Soft Hands

I like hands, not as a fetish, but as a wonder of bio-engineering and because of the interesting shapes and sizes they come with. Each set of hands is different yet the same. And with these differences, come varying penmanship (handwriting, to those not paying attention). By that measure, I also enjoy looking at handwriting. Mine has often been described as a chicken scrawl, all the way from primary school, so I am rather fascinated by handwriting and the particular uniqueness of each hand.

When high school rolled about and I joined the second form, I changed mine to impress my history teacher. Not that she would have noticed, a thought that was ever-present in my mind even as I traced those letters meticulously. Funny, I dropped history altogether but the handwriting stuck, although it has evolved, but still slightly slanting to the left. So hands…

We use them to move about the world as we learn how to walk and grasp, to communicate as we gesticulate and use sign language, to show love and affection, to protect, and, often, to display and carry out violence. Yet, I find some hands more fascinating than others. Soft hands. Not softness as in texture but this kind of softness: that even if they are somewhat misshapen and rough, or have the crushing handshake, that they would never harm you. Even in the sometimes extreme displays of their strength, the power to hurt and to break, that those hands will not hurt you or break you.

It is that friendly guy who delivers potatoes to our house. Wa Caro, he told us to call him, every one calls him. Dude never shows up on time, though. Big meaty hands, ever soiled and earthy, that make me imagine he digs those potatoes up by hand. He always smells of petrichor and has a warm gap-toothed smile. We just had to keep his business. They are hands that know pain, that of dreaming and working towards a dream. They have a story. I imagine his tell me, “I may be kidogo dirty and late, and it may feel like I am griding your bones with my hello, but I always hook you up.” His hands display humility, hard work and an honesty I find endearing. He often tells us of his desire to own a lorry, a Mitsubishi Canter, to better sell potatoes with.

It is that woman with dainty hands, shortish fingers yet beautifully tapered and mostly well-manicured. Sometimes, in deep thought or frustration, she chews the cuticle off, sometimes pulling out too much and giving herself a scab. Sometimes, as she goes about her day, she will cut them on a piece of glass in a carton she was organizing. Sometimes a nail or three and the nail polish are chipped and she does not notice because she has better things to do with those hands: file a report, balance the books, chase after a tender, feed the baby, spank the baby, cook and clean, text message her friends, update that CV, finish that assignment. In that case, they may not be as soft as we think, nor should they be. It is Mama Boi, that woman that makes one of the meanest omena I have ever sampled. She of beating her son when he sneaked out of school until the neighbours came calling. “Anachezaje na masomo na mimi ninachomeka hapa juu yake?! Hata kama ninauza chakula pia nilienda shule!

Yet, in the eternal quest to build better lives, the callouses become the softness. Softness: these hands have picked up and thrown aside, these hands have been cut by picking up the pieces of my life and by putting them back together, these hands have built and they have destroyed. These hands. Every pair tells a story, the same way every face does. I look at hands. I try to guess at the stories behind them. We all share that peculiar softness, the one that comes from working towards a dream and falling, scrambling to get back on your feet, bruising those same hands you pick yourself up with and build with all over again.


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