We Need To Talk
As we waited for the Askari to open the gate, my friend made a comment about how easy it was to locate my home.
“I know, right?” I exclaimed! “Would you believe Uber drivers still get lost?”
“I am not surprised. Why are you not on Taxify anyway?” He arched his eyebrow then proceed to answer himself. “Same reason you are still on Zuku internet and screaming expletives every time Mc Mafia refuses to load.”
As I opened my mouth to defend myself, he carried on;
“You are the peculiar Kenyans Michael Joseph spoke about years ago.”
“If I knew riding with you home would have resulted in a lecture, I would have just walked home. You know it’s just an hour from the office.”
This was a few weeks back on a Thursday afternoon. I had asked my friend to chauffeur me home over my lunch break to pick some documents I needed for a project I was working on.
The gate finally swung open. Derrick, the Askari, was visibly pulling the left half inwards while the right half seemed to be magically gaining momentum as it opened all the way in. I did not give much thought as to who Derrick’s new helper was until I saw –from the gap below the gate- the unmistakable sky blue frozen sandals supporting tiny “yellow yellow” feet that I knew too well.
As my friend drove in, I craned my neck towards the right hoping to catch a glimpse of Derrick’s helper. My fears were confirmed when we were safely tucked in the compound. Xena emerged from behind the gate then jumped onto her bike which she had packed next to the Askari’s hut.
In my dumbstruck state, I taped my friend’s shoulder and pointed at his rearview mirror.
“Is that your daughter?” He asked.
“I am afraid it is.” I said.
“She is more gorgeous in person. Those photos don’t do her justice!”
“Thanks, but I think I have bigger fish to fry here.” I said.
“I am just star struck. But now that we have that covered, does she work as an Askari part-time?” He said.
“That joke must have been only funny in your head.” I said.
“Take a chill pill. Just think through it first and figure out the best way to explain to her why it is not cool to have this side hustle going on.”
“You are unbelievable.” I rolled my eyes. “I am boiling over here but as usual, you always find humour in everything.”
All this time, Xena was seated on her bike having what seemed to be a heated conversation with Derrick, who was weeding some flowers next to the gate. I stepped out of the car and she spotted me immediately. I was hoping she didn’t because I wasn’t ready to have a conversation with her, afraid of blasting her for a crime she was unaware of.
“Why are you home early and where is your car?” She asked.
“My friend gave me a ride. My car is at the office.”
“What’s your friend’s name?” She asked.
“He’s over there, in the car. Go ask him.”
She rode her bike towards the car and I walked to the house. The nanny was outside hanging clothes while Xia was asleep, so I grabbed my folder from the dinning table without much fanfare and left. On my way out, I met Xena riding her bike towards the house.
“Have you done your homework?” I asked her.
“Yes. I have also read the book from school and the Atlas you bought me. My sister is asleep and I am tired of staying in the house.” It was as if she could read my mind.
“That’s good of you, having finished your work.” I said, as I tried to think on my feet.
“What were you doing at the gate when we drove in?” I asked.
“I was helping Derrick open the gate.” She responded, oblivious to the direction the conversation was going.
“But that’s his job, Xena. Did anyone help you with your homework?”
“No. I did it all by myself.” She said, jumping right into my trap.
“Exactly. So, you should also let Derrick do his job all by himself.” I said, then added “Do you like going to school or would you rather stay at home and do Derrick’s job?”
“I want to go to school every day.” She said, suddenly wearing a doleful look.
“In that case, learning how to read and write and do sums should be your only job, for now. But if you ever feel tired of school, you can swap roles with Derick. He will go to your school and you will guard the court.” I said with the finality of the supreme court.
“No mama.” She said, amidst tears.
“In that case, I never want to see you hanging around the gate.”
We hugged. She rode her bike towards the house and I went to the parking next to the gate where my friend was waiting for me.
Before any of you misunderstand me and start throwing stones, I respect the role that watchmen, popularly known in Kenya as Askari’s play. In fact, in most courts that we have lived in, we have been lucky to have watchmen who were kind, loyal, honest and respectful, so much so they ended up being like family. However, I refuse for my daughters to imagine that it is ok for them to be hanging around the gate eating guavas and swap war stories while letting cars in and out every so often.
This escapade was eye-opening for me. It got me freaking out over the many tough conversations I will have to have with my daughters as they grow older, especially now that Xena will soon turn six. At what point should we start perceiving them as young adults and what conversations do we start with? Is there a reliable book for this? The other day, she told me why the word boyfriend is “bad manners”, a story for another day. It was hilarious but also scary.
I know we really need to start talking, but I don’t know how.
P.S. I promised to run stories of young women achievers this month but unfortunately, the person I had in mind for this week ignored my request. She probably thinks my platform is not where her achievements should be paraded, in which case I was wrong to think she was a suitable candidate. So I have decided to just wing it and tell the stories throughout the year as I come across them, because women should not only be celebrated in March, right?