A wild cluster of Swahili houses looked like one heap of disposed boxes with brown toppings from above. One with rubble at the rear where a marsh grew stood out in particular. Its corroded iron sheets squeaked incessantly in the wind. Once in a while a piece got ripped off and in time old mats, cardboards and filthy polythene bags came in place. The walls sickly yellow peeled away revealing patches of a nauseating discoloration. Gaping cracks running down the sides let in light but at night chilly draughts sipped in through.
A carpet of moss clung onto damp ends of walls. Hard patches on a wet earthen floor were reminiscent of a concrete floor. Cobwebs hung down the roof like stalactites. A curtain played softly in light breeze offering glimpses of a rotund form set against a lit background. A woman sat in silence chewing at her food slowly, her large eyes cast on tiny figures sitted across digging into their frugal portions with relish.
Each had a past. She’d once lurked behind the fence of a large house watching a set of twins playing. No one was in sight. Trying the gate, it opened swiftly and she grabbed little Lucy. Dogs barely barked and she wasn’t stopped on her way. Then as a cook in the Provincial hospital, she walked out with Sada one rainy day thanks to a sly ward attendant. A while later a bouncing baby boy arrived.
A raucous laughter that startled the children escaped her throat when she remembered how she’d successfully dodged authorities trailing her. All was behind her now and their helplessness gave her much happiness. A raspy voice came from the doorway as one lanky man stepped in with a grin that revealed a discolored set of broken teeth. He had a rough face and cheap clothes smelt of incense.
Ma got up and disappeared into the inner room as Kamari followed behind. Sada remained still, a terrified look suddenly present in her eyes. Her gaze steadily fixed at a spot on the caving ceiling. It always happened in this room and when her muffled sobs got carried away a radio would be turned on aloud in the opposite room. There were loud voices on the verandah, Sada rose quietly fetching a can and tins from under a heap of old blankets. Seedy