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For Every Child who Grew Up Voiceless

For Every Child who Grew Up Voiceless

The demons stared back. Coiling in my bed at 2 am with a sleepless body in the dead of the night. A heavy bag of daunting thoughts. Mum and dad endlessly argued in their bedroom. My heart pounding hard.

A woman had called mama, threating to throw her out of our home with us, her children. Daddy had not been home for a while. Mama never knew where he went.
I heard a bang! Walls breathed in our house. They beat with excruciating music that tortured my ears. Then silence sharply cut the chaos. As though death passed by that moment albeit briefly.

Mama screamed. My heart raced! Somebody squeaked like they were being strangled. I wanted to be there. To help! I went to stand by their bedroom door wishing my throbbing spirit would calm them down. It wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough. I had never been enough.

With my face down in the darkness my body screamed! Dragging myself back to bed. I thought of that word ‘freedom’. How elusive it was. What was a helpless abandoned child to do? I thought perhaps suicide would save me. Maybe death would listen, and with intent, to the depth of my sorrows; the maddening grief of living in war, unnoticed, until you became it.

Freedom. Why so slippery, my love? Sister was dead gone, who else was I to pour my broken pieces into? To express my hate for war and family. For a long time those two cousins were inseparable. I detested them. That I had to witness their embarrassing self-centredness nearly each sunset.

In our home, there was a demon that visited at night. The words I heard in argument could not have fired from people’s mouths. People I knew. People who gave birth to me.

What was a child to do?

Nobody asked what it was like. They said I was a quiet boy who liked time alone.
I struggled to open up to love. Love was a strange spirit in the shape of a human I couldn’t quite trust. I didn’t know what they wanted from me.

As a child, when you’re in war you don’t know how to interpret it. You live your life confused because your brain is only trying to look for safety. You don’t know what to do if you can’t find it. You don’t want to fight. You don’t know how to.

I nursed my wounds alone. Some days like this I remember them. I remember surviving that house. Consumed in the bedlam of two exasperated mortals, simmering with inordinate rage.

Something funny about fire is; it kills, but it also refines.

Sometimes I envy people who had a healthy upbringing. I didn’t get to be a child long enough. In my adult life, that unheard kid craves attention, for the much evasive freedom; for words, for embrace, assurance, for safety. I soothe him however I can. He was taught to hate himself. And everything around him. He was told the world is for the proud. For those who hide their truth. The masters of deceit and treacherous lovers. But that didn’t deter him from loving.

Today, I burn a candle for him. My 5 year old bubbly self excited for kalongolongo and brikicho. My 7 year old self who lost his 5 month old sister and nobody explained death to him yet he was the only family member present at her last breath. My 10 year old self whose left hand wailed the wrath of kerosene and matchstick flame inflicted by his father for admitting to steal a white Bill Cosby novel whose Foreword he had no idea what it said, just to save his life from the copper wire passionate beating. 

My 15 year old self who walked to Lavington from Waithaka to play football with his friend if only to forget his pains albeit for some hours of his days. My 16 year old self who finally gave it all up contemplating suicide. I remember this feeling. I remember looking at the sky and saying this is it. I’m done. I remember giving up my spirit to the universe. God, you were there.

Boy, how did you survive that? Who will you tell what it took to transform self hate into self love and they fully understand? Did the lovers you met get you like you did the agony in your mother’s eyes? Did they get your silence? Did they run after you when you permeated into your turmoiled world in the middle of a conversation? Did any of them ever ask what happened? Did they want to know you? Did they dig into you like you wanted to be dug into? Child, did they care like they said they did?

For every child who grew up voiceless. Nobody ever wants to be made to feel their pain didn’t matter.

Onyango Otieno

Onyango Otieno is a cultural designer ardent in maximizing the power of storytelling for healing and connection. Onyango believes in the potent spirit of humanity collectively creating safe spaces for interaction, development, business and movement, for a more cohesive world.

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