III: Across Undying Yesterdays

“Well, shall I say congratulations!” Dr. Clemmons chimed, still peering into the screen. Shanni shot straight up into a sitting position from the table, her belly still gooey with the gel.

“Careful now. Look for yourself. This right here on the screen is the image of your twins”

“Twins?!?” this time she almost fell off the table.

“Now, now, now, Mrs. Olesakaja. Don’t break my equipment. And you’re scaring your kids!”

She didn’t care about his equipment. She flung her arms around him, staining his gown with the gel and all.

“Yes! Yes! Yes! Oh God, this is the best news of my life! Thank you, Doctor. I’ve got to get home right away!”

Doctor James Clemmons had seen all kinds of emotions in this room after delivering the same news – sorrow, fear, anger, shock, joy, denial, indifference… This client’s reaction held no intrigue. He gave her a towel and called in the nurse to finish up.

“Easy now. You’ve got to calm down. You need your composure so you can drive home carefully.”

The doctor wiped the gel off his own coat, wrote out her next appointment, then stuck his head out of the door and directed his assistant to usher in the next patient. Well, he really never considered his clients as patients. More like gardens which he felt divinely called to prune and water. He took great pleasure in every one of the ladies that came through his door. They came in all shapes, shades, and attitudes. Funny, how clinical yet attached he was to his work. He knew he was destined to become a gynecologist from the day he first saw a female cadaver as part of his initiation into the medical field. The lesson had completely consumed him. It was like spiritual awakening from which he had never gone into a moment of slumber. He took great care to learn and perfect every new medical breakthrough in the field of gynecology. He could say of himself that he had found his life’s purpose. He never married, never saw a reason to.

“Next Tuesday? That soon?” Shanni asked as she saw the date on her appointment card.

“We’ve got to keep a close monitor for now. But you are fine. Run along now, dear.” Shanni disappeared out through the door at the speed of lightning.

Dr. Clemmons looked up as his next garden approached. He paused, not sure what to say. He looked down at his chart and read off a name.

“Err… Donna Morgan?”

“That’s me, Doc!” Said Donna, all six feet of his… her muscular structure wrapped in skirt and blouse, supported atop a pair of high heels that seemed to be suffering silent oppression, the ghost of a moustache still clinging stubbornly above her upper lip. Something very wrong… thought Dr. Clemmons. But then again, this was America, land of the free and home of the brave where you could wake up the next morning and decide the forces of nature got it all wrong and you really were meant to be a fish. Dr. Clemmons was a staunch Christian who religiously attended 13th Baptist Church in Minneapolis’ black suburbia, having been raised by preacher parents with roots in the Caribbean evangelical church. Rev. Dr. Jeffery Clemmons and his, Marla Clemmons were first generation Jamaicans who had migrated to the United States in their early thirties. They were both still alive, in their seventies, and quietly disappointed that their only child, James, never married.

James had made sure to succeed phenomenally and make up for his deficit, whatever that may be. It seemed to have worked as his reputation and standing in the community had grown. Shanni got to know about him because she attended 13th Baptist occasionally. He truly had a gift, the church said. His parents had eventually left him alone and chalked it up to “God’s will” that their son was… called to celibacy. Dr. Clemmons never interrogated whether his stand on gender matters was a result of his evangelical upbringing or his own examined truth as he saw it. He just never had the time for questioning things that held no tangible meaning. He was quite alright with being led on matters spiritual. He would say that he did not believe God made mistakes, that he did not condone gender reassignment, and that if anyone ever had the misfortune of dealing with gender dysphoria, they needed prayer more than the scalpel or medication. Yet when Donna walked in, something inside him felt a rush of excitement, a decadent pleasure at the gift of exploring new medical frontiers. Oh happy day! He welcomed the challenge, smiled, and ushered in this person formerly known as Daniel Morgan.


Shanni sat in the four o’clock traffic, drumming her fingers impatiently on the steering. She took in a deep breath and tried to relax. Slowly, she brought her hand to rest on her belly and she felt excitement run through her like electricity. She still could not believe she was expecting twins. It had been three and a half long years of desperate longing and anxiety. After a battery of tests that showed there was nothing wrong with her and that she was perfectly capable of conceiving, she had started to talk to Lenana about going for tests as well.

She had been careful never to get angry with him over his refusal to be tested. She knew he was afraid. If he ever found out he was the one with the problem it would shatter his sense of self-worth completely, and she might lose him. His worth and sense of identity lay deeply in the efficacy of his hoe and his two gourds of seed – the only poetic imagery that had stuck in his mind from his high school reading of p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino. Shanni had extended the imagery, telling him that she loved his gardening skills. Privately, she had started wondering, if he could dig so well, surely, he could sow strong seed and bring forth good harvest. But for three and a half years, his garden had been unable to bear any fruit, an indictment against his manhood. Out of shame, he had withdrawn from his friends who were now parents, had cut off his communication with his people in Kenya, and had started thinking of planting his seed somewhere else, just for experiment.

