Hajji’s Children

The Mheshimiwa’s office was relatively empty today; not to say that no one sat waiting for him; the man was always on demand but less than the usual number sat patiently in those dingy metal seats awaiting his counsel. Jabari stared at the clock then at the door… then at the clock again. He twitched nervously. Boss was later than usual. Even though Jabari had only been working for Mheshimiwa Hajji for a few months, he could certainly say he knew all there was to know about the man, when it came to his professional life at least. He actually prided himself in the fact that he knew the boss enough that he would always be able to provide what the man needed before he knew to ask for it. Regarding the boss’ personal life, he wasn’t quite sure if he knew the man well enough. Or if there was really anything to know.

Jabari had a painful childhood. He didn’t realize it till much later in life when he was afforded the luxury of seeing children grow up loved, cared for and spoilt unconditionally. Jabari never had close family, not normal family anyway. He had vague recollections of people so selfish that they abandoned him. He was born in the exotic ‘coast’ of the country where the weather was hot and humid and everything else including the people were cool and easy going. His parents made a mistake. He wasn’t even sure they were fit enough to be afforded the title of parents, to him they were just two random human beings who happened to reproduce. They were two young ignoramuses who cared a notch too little for anything or anyone, especially themselves. They had that going for them the day they met, so they went ahead and made offspring like all ignoramuses do when they’re idle too long. They were both drug addicts; Jabari’s grandma always said that’s what ‘kept’ them together and away from their son, Jabari. They sent Jabari to live with his grandmother and his cousins instead. His maternal grandmother was lovely and old, too old to care for 11 children; they barely scathed by.

For about 8 years, Jabari lived in the utopia where he had 10 brothers and sisters and grandma was actually mama. Then, his mother came back to the village. People like her only did that for two things grandma said; for money or to die. Grandma didn’t have any money. ‘The life’ had finally caught up with her in a viral way. She was seriously unwell, Grandma explained. Jabari had gone back and forth hating her then loving her then pitying her and finally cursing her. When Jabari was 12 after finally forgiving her, he became the sole caretaker for his mother. His mother finally passed away from complications stemming from HIV/AIDS, something they only referred to then as “Mdudu”. That was the first time Jabari heard of it. It was the most painful he ever had to experience to the day. He had slowly begun to forgive her as any child would, only to watch her writhe in pain and lose her brutally soon after. He had never met his father. But that was a bridge he had burned immediately after her death; a bridge he could not, would not rebuild. To Jabari, his father had died with his mother and family was who you made it.

Jabari liked to think that Mheshimiwa Hajji was a good father, if not the best. That the man did his best considering his circumstances to ensure that his family was loved and cared for. Jabari liked to think he knew his family too on account of all the thoughtful gifts and cards he bought for them, silently, on behalf of the boss. He would finally get to meet Mheshimiwa Hajji’s family today. They would be arriving in less than ten minutes in the car service he hired for them; a separate car for each. That meant Mheshimiwa Hajji was late. He was never late. Something felt strange to Jabari. He shifted uneasily, glancing at the clock again. Through the door came, Hajji’s son, Paul. Paul dragged his feet lazily and slouched making himself look a lot shorter than he was. His eyes gave away his dread to be there. He walked straight past Jabari into his father’s office and immediately walked back out. “He’s late. Everyone’s late. But I’m supposed to be the ‘bad’ one. I should have stood him up.” He began to whine and rant to himself in the middle of the room as if no one else was there. Jabari was staring at him so hard that he almost didn’t notice Hon. Hajji’s older daughter, Roselyne walk in. She screeched when she saw her brother, taking him into his arm kissing on the cheek and forehead cheekily, and Jabari’s attention, as well as that of everyone else in the room, was diverted to her.

“Where is he?” She began, drawing away from her brother who was cringing from the public displays of affection he had just received from his sister.

“You know he yapped for thirty minutes when I told him I wasn’t coming. Now, where is he?”

