The space between us was filled with unspoken words.
She sat at her table, physically present but running on auto pilot. She lived and breathed like she should, but a manikin would have elicited more emotion than she could master. She was tired. From her soul outwards. The light had long gone from her eyes, her smile barely made it to her cheeks, but she lived, if only for the sake of her children, she breathed.
I was seated across from her, but at the next table. Nairobi Restaurant Week had me satisfying every type of craving, even those I did not know I had. So I sat at a table that was available, being peaky with seating this week was not an option, I was glad for my weight to be off my dainty feet. I found her there, with her kids and an empty seat. A slight nod of my head to acknowledge her, and that was all the contact I wanted going forward. We however had deep conversations that I had not anticipated. From one tired soul to another, I felt her mood and drunk her need. She was a kindred soul.
She was a mother to three kids, they all looked like her but obviously came from different fathers. The first one was all black (I do not know how else to describe her), a handsome girl with hair longer than Rapunzel. She spoke with a British accent, like her siblings but exercised authority because she was older. I liked her immediately. Her siblings were high yellow, from mixed race parents. They were cute, and fiercely bratty. They could not be still, not to order their meal, not to color their little play things, and they did not know what inside voices were. Then came a bear of a man. His shoulders could carry the weight of the world and he would not slouch, not for a minute. He wore dirty worn jeans with dusty boots, looked like he had fallen off the back of a truck coming from a sugar plantation. A typical KC, with an air of importance that I did not care for. He took his place at the table, letting his weight fall on the steel seat with a little more force that it could take, the squeak coming from the scrapping on the floor a loud warning for him to order light. His presence ignited the high yellow children, but subdued her even further. The girl I liked seemed to disappear altogether.
I had seen this a thousand times before. I knew the script, I knew how it would end, I knew the excuses by heart. Our eyes met, I heard her say “ I’m staying for the kids”, the age old reason for tolerating unhappiness and all manner of abuse. If she could, she would walk out and never look back, because time had stopped and she had died. She gave all she had, all she was, and got nothing but stretch marks and silence in return. Her abuse was not physical; her not wearing a scratch of make-up allowed for quick assessment, her short skirt with a crop top did not reveal any bruising. Hers was a mental and emotional wrangle, she was chained to a man who did not know she existed, and would not be bothered to appreciate her. He spoke to his children animatedly; he seldom looked at her or her daughter. Perhaps two words were exchanged with the one I liked, conversation with him and his was limited and strained.
She looked up again, I heard her say “do not judge me”. I was not, I however could relate, I wanted to tell her. No one understands the struggle of being many things to many people, and have nothing left for self. Mothers especially, putting up with everything, so the children could have the “best”. Eroding your person, sacrificing happiness, allowing death to become you. Disconnected from the present, unsure of the future, unaware of time.