He had been sober for 10 years. A fixer for many, you needed your accounts balanced, he was the man, you needed your statements checked you would place the call to him. Baba an important man. A man working to feed his family, a hardworking man, a good man. The first night he came home drunk, we were seated at the dining table as the faint smell of alcohol wafted into the room. He sat with us, ate with us and told us incredible stories. Some we did not understand, it seemed as if he was talking to other people. Maybe when you drink you can talk to invisible people trapped inside the bottle by the brewers.
The second night he came home drunk, Baba was angry. The odor of alcohol filled the room, he glared at Mama who sat timidly in her chair. My sister and I were sent to our rooms to avoid the heated debate that ensued. What had the invisible people in the bottle been telling Baba? Why was he angry at Mama?
The following morning Mama had a swollen lip and a limp in her walk I didn’t ask and she didn’t say. I walked into Baba and Mama one afternoon after school, Baba held Mama’s hand as tears glistened in their eyes. After that day Baba was back, no smell of alcohol accompanied him or tales whispered by the invisible people trapped in bottles, he even brought us some little presents every day. Baba, a good man.
Two weeks later, Baba was home drunk again. He banged down the door in an alarming cadence jolting us awake. There was a heated argument and in the morning Mama’s face was ghastly with a swollen lip and a hideous bruise on her cheek and puffy eyes as if she had been crying all night. I didn’t even need to ask. The invisible people had been telling Baba bad things about mama again. Baba woke up that morning and left for church leaving mama heaving and hiccupping her prayers to the rosary she clutched so tightly till her knuckles were white. And it went on for another week, a routine built into a once happy household, arguments, Mama’s sobs at night and Baba waking up every Sunday to go to church.
That night I was ready, there would be no horrifying banging to jolt me awake, I was awake. Today Baba and the invisible people would not hurt Mama. As the usual heated debate began, I grabbed the nearest weapon I could find, (a hair spray bottle) and hurled it at Baba. It hit him in the eye. He deserved it for hurting mama. The shock of the slaps registered afterward when we were thrown out. The consequences of my actions I would later learn. A mother and her two daughters with nothing to their names other than a Maasai blanket she had grabbed as we were heaved out like a pile of garbage by Baba, a bad man.
We slept by Baba Milo’s old construction building, with the wind threatening to blow us away in the dead of night. We ran back home to plead with baba to open the doors for us but the only response was uttered profanities and threats. The invisible people were talking to him again. Mama would not let us ask the neighbors for help she explained they were snakes and would later tell everyone we slept in their beds. I knew for sure that included Mama Grace the resident gossip, she always talked about everyone’s business. Mama, a proud woman, a wise woman. At 3 am Mama held us close and as the dogs howled in the night, I heard sobs racking through her robust body. I felt her tears on my face and I would later learn why she took the beatings lonesome. To protect us from sleeping by old construction buildings and being caught in the crossfire. Baba opened the door at 6 am when the neighbors were waking up and heading to work, so was he.
He left us, waving goodbye as if nothing had happened. Baba, a bad man. Mama warned me to stay away from their routine debates and didn’t listen when I wailed about the invisible voices that spoke to Baba telling him to hurt her. She laughed, a painful laugh as she explained that there were no invisible voices, it was just Baba. But why would Baba hurt Mama, didn’t he love her as he often told us? What did mama do to him? These were the only questions a 12-year-old would ask.
The brawls continued, Baba did not hurt Mama every day but on the days he didn’t, he insulted her. Baba, a bad man. The irony is that he still reported to church every Sunday, praying and pretending when he was a bad man, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Mama’s pain was evident in her eyes, her once big boned body getting frail and weak. A pain that she could not apply a balm to soothe or buy a painkiller from Mama Thairu’s shop to heal. An emotional pain that I later learned was worse than physical pain. She still irons Baba’s clothes, serves him food and makes his bed, she loved him. She was not raised in our generation where women are empowered and call men trash. No, she was a good wife. Mama, a good woman.
This Sunday Baba will take us to church with him and as usual, I would sit and watch as he read the bible and nod at the pastor’s words. The loud Amen he always says during intercessory prayers. Pretending. Baba, a bad man. And I would remain seated as I silently ask God why baba was a bad man. Why he lets bad men into his church? Our Sunday school teacher told us God forgives everyone, does that mean he forgave baba too? Baba, a bad man.