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The parts of Miriam

BY MIKE MUTHAKA 

February 2, 2014. On this Wednesday, Miriam (not her real name) was 17, a regular tiny-limbed form two student at MFA Lanet.

They usually had club meetings at 4:30 p.m. She refuses to tell me what club she was in. Half an hour into the meeting, she was summoned to the principal’s office. Of course this was odd. Miriam wasn’t a troublemaker. Or rule breaker. She completed her assignments. She scrubbed her uniform clean. She didn’t grind axes with anyone.

What would the principal want? Was she being promoted to prefect?

(OK. Maybe she didn’t think that last part.)

Miriam thought she was in trouble.

The principal, a middle-aged lady with a gold-plated trophy on her shelf, began by inquiring about Miriam’s family. How things are at home, that kind of thing. Miriam was growing suspicious. But the principal finally came to the point, and said, “Your mother has gone to be with the Lord.”

Miriam’s first reaction was to laugh. She laughed because of how the news was delivered. She laughed because of the relief of not being in trouble. The principal looked bewildered. She said it again, “Your mother has gone to be with the Lord. Your Dad and aunt are here for you.”

Then it sank in.

“My childhood was just like any other,” Miriam says, “normal. But things started changing when my mother got sick. Meningitis. She’d be in and out of hospital. We didn’t interact for quite some time. She started getting sick in 2008.

“My brother and I would come back from school and find her lying in bed. We’d feel bad that she was sick but life would continue. We’d play and do homework and go through our day as usual. We had a house help who would stay home with her. I thought she’d get better. But unfortunately… she didn’t.”

Miriam has dark braids zigzagging on her head. Her round cheeks paired with her subtle smile give her a mischievous, if not enterprising, vibe. She’s nervous. She moves her hands a lot, and she swings her leg under the table, bumping into mine every few minutes. She barely makes eye contact.

We’re at Kaldis coffee house, Kimathi Street. Miriam is having passion juice. I’m on iced tea passion.

“How did your Dad cope?” I ask, taking my first sip of the tea.

“I think it was hard for him. During the weekends he had to go to the hospital when she was admitted. There was just too much. He had work. Then there was us. Yeah. It was hard. But he definitely never showed it.”

They were living in Naivasha at the time, Miriam, her Dad, a sister and two brothers.

“In 2011 she… Si you’re Kikuyu? She went to my cucu’s place, like my Dad’s side. She stayed there for some months. Then I don’t know what happened. She went to her Mom’s place in Nakuru, in 2012. So we were not together for two years. We’d only see her during the holidays. I had school on weekends.

“Whenever we’d visit her, we would find her sleeping or seated outside, under the shade. She was just there. Woiye woiye. She wasn’t that weak and she wasn’t that strong.”

“How was your spiritual life at this time?” I ask.

“How was it supposed to be? I thought she’d get better. So I’d pray.”

Miriam keeps staring at the coffee machine. Her nervousness seeps into her speech. Her voice is clipped, never giving too much away. Her eyes are like tinted windows. So I take out my Rubik’s cube and slide it across the table. She asks, “Do you carry this thing everywhere?”

I nod.

I watch her play with the cube, head bowed in concentration. Her responses are more fluid when her hands are distracted.

She continues. “It took some time for the reality of it to dawn on me. We used my aunt’s car to go to the funeral. Then my Dad went with my stepmom.”

I sit up. “Wait. She was already in the picture?”

“It’s complicated. She was around. She was there all along.”

“Did your Mom know?”

“Yeah.”

“Was your Dad polygamous?”

She laughs. “That’s why I’m telling you it’s complicated.” Then after a moment she says, “I don’t know what to call her. She used to be our house help. It’s sad, right? You can connect the dots.”

(This is not the aforementioned house help. This is the one they had when Miriam was seven years old. Another help.)

“I don’t feel any hatred for my Dad. But sometimes she’s biased. She’s just there. She’s unpredictable. But she’s trying. She’s a good person. After my Mom’s death she was, how do I put it… she started becoming extra.”

She chuckles.

Miriam twirls the Rubik’s cube during our lengthy silences. She twirls as I sip my iced tea. She twirls when she’s looking at the coffee machine. She does everything but touch her glass of passion juice.

