Walking

We have always walked. We spent 3 years of our lives walking campus together. You walking me to class. Me walking to meet you after class. Us walking to an event. You walking me to my place to collect my things. Us walking back to yours.

Walking the entire campus arguing.

Walking to avoid.

Walking to prove.

Walking to fix.

Walking to stay.

Walking is where we cultivated us.

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James

“James I need to see you.” I announce from the front of the classroom.
He leaves his assigned seat and begins to walk towards me. A smirk dresses his face as he strolls down the aisle making his way to my podium. I have seen this expression before. He reserves it for moments like this. To him, this is a routine exercise. Another adult is accusing him of doing something that he obviously did do. This is common practice for James. He boldly walks through the aftermath of his mistakes because he is not afraid of being accused.
I, on the other hand, am furious. It takes every fiber in my being to not share this emotion with him. Fury does not shake him. I know him well and I can tell he is awaiting its arrival. Fury will not teach him to change. It will not bring back what he stole. I fear that I may have to accept that he will always do this.
Before arriving to me, he sends out one last smile to a fellow classmate sitting in the front row. He plants himself in front of my podium and looks up at me.
“Yes?” he asks as he nods towards me looking me dead in the eyes.
His presentation is well planned. He knows why I asked him to come forward. Minutes before we both watched as Ms. Sharp entered my classroom. She was irate. She turned James’ secret act into a public affair.
“Ms. Kapten!” she began, as she rushed towards me, “I am appalled by what I witnessed yesterday…James was caught stealing out of a classroom!” She exclaimed.
Her eyes scanned the sea of students for her target. James’ shifty eyes assisted her in locating her suspect. Before she walked in he was sitting and laughing with a group of his peers. Now, as she stood before us he attempted to camouflage his existence.

The disappointment hit me. This was not James’ first time stealing at school. He was notorious for this act. We were all well aware of his previous offenses. In the first month of school when Ms. Dodson was out sick, James led three of his classmates into her room. They attacked her snack closet while the rest of the fourth grade hallway was at recess. A sample of Taki’s, Twizzlers, and Sour Patch kids earned them each two days of out of school suspension. This incident was only th beginning. In the months to follow he would lead a series of poorly planned heists on campus. Each would route him to the same destination. A visit to the principal’s office and two days of out of school suspension.
“Yesterday,” she went on, “James reached his greedy little hands into a teacher’s desk and he stole!”
The classes hushed whispers filled the empty space her accusations left behind.
“Is that right?” I asked as I tilted my glare towards James’ direction.
“Yes ma’am. He saw a bag of lollipops and helped himself right to it.” she continued, “He even tore open the bag! Can you believe that bag was not even open?”

I looked at James. He then looked at me. Next, he looked down at his lap and then off to the side. His mind raced as he plotted his exit strategy. James was cultivating a story. Who would share the blame with him this time? How else could this have not been his fault?
I did not want to loudly demean him in front of his peers. He was prepared for that. His braced expression was proof of this. Instead, I chose to approach this from a different vantage point. He now stood before me awaiting my rebuttal.

“What happened?” I asked, keeping my voice just above a whisper.
James did not expect this. We stood at the front of the classroom. His back was to his classmates. Only I could see the expression on his face begin to transform.
“I took the…stuff.” He said. Darting his eyes away from mine.
“No that is not going to work.” I explained further. “I want you to look me in the eye and tell me what happened. Tell me what you did.”
He grew more uncomfortable the longer he stood before me. He began to exert his nervous energy before my eyes. His left leg became jittery, bouncing off of his toe as he leaned his weight on his right leg. His right hand found a tattered sticker and he anxiously began to pick and pull at it. He stammered as he began.
“I…I….tt-took the lollipop.” He mumbled.
I was not satisfied with that answer. His fidgeting was proof that he felt some level of shame. I needed him to live in it for a just a moment. I had never seen him feel the shame of what he’s done. Perhaps living with that feeling will encourage him to avoid it.
I pushed further, “Explain to me how you first saw the bag…did it belong to you?”
“No.” he said, his voice dropping even lower, “I went behind her desk.”
“Were the lollipops on top of her desk?” I asked trying contain my composure. “Was she passing them out as treats?”
“No,” he answered, “I..I…I opened the drawer and..and saw them.”
He now struggled to keep his eyes matched with mine. My gaze remained solid. His leg bounced a little bit faster as his nails dug further into the edge of that sticker.
“When you saw the unopened bag of lollipops what did you do?”
He paused for a moment. His eyes briefly stirred around.
“I opened it and took a lollipop.” He whispered.
I had never seen him display this color of shame before. This was not the interaction he planned for. I was not listing all the reasons as to why I knew he was wrong. He was not interrupting me with his flimsy excuses.
“Did it belong to you?” I asked.
He shook his head. “No.”
“Did you steal from the teacher because you were hungry?” I asked.
Tears began to well up in the bottom rim of his eyes.