“That’s your misdoing. You know charity events aren’t optional for the Hajji’s” He imitated his father as his sister burst out laughing. They laughed for a little over a whole minute before they noticed the half-full room staring at them. They kept quiet and stood in the middle of the room awkwardly, aware that the eyes of the constituents were on them. Jabari did not miss his cue.  He was by their side in seconds to direct them to a room where they would be more comfortable. He showed them to the meeting room down the hall then dutifully went back to his post.

“Mr Hajji, Miss Hajji…. Follow me! We have a room set up for you. Can I get you anything? Tea? Water? Juice? Soda? We even have porridge!” Jabari offered vehemently but they only murmured their refusals and walked past him into the meeting room across the hallway. The room was a grand boardroom with large elegant mahogany table standing in the middle of it. The room smelt of leather and polish.

The youngest daughter came into the waiting room next. Minnie walked straight into her father’s office too then came back out exclaiming, “I’m not late!” She was ecstatic for a few seconds before also realizing that the masses were staring at her. She then walked to Jabari and introduced herself in a rather professional manner before he showed her to the meeting room. She was the more humble and cultured of the three, Jabari could tell immediately. She was received far much less enthusiastically by her siblings than by the bystanders in the waiting room. It didn’t seem to bother her that her presence came with an air of tension with a hint of discomfort. The Hajji children gave each other a few awkward stares before Oldest Roselyne cracked the silence,

“So why are you here?” She said. Her voice was cross, almost mean.

“What do you mean?” Younger asked in reply with no animosity in her voice.

“Well, you said you didn’t need us! You remember, Paul?” Paul turned away, not wanting to get involved in what was about to turn into a full-on sister fight.

“I said I didn’t need you, Roselyne. Me and Paul are just fine, yes Paul? How’s aviation school?” Minnie deflected heavily while trying to bring her brother over to her side.

“Then leave! Leave us Hajji’s!” Roselyne began to raise her voice from the edge of her seat. She would have gotten up and backed up her words but Mrs. Hajji strutted violently into the room.

“Where is your father?” Silence

“Hmm. Roselyne! Apologize to Minysteria. Now!!”

“Muuuuuummmmm!” The girls whined in unison. Roselyne in protest of the apology, Minnie in protest of the use of her full name. Mrs. Hajji ignored them and walked over to her son.

“How’s Aviation school, Paul? Dropping out yet?”

“Actually, mum,” Paul stood to give her his seat, “Yes! I want to do theatre arts now.”

“Theatre Arts? Sounds familiar. Roselyne didn’t drop out of the same class a few years ago. What are you doing now?”

“I’m on the circuit now. Getting more gigs now. My agent says I’ll be vogue famous soon” Roselyne twirled gracefully as she stood.

“Circuit? You know I knew you’d be a call girl, Rose. I just wish your father hadn’t wasted so much on those three incomplete degrees to realize it. He could have just listened to me.”

“I’m a model, mum!” Roselyne sat back down. She had been struck down.

“Model? Hmmm” Mrs. Hajji poked. “And you Minysteria! I hear you are now a manager at 24. Impressive! Your goal was by 22, wasn’t it?” Minnie was the only one who didn’t take her mother too much to heart. They were the same; they could take it and dish it ten times over.

“Yes but, I lost those two years in that Catholic Disciplinary Programme you made me go to cause I called you chubby.” Roselyne and Paul giggled shyly behind their mother while Minnie and her mother locked into a death stare.

“And to think! I didn’t let them cane the delinquency out of you.” Mrs. Hajji said while pulling out a small mirror and her make-up purse out of her bag. Her children watched her quietly; all reflecting and regretting.

The meeting room door creaked open. Hon. Hajji’s presence drew the attention of the whole room. Everyone in his family shifted; He was here, it was now time to behave. He was in a better mood than usual. Maybe it was the annual charity; it always made him giddy to gun up good press.

“How’s the Hajji clan! Excited for our annual charity ball? Roselyne? Paul? Minn?”

