J reads a poem aloud from my favourite anthology, sounds out the words slowly- lipped, she-bear, cattails– stops to describe cattails to me, how they look like hotdogs, how there is a bouquet of them in her favourite Naivasha cabin. She drinks jasmine tea out of a grey clay mug, her nails are rimmed with dark dirt, there are holes in her leopard print tights.

P stops on the sidewalk, bends at the waist, bowing to a fat creamy slug. Its skin- do you call it skin?- is wet and translucent, crisscrossed with perfect delicate designs. Its antennae reach with slow elegance for messages in the air. We all gather around this creature of earth and water, an alien from a planet we’ve never considered, admire the way it eases across the cement, unfazed as it graces us with this glimpse of its slimy existence. We step over it into the grey morning.

The rainy season should have ended months ago, but the rainy season disregards this obligation, makes its own decisions. As P and I walk up the hill to pick up her sisters, rain begins to fall in thick roaring sheets. She shouts to me from beneath her umbrella, “Well, this is dramatic!” We laugh, watch rivers form in the gravel road, watch the shapes around us blur behind thick wet curtains.

We listen to opera in the morning, just because we never have. M sings so loudly as she makes her bed that I assume it’s part of the recording. I smile at the thought of famous opera singers as children, bellowing down the hallway.

J comes into my bedroom, jittery, restless. She says “My fingers just have to be baking. Please, mom, let me bake.” I smile at this impulse that is so foreign to me, swallow my complaints about a messy kitchen this late in the evening, give her permission to make pancakes. She recruits P and they giggle on wooden stools, spill flour, lick spoons mid-stir. Their secret ingredient is more than a cup of my imported chocolate chips. Their pancakes are buttery and chocolatey and completely their own. They clean up the mess and as I lick chocolate from my fingers, I am learning so many things about loosening my grip on their lives.

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