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Pain like Growing Wings | Margaret Muthee

Pain like Growing Wings | Margaret Muthee

Pain like Growing Wings Margaret Muthee Agbowo | Best African Fiction by Women


Mama will not let me sleep. She is awake at seven o’clock on a Saturday morning. Music pours into the room, accompanied by the smell of freshly baked cake that wafts right through to my nostrils. She loves doing this to me, Mama. It is how I can tell that she woke up on the right side of the bed. 

On a day like this, Mama is in a good mood. She sings along to the tunes playing on the stereo. She doesn’t care that her voice is groggy or that Mama Pendo, our next-door neighbor, just got off work. Mama calls her filthy because she works in a nightclub and dresses in skimpy clothes. She also walks around in her high heels even when the dust follows to her knees. 

Musa is coming home today. The gods are bringing the world traveler back home, that moron. I swear over my father’s grave if he attempts anything stupid this time round, I will sniff life out of him. I will not care that he is his mother’s son- the only one alive, the first one to have traveled abroad. I will not care that my father is dead or that he has always called us to unity. I will not care that Mama pretends to love him in the hopes that he will take me abroad.

“Eva, wake up!” she calls from the kitchen. I see her rinsing the dishes, swaying her body to the tunes. Her body is slow, slower than I have seen her dancing before. Her stiff bones move methodically from side to side. I can tell that she must have loved break dancing in her younger days.

The warm bed is hard to leave.  I imagine the stinging cold outside. Being home is always such trouble with the weather. The days are long, they play along like boring music on a loop. I miss the city but being here means everything to Ma.

My mother storms into the bedroom and shoves the blankets to the side of my bed. I want to barricade myself with everything. I had hoped to never see Musa again. The hate I feel for him is personal. It is like growing wings. It is a painful process you know, – uprooting love and replacing it with hate. It takes time like fermented porridge, and once done, you cannot have it back to true and pure like it was before.

Do I have to be the one to get the moron? I want to yell back.

“He won’t be here until noon Ma,” I say, covering myself again.

Mama glides through the room to the window directly opposite my bed. She flips the thick flowery curtains and opens the windows. Light floods into the room and my eyes flutter competing with it. I give up.

As I drag myself out of the house, Mama stands at the door watching me. If only she would read my mind and understand. My heart is at war and every step I take toward Musa shatters it into tiny little bits and pieces. Some people are able to pick shattered pieces up, to reconstruct them into something new, but I am in a lonely place. 

“Don’t forget to do some shopping on your way back.”

It’s always the same thing with Ma. She wants some pilau masala and some rice, and some meat of course. 



Why is there always a place where the past meets the present? Why?


I realize that I have drifted to the middle of the road when a driver honks at me.

“Watch where you are going,” he calls out. I hurry onto the side of the street. Businesses have eaten into the streets. Women spread their market produce to the middle of the road. It is a splashy display of colours. Their voices drown out each other competing for attention.

I am headed to the bus stop. It is a cold July afternoon. A woman and her child pass by in yellow, green, red, purple all in one, sweaters, jackets, lesos. You’d mistake them for the rainbow. 

The woman suddenly bumps into a ‘mkokoteni.’ The man behind it is not apologetic. He drags it on as if unaware of the child’s cries that follow him. I want to yell at him but something suddenly catches my eye. Why is there an old tire tied to the lower part of the cart? As he drags it, it leaves a trail like a snail. 

My eyes shift to other cart drivers making their way through the narrow street. Some are cautious to navigate through the crowd. Others are thick-headed. They trudge on uncaringly.

Further along the street, I notice a crowd building up.  My heart falters when I realize that it is directly next to the stop where Musa should alight. Young men stand on their motorbikes eager to catch a glimpse of the action. There is a uniform store next to the scene. From afar, I notice its once blue walls, washed away by the splashes of rain and the motes of dust from the gusting wind. 

Motor bikes are parked along the building stand abandoned by their owners. Matatus line up on the streets waiting for their chance to the bus stop. Impatient drivers will not stop hooting. Everyone seems caught up in the action at the center of the soaring crowd.

My heart shudders when I hear a woman scream. I watch out for signs of people running away, scampering for safety, but no one does. I hurry down the road, hoping to get a closer glimpse. “What is happening down the street?” I ask a woman burdened with a bag of fruits.

“Go see,” she says, giving me a stern look after realizing I am not interested in her fruits. I slide through the crowd, my small frame gliding through bodies – big, small, medium sized.. The smells here are thick, with an indistinct mix of perfume, roasted maize, sweat, cigarettes, and sweets. Women speak in hushed tones while the men just laugh out loud.

There is a woman stark naked in the middle of the huge crowd. She lies there covered in shame. Her body is bowed to one side, like a street artist making a letter on the ground. People feast their eyes on her like she’s some alien.

“You will know how to dress,” a man wielding a twig in his hand shouts. Curious onlookers laugh.

“What did she do?” I ask a woman standing next to me.

“She abused a tout who told her she was skimpily dressed.”

“They did this to her?”

 My mind is racing. Some men at the front line taunt the lady.

The women in the crowd are murmuring. 

“They shouldn’t have done this,” I hear one say.

An argument ensues between the touts and some of the women in the crowd. 

 “This woman could be your sister, wife, or mother.”

“Not one who dresses like this,”

There is tension from one side, and commotion on another.  I want to throw my sweater to cover her legs, but I am pushed to the ground while attempting to remove it.

“Someone help her,” a woman yelps.

The woman hides her face. I see tears streaming down her chubby cheeks. Her flickering eyes are sad. I imagine what she is thinking from that dark space she inhabits. 

As if conjured up by my last trail of thought, a shabbily dressed woman makes her way through the crowd. Following her is a trail of foul smell. 

It is Waceke, the mad woman. I notice the crowd bulge in different directions. On one hand, the woman holds an old blanket, and a stick on the other. This reminds me of primary school when teachers would beat us. The memory only serves to heighten my abhorrence of the spectacle playing out in front of me.  

Waceke stops in front of the woman. 

“Child of a woman!” she calls out. “What happened to you?” 

Her callous, muddy feet make their way to the woman on the ground. She drapes her with the blanket and asks the other women to throw their lesos. The remaining crowd slowly disperses as she helps the lady to her feet.

I look at my watch. It is 2 o’clock. Musa must have arrived an hour ago. I run off to the bus stop and there he is standing like a doorpost.

“I am sorry…,” I say, but the same words leave his mouth.

“I am sorry about what I did to you. I hope that you can…”

“Forget? Forget how you tricked me into being alone in the same room with you, only for you to abuse my trust. Forget that you sexually abused me? Forget that you are my brother, my father’s son?”

Silence sits between us building walls that were not there. I think of that woman as we make our way home. 

Margaret Muthee | Agbowo

Margaret Muthee

Margaret Muthee is a trained journalist and creative writer from Kenya. Her short stories have been published by One Throne Magazine, Lawino Magazine, Brittle Paper, and Bahati books which published ‘A Season for Mending’ (A short story collection). Margaret also has published various children’s books with and Storymoja. Margaret’s story ‘Finding Home’ was one of the stories that inspired Maimouna Jallow’s highly acclaimed film ‘Tales of the Accidental City.’ The film is an adaptation of four stories from the ‘Humans of Nairobi’ anthology collection and has been screened in various film festivals around the world.

Margaret Muthee enjoys organizing literary events. She hopes to get more published in the future.

Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

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