She was born with a tail between her legs but she is the most courageous person I know. The doctor had said it was a boy. No one had realized it was a tail. It was just two inches and a half long but on a tiny baby, born almost seven weeks early, it didn’t look that short. It didn’t really look like anything. The scans and biopsies showed it was just skin and a bit of cartilage, hence the curve. They also discovered it wasn’t actually between her legs, that was just how it looked like on the sonogram. “It’s a tiny tail, just where any normal tail would be,” is what Jeanette and Paul would later tell their daughter when she came home crying that the little boys in the neighborhood made fun of her and called her ‘little crocodile’. The skin on the tail was rough, almost scaly. The doctors gently curved it backwards so it wouldn’t cause complications in future and also so in case it grew longer, it would grow outward rather than inward. They couldn’t cut it off, not just then; not until they knew for sure what it was and if it was attached to anything vital. Babies have that egg-like fragility when they are born so unless it became life threatening, the doctors decided to wait until the baby stopped being so mushy. Jeannette and Paul had planned on naming him Shaun. So she goes by Shauna now. Way too many baby-name books and debating and vetoing had gone into settling for ‘Shaun’, they weren’t about to go through all that again. She would be free to change it when she grew older.

Everything was ordinary in the basic sense of the word. They both decided to extend their leave just to be sure that Shauna was well settled in before they went back to regular routine. Plus they had to interview several potential nannies and find one who would be able to specifically care for Shauna. Jeanette worked at an office in town as a Project Manager for a film company. Paul worked in a Barber shop and salon. He cut hair full time and did sew-ins on the side. No one laid a weave like Paul did. On Fridays you’d have the whole waiting area full of women, hair dripping wet, chatting away, and waiting on Paul while several other stylists sat in their own chairs idle. Lucile, the receptionist and Administration Manager hated it. “This is not efficient at all Paul,” she would say from her desk, let out a big sigh and go on to aggressively scribble something on the guest book. She had been in the army until an unfortunate land mine accident caused her to lose her leg. She had a prosthetic on and walked with a slight limp. At only 25, she had lost a job she loved plus a whole leg. Her eldest sister, who was the owner of the salon gave her the position after her recovery and Lucile seemed to have transferred all her dreams of commanding a special ops unit in the army into commanding a team at a local barber shop and salon. There was never a strand of hair left on the ground too long, every customer was attended to within seconds of their entry, stellar attendance by all employees, not a drop of shampoo went to waste, every department ran with optimized precision. There was just one thing she would do that might mess with your whole psyche if you didn’t know it was coming. Sometimes if she got really irritated by a difficult client or an errant employee or if she was just having a really bad day when would take off her prosthetic and put it on top of the desk with a frustrated bang. “Mediocrity makes my nub flare up,” she would say, pick up her crutches and walk to the kitchen, close the door and make a whole pot of jasmine, chamomile tea that would have the whole salon smelling like a botanical garden. It relaxed her and everyone needed a relaxed Lucile.

When Jeannette was too busy at work and Paul had a long line of clients waiting, the nanny would bring Shauna to the salon when her time was up. Shauna was the only one who would have Lucile in tears from laughter. No one really knew what they talked about, just that if Shauna was around, that was the time to tell her you’d like to take a day off or that you had accidentally dropped an open tub of treatment or that one of the driers needed a new fuse. Shauna was drawn to numbers. First time Paul went with her to the toy store at age two, she had cried for the abacus, she didn’t even know what it was but later she practically slept with that thing. She had counted all the tiles in the house arranged by colour and size, the bricks in their cabro driveway and the security lights in the estate. At a few months over age 6, her favourite pass time when she came by the salon was to help Lucile take stock. You could hear her counting bottles of shampoo and packs of hair in the store room.

