Nairobi Reading Excerpt: A Glimpse of Life

Here’s a excerpt of Ken Kamoche’s reading at Salon Narobi titled A Glimpse of Life, 2nd prize winner of the Olaudah Equiano Prize for African Fiction, 2007.

“As a man you can’t understand this. To you, it’s simply a problem. But hey, don’t worry, I’m not going to get you into any trouble. I can handle this on my own. I don’t need your help.”

Her stinging remarks and her demeanor make my insides cramp up. She makes it sound as if I don’t care if there’s a child growing up in China believing cowardly daddy ran away back to Africa, unwilling to face up to his responsibilities. She thinks I can simply walk away as though nothing has happened, because that’s the easy option a girl expects to see a man take. I don’t know how to make her understand that it’s not that simple.

I get up and walk to the kitchen to fetch two bottles of Tsingtao and return to find her smoking. I’m about to tell her she has to stop smoking if she’s going to have a baby, but check myself, and instead watch her blowing smoke in thin narrow jets above her head.

For a long, reflective moment, she holds her bottle without drinking. I drink my beer quickly, as my mind struggles to make sense of this situation.

“Kalenga, can’t you see,” she says, watching my eyes closely, as if to confirm that they’re open and functioning properly. “Can’t you see this is the best news I’ve heard in years?” Her hands are clasped as though in prayer. I’ve no idea whom she might be thanking, the atheist she is. But she’s looking particularly grateful for this thing which is now turning out to be a blessing whose significance I haven’t grasped yet.

“I’m confused, Huiqing. I mean, I’m thinking how will this work, you know, with your parents, your career, the whole race thing for God’s sake?”

“Darling, right now I’m not thinking about problems.”

“What are you thinking about?”

“I’m thinking all these years I’ve worried myself sick that by working so hard I’ve messed up my chance to be a mother, like my friend Cheuk Ki. Before they decided to adopt a beautiful little girl, she and her German husband tried for years. She was the one who had a problem. The guy had a kid with his first wife. The job stress, poor health, not settling down when we were younger, all this smoking and drinking, and constant travel. That’s what the doctor told her. And out of fear I went to see him too. It turns out he was wrong, honey. I’m fine, can’t you see?”

That’s when it begins to sink in. She’s healthy, she’s a real woman, she can be a mother. Can? Bloody hell, she is going to be a mother, if she chooses to keep it.

I’m lost in my own narrow world, trying to imagine what I would say to my wife and three girls whom I haven’t seen for four years. Darling, I’m starting a new family here in China, don’t wait for me. Give my love to the kids. No, it wouldn’t work like that. I would go back to Zambia, and visit my second family here every now and then. My excuse for coming to China? Business.

It’s just a fantasy. Huiqing would never accept such an arrangement.

But there’s something else troubling me. Could this be my chance to father a son? When my wife conceived for the second time, we prayed every day that it would be a boy this time. After the third girl we decided to give up trying. Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be. It was our fate. We stopped listening to the taunts from disappointed relatives who kept moaning that there would be no one to carry on the family name. My wife put it down to the will of God. As a scientist, I saw it differently. As a man, it was up to me to supply the ‘Y’ chromosome. Three times, I failed to do so. The clansmen back home wouldn’t have understood that. Some said my wife had been bewitched. Their solution was for me to take another wife who could bear sons. Though I feel the absence of a son so keenly it sometimes makes me doubt my own virility, I swore I would love our girls no less than if they had been boys.

“I’m not a stone woman,” murmurs Huiqing, finally taking a sip of her beer.

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m not a stone woman, Kalenga, darling.” She starts to laugh, a gentle chuckle at first, then she explodes into a side-splitting roar that leaves her trembling helplessly, tears rolling down her face.

“And what on earth is a stone woman?”

“A stone woman, darling, is a woman who can’t have children. That’s what I used to hear women say when I was growing up in a small village hundreds of miles from here.”

I start to want to share in her joy. But the reality we both recognize comes in the way, and I merely sit beside her, half-listening to her excited chatter about being fertile, “like a normal woman.”

Huiqing is definitely not a stone woman. I’m the one turned to stone, mute, uncomprehending.


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