According to her

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

Nitumie ka-mia mbili,” Mom texts. I roll my eyes. But I send her the $200 immediately. Some weeks later, I will call her. I will be sitting on the ground beside my shopping cart at Value Village.

“Just send me a hundred for now,” I will say. “My grant money is coming at the end of the month. I’ll pay you back.” I have a savings account, but I try not to think of it as real money, money I can reach out and touch.

My parents drained their savings to immigrate here. Back in Kenya, Mom was an accountant, and Dad had a job in corporate insurance. We lived in a notso-great but not terrible neighbourhood in Nairobi. We went to private school. Mom would browse flea markets for encyclopedias she could buy us. She paid for piano lessons, which we hated.

“You guys were so fancy,” a childhood friend says, “with your piano lessons.”

In Winnipeg, Mom has an entry-level job with the government. Dad is a truck driver.

“Stay in school,” Mom tells me. “Get those master’s, PhDs, whatevers. Get all of them.” Every now and then, I have a small crisis about money. Writers don’t get paid, and neither do professors.

Dad says to me, “Have you ever gone to bed hungry?”

I shake my head.

“Have you ever lacked anything?”

“No,” I say. “We were never rich, but somehow we always managed.”

Every now and then, my sister has a small crisis about wasting her life. She says, “I don’t want to just freeload (off) Mom and Dad.”

“You have a job,” I say. “And you’re 21. Cut yourself some slack!”

Her words grate the part of me that is ashamed I can’t hold down a service job like a normal person. How will I survive as I go through grad school?

Mom says, “You know why we decided to get a mortgage for this place?”

Our two-bedroomed apartment with its balcony door looking out at the pastel sunset each evening.

“Anywhere you children go, know that you have a home waiting for you.”

This summer, my sister and I scrambled to find an apartment in Ottawa. Everything moved quickly. Everything was too expensive. We sent in applications and were rejected for the $1,200 place, and then the $1,500 place that would strain our budget anyway.

I hold my head in my hands. “Where will we live?”

Dad says, “Is there a problem we cannot fix?”

One apartment accepts our application.

A $1,700 place does not reject us.

“We can’t afford the rent,” I say. But school starts in two weeks, however, and this is a bird in hand.

“Just a year,” Mom says.

The apartment is on the seventh floor with a view of treetops and a winding river and faraway highrise windows lit up yellow in the darkness. My sister and I look down in silent pleasure.

In my heart I feel lucky.

Ciku Gitonga is a fourth-year minor in creative writing at the University of Ottawa. She is not looking forward to her entrance into the “real world.”

Published in Volume 77, Number 05 of The Uniter (October 6, 2022)

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