I gaze at her National Identification Card keenly and see a serious looking woman in oversized glasses. Her lips pursed almost puckered up and a blank stare gazing back at me. Her hair sleeked back into a ponytail. This must be years ago I fathom. I look up at her from across the room. Resting peacefully on the couch watching her favorite telenovela. She hasn’t aged a bit except for a few hardly noticeable white strands on her well kept locks.
“You look different here. Were you having a bad day when taking this photo?“ I inquire stifling my amusement.
“No. The photographer had an attitude and didn’t count one to three for me. Show me a person who looks good on their ID and I’ll show you a four-legged hen.” she muses.
I’m stuck with the image of her ID in my head, the same look she gives me when I give her sass. It’s a stare I never look forward to because it reminds me of my former years when I learnt that the same hand that caresses your cheek lovingly is the same hand that slaps you across the face literally in case of misbehavior.
Before this parental revolution of ‘there are better ways to discipline a child’ started, I knew how to hide all the slippers in the house because it was her favorite disciplinary tool. Being a 90s kid, I’m lucky to have never known the wrath of a belt or a mwiko.
I’ve never met a person, or rather a woman who embraces her real age like she does. She proudly says it to anyone who cares to know with this zeal and enthusiasm like a young kid who just turned 10. The excitement in her eyes radiates through her whole body making her glow like a pregnant woman. She is pregnant with love, fulfillment, care, happiness, charisma, which is phenomenal in her own right.
In the absence of Ba (dad), I call her Catherine. Not Kate, Cate, Kathy, just Catherine or Katerina (with a dramatic Bulgarian accent). Whoever came up with the phrase “looks 22 feels 18 acts 10” must have been thinking about Catherine no kidding. I’ve grown used to random people asking in bewilderment if she’s really my mum.
I’m barely half her age and I can’t help but feel proud of how adept she is with global trends in technology, fashion and health. What I love most about Catherine is her ability to shame we skinny-arsed girls at the gym. This girl can give you a serious workout leaving you wondering how a woman twice your age can perform 30 sit ups while you can’t even get 10 done.
What’s even more embarrassing is trying to outdo her on the dance floor. See, in the coastal region of Kenya the local music is Taarab or Bango where it involves women shaking what their mama gave them often with the bigger giving better results. Catherine unfortunately must have left out that vital gene somewhere because it didn’t pass on to her next generation (me). And therefore giving her an unfair advantage over me on the dance floor.
Catherine can make you feel like a little girl and a grown up at the same time. She’s that kind of mother who even at this age brushes my hair and braids two little pigtails before I go to bed (if she’s in a good mood). Tucks me to bed, switches the lights off and whispers a sweet goodnight. No kiss on the forehead or bedtime stories.
At the back of my mind I think at least she does half of what I see in the movies… I can live with that. I smile at the thought of how sweet she is by giving me the ultimate western child experience and just as I am falling into slumber, she shouts from the rooftops.
“Miriam! Miriam!.. Why did you leave your glass of water on the table?! Can you get up right now and take it to the kitchen before I blink my eyes again. I really hate this habit…” I hear her ramble on and on.
I bury my head in the pillow and groan with exasperation. The five minutes of Western parental love I had experienced vanishes and I’m back to Africa, back to my beautiful Kenyan mum.
Happy Birthday mum you’ve got 50 more years to go. I love you.