Lala, Toto Lala…

I used to sleepwalk a lot when I was younger. I gradually got better with age, and now it’s more of speaking in my sleep than anything else. I’ve never seen a doctor about it. The closest thing I got to treatment was my mother tying me down to my bed. It’s probably why I’m into BDSM. Haha, forget I said that, It’s a bad joke. At some point, my poor mother was convinced that I was someone else, or something else, but not really her son. This delusion of hers broke the fragile relationship we had, but thinking about it now, I can’t fully blame her for the things she did and believed.

Despite being troubled by her own existence, she tried to be a mother to me. And although she fell short on so many things, I don’t see how she could’ve done any better, given the circumstances we were in. I’m the only child she’s ever had, but something else seemed to preoccupy her more than I ever could. She had this old, tattered album that had like 3 pictures only. And in all these 3, was her and what I now think could’ve been my father. She stared at these photos most mornings and spoke of this man-her man- all evening until I passed out. It didn’t help that we lived in a double room because sometimes, deep in the night, I’d hear her sob and muffle her cries with her pillow. She must’ve missed the hell out of him.

When I began walking around in my sleep, she first thought that I was faking it. I’d wake up in the morning to her yelling at me for being weird all night. Then there’s this one time I woke up and found myself fumbling with the door knob. Do you know how confusing it is to wake up to a door infront of you yet the last time you checked, you were tucked into your bed. My t-shirt was also soaking wet and its cold embrace shook my frail frame like a tambourine. 

She apparently had poured a whole bucket of water on me in an attempt to wake me up. Despite the confusion I was in when I came around, I could tell there was something about her that handled me as though I were a stranger. And it didn’t help that she was the most superstitious human being I’ve ever come across. I once came back from school and found her boiling some herbs and roots that only God knows where she got them from. And that wasn’t even the weird part. She made me sit all night with my feet submerged in this concoction of hers. That was the longest night of my life that also doubled up as an exorcism session. I couldn’t feel my feet when morning came, and an insane migraine threatened to blow my head up. I missed school that day (obviously), and she sat beside my bed all day watching me and waiting for the moment I’d wake in my sleep. It never happened, but she shouldn’t have assumed that it was because her miti shamba was working.

Growing up, our church (or cult), was one of the few that had its members wear matching attires. I’d dare say she treated her church uniform better than she did me. She washed her church gown in warm water, with a pinch of sugar, a teaspoon of honey, and this weird bar soap they sold at church. Looking back, I don’t get how just watching her go about her laundry chores didn’t send chills down my spine. We also didn’t eat any meat except for fish, and even when she bought the fish, which was like once in forever, she took half of it to the man they called ‘Mchungaji’, because how else will God bless you if you’re not willing to give the best to his messenger? I know, unbelievable.

Exactly 3 days after she had soaked my feet to exorcise the sleep-walking spirits she thought I had, I sleep walked again. And of course it wasn’t voluntary, but I wish she could get it because she didn’t. To her, it was either I was possessed or faking it. Seeing her face every time I came around was haunting enough to have me hate myself. She looked as though she was staring at a monster that had just swallowed her baby. A part of her wanted to believe that I’m okay despite my occasional freak shows. As I said, I really can’t blame her. It was harder for me then to understand why she acted the way she did, but maybe I’d be more empathetic if I had a son that tried to walk out into the night almost every time we went to bed. And that was on the mild side of the spectrum. There’s this other time I tried to repair our broken radio, only to wake up to a crying mother, and the kitchen knife in my hand. I had cut myself trying to screw open the radio and almost everything within 2 feet was smeared with my blood. That was probably the night she was convinced that I needed supernatural help, and that’s when my life took a turn for the worst.

The following Sunday morning was particularly special. She woke me up early, made me take a shower and brush my teeth. She never laid out my Sunday outfit but she did that day. She also made the most delicious fish stew she’s ever made and had me eat as much as I could. We didn’t take half of it to mchungaji like we always did. She also told me a story about the man in the album that she had never told me before. She broke him down bit by bit, where he was from, how smart and charming he was… she then disappeared into her room and came back with an extra-large floral shirt. “Hii shati ilikuwa yake, weka hii kwa paper bag ile yako ya yellow tunaenda nayo…” the yellow paper bag was my make-shift suitcase.

The mixed signals she was sending were nothing compared to what awaited me later that day. Have you heard of that story in the bible where Sarah promised God to give Samuel back to Him if He opened her womb and blessed her with a child? Only that this time, I was the sacrificial lamb. She didn’t take half of our fish to mchungaji that Sunday because I was the offering; I was the fish. That was also the only day I saw her cry because of me, or at least that’s how I consoled myself. I don’t know what this man they called mchungaji had said to her to convince her that giving me up to him, the ‘church’, was the only solution to my bizarre but harmless condition. Maybe he told her that the spirits of her dead relatives wanted to get to her through me. Maybe he told her that her real son died the first night I sleepwalked and that whatever was left was an empty shell that the devil used as a vessel against her. Perhaps she would have kept me if he had told her that it was my dead father’s spirit trying to reconnect with her. Of course I don’t really know how she came to the conclusion that giving her son up was the only solution to what was clearly an exaggerated problem, but I had to tell myself something, anything really, lest I lost my sanity.

I still have that scar on my wrist from when I cut myself. Sometimes, when I stare at it long enough, I see her telling me stories of that man from her album. I also wonder what living with me was like, she must’ve felt like I was a ticking time bomb that would’ve taken her out at any minute. What if she hadn’t given me up, for how long would she have tied me to the bed? Would I have gotten better or worse? I tried looking for her when I hit my twenties and felt like I was my own man. That was years ago. I was also too late, I guess because I found out she had died a few years after she had given me up, a respiratory disease of some kind dimmed her lights I hear. I hate that she died alone, without her son and that handsome man of hers whose shirt she gifted me.

And oh, I ran away from that mchungaji’s home 2 years after he ‘adopted’ me. I was more of a door mat to him than anything else, but that’s a story for another day.


(Photo by; sizwekhozaarts)

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