Something stopped him from doing this every time he thought about it. Shanni’s calm and non-judgmental attitude. Somewhere in his mind, he wished she would blame him, insult him, pack her bags and leave him. Then he would find a legitimate reason to go and dig other gardens, perchance they would yield fruit and salvage his sense of self-worth. But somewhere in his heart, he also wished he could find the courage to go for the tests his wife was urging him to have. Then if he was incapable of fathering a nation, even of one citizen, perhaps he could settle for a new paradigm of self-evaluation. Maybe the hoe and the two gourds of seed did not a man make after all. But how could he convince himself that it was alright for an African man not to be able to father children? How long was he going to continue bearing this shame? Why, oh, why hadn’t the rains come? Why did his land remain so dry? Why hadn’t the heavens shed their tears of nourishment upon him?

After tiring of self-pity, he had secretly – or so he thought – gone to see a doctor. Shanni never let him know that she had become aware of his secret visits. When he was ready, he would let her know, she thought. After some tests, the doctor told him that he had a low sperm count, but that there was hope if he and his wife followed a certain very strict prescribed regimen to enhance fertility and chances of conception. Lenana had cringed – that meant telling his wife. There are other options too, the doctor said… Lenana had listened and balked. Wouldn’t give them a second thought. Have his child made in a lab? Surrogate what? Invitro who? All too bizarre, unnatural. That was cheating, and someone in his family was bound to find out. He wouldn’t bear the shame. He left the doctor’s office feeling defeated, completely ignoring all the rays of hope presented to him. After several days of laboured contemplation, he made a most difficult decision.

On the ninth day of the eleventh month, the man of the Manyatta, the son of lion killers, the descendant of the great Laibon, lowered his pride and confided in his wife. She was extremely supportive, having foreseen the unfolding of the entire drama, thanks to her secret follow-ups. When she was alone, she shook her head at the naiveté of men. When will they learn that women wrote out the scripts of life, directed them, and produced them, and even when fate intervened, they had a back-up script. Men were only actors at their whim, imagining all along that they controlled everything. Of course she had no problem working with him on this project that was not, to him, not natural. You see, farmers in this land of free thinkers have a different attitude. If the rains failed to come, one could always manipulate nature in their favour. And in the course of helping out nature, the rains came in torrents. Seven months later, here was the garden driving home, pregnant with twins, intoxicated with excitement.

Once home, she made all the surprise preparations. At eight thirty, Lenana came back from work.

“What’s the occasion?” He stood at the door, staring at the candlelit dinner table, all decked in red-red roses. Shanni was a hopeless romantic, and Lenana was rather used to what he considered meaningless and wasteful resources. He just couldn’t understand it. Why waste so much money and effort on flowers and candles that you will not even eat? But he was not a loud nag. Mostly, he just displayed disinterest and kvetched silently in his mind.

“Well, why don’t you sit down, honey,” said Shanni.

“This looks good. Nyamachoma and Ugali!” He said as he opened one dish. Shanni had learnt to make a number of Kenyan dishes.

“Open the other one,” she indicated to a dish at the centre. Lenana reached out and opened the lid. Inside was a card… oh no, not another romanticist prank. Can’t she just say things like a normal person? He struggled against the urge to nag out loud. He disinterestedly opened it. “To my baby daddy. I love you.”

“What!” Lenana exclaimed in sheer excitement. “You really are pregnant??”

“Yes, I am! I am, I am, I am!” She let her excitement burst out like Cathedral bells.

Lenana did not reach out to hug her, or tell her he loved her, or shed an emotional tear. His excitement took him towards the bedroom as he shouted to no one in particular, “I’m a man! I’m a man! I’m a man!” He came back out with his jacket, sat down at the table, gobbled up his food as he made plans out loud with himself, plans Shanni couldn’t remember to date because he was not addressing her all this time. It’s as if she wasn’t there, but then, he hadn’t been there in a long time. He gulped down a glass of water and headed on out while shouting something about a drink with his friends. She had smiled all along as something else built up inside her.

Shanni was angry, deeply wounded. How had she not seen it all these three years? Of course she had! She just pretended she hadn’t. The man did not love her, had no clue how to love a woman. She had decided that it was perhaps an African thing not to show emotions. The other part of her mind that had shielded her from reality jumped in – he was a great provider, even protective, made sure the house had a security system, that her car had the most comprehensive insurance cover he could afford, that he said something every time a man disrespected her, flirted with her as if she wasn’t someone’s wife. Wasn’t that love? She had decided it must be. But now she truly saw him for who he was – a cold man incapable of emotional expression. She had been invisible to him from the day they met, and nothing could change that, not even becoming the mother of his children.