“No.” He whispered even lower.
“Was it worth it?” I finally asked,
He shook his head once. “No.”

Becky

I was mesmerized by her eyes. They were deep brown windows into her soul. I lingered quietly behind my mother’s shadow, sneaking glimpses of her. She tightly clenched her mother’s hand as they stood in the center of our garage. Becky, her mother and her father.

It was such a quintessential picture. It felt as though I witnessed the opening scene of a novel being played out in real time. Uncle Caleb wore a joyous grin across his face as he ushered his family through the entrance of our dingy garage. Aunty Gladys smiled solemnly as she reached for Becky’s hand. She pulled Becky’s scrawny arm close to her bosom. Becky’s eyes danced around the garage quietly studying the peculiar objects surrounding her.

Her eager eyes took notes as she looked first toward to our shoes stacked on wooden planks, then the mops and brooms in the corner near the dusty vacuum. She took in the dingy maroon oil-soaked carpet underneath her feet. The humming white Frigidaire freezer held her attention until her gaze finally met mine, and she smiled. Her skin was a deep brown as dark as her eyes. Becky was my cousin and this was my very first time meeting her.

Weeks before their arrival my mother introduced this arrangement to me. She explained why Becky and her mother were coming to live with us for an indefinite period of time. My mother told me about my five year old cousin Becky who had just been diagnosed with cancer.

“Was she born with it?” I asked.

“No Sia, it developed in her body over time much later after she was born.” my mother explained.

Becky’s cancer appeared out of thin air. She had always been a healthy child. There were no outstanding reasons for any alarm. One evening during a bath her mother discovered an unexplainable swelling on the lower part of her stomach. This led them to a series of visits to several specialists which would later result in even more unexplained conclusions. Months later they would receive the official diagnosis. Becky had stage 3 Neuroblastoma Cancer.

“We have to all be strong for them,” she went on to tell me.

“You have to do for her here in America what her sister Anita will not be able to do back home in Nairobi.”

Her words presented me with a role to play in Becky’s story. I now had a responsibility to make Anita proud and take care of her sister until Becky returned home to her. Whether intentional or not, that conversation guided my thinking.

I was distantly familiar with cancer was and what it did to the human body. I knew that it was a monstrous disease. I had watched cancer survivors on television before. They told their survival stories with such grace and strength. Cancer had taunted them with the threat of death, and in spite of its fatal intentions, they thrived. As a child, I genuinely considered Becky’s survival story to be no different. I was confident that she too would beat cancer and live on to tell her story. I imagined her sitting on Oprah’s yellow couch sharing her story with millions of viewers watching her win just like I was.

I can still feel the warmth of the sun heating up our garage on that sunny September afternoon. I had just turned thirteen. I felt exceptionally awkward. I did not feel as though I fit the image of what a thirteen year old girl should be. In so many arbitrary ways I searched to find myself in other people’s stories. That proved to be difficult because all the kids I knew were so vastly different from me. All of my peers enjoyed the perks of childhood. Regrettably for me, puberty and my mother were two unstoppable forces pushing me to outgrow these simple liberties at a rather accelerated pace.