School was hard in the beginning, Paul and Jeanette had even considered homeschooling their little Shauna just so they could shield her from what they knew the world would do and say about their little girl. With time they realized they would only be feeding their own fears into their child and maybe preventing her from forming her own world experiences and creating her own safe space. Maybe she would be the key to starting conversations that needed to be had. Maybe because of her, there would be just a little less ignorance in the world. Shauna did go through a few more ‘Lizard tail’, ‘Rat girl’ among other even worse taunts but the girl was a fireball. It would start off with taunts but give it a few minutes and all her bullies would know how lizards can drop their tails when in danger, and how some species use tails to prop themselves up and as a spring mechanism and how if a lizard loses a tail it actually grows back and that actually every mammal has a tail at some point in the womb and how beautifully awesome it is that she got to keep hers.

Some of her clothes had to be tailored so they wouldn’t press down on the tail making it uncomfortable for her. One time they did try to make a cover so to speak that matched whatever clothe she was wearing but the friction and with the heat, it was very irritating so the tail was left to hang free, so to speak as it just a few inches long so it didn’t really hang.

At age 22, Shauna contemplated cutting it off. The doctors said it was feasible and with the advancements in reconstructive surgery, it may not even leave a mark. Truth is, she had started dating someone and they were not exactly comfortable having a girlfriend with a tail. Not that they mentioned it too many times but there was always a look. And Shauna had seen that look before all too many times and she could spot it from a mile away. So she thought if that’s the only problem and she was really deeply in love with this person then cutting it off shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Paul and Jeanette were very concerned. As parents to a child who had to overcome such adversity from the moment they were born, and seeing just how much of an amazing, evolved, world-changing person their daughter already was; they were troubled that  their little girl would want to literally cut off a whole part of her just because of someone else. They remembered their own inhibitions and fears and how they too had thought of having it removed. But they were so glad that they were advised against it and much as the decision was ultimately and fully hers, they just wanted her to think about it for a little while.

I met Shauna three years ago at a conference. She sat right next to me and I remember seeing something poke out from behind her seat and not being able to comprehend exactly what I had seen. Not until she got up and went up on stage and gave her talk, did I realize I was sitting next to the 33 year old human that would change my life.

© Awinja 2019.

My father is a tyrant. I don’t mean he acts like a tyrant or is tyrannical in nature. I mean he is an actual, modern day tyrant. Kalala isn’t a big island. 242 kilometers squared of rich well endowed land  surrounded by magnificent coastline. About 10 million total population. I won’t go into details about just how technically rich my country is. I say technically because 62% of my country’s population lives below the poverty line yet we are the biggest exporters of tea, coffee, pyrethrum, limestone, salt,the list goes on. Infant mortality rates are at an all time high at 26%  because the health care system isn’t even fit to treat rats. But what do I know, I live in the president’s palace where a man made dam sits on our back yard and the president’s clinic is a golf-cart ride away just past the president’s golf course on our front yard. 

I am 35 years old now.  I was  home schooled up until highschool then joined my country’s top university for my undergrad. I majored in Political Science, minored in Psychology. I was top of my class. To my father, failure isn’t permitted in his house. After that, I was shipped off on a private jet to an Ivy league university in the great United States of America,though to be honest, I didnt find much great about it. But that’s just me. 

The first time I went outside of the president’s palace without armed guards was when I was 19; my friends invited me to shopping then a party and I didn’t want the hassle of being stared at as my security lifts and throws people out of my way. ‘Fine dad, just one bodyguard and he has to blend in’. I was in a store, a clothing store and a child approached me. He couldn’t have been more than 8 years old. I turned to him and gave him my best diplomatic smile. He spit in my face. Your father is a monster and all of you will rot in hell! He said. All my life I had never seen a child so angry. His mother ran up to us frantically asking me to spare her son’s life. Why would she think I would kill an eight year old boy? I turned to my  bodyguard who was now holding up the boy by his belt. It all happened so fast all I could say was ‘It’s ok! It’s ok! let him go!’. The mother took the boy and ran. Suffice to say, my attendance to the party was canceled . I tossed and turned in bed that night. I could still feel the impact of the spit landing on my face and the words that cut through my skin. The next morning I went down stairs, past the ballroom, past my father’s library and study, straight to the kitchen. Sometimes I liked to make my own breakfast. The staff was watching something on TV. “Eight year old boy falls to his death off a 5 storey building.”” Parents nowhere to be found.” “Police rule it as an accident,”read the headlines. The police seargant complained that the building wasn’t up to code. That the poor child must have just slipped on debris and fallen. They put the photo of the boy at the end of the broadcast. I ran outside and threw up a breakfast I had not had. 

