THE STRUGGLE

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Photo Courtesy: Salem_Beliegraphy

Mama’s laughter was always hysterical. It would echo all around the three-bedroom house. It was something I always enjoyed hearing, especially when Mama Aisha came home. The short stout woman always had a story to tell; an adventure to narrate. I would hear her talk endlessly as if there was no tomorrow. White saliva would gather at the end of her lips and she would rarely pause during her narrating spree. Being the young boy I was, I always found it amusing just watching her lips move up and down. I usually wondered whether mama really believed her stories. I never asked but whenever Mama Aisha was telling her endless stories, I would keep glancing from mama then to her, trying to capture mama’s expressions.

Mama would squint her eyes tightly to show how deeply engrossed she was in the story and she didn’t fail to bulge her beautiful black almond shaped eyes when there was need to. In short, she was a good listener, whether she really believed the stories or not.

I could not withstand missing out on Mama Aisha’s adventures and thus, whenever I would just hear the doorbell and her loud voice start narrating from the doorstep, I would quickly slip out from my room, run downstairs and sit on Mama’s laps.

“ Hehe! Mamake Fatma!” she started with a great urgency.

“Ehe? Nini tena?!” Mama asked quickly; always prepared for a story.

“Today at the market…hehe!” she said; purposely pausing to keep us in suspense.

“What happened in the market?” Mama asked from the kitchen as she made her some juice.

“That lady…I don’t even know what she was thinking!”

“What lady?” mama asked excitedly.

“Juma’s niece! You do remember her right? The one who had gone to America for her studies!”

“Yes I do remember her. Her name is Leila. What happened to her?” mama asked, more calmly.

“I don’t even know where to start!” The suspense growing ever more.

“From the start mama Aisha…from the start,” Mama said, rolling her eyes.

“Basi Leila leo! She came to the market in those short tight dresses from America. She didn’t even have her hijab on! I heard she snatched a mzungu’s husband and came with him to Kenya. So sad!” she said as she vigorously shook her head.

Mama shook hers too, as if in shame.

“Watoto wa siku hizi!” mama Aisha said before circling her index finger around her temple, as if to express how much abnormal the current generation is.

“May God guide us and our children. Western life is really having a negative influence on our girls and boys,” mama said, caressing my hair.

“Yes indeed,” Mama Aisha said before she stood up to leave.

She chattered away until she was outside the door. I always stood out to see her disappear into the third lane with her quick steps, frequently throwing the edges of her long scarf to her back. Each day she would go to the market and come by with a brand new story. It would either be about the thief that was beaten up or how the vegetable vendor smells like rotten fish. As I escorted her with my eyes as she walked away, I always wondered what it would be like to have a mother like that.

I grew up frequently hearing mama being called ‘mama Fatma’. I always wondered why they still called her by my older sister’s name while she no longer lived with us. I still remember that tragic incident that shattered our family forever; the night when Fatma called from America. She had finally graduated and now she had her degree in hand. Mama sounded very excited talking to her; telling her to take the first plane back home. Suddenly, she fell silent and handed papa the phone. I stood still at the door, listening quietly. I could see how much mama was straining to hold back her tears. Papa took the phone, gesturing to mama, as if asking what was wrong. It didn’t take long before I saw papa’s face turn red with rage. His voice grew into a thunderous roar as he barked several questions into the phone at once.

“What do you mean you got married?! How could you do that without seeking our blessings?!”

I didn’t like the sight of my parents but for some reason I couldn’t detach myself from the room. I looked at mama once again who was now seated at the edge of the bed, hugging herself tightly and crying silently. I stared at her for a while before I was startled by the end of the conversation when papa slammed the phone into the floor. I had never seen him that livid, even for a policeman who had been through so much stressful times. Papa had always been very patient. I always considered him to be the coolest police officer ever, and now I held my breath, unsure of what would happen next and afraid for the first time ever around my papa.

He moved around the room in restless steps, fidgeting with his fingers. He then sat next to mama before he turned to her after a short pause.

“You knew that she was interested in an English non-Muslim man?”

Mama nodded slowly before sniffing loudly.

“I…I tried to stop her…I did, I swear!” She sobbed.

“You should have told me!” papa said with finality before he stood and left.

The whole neighbourhood soon knew about Fatma’s marriage. It wasn’t surprising at all that they knew even without mama telling them. The news just had to get to Mama Aisha and the whole neighbourhood soon knew the story. Some friends came to console her silently and Mama Aisha was obviously there. Soon though, as with all other stories, it died away and people found more interesting topics to gossip about.

