Growing up, we had 3 pets that I can remember. The oldest one is a white cat called Nyambura (which literally means ‘cat’ in Dholuo), she’s 15 years old now, I believe. We had a few goldfish in a round glass bowl we kept on the dining table. They went belly up one by one. Something about the water being too cold, or too chlorinated- we didn’t know and didn’t replace them. And then, there was Mzee Kobe, a little tortoise, who one day, ran away. No, the irony is not lost on me.
Now, my parents have a total of 5 dogs- Sifa, Raha, 1 Tot, Sama and Wati (those last two are the guard dogs. They’re so dark black, they almost look blue, hence their names). 1 Tot is our dog. We gave her to them when we moved into our apartment, that isn’t pet friendly. She and Ninja loved each other when we had them both, they were like brother and sister.
We live with Ninja, our black cat (his color is a big part of where I’m going with this). He was given to me by my cousin Toya, on my 30th birthday. For as long as Kendi can remember, Ninja has always been a part of her life. Keyo doesn’t even know that there are people who don’t have cats living with them.
Enough back story…
Ninja has this really annoying habit that he’s developed over the years. He will sit somewhere near you and just watch. At first you won’t even notice that he’s there, because duh, he’s stealthy. And then, all of a sudden and completely unprovoked, he will launch out at you with claws and teeth. The ‘attack’ is so sudden and so painful, that anyone it happens to, screams out loud (involuntarily) and the children proceed to cry and carry on for the better part of 10 minutes.
Last week, Ninja decided it was Kendi’s turn to be bitten and scratched. She screamed out loud and came running into our room. Martin and I were still getting ready for the day.
Me: Kendi en ang’o? (What is it?)
Kendi: (Screaming with her mouth full of half chewed bread)
Me: (Grabbing hold of her shoulders) Kendi, wach piyo. Ang’o ma timi? (Say quickly, what’s happening?)
I should probably explain- my worst scenario as a parent, is having my child screaming and not being able to say what the problem is. I can’t help if I don’t know what I’m helping with. I vaguely remember my mother, slapping my sister hard, and asking, ‘ang’o? wach!’ (What? Say!)
Kendi: Ninja bite me (more screaming, more spitting of food out of her mouth)
Me: Oh no! Kanye? (where?) I decided I didn’t need to correct her grammar just then.
Kendi: here (she pulls down her top to show me the scars)
Me: oh honey. Mos ahinya (so sorry)
Martin: What?! Again?! Where is he?
Strangely, Ninja is standing in the corridor watching us! Martin picks up a shoe and launches it at the cat, yelling all kinds of warnings and threats, before he comes back to console Kendi.
We put some ointment on the scar and kiss and hug the girl, and send her on her way.
A few minutes later, Kendi says, ‘Mama, can we please get another cat?’
‘Oh no’ I think, ‘if I have to choose between the little lady and the cat, of course, the cat is going to have to go. But, growing up with a pet is so good for children’s mental health, sense of responsibility and duty…’
Kendi interrupts my thoughts, ‘mama’
Kendi: Pleeeeeeaaassseee can we get another cat?
Me: Nang’o baby? (why?)
Kendi: Because this one keeps hurting me
Me: Oh honey, I’m so sorry. Idwaro what kind of cat?
Kendi: A brown one or a white one
Kendi: Yes. Or we could go to Par Kwe (my parent’s house) and get Nyambura
Me: No, no, Nyambura dak gi Dana and Babu (she lives with grandma and grandpa)
Kendi: OK, but I don’t like black cats anymore
Kendi: I don’t like black cats anymore. They scratch and bite you. I want a brown cat, or a white cat OK?
Because how else can I explain to Kendi that it is only ‘this’ black cat that scratches and bites her? And that probably not all black cats will scratch and bite her. And if she got a brown cat or a white cat, how sure would she be, that it wouldn’t scratch and bite her, just like Ninja (who just happens to black)?
All I’m saying is #notallblackcats bite and scratch and her prejudice is so familiar, it’s almost laughable.