She came to Nairobi after a scuffle with her stepmom, who is now a housewife with two kids.

“That day I wanted to take my brother to school. My Dad would drop him, and I wanted to go as well. But my stepmom wanted to go to the market and leave her baby in my care. But I just didn’t feel like it.

“She got angry. When things become overwhelming for me, I cry. So when my Dad left with my brother, I cried. She was asking me how can I cry? Just a lot of stuff.

“Then she didn’t talk to me. I just didn’t see the point of staying in that house. My Dad would go to work and come back in the evening. I’d have no one to talk to during the day. Like inasmuch as I don’t talk, there was that tension in the house. So I told my Dad I want to leave. That’s how I came to my aunt’s place in South B. I was there for a month. Now I live in a hostel.”

How’s life living in a hostel?

“It can be boring. It can be interesting, because there’s so much freedom you can do what you want. [If] you feel like going out you go. But it can be boring if you’re not used to staying alone.

“And I like having my own space. I hate people disturbing me. So if I’m walking in town, I’ll probably have my earphones, because there are some weird people who like saying ‘hi’, and I just don’t like it.”

Do you ever dream about her, your Mom?

“Only when she died. From then on, no. But I miss her. And when I do, I cry. If I’m in school I go to the washroom. At night I go to the balcony. There are so many things I wish I could tell her. I talk to her through writing. It’s like a conversation with her. I write in a red notebook with white polka dots.

“I write when I feel overwhelmed and I can’t handle it, or when I really really miss her. The last time I cried was Wednesday. I just went to the balcony and cried then came back to my bed.”

Miriam will go back to Naivasha in two weeks, for Easter. When I ask if she ever talks to her Dad about her Mom, she shakes her head and says, “No. It’s really hard to have some conversations. We don’t talk about her.

“There’s always family drama on my Dad’s side, most of the time they’re about my stepmom. So they make it hard for me to accept her because there’s always so many negative things. In the end I’m caught up in the middle, with all these negative thoughts, it can be hard. But it’s manageable.”

“What is your fondest memory of your Mom? What kind of hairstyles would she rock?”

Miriam smiles. “Her chapos were very good. She loved cooking. And she’d always come for those school meetings when we were young. She wouldn’t miss. Hairstyles…” her voice trails off.

She tilts her head and curls her lips. “She’d do braids sometimes. Other times she had relaxed hair.”

“What do you think she’d say when she’d see your tattoo?”

Oh yeah, Miriam has a tattoo on her back, inked, ‘Live and Learn’.

“I think she’d be disappointed, I don’t know what she’d say.”

“And how does it feel to be a millennial in Nairobi?” I ask.

“Is this the last question?”

“We’re almost done.”

“It’s normal There’s no big deal about it.”

“How do you feel about your life right now, at 23?”

“At some point I feel like I’m such a broken person. I’m just weird. I don’t let people in. I don’t know how to make friends. I’m afraid of being vulnerable to people. But sometimes I feel I’m OK.”

Now I just have to ask. It’s been over an hour and Miriam hasn’t even looked at her juice. I point to the juice and say to her, “Are you going to drink that? It’s wondering whether it landed on the right table.”

She grins. “No, I just want this to be over then I can take it.”

“Say no more,” I say, closing my notebook. “Just one more question. How did your Mom’s passing change you as a person?”

“I told you I’m not open. So I can’t talk about it with just anyone. I’ve been a silent person all long, but I’m more silent than before. I end up pushing people away.”

“And your tattoo? Have you lived?”

“I do it every day.”

“Have you learned?”

“Yes.”

“What?”

“That it’s never that serious. You just have to keep going.”

I suspect Miriam doesn’t want me to keep the questions going. Heck, even her juice has had enough.
—-
Follow Mike on Instagram: mikemuthaka

16
Loafers and pencils
This Young Man

Comments (1)

  1. Bett

    Maaannn, this story left me feeling a certain type of way.

    Miriam, hugs and love to you. Everything will be OK in time.

