HAND ME DOWNS by TEIYA OLOILOLE





Today.


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Ten years ago.

Mom left me. She has been buried a few paces from the man I was supposed to love first. Only thing connecting me to him is his name on my birth certificate. And his epitaph that reads, ‘We loved him but God loved him more.’ These words always choked and left me with one pertinent question. Who is this God that loved my father so much I never got the chance to know him?

I am left standing alone at the graveside as people run off to go eat the dry githeri that was prepared.

This urge to lie down between the two graves and imagine am snuggling between them sweeps over me. Instead I sit down.

‘Mom, I feel that you’re selfish...’

In the background there is chatter from a distance. Mourners still giving their condolences. Children running after each other just being kids. Cousins getting reacquainted.

And in my grandma’s living room by now my uncles and aunts have gathered to decide my fate. Back and forth words will be thrown. Responsibilities will be spelled out and weighed.

‘...you were too quick to leave and go join your soul mate in the afterlife. Did you for one second, stop to consider that you were leaving me all alone in this world?’

I pick this stone pressing on my ass and hurl it at a stray dog, probably just arriving to join in the festivities.

‘Of course not, you didn’t think of me...’

‘Anita! Anita!’ someone disrupts my train of thought. I turn around to see who is calling me. Aunt Nancy is standing at the door to the main house. She looks uneasy.

‘Get your things, we’re leaving,’ she says turning her back and going into the house.

So I am stuck with her, I think to myself as I get up and dust myself off. My one bag, with all my worldly possessions, is already packed sitting uneasily in one of the bedrooms of the main house.

On the silent drive to her home, she turns her attention away from the road, and looks to me huddled in the passenger’s seat trying to be small, and she says.

‘We will have to lay down some rules you will  have to abide to at my place.’

And that was the genesis of my mental storage process. I started storing rules and to dos in mental folders of what was expected of me in my guardian’s homes.

Right click.

Select option. New folder.

Name of Folder: Aunt Nancy’s Rules.

1. Wake up before 6 am.

2. Laziness will not be tolerated.

3. Breakfast should be ready before 7 am.
// Aunt Nancy is allergic to milk.

4. The house is cleaned on a daily basis.

Ctrl+S.

Eight years ago.

I am in Form 2 now. My relationship with Aunt Nancy has soured.

‘You have now grown breasts and you think you’re above everyone else,’ she has lately been shouting this in the house whenever am too slow to complete a chore.

Every time she hurls this allegation the bile rises up my throat and leaves a sour taste in my mouth. And these days I slouch to hide my perky breast. A number of times I have contemplated leaving. But where would I go? Who would take me in? I have instead been reduced to happily counting down the days to my going back to school. 

Closing day is fast approaching. All my fellow classmates are beyond themselves with joy. I am filled with dread at having to back to that woman’s house where I am put to work like the slaves that built the railway lines. I mutter prayers for longer days and nights. Or the Lord could for  a second time just stop the sun altogether. He did it once already for His faithful servant.

After our class teacher hands out our report forms, she bids us farewell and reminds us to stay safe during the long third term holidays.

While everyone scurries off towards the parking lot and the school gate, I walk with slow measured steps. I scan the parking lot half hoping not to spot Aunt Nancy’s blue Vitz.

Someone is frantically waving at me and coming in my direction. Before I know it I find myself in a tight embrace in Aunt Jane’s huge frame.

‘How have you been?’ from the tone of her voice she is genuinely excited to see me.

Before I can answer she adds, ‘your aunt said I could have you for the holidays.’

So she finally got tired of me. This is her plan to get rid of me. These thoughts cross my mind as I relax in my aunt’s embrace. To new beginnings I think to myself.

Two weeks into what was supposed to be my perfect holiday and the comment, ‘this is not how we do things here,’ starts being thrown around.

It seems like I can’t do anything correct. I switch to my one developed survival tactic.

Right click.

Select option. New folder.

Name of Folder: Aunt Jane’s Rules

1. No sitting down before all the house chores are complete.

2. You will not sit down in the sitting room when Uncle John is around.
//Only applies to me. Reason given was something that skewed along some patriarchal BS.

3. No spices, apart from salt, are to be used when preparing the food.

4.  The dog is to be washed every Friday.

Ctrl+S.

Three years ago.

Adulthood is a sham. We grow up too fast and are too eager to leave our youths expecting to find greener pastures over at adulthood. Then we get there and find it is nothing like we hoped for.

I am in my first year in university. One of the most unexpected things is the freedom. It’s like a country under dictatorship suddenly becoming democratic. You now have choices. And it isn’t like the choices don’t have consequences. But that you’re fully in control of whatever choice  you make.

Campus is fun. With a couple thousand students in one place, it has provided an ideal environment for me to get lost in. I am slowly shedding my old skin. And I can metamorphose into whatever I want. A chance for a rebirth.

Man proposes, God disposes. One morning long before dawn my phone rings. A new number. I contemplate ignoring the call. I pick.

‘Good morning,’ comes the voice on the other end.

First there’s nothing good about disrupting my sleep. I yawn thinking to myself before answering. ‘Morning.’

‘You must be wondering who is calling you  this early?’

Please. But don’t mind me. ‘Yes.’

‘It is your Aunt Maggy,’ the voice says excitedly.

‘Oh...hey, how are you and the family?’

‘We’re good,’ a noise comes from the other end like she is shifting on a chair. ‘Anyway, I have called to tell you we would love to have you at the end of your semester.’

I hesitate. Don’t get me wrong. This is Aunt Maggy. No one goes to visit her. It is rumoured a cousin once threw himself on the ground wailing when he was told he would be spending his holiday at her place. She is harsh. She is mean. She spanks kids. The allegations were thrown back and forth. We grew up fearing such moments.

The invite hangs between us like a smelly fart no one is ready to acknowledge.

‘Are you there?’ she asks.

‘It will be my pleasure,’ I manage to answer.

‘Okay. See you then,’ and she hangs up.

As the call drops, I curse under my breath. I have a bad feeling.

Two and half months later and am back at it again.

Right click.

Select option. New Folder.

Name of Folder: Aunt Maggy’s Rules

1. The TV is switched on at 7 am and switched off at 11 pm.

2. Supper should be ready before 7 pm.

3. Uncle Peter doesn’t like too much salt in his food.

4. No sleeping before that night’s utensils are cleaned.

5. Clothes washed must always be rinsed with Star Soft.

Ctrl+S.

Today

I am crouched between the two the graves at the same position I was when they put my mum in the ground.

‘Mom can you believe ten years have already gone by?’ I still can’t bring myself to speak to him.

‘You know I was walking in your shadows growing into the woman you were. I wanted to be just like you,’  I mentally do the math of how old she would be today. Forty five by my calculations. ‘Today, I have grown into this woman without an identity.’

I watch a bird perched on a branch. ‘I am this amalgamation of these women who handed me down between themselves like a used piece of clothing.’

‘To be honest mum, half the time it can be really confusing. But I feel like I should make a change. Start all over again.’

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List of Folders.

1. Aunt Nancy’s Rules

2. Aunt Jane’s Rules

3. Aunt Maggy’s Rules

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‘To new beginnings mum. And if you don’t mind me asking, what kind of woman did you want me to become?’



Wacera Kieha

Wacera Kieha is a Lifestyle Content Creator based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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