When I was twenty two, just before I was flown off to the land of the free,my father called me into one of his home offices in the east wing. He motioned me up to him, up to the president’s seat, the one made of pure gold; also one of our biggest exports. The cushioning of the seat was custom made. It felt like what I suppose it would feel if you could sit on a cloud. No one had sat on that seat except him for the last 21 years and no one would until his death or until he decrees it so, whichever came first. He said he had watched me and my 11 siblings grow through the years and he was proud of each of us; even one of my elder brothers who went to live on an island in the Carribean, something about minimalismminimalism or staying true to the universe or whatever. Your brother was soft, I blame your step mother for all of it. No matter, I have ten more where he came from. He laughed at his own joke; a deep thunderous laugh that I think portrayed more pain than humor. He told me he wanted me to deliver a package; it will be with one of his security officers but that I was the one to take it to the door and put it in some woman’s hands. Easy enough. I thought. At exactly two thirty that afternoon I was summoned to the door, got into one of the armored cars and we drove off. I wasn’t ready for what happened next. 

When we got to the house; a mansion with perfectly manicured lawns, a fountain right on the parking lot and a huge wooden door with a golden door knob. My security ushered me to the front. I rang the bell. A woman opened. Her eyes were puffy and red and her hair messy. She wore blue sweat pants and a T-shirt with the Kalala flag on it. She looked very familiar. I said Hallo and stretched out my hands to hand over the parcel. The woman fell to the floor and started wailing. “Why are you doing this to us?!” “You have killed us!” Her voice and her words would haunt me for years to come. The security men forcefully stood her up and told her to take the package. That her family gotten what they deserved. My hands were shaking now; I just wanted to leave that place. It was a silent ride home. I knew better than to ask the bodyguards what that was about. When we got home I quickly ran to my room, got on my laptop, switched on my VPN and entered a name on the search engine. The woman’s face came up. “Governor’s wife says they will not stop searching for her husband. Pleads to the president to then just give her his body to bury.” The story was much worse than the headline. The police had laid siege on the governor’s property for three weeks. They had cut off the water, electricity even the  sewer system; nothing was allowed in or out of the compound. After twenty two days, the governor finally surrendered himself to the mercy of the government asking only that his family be spared. There was a leaked video of the whole thing on one of the ‘forbidden websites’. I have never seen a man cry like that.

 Akili was the only bodyguard I really trusted. He had started with perimeter-patrol detail but recently promoted to my mother’s detail. I found him outside in one of the parking lots washing my mother’s car. No one was allowed to touch the cars except the president and members of the security team of 53. I had to know what was in the box. You don’t want to know. He told me. But I just asked again and again. He explained that It’s called the ‘President’s Gift’. When someone wrongs the president or the president’s family or the president’s clan in whatever way, the guilt is on that person’s whole family.  Said person is given a chance to plead his case to the commander in chief which is really just a formality as the president at that time has already determined the ‘culprit’s’ fate. In special circumstances the family would be spared and can leave with just their lives and the clothes on their backs. Everything else is seized by the government as ‘evidence’ and whatever the government doesn’t keep is auctioned off in a secret auction open only to the president’s inner circle. Here is the gory part. The box is a sign that the president has pardoned the family and contains a body part of the ‘culprit’. It could be and ear, a finger, lips; whatever really depending on the message the president wants to send the family. The part is put in a black gift box that has the Kalala flag printed on one side and the president’s seal on the top. Once you get the gift, you have exactly 72 hours to clear out of the island; your photo and that of each of your family members is posted on every wall, in every office, in every newspaper and TV station in the country. You are never to set foot in Kalala ever again. It’s considered an act of mercy really. Akili finished.

 I regretted ever asking. I stayed in my room that night and the rest of the week just pouring through the internet reading stories upon stories of everything my father had allegedly done. Each one worse than the last. None of it was in the local news of course. 

