Growing up, her mother threatened her with death for mistakes so small it would take one with a cleansed soul to notice them, so it wasn’t difficult for Amara to imagine what her mother’s reaction was going to be, now that she had found her smoking like a chimney and drinking like a fish. She dropped the cigarette butt in the sink before going to open the door, all the while feigning a smile. She hugged Achika first, and if it wasn’t for the fact that her mother was standing within an earshot, she would have demanded to know how Achika could lead her mother to her house without giving her a heads-up. She then walked to her mother, hesitantly, almost as if she expected her to push her away but when she wrapped her arms around her, her mother hugged her back and a wind of relief swept across her. The hug lingered for a little longer and Amara beamed when her mother rubbed her back gently like she knew she could do with a little of comforting.
“I am so happy to see you, mum,” Amara said.
Her mother pulled away from the hug but still held her by the arms, eyes fixed on hers.
“Amara, what happened to you?”
It was a loaded question, one that turned Amara into a stammerer when she tried to answer it. Was it that her mother wanted to know what happened, or was she wondering, aloud, how her own daughter, one she had brought up to be self-respecting, would turn into drinking and smoking just because she was facing some difficulties.
“Are we going to stand here and talk? Please come inside, we will have plenty of time to talk after you refresh and relax.” She picked up her mum’s small bag from the floor and gestured both her mum and Achika in, but Achika refused to come in saying she had to run, someone was waiting for her. After her mum walked in, Amara closed the door so her mother wouldn’t overhear their conversation before turning to Achika. With the way she swung her head to look at her, Achika knew what Amara was going to say so she went first.
“Before you say anything, I tried calling to warn you but you ignored my call like you have been doing the whole of this week,” Achika said.
“What did you tell her?” Amara asked.
“What do you mean?”
“My mother wouldn’t travel from the village to this place without telling me first if she hadn’t heard something. And since you are the one who brought her here, it’s only fair to assume that you told her something.”
“If you are insinuating that I called your mother to snitch on you, then stop it. Amara, you know me very well, I can never do such a thing. If you must know, your mother told me she was worried when she didn’t hear you on-air for a week yet you hadn’t told her that you were sick. So she decided to come and see what’s wrong and only called me this morning when she arrived to bring her to your place. ” Because Achika liked gesturing when she wanted to make or prove a point, Amara caught a glimpse of her engagement ring. She followed it with her eyes and when Achika realized her mistake, not hiding the ring before coming to this place, she tucked her arms behind her back.
“What’s that?” Amara asked.
“Are you engaged?”
Achika laughed. “Me. Engaged. Are you mad? This is just a ring I bought because I liked it when I saw it.” She was now holding the ring finger up and looking at it the same way one looks at her academic accolades hanging on the wall. Knowing she wasn’t convincing, Achika hugged Amara, wished her luck with her mother, and spiraled down the stairs.
Her mother was seated with her legs crossed when Amara walked back in the house. Her hands, clasped together, rested on her thigh and her eyes studied the room. But Amara did not allow her calmness fool her. She flashed her a quick smile before taking the bag to her bedroom, and from there she went to the kitchen to clean up the mess. She picked the Smirnoff bottle from the floor and tossed it into the dustbin, and was mopping when she noticed a shadow moving into the kitchen. She stood and turned to see her mother leaning against the door, staring at her. Unable to avoid her mother’s gaze, she stared back and for the first time since her mother’s arrival, noticed there was something different about her mum, about how her skin no longer glowed, and how her kitenge dress hung on her shoulders like a coat on a wooden coat stand. The wrapper on her head was loose, almost as if her head was too small for the wrapper. Her eyes, though, still had their usual radiance. And the fury in them was unmistakable. It hit Amara that since her father’s passing; she hadn’t really been close to her mother or brother. She did not visit home often and, due to her love troubles, did not call home often either.
“He left,” Amara said.
“And so what?” her mother said in a quick rejoinder it surprised Amara. She had expected her mother’s eyes to soften and for her to ask rhetorical questions like Who left? And why? Instead, she had asked, ‘and so what?’ in a manner showing that she did not really care what happened, she expected Amara to be better than this. “So he left, and you decided you are going to miss work an turn yourself into a degenerate drunk? Smoking like you want to set yourself and the whole house on fire? Amara, did I raise you to be this irresponsible and stupid?”
“I am not a degenerate drunk, mum.”
