“Why do we have to? Why do I have to?” Hailey let out a sigh and pouted visibly. Her pout brought out all her good features as she pouted with her whole face; her curly blonde locks paved way for her excellent cheekbones, sharp, defined. Her broad African nose wrinkled perfectly highlighting her big blue eyes.
“Because you just do!” Her father barked at her as he tried to fit his big brown broad-rimmed hat round the corners of his head. “Now, again. You tell them your name is NJAMBI, not that American rendition you keep advertising. ”
“Hailey has been my name for a long time. If I am correct, all my life. I don’t understand why I have to change it now for some relatives I barely know.” Her father’s eyes narrowed with the slightest pang of anger.
“Also I want you to use the language. At least try to. We want these people thinking you’re wholesome home-grown Gikuyu woman. Mutumia Gatha. Ready for marriage!” He was calmer with this decree, knowing it would be hard for her to converse with strangers in a language she had only just begun to learn. Hailey nodded giving up her comfort for the day even though she could not grasp why exactly.
“You may want to spend most of the day helping in the kitchen and serving the men. A domesticated woman fetches a lot more than a spoilt one, Njambi. Smile, too! It’s important.” He mimicked to her through the mirror’s reflection.
“What is thing called again, dad?” Hailey began to lean into her woes.
“We call it a ruracio. It is a dowry negotiation ceremony, a coming together of families, an alliance! “He declared while he turned on his heel, rather too ceremoniously.
“Sounds like a bore. Dad, I’ve told you enough times. Allan is nice but I don’t want to marry him. “Hailey’s big blue eyes pleaded with her father to reconsider.
“Njambi, my dear, my only daughter, the only thing they let me carry home with me when they deported me,” He moved to closer to his daughter, bent down and held her face close to his, “We are in Africa now. OK? And in Africa, your father says you marry, you marry. Now for the last time, Kamau is the man for you, PERIOD! “He screamed, with his eyes fixed on hers before he threw her face away from his, letting go. Hailey’s eyes began to sting with tears. All too visibly, her light-skinned cheeks began to fill with rose color.
“It’s….. It’s……. It’s just backward to arrange my marriage to Allan.” She retorted between tears feeling herself refuse to subdue or submit.
“Backward? You dare call your ancestry backward! You listen here, and you open your ears and listen good. This is your home now and there is no Gloria Steinem here! No Germaine Greer and No Susan B. Anthony to save you from your God-granted duties. In this country, men lead and women follow. Men speak and women obey. You are a woman and you are no different!” He said this, eyes fixed on Hailey as she reacted. She rose and fled the room, head in hands.
A year ago, Hailey was a very different person, in a different country, living a different life with different people. Then her mother passed away, a young Caucasian woman in her forties leaving behind a Kenyan husband and her mixed race daughter. At the time, her father had been inconsolable for about three months. He didn’t speak, he didn’t eat, he didn’t work and he didn’t sleep. Even though Hailey was in her early twenties, she had never realized that her mother was, in fact, the breadwinner and her father simply just worked to fill his time. Something that only came to the light when Hailey and her father began to struggle financially after she died. They lost their house and found themselves in a homeless shelter. All of a sudden, Hailey’s father was all too eager to see Hailey find a job and support them. Unfortunately, not much in the way of employment materialized for any of them; but to be honest, Hailey was the only one trying.
Then after three months of grief, something changed. Hailey didn’t know what exactly. They did not return to the shelter. Instead, Hailey’s father rented a penthouse out of the blue. He ‘employed’ Hailey as his housekeeper as payment for letting her live with him. He hopped back on the dating scene after twenty years, bringing home women who were barely her seniors. Hailey endured this for few months, though grateful that they weren’t penniless and homeless. Then one fateful day, a persistent banging rang at the door, in the dead of the night while her father was ‘entertaining’. And as sure as the sunrise she saw every morning, something was indeed wrong with how her father had procured the penthouse and his new lifestyle. He was running an immigration scam for Africans; taking huge sums and promising non-existent green cards. So he was deported and she with him to a land she had never been to and considered the farthest from home.
She sat at the front door step crying, while she stared at her dress. It was itchy and a little too big for her. She wasn’t comfortable, with any of it. The move, the ‘ceremony’, the dress, the way her father spoke to her, the forced marriage, the foreign name. She looked out into the horizon. The magnificent rolling hills covered in vibrant green took her breath away and even in the state of discomfort she had been forced into, she still felt drawn to the land’s beauty, its abundance, its magnificence. She couldn’t fathom such a beautiful place could be so…….
“Eh! Tuthie!” Her father barked from behind her while he tapped her shoulder which what looked like a dead cow’s tail but he called a ‘fly whisk’. Startled, she completed her thought. Horrible. Getting up behind her father, she realized the only way to survive this day was to either be bold or backward.