In the silence of the empty house, Shanni sat alone at the table, dry-eyed, a dark thought making its desolate journey all the way to the womb where two nations lay. They had just received their first nourishment of a mother’s sorrow.


In the fifth month of their development, the two nations that grew inside the womb of sorrows began to find their voice. Shanni stretched out in the living room and touched her belly, gently pushing back against what had become a constant kicking around. For a moment, she worried they were not friends. She had listened to their heartbeats through the ultrasound and thought the pumping was firm enough to sustain the breath of new life for many, many years; that their minds were formed enough to articulate thought; that their souls had settled comfortably within their new being. Souls… what was that? She abandoned the thought and snatched a simpler narrative about them – that they had traveled from far, having been cruelly parted at the crossroads, never knowing if they will ever regain their brotherhood. This kicking was not a fight. They were only reaching out to each other through the amniotic divide. They started a conversation.

“Did you ever think we would meet again?” Asked the first twin.

“I gave up hope of ever seeing you again when season after season I failed to see your return. How many centuries has it been?” Said the second twin.

“Three almost,” answered the first.

The second twin silently shifted his physical form like a baby whale in the ocean, loving the feel of the protective fluid around. Shanni felt the shift and gasped. She continued the narration in her mind, making her babies time travelers in an ageless existence.

“That was the darkest day of my life. I knew they would come for us. They had raided the neighbouring village only two days ago. They always came back.” The second twin continued.

“Mhm… they always came back for more. When I saw them come, I hid in the pit we had dug at the back of the hut. I heard you run towards the pit, but you did not make it in time. I heard them whip you and shackle you. I listened to your cries and pleas as they dragged you away. I felt the harmer of guilt and break my spirit as I hid in that pit. I stayed there until the sun went down and total silence enveloped our home in Nyasaland like a nightmare.

“I made my way out of the pit and took in the shocking desolation. Everyone around the homestead had been taken. I shivered like a leaf and felt my blood drain from my body. I could not scream, I could not speak. I wished they had caught me too. I prayed day and night that you would somehow escape and come back home. Mama and Baba’s graves stared at me, beseeching me to find peace within the madness. How could I, when they had taken the entire village, and you, my only living sibling, my twin, was gone. I had nothing left to live for.

“I tried to kill myself, but I could not gather enough courage. Several moons later, I embarked on a week-long trek up north and into a friendly village where I married, had children, and tried to forget the past. But it was all still too painful. I left my wife and children and continued up north searching for something… I didn’t know what. I settled among the Maasai people by the plains of Olkejuado… ” Shanni smiled at her own story-weaving, how she had studied the land of Lenana’s people to make up for never having visited there “… and there I started another family.

She wondered how to end the life of this ageless time-traveler that grew inside her. Ah yes, a lion of course!

“An encounter with a lion while taking care of my cattle dispatched me quickly from the earth at forty, twenty-five years after the raid that took you away from me. How I wish I had real moran blood flowing in me. But in a way, it was a welcome relief, for I could not erase the memories of the past that had made me dead inside. I did not know how to feel. I hoped that the sons I had abandoned, ad those from my second family, would be real morans. They would learn to fight and fend for themselves. They would be elders in their own land. They would earn the people’s respect and they will ask Enkai’s blessings upon my soul so I may find peace in the land of the ancestors.”

Shanni enjoyed her own wondering mind conjuring up epic tales that came to an end and disappeared into ether as if they were never thought. It’s a process that soothed her. She looked at the time and relaxed back, her mind soon picking up the thread of narrative from the other twin.

“After they shackled us together at the homestead, I looked back, hoping to see you for the last time. But you were still hiding in the pit. We were led up north on a trek that lasted many days until we came to the town of Bagamoyo by Tanganyika’s seaside. By then, quite a number had fainted from fatigue and beatings and were left by the wayside for the vultures. We were packed in a dhow and shipped to Zanzibar where the auctioning of the animals we were made out to be took place. I could not allow myself to think, to feel, or to dream. My mind mercifully erased from my conscious memory every bit of the journey through the dark seas and into a death that never stopped.”

Shanni stopped here to edit her tall tale. She knew the ship from the east coast of Africa most likely went to the Middle East, but a few did make it to the Americas through the Cape of Good Hope. Her mind almost screamed at the thought of that impossibly long journey round the southern tip of Africa. She picked up where she left off.

“I became the property of Masser Jim Thimble, and acquired the name Frederick Thimble…”

Shanni paused. She was wading into familiar territory. She knew her family’s story all the way to her great-great-great grandfather, Fred Thimble.

“We slaved, and slaved, and slaved some more. A slave woman in the stock and I were put together to breed more slaves for the Masser…”

Stop! Shanni told herself. But something compelled her to go through this part.

