I grew up around a lot of noise, from the Children’s home that also doubled as my home, to the school.
Somehow, there was always a rush of footfalls from large to small feet, a child relinquishing a malodorous bawl in the name of expression, the clang of bells to signal meal times which was always followed by a shouting matron ordering us- children to queue. There was also laughter, infectious laughter and there was also the thunder booming, with its girlfriend the rain, seemingly cheering him (thunder) through the window pane. What I mean to say is, I don’t have a memory of any day that was graced by silence in the place I called home.
I found myself in the orphanage and never for once, did I want to know how I ended up there. One, because every kid that had sought to unearth his or her past always ended up in pain. Two, the little knowledge I had from the multiple storybooks we had read, and the compositions and inshas we had written in school, about Mama wa Kambo and other tales of discovering who your real parents were, always seemed to warn me of some kind of pain associated with such kind of activities.
However, since walls have ears and they had caught wind of Celine Dion’s wish, If walls could Talk, this particular wall in the orphanage had obliged to her desires. I mean who wouldn’t be lured by her vocal magic. So the walls talked about what they had heard and that’s how I learned that I was found dumped in a bridge in the village when I was only months old.
Growing up in this environment meant competition right from the moment the sun rose. It was almost as if a shot was fired signaling you to go! At least that’s how I felt. You see, most kids in the Orphanage came in twos if not threes. Most of them were brought by their families who for one reason or the other couldn’t bring them up on their own.
So around 80% of the children knew each other, a sought of familiarity that I craved. The other 15% was made of the goons, the stubborn kids. One way or the other you had to know them, they did a good job keeping the children and administration on toes. The remaining 5% was made of children who did not seem to belong, the ones that found themselves here, always sited alone by a corner, quiet seemingly lost in thoughts no matter the age. I fell in this 5% category. The 5% that was ignored, not like a coat in a dusty corner but like the air we breathe
As I grew up, I craved attention, I wanted somebody to notice me. Joining the 15% did not appeal to me. So I decided I would outwork every kid in the orphanage which I did. In a matter of time, I was that book smart kid, disciplined, cooperative, responsible name it. Finally, it began to feel like home. A matron would call me by name, a cook would sneak some extra food for me. Do you remember the thoughts? They were replaced with several activities that kept me vibrant. If by then I knew what success was I would easily agree that Hard work is the key to success. But I didn’t know what it was, all I wanted was somebody to notice me.
“Is it?” I interrupt raising one of my brows accompanied by a sly smile
Him, ” What?”
Me, “Hard work, is hard work the key to success?”
Him, “ I don’t know, at this age I think hard work is a blend of very many inputs and it varies from one individual to another.”
We are sited in a private room with large glass windows, I am about to question the privacy of glass windows when it occurs to me people from the outside cannot see those on the inside.
Seated at the end of the table is a man in his early 30s. He’s got that brown tanned skin going on. You know the unpopular opinion that jua ya majuu hits different? Well, this guy is a living testimony. His name is Walker he says he got the name from his white guardians. He does not have what we would term as an African name. So I ask him for his first name and he says, Michael.
“Have you ever desired an African-ish name?” I ask.
“Desired…it has never crossed my mind. But not that I would mind one,” he says shaking his head as if to confirm with his inner higher self.
“Well we could go with Njeri, which means one who likes to travel, which also is the translation of Walker which also doubles as my African name,” I said, almost biting my lip as I restrained a mischievous laugh. He giggles and proceeds to say, “ You do understand I am not white right? And that I know Njeri is a name for the female gender”
“Walker, gender has been revised,” I respond feigning a rude shock. “But since you insist on being an old soul, we could go with Mutembei, it also means traveler” he laughs, I laugh, both of us laugh, the agreement is signed, dear reader, this is the story of one Michael Mutembei.
Before we proceed, allow me to introduce him, we first met in a recreational activity that saw us explore Mt Longonot a few months ago. It was a team of environment enthusiasts and travelers. So somewhere along the bushes, I had come across a snail. But this is not your everyday kind of snail, this snail carried with it its shell.
I am about to sound really ingenious, but in my 20+ years of roaming the world, I had never come across a snail with its shell. It was always a snail or a shell, but never both of them as one entity. Don’t laugh! (Sighs!)
90% of you have never actually come across an expectant Akorino, have you? Me and you same Whatsapp group.
