In Bits and Pieces

Grey. I examined them carefully. As I faltered with my thumb trying to wipe off the specks of brown on their white soles. This part of my day, I had become accustomed to for the past year. Cleaning in the darkness before setting out to repeat what made them dirty in the first place.

I tiptoed my way across the living room, taking care not to awaken Hasaan. God knows I wouldn’t want that after the long night he’s had. This always proved a difficult task, since the door has needed oil for quite sometime now, but somehow I managed. You sure learn a thing or two from handling the broken.

Slowly twisting the knob, I tactically pulled the door. All the while staring at Hasaan, making sure I do not attract attention to him. Looking at his seemingly lifeless body, I thought to myself; I like him best this way.

The day started like many before it. Shutting the door slowly behind me, wearing my sneakers outside before descending a flight of stairs. I fold my buibui around my waist, exposing a pair of grey sweatpants to match my shoes. And thus beginning my morning run, which hardly had any running in it. There was something seemingly particular about this day though despite being just another chilly Thursday, I could feel it. I didn’t know it yet but, my life was to be forever changed.

The morning was arguably my favourite part of the day. The streets of Old town were just something else you know. How to describe it? The town radiated a kind of ambiance which felt straight plucked out of the scriptures of old. The streets were very narrow with houses starting immediately where the sidewalks began. Roofs intertwined. The houses hadn’t seen paint for decades and their arrangement was rather chaotic. It was a maze many got lost in. And yet amidst all that randomness, one couldn’t help but marvel at it. It was a collectively beautiful work of art which owned up to it’s name. A town of all things stuck in time. A real life museum.

My normal route entailed jogging past Jahazzi Coffee house. My feet always felt lighter at this point and for some two minutes, I would sprint. It was freeing though short-lived. The feeling that I was moving so fast and leaving everything behind me. My body would then betray me with the heavy panting, as I almost run out of breathe. One hand clenched to my waist with the other placed gently on my showing belly. “Hang in there kiddo.”

The rush wears off at this point as I see eye to eye with the Fort Jesus. A historical site synonymous to this place. It had tourists flocking from all over the world throughout the year. You should see it during the day. Personally, I do not see the appeal of it. It has always represented conflict, bondage, control and all things on the opposite side of what I stand for. But what do I know of art. What do I know of history?

I hear the roosters doing their normal drill as I walk past the museum next to Fort Jesus en route Light House. I see two boys in Kanzus barely in their teens walking towards me. I uncloak my buibui from my waist and tried to blend into the fading darkness.

“Assalaamu 3aleykum anti”
“Wa3aleykum Salaam”

It was common courtesy for the males to initiate the greeting and lower their gaze while walking past a modest woman. It was also common to greet those you know and also those who you don’t.

I begin pacing past Treasury Square. The goal is to get to Light house while darkness still looms with a tinge of dawn. I can only see ahead in short distances, kind of like my own life. Only difference was that with this route I always knew what to expect. With life as I know it, not so much.

As I begin treading the road to State house, I slow down. This has become an automatic response when I get here. A light morning breeze breaks through my hijab as my mind echoes with memories from a not so distant past. I start engaging the spiral. Performing thorough analysis of life. For a moment entertaining the prospects of having a purpose behind it.

I wouldn’t call myself experienced. That’s a quality only bequeathed to those who have been through a lot in life. All I have to show for is a couple of unhealed scars. I’ve had a rather short life if I’m honest. The kind that I can exhaustively dissect in one long morning walk.

I stopped for a second as my mind veered into the realities that I wish weren’t real. I felt this vault of grief and loss open in my mind and this past year flashed before me. This is the year I realized a lot can happen in a year. My father left, my mother died, the rest cut ties. My studies were also cut short as I got married. There are moments however that particularly stand out. Like the first time you stare into the eyes of a rapist! Kind of disappointing to be honest. His eyes were just eyes. Rather dreamy in fact. Those sparkling brown eyes.

