This Child of Mine: Part Three
This Child of Mine: Part Three
“Monica! Monica Siwa?”
I startled and went to the small window. The man at the window looked up, then down again at the piece of paper he was holding. The piece of paper held my new name, my new identity. A quick scan, then he looked at me again – this time, a bit too closely.
“Might you be picking this for someone else?”
“No, I am Monica Siwa.” My hands were sweating in my short pockets, and my coat collar was itching.
“Oh, you don’t look like a Monica.” He shrugged his shoulders and handed me my new birth certificate.
“What, what do I look like?” my hands were already balled into fists.
A pair of hands grabbed me from behind, “Siwa, let’s go.” Aunt Mishi took the document and led me away.
* * *
We were sitting at the back of the house, facing the lake, playing Scrabble. He played the letter ‘Q’ and waited a few seconds before nudging me. My head was not in the game. I played the letter ‘U’, and Boni whistled under his breath. He knew he was going to win this.
“What are you thinking, Siwa?” Boni’s gentle voice married with the lake’s quiet breeze. No birds sang, no kids yelling. Just me and Boni.
“I want to be me.” My voice was low and sure as I placed ‘Z’ on the board, QUARTZ. Well, I still had it.
“You are you.” He placed an ‘X’. It was going to be a long game.
“*Baba, where’s my original birth certificate? Did I even have one?” I fiddled with my ‘E’. A word to describe a strong, confident woman. What was it?
“Your father was not a simple man. He was complicated and scary. He wanted no trace that you ever existed. Siwa, I will not sugar-coat this; your father wanted you dead. Everyone involved in your birth, especially your mother, was threatened if news of you ever got out. The only thing close to a birth certificate is a birth notification delivered to me in secret by the midwife. You see, my dear, people like you, like me, are not supposed to exist.” He placed an ‘E’ next to my ‘X’.
“I was thinking of changing my name officially…what? What was that baba?” Was it an ‘M’ or ‘N’?
He gently grabbed my hands, and for the first time, I noticed how long and smooth his fingers were. Fingernails softly tapered at the edges. So soft like a…
He laughed – a deep one that grew from his stomach. The last time he laughed like that was when Kamau was leaving with the NGO people. The people who left him a big cheque to run his home. Our home.
“No, no…” he was still hiccupping from laughing so hard. I placed the ‘M’ on the board with shaky fingers, my gaze firmly trained on him.
“I am not a woman, Siwa. I am just like you.”
Suddenly it was too cold. My teeth were chattering, and my skin was crawling all over me. I tried to speak, but only air passed through my teeth. It was too silent except for the lake kissing the rocks in high tide. I needed a bracket.
“Get up, Siwa. You need to see something.”
I could not move if I wanted to. Boni had to help me to my feet and dragged me toward the lake. He led me into a small enclosure of bamboo trees. In the centre was a single tombstone, grey and polished to a shine.
“Monica Siwaneke. Brave, Friend, Mother.” Fresh flowers sat on the ground by the headstone. “She did love bougainvillaea, and that’s all we have here anyway.”
“Why is she here?” My voice had found its way back to me.
“She was always with you. She chose to be close to you even when she couldn’t really be.” Boni’s voice sounded way above me. Somehow my knees had found their way to the ground and trembling before my mother’s grave.
“She died of heartbreak, Siwa. Not seeing you grow up, knowing where you are but unable to get to you. It takes a toll on the heart, but she was clear on where she wanted to be when she was gone. Near you, as close as can be.”
A droplet fell on my exposed neck and metamorphosed into a full downpour. Living near the lake had its downsides. Boni joined me on the ground and draped his coat over my shoulders.
“People like us are not supposed to exist *mtoto wangu.” His face was all wet, and I couldn’t tell if the mistiness in his eyes was from tears or the rain. “In my time, it was worse. We were accursed. We were thrown into caves and forests for hyenas to find us.” For a minute, he stopped and stared at my mother’s tombstone.
“Your mother, she was one of the few people who knew. When I was born, I was thrown into the forest. Sabina, a local nun, found me. She maintains she was doing special prayers and happened to love the forest. I never knew my parents, and it was hard growing up, having to explain who I was, who I thought I was, and having Sabina as the only person who could defend me. She was ostracised because of it. So, I vowed to be seen and to be heard, to be a person of influence. I wanted to control happenings around me, Siwa. Not be someone who could easily be thrown around, forgotten. I didn’t want you, or any other child, to go through what I did. That’s how I became a village elder while running this secret home that Saina left me.” He gestured to the house behind us.
The rain had come and gone just as quickly as it had started. By now, it was dark, and the lights in the house were coming on. The yelling was back too. My brothers and sisters were back from their city tour.
“Can we go in, my dear?” Somebody was hollering my name.
“I think I know what my new name will be, baba.”
“Mmh?” our Scrabble pieces were strewn on the ground. A good game gone to waste. Ah, ‘xenas’. That was the word!
“What kind of name is that, Siwa?”
“No baba, our last word on the game. It’s ‘xenas’: a strong, confident woman. Like me. But to make it easier, I will be Monica.” My lips widened into a grin as Boni hugged me, and we walked into the house.
*Baba – Father
*Mtoto wangu – My child
Written By: Esther Musembi – a writer, blogger, editor and member of Writers Space Africa-Kenya. For more of her work click here. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @EssMusembi.
Header Illustration: ‘intersex babies killed at birth because they are bad omens’. Credit: Mail & Guardian