*Waaails!!!*

You were nine when he cornered you and made you show him your vagina.

He said the only way he’d stop nagging you to go play with him and his brother was if you showed it to him. You were exhausted and creeped out by how he kept showing up in your room. More than anything, you just wanted to go back to reading your book. You lifted up your skirt, stretched your underwear and he giggled. Later that evening as you sat in your veranda, watching the sun caress the hills beyond as it set, you whispered a prayer that he wouldn’t tell his friends at school the following day. School was already hard enough being the introverted, misunderstood nerd, you couldn’t add vagina-flasher to your list of sins. He was eleven, and even though you couldn’t label that knot in your stomach as fear, you were scared. Because after-all, he was kind of your friend. No one is scared of their friends. If boys that age could harass you, the teachers in school would have told you. Your mother would have told you.

You were nineteen when this guy, claiming he liked you, pressed himself way too hard against your breast as he hugged you.

As far as you could remember, you’ve never liked people touching you. People sitting next to you makes you anxious and queasy. But you liked this one, hell you even wanted to kiss him. So why did this hug feel so wrong? Were you not being a crazy bitch for feeling offended when just a few seconds ago, you didn’t mind hugging him, not so much anyway. Was this harassment? Did it count if you liked him? If he liked you? What kind of indecisive person says yes to a hug, then gets offended mid-hug? A few weeks later, he dared you to kiss him. He was tipsy, you were sober. You agreed to a kiss, he caressed your breasts. You told him to stop, but he was tipsy and you were pressed against a wall. Later in the shower, scrubbing your breasts profusely, cursing your lapse in judgement; for being alone with him, you promised all the deities that were listening that you’d remain celibate for the rest of your life if they shrank your breasts somehow.

Read more of this here.

If you have the Issuu app, just search Arts & Ink.

Or download the pdf version :Issue 1


Guuuys!!!!

Pardon that heading but I am wailing. In excitement of course.

So my friend Sandra and I partnered up to bring you our very first attempt at a digital publication. It is a commentary on sexual violence, something we feel very strongly about.

I can’t even hype it up properly. I’m too excited!

Please dive in. You might shed a tear or two. But please comment, let us know what you think and please spread the word.

Enjoy.

Unbreakable.

The morning my aunt called me about a publishing internship, I spent the half hour that followed concentrating, as I never have before, on washing the dishes in the sink. I don’t like washing dishes. I don’t like domestic work. Her call came in the middle of Alan Walker and Sia’s “Unbreakable”, a recent obsession of mine. I stared at my phone for about five seconds wondering if I should pick up as I knew what she was calling about. Even before I picked up, I knew it would be a destabilizing call emotionally.

Spoiler alert guys: I am not unbreakable. And now I feel cheated that I still cried even after I gave everything I had to washing dishes. Because what was the point? What good are distractions if they don’t assuage your emotions?

Let me back up.

I have this recurring dream.

A couple of friends and I are at a restaurant with good music but really bad service having an okay time. Would I rather be in bed, yes? The answer to that question will always be a yes. But my friend is holding my hand for some weird reason and he’s telling a stupid joke and I’m laughing, partly to humour him and partly because my sense of humour needs prayers. And then everything goes dark and I’m sitting with snakes (literally) yapping (hissing?) on about my plans professionally. A lot of the snakes, which are very friendly looking I might add, are of the opinion that I should go back to school and every time the word school is mentioned, venom is sprayed on my skin. My skin slowly cracks and peels away until my true self is revealed and she is just a little girl shaking at a corner, crying for help, begging the snakes to leave her be.

This dream worries me. It is an accurate, albeit bizarre, representation of how I feel about school.

Anxiety.

Whenever I tell people I hate school, I get the classic response, “who doesn’t?” And maybe I don’t hate school entirely. School gave me a first taste of pride, and largely, a sense of purpose. We were learning standard six trigonometry and nerdy me just knew all the answers. I was answering the teacher’s questions as fast as he could get them out and after the fifth question, he made a declaration, “this is why she defeats all of you.” Other than the few hateful glances I got, the class was intensely silent. I said nothing for the rest of that lesson but for the very first time in my life, I wasn’t backing down because of shame or guilt, I did it to give others space and a false sense of achievement. I was thinking, “I’m going to own these people!”

But lately, I just hate school. For the place that built me, it sure did break me. I often joke that the only things school ever gave me were mental health problems and righteous anger.