I wondered why he sent me to that house. He must have known I would find out everything else. He’s always told me I can be annoyingly inquisitive sometimes. I kept it to myself nonetheless. I left for the US two months after that. On the flight, after saying goodbye to a man I could no longer look in the face, I spent 12 hours promising myself that I will never again set foot in Kalala. 

But here I am, 13 years later; Minister of Patriotism and Development.
End of part 1….

It ate me up inside…

Posted: September 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

I let her lie on my lap every evening as always, while we watched the news. Sometimes, it physically hurts but she doesn’t need to know that. Even at seventeen she still treats me like superwoman and still lets me treat her like my little girl. Who will stroke her hair when I’m gone? Who will kiss her goodnight and tell she is loved. She’s the one who started that tradition actually. She came up to me one time, she was about 16 maybe. She smiled and said ‘Mummy, can I ask you something?’ I nodded and she asked me one of the most profound questions I’ve ever been asked. ‘Why don’t we ever say I love you to each other in this family?’ I didn’t even have an answer. I think as parents because we provide for our kids and we care for them and treat them with love we forget the power of those three words. That as much as you know someone loves you, them saying it and you seeing it in their eyes in that moment is just as important. So every night, she would come into my room, pull the mosquito net up, say goodnight mummy, kiss me on the cheek and say those three beautiful words. ‘I love you too my sweet, sweet dreams’ I’d reply and every time it was like a breath of pure fresh air. She’s a little ball of feelings that one; she gets it from me. Who wipe her tears when she can no longer call me to? I think in those moments, I’m reminded daily that she’s not ready for what comes next. None of them are. And that, well that scares me more than death itself.

Sometimes I swear I could feel the cancer coursing through my body. You know how say you find a spider crawling up your leg and the rest of the day you can feel that creeper’s tiny legs all over even though you killed it and threw it outside?  Something like that. I could feel it spreading from my breasts (or at least where my breasts used to be) to my stomach, to my pelvic region, to my legs, to my toes, everywhere. It was like with every beat of my heart, as blood was pumped, it would take the cancer cells with it and those buggers would chose to latch onto whatever they found on the way. I know that’s not the science of it but that’s just how it felt. I wished I could tie off parts of my body to slow it down but the monster has been at work for years. I’ve been living on borrowed time I think. Co-existing with a darkness that will soon consume me. With every treatment, every test, the doctors confirmed what I already knew; there was nothing more they could do. I decided to put a stop to the chemicals and go herbal #organicmanenos hahaha! Figured if I was going to go, might as well go green. Haha! See what I did there. I think only my son (my second born) gets the morbid jokes I’m used to telling now because he makes them too; its how he deals I guess.

I remember the first time the monster reared its ugly head. It was back in the nineties. I know, I’ve been fighting a long time. But this is my last stand. I hadn’t been feeling well for a while but I just thought it was fatigue. One morning, I tried to get out of bed. I had never felt pain like that before. It seems to emanate from deep in my core and explode just under my skin. I couldn’t move, I puked allover myself and screamed out for help. The pain was too much. What was happening to me? I was fine just a minute ago and now it felt like my body was collapsing on itself.

My husband found me on the floor in my bedroom. I had managed to roll off the bed. I was trying to crawl to the door. Though the pain towered over every other feeling at the time, I still tried to wipe the vomit off myself. I didn’t want him to see me like that.

After one of my treatments later, I was in the shower and I passed my hand through my hair and came out with a clump of it. The doctor said it might happen because of the chemo and radiation therapy but eish, its one thing being told it would happen and it actually happening. It was just me and the mushy one at home; my third born. I called out for her and she came and helped me cut my hair off.  I was freaked out but she was so calm. Weird. That night however, she climbed into bed with me, lay next to be and was just silent. She had sensed the severity of it all and she was processing. She tends to have conversations with herself in her mind when something is too heavy and she feels unable to express it verbally. So I asked her to touch one of my breasts. This was before I had to have the double mastectomy and the cancer was only on the one breast. It was had as a rock. I heard a sniffle and a sob a few moments later. She told me I was the strongest human she had ever seen. I don’t think I’m that strong. But they make me strong, stronger than I ever thought I could be.