So I meet this slug, and it’s only fair that I take a pic of it. On God, I can’t wait for the days my grandchildren will suffocate in the boredom of snell and shell stories among other tales.
Mutemebei who was a few steps ahead of me stops and asks. “Why are you always the last in the trail? And why do you keep stopping to take pictures of weird things” I am about to tell him it is a snail, not a thing when one of my vocally endowed colleagues feels the need to assume the PR role. I wouldn’t blame her, I was busy anyway, with my slug oriented content creation.
“She wants to start a blog, so she is looking for content,” my PR shouts What follows is a storm of cheers. At the front of the queue, one said, “Yeeey take a pic of us we will feature in your blog!” Another said, “tag us along in your travel voyage” And another, “ Finally nikona a cool friend!” But Mutembei halfway said, halfway asked, “You write or take pictures?”
“Write I said in a hurry almost buried in the embarrassment of the cheers which apparently were meant to enliven me.
Later in the day, he would ask if I wanted to tell his story. And here is the thing, always says yes, then go figure it out. 6 months down the like here we are, telling the story of one Walker alias Mutembei.
He spoke with timber of warmth, but a foreign accent desperately hang on each of his words like a damsel in distress. “You have an American accent how long have you been away?” I inquire.
“Almost all my life,” he says. “I have tried to hold on to my African culture though. The result is, Africans think I have an American accent and Americans think I have an African accent.
So you remember my hard work, as I said it began to pay off. I was so smart that the owner of the Children’s home, Sir Smith, took notice of me. He was those kinds of people that treasured education. Although he was kind to all, I had won his heart and he had a soft spot for me.
In class seven, an opportunity to go abroad with him came and immediately I was done with class 8 I flew with him to what later would become my family. He had a wife and two grown-up sons. Until today, I have never seen people glow with such love, warmth and kindness. They were like the sun, only that they radiated from the best aspects of the people they met. Perhaps, they were too kind because they were disarmingly unaware of it. They took me in and I soon enrolled for high school.” He said.
Here is another unpopular opinion, people think all Africans are built, and heavy and masculine. Well again, Mutemebei is a living testimony, although he carries his African heritage on his shoulders, he is not built. Neither is he heavy. If anything, he is slim and masculine, I don’t know how to bring this out, but let’s just agree, not the kind of rugby or bodybuilding kind of muscles. (oh! in case you wondering he agreed to this description)
“Everything was okay in school at least for my 1st year.” He proceeds. It was in the second year that I discovered American Football. It started as a fascination for the headgears, the wide shoulders, everything about that game was big. Having been what I would term small, all my life, I desired to play this game at least even once, to have the feel of being big.
So once again, I went to my archives, made a call all to my ‘hard work’, befriended the right people and things began to look up again! This time in the name of joining the Junior American football team in my school. What I didn’t mention was that, Americans take games very seriously and so hacking into a team, senior or junior is a big thing.
So after days and months of showing up for training, never missing any game and basically being around at the disposal of any senior player, in my Sophomore year I joined the junior team.
So this one time, we had a friendly match in school, I’m trying to use terms you would resonate with,” he says putting on a mockery smile. I nod because I would be damned if he used words like a Champion League. I mean, who knows they probably had them when in high school!
He proceeds after my affirming nod, “ Unfortunately we lost in that game, so the players were summoned by the coach.” Let me introduce to you this coach.
He was an angry man, always carrying around a pot of burning rage in his inside that demanded to be released. As such, woe on to you if you crossed his path, for he would unleash all types of evolved abuse on you and go about his business with a sardonic grin. Looking back now, I believe he was a psycho, but we did not know better, we called him Dragon for the fire he spat every once too often.
As you would imagine the school team outdid itself in every single game not to lose. But life is like a war, sometimes you lose, sometimes you win, both times you learn and live to fight another day.
Every time they lost, they would be summoned to Mr. Dragons office, and we would only see them the next day in class. During this game, I was part of the team by facilitating water among other nitty-gritties of the game. After they were summoned, I needed to grab a few things from a collogues locker, and he had taken the keys from me as soon as the game was over.
I innocently knocked on the door of the coach’s office and when nobody responded I pulled the handle and plugged myself in.” At this point, Mutembei goes silent, almost as if the weight of his words was sinking in. There is a moment of deafening silence and you can almost hear the bacteria on my teeth gnawing at the remains of the smoothie I just had.