As early as my youngest sister could understand me, I’ve been teasing her about school. At first, it was about how Jesus would come back even before she starts school and now that she’s in class eight, I keep joking that she should quit school because Kenya is too messed up for her education to do her any real good. My mother missed the memo about this being a joke and she gets so frustrated when she catches me saying this. One time it escalated and she ended up berating me about my unwillingness to do a master’s degree. Somewhere between her not understanding how I became so anti-school and trying to reconcile it with her parenting style, I remember mumbling, “school gives me anxiety and until I’m in a mental space where the very thought of school doesn’t make me want to slit my wrists, I won’t go back.” She of course didn’t hear me, and I left her “soul searching” because I needed to scream into a pillow as getting those words out of my mouth had left me feeling utterly spent and exhausted.

My aunt’s call made we want to scream into a pillow. I had to go to go back to school to get some documentation. I had to go back to the buildings that I was bullied and traumatized in.

School; a physical representation of my inadequacies. It’s been about eight months since I was in a class room and I still can’t get over how small and stupid the gates of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology make me feel.
Just the thought of going to school and I’m already spiraling out.
It’s the reason after I read Tolu Daniel’s essay here, I sat slumped in a chair for five minutes wondering what right I have to call myself a writer.
It’s the reason after a meeting with my friends yesterday where I mostly cackled and had a good time, I crawled into bed last night, sadness and disappointment wrapped around my throat, wondering why in the hell they would believe in me.
It’s the reason I’m sitting in my bed, writing this blog post that I’m convinced is subpar, hoping one of my friends will call so I can talk it out and get some emotional validation. What in the fuck?
It’s the reason I took it way too hard when I couldn’t find inspiration for a blog post. Because it stops being about having nothing to write about and becomes statement on my failure as a writer.

It’s the reason I couldn’t answer a simple question my sister asked me in the morning because it felt like an attack on my spirit which needed nothing more than to fly away to a safe, quiet corner.
But I’m writing anyway. Because, as far as I remember, it’s been my way of saying,”Screw you universe.” I mean I could actually more vulgar variations of that phrase, but you guys know what I’m saying.

Back to one.

tim-trad-508057
Photo by Tim Trad on Unsplash

*Sighs deeply*

So here we are, standing at the edge of a cliff, knowing we have to jump. We’re scared but mostly excited. This jump is long overdue.

When we set out, we didn’t even know where we were or where we wanted to go. I doubt we even realised we were moving. But move we did; we flew, ran, crawled and sometimes ground to a halt. There are times, we went so far off the trail and for months at a time, we just sat, staring into the distance, weeping and wailing at our inadequacies.

We did persevere and here we are finally, watching the sun set in the horizon, knowing that if we take this jump and hit the ground running, regardless of our sprained ankles and heaving chests, we shall be the view; a phenomenon so magnificent, millions of people will take time out of their days to watch.

This isn’t to say that we haven’t been pretty little things. That we haven’t had people drooling over us, spamming our inbox, begging for text backs. For the most part, we have been disappointing little shits, leaving people hanging, breaking all our promises. And for that we apologise. Like I said, that time was spent eulogizing, but never quite burying, our insecurities.

But for now, we do what we do best; light fires and talk. Ours has been and will continue to be a safe space for our anger. As long as you are here, you can cry and curse. We shall laugh too, mostly at our pain, uncoolness, and occasionally at escapades narrated by the dramatics of an African mother. But more than that, we’ll be unapologetically our authentic selves. We shall bear our souls and wear our hearts on our sleeves. We’ll be vulnerable and honest and a little bit vulgar.

We’ll also conquer new territory (short stories and book reviews). We’ll shoot our shots and take our Ls (this hip millennial language is not making the jump though because I caaaan’t.) And maybe, just maybe, we get over our imposter syndrome, or at the very least learn to coexist with it. We’ll try to find, appreciate and maybe even love our voice. We’ll try not to compare ourselves or envy the travelers we meet on this road; with their self-assured walks and steady voices. We’ll trust the process and enjoy the journey even on the nights we feel lost and stagnant, like our trail became circular.

So find a spot and get comfortable. Grab a drink and let’s get this party started (or continued.) Remember to invite more people and speak your mind, because you can’t keep a fire going if you don’t add firewood.

Me? I promise to be a good host. I will give you regular, quality reasons to stay at my party. Occasionally (read mostly) things will get intense and gut-wrenching. But I’ll grieve with you guys. I’ll be the weird MC that tries to look cool but mostly fails at it and ends up bawling in the middle of a vote of thanks. Except I’ll try to be deep and relatable and somehow I’ll manage to convince you to drag along your clan, even though you won’t be able to extend the invite with a straight face because, how do you invite people for righteous anger and inevitable heartbreak, even one that’s well-packaged? But we’ll also make (pseudo) intellectual arguments and we’ll try not to break our necks while nodding in agreement, or lose our voices disagreeing.