“Yes, dad!” They faked enthusiasm in unison.

“And you my love? How are you? Excited?”

“Like you don’t already spy on me enough to know my feelings.” Mrs. Hajji didn’t look up from her mirror. She just continued to elegantly color her face with a brush.

“How are you, kids! Paul, School?” Hon Hajji ignored his wife’s callousness.

“We can talk about it after.”

“Now” Hon. Hajji insisted with a gruesome grin on his face.

“I’m thinking of dropping out of Aviation School. It’s just not for me. I want to try my hand at Theatre Arts!” Hon. Hajji’s mind must have replaced what his son said with white noise cause he ignored his son’s absurd request and went on to his oldest daughter,

“Rose! How is that job of yours? Any luck?” He must have also forgotten what Roselyne did with her life because he would never and had never approved.

“I’ve been trying,” Seeing the good mood her father was in, she moved closer. “I’m gonna be on a magazine cover. Soon” Hon. Hajji didn’t crack but usually, the thought of his daughter on print and not to the aid of his campaign repulsed him.

“Minnie! My Minnie Mouse! How’s the old desk job?” Minnie hopped with excitement. She had been waiting at least two months to tell her dad about her promotion. She imagined he’d be over the moon about it.

“I got promoted, Daddy. You are now looking at SetiNel’s newest youngest freshest manager.” Hon. Hajji turned to Minnie

“That’s wonderful, honey. But what is happening with your siblings?” He now turned and walked up to his son. Looking him directly in his eyes, their faces about to touch, he bellowed, “Theatre Arts? You? A man? Want to spend the rest of your life acting like a woman in plays? Putting oranges where your chest hair is? Is that what men do?” Paul was silent. “Is that what men do?”

“No.” He murmured under his breath.

“I will be paying tuition next week. You will redo that semester you spent thinking about theatre arts.” He turned to Rose whose face gave away that she was obviously thrown off by the sudden change in attitude her father was having.

“So you’re a prostitute now?”

“Mmmmh-hmmm” Mrs. Hajji affirmed.

“No daughter of mine will have her nakedness spread all over the magazines. You think I didn’t know about those nude campaigns you’ve been doing. I have personally had each and every one of them taken down.” He moved closer to her, she cowered. “Who taught you to be a harlot? Your mother is such a graceful lady. Then look at you! Naked! An MP’s daughter posing naked? On camera? Not this MP. Not my children. Over my dead body.”  Hon. Hajji breathed heavily, angrily while his children stared at him in fear; all except Minnie of course. She sat feeling mighty and unscathed. However, the truth is that she felt ignored. Her father only noticed her when she did something wrong. In which case, he would scold her and give her the silent treatment for a few weeks. He brushed off the achievements like they were nothing and he expected much better. She wanted to follow his footprints into politics but he had simply retorted, “You’re too loud even for a woman to ever make it as a politician. You say what you feel and think because you think everyone cares. But the men of this country, they like it when their women know their place. Quiet. In the kitchen or with the children. Your best bet is to birth a politician.”

Hon. Hajji’s nostrils had widened and his eyes reddened now. He got angrier and angrier just looking at the bad investments that called themselves his children. Minnie had just opened her mouth to speak out when a soft yet authoritative knock was heard at the door to the meeting room.

“Yes?” Hon. Hajji called out loudly. Jabari opened the door softly, immediately noticing the tension that ensued. He walked over to the MP, leaned in and murmured,

“The car to take you to the event is ready. If you don’t leave now, you’ll be late.”

“Thank you. “ Hon. Hajji politely to Jabari. He then turned to his children; his wife was now conveniently done with her makeup.

“I was not a spoilt child. Your mother, though a little spoilt now, was never over privileged or lazy.” Mrs. Hajji sneered. “I don’t know why you all act like nincompoops. You wouldn’t last a day in the world without me. You are all old enough to fend for yourselves yet you still live in MY MANSION! The Hajji Money train is now out of service. You all have an education, yes? Good luck.” He walked away dramatically. Mrs. Hajji made a patronizing noise before following him out of the room.

