A story from rural Kenya.

From the Becoming Erick Collection.

Edited by Poppy Johnson.

A Mother’s Manual

Dreamily he watched, but the sheer pale curtains at the window never twitched, even though they were open all night to encourage a breeze. Now, the sun’s rays started sweeping through, tickling him on the bedding where his left leg stayed twisted in the stripes. Erick turns again. He still smells the grasses from cuttings yesterday, and it feels sweet. He pulls the cover over his head once more as the battle of denying the conscious and subconscious rages on.

Slightly startled, he hears the call, faintly. Was it a second time, third time? He knows better than to make a response. Through all attempts against it, he’s slowly giving in to the idea of a focused subconscious. Now footsteps on the pavement. These are coming loud, louder. Thud bang, knocking now at the wooden door. He decides to keep a strong silence, and gives no response. Boom! The door is flung practically off the hinges, and opens roughly. It’s too early for this, Erick is thinking.

Erick struggles to lift the head, manages a bit and as the eyes struggle to open, she is there. Standing by the bedside, fuming. Slowly, he recollects what is happening, predicts what is about to happen. It’s the weekend, a Saturday, and it is ten o’clock in the morning. He used to rejoice at the Saturday schedule, as it has always been the norm which included a hearty breakfast and then off to the grazing fields.

She had like every other Saturday save today, left very early to shop for cereals. Instructions and reminders about today’s expectations had been emphasized the previous night. Why was there a fuss now?

He wakes up and sits on the bed, rubbing his eyes, trying to diffuse the still silence and palpable tension. Pap! It comes hard and vicious. He feels dizzy. Another and another one. He cries out loud.

“You are still asleep while the livestock are left just mooing in their sheds?” She thunders angrily. He stutters with unreserved and incoherent apologies as he takes cover from more heavy-handed smacks aimed accurately at his head.

By now he has been forcibly pulled down, he is crawling on the floor with no chance of escape. And over this mayhem, she reaches eagerly for the dreaded belting strap from its place of reverence on the wall.

He gets on his knees, hands up, like a faithful congregant reaching out to his Maker. He is churning out prayers. He has never murmured one such plea in his entire young life. She smiles inside to hear that he is in fact converted, but betrays it with the mean and menacing look she continues to hold on her face.

She now has it in her right arm. Its sight makes his intestines recoil. She approaches him menacingly, not paying any attention to his newly found ‘ordination.’ He stands shakily, holding his hands up as he studies the setting for any lapse. There is no time to run! She has planned it all to perfection. He is at her complete mercy, which is known to both parties.

There is an eerie whisper much like an ethereal stillness in the room, an unsettling vision or geist. “Oh God of mercy, I have been a Savior before under similar circumstances, bring someone or something to absorb or share in my suffering,” he silently prays as he imagines the damage the leather belt will cause should he stop believing for even an instant in his long fraught redeeming Savior.

A chicken cackles crisply out in the compound. A second joins the fray. A third, next a fourth…. Soon, there is definite chaos outside. “Mum!” Soon, he recognizes his elder brother’s voice from afar in the farm. (The prayer could after all work?)

She doesn’t answer him, but instead pivots and quickly dashes for the door opening it further with a haste, almost tripping as she runs out. His total freedom then is near.

He dresses up like a man possessed and like lightning (or Bolt for that case) while he dashes out as well to find his mother hurling un-printables to a bobcat that was on the run, caught bloody-mouthed after greedily decimating her chickens. She is taking their stock, angrily, and the attention is diverted for now to this other new threat.

Redemption is here at last. Erick sighs as his mother has already hastily taken her leave of his room, of their home, mulling over again security lapses that led to the loss. But as if still dreaming, now he finds himself evenly sprinting. He runs easily and uses a light stick as gets the livestock out safely to the grazing fields. He has the bobcat to thank for that. As he runs, his bare feet are light as air, padding the earth carefully among the prickly grasses and pellet
stones. Erick catches the ambrosial note of the neighbor Auntie’s Maandazi bread, as the air itself lifts his heart with gratitude.

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