There’s this rush you feel when you meet someone you’ve basically watched grow up through social media for the first time. The only thing that can top that is them actually recognizing you and calling you by your name. Suddenly you feel these chills, multiplying as they ascend your spine. Your breathe becomes rapid and you feel yourself lose balance. Drowning into their firm eye-contact. It’s intimate. You try your best not to stare cause all of a sudden you don’t know how to act anymore. That was me a year back when I came face to face with a living, breathing mythological Greek god, Simba_001. That frame, the beard…I was left defenseless to all the sounds passing through his parting lips.

I’m finally here. Light house. A year ago, this was just my weekend spot where I came to hang out with friends while enjoying kachri and madafu. Currently, I just come here to stare at the waves as I contemplate the life of this person whose body I hated calling my own. For it was a canvas of scars from a past I wish I didn’t own. It’s what you do when you can’t afford therapy. Do I even believe in therapy?

Kenopsia. It’s the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that is usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet. That’s the only way I can describe this place right now. I head to my usual spot. By the edge of a cliff where I could drown my mind in the waves below hoping they would somehow wash the agony from these wounds that felt fresher with each passing day. Time to re-open them one more time.

There I was, 17 years of age. 17 and naive. The kind of girl that would romanticize things. Make out things for more than they actually were. I guess it’s a side-effect to growing up on Bollywood. And so I fantasized about a love that never was.

I was late for school that day. All I could think of was the punishment awaiting me. The teacher on duty was Mrs. Binti that week, who was kind of a bully when it came to us form 3s. Our first class was with her and there were rumours of a surprise CAT she was going to administer. The odds were not in my favour.

I have been waiting for a matatu for ten minutes now. It feels like a lifetime and I’m kind of stressed. When oh my lucky stars, a posh saloon car stops in front of me. Only to pull down the window and it’s Simba, who offers me a lift. Our first meeting. It felt like the movies, only better.

He offers me a bottle of water, to which I shyly refuse.

“Oh sorry, I forgot. You’re a lady, so you have to refuse when offered something the first time. Let me try this again. Here, have some water.”

I blush and drink from the bottle.

He was so charming. He basically did all the talking and I just listened. Imagining a future with the two of us in it.

I can’t seem to fully recollect what happened that day. The next thing I remember is being on a bed in this really beautiful room. The air smelled amazing, of vilua and asmini. On top of me, more than 60Kg of flesh and bone smothering me with his all. I’m tempted to attribute this day to the beginning of my sudden chest problems.

Memory is a funny thing you see. It made something that happened ages ago appear so vivid. I felt a sudden strike of pain in my chest. Kind of squeezed as I gasped for air. My mind was silenced. I was boiling inside as my eyes portrayed a kind of rage that could not be doused by all the water I was staring at. I was angry. Angry for holding on when I wanted to let it all out.

All my life I’ve poured and poured till now I’m empty. And I think of death so casually. Not seeing the need of living through another perfect sunrise when my life is all starless nights with no dawn in sight. I think of ending this cycle of pain all the time. Do my family a solid and free them of the curse that I am. They don’t see me eye to eye anymore because of the humiliation. Cause to them somehow, this was all my fault.

I’ve gathered enough tomorrows, holding myself back every time. For I know that it’s naive to think that all my troubles would disappear with me when I’m gone. The poof sound in my head though tempting was too far-fetched. My troubles would probably be intensified and then passed on to my nexts of kin. I wouldn’t do that to the family that disowned me.

I miss my mom. The thought of her broke my tear banks which seemed to always be overflowing within the past year. I coil myself up in foetal position on the hard uneven grassy ground. I try fighting my tears, clenching my eyes, trying to hold it all in… this is a battle I always lost.

