A Misfit by Birth

By Guest Writer

Yesterday someone stepped on my toe in a matatu in Nairobi, I said sorry. Later in the day, as I was cycling along outer ring road, a driver accidentally touched his horn and I thought I was in his way. I squeezed myself close to the guard rail and let him pass. A few metres ahead, he stopped and waited for me to approach so that he could apologize. He said sorry and I said it is okay. That it was not a problem and I planned to stop anyway. I lied and he drove off, satisfied that he had hurt no one. I helped a man to cross the road by putting my bike right across the Zebra crossing so that vehicles had no choice but to stop. Immediately he crossed, I jumped on my bike and sped off. I did not want to hear him say “thank you” because those words do not make sense to my ears. If anything, “thank you” and “sorry” are the three words I love to use on people but hate it when they are used on me.

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Growing up, I lived in a broken family. My father was a business man (in my village, this was anyone who owned a kiosk that sold anything to the people especially household stuff like sugar and salt and kerosene to the villager) and my mother was a chef in a school mile away. I do not know if I was born in or out of wedlock and never have I bothered to find out because I do not see the value in it. Whether I am a daughter of fate or a product of a mistake remains a mystery I do not intend to solve or even hear anything about. The fact is, I never saw my parents married and have never seen them in conflict. Whatever happened to them or between them better remains in the past. I was brought up mostly by my father and my late stepmother, Nelly (May her soul rest in peace). Nelly was an incredible woman. When I was still a baby (hardly five), I have memories of Nelly washing me and washing my clothes alongside those of my father and my younger brother, Philip, who was her first born. I remember Nelly insisting on teaching us household chores together. I knew how to do dishes before I stepped in a class and knew how to cook before I could learn how to write. She was a virtuous woman, for most part, and a religious one (a little).

For most part, she was incredible. She taught me everything that I know today. She gave me my first sanitary towel and explained to me what was happening when I had my first period. She insisted that I go to school and take my academics seriously. Whether it was her design or my father’s pressure, she did the best a mother could do. She taught me to be a woman before I was old enough to be a girl. She taught me respect and service and showed me patience and love. She protected me and gave me parenting that modern children can only read in classic.

However, it was not all rosy. My teen years defined something of a nightmare in my life. I was made to apologise for everything whether it was my fault or not. I learnt to say thank you whenever she gave me anything because that was my punching ticket to whatever she would have next. I observed that this was not the case with my brothers and sisters but I had long learnt that survival was the path I was walking. Everything that enabled me to survive was my forte. I became withdrawn and introverted because I feared saying something that would be hurtful or cause me trouble. Whenever I opened the door, I said sorry just in case there was anyone behind the door who would feel like I “intentionally” wanted to hurt them. I started eating last and finished first because I did not want any of my siblings complaining that I had eaten “their share” of the food. Sometimes, I kept myself busy as the rest of the family was eating so that I would only eat what was left. All I wanted was peace. I could have contacted my mother and told her that I was “suffering” and she would have come for me the next day but I did not. To date, I do not know what informed that decision.

Life became harder when I joined high school. I went to a school 4 kilometres away from home. Our school had a 45-minute remedial lesson that ran between 5pm and 5:45pm, which meant that for five out of seven days a week, I arrived home at 7pm or later. My siblings were still in primary school, 100 metres or less from home. However, when I arrived home, there were chores like fetching water that I needed to undertake. For my stepmother, her cooking time and that of my siblings ended when I arrived from the river to fetch water. If I did not fetch water, I would not be allowed to drink any water or even wash my face in the morning because “my share of water was not there” and I had no right to eat other people’s sweat. I remember a day when I arrived home at 7:30pm, wet from being rained on and I could not fetch any water. The next morning, I washed my face at the river on my way to school because I was not entitled to any water in the house. When I came back in the evening. I apologized for having not fetched water although it had rained and apologised again for washing my face at the river on my way to school. I apologised for having not taken breakfast although I was not allowed to because the water that cooked it was not my sweat. Then I thanked my stepmother for allowing me to sleep in the house because she had all the right to send me out for not doing anything. I did not know why I had to but I said thank you and sorry anyway.

Soon after I sat my KCSE examination in 2007, I got pregnant with my on. I said sorry for the last time and then thanked my stepmother for everything and fled. The next time I saw my stepmother, she was dead. I cried over her lifeless body and felt no weight in my heart because I did not hold it against her. At the funeral, I hated everyone saying sorry to the family. It was at that moment that I noticed I hate being thanked and sympathised with.

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I don’t know how many exist that are like me in society. I do not know how many people were brought up to know that they were wrong before they were right. That everything was a mistake before it was an effort. That every effort was a failure before it was a success. That before they become anybody, they are nobody. That is my childhood. Do not expect me to ask for help from you because that is not who I am. I would rather go down fighting it on my own than ask for help because I know how you will look at me. I will help you whenever you need it without you asking but I do not want your help. And after I have helped you, do not thank me. Just go on your way. After you hurt me, do not apologize. Just go on your way. I am a vase whose content neither you nor anyone else will understand because that is how I was moulded. That is the clay that made me.