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“…The shooting in Mashambani Constituency has left at least six people dead. We’ll let you know more about the ill-fated political rally as the events unfold…”
She slowly increased the volume on the small portable radio but her mind was not registering anything. Maria had panicked and it was written all over her face. The last time she had this feeling was when her husband had drowned in the River Nyando. She had not waited for the news to reach her. She had started mourning long before the bearers of the bad news got home. When they arrived and saw her all they could say was, “We are sorry,” but silently, inwardly they asked, “How did she know?”
“Edda, E-e-ed-ah,” she called, her voice high but shaky. A middle-aged young woman rushed to the living room of the little mud house, a show of fear in the rather attractive face. She had been resting under the shade of the ‘omoringamu’ tree behind the kitchen when the voice of her aunt startled her. Looking at her aunt now, she almost felt scared. She tried to place that look on her aunt’s face and it sent shivers down her spine for she knew what it meant. She remembered when, years back, her uncle Ondari had drowned. Her aunt had known it long even before someone could tell her. Edda thought what a great foreteller her aunt was!
She could never forget those long, lonely, sorrowful days and nights that she had to sit by her aunt’s side to stop her from harming herself. And Maria, like a zombie, just sat there and sung dirges, day and night, not eating, not…
“Onditi, where is he?” Has he come to eat his lunch? Maria suddenly asked the startled Edda.
“I thought you knew,” started Edda. “He left in the morning, he said he was going to the town center…that there was a rally and Mr. Tumbo was there…”
“Mr. Tumbo,” Maria cut short. “He had a rally here again last…no…how long ago was it?”
“When he wanted us to vote him to parliament, auntie, I remember, five years ago. And I remember how Onditi came back with a 500-shilling note and persuaded you to vote for Mr. Tumbo. Back then he promised to bring ‘sitima’. He even said a university would be built in Magena for the children. He told us the government had neglected us for so long…”
“I voted, I remember,” Maria cut in with a voice that seemed to be from long ago. Five years had elapsed so quickly, she thought.
“But…” she seemed deep in thought. She did remember that Mr. Tumbo had promised to build a university, he had called it ‘chuo kikuu’. She remembered, as if it were yesterday Mr. Tumbo’s words, “Watoto wetu wafaa kusoma masomo ya juu zaidi…”
Onditi, her only son had refused education and gone to the quarry. He had refused ‘masomo ya juu’. Mzee Kibiru the village tycoon had never gone to school. Why should he, Onditi, go? Mzee Kibiru’s story had gone from generation to generation on how Kibiru, a young lad back then had worked for a mzungu and how the mzungu had gone back to his country leaving him enviously rich.
“Lazy bones, easy come easy go,” Maria used to tell her son. “Look at him now, what does he have to show for it all? His sons squandered it and yet again son, No two lives can ever be the same.”
Onditi had listened to his mother. From her meager earnings from her little shamba left to her by her late husband, she had done farming and Onditi had successfully completed his secondary exams. He did surprise his mother with his average results for his mother, in her thoughts, had written him off as an hopeless case!
He then went to the quarry to mine soapstone for he told his mother he could learn no more.
“But Son, I hear they give money to young people to learn. Mama John called it bursary. Why don’t you, Onditi, go for bursary and go to chuo kikuu. Mr. Tumbo, he said once he becomes the president, he would build a university…”
All of this had fallen on deaf years for the following day Onditi had gone to the quarry despite desperate pleas from his mother.
And just yesterday, after two years, Onditi had come back home.
“Mother,” he had said earnestly, “Mr.Tumbo. Tomorrow he will address the village. I hear he has a very big car and I hear too he will give us money. Mama, I came to see if I could manage to get that bursary from him. I decided to go to ‘chuo kikuu’ mother.”
“Auntie, auntie, listen,” It was Edda tugging at her clothes bringing her back from her reverie, “Listen to the radio…”
“…Mr.Tumbo has gone into hiding. Reports indicate that the police are looking for him in connection to the chaos that broke out today in a rally he was holding in his Mashambani constituency. Meanwhile the bodies of the six victims shot earlier by the police in the rally are lying in the local mortuary. In other news…”
Maria was almost choking on the words that couldn’t get out of her mouth. She looked at Edda and she saw the same look of fear she had seen some years ago on her niece’s face. She remembered how Edda had cried begging her not to tell her parents that she was pregnant and she remembered too how the young girl Edda had almost killed herself by taking an overdose of malaratabs with the intention that the pregnancy would just go away.
Maria had taken the young girl in but it had been a stillbirth. For Maria, her aunt was her hero. She would not let anything take her away from her.
“Auntie,” She was not listening.
“Auntie, lets go and see.”
As if in a trance, Maria felt herself being led out of the house. She did not know where she was going.
