The decibel levels were getting higher as the night grew grey hair. Higher than Chinese loans to Africa coupled with ludicrous amount of interest rates. The tension was palpable. The night was still albeit with the ensuing melee. Gay skies making most of their time in pitch black darkness. The wind was rather unsettled, blowing petulantly towards the North West further exacerbating the tumultuous situation. I pity the stone walls. For one, they take in every ounce of abusive word, impertinent behavior and share in their distresses. Two, they cannot vent, hurl inconceivable words, stifle an impending explanation or even pick up their stuff in two suitcases and threaten to leave only to stay put. I pity stone walls. The cracks on them, perhaps a testament of mental health conditions going by the DSM-5 manual.
He’d come home late, in the wee hours of the night wobbling as though he had two left feet. He made sounds. And I’m being careful here because some folks don’t sing. Far from it. They make sounds. Alliteration and rhythm. And beats too. No harmony. Nothing soothing. No symphony. His orchestra would be made up of toads in the swamps of Botswana. He budged into the room, looking confused. The hinges of the door almost chocking given the sheer force. This grand entry was preceded by profanities towards his wife. His hoarse voice echoing through the room. He asked for food which was immediately brought to him by Grace. Grace is their only child. She was eight years old and in class three. The food doesn’t drive away his verbal outpouring. Grace’s mother was mainly at the receiving end. While Grace retreated to her tiny room,she understood all to well that sleep wouldn’t embrace her. However much she tried to close her eyes, what was on the offing reared its ugly head.
The roaring voice of her father started again. This time with oomph and clout. He was at it again. It had become the norm. Coming late. Asking for food. Clobbering wife. As the blows and kicks descended upon her mother, Grace contemplated getting involved, assisting her mother put him in his place once and for all. She couldn’t conjure up enough grit. The last time she tried getting in between these fights, her father nearly drove a kitchen knife through her tiny body. Her mother jumped in right at the nick of time to thwart the attempted odious act. So she stayed put, coiled right next to her metal bed. Her heart pounding ever so loudly. Incessant tears cascading down to her pink dress. Head between the knees she wanted to disappear into an abyss, oblivion, utopia.
Surprisingly, sleep did locate her. Took her by her arms and there they went. Where sleep resides. In some hacienda with an impressive facade in the hills of Andalusia. Don’t think highly of me, it’s an Atlas emblazoned on the wall of my house! What woke her up was a tap. No. Let’s get this right, a throb on her upper arm. She knew all too well what that meant, time to leave before her father’s ghosts reemerged. It was a blend of Dejà Vu and relative peace. Her mother was still alive. She wondered how she did it. How she mastered the art of cat lives. She thought her mother epitomized the nights. However long and ruinous, the break of dawn always brought with it renewed hope, resilience and resolve.
They moved in together in a makeshift house in the slams of Korogocho, next to Kariobangi North. Where sewer lines run like tributaries traversing every part of the neighborhood. Night clubs playing loud music, predominantly reggae music. They say it’s life. And that no one can stop it. So you don’t have a choice. It’s either you listen to reggae music or smash your eardrum. You also need to contend with a community toilet a stone’s throw away. You know why, I wish not to belabor on that. Her mother started on casual jobs just to make ends meet. Doing laundry in the other leafy neighborhoods, domestic work and stuff of that ilk. Doing laundry can sometimes be very daunting and onerous. Rich people can at times be uncouth. Lacking decorum. They will throw at you a heap of their dirty laundry, expensive apparel. But what you see amongst the mountain of attires will leave you dumbfounded. You will Ponder on whether or not to even look at it again. Perhaps afraid your ancestors could be gearing up to strike you down. You choose to mumble to bibi ya mkubwa about it and all she does is accuse you of being sacrilegious. It’s interesting that bibi ya mkubwa is the one to attend to such insipid issues. Where art thou men?
As a result of meagre pay from the menial jobs, Grace seldom managed to stay at school consistently. She’d be sent home for fees with adamant teachers stating that nothing short of five hundred shillings would allow her back to class come what may. Are you dumbstruck? Five hundred shillings for school fees is a luxury some cannot embezzle, loot from public coffers or misappropriate. Realities are different for different people. Some fellas went to group of schools, with numerous yellow buses and fancy uniforms. They cut their hair the way they saw fit, spit out the queen’s language with an Australian accent and displayed the Midas touch. Then there are others ( myself included), who also went to group of schools, literally. They have a plethora of report forms from diverse schools. Such institutions don’t have yellow buses or fancy uniforms. You make do with what is available. They don’t have accents. Their command for English is somewhat uninspiring although spoken with much gusto. It almost borders that of a Kenyan graduate from Punjab university, India. Oh, it also makes governors.
Life through school was proving an uphill battle, became untenable. She consequently dropped out. Joined her mother in running errands in order to keep afloat. They would be up till night in Tao selling their merchandise along the streets. Most times they were victims of maltreatment and being vilified by kanjos. There’s nothing pleasant about being dragged like a dead animal into a dilapidated county pick up, grey in color. Grey? The reasons are inane at best. Any who, that was how life presented itself. Like a lady you met yesterday looking all à la mode just to wake up beside her with no make up on. A shell of former self. No pun intended.
