Slum Stories: I Lost My Childhood But Gained A Family

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“Baba, I need exercise books,” I said to my father who was nearly passed out at the side of the road.

“M-m-my angel, do I look like I work in a bookstore?” He replied.

I grew up in some of the worst conditions a child can ever be exposed to. Sometimes, I laugh when I hear children threaten their parents because they scolded them. I wish my parents scolded me. My father, a local drunk, wasn’t around much. When he returned home, he spent most of the day in bed nursing a hangover and bossing us around like we were his slaves. I loved him deeply, regardless.

“Go check in the left pocket of my brown jacket… And tell your mother I want some nice fish when I get home.” He concluded.

Ah, my mother… I almost forgot about her. She was like a legendary tale. Neither my sister nor I remember what she looked like but our father says she was beautiful just like us. She met a rich, white man who took her abroad. Nobody knows what happened after that; if she’s still alive or happy there. I hope she is.

“Wale ni watoto wa Maria.” They said when my sister and I walked by the market.

“Heh, wamekuwa warembo.” Another contributed. “Sasa mama yao aaliwaacha na huyo mlevi, watakua aje?”

My father did his best to provide for us but, as a man in certain conditions, there was only so much he could do. Though he tried to re-marry a few times, none of the women he brought home were worthy of the title.

I never had much of a childhood. Where I grew up, playtime was luxury and quality education, a privilege. It was as if my script was already written for me. No matter how had I tried to change it, I ended up in the same situations I witness my predecessors go through. I loved school and worked hard to keep my grades up despite the numerous challenges. Eventually, I finished Class 8 at the age of 15.

Going to secondary school was not an option. My older sister had run off to God knows where and I couldn’t leave my father after all he had done for us. So, I took up any jobs that came my way to make a living while caring for my father who was now a full-blown alcoholic.

“Dad, I’m leaving,” I told my father the day I realized I didn’t have a future in the slum.

He looked at my small luggage and knew exactly what was happening. At least I had the courtesy to say goodbye.

“I wish you well, my angel.” I loved when he called me angel. He still does to this day.

It took a while but I managed to survive with the little I made doing odd jobs. By this time I was living in Nairobi’s Ngara area and commuting every day to Muthaiga where my roommate and I were employed as house cleaners by a cleaning company.

It was while working these odd jobs that I met Anita. She was a successful businesswoman who oozed confidence and smelt like money. I watched her every now and then as she drove off in her luxurious car and wondered how she became so successful. I had never seen anyone that rich, let alone a woman.

“Hi, Lisa. I’ve heard very good things about you.” She said the first time we met.

“Thank you.” I replied timidly. I’m not a shy person but the size of her house was enough to live me speechless.

“I’m in a hurry so I’ll let Cindy show you around but you’ll be helping her with cleaning the house and my lovely dogs thrice a week. Does that sound good?”

It sounded good, especially the salary. She offered me triple what I was getting paid at my old job. Soon, she started giving me daily tasks of cleaning and feeding her dogs since her maid wasn’t caring for her animals well and, after a year of working for Anita, I had saved quite a lot of money.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the money since sending it to my father was not an option. I considered going back to school but I was now almost 18 years old and looked older due to life’s harshness. Also, the idea of school seemed ridiculous now that I had a steady income.

Anita upgraded me to be her personal assistant. After a few months I discovered her company was winding up and she was leaving the country for good.

“What will I do? I don’t have anywhere else to go.” I told my Cindy as she prepared dinner for the family.

“Don’t worry, you’ll get another job.”

I knew that this was almost impossible. I didn’t have any academic qualifications so it would be hard to get a similar position.

Maybe I should start a business.” I said to myself.

The few months I worked as Anita’s assistant gave me an insight on how to run a business. Plus, I interacted with many of her clients and I thought they might be interested in another business venture once Anita left. I remember reading about pet grooming services and it really captured my attention.

“What if I invest all my money and the business fails.”

I had a lot of questions and doubts that kept me up at night until I decided to consult the only person I knew who could give me sound advice. Anita was supportive as I hoped she would. Being a businesswoman, she would be able to tell me if an idea was rubbish or not. She seemed to agree with me until the issue of finances came up.

After brainstorming for another week, I decided her farewell party would be a good place to network and meet potential investors. I used part of my savings to buy a really expensive dress and make a hundred dozen business cards and that was my whole plan.

“Anita, will you mind if I gave out my business card to your guests at the party?” I had to ask for her consent first.

“Not at all, darling. Remember what I told you? You do whatever it takes.”

Things weren’t going as I hoped they would. I fumbled when anyone asked me simple questions and my nerves were getting the best of me. As the night approached the end, Anita stood to give her speech. She was always a great talker. Then my heart stopped when I heard my name. I must have blacked out after that because all I remember is people congratulating me and promising their business.

Now, I’m 28 and run my own successful pet grooming business. All my clients have become great friends and their pets have become like family to me. I took my father to a rehab facility where he received help. He is now living with me at my apartment. I have three dogs of my own and a place to call home.

Sometimes, I sip champagne and remember how we used to fight over a cup of tea with my sister. Though my childhood wasn’t ideal, that didn’t stop me from dreaming big. Where I come from, when an opportunity knocks on your door, you first make sure it’s not the landlord then you open that door.

Additional reads:

Campus Diary: Love And Drugs Don’t Go Together

featured image from vashtiharrison.com

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