    You’re not broken. You’re not weird. You are you. And everything about you is fine just the way it is. Don’t ever feel that you have to change you to fit into someone else’s idea of what a friend or companion is supposed to be like. Someday the vulnerability will clear away – like the dawn breaking to sunshine after a rainy night – and you’ll have someone in your life who’ll love you past your pain.

    Love really is the answer to everything.

    You are in my thoughts and prayers.

    Hugs.

    And thank you for sharing your story with Craft It.

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Columnist Saturday Nation Writer Craft It Author of best-selling ‘SHOULD I?’ and ‘HOW MUCH?’ ~ Guiding word: Overdrive Subscribe to our Newsletter👇🏾 eepurl.com/igmN8P
  • Dear God, 
It’s me again.

I don’t pray as often as I need to, You know that. I don’t kneel by my bed in child-like humility, as Muna does. I don’t whisper a prayer in the morning. Or at noon. Perhaps just in the evening. 

This going-to-church habit is a constant false start. So is reading the Word. 

I’m often guilty but I also know: You and I have a language only we can understand. 

I speak to You through this gift You bestowed upon my Kale shoulders, this gift to write in colour. It’s a gift that sometimes feels like a curse, a burden I have no choice but to pursue. 

Yet other times – most times, actually – it’s the very breath of my essence. Everyday I sit to write, when the words flow from my head and heart through my fingers to the page, I feel You next to me. 

You are here, Lord. Hovering. Lingering. Swooshing about in Your regal robes, like a character from Bridgerton.

Sometimes You get so close I can feel You breathing on my neck and I’m like, ‘Err, God, do You mind, personal space?’

And You chuckle uncomfortably. ‘He-he, of course. Of course.’

I’m here to tell You, Thanks!

I hosted my first in-person event last March, Lord, thank You to all the lovely ladies who granted me their time and full attention. 

I’ve carried them in my heart since and every day, my prayer is that You bring them closer to the life of abundance they each seek. To their own version of wealth. 

I always call them by their name: Becky. Purity. Lindsay. Wangui. Naomi. Shiqow. Mercy. Liz. Winnie. Polly. Nduta. Lynet. 

And Mike. 

Dear Lord, I’m prepping for my next in-person event in June, Inshallah. 

Walk with me as I get there. 

Love always,
Me

#craftit
  • Highlights from our first-ever in person event hosted by Craft It and @financialfitbit 
Thanks to all the lovely ladies — and gent, hehe — who honoured us with the privilege of their time and attention. And colourful energy. It’s been weeks since and it’s only now that I’m coming down from the high. 

Thank YOU!

🎥 @mikemuthaka 

#craftit #author #MakeYourMoneyMatter #personalfinance #money
  • I am a woman.

I’m strong. I’m brilliant. I’m like a comet shooting across the sky, I’m so bright you have to put on shades to see me.

I’m almost 40, I’m almost fully realising myself as a woman and the power of womanhood I possess.

I’m so powerful that if KPLC connected me to the national grid, I’d power up this country and we’d never have another blackout.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Anyway.

To recognize and celebrate International Women’s Day today, I’d like to recognize and celebrate eight women.

I have eight things to give away to each of these women:
a) Two tickets to my upcoming event on March 18 with @financialfitbit Theme is ‘Make your money matter’
b) Three autographed copies of my book ‘Should I?’
c) Three autographed copies of my other book ‘How Much?’

To participate:
1. Like this post
2. Tag women who deserve a win of either event ticket or book (tag as many women as you like)
3. Tell us what you’d like her to win and why she deserves the win
4. Make sure your tagged women follow @_craftit and @financialfitbit 

Here are the rules for the giveaway:
— One woman, one win
— Winners will be contacted via DM
— Giveaway closes at the end of this week, Inshallah, on Sunday 12 March
— Only open to people living in Kenya

All the best!

(Swipe right to see the women I’m celebrating.)

#craftit #internationalwomensday
  • My 2022 word of the year was Wholesome. 

Wholesome meant engaging in moderation and in pursuits that didn’t leave me feeling yucky.

An example: there’re weekend nights I’d go out then have too much to drink. On the drive home, I’d tell GB to stop the car every half mile so I could throw up on the side of the road. Then I’d take three working days recovering. 

Ha-ha.

No more of that nonsense.