We didn’t hear from Fatma for quite some time. It was much later that she called to inform Mama that she was expecting a baby. Being the golden heart lady that Mama was, it wasn’t surprising that she was soon in frequent communication with Fatma. She often tried to give the phone to papa so he would also talk to her but he would push it off by saying, ‘I don’t have a daughter.’

Papa was my biggest role model and mentor throughout my life. He was tall, masculine and his brown skin shined under the sun.  He walked in quick steps and he spoke very little. I looked up to him with so much admiration as he sat with his colleagues and held what seemed to be very important conversations. He never spoke much but it was very clear how the visitors frequenting our house respected his opinions and thoughts. My friends were always amused that papa was a policeman, but what was even more amusing was that he wasn’t rough as many expected; he was simply a tough hard-willed gentleman. He and mama always took turns entertaining guests at home. They would talk on politics, the society and many other things. I always felt proud when he’d call me along to sit with him as he spoke with his guests.

He sometimes took me along to the police station where he worked in Mtwapa whenever he could. Because of this I always though he wanted me to become a policeman like him and like his father and his grandfather too. It felt like family heritage that the men ended up being protectors of the law, or more importantly, guardians of the common mwananchi. In fact, for the sake of continuity, I never imagined myself doing any other job apart from being a police officer. So I just followed him without complaining.

Mtwapa was the kind of town that had a stretch of bars from one end of the town to the next, which meant the police always had their hands full. I would stand outside the police station and watch drunkards stumbling as they walked past and the provocatively-dressed women who had no business being out so late.  It was a queer town. When sunset approached, just before the evening prayer, I would get a stool from the office and sit by the gate next to the guard. I was always amused and concerned by the sheer number of bars situated just next to churches and mosques. It seemed like a never-ending struggle between servants of their own desires and purists. There were times when I could hear the call to prayer blend with the loud booming music from the nearby bars and I’d just shake my head. Strange world.

When papa was done with his work, he joined me where I was seated, shook his head and said, “Where Satan is involved, fickle humans always grow weak. It is the end of the world.” I slowly nodded in agreement. I was thirteen years old; old enough to understand his perception of life.

One day, after another long one at school, I stood by the bridge together with my friends watching the beautiful ocean beyond. That had always been our norm. We would stand there for as long as it would take before dispersing upon hearing the evening call of prayer.

I fastened my steps and dashed into the house to avoid mama’s scolding for coming late but she didn’t even notice my entrance. I could hear some loud weeping from the sitting room. That isn’t mama’s voice, I thought to myself. Puzzled, I peeped at where she was seated and saw that it was Mama Aisha who was crying uncontrollably.  She was chattering away, pausing once in a while to wipe away her tears and blow her nose. I couldn’t clearly hear what she was saying but I could read the deep grief on her face. She kept calling out her eldest son in a depressing tone. I inched closer to the door to eavesdrop some more when papa appeared and gestured to me to follow him.

I rushed into my room, dropped my back pack and changed into a kanzu. Papa was walking really fast and I could see he was deep in thought. I tried to ask him what had happened to Mama Aisha but all he did was whisper, ‘Not now!’

When we got back home after prayers, Mama Aisha was in the company of another elderly lady. I could see that she was still crying and all I ever heard was, “He was going to Dubai and now they say they found him at the Kenya-Somalia border! This is too much! They won’t even allow me to see him…” Papa interrupted my attention as chaperoned me off to my room and ordered me to stay in there.

Back in my room, I pressed my ears to the door. My curiosity was really getting the better of me. It was hours later after I had climbed in bed when I heard some commotions from our front door. I rushed downstairs immediately to find Mama Aisha’s husband at the door, yelling at her.

“Come back to the house woman! Why are you bugging everyone about your useless son who can’t even help himself?!”

Mama Aisha cried as mum held her hand.

“I’m looking for help unlike you who does not even care about his own son! The only thing you ever know to do is spend your day at the maskani and chew khat and get high on your family!”

I stood still on the stairs hoping I would not be noticed. Papa led Mama Aisha’s husband out of the house and they talked for a moment. Then papa called Mama Aisha outside as well. I never found out what happened next for I was asked by mama to go to sleep.