Regaining consciousness, I was in the ladies section of the closest masjid to home. A sharp pain cuts through my abdominal region. Touching it and finding my hands slowly going lower, where it dawned on me what had just happened. A pure girl had been stained. I push my back against the wall, raise my knees till they’re under my chin. I hug myself so tightly. If it wasn’t for the absorbant carpets, I would have been laying in a puddle of my own tears.

I turned to the witness and the judge, Whose house I was in. Got into a state of ablution and prayed two of the longest rakaas. I let my tears say it all. Now that I think about it I wasn’t eligible for prayer but I was a pretty broken 17 year old only going by her emotions.

I found my way home around the same hours I arrived from school, took off my uniform never to wear them again. Not to say anything until two days later. And the world turned upside down.

“WHERE CAN I FIND THIS BOY?” My father barked at me infuriated.
“I…I don’t know.”
“THINK!” His eyes widen. Bloodshot.

Turns out memory can be jogged very fast with even the lightest beating. The apartment was in Tudor. My father dragged me with him in the company of my elder brother. I never stopped crying that day. We searched and scanned for the apartment till we finally came to it. Father dragged me up the stairs to the door which we almost broke down before the neighbour next door came out. Informing us that the owner has been out of the country for some months now. On asking further we found out that the only person with access to the apartment was his 19 year old brother Hasaan. And kids, that is how I came to marry your father. How daddy sacrificed his little girl so as not to lose his honour.

I’m disappointed with the outcome of events but no longer surprised. A sacrificial lamb. Fed me to the wolf whose face I wake up to somedays when I turn my head to the side. Would it really be fair to bring this thing growing inside me into this world, making it a part of this life. This son of a rapist.

I hear voices behind me. I am no longer alone. I sit up just in time to witness the first golden rays embracing the silver surface of water forming pure magic. As my pulsating heart gets in sync with the rhythm of the waves below. I drink it all in and amidst all the chaos within, I find myself smiling.

The sunrise. How beautiful new beginnings can be. Perhaps this child is my fresh start, a ray of sunshine after this lifetime of darkness. Like the waves, I’m perhaps stronger than I give myself credit for. I’m not just water, I’m a raging sea. I need to channel that. I didn’t come crawling this far to just come give up at this point. It’s time to rise up, I’ve lived on my knees long enough.

I look at the horizon one more time and break into a smile. I check the time on my wrist watch. My attention moves to the constellation of razor marks. I always seemed to stop myself after battling it out inside. Something definitely wants to keep me moving. I stand up and walk home.

I think for what’s awaiting in me at home. The strong stench of alcohol coming from my deadbeat husband. But never have I been this hopeful of the future.

“So what now?” I have no idea but it’s still up to me to decide. I guess some of us don’t get our happy endings. We only get this and that’s it. With the little hope growing quickly inside of me, I’m definitely going to have to make something out of it. For I have a friend in me.

Africa, Agony, Caged, Coast, Contemplating, Culture, Fort Jesus, Grief, Honour, Hope, kenya, mental health, Mombasa, Old Town, Pain, Plummeting, Rape, Scars, swahili


Hassan Kassim

Hassan Kassim is a Mombasa-based Creative non-fiction writer, recently longlisted for the Toyin Falola prize, blogger and translator of Kiswahili work. A beneficiary of the Penpen program by African Writers Development Trust(AWDT) commissioned by Culture at Work Africa and the European Union(E.U), and holds his Bachelor’s degree in Maritime Management. Hassan writes about the ill-documented Communities of Coastal Kenya. His work has appeared in Writers Space Africa; his 2 non-fiction stories published in the anthology 'Twaweza,' a collaborative effort of 12 African writers on the African identity and set to appear in the forthcoming anthology for the Toyin Falola prize.

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Hassan Kassim is a Kenyan-based Creative non-fiction writer, blogger and translator of Kiswahili works with over 2 years of experience. A beneficiary of the Penpen program by African Writers Development Trust(AWDT) commissioned by Culture at Work Africa, and holds his Bachelor’s degree in Maritime Management.

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