Welcome

Feel free to let me know how your experience here can be enriched.

Stop!

My brain does this thing where it worries, nay, panics about the wrong things.

I would like to say the reason I don’t smoke is because I’m health conscious. I worry about my health like I worry about my phone screen; constantly but vaguely and only because I know how expensive it would be to fix. So I dot on my health, not because I’m concerned about staying alive, but mostly because I don’t want to get sick. Believe me, it’s not always the same thing. I digress. The reason I don’t smoke is paranoia. I’m convinced smoking will affect my reproductive system. I don’t remember much of my standard five science to judge on the validity of this worry. I do know however, I should worry about my lungs more. But somehow, my brain worries about my uterus more than my lungs when it comes to smoke inhalation, never mind that I recently just realized that I don’t want children.

A while back, I had a really nasty cough. Objectively speaking, I should have been in hospital the moment the humming in my chest sounded like the dying engine of an old, beat up truck. But like I said, my brain worries about the wrong things. I ended up in hospital only after I got it into my head that I had typhoid and that every second I spent on my bed laughing/coughing/chocking about Schmidt’s verbosity, my intestines were tying themselves into a noose that would somehow travel up my digestive truck and strangle me. In case you’re wondering, there’s little to no correlation between a cough and typhoid. (Take my words with a pinch of salt though. Remember what I said about standard five science?)

So I ended up in hospital, insisting I get tested for typhoid. You guessed it, I was good on that front. I just needed cough medicine. The cashier knew my mum so she suggested I just leave and she’ll remind her to pay the next time she sees her. I didn’t mind paying as I had a bit of cash in my M-pesa. All I had to was grow a third arm to operate my phone as my usual two were busy covering my mouth due to my incessant coughing and rummaging through my bag for a handkerchief, my phone and creating space for the cough medicine. Somewhere between the seconds it took to realize I wasn’t going to get a third arm, I had to work with my two(again! Story of my poverty-stricken life), I caught my reflection in the mirror. Maybe it was how inadequate I looked, or the m-pesa message informing me of my deplorable account balance, but standing/hunching there, it hit me with a startling urgency just how badly I needed health insurance.

I’m an adult now. I’m off my dad’s medical cover. Cue chest pains and migraines.

Fast-forward to about a week ago. Specifically, to the fuckery that is the Kenyatta National Hospital. I’m not proud of this, but the moment I read about the allegations of rape, my immediate thought was, “I need very good health insurance.” I know it’s selfish to make this about me, but for the life of me, I couldn’t imagine just having given birth and then getting raped. And so I thought, maybe if I have good health insurance, then if it comes to it, I can give birth at the Karen hospital. It’s less likely I’ll get raped there. And then it escalated to, “you know what, heck ‘em. I’m not having kids.”

The absurdity of that thought isn’t lost on me. Okay, to be fair, the decision to not have children was already in the pipelines. The KNH rot just catalyzed it. Believe me when I say this however, I am not the only woman who has ever thought they could buy their way out of rape and gender-based violence in general. Even as I write this, I can’t help but think, there is a thirteen year old somewhere thinking, if I just stay in school, if I don’t go home for the holidays, maybe I won’t be married off to forty-five year old so and so.

Seriously, every single day, women are forced to live by a rape schedule. We have this list of things that if we do, then maybe, just maybe, we won’t get raped. Use your keys as a weapon, don’t walk alone at night or in certain places, don’t enter a matatu that doesn’t have women, don’t go to his house, don’t wear a short skirts, don’t flirt too much. Society is constantly telling women how to not get raped, and not doing nearly as much to teach men about consent, about not raping women.

Just stop raping us. You know?

Women have been forced to give up experiences, to rearrange their lives into schedules that will less likely result in violence. Maybe if I go out less, maybe if I don’t date as much, maybe if I’m not as friendly. But it’s all just maybes. Because even when we’re minding our business in our houses, you still break in and dehumanize us. I’m not very conventional, so giving up motherhood isn’t particularly weighing on me, especially if it reduces the risk of suffering male-cruelty (because let’s be honest, marriage is an extreme sport for women.) We’re married to you, but you still beat us up and cheat on us. It doesn’t matter that we give up our autonomy, our dreams, our desires.

It’s just heart-breaking that male-cruelty is a defining experience for womanhood. Think about it, every single woman you know, has been mistreated in varying degrees by a man.

Stop! Just fucking stop it.


Hello.