The next morning Mama didn’t come to wake me up for morning prayers. I woke up several minutes late and rushed to my parents’ room. Mama was busy folding clothes in a suitcase and Papa was fully dressed; checking some papers on the bed.

“Where are you going papa?!” I said as I went to kiss his hand.

“You have to go to the mosque by yourself today son. I will pray on my way to the bus station” he said without looking at me.

“Where to?!”

“To find justice son. To find justice,” he said as he picked up the now closed suitcase and left the room. Mama followed him to the door and waved him goodbye.

“What is happening mama?” I asked, worried without question.

Mama took my hand and made me sit down next to her.

“Your dad is going to help Mama Aisha find her son. He will be leaving with her husband to find out what really happened.”

“But why was he arrested mama?”

“They say he was caught at the border heading to Somalia. The police are now holding him as a terrorist suspect….so sad. I’ve seen Hassan grow up in the neighborhood all his life. He was a good boy,” mama said, tears welling up.

“Do you think that he might really be involved with terrorists?” I asked as I stared at mama, scared of the answer she might give.

“That is what your papa has gone to find out. There might be a misunderstanding, maybe a case of mistaken identity, or at least we hope it is so…Last we knew was that he was heading to Dubai for a business trip.”

“But what if he is found guilty mama?”

She took a long breath and said, “Then it would be very unfortunate…” She patted my back and asked me to prepare myself to go to the mosque.

A week passed without a word from papa and mama was getting so worried. The days seemed so long and the nights were dragging. Mama could barely eat. She had dark marks under her eyes and her face was so pale. Weeks turned into months and the silence was deafening. But Mama was not alone in this misery. Every evening upon entering the house from school, I would hear mama Aisha’s loud weeping; she had not only lost her son but her husband too. Mama was mourning silently, she would let her tears flow yet she was too quick to wipe them away. She made sure to smile when with me to make me believe that she was alright yet I knew how much she was hurting deep inside. Then finally we got the call we waited so long for; a call from papa, only it wasn’t papa on the phone but someone else using his phone. No one had to tell me that, it was just so clear from how mama talked. She had started talking with a very excited tone before her voice slowly died away.

“What do you mean?!” she said in a slow yet anxious tone. Her eyes were watery and her hands were visibly shaking. My heart was beating fast and I kept hovering around mama, trying hard to hear what was being said on the other end. Mama suddenly dropped the phone and fell on her bed. She sat frozen as tears welled up her face.

“What happened mama?! What happened?!” I asked, panicking. She sat still in her position, staring at the wall as the tears mixed with her running nose.

“What happened?” I asked, almost shouting and in my anxiety, I broke down too. I hugged her and stayed in her arms for the longest time.

Papa and Mama Aisha’s husband had been shot; Mama told me in the quietest, most depressing tone. Millions and millions of questions raced across my mind as the house started getting crowded with visitors coming to console us. I watched Mama as she sat silently in a corner, wiping her tears. Mama Aisha was seated next to her and she kept wailing uncontrollably. I was confused and depressed, but mostly I was angry; I did not know what or who exactly I was angry at but all I knew was that the fury inside me was going to consume me. What had happened to papa? What had gone so wrong that he was shot? Who had shot him?!

The next morning I bought all the local newspapers I could get my hands on and sat in the sitting room, poring over each one.

‘A local policeman shot dead by unknown people during his investigative probe into the arrest of one terror suspect …’

‘…shot along with the suspect’s father where he was planning to release the terrorist suspect from the hands of law…’

‘It is alleged that the policeman had connections with the terror suspect’s handlers…’

‘As to the question of who could have carried out this heinous act, that still remains a mystery…’

‘Could it really be possible that an officer of the law was so deeply connected with a terror group …?’

I pushed the newspapers away. My anger had now turned to bitterness and my mind seemed to be moving in circles. I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry, I wanted to hit a wall; I just needed to do something. I looked up to see mama standing at the window staring outside with longing; as if expecting papa to appear any moment. She sniffed slowly and wiped her tears every once in a while with her head scarf.

“I talked to Fatma, she cried so much. Your papa died before they reconciled,” mama said between tears, “She will be flying in this evening with her husband.”

I moved to where she stood and hugged her tightly.

Strange world this is, I muttered to myself, where in the struggle between good and bad, the bad always won!

I did not know how, but I was going to avenge papa’s murder somehow. Even if it meant the death of me!

…Even if it meant being on the Wrong side of the law!

#To be continued…

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