There is nothing so unsettling like meeting the mother to your man for the first time. You feel uneasy, uncomfortable and we cannot describe that feeling as excitement. It is fear. Fear of criticism, her brooding chicken attitude, her silent wickedness and maybe really, we fear that she is more objective, unlike her son, who is in love and doesn’t notice you are lazy. Those women have secret compound eyes that can do an x-ray and detect barrenness and a strong wide nose that can sniff broken marriage, a million light years away. Or sometimes we fear because of malice that has been planted in humans and specifically daughters of Eve.
I called my aunt and asked her to summarize how I should behave. Should I blink? Can I ask where the toilet is? Do I laugh exposing my teeth or do I swallow the laugh? Aunty Lineti stayed married for 36 years, until uncle Rasto Wa Mmasi fell in the pit latrine and died. Imagine! Meeting your death so filthily. Like doesn’t death have the decency to claim people when they are prepared, clean, showered and stuff? Despicable. Utterly despicable. And it grabbed my uncle, inside the pit latrine… imagine with all the mess, death followed him, inside. Anyway, I trust aunty Lineti in marital matters. I hear her mother in law worshipped her and I wouldn’t mind being worshipped too. As she spoke strongly over the phone, giving me secrets to a lasting rapport with my mother-in-law, I furiously scribbled down. To read the 10 secrets, click here… kidding! She closed the conversation with an assurance that if I followed her priceless pieces of advice, I would be used as reference in future, in Nalondo village- “you see that Nanjala and her mother-in-law, only death will separate them. Be like her.”
But I am a loose tongue. In fact, at some point when I thought my mouth was too elastic, I visited a counsellor and Daktari Wahome explained that I should breath in slowly, allowing blood to enter till the corners of the left ventricle, breathe deeply so air passes through the alveoli and then eject it. Upon ejection, I’d have thought it over before responding to any bullshit. But I don’t have time for such slow breathing patterns. My respiratory system is chap chap.
I could foresee a confrontation the very first time two women who have a common man meet, each of them wanting to put the other in her position:
“So it is you who is seeing my son?”
“Yep” I answer curtly with no manners. My mother calls this tabia kama ya mbwa.
“You are lucky.” She confesses. “He’s a prefect man.” She brags, smiling, as if we are talking about the man who separated the red sea and behold a path was curved. And even so, he also wasn’t perfect. Wasn’t he a stammerer?
“No, he’s not,” I twist my mouth and look at the old picture, hanging on the wall. It is his picture as a baby, wearing Kaunda suit and having a huge head planted unproportionally on his thin neck. He didn’t tell me he had a thin neck as a baby and a huge head that resembled Paul the alien. But I note down. And I’ll use this photo against him when he yells at me.
“Sorry?” She is startled.
“He is not perfect.” I repeat, very audibly.
“He gives you all his salary am sure. That’s why he doesn’t send money home”
“Does he even have a job?” I bark, wondering where being perfect has ending up being about him sending money.
“Anyway, my son is very perfect,” she insists, deliberately ignoring me. We can’t be friends with this lady.
“He says resiponsible… instead of responsible.” I say, not acknowledging that it wasn’t time for joking.
“Even though I know in towns, young girls take his money, but he is a perfect man.” She continues, ignoring what I say and insists on her perfection vibe. I cease to exist in her world. She kills me in her mind. I am invisible to her.
“Mmmh.” I buzz.
Silence slowly creeps in. Anger builds steadily. Thoughts cross our minds. I need a knife. She clears her throat.
“For how long have you been seeing my boy?” She says “my boy” with so much possession and pride. And she puts me in my place. This man is his boy, his baby. She birthed him, nursed him, fed him, carried him even with his big head.
“Me? He didn’t tell you?”
“No.” She’s getting irritated and is very close to throwing me out. She pulls her kikoi and wraps herself.
“Many years.” I say as I stare at the hanging soot from the grass thatched hut. Do her lungs look like that from using firewood?