It was Minnie who broke the silence. “I guess we need new last names.”

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Hon. Hajji’s Monday Meeting

The gentle Monday morning sun had begun peeping through the small old-fashioned windows in the hallway leading to Hon. Hajji’s office. Everyone on the queue began shifting slowly to the magnificently lit side of the hall way to warm themselves of the chilly morning. It was 9 am and scattered murmurs and muttered coughs could be heard springing up all over in the queue. Hon. Hajji’s hallway always looked like this on Monday morning and throughout the rest of the day. The narrow hallway was littered by a snake of people stretching down from one end of the building to the other. Monday was the day he dedicated to his constituents and their petty issues. Nothing was too small for the Monday meetings at the Mheshimiwa’s office. Everyone who needed Mheshimiwa’s attention had to come on Monday morning or wait another week to vent appropriately. Not everyone got a chance to see him, so the queue would begin forming at the crack of dawn as no one wanted to miss their opportunity to speak to the Mheshimiwa, to have him change their lives. Mothers held their babies close to their breasts to feed them, while the men held their chins looking around impatiently. A few street children lingered trying not to set the others off with their foul smell while pregnant teenagers sat quietly though uncomfortably on the cold cemented hallway; some staring at their protruded bellies sadly. But none left that queue.

Everyone in that queue wore a glum look on their faces. It wasn’t entirely discern-able if this was because of the stuffy smelly hallway that most had been standing in since dawn or because no one ever came to see the Mheshimiwa without having a monumental problem that they believed only his extensive wealth and all-mighty influence could solve. His askaris would arrive just before dawn to make sure the queue was straight and that the ‘lowly civilians did not erupt in a frenzy of violence and disorder’; Mheshimiwa’s words exactly. They also came in handy as many people often fainted in the queue. They always said Mheshimiwa’s office was the best place to fall ill as he would order his askaris to rush you to the public hospital and Mheshimiwa would clear all your bills too. Heaven for the ailing peasant!

That particular Monday morning, Hon. Hajji strolled into his office building at 12:15 pm exactly that afternoon. Everybody in the queue noticed it on account of being forced to stare at the enormous grandfather clock in the hall all morning; it played the most horrible bell ensemble on the hour, every hour. Women could be heard ululating and celebrating his arrival while some shifted uneasily readying their unworthy selves for his presence. Pregnant mothers stood up in a haste clutching their stomachs, to meet him while he shook hands perhaps catch a glimpse in his eye and rack up enough sympathy to raise their children on charity. The men on the other hand cleared their throats, stood up straight and tried to get a word in before he moved on to the next ‘victim’. Street children all swarmed around him while mothers held their sons and daughters back as they tried to join the filthy clan at Hon. Hajji’s feet. In that moment, at 12:15 on a hot Tuesday afternoon, every man, woman and child on Hon. Haji’s executive floor held the illuminating hope that Today Mheshimiwa would solve all their problems and begin their cycles of blessings and prosperity. All their hope and faith they put in him, every single one of them. He found quite cultic, to be honest, as if they fasted and prayed in his name and worshiped him with great song around their dinner tables (or mats) before they partook in what might be the last meal they ever had.

Nevertheless, Hon. Hajji knew very well, this was what politics was about. Where he was from, the only requirement for politicians was a band of fanatics. Public officials rarely got elected unless they built the largest ‘fan club’ usually with money and empty promises or they were endorsed by another politician’s large fan club; that cost a large sum too and even more loyalty. Hon. Hajji had built his voter army in the small rural community where he was born. His mother had always been a vocal part of the community and before she puffed her last she had made sure her influence flowed smoothly over to her firstborn son. Even so, he still had to keep buying it somehow like a magazine subscription; hence the enormous queue outside his office. He gave the crowd one last wave before he stepped into his office and slumped heavily into his seat. His assistant followed him closely, closing the door behind her.

