would cringe with fear, sit in the middle of the football pitch and watch helplessly. To date, I think we survived because we were saints. The school never caught fire. My father would cycle his bicycle like a mad man to school when he saw thick clouds of smoke from afar. He’d be stuck on the other end since the last stretch to the school was impassable.
On other occasions, my stomach would embarrass me deep into the night. It would become unruly, rumble violent and threaten to detach itself from my body. It was on fire. I felt trapped and insane. I would start by calling my mother. That lady sleeps so heavily and you can throw her into a pond of water and she won’t wake up, but will float till morning. She did not turn, respond or move. Was she even breathing? Then my father would respond half awake, “tumbo inakuua?” “Yes!” by now, I was out of the bed, moving erratically in the dark, confused, pressed, on the verge of bursting up. I could feel it coming like a bullet. I pressed my nether region tightly on the wall. Dad would dash from his bed and take the torch, open the door with all the urgency, acknowledging the emergency I was in. I would flee to the toilet, leaving him behind. He stood with his torch waiting for me. Many years later, I get so ashamed thinking of all those nights I would wake him up and he never complained. He is my angel in emergencies.
On New Year’s Eve, he would be so excited and ask us to wait till midnight, to “see” the New Year. “Ukilala tutakuwacha nyuma,” he would threaten lovingly. I used to think people walk into a new year and when it finds you asleep, you remain behind in the old year, which collapses on you like a cloud or something. So we would sit, chatting and as it approached midnight, we would scream, jump, dance into the new year, hitting jerricans, pans to usher in a new beginning. I would do anything to go back to doing that with daddy. But I grew up.
But the most beautiful thing about my daddy is how he taught me how to write. At one time, my homework was about ‘A Football Match’. I wrote and he took and read it. It was pathetic. I did not know football jargon and had written something like the man who was running and blowing the whistle when a player hurt a player from another team. I was still a young girl with simple language. So he introduced me to words like referee, opponents, off side, linesman, red carded, match commentator. Boy was my teacher impressed the next day!
Daddy kept telling me that I am a great child so I never sought a second opinion. Maybe that’s why I became a bully. Or bossy. When people tried to make fun of my voice, I would ask him, “why is my voice different from all girls? Why do I talk like boys?” he would quickly respond, “Because you are great. You are not like others. And that’s why you are always on top of your class and they are behind you” and so, my little mind was sure that my deep voice has something to do with brains. So silly. I wish it actually did. I would be in Mars now.
16 years later…
I suddenly realize daddy is a man and we can’t be friends anymore. I discover my breasts are big and my behind is really moving behind. Zakayo was right. I get so ashamed and conscious. I wonder what daddy thinks. This vibe about men being dangerous becomes real. In school we were warned against being free with men. Not even our fathers. And this talk about how you have become a woman and should be close to your mother sinks in deep. I suddenly could not trust my own father. I kept my distance. I became so secretive. He became harsh. By now, I was performing dismally and he could not understand why. He did not know what he was doing wrong. But I knew I did not like him anymore. I loathed his presence more than anything. He was no longer my sunshine, but my storm, a violent and turbulent storm. I just did not want him asking me about school, my life, my day and if it was boys that were occupying my mind instead of books. He became a stranger. And a nag.
26 years later…
When I took my fiancé home to him, I was really nervous. Would he beat me? Would he say I was not ready? I have never seen him so excited. Daddy’s eyes widened but he had a cheeky smile. When he left, daddy called me aside and laughed at me,
“Just the other day, you would cry because the teacher asked you to sit with…was in Ricky? And today, you like a man.” I blushed and said,
“Yes daddy” and he smiled and laughed harder.
“Of course. I am very happy for you”
“You know that quote?”
“Which one?” he asks
“That I may find a prince someday, but you will always be my king?”
Mr. Pamba laughs hysterically and he gets arrested by a stubborn cough. He is ageing gracefully and I can see white hair creeping in. And I adore him now, more than ever.