The first time I saw my mother cry, I was stunned! I had never seen an adult cry in my life and my shock probably showed when I recounted the incident to my siblings. I think I wanted a confirmation on exactly what I had witnessed, and I got it a short while later when ma came and carried me. Perhaps having heard of my inquiry from my siblings, she smiled a little, eyes red from crying and confirmed that indeed, adults do cry sometimes.
I would vaguely remember afterwards that the reason there were so many people at the venue we’d arrived at to find ma helping here and there with cooking, was not because it was a wedding. It was a burial. My granma’s (Nyanya Mkabili’s) burial. And my mum’s tears suddenly made so much sense to my little self.
Strange how unquestioningly I accepted this piece of information; that the late Nyanya Mkabili was also my mum’s mother, when Nyanya Masido (who I was much more familiar with) carried that same title. It would take me years yet, to truly understand polygamy and that my mum had multiple mothers. Two of whom were mighty precious to her.
I learnt a lot about Nyanya Mkabili yesterday, from my mum.
It’s very enlightening, the stories that come to light each time I visit her but it can also be very heavy, especially having undergone a majorly oblivious and happy childhood.
For example, I would never use the word “poor” to describe myself or family, but apparently we might have been.
I am told we sometimes got chicken legs (for free I think) from a neighbor who sold chicken. I guess no one wanted them which was good for us when we couldn’t slaughter a whole chicken for ourselves which was often. I absolutely loved them though! Even when the leg is all bony and ugly looking, the padding that makes the leg’s palm center has always been a joy to nibble upon.
When we could have a whole chicken ourselves, I’d feel quite disappointed when asking for the legs as a pre-meal snack only to be told they had been thrown away. Sometimes my siblings would humor me and keep the legs but more often than not, they’d throw the legs along with the head and other inedible chicken innards.
I got tired of it eventually, and so each time we had a whole chicken to prepare, I simply cut the legs and peeled the scaly skin and nails off myself. Just so no one says it was too much of a bother.
My family knows to date that the legs stay alongside the drumsticks and wings, and that they are mine. Because they aren’t considered meat, and usually no one else wants them, it means I always have two extra pieces to nibble on all to myself. And I am genuinely happy to have them!
I don’t ever remember feeling less fortunate for eating chicken legs. I never stopped to think why that was or what it all meant. Chicken legs were chicken parts and I was simply happy to have all any chicken I could get.
I realize now just how protected I was as a child, not just by the sheer simplicity of childhood, but by the older people around me did not let me shoulder burdens I wasn’t fit to carry. And while I would have it no other way, it feel somewhat guilty that I knew such carefree happiness at a time when most of the adults around me were undergoing so much suffering and pain and shame.
I had never previously understood why my mum spoke so strongly about what we were to do if she ever went mad, or how and why she was to be buried here and not there.
I better understand now why my father’s brothers and sisters feel like strangers to me, and why I will keep saying with more conviction that Bura is not my home. Family ties are accidental and people do not get your love or loyalty simply because you share blood.
Kind strangers can lift you to places you never even dreamed of, and I am lucky because such strangers along the way before I was born, did something right and I am better for it; and they will never even know it.
And I know too why I will always deeply care for my mother no matter how broken our relationship is or might become. I still resent her in some ways and with valid reason, but I am forever grateful for the many things she did right.