Her mum walked towards her. “Oh, so I will be talking and you will be talking back, right? It has come to this, no? Look, I don’t care what he promised you or what you promised each other, as long as I am still your mother and you still consider me as one, I expect you to be wary of your actions. He left, and you want to kill yourself? Your father, who happened to be my husband in case you forgot, died. He left for good; did you see me turning my house into a bar to mourn his demise? Be careful.” She wagged her finger in her face, “You could have called me, but no, you thought wasting your life was the best option.”
“I am sorry, mum.”
“You better be, and thank your heavens that you are expectant because I would have clobbered you senseless.”
Amara had no doubt her mother was justified in her anger, but she still felt something else was going on and her mother was only using this opportunity to vent out her frustrations. So she walked to her mother and said,” I am sorry I let you down, mum. But what’s going on? Because I can tell that you are not okay.”
“How could I be okay when your plan is to send me to my early grave?”
“I have apologized, now tell me what’s wrong. How is everything at home?”
“Everyone is fine. Your brother misses you though.”
“I miss him, too, but that’s not what I asked.”
Her mother walked into the living room and plunged herself on the couch. “Your aunts have been giving me trouble back at home,” she said quietly. “They claim I killed your father so I can inherit his property. Do you know that the other day I came back home from my usual chamaa to find two of my cows missing? They sold them and when I asked, they told me to my face they were only taking what belonged to their brother.”
“What nonsense! Did you report them?”
“Report them to who? You know I will be making things worse if I report them to the police because now the whole village will start believing in their baseless theory that I killed their brother and that I am out to frustrate my husband’s family.”
“I’d rather the whole village hate us but those two pay for their actions. We can’t live like this. I mean, we can’t let them do this to you.”
“They can and they are doing it. The other day, one of your aunts, Joan, insulted me because I told her I had no money to give her for her son’s school fees. I mean, was your father paying her son’s school fees when he was alive? Why do they think I owe them money now that he has passed? These people will drive me crazy!”
“You know what your problem is? You are too soft with them. You let them walk on you instead of stamping your authority. You have been too polite for them to fear you.”
“If I was too lenient or polite, as you say, would I have slapped two teeth out of your aunt’s mouth? She even ran to the police. The good thing is the area OCPD was your father’s friend so he let the issue slide after I explained what transpired. He was even ready to take action against her but I told him not to.”
“Mama, don’t worry, we will deal with them properly. Meanwhile, you and Alexis can come live with me.”
“So they can auction everything in my absence? It won’t happen. Besides, I don’t want to look like I am running away.”
“If you say so. Anyway, can we put our issues aside and enjoy the fact that you are here?”
“But before that, please know that I am disappointed in you. You need to get your life going. Report back to work, okay? Thereafter, we will know what to do with that Maasai of a man.”
“Okay, I was even planning to go back today,” she lied. “But you still haven’t told me how you knew what happened? Because you sound like you already know what happened.”
“Achika told me everything this morning. She is a good friend, by the way. She said it was a good thing I came.”
Amara made a mental note to be mad at Achika later, but at that moment, she focused on making her mum feel at home. They spent most of the time saying bad things about Amara’s aunts and cooking. Her mum was a joy to hang around because she did not hold on to issues for long.
“You need to buy me an electric cooker, too,” she said, “So you aunts can know people!”
Amara only laughed.
At work, everyone was happy she was back. Fred pulled her aside and asked if she was sure she was ready to go back on air and she said she was. Jack, in particular, looked thrilled and Amara wondered if perhaps his excitement had something to do with Achika’s engagement ring, but she didn’t think so. That night, the show was amazing. The fans didn’t hold back from telling her how much they missed her on air and it wasn’t long before her spirits shot to the roof. She felt alive again, talking to faceless people who appreciated what she did. It was ridiculous to imagine that she wanted to quit—and would have—if her mother hadn’t shown up and drove lots of sense into her head. She was singing along to Lucky Dube’s Remember Me when Jack stuck his head into the door and gestured for her to follow him. He seemed jittery. She added three more songs to the playlist and followed Jack into the TV room where she found him staring at the images of what looked like an accident scene on the TV. A white Toyota Premio’s nose nudged on the rib of a blue traffic police pickup. A few cops loomed around and an image of someone Amara immediately recognized was showing on the side of the screen. He was kneeling down, hands cuffed behind his back, eyes defiantly fixed on the cameras.
“They say he rammed into the pickup’s, which was parked beside the road where the traffic cops had mounted a roadblock. He then got out and beat the two traffic officers manning the roadblock senseless and funny thing is, he did not run. He remained at the scene with the injured officers until backup arrived,” Jack said. “It’s like he wanted to be arrested!”
Amara moved closer to the TV and with a trembling voice, mumbled, “Masai, what have you done!”