You might remember I mentioned a few posts back about a project my friend and I were working on. It’s going to be published in the next seven-ten days so please stay tuned for that. It’s going to be a periodic journal and our first issue is focusing on sexual violence against women. Please tell a friend to tell a friend. We’ll let you know on it’s accessibility once it’s available.

 

 

Silent rants.

I.

You’re annoyingly wiping a coffee stain off your favourite white dress, cursing under your breath when you hear a booming voice in front of you say, “You shouldn’t do that you know? Ladies shouldn’t do that.” You raise your head, cradling your half-empty to-go cup as a weapon, hoping he’s some sort of laundry expert, giving you some much needed advice on how to get rid of a coffee stain. He’s wearing a smug smile on his face and even though the tight skinny jeans and multi-colored sweatshirt, isn’t really much to go on, you know he’s not a laundry expert.

“Shouldn’t do what?” you ask hoping he’ll stick to the laundry-expert persona you made up for him.

“Real ladies shouldn’t curse.” He reiterates.

Look at him in jeans so tight it makes you want to pour the remaining half of your coffee on his crotch just to let him know that as unlikely as it is, things can indeed get worse for his crotch. Look at him smile, exposing his yellow teeth and pasty tongue, purporting to know how you should live your life. Shouldn’t he be more worried about the beads of sweat trickling down his neck towards a chest you simply refuse to visualize?

“If it eases your pain, I wasn’t trying to be a lady.”

“It’s a shame. You’re dressed in white and if you didn’t curse, you’d be really attractive, a real queen.”

“My loss” you respond in mock somberness.

What you really want to say however is, “Don’t call me a queen. Don’t use this supposed complement to leverage me into behavior you think would be pleasing and deserving of your respect/desire. Women don’t go about their days worrying about how aesthetically pleasing they are to barely groomed random men. We don’t have to prove that we are worthy of your respect.”
He hurriedly exists the coffee shop. Maybe he sees the edges of your mouth quivering, ready to plunge into a feminist rant.”

II.

You didn’t want to wake up today. You didn’t want to get out of bed, hustle to get into a matatu, travel all the way to your college and have your senses assaulted by the heat and dust. But life has to be lived and stuff has to be done, so here you are, in a matatu playing music so loud, you can feel the throbbing in your throat.

Here you are, in dark-red lipstick and your nicest underwear flipping through A Tale of Two Cities. Nice underwear because they make you feel like you can conquer the world and dark-red lipstick because it says, “don’t fuck with me. I may be tiny but I am witty and I will hurt your feelings.” A Tale of Two Cities because, what on God’s green earth is going on Charles Dickens? You’ve been on the same page for ten minutes. You’re sweating a little bit, trying not to question your intelligence, because really you fool, you should have taken your cousin’s advice and started this venture into the classics by the works of Leo Tolstoy, when you notice his crusty hands.

They are rather distracting and so you offer him hand-lotion. He sneers and hands it back to you, saying it would be gay for him to use it. You can’t blame someone for not wanting to smell a particular way. You retouch your lipstick, pull out strands of your hair and because you really don’t want to go back to your book, you ask him, “Is it because it has a girly scent?”

“No. It’s hand lotion” he says irritably.

You know you should leave him be. You hate it when people try to have conversations with you in matatus. Hell, you hate it when somebody sits next to you when there are plenty of other seats available. When did you become this person?

“Huh? How is applying hand-lotion gay?”

“You wouldn’t get it. You’re the kind of girl that walks around with hand lotion and retouches her lipstick every ten minutes. If you were light-skinned, I’d think you were a slay queen.”

What?

You plug in your earphones and do what you’ve always done in matatus; stare out the window the entire time.

You find the use of the term slay queen as an insult problematic. It builds on the stereotype that pretty women are dumb. As such, you have to choose; will you be smart or beautiful? Beauty and brains is a phenomenon.
You were going to tell him off as you alighted the matatu but you noticed the skin between his toes is cracked and you decided you were even. You may have to worry about people misjudging your intelligence because of your femininity but that guy has to wrestle toxic masculinity. Poor guy can’t even moisturize.

Distractions; a guide to escaping toxic relationships. 


But the thing is, I couldn’t be anybody, or potentially have a child with somebody, who could abandon his child. That was my personal boundary, and I had finally found it.
-Tiffany Haddish-
The Last Black Unicorn

You guys. This isn’t about absent fathers. I wanted to quote the part about boundaries but I couldn’t do it without context.

***
You are watching New Girl at one am on a school night. You can’t fall asleep because every time you close your eyes you remember something he did and your throat is dry from all the crying you’ve done today alone. Besides, Schmidt is hella funny. Your phone chimes, it’s a text from him.