At first glance in that garage, Becky reminded me of my mother. Not the mother I knew today as Mom, but the little girl she had shown me in pictures. Becky’s hair was short and shaved close to her scalp. She donned the classic Kenyan girl cut. I was never fond of that haircut. I remember the day my mother showed me the withered black and white photographs of her and her sisters when they were little. As my mother presented the photograph, she smiled reminiscing about the day in the field when the picture was taken. The young girls looked about my age. They wore white knee high socks and plaid catholic school uniforms. Every girl in every picture had that exact haircut. My mother’s smile illuminated the picture. She stood in a semi-circle with four of her sisters around an old block speaker holding tall skinny glass bottles of Coca Cola and Fanta. I could not understand how they could match that haircut with such generous smiles. What mean individual forced them to wear their hair so short? I remember thanking God I was born in America an entire ocean away from this threat.

A procession of jolly faces waited to embrace Becky and her parents.

“Karibu, karibu! Welcome!” We all shouted

 As they walked through the front door one by one, we each shared a loving embrace. They were received with a series of benevolent hugs and kisses. The guests of honor had finally arrived. I watched my mother and father spring into action with no hesitation. Within minutes pots and pans steaming with food decorated our island in the kitchen. Drinks were poured and the music amplified. Exuberant laughter and conversation filled the house.

I have a lot of memories about Becky. Her arrival is my favorite. What I remember most about her in those first few hours is how quietly curious she appeared. She was openly concealed in a foreign land. Everything within her arm’s reach was strangely familiar. As the evening progressed Becky remained within close proximity of her mother’s embrace. She smiled softly and listened as the adults around her dominated the conversation.

In the living room, my uncles reminisced with stories of home. They took turns accounting for old friends they hadn’t seen in years.

“Ay man, when is the last time you heard from Bwana Charles?” Uncle Stanley began.

“He is living in Sweden.” Cousin Oliver answered, “Yea man, he just moved out there with his family to begin a new job.”

Uncle Isaac interjected, “You will never guess who I ran into last month when I was at home!”

My Aunties gathered in the kitchen. They joined each other in bouts of vivacious laughter dishing out jokes in Kiswahili while they toggled through the assortment of food on their plates.

“Aunty, how long did you leave your dough to rise? Did you use wheat flour in your mendazzi?” Cousin Carole asked.

They all devoured every single morsel down to the last bite. My mother had surely outdone herself this time and their busy fingers were solid proof. I watched as my little cousins struggled to balance their plates on their knees with their left hand while simultaneously using their right hand to scoop the stew into their chapatti. The adults were masters of this craft. They tore their chapatti with ease, spooning up heavy amounts of stew.

Talk. Eat. Repeat.

A list of hosting responsibilities dominated my time. The performance seemed endless. I had a plethora of dishes to plate and countless feisty children to wrangle. Somewhere within the midst of that commotion, Becky’s laughter found its way to my ears. She was still sitting in the trenches with the adults. Unlike the other children, Becky appeared satisfied to be there. Amused even. Uncle Caleb sat next to her telling obscure stories using an absurd cartoon like voice. Becky laughed brilliantly. Her giggles boomed throughout the living room. Aunty Gladys’ smile now mirrored her daughter’s as she gazed at their infectious interaction. Uncle Caleb continued and his vocal in flexion bounced up and down relentlessly. She happily encouraged him with her powerful laugh. They were the perfect picture. An adoring father serving his daughter a pure dose of laughter.

Her laugh still rings through my ears. It finds me sometimes in my busiest moments much like that first day. About a year later, it was the very first sound I heard when my father told me she was no longer with us. There are some memories about Becky that I used to not want to remember. Her cancer story did not have the conclusion that I had previously authored. She was never going to sit on that yellow couch and share her story with the world. Her hair was never going to grow back. We would never sit and reminisce with our children about that time she beat cancer.

When I’m fortunate enough a particular object, movie scene, or thought will grant me a glimpse of Becky. My mind will replay the events of our first encounter. Her laughter is what I cherish the most. It colored her entire face. Her beautiful face that wore that Kenyan girl cut. I love that haircut.

              

Epiphany

When I looked in the mirror I did not recognize the woman staring back at me. I looked to my left and even you appeared to be an intruder. Another version of yourself. It was me but it wasn’t me. It was you but it wasn’t you. We changed. I was terrified by what we had authorized fear to do to our hearts. Who approved his move in? When did we allow the devil into our home? He is a devious devil. A barbaric beast. He crept in at a fragile state. He used you. He used me.

He.

Almost.

Broke.

Us.

