It takes losing something important, to realise that it actually meant something So, when a woman cries, someone listens. If it's not you, then it's the universe Whoever listens, acts. Don't let the universe act. For it'll be against you
The last time I saw eyes this puffy was the day my mother buried my father.
As she grabbed a fistful of the red upcountry loam soil and dropped it in the grave with resigned acceptance, I looked right inside her eyes and reacted with horror at the overt capillaries, splashed all over her eyes like weeds on a neglected garden.
I was young when my father died. And naïve. It was back in the days when I was certain that crying was for children. Not grownups.
So when my mother turned up at the funeral with red swollen eyes, I tugged at Ezra's arm and asked him, "Ezra, who beat mother?"
"What do you mean?" Ezra, my elder brother, asked, his eyes focused more on the hole our father was disappearing into, than on this curious little boy, whose appreciation of death was as non-existent as his appreciation of life.
"Her eyes." I commented. "They look horrifying."
"It's what happens when people lose people they care about."
That day I learnt something I hadn't realised I had learned until a decade later. That you might not really laugh with someone, hold their hand when their hand needs holding, pass them a hankie when the waterworks come calling or empty vodka bottles with them, but when you wake up and find them gone, the waterworks will hit. And they'll hit hard.
I'm saying that it takes losing something important, to realise that it actually meant something.
And that forlorn look in my mum's eyes is the same one I see when I focus on Cheryl's eyes as she enters my car at 6:30 am and instructs me curtly to drive her to Kiambu.
Her hair is mussed, her eyes are puffy, her clothes are creased and there is no evidence that she brushed her teeth, washed her face or generally took a shower this morning. I am left with two guesses.
a) She partied hard last night and something went wrong; or
b) This is a walk (or drive) of shame from a house that used to be of pleasure but suddenly turned into a house of pain.
The silence in the car bites. My radio is broken again, it is a little misty outside with a light drizzle going and the stranger in the car looks like a magnet to the question, "Are you OK?" So I ask.
She hits me with a sledge hammer of silence and stares hard out the window. I ask if I should drive her to a police station and she quips, "No. Just drive me home, OK?"
"I'm sorry madam for dipping my nose into your business, but allow me to be honest and say that whatever it is that has you crying this early in the morning..."
"My boyfriend dumped me because I had my period and the blood got on his sheets, OK?" She spits. "Can we go home now?"
"People do that?" I ask conspiratorially and she takes the bait.
"Weird, right? It's a period. Women get them all the time. He shook me up violently at five in the morning and went on about how I was disgusting."
I drive in silence for a bit. Considering the grey weather, it is still a little dark so I'm driving with the headlights on. "Look outside." I tell her and she looks. "What do you see?"
"Kids running to school. People hurrying to work. A carpenter carrying couches from his showroom to the roadside for display." She faces me. "Why?"
"Just as what you see outside is normal, so is a woman's period. The problem here is that periods have been treated as this mysterious and disgusting freak of nature that should be kept away from men at all costs.
I wouldn't be surprised hence that a man would kick his woman out in the morning for 'exposing him' to the 'disgust'".
With her eyes puffy and her shoulders slumped, she alights at Kiambu town and I travel back to the day my mother buried my father.
I shudder at the thought of having to remember that day from the look in the eyes of a woman whose man couldn't stomach the idea of menstrual blood on his sheets.
Later when I asked my mother about her eyes, she said, "Son, when a woman cries, someone listens. If it's not you, then it's the universe. Whoever listens, acts. Don't let the universe act. For it'll be against you."