Hey you. I love you. I miss you, have a good night.

You throw your phone against the wall. Your nose is on fire and your legs are trembling. How dare he? What part of your frayed heart is that text supposed to mend? Does he even know how to love people? You should ask him that. You go to pick up your phone and right there on the phone screen, is an accurate representation of your soul; darkness and a big ass crack.

Do you even know how to love people?
*Delete*

Do you realise how insulting this is? Thinking some generic text is going to erase years of emotional abuse?

*Delete*
He really is a good guy, he didn’t mean to hurt you.

I know you don’t do it on purpose, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.

*Delete*
At this point, you’re not even sure he gives two shits about your feelings.

I’m so tired of your bullshit.

*Delete*
You don’t want to aggravate him. You want him to reply. Because when all is said and done, he’s the best relationship you’ve had. You just want to talk it out. Because maybe, just maybe, if he sees how badly he’s hurt you, he’ll remember he loves you and will stop doing it.

Hey. I love you. Do you think you can make time to talk?

*Send*
You both know he isn’t going to reply. Not tonight, not in the next few days.

Your thumb is bleeding when you lock your screen and put it under your pillow. Like everything else you’ve done today, you think if you can just bandage it, if you can avoid aggravating it, maybe it’ll stop hurting. Either way, your pillow is wet and you have a headache when you wake up three hours later.

***
You’re seated at a restaurant, pretending to read a book but mostly using it to hide involuntary tears. He should have been here an hour ago. You knew he’d be late. You want to choke it up to human error but deep down, you know it’s because he doesn’t value your time. He knows you’ll be there, smiling, when he shows up two hours later, just like you’ve been there for years when he’s disrespected and taken you for granted.
You text your friend:

Do you remember when Schmidt was planning his wedding but he was burnt out so he had to hand Jess his flash drive full of wedding ideas? “Do not reach for it like you’re Winston reaching for a woman’s breast!” I die.😂😂😂

You are laughing so hard, you’re out of breath when he shows up, him, the other reason you’ve been so out of breath lately. He’s with his with friend and without even realizing it, you’re already shrinking yourself to take up only as much space as a third-wheel should.
You speak three words the entire time.
No when he asks you if you want to go somewhere else. You picked this corner table for a reason, damnit!
No when he says you hope he doesn’t mind that he brought along his friend to this private conversation you had to beg him to have.
No when he jokingly asks you to foot the bill.
You pay your share of the bill and when he hugs you and says it was fun hanging out with you, you want to kick him in his balls. Instead you smile and ask him to call you later. You know he won’t. You know you’ll stay up all night waiting for him to.

Schmidt cramped at an anti-gang initiative.

***

Schmidt is cheating on Cece and Elizabeth. Cece found out.

If you take anything from this, know I didn’t mean to hurt you.
Is that the best you can do Schmidt?

You finally told him how you felt. How loving him has drained you empty. He hasn’t spoken to you in three days. Even after all these years, that still blindsides you. It feels like a fat man is cheating on your chest.
You’re not even worth a text back. All the years you invested in him and in the end, you still don’t deserve a text back.

Schmidt’s new tailor sews like an army medic. He is not being overdramatic when he says he’d rather sit naked on a hot grill.

Your phone chimes. It’s Airtel telling you about the 1GB data bundle for Ksh.99. Your heart plummets. Your hands are shaking. You can feel a panic attack coming.

Please just text me back, even if it’s just to let me know we’re done.
*sent*
Silence. Screeching, deafening silence.

You suspect that if you were done, he wouldn’t even have the courtesy to tell you. He’d just let you figure it out for yourself.

Schmidt wants to know in what scenario did Winston only touch one of a certain girl’s breasts.

Your phone chimes.

You and I can never be done.

It feels more like prison sentence than an assurance.

You’re not enough. Everything you did and somehow, you’re still not enough. 

Schmidt’s is wondering how Winston doesn’t know if he’s made love to a woman.

***
Here’s the thing about love, you assume it’s mutually exclusive with hurt.
He can love you more than life itself but it doesn’t mean he won’t hurt you.
And the thing about heartbreak is you could be busy as fuck, minding your own business, battling your demons, when this smile like feels like home struts up to you. Before you know it, years have gone by and most of your nights are spent howling at your pillow, clutching your chest wondering why it feels like a bottomless pit of fiery hell.

I’m not a ride or die kind of girl. I refuse to gauge my loyalty by how much bullshit I let slide.

Schmidt’s first name is Winston.