Little May saw her father walk out of the car park and suppressed the desire to rush out and meet him. She had been doing this for many years since she learned how to walk. But since the Democrats lost to the Republicans, and the latter’s strongman had sworn–in his inaugural speech–to walk his talk of making Lamer Republic great again, things drastically changed. Breathing became a burden to the lungs of every immigrant. The ground became uneasy to walk on. The weather, despite the hot sun, became threateningly cold. A dark cloud of fear hovered above everyone. And her father lost the cheerfulness that accompanied him wherever he went like a shadow.
“If Fixer’s threats are anything to go by, does it mean we are returning to Khwisero?” Mercury asked her husband one night.
“I don’t know,” he answered sharply.
“What are we gonna do then?” she persisted.
“I don’t know,” came the sharp answer.
She got out of bed and went to the sitting room to weep. He was annoying her by claiming to know nothing when their future hung on a thin thread that could be severed any time. She feared for her three children (then acquiring the best education, the best healthcare and the best of everything in the world). She feared for her job, her husband’s and the beautiful home they had gone through thick and thin to build. What would they become if they are blown into nothingness? Would their colourful dreams find a home elsewhere after leaving the land of milk and honey?
“Stop crying, nobody has died in this house,” he shouted from the comfort of his bed.
But her sobbing intensified. He couldn’t sleep. He realized that being tough won’t stop her. He went to her, held her, kissed her, consoled her and cuddled her like a child. Wasn’t she a child anyway? Far away in his native land, women and children are one and the same. That’s why they could shed tears at any slight provocation. And nobody would bother. But the day a man shows a tear, the world turns upside down for him! He must suffer quietly without betraying his emotions. Otherwise it would be a sign of weakness. African men are lions. Pain and suffering are locked in a tight embrace with joy and happiness in the pages of their lives. Isn’t suffering the measure of maturity in men?
“I understand your pain, my love,” he whispered in her ear gently. “But I’m also confused. I can’t really figure out what to do, where to go from here, and what to make of life in this Fixer era.”
She looked into his eyes disapprovingly. She had dried her tears, but it was clear that none of his excuses, as long as it wasn’t solving their problem, would move her.
“Let’s go home, Ben,” she said firmly and rose to go.
Home? What home? He knew every bit of meaning in her words, but chose to avoid the reality in it. The reality of anything is painful and scary. Three decades of wandering, studying and working in a foreign land had uprooted him from the ancestral breast and given him another home: Lamer. He had married there, bred his children there and invested his life there. To imagine that he would be compelled to leave made him sick.
“Papa!” she called when he headed for the bedroom without acknowledging her presence.
“Yes, my little angel,” he answered, patiently praying that she doesn’t keep him with disturbing questions. There was a long pause. It nearly broke him down with anxiety.
“Is there a problem at work?” she asked.
“No. Why do you ask?” he enquired.
“Nothing really Papa, it’s just that you haven’t been yourself of late…”
“Oh, don’t worry about that please. Everything is as it used to be: perfectly well,” he lied.
She wasn’t convinced though.
“Now get me something cold to drink from the fridge please.”
“But, Papa, is it true that we would leave this place? When are we going to see Grandma? I would really love to see the Africa I have read in books for ages. Is there darkness everywhere that one needs a spotlight in order to see, Papa? Are there monkeys in every home as teacher Fuckshit says?” she shot the questions at him unexpectedly, one after the other, like bullets from a magazine. One could read the shock written all over his chubby face. Silence ruled for an eternity until he finally found his voice.
“Where did you hear that from? Your mother?” he asked, his voice heavy with anger.
She had read it in a newspaper headline at school: “Lamer to deport illegal immigrants soon….” But a classmate, blue-eyed white girl, had made it clear when she said that every black would be flushed out of every crack of the country like vermin to allow Lamerians enjoy the fruits of their land and reduce unnecessary competition for resources. She had asked her mother. But her explanation was scanty, and less convincing.
“Only illegal immigrants, not us my dear,” Mercury had told her daughter.
“Who are we then, mom? Aren’t all immigrants black?” May had bombarded her with endless questions.
