‘Don’t be like me,’ she whispered gravely.
I looked at her and wondered what she could possibly mean. But a younger version of her in braided pigtails and a dress so pink it made everything glow pink around it bounded up to her. She carried her and the little girl squealed in delight.
‘Mama,’ she whined, she must have missed her. Having been living with the grandmother all this time.
‘Muuuum,’ she whined again wriggling to get out of her mother’s grasp and into mine.
‘Auntie Njeri!’ I was an aunt to someone who could pass for my younger sister.
I picked her up and smiled at the never-ending cheeks and the adorable brown eyes.
Huh, must be nice.
Until she yanked at my hair. Clearly, I wasn’t ready for temporary parenthood. I handed her back to her mother and went to look for something else to do at my own party. I wasn’t particularly sure what it was for. But I was never one to oppose Mother’s propensity to flirt with hoarding alcohol.
I ended up wandering to the buffet table and exchanging looks with the stern woman in the white chef’s hat standing behind it. She must have been the overlord of the food, appointed by my mother to prevent people like me from getting bites to eat before the assigned lunch times. The Overlord wasn’t understanding me. I winked. Nothing. She continued with her forbidding look. Pinched eyes, pursed lips and her nose wrinkling- as though she had smelled poo and licked lemons at the same time. Such unhappiness at a party should have been illegal. What did a girl need to do to get a few drumsticks?
‘I hope you listened to me,’ my sister whispered in my ear again. I jumped a foot away from the protected drumsticks.
‘What did I tell you about sneaking up on people?’
She just stared at me, looking even more forlorn than I’ve ever seen her.
‘What’s the matter?’ I asked her, trying to keep my voice low.
Nat took a deep breath as though bracing herself. From what? Me? The most I could do to her was steal her make up kit.
‘I’m pregnant,’ she answered. It was supposed to be the end of ends. I didn’t get the seriousness of it.
‘Congratulations.’ I rushed to hug her. She remained uncharacteristically stoic. Nat was the kind of woman who would need a presidential convoy to celebrate a new haircut.
I released her and noticed she was crying. I wiped her tears. My worry growing alarmingly.
‘Please don’t be like me,’ she said again.
I really didn’t understand. And I know for a fact that I am not stupid. I mean, I was in college. I got a B+ in high school. I’d never had any first-hand experiences with the Kenya Police. Didn’t that account for some kind of wisdom?
‘Why Nat?’ I capitulated.
She hugged her abdomen and stared at the ground. Maybe it was pregnancy hormones. But she wasn’t like this when she got mini-Nat. Was she?
‘Don’t be a young mother.’ She pronounced and walked away. I wanted to go after her. But my mother materialised accompanied by my boyfriend.
‘Njeri! Look who’s here!’ Mother announced.
It was weeks after, when I was resting off Mother’s party, copious amounts of alcohol and chicken in the boyfriend’s apartment that I remembered Nat’s troubling words.
What was wrong with being a young mother anyway? Nat was 28. A single mother, although now it seemed like she had a boyfriend. Or maybe this time she knew who the father of her baby was. The first time had not gone well in our household. The paint was still chipped from when the watchmen had had to hold our father down when he wanted to go raze the dorm where ‘it’ happened.
I was also reminded that I was a horrible sister. Multiple days had gone past and I hadn’t even called to check on her once. One could argue that Nat could just as easily pick up the phone but Mother raised me to be a bit more accommodating to my uh- prickly- sister.
‘You can’t hold grudges against your sister Njeri, or you may never speak again,’ she once told me when Nat was the one who had broken my bicycle, lied to our dad about it, making me get punished for it and then I never got another bike…
I grabbed my phone and dialled her number.
I looked at the dial screen to be sure I had the right number, ‘In what world do I deserve this attitude?’
‘Let’s talk later please,’ she said, in the same tone.
‘Nat, what the hell is going on with you?’
‘I’m kind of busy at the moment, I’ll call you back.’
She hung up and promptly shut off her phone. What was going on with the bloody woman? I tried calling her again. I blasted texts at her. Constantly checking for blue ticks on WhatsApp for any reassurance that she had at least seen them. For days I called her. The operator patiently told me about how the mteja I had tried to reach hapatikani kwa sasa.
My dear sister wasn’t even magnanimous enough to get a voice mailbox so she can have a first-hand account of all the vitriol I had lined up for her. I wondered what to do. If it was a poor Nickelodeon teen series, I would have had ‘a guy’ who could track her cell down for me. All I had was a boyfriend who turned into a willing ear to my hysteria and a mother who I wanted to dump all the paranoia on but Nat would kill me if I made mother worry about her.
I was stuck. Fiddling my thumbs. Going through the motions of existence. Bathe, eat, waste time in traffic, waste more time in class, fuck whenever the logistics allowed it and then moodily stare at my phone.
Another few weeks passed. She sent me one message. ‘I’m Fine.’
I reached breaking point. ‘Call me now or I’m calling mum.’
It took her two seconds.
‘Why would you call mum?’
‘Because you were worrying me, you stupid woman. First you tell me not to be like you. Then you tell me you’re pregnant. Then you go radio silent?’ My voice rose an octave with every question.
She remained quiet.
‘Fuck this, I’m calling mum.’
‘Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t.’
‘I didn’t want it.’
What was I supposed to say?
‘I’m sorry but I didn’t want another one.’
She burst into tears. How was it possible to feel helpless when I wasn’t the one with the problems?
‘Are you ok?’
I asked but what I wanted to ask was… Were you safe? Where did you go? Why didn’t you use a condom in the first place? Sheesh, or even have him pull out. Why do you do this to yourself Nat?
‘No, I… I don’t know what I am. She’s all I have of me and I am so lost. But I can’t have another. It would destroy me… I just can’t. I need more time. I deserve more time.’
I couldn’t even pretend to understand what she was going through.
‘Please come stay with Eric and me.’ I offered.
She heaved a deep breath.
‘Yeah, I’ll be there in a few hours.’
I hung up and turned to the boyfriend who was lying on his back waving his fingers through the dust motes in the ray of light.
‘She’s coming here.’
‘You’re ok with that?’
‘Why wouldn’t I be?’ he asked. It was rhetorical. I lay back down on his chest.
‘I don’t know what to do. How to help. I don’t…’
He lowered his hand stroked my cheek, moving my head to meet his eyes.
‘She’ll tell you what she wants.’
How did you learn about sex and family planning? Join the #FormNiGani conversation in the comment section, on Twitter [Link] and Facebook [Link].
Mari Gloria often thinks of herself as eccentric. She dreams in text and is unafraid to admit that her cat owns her. A firm believer in Wi-Fi for all, the rest of her thoughts, beliefs, ramblings and unique insight can be found on her blog Nairobi Pedestrian here [Link].