Now I have only two doubles of Singleton whiskey and chase it with water. I eat less food and I eat better. I take my supplements. I treat myself to an early bedtime and arise with my body clock, no alarm.

I spend a lot more time hanging with my kids, Muna and Njeeh. 

I buy fewer things. 

I play the piano. 

I created a disciplined routine for my work and take Thursdays off. 

You catch my drift…

Wholesome has become my lifestyle. 

(By the way, I was asked, ‘Where does this word-of-the-year come from, Bett?’ I don’t know about other people but for me, the words present themselves when I’m journaling. My spirit tells me what it needs; I must be still enough to listen and brave enough to obey.)

My word for 2023 is Overdrive.

My two books have unlocked new opportunities for me as a writer and creative. As an urban brand. I’d honestly not foreseen them. 

I know that if I adjust my sails to where the wind is blowing, these opportunities will translate to wealth.

Last Friday, I listed all the work I’m already doing and all the new opportunities – potential and realised – knocking at my door.

I asked myself, ‘What am I taking up here and what am I dropping?’

The response, ‘None – we go into overdrive and smartly pursue them all.’

#craftit #urbanguide
  • Years ago, my best friend said to me, ‘Bett, we’re almost 40 – forget makeup, let’s take care of our skin instead.’

I had to laugh because this was coming from Terry. Terry my Kisii pal, this fine gyal with skin the colour of honey, the only practising SDA in my circle. 

Terry had spent her 20s and early 30s sleek with Arimis. That’s right, the milking jelly with a lactating cow on its logo. 

Arimis addressed all her skin pickles back then. It was her problem fixer. Her Olivia Pope. It’s the one thing that always said, It’s handled.

Now here she was preaching to us about a consistent skincare regimen in the AM and PM.

Ha!

It wasn’t until Terry shared her selfies on our girls WhatsApp group that I stopped laughing. It wasn’t until we stood next her – and took these selfies – that I reeally stopped laughing: Terry’s skin was youthful and toned, plump. Hydrated. Moistured but not shiny. 

It looked like it had been kissed by the Greek goddess of radiance. 

So we gathered around her feet and said, ‘Forgive us, master. We are ready now. Teach us everything you know.’

She did. 

Terry and I now spend plenty of time before work and before bed squeezing out little portions of expensive skincare products from expensive tubes, we layer them on our face in a calculated measure.

This serum here is for the circles under my eyes and the fine lines around my mouth.

Turns out I’ve been giving away too much of my face: I’ve been looking too hard, laughing too easily.

I’ll have to spend the next year into my 40s with my eyes half shut and laughing little. I'll have a resting bitch face.

Don’t blame me, blame the retinol.

And age.

#craftit #urbanguide #urbangirl
  • I’m Bett. I’m the author of your favourite books about money. I’m hosting an in-person event in March, Inshallah: This is my personal invite to you.

#craftit #moneymaker #moneyinkenya
  • I am hosting my first money event this March, Inhsallah. It’s the first of quarterly events I have planned for the year. 

(Give me a moment here so I pull myself together long enough to write this. I’m smiling very hard right now, ha-ha, I look like a donkey.)

(Ahem.)

The event will be in-person. On a Saturday morning, a loose three hours which, I am certain, you’d have burned on some other pursuit you couldn’t account for later. (I’d probably be oiling the hinges of a squeaky door or decluttering my sock drawer.)

My guest host for this edition is Lynet Kyalo. 

Lynet is a personal finance coach under her brand @financialfitbit She also hosts @getyourbagrightpodcast 

Buy your tickets from our Market.

Early bird tickets are discounted until the end of this month.

Limited slots available. 

#craftit #millenialmoney #moneyevent #moneymaker
  • Sometimes I sit down and read my own book. 

Odd, huh?

Reading my own stories is like an out-of-body experience. Or getting introduced to myself again. An outward journey inward.

It’s fascinating.

I also read because I need to improve my writing for my next project.

We call them the Elements of Craft: things like sentence structure and punctuation, word placement, story length etc, they all inform your reading experience.

This is what makes the book easy to read, and has you turning the pages.

Cop your autographed copy and #betteryourmoney 

#craftit #howmuch #millenialmoney #moneymaker
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