* * *
Obogima General Hospital was a beehive of activity on the said afternoon. Nurses, doctors and everybody else seemed to be in motion. Bodies were being brought to the mortuary, hundreds of people were being wheeled into the ICU and there was the sound of wailing people and siren everywhere. It is this noise that brought Maria back to reality.
“Why did you bring me here?” She asked her terrified niece. For about thirty minutes she had thought her aunt was a walking corpse. She didn’t utter a word and neither did she blink her eyes in the ten kilometers they walked, but her heartbeat was still there.
Ten kilometers had been covered so fast and Edda wondered why she’d never participated in the numerous cross-country races that used to be held annually in her little village.
“I could not think of another place, auntie,” she said absent-mindedly while thinking about what she’d heard people say on their way to the hospital.
“The police were shooting at anyone,” she heard one tell another. “I wonder how many they’ve killed.”
“But the radio said the rally was not going to be chaotic,” his friend replied.
“You never know with our systems my friend,” he replied, “You think you are safe now but the next moment you are running for your life.”
Edda had then hastened her pace only to find another group of people talking.
“Mr. Tumbo, He is a monster.”
“No,” answered another, “He said when he is raisi our lives will be much better. He even said he could send some of our sons to study in America.”
“Fool,” his friend had said, “Fool”, “He plays with our minds. We voted him in last time. Look at us now. All we do is ask, “When is the next rally so we attend. We might be given 200 shillings. And when the rally comes, look now, all we do is run for our lives. Like we are illegals in our own village.” The fellow had sounded so irritated he spat.
“It was not Mr. Tumbo’s mistake,” yet another chirped in.” “It was Mr. Omwamu’s people. They caused the fracas. They started attacking Mr. Tumbo’s men and chaos broke out, and…”
“Wanaume”, a man had come by running, “Hurry to the hospital and see if your kin has died. You never know…”
Edda had hurried too for ‘you never know.’
“Young lady,” someone was shaking Edda so hard she could have fallen from the small stool she was sitting on. “What can I do for you?”
Edda found herself staring into the eyes of a young intern. “She is so cute”, Edda thought.
“Onditi wanted bursary from Mr.Tumbo. That is why he went to the rally…”
“Young lady, I know it has been bad out there. My heart goes out to the families. Did you want to find out about someone?”
“My cousin Onditi, He…”
Santa Onditi Getutu, “Is he dead?” She heard her aunt talk and she felt relieved.
The young intern rushed to an inner room and came back hurriedly. Edda couldn’t read her face. She held her breath and Maria… Maria started doing what she had done ten years ago…singing dirges, wailing and cursing God. She was not even listening to what the young intern had to say.
“Nurse,” Edda heard herself say, “Don’t mind her, Go on and tell me. Is he dead?” Edda could hear her heart racing a race it had never attempted before. She even thought it might jump out of her chest!”
“He is in I.C.U. Badly injured. People must have stepped on him badly. But at least he doesn’t seem to be in much danger…young lady…”
Edda was not listening.
“Auntie…he’s not dead.”
She was singing.
“He’s in ICU”.
‘Nearer my God to Thee’
“Am going to see him.”
She was fainting…
“Nurse, nurse”, Edda shouted, “My aunt, help her…”
Two male nurses with a stretcher rushed and helped put Maria in the stretcher.
It was 4:19 p.m
* * *
Maria woke up an hour later in the recuperating room and saw Onditi lying in the bed next to hers. His eyes closed and his face looking ever so peaceful and for a moment she thought he was dead. She raised her hand to touch her son but it was too weak. He opened his eyes and saw her. He smiled, albeit painfully. He tried to open his mouth and say something, anything just to assure his mother but it felt too painful. He closed his eyes.
Maria looked at her son for a long time and slowly drifted to sleep.
* * *
Edda watched from the corner where she sat and sighed with relief. The two people who had been her world were well after all. What more could a man ask for? Maybe Onditi will get the bursary and go to ‘chuo kikuu’. Maybe Maria will live a little longer and get to harvest the fruits of her hard labour.
Mr.Tumbo.How Edda hated that pot-bellied politician who almost brought down her world. How she would love to make him pay but her as who? As a young school dropout who didn’t have much to live for? She had to think of something. She could study and be a lawyer and fight for the poor man’s rights? Or would she love to be a politician and do better than what Mr.Tumbo was doing?
Politics and politicians…NO, NO, NO. She developed an intense hatred for politicians and the feeling was so intense it almost made her throw up.
* * *
Later in the night as she watched the two people she loved most, a thought hit her. She almost hated herself for what she was thinking but it kept lingering at the back of her mind and she couldn’t brush it off. And…
At 11:54 on that fateful day Edda decided she was going to study politics when and if ever she went back to college. Without noticing it she said out loud, “I am going to be a politician!” and for a moment she thought she saw Onditi frown in his peaceful sleep.
© Liz Nyabiage Ombati 2009
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