“The governor called, he wants to see you today.” She began, with no salutations while Hon. Hajji used an antiseptic wipe to kill off everything he may have picked up shaking hands outside his office.

“Tell him I’ve got a million constituents at my door, he can wait with them if it pleases him or make an appointment.”

“The bridge project has stalled.” She continued, ignoring his disrespect to the governor

“What? How? Call that Njoroge and tell him if he doesn’t start soon. We will put out another tender. A real one this time! We both know he’d never win one of those”

“Yes, sir. Lastly, how many people do you think you will get around to seeing today?”

“How many did I see last week?”

“100, sir”

“Today, make it fifty. I want to be home early.”

She nodded and turned to let the first constituent in. Hon. Haji first walked over to his office safe. From it he retrieved four large bundles of cash notes and lined them up at the edge of his desk closest to him. He returned to his seat, closed his eyes and began to gather all his wit and patience for he was about to deal with a constituency’s problems. It was a malnourished middle-aged woman, with her three equally malnourished bashful children who interrupted his meditation as they stumbled through the doorway. Her children all stared at Hon. Hajji from behind their mother’s skirt; one she had been forced to patch one too many times. Hon. Hajji sat up in his leather recliner.

“Madam. What is your name? Would you like to have a seat?” She shook her head vigorously. Hon. Hajji knew she was not accepting the offer because she felt unworthy to sit right across from the Great Mheshimiwa Hajji; most of them did the same.

“Ok then. How can I help you, Mama?” He resorted to the native language, trying to make her feel equal, comfortable.

“Mheshimiwa,” She bowed even if she didn’t have to. She truly was not even meant to. “It’s my husband.”

“What about him can I help with?” Hon. Hajji already knew where this was going. It was always the same story in a way.

Her husband was an alcoholic, “My husband likes to drink,” She swallowed hard, she was embarrassed, “A lot!” He urged her with an energetic nod.

He rarely comes home, maybe never? “Mheshimiwa, me and the children have not seen him for five days now. Five! Five!! Mheshimiwa, five!! ” She waved her stretched-out palm in the air as if it were the weapon she’d use to ‘discipline’ her husband when he finally decided to return. Hon. Hajji spoke calmly, leaning in.

“Do you have a job, Mama?” She shifted uncomfortably

Of course, he wouldn’t let her work, “I once worked at a salon in our village making young girls look pretty. But I was very young then myself. When I had my firstborn son, my husband insisted I stay at home and look after him. He hasn’t allowed me to go back since.” She dropped her head and began to stare intensely at her feet. Her face was now burning with shame and guilt. She didn’t speak for a moment but Hon. Hajji already knew what she would say next.

Give her money, She wants money.  “Mheshimiwa! I am not a charity case. I am able and I know that. And very soon,” She pulled her eldest son from behind her, “this one here is going to be old enough to do casual work. And might I add, he is very strong for his age.” She went silent again, now staring at the top of her son’s head. Her eyes began to moisten. She rubbed a rogue tear away hastily when she noticed her other two children peep up at her from behind her skirt.

“Mheshimiwa,” she spoke softly now, “It is just that this man has left me all alone with three of his children and no source of income and we do not know when he will return. My children cry at night because they cannot sleep because they are hungry.” She moved closer to his desk so he could see her bitterness, he sat up to move further away, “We haven’t eaten for three days and two nights, Mheshimiwa. I am afraid I am not able to feed or care for my children. I am scared for their lives and their health.” Tears began to choke her when she saw Hon. Hajji pull out two notes from his first bundle.

“Mama, I know you are loyal to your husband. But you also said you are able. You must go out and find yourself another job, no matter what it is, no matter what they pay. You hear me, Mama??”

“Yes, Mheshimiwa” She replied without shifting her eyes from the two notes in his hands.

