A distant look fenced in despair stands its aloof ground on his face. It’s the kind of look you see in man who has felt what death is without necessarily delving into its dark realm. A look that has on numerous occasions seen circumstances pull the rug under his feet far too often. A thin film of tears drapes his eyes, his unwavering stare boring a hole through Hakim’s face. Hakim felt it whistle past him like an arrow heading for a target further away. Karama’s gaze was keener on escaping the harsh reality of his current predicament as opposed to studying or paying attention to Hakim and his calculated questions.
“I remember it all too vividly,” Karama finally said, wiping a tear with the back of his thumb. They were already reddening his eyes set proportionately on his face which still bore the qualities of good looks which a few years back had been an object of adoration for every woman who chanced upon him. Now his cheekbones stretched his facial skin and he was at best a shell of his former self. Scars lay in those eyes which once heralded hope.
“What details stand out in your memory?” Hakim asked, shifting his right leg which had been perched on his left knee.
Karama ran an index finger on his lips as if wiping off the words he had just uttered, narrowing his gaze past Hakim; you would think he was genuinely interested in the inspirational words scribbled on a black board a few meters away. It was on this black board that his guidance counselor kept writing words of encouragement in the hope that they will impact a positive change in him and other victims of the same fate.
“The sound of his footsteps on the tiled stairway,” he explained, “I had already grown accustomed to them, six in number. I would count them meticulously until he stopped at the last one. He used to stammer right after the staircase as if announcing his arrival.”
Hakim remained quiet. It had taken him close to two months to get him to open up and for a moment he felt ill equipped to deal with what he knew would be an overwhelmingly emotional issue. His heart was racing wildly with anticipation laced in fear; anticipation because he really wanted to understand him better and fear because he imagined the situation to be so perversely protracted as to make a grown man break and lose himself to an intolerable vice.
“I remember the first time he came to my room,” he continued, jolting Hakim out of his momentary reverie, “he tip toed to the side of my bed and whispered in my ear. The scrub on his face scratched the nape of my neck as he bent to whisper. My heart was beating fast and I thought my ear drums would explode.”
Hakim listened intently. He was no longer taking notes now because he did not want to miss a single syllable or facial reaction in Karama’s narrative. His vast experience as a counselor had taught him that the core of the story lay in the most subtle of facial reactions.
“Do you know what he whispered?” Karama asked. The film around his eyes was back again; defiant, unperturbed, protective. Hakim wondered just how many times he had cried over the last several years while undergoing back to back relapses.
“Would you like to tell me about it?” Hakim queried softly.
“How old are you?” the question caught Hakim unawares.
“Who, me?” he asked.
“How was your life when you were twelve?” Karama’s mouth was quivering. He blinked and the film around his eyes broke into a tear which snaked its way around the contours of his face like a lone drop of rain on a wind shield. It stopped briefly halfway down his cheek, posed there for just a moment as if announcing to the world, ‘why did you do this to him?’
“Well, it wasn’t bad, I guess,” Hakim tried to recall any notable event that may have happened to him at that age. “I had a cast on my left arm, had fallen off a tree. I had a friend called Sumeiya who had a huge Barbie doll with flowing blonde hair she used to plait.” He hoped the sudden diversion would help Karama compose his thoughts as he continued talking.
“She was your girlfriend?”
“No,” Hakim laughed, “Hardly. Just a girl who made my heart rush every time I saw her!”
“Where is she now?” he asked, putting on a smile.
“Married with three kids.”
“Ouch, sorry about that,” Karama patted him on the shoulder.
An intermittent bout of silence surrounded them.
“The whisper?” Hakim reminded him.
He had been playing with a rubber band which he kept running up and down his arm oblivious of the quick, sharp pain it made as it rolled with a few hairs. Perhaps, Hakim thought, the pain was therapeutic.
“You are my little lover boy and you will make me very happy!” the statement came out like an amplifies, horrific whisper coming from the deepest place which wallowed in a murky puddle of painful memories.
“Excuse me?” Hakim was shocked.
“That’s what he whispered,” He explained, “I was only twelve but I have lived and relived that first instance over and over again for the last ten years!”
“Did you tell anyone about it?” hakim swallowed hard and felt the shock scratch down his throat.
He shook his head and sneered, looking up at Hakim as if he had said the most ridiculous thing.
“Who would have believed me?” he asked.
“She would have but at what expense?” he rolled the rubber band more vigorously. Hakim wanted to ask him to stop but held his cool.
