by Troy Onyango
“Your mother was never a good wife to me!”
“Shhh! Stop, father, don’t say such things…”
“Why not? Uh? Tell me why a man cannot say if he was cursed with a wife?”
“Because mother will hear you and she will be angry.”
“What are you talking about?”
At this point there is some movement in the kitchen.
That will be mother, I tell myself.
I know because she usually gets back at this time.
I try to listen closely. The sufurias are making that clanking noise again. That will be mother putting dinner on the fire.
I know it’s fried fish as usual. Every day we eat the fish that remains from her sales at the market, except on the days when she has sold all the fish—a good day she calls it.
Then, if she doesn’t buy something for the house like Panga soap, or salt or cooking fat, she gets a quarter kilo of meat. I pray for such days. But I can tell today that it is fish. The aroma that rises from the kitchen need not tell me so.
I sit there next to father as he smokes his usual Sportsman. Not Rocket, not Super Match; he instructs me with a firm voice each time he asks that I go to the shop to buy his cigarettes.
Like a mad man I run along the dusty path to the shop, keen not to provoke father’s anger for he is not a very patient man.
The smoke is not good for me at my age, mother says, but father insists that I sit next to him every time, even when he is smoking.
So I always sit, and cough quietly.
Where else would I sit anyway? Of course not with mother in the kitchen. That’s no place for boys, father has taught me. Doing so would amount to a thrashing and father doesn’t joke with his thrashing. He handles it proper, landing every stroke squarely on my buttocks, so I know, the kitchen is not my place. Here, next to father’s cracked sole, I must sit.
Every day he goes on about how mother is not a good woman. But he keeps on saying was. I wonder why Mother doesn’t seem to mind this. She never speaks back to father.
She used to and father would beat the living light out of her, but then one day she stopped, and then her voice just became more of a whisper. Frail and distant, only heard in the dark when even the chiming of the clock sounds like the machines down at the sugar factory. I hate it because I have to strain to get what she is saying.
She doesn’t speak much nowadays anyways. Only at night when she comes to ask me if I have taken my medicine and if I have said my prayers. She says one must say their prayers for God to bless them. I say my prayers without fail. She kisses me goodnight on the forehead. It’s usually cold.
Mother always gets in through the back of the house. I still wonder why. Maybe father told her not to use the front door anymore. I think that’s why she only speaks to me and not father too.
I only respond when father is not around to see her talk to me. Father has told me not to talk about mother.
Aunt Merab who stays with us also tells me not to talk about her. I don’t understand why. What mother did to upset them that much? But I still talk to mother when they are not looking and she tells me everything will be fine.
Aunt Merab is mother’s younger sister. She started staying with us when I was still a little boy – barely two. I don’t like her very much, but she helps mother with the chores. I think father likes her, Aunt Merab.
Nowadays, mother cooks and Aunt Merab serves the food to father and me. Mother doesn’t eat and she just sits there watching us gobble down the lumps of ugali.
I don’t like it that way, but father and Aunt Merab insist that I shouldn’t speak to mother who just sits there and look on.
She must be hungry, I say to myself. I’ll sneak some food to her when they are not looking.
But even when I do, mother doesn’t eat and so I end up being scolded by Aunt Merab who says I’ll invite big rats into the house.
I sit there now, next to father, stroking my beard, and father goes on and on about how mother was never a good wife.
He hasn’t stopped. He never will.
Aunt Merab, who is now father’s wife is inside making tea. I will not drink it. Father is still smoking; I bought him the cigarettes from the Supermarket in town.
His hair is greying and he has lost so much weight that his skin clings tautly to his bones. He coughs a lot now too.
The folding chair is old and creaks every so often. I look at the sky through the window. It is dull and grey. I think it’s going to rain soon.
I was to leave an hour ago but father insists I have to wait for the tea. I told him no, but even in his frailty he still has a firm voice and the child in me is still scared of it. Still trembled at the sound of it.
The same voice that told me no so many times when I asked if I’ll be going to school.
My son, Junior, is outside playing with other kids from the village. My wife, Pauline, and I need to get him a sibling soon.
I should have had a sibling too. I hope I never complain about his mother as my father does about mine all the time.
He goes on with his grumbling and his muted words cut deep like a sharp blade. He speaks of mother with so much hatred that I ask myself if he ever loved her a single day.
But I know he did. Once, perhaps, I think. I’ve seen photos of them as young adults. There was happiness and peace in it.
Aunt Merab walks in with the tea in a kettle and rusty mugs. I can’t drink tea from a woman who replaced my mother.
I get up to leave. Father tells me to sit down.
But I won’t.
I am not a child anymore. Not that child anymore.
I wish I could tell him I loathe him with every fibre of my being.
He says he will tell the whole village how bad mother was. I smile.
I know it’s all bluff and mother in her grave knows it too.
She’s been dead twenty five years now and father has never told anyone of how he was less a man and mother had to lie with his younger brother to get me.
He never will. He has to cloth his shame this man.
Troy Onyango is a Kenyan writer and Law Student at the University of Nairobi. Writing is his passion and he believes through writing he can explore the world in depth.