“Take this. Feed your children. It should keep you until you find work.” He handed her the money. Her lips curled so wide while she crumbled the notes and stuffed them deep in her enormous bosom. Her children instantaneously began dancing around knowing three days of torture had just ended.

***

“Send in the last one!” Hon. Hajji bellowed over the intercom to his assistant. He had seen so many people all day, he was getting grumpy and irritable. Not to mention, everybody who ever came to his office wanted something from him.

“Sir, There are still about 60 people left waiting for you.”

“No! One!” He stood up from his seat. “You hear me! I will only see one more. I’m bloody tired and they all stink! It smells worse than a cow pen here now.”

Seconds later, a young man dressed reasonably better than everyone at his office that day walked confidently into his office and stood right in front of him. Hon. Hajji was still concentrated on counting the money left on his desk when the young man began to speak.

“My name is Jabari and I have a proposition for you. May I have a seat?” First, Hon. Hajji was startled by this man, his pristine appearance, his choice of words, his crystal accent-free of the mother tongue interference and the young man’s English which was so polished that it surprised Hon. Hajji who had been forced to speak in mother tongue all day to accommodate the other constituents. Most of all how for the first time in a long time he could not tell what the young man needed from him.

“Yes, please. Sit. I am eager to hear from you now.”

EmmBoldened: A Philosopy

When I tell people about my site, they almost immediately and instinctively ask what’s it called. I promptly and almost too boldly answer “EMMBOLDENED“. It is simply derived from the English word ‘Emboldened’  which means to be made bold or to be courageous. I have conceptualized a lot of things in this life, I’m also pretty witty. But in all my days, of all my quips, the birth of this site and its name is one I am most proud of. I’ve been a writer since I could speak. I always had this thing for words; like a strong love affair. When I was younger, I read anything and everything I could get my hands on; promptly asking my father what new words meant and remembering them so that I could incorporate them into normal conversation. My compositions were nothing short of legendary and my high school poems still make me tear up when I read them. I am a writer, always have been, always will be.

However, I have always been shy to share, shy to air out my laundry even if it was grossly extrapolated and applied to a fictional character, afraid to be vulnerable enough to show people around me that I was not just intelligent, witty and stubborn, I am also a writer with an unusual way with words and an overactive imagination. I’ve had about five blogs before this; each with its own theme and style of writing. Each with a portfolio of poems, rants and short stories. I didn’t share any of them. I always reassured myself, “I just need an avenue for my amazingness.” and this in its own right is true; my writing is and always ha been my favorite way to work out life’s hurdles.

My writing is a haven that I don’t like to share; my heaven. I didn’t crave a regular following or a fan base; I still don’t. Even now, I still walk around with pieces so good they would launch my unfinished novel and my writing career, yet so deep I would crumble if you criticized the characters’ actions. This blog, like the five or six before it, is not solely for commercial gain, rather artistic therapy for me; and now for you. I write about those things that irk you deep down; those that you never speak of because you can never be sure any one else has ever felt the same way. I write about the things that excite you even if you know they shouldn’t; issues considered taboo to speak of, scenes too gory to show without an advisory.  I write deep! That’s just it. I write too deep sometimes; other times not deep enough. I write what resonates in me; the feelings so deep that you don’t wanna share cause you fear a bout of emotional diarrhea. But unlike this site’s predecessor sites, this is not a place for fear or shame; not for judgement or prejudice either. This is a place of emotion and imagination filled with all stories happy, sad and painful. A place where those who are unafraid to feel so deeply can dwell. Those unafraid to allow themselves to be enraged by a think-piece, unafraid to cry at a piece of poetry and unafraid to laugh out loud at a short story. For to live is to feel, and to feel is to live. This site is fearlessly and perfectly named as it is the home of courage, Emm’s courage. It is Emmboldened.

So stick around; open your mind and heart to the stories and experiences that I will all too lovingly share. But most importantly, be enlightened, be empowered, BE EMMBOLDENED.

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