These conditions coupled with an awful weather was taking toll on Grace’s mother. She was taken ill. Didn’t go to hospital right away but stuck with tablets from the local chemist. Acetaminophen here and ibuprofen there. She was deteriorating by the day and Grace by the help from neighbors resorted to admit her at a city hospital. The diagnosis wasn’t explicit, especially not for a kid in primary school. It sounded and looked like doctor’s handwriting on a wrinkled page. On the night of 18th July, Grace’s mother bid this cruel world farewell. She laid there softly, immobile, as if at peace. Mortality proving it’s grip on humanity. This occurrence broke her to the core. She had lost a mother and her only true friend. Her tears spoke volumes of a colossal lose, a lose of seismic effects.
What transpired was a downward spiral. Her life taking the wrong trajectory. Life in the ghetto isn’t anything but smooth. Especially for a young lady. Violence, crime, drugs are a common feature. Out on her own, the proclivity for engaging in the aforementioned activities is at an all time high. With no one to shepherd her, she wondered away to the territories of wolves. Grace got introduced into drugs at age sixteen. She didn’t abuse the substances at first. All she was required to do is get it to the owner. These escapades earn her some money so she looked forward to the trips. Her initiators were kind and offered her some of the drugs as incentives for the job. Before long, through experimenting she started on drugs and substances. Getting her daily dose was proving rather difficult.
One thing led to another and crime was her next vocation. Threatening residents with dummy pistols and robbing them off their hard earned money and personal effects. Her gang operated along Juja road hijacking vehicles and leaving motorists for dead. By this time she was twenty. Her gang was predominantly constituted of young boys who also grew up in the slums. The reason she befriended this male gang was to avoid being a target. She adopted masculine idiosyncrasies in order to blend into the group. What is occasionally know as tomboy. She was an eccentric. Grace adopted this oddity in order to avoid being mistreated like her late Mom. It was a defense mechanism. It worked.
One chilly morning along Kiambu Road, things got a little out of hand. The morning was chilly and laced with dark clouds. A bit of drizzling here. It was as if mother Earth shared in the day’s mood. The writing was on the wall. A black letter day. It’s one of those queer mornings that you claim not to have heard your alarm going off and so you wake up late, exhausted and bored. You sit pretty on your bed contemplating whether or not to venture out. You quickly take a shower. ( This is usually not convincing since your face, legs and armpit were the only casualties of the cold liquid at room temperature). But you don’t bother. You tell yourself, Kwani Mimi ni samaki nishinde Kwa maji. You won’t be having your breakfast today. In the matatu heading to work you realize that your jirani is ogling at you. She’s a young beautiful lady donning a pink dress with bracelets of similar color. You think she’s probably sending signals only to be reminded by the conductor,
” Boss, ukona sabuni Kwa maskio “
You don’t reply. Who does that? Embarrass you in front of miss universe. Some guys in the matatu burst out laughing. Now you’re livid alright. But for the sake of peace you squinter, Hawa Watu hawanijui.
Guys, concentrate. I don’t wanna lose you. Grace and her gang didn’t do their research well. Juja road was somewhat a free hit, but this other one a different kettle of fish altogether. Or a can of worms, or Pandora’s box. The devil’s in the details. They came as usual and tried to hijack the high end automobiles. They were in for a rude shock. The guy they tried to hijack happened to be those heavily built military guys wearing shots. Her three colleagues were shot dead while the rest gunned down by police via a tip off from residents. She managed to wriggle her way from the chaos with a gun shot wound on her left arm. Next to the ulna.
” This is where the bullet bruised my arm. It’s a scar that reminds me a lot of my former self, ” she affirms.
” Am I allowed to have a closer look, and perhaps feel it? ” I tease her.
” No Stan! ” This she says accusing me of being facetious.
Grace is currently working on her first book. Apart from being a writer, she is also a song bird. A common nightingale of sorts. Melody is her thing. She serves in church. A worship leader and also part of the choir. She just doesn’t sing slow emotional Christian songs, she lives her worship. It’s a lifestyle. She magnifies the Ancient of Days, the creator of heaven and earth, by whom everything is sustained by the word of His power. Gratitude exudes from her as we chat. She reckons that salvation has nothing to do with her works or deeds, but has everything to do with the love of Christ,His kindness and Grace. For it is “by Grace through faith that we are saved,not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
As we are having coffee, cappuccino, I am awed by Grace’s verve. Her childhood and upbringing doesn’t seem to have a negative bearing on the person she is today or to be in future. She embraces her scars. Not bereft of confidence, self esteem or having a warped sense of self. I am curious.
“So Gracey, doesn’t it sometimes feel sad that the Lord didn’t come through for you and Mom during your most testing times? ” I pose the question.
She adjusts her sitting posture, leans forward and gives me a serious glare. I can tell she wants to be as lucid as possible.
“Well, I used to be bothered by that but not anymore. I chose to focus on His word which is truth. He works out all things for His good. He is sovereign, nothing catches Him by surprise. He knows the end from the beginning, the Alpha and Omega. And He is good. His love surpasses all knowledge . He knows my name. That’s the bottom line. ”
Her laughter and gusto is admirable. Her sense of self emanating from her Father assured. Her story, our story is definitely that of dirt and Grace.