“I grew to love her. She wasn’t a slave woman to me. She was human, and I loved her fiercely. Sadly, I lost her to pneumonia soon after our fifth child…”

Stop! These are waters Shanni did not wade through without crying fitfully. But she couldn’t stop. She had cast her unborn child as her ancestor and she no longer owned this narrative.

“I managed to hold on to life by making myself numb. I couldn’t allow myself to think, feel or dream. The animal instinct that was bred in me by the master was my driving force. I drove myself to hard work and stayed fixed on freedom. I did not know happiness; I knew duty. By the age of sixty-seven, I had bought my own freedom, changed my last name to Williams because I wanted no record of that evil man, and moved up to Baltimore with my children. My heart stopped at seventy four on its own accord.”

Shanni stopped. Now that the twins had captured her womb and time-travel to the present they needed to bring this story to some kind of resolution. She did not like untidy endings.

“Do you think we will be able to understand each other after more than three centuries of separation?”

“I hope so… I sure hope so. We still look alike, and we still share the same Motherland, don’t we”

“I guess we do.”

They both shifted in there, unsure about the future. There would be much to come to terms with between those who had crossed the waters and those who had been left on the Continent. Their world would be a cauldron of vast cultural differences in spite of a common ancestry. Finger-pointing; one blaming the other for selling them into slavery. Superiority complexes acquired from being a product of the great America, even silent gratitude for slavery which saved one the shame of being brought up in primitive Africa. One passing judgment on the other for losing that authentic African morality – too much drugs, violence and vulgarity. So much to contend with. So much to understand. Such a deep chasm. They twins shifted uneasily, their worry sending waves hitting against the walls of the borrowed nine-month temporary shelter.


Shanni was now quite worried. She felt wave after wave of movement that didn’t seem to stop. It was not painful, but she did not think it was ordinary. Her next appointment was tomorrow. She decided to call the doctor and push it forward. She was new at being pregnant and did not want to take chances. In less than an hour, she was driving to Dr. Clemmons’s office.

“What’s the trouble, Mrs. Olesakaja?” Dr. Clemmons asked with a twinge of that sing-song Jamaican accent he had picked from his mother in spite of the fact that he was born in the US.

“Too much activity going on inside. Maybe they are lying in the wrong position?” She asked.

“Why don’t you get up there and let me have a look.” Dr. Clemmons prepared to run a scan.

Peeking through his screen, he smiled and assured her everything was ok. “Everything seems alright. Have you been resting well? No anxiety? Or they could just be having a little heated conversation. Could be they are telling each other stories too. You’re a writer, aren’t you?”

“I doubt very much they will have any of that in their blood. I fear they’ll carry their father’s strange genes.” Shanni said as she dressed up.

Dr. Clemmons tried not to get personal, but he heard something of concern in Shanni’s voice. “These children are half of you too, you know. Did you tell me your husband had killed a lion to become a man? Are you afraid of him?”

Shanni sighed. “No. Lenana is not a violent man.” She paused. “Is it possible for one twin to take completely after the father, and the other after the mother?”

“It happens. Is that what you wish for, separation?” Dr. Clemmons was now sitting down to do some listening.

“I don’t know what I wish for, doctor. Lenana and I are just so different, I don’t even know how two people who share the same ancestry can be like day and night. I don’t understand these people anymore!”

“These people! Hah! Am I ‘these people’ too? You know, being from the Islands and all. What is the problem, my dear?”

“Sorry I sound racist, but I have failed to grasp the essence of this man. Maybe the other African people are different, I don’t know. We may be better off sticking with our own kind.”

“Your kind…”

“No, no… I’m sorry, I think I’d better stop while I can.” Shanni sighed. “Thank you, Dr. Clemmons. I really appreciate you making time to see me.”

He wasn’t done. “Mrs. Olesakaja, you were torn apart centuries ago and have undergone very different experiences. But you have more similarities than you care to imagine. If you really love him, you must start somewhere. You must start looking for him where you parted ways. At the crossroads, Shanni. Go back to the crossroads and understand why the split happened. Your yesterdays are not dead.” Dr. Clemmons looked at Shanni and saw something shift in her eyes. He had no idea his words had just began to water a very dry patch within her.

As she drove back home, a soft drizzle began to fall, clearing the dust off her windshield, filling her nostril with the smell of fresh rain. As she turned on her wipers, the waters gently broke their banks inside her heart, filling up the little wells in her eyes and pouring over in streams that ran down her dry cheeks. She laughed out loud as she passed the sign indicating crossroads ahead. At the crossroads of past and present, she thought. I will reach out across the chasm of undying yesterdays, to understand why things happened, and raise up the new generation growing in me without drenching them with my deluge of sorrows and regrets.

Continued – IV: A Rumour of God

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