Fast forward to now, I sat my children’s father down to have ‘the talk’. He promised he would take care of my four angels. He is a provider, he always has been. Strict, no nonsense, very conservative, overachiever. So I knew they would be ok financially. Emotionally? Well, I shudder at the thought. He’s never really had to be connected; not beyond the natural father-child bond. I know he loves them, saying it is the problem and sometimes showing it too beyond paying school fees and buying food and clothes and such. But such is the fate of most families I guess.

The fear of death is nothing compared to the fear from wondering who will be brought into your children’s lives after you are gone. Will they be truly loved? Nope, not like you would have loved them and sometimes far far from it. Will they be truly protected? Nope, because you know no one else would sacrifice everything, even life itself for them. No one. Will they be provided for? Maybe; money is fickle and ultimately conditional. Will they be ok? Eventually; but not completely. You will have left a hole in their little hearts that will never be filled. They will try to fill it out of sheer hope but even that hope will disappoint. No pain will be greater; no tragedy more crippling and no triumph will surpass their ability to survive after losing you. Hearts will be broken often until they realise it’s not a hole that needs to be filled. It’s a hole that has been brought forth into existence through no one’s doing and it must cohabit with them in this lifetime.  They will realise that relief will only come after that struggle and knowing that you will always be a part of them. They were made in your likeness.

I hold on to those thoughts even as my body urges me to let go of this life. I hold my babies close every time I can. Those smiles, that laughter, those tears. Argh! I’ll miss all of it. They love each other, my four rug rats. I can draw peace from that. They’ll look out for each other; stand up for each other.

One is a short fuse; one makes jokes about anything and everything; one carries her feelings on her finger tips and one builds walls but will crush any threat against her or her people with no hesitation. I have told them to be prepared but I don’t think they can fully comprehend what’s about to happen.

I don’t want them to see me towards the end. When the cancer travels to my brain and I can’t even remember their names. When it eats at my bones and I’m permanently stuck to a bed. When all my body functions start to switch off one by one. I want them to remember me as I am now. Still able to hug them, kiss them, and tell them I love them. You can get over/past the guilt of not being able to be near a loved one just before they pass but the memory of a loved one wasting away slowly and painfully; no; that will never go away. So yes, I hope they will not be near me those last few months.

I don’t think I can really conclude this story. Because that would mean I’m writing from beyond the grave. Freaky. Then the touchy feely one might get it and frame it and hang it in her house. I guess it could be quite the conversation starter.

“Oh, that? *pointing at the framed letter* that’s just a story my mother wrote just before she died about how it felt like to be dying of cancer. Will you have beer or wine?”

Shall I just leave it here then? Maybe one of my little angels will write something in the years to come; after I’m gone.


                                                                        …. Lavender ….



Love or rather being in love is a beautiful but deadly force. It goes into the very depths of your soul. Your spirit holds on and your body yearns for that one touch. That daily dose of closeness and intimacy that is only yours. And when you don’t get your fix, you have chilling episodes where you can feel the pain crawling on your skin like a caterpillar leaving a trail of allergens all over you. I’m not making sense I’m I? And such is the concept of love.

blog pics

But lust, well lust is much simpler. It starts with the eyes. Sometimes with a voice in the next room. Sometimes with a scent that whiffs past you on the street and somehow sticks to your clothes. Sometimes with a touch, even just a slight graze. He sat too close to me in the matatu. Maybe on purpose? I don’t think so. The PSV was packed to the brim with a few people standing on the aisle. It was raining and water was sipping through the hinges on the window and onto his seat. He shifted to my side slightly and some water dripped from his wet umbrella onto my grey pants and some onto my black boots. He apologized. I said it was fine. It was more than fine. He paid my fare, citing the ‘inconvenience’ he had caused me. Wawili (two). He said to the conductor. He held up two fingers,left hand, his index and his middle. There was no ring on the third. Don’t ask me why my mind chose to emphasize that fact and write it in bold but I think you know. Veins, well defined, criss-crossed the back of his hand and disappeared under his black Calvin Klein watch and then under the sleeve of his leather jacket. He checked the time and sighed. Late for work? I asked him. I needed more words from that beautiful mouth with a hint of a beard. Yeah, but I got my friend to open the studio so it should be fine. He answered. An artist! My legs squeezed together. Reflex. It wasn’t just the streets getting wet. The prospect of discovering someone’s art, a stranger nonetheless has always enticed me. It’s like going on an adventure in some virgin island. You know you might find mosquitoes the size of your hand or get bit by a 6 foot snake no one’s ever seen before or fall of a cliff and into quick sand but the thrill of spending even just a few minutes discovering new beauty is just too alluring to pass up. I digress.