“So I get in,” he continues unalarmingly, “ And all of over sudden everybody is struggling to pull their pants up” I stood there for what seemed like an eternity, uncertain if I should step out or just collapse. I figured this is not an ideal place to leave my body lying around for a couple of minutes or hours. So I attempted to step out.
“Walker! get in!” that voice was familiar if it was not the famous dragon’s voice! The coach was calling. Out of fear or confusion, or both, I stepped back into the office.
What would follow was a series of shouting and abuse, I couldn’t keep up, I can hardly remember what he said. If anything, all I wanted to do, was get the hell out of that office and probably later clean off all the saliva he had splashed on me. I, however, did catch his last statement, that I should never share with anyone what I had witnessed. He needed not to add an, ‘if I ever should’, the threat in his voice was enough.
It all happened so fast, I mean one minute you just need to grab your items and head home and the next you are witnessing sodomy or consented sex between a coach and his players.
I was soon to learn it was sodomy. That for failing, the punishment was being the coach’s b**** . That phrase sickens me to date.
Within a week of that experience, I was upgraded to the senior team. And like a cult, I was initiated into pain and confusion.” He says with finality and exhaustion.
I have so many questions, but Mutembei’s eyes are darting almost as if he is fighting tears. He is no longer the calm composed guy I have known for a while now. So I settled for fewer questions and moving at his pace.
“During that week, Mr. Dragon called me in his office. He threw around words, that missed me like a missile ( I came up with that ). All that time my mind kept wondering if he would have his way with me and the options I had to protect myself.
Thing is Njeri, my greatest fear came to pass and it happened so first. He suddenly got physical and ordered my pants down,” Mutembei pauses and lets out an undefinable laugh.
“We do not have to do this today, you know,” I say trying to allow him to cool off. He has veins all over his hands, but what worries me most, is the one vein that is cutting across his head threatening. After a few minutes, he gathers himself and says, ” You see, this was not new to me, if anything as he made his way with me all the options to protect myself were melted to memories of a class 5-year-old Walker who was sexually assaulted by the Manager in the Children’s home back in Kenya.”
How can a man be through so much, yet not wear even a touch of his history in his present? I think to myself. I am batting to keep a straight face, I can feel tears gather in my eyes. It’s even sadder, that although this story seemed like Mutembei was scrubbing a fresh wound, he didn’t even for a second shade a tear.
Mutembei interrupts my thoughts, “The funny thing is, the first time I was assaulted, it happened just like the second time. There was this girl in the orphanage that thought I smiled well, I told her I liked how she walked and laughed. So we agreed we both liked something about each other, which translated to; we like each other.
However, this girl was always summoned by the manager to his office among a group of other girls who at that time, I would consider blossoming to be women. One time, I followed them and witnessed the manger touching their breast and asking them to sit on him. When he found out I was watching, he called me in, sent the girls away and forced me to touch his groins. This continued for a year, and he only stopped when he noticed my relationship and Sir Smith was getting tighter. Still, he made sure my mouth was shut the whole time.
So, a second time did not appeal to me to be an accident. Long story short, I believed I was the problem, that maybe if I had not taken myself to the offices of the assaulters, my narrative would be different. The system was so flawed that we- the victims- had a doctor who checked us up. So when I developed soars, they were treated. This continued for a year. To cut to it, nothing stays in the dark for long. In my junior year, investigations were carried out and the coach was arrested.”
“Did you report him to your guardians?” I ask. “No I did not, remember I mentioned the problem was me? Well, how do you report yourself? Also, no matter how kind I was treated I always knew, deep down, it was me against the world, so I would only trust me.
Fast-forward, to when I graduate in University and get a good job in one of the Prestigious Tech companies abroad. In the complexity of all this chaos, I had also adapted to not facing my skeletons. I somehow managed to lock them in and move on with a normal life.
In this company, everything was okay safe for the fact that I was among the 3 ‘black’ guys in our department. As mediocrity would have it, every jock about Africa meant all eyes would be on me if not the other two guys who were in a different department.
This one time a topic about how Nigerians discipline their kids came up, my white college steadily rolled their eyes on me. Completely disregarding the fact that I was not a Nigerian and I had lost count of the number of times, I explained that Africa was not one country. I mean people have come up with ways to shave and draw eyebrows yet that basic concept of Africa being a continent is still alien.