But were they really safe? Both Ben and she had green cards. They had met two decades earlier as postgraduate students at Princeton College. She couldn’t remember the last time she had renewed her citizenship. She knew very little about her husband’s. All their children were Lamerians by birth, but she feared what would happen if she and Ben were forcefully cast out like chaff to the unknown wind.
An elephant carries its tusks wherever it goes however heavy they are. She told herself, thinking of where they could possibly go should things go south for them– something she knew was sure as death. Her husband spoke very little of his ancestral home, Khwisero. She failed to understand how a man could have very little recollection, pride, attachment and longing for the land wherein his umbilical cord lies. She missed the salty African rains, the hot African suns, and the violent African winds. She pictured herself in the small village, a leso around her massive waist and a jembe in the farm. She pictured herself milking one of her fat cows or helping her mother-in-law to pound millet. She pictured herself carrying a pot of water from the river, watching naked children run around, playing in mud and chasing grasshoppers. She enraged and angered to imagine some fella calling such a place a shithole country or a cemetery. She was utterly devastated to imagine that her husband doesn’t want them back to their roots.
However, her short memory couldn’t allow her form a clear picture of everything. The [memory of her African] experience was a faint dream that hung on the periphery of her mind delicately. She had left long time ago, and everything went with the wind.
Her fear was confirmed a week later. Ben came home with a sealed envelope of bad news. He had been sacked. His boss, Mr. Blunt, had said there would be major changes in the company staff earlier. What he hadn’t mentioned was that some jobs would be lost. It happened, and Ben alongside three of his colleagues who happened to be black, were on the receiving end. Their positions were quickly taken up by new white employees as Ben watched helplessly.
At the time Ben was in Mr. Blunt’s office, Mercury was at the Angelus’ immigration department. She wanted to renew her green card asap.
“Twelve years? Where have you been?” the old woman at the counter looked at her contemptuously.
She fumbled to explain herself– giving countless whys, hows, what-ifs. But she ended up getting very little assistance. She couldn’t understand how she hadn’t renewed her citizenship for all those years. Perhaps, like everyone else these, she needed to be reminded of what to do. When to file tax returns, how to make it in bed or life, why eating healthy is important and other nonsense. She was an illegal immigrant! The realization nearly broke her down.
“I think it would be hard making it here,” Ben said after listening to his wife’s account.
“I think deportation would be the next thing. Fixer wants the best for Lameria. He wants the worst for every immigrant. He doesn’t want us,” Mercury added after a long pause.
“What can we do then?” he asked desperately.
“Go home. That’s the only, and the better option sweetheart,” she replied without thinking.
Ben buried his aching head in his hands, sunk into the chair and thoughts. His wife was right. But he couldn’t remember when exactly he had left his home. He couldn’t remember any of his relatives. He had fallen out with them, sold his land and left for good. He hadn’t even gone to bury his parents. He hadn’t even called his kinsmen to share a piece of the game he hunted in the wild forest of milk and honey. He hadn’t even sent money to build churches, schools, orphanages and roads. He was a failure and a traitor. The whole village had bad-mouthed him, cursed and ostracized him. Over the years, he had loved Lameria as his only home. Now it didn’t want him. It was about to cast him away. He looked at his daughter and sympathized with her. She had always wanted to visit Africa.
“No. We won’t go anywhere,” he tells himself. They would sit and wait. Deportation, prosecution, death, whatever! Everyone must go down someday, for one reason or the other. Their day had come.
Wafula p’Khisa is a poet, writer and teacher from Kenya. He studied English, Literature and Education at Moi University. His work has been published in The Legendary (issue 48), Aubade Magazine (issue 1), The Seattle Star,The Beacon (ebook anthology), Scarlet Leaf Review,Antarctica Journal, NYSAI Press, AfricanWriter.com, Best New African Poets 2015 Anthology,VoicesNet.com, The Pendulum, Mgv2 Magazine, Lunaris Review, Best New African Poets 2016 Anthology, PPP Ezine (vol 2, issue 1), Advaitam Speaks Literary Journal (vol 2, issue 1), Basil O’Flaherty Journal, Emanations (issue 2), The New Ink Review, Better Than Starbucks Magazine (April issue,2018), Disgrace Land (ebook anthology on Zimbabwe), Tuck Magazine and Best New African Poets 2017 anthology. His work has also been published in French. He blogs at http //:wafulakhisa.wordpress.com.