“Mum was already under immense pressure,” he continued, “She was in constant pain and I remember she used to get hospitalized almost every month. I would rather die than see her suffer because of this.”
“But she is suffering still because it pains her that you have to keep relapsing into addiction,”
Karama remained quiet for a while till Hakim thought he had retreated into that cocoon of self pity and sympathy. He always fell silent every time issues regarding his family were brought up.
“It would kill her to know the truth, don’t you see?” this time the tears rolled down freely.
Hakim knew better than to interrupt, so he just folded his hands across his chest and sat back in the hard leather chair and braced himself.
“How do you think she will feel when I tell her that her husband sexually molested me, over and over again. That her husband took advantage of my innocence and had his way with me. That I was too weak to protest because he was a colossal figure that people depended on and treated with respect. How would I have put it Hakim, tell me, how?”
Hakim was stunned. He remained speechless.
“Even if people believed me, what would they have thought of my family, that they are sodomites? Tell me Hakim, you are the counselor!” Tears filled his eyes and the rubber band rolled faster, each time more furious than the last.
“Deep down I know I am supposed to be a man,” shaking his head, “he took that away from me. I no longer feel like a man. How can I when I couldn’t even stand and fight for myself? Do you know how I feel when I see a woman?”
Hakim shook his head.
“Nothing. I feel nothing. My father made me like this, Hakim!” he was shivering. Hakim gave him a few minutes to compose himself.
“Do you hate your father for what he did to you?” Hakim finally managed to ask.
“Is there a more definitive word than hate? Something that would express the loathing I have for him?” placing both hands behind his neck, emaciated elbows pushing forward. “But what can I do Hakim, he is still my father. Blood is thicker than water but for me this blood weighs down upon me like a massive rock.”
He finally managed to wipe of the tears which had made his face extremely red.
“I did not choose this life, my friend,” he continued, “people used to point at me with disdain and dismiss me as just another kid from a rich family caught in the trap of a lavish lifestyle. My mother brought me up well, taught me to hate drugs, but I found an unlikely kind of solace in them. I wanted to die and I was too scared to kill myself, so I let the drugs do the killing for me, one snort at a time, and one syringe after another.”
He studied his arms carefully as if it was the first time he was seeing them. They were full of syringe piercings which had left dark marks on his brown skin.
“Did the drugs help you in any way?” Hakim queried.
“At first I imagined they could,” pulling the sleeves of his jersey up to his wrists. “Drugs helped me erase the image I had of my father; the smell of his aftershave, and his ill intentioned steps on the stairway. Even when he was not at home I could still see his shadow looming on the other side of my bedroom door, and I would cringe and retreat into the furthest corner of my bed!”
“You were doing so well after the first period of rehabilitation,” said Hakim as he consulted some figures on his notebook, “what was the reason for your relapse?”
“Him,” he answered bluntly. “The mere sight of him made me sick to the stomach. I hated it when he called me his son, or when he placed his arm on my shoulder while boasting to his friends that I had made it through rehab.”
Hakim sat back and studied him with sympathetic appreciation. It was amazing that Karama had still held on to dear life in the face of such stigma because most patients he had counseled with similar problems always contemplated suicide. The stigma had not led him to suicide, neither had ‘chasing the dragon’ nor shooting up ‘Kichuri’ into his veins. He wondered what gave his frail body the strength to soldier on in spite of the accumulated weight of his problems. He had seen how his eyes watered whenever he talked about his mother.
“Do you think there is something you can do to make your mother smile again?” he asked.
Karama smiled and seemed to relax a bit.
“My mum, my sweet mum,” he said as he rubbed his palms together and blew into them. “I was his favorite you know, I guess I still am!” he laughed.
“I would do anything to see my mother smile. Every time I am with her I feel like the young boy I was before I was twelve, and the ice cream she used to buy me at Old Town Mombasa. By the way you should try out that joint!” he added.
“I would love to,” Hakim answered, “why don’t we check it out together later in the day?”
“For real?” there was a boyish sparkle in his drowsy eyes.
“For real,” Hakim said, “It will be on me, I promise.”
Hakim had made up his mind. The best way to save Karama was to take him back to the years before his ordeal when his dreams were just as innocent as he was. Perhaps that way, he would recollect all those childhood memories and even if it will not make up for the many years he lost to drugs, it would assist him to make a fresh start.
But first things first; Karama would fare much better if he stayed away from his father, and since he was through with his stint at rehab Hakim would have to settle him very far from the source of his troubles.
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