So when another African intern joined the company, to say I was elated is an understatement. Although she was in the marketing department, I was quick to take interest in her. Her name is Rose Anna, and just like a rose, she had the kind of face that stopped you in your track. And since my track deliberately crossed with hers, a lot, I got accustomed to stopping in her presence and every single time I wore that weak gaze that said, Dear Lord, are you missing an angel? If yes, I have her and intend to take good care of her. I owe you one G.
After one too many gazes and friendly dates, one day, Rose Anna blushed, a dead give away, and there and then I knew I had a grace period of shooting my shot. Which I did and guess what? I was right about the blush.
So we dated, and our love blossomed. I helped her secure a job at a competing company because, business ethics. Although Rosemary drew people to her, and she would have anyone she wanted. I mean, a more masculine man, name it, she choose to stick by me for 5 years.
One day I asked what she thought of little toddlers playing around in the snow. She said she would rather they play around with mud. And so we agreed to get married, stay abroad for 2 years and move back to Kenya to get them mud-players.
“Was she Kenyan ?” I interrupt. It’s amazing how this story mutated from a horrible scene to this beautiful love story. “Yes, she was Kenyan.” He said. “What about your past, did you let her in?” I asked. “Yes I told her everything, and she did too. Including that she has a kid back at home. “How did you take it?”
“I was okay with it, it’s a son not bear.” He says jokingly.
“So we plan our wedding, he continues, “And 5 weeks before the wedding we travel back to Kenya. Since I had no relatives, the process of traditional introductions was easy and fast. Her parents are modern parents, who had no problem with me being without family.
There was so much love in the air, and everything was happening so fast that two weeks before the wedding, we did not realize that I had not officially met her son.
So we arranged a lunch date. He is a handsome, 5-year-old. Quite sharp and does not delay to introduce himself as Jones. He goes around the business of questioning me and since I had to win him over, I answered religiously, lest he gots angry and disowned his mother for choosing such a letdown.
We both smile at that right before I ask, “So there was no awkwardness when you first met? “I wouldn’t say there was awkwardness, but something happened. Immediately I saw his, as I picked him up from his home, some type of chill engulfed me. It’s like a fear of the unknown. It was so bad that I didn’t notice Rose tapping me. I shrugged it off.
So after our date, we went around our normal wedding plans, or rather everyone went around their normal business but for me. I began to have nightmares from my past
You see, with all these experiences I never for once battled them. Instead, I bottled them up and ignored they ever happened
It was if I swallowed abuse when it was a seed, watered it with silence, and it had grown and was now demanding to be let out. I stopped sleeping, and if I tried, I would wake up in a terrible howl heavy with trauma and pain.
So I struggled with my sleep as others struggled with preparation for a perfect wedding. Both were a cost for me to bear. Two days to the wedding, I had a nightmare. It shouldn’t have been a scare, except this time I dreamt sexually abusing Jones.
I remember waking up trembling, cursing and wishing I would die. The thought itself killed me. I cried so badly that I didn’t notice the sun rising.
When I finally regained a sense of time, I took a shower and looked in the mirror, all I could see was a beast. So I called Rosemary, and I remember she jokingly protested against me ‘seeing her’. But the tone of my voice said it was urgent.
So she was in the middle of having lunch when I said, “ We cannot go through with the wedding Rose” She almost choked on her food, and before she could protest I explained my fears and my nightmares. And all I remember is her crying. “Walker no, you can’t do this, baby I know you, we going to make this work. I trust you… do you trust me… no…no… please tell me this is a joke, what about our love?”
“What about Jones baby, and honestly that dream questioned if I trust myself, I cannot explain to you what it feels like to question your own humanity,” I told her.
I have never seen somebody break down that bad. She said, “Why are you making me choose between the two people I love the most?” then she lowered her head on the table.
When she looked up, Rose was gone and Anna with a wildness to stern said, “I deserve better, we deserve a fighting chance,” and she runoff.
I wanted to break down but I choose to bottle it up again! I haven’t seen her again. and later, I moved back abroad
Would you want to see her? I ask, “She was the one person I truly loved, would you want to see such a person again?” he asks back, “Yes I would, yes,” I say almost as if I am talking to myself.
Why did you choose to tell your story, “Because there is something we adults don’t seem to get, a child never heals from sexual or any traumatic abuse? So the best we can do is protect our kids and keep them away from harm. I have been under therapy, I still am, but the ghost of my childhood feels untamable. (I know it is my responsibility to have a good title, but this one was hard small, so I looked on the flip side and named as stated above, there, don’t be too hard on me. Thank you gang!)