“Ten! Gosh how old are you?”
“Your son’s older, if you are worried.”
“You look older.”
“You look old yourself. Did you meet meet Mekatilili wa Menza?” I told you my tongue is loose. Our man luckily emerges.
“Ladies ladies, please…”
“What?” We say in unison, antagonistically. We are both angry and feel like he should defend who means the world to him.
This old lady needs to back off, I think to myself. And on the other hand, she’s thinking, this materialistic girl does not deserve my son. There is animosity. Hatred. Fear. Malice. Loose tongue.
None of this happened. I went and found the beautiful and graceful lady waiting for us, smiling with a warm smile… all my evil thoughts flew through the car as I leapt and hugged her tight.
“How is Nairobi? You must be tired.” She says excitedly.
“Yes, quite tired. And sleepy, Mama” bonga points are being gained, don’t you think?
“Your room is ready actually,” she’s holding my hand, like I am a little girl. And am I not a little girl? Doesn’t her son call me baby? Isn’t she my mother and I, her little girl? She excitedly tells me how much she’s heard about me. And I doubt. And I doubt also going to sleep in the room she prepared is a wise move. Thanks to aunty Lineti.
She guides us to the living room and recites a long prayer. She thanks Angel Michael for the protection and calls on spirit of love to dwell among us. She praises God for her guest and exalts His name for his obedient son. “and Lord, remind us always to give thanks” she finishes. I am safe in her hands. She then brings matoke. But how can a lady be so wickedly kind? Matoke is my main meal and brings out the worst in me. All my gluttonous tendencies erupt. My entire tongue hangs out when I see matoke. Saliva starts drooling. I shiver with excitement and I can’t concentrate on any other thing. You tell me I have been promoted at work and matoke is in front me, I will not understand the meaning of a promotion. Matoke is life. It needs a Nobel culinary prize. Matoke is love and love is matoke.
Luckily, she serves and leaves just him and I in the dining table. My friends, I have no idea what a fork is for in Kenya because my hand is fork. I ate with my hands, swallowing each bolus hastily. I ate to my fill. I forgot what auntie Lineti said about eating. There were many foods on that table, but I have no idea what they were. Matoke blinds me. Later on, she shows me around, her hands on my shoulders. She shows me the tree where her son fell and broke his arm, her farm, she tells me how cheeky he was as a baby. “Kama si mchezo mingi, angekua Amerika.” She says.
Later on, the neighbors and some relatives started streaming in. And I feared. Because I don’t think I am that worthy to be welcomed so warmly. I am just a wild girl with a deep voice. His auntie hands me a sack of potatoes, adding “Nairobi mapwoni haiko. Lakini otapepa hii” Another one emerged with cassavas the size of Usain Bolt’s thigh. Another one brings a hectare of beans. Another one brings murere (terere). As these good people hand me things, I pretend to strongly object, but my heart is rejoicing in the Lord. “Ah mayi…aba se nasutile kumukunda kwoosi?” (Haven’t I carried your entire farm?) I lament. Then this small girl was staring at me the whole time and still holding a cockerel so tightly around her armpits. I touch her kinky hair and she blushes. She hands me the cockerel timidly, “Mai kalomile bali khurerere yino” (my mother has sent me to bring you this). I took it joyfully, but wept inside since our culture doesn’t allow us to carry chicken from your in-law’s place, when you don’t have children yet. But one is on the way and I will be carrying those chicken the way I carry my handbag.
In the evening as we prepare to leave, it was hilarious as each person tried to convince me to stay the night. “Ah! Mayi!” one lady, Mayi Dina says, feigning shock of her life. “Si ndio umefika sai?” Another one adds, “The sun has already gone to sleep. Why can’t you leave at first cock crow?” I love sleep overs, but it is frowned at if a young woman visits her lover’s home and spends the night. It is whispered that on the first day, she gave herself away. But back in the city, hadn’t I already given myself away?
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