I – Where was he when my cousin needed him?
I’m still unsure how I found out. It was a process. It was as if the knowledge of it kept expanding and growing until it was right there in our faces.
Maybe it was when she stopped attending classes, and stayed in bed most of the day. Maybe it was the fattening of the cheeks and the way that her skin tone slowly changed colour, becoming lighter by the week.
We joked about the lightness of her skin, commenting that maybe she had begun to use Fair & Lovely. She laughed with us in a way that told me something was wrong. Jenna’s mother had passed away when she was still a girl and her father, a university lecturer, buried himself in his work. Jenna sometimes complained that he had more time for his students than he did for her and her brother Timothy.
They were our cousins and so we sometimes spent holidays with each other. This holiday turned out to be the last we ever spent together; things were never the same after that. I used to hang out with Timothy; we went swimming and spent time at the youth fellowship. Always had the feeling that we were not ‘cool’ enough for Timothy so I wasn’t surprised when he begun seeking the attention of the guys at the basketball court.
In an effort to be supportive, I begun attending basketball games to watch Timothy play. It wasn’t too long before Jenna started coming along, and cheering loudly whenever Timothy made a three pointer. He wasn’t tall enough to dunk but he sure could shoot a basket. That’s how we met Michael, Mikey to his friends. Mikey was on the team, which made him super cool, and I guess that’s made him attractive to Jenna because in the months to come, the really difficult ones, we never saw anything of him.
After games, we took to walking home together, the four of us. Except that I walked with Timothy while Jenna walked with Mikey. Then one day, Jenna told us to go on without her; she’d catch up later. We didn’t think too much of it because, secretly, we were relieved. See, Timothy and I liked to stop by this place on the way home for a ka-glass of gin and a kilo of roast pork. Jenna didn’t like any of it, the smell of the gin, the dirt in the joint or even the way the serving girls always ignored her and spoke only to Timothy, or occasionally to me.
For one full holiday, Jenna and Mikey seemed to spend more and more time together until we barely saw them any more. Even basketball was forgotten. If Jenna needed anything, Mikey would be the first in line to get it.
It was the long Christmas holiday before the first term of Senior 6, and Christmas was making everyone cheerful. At our home, however, there was news of something else. I’m still unsure how I found out, because issues of ‘adults’ are never discussed with children around. But somehow, the news of Jenna’s pregnancy filtered through the family. My mother was the first to discover it. Two more aunties visited our home in rapid succession. And then Jenna’s father came. My father came home. There were tears. There was shouting. Then more tears, and more shouting. Finally, resignation. Concern.
Had Jenna been to the doctor? No. Did she know when she was due? No. Did she know who the father was? Silence. Timothy and I immediately thought of Mikey, but out of some sense of loyalty to Jenna, we decided it was not our place to say. We thought Mikey would surely come. Him and Jenna were so close. He would come. The news of the pregnancy got out – outside the family, and into our friends. Still no Mikey. Eventually, after the baby was born, Jenna spoke up and named Mikey. His mother came to the hospital to see the new baby girl. And then she came back the next day with Mikey’s father, but still no Mikey.
At the time it seemed like love, it seemed so romantic, but trust me; there was nothing romantic about having a baby in secondary school. There was nothing romantic about losing all her friends. There was nothing romantic about having to join ‘A’ level when us guys were in First year at Campus.
Jenna lost two years of school, falling behind me, but with support from the whole family, her baby was taken care of when she finally returned to a new school to repeat Senior 5. They wouldn’t let her join Senior 6 otherwise. A new school where no one knew her. Where there were no memories. Where the path home did not run past the basketball court. Mikey went on with his life, conveniently pursuing further studies abroad. Jenna was lucky to have the support to catch up with hers.
Jenna no longer spoke much, outside of stuff to do with the baby. She didn’t complain much about where she ended up but I’ve often wondered if she’d have wanted to study something else at Campus, had she been free.
Suubi. That is her daughter’s name. It means Hope.