Traffic was a mess, bumper to bumper.

Two posh cars were in the middle of the road, not moving. There was some kind of a minor accident. Neither drivers had come out to even look at the damage. Maybe they didn’t want to get their designer suits and shoes wet just for a minor scratch. The irritated police officer just made sure they exchanged insurance information and waved them through. Excuse me. My seat partner said and pointed toward the aisle. He was alighting at the next stop. Nooo! I wanted to scream. Instead I  moved my legs to the side and gave him way. Sorry again. He quickly said and walked down to the door. I watched him move like you’d watch a baby taking their first steps, soaking in every moment. Weird analogy, I know, but you get my point. I probably was never going to see him again. Not physically anyway. But in my dreams; Yoh! On a horse going to war for his kingdom; Or in a blacksmith’s stall beating hot metal into submission ; Or on the beach,shirtless,sweaty,bringing in his catch; Or in a wizard’s den mixing potions and calling on powers above and below.  I have strange dreams(fantasies) sometimes. But such is the concept of lust, it lingers on, it evolves, it sticks onto you until your eyes latch on to another.

Intimacy is yet another complex entity. Into Me See. Closeness. Not necessarily romance as many believe. Just the very act of allowing another or a few into the most intricate parts of your life, your heart, your mind, your being. it transcends social rules and norms of relating, spits on them sometimes actually. You slide in gradually. It’s never forced, never coerced,never shoved down your throat and always years to be reciprocated. You see her/him/them and it’s an instant connection. She’s out of your league. She’d never be friends with you. You know how awkward you get around new people. Remember how that one time someone said they liked your pen and because you were crushing on them you went ahead and bought them a whole set of assorted pens, matching pencils and marker pens and a matching set of scribbling pads?

Plus, she’s really serious. Looks very together and you are a mess. She’ll never give you a second look. Crap! She just did. Well, smile back you idiot! Don’t just stand there. Oh my, now she’s walking towards you. Can we take a photo together? She asks. Yeah sure. You mumble back. I mean, we,are at an art exhibition anyway and they are allowing photography and it’s raining outside so it’s not like we are going anywhere and we both look pretty good, not that I was looking or staring just that when you were walking toward me you were in my line of sight and …..Geez! Stop rambling and just pose! You tell yourself when you realize you’ve been talking for 3 straight minutes and She’s been waiting for you to finish so y’all can take that photo. You go home that night reliving that moment over and over. You text that you got home ok. You have a long, unexpected chat. You sleep with a smile on your face. You are convinced that that night is the start of a long and beautiful friendship (something). Come over for lunch sometime,her last text said. Sure, I can cook a mean fried chicken, actually any type of chicken, chicken is my middle name. You text back then realize that you just called yourself ‘chicken’. Lunches,dinners, sleep covers, out of town camping trips,long chats, ridiculously long calls,family visits. Soon you realize, there is nothing about you that this person does not know. Even those deep dark secrets that wake you up in the middle of the night. Even the weird stuff like how sometimes on your way to work in the morning you kinda wish you’d get slightly hit by a small car so you’d just break a leg because you really hate your job and you just need a two-month “accidental” break from it and life in general. Bffs,soulmates,peas in a pod, birds of a feather, flocking all over town painting things red and mixing in other colors in the process. Always defining and redefining what levels of intimacy you are on or going on. Like I said, it’s complex. Mix it in with love and eish, that’s a roller-coaster ride you never want to get off from.

Until it ends and then..heartbreak. But that’s a story for another day. For now, enjoy the ride.