In the midst of our development we neglected us. I had forgotten that I deserve you. I allowed fear to determine my attitude towards you. Work…school…family…life…you. My priorities were completely out of order. If I wasn’t even on the list how could we be on the list? This is what happens when you stop paying attention to the pulse. Pulse checks are absolutely crucial. Pulse checks protect against this.

I missed you. Why did I stop seeing you?

Thank you for returning to me.

You are my dreaming partner. May we forever live in this space. May our vibes remain forever connected as we move through the inevitable changes of our lives.

I love you.

Our Story

 I was standing in front of the Arlington Hall entrance when I first saw Mute. It had to be somewhere around the middle of my first week as a college student. I had just wrapped up my final class of the day and was waiting to meet up with some friends. I stood at the base of that stairwell on a sunny afternoon balancing my attention between my phone and the sliding entrance doors. When Mute walked through his eyes immediately captured me. He was wearing a fitted black button down dress shirt and black skinny jeans. His hands were gently tucked into his two front pockets. A set of bulky headphones draped over his ears as he walked slowly bobbing and swaying his head from side to side. I was infatuated. I simply could not look away. I soon realized that this was the same guy who had reached out to me in the summer. We were both apart of the same Class of 2012 group on Facebook. He had messaged me two or three times prior asking about orientation schedules and other upcoming freshmen campus events. Our conversations were short. and friendly. They barely scratched the surface. When I first saw him in person under that staircase I remember wanting to actually speak to him face to face. Shyly, I chose not to. I didn’t know what to say or where to start. And looking back on it perhaps I was more afraid that I would mispronounce a name that I had only read online.  

 A few weeks later we would become formally introduced through mutual friends. We remained as acquaintances all of Freshman year. Numerous times throughout that first year at UTA we would occupy the same space at various classes, parties, game nights, dinners, and multiple other social events. It wasn’t until May 2009 that I would begin to see Mute as someone that was more than a friend. On move out day I ran into Mute and his good friend Emeka in the school cafeteria. I shared the same earnest “Goodbye, have a nice summer back home, see you in the fall!” farewell that I did with all of my newly made friends at UTA. My goodbye to Mute led into a promise for me to stop by and say hello to him if I ever found myself in Arlington.

One evening, about two weeks into Summer vacation, I attended a Congo Awareness event in Arlington. Before heading home I decided to stop and visit my freshmen year roommate on campus at UTA. She asked me if I had talked to that guy Mute…“You know that guy who borrowed your Econ notes…?” She went on to explain how deserted the campus was in the summer and how lonely he appeared drifting through campus by himself. I could not imagine a social butterfly like Mute spending the summer alone on an empty campus. I decided to contact Mute right then and fulfill that promise to keep in touch. A ten minute conversation in Mute’s dorm room followed with a phone call from Mute that night ensuring that I had made it home safely. We spoke until maybe three or four in the morning. I was immediately intrigued by Mute. There had to be something special about a guy that could captivate so much of my attention that I deliberately disregarded my 5 o’clock alarm for work.

That summer we would sneak in opportunities to see each other whenever we could. I was working two jobs, and Mute was taking classes. At the time neither of us owned a car. I would borrow my older brothers Honda Accord on the weekends and sneak in trips to Arlington just to see Mute. My fascination for him was slowly evolving into a full blown crush. Moments I spent with Mute often felt too good to be true. He was and still is hilariously funny, candidly honest, and genuinely considerate. I found him to be quite a gentleman. At that point in my life it had become instinct for me to expect the very least from most of the guys I had met. I remember preparing myself for the likely possibility that this may not last. What if this guy was putting on a show? I was actively bracing myself for the likelihood that this fantasy romance was a temporary fascination that only existed in my head.

At the end of that summer on August 19th 2009 I moved into my first apartment on campus. My roommate Judith and I invited friends over for a small apartment warming. On this night Mute pulled me away from a conversation I was having and asked me to follow him into another room. It was there that he drew me in close, told me that he loved me, and in that same breath asked me to be his girlfriend. It was a moment that I will never forget. Six and a half years later on May 14th 2016 Mute asked me to be his wife. To the outside world this wedding between Mute and I will be the official beginning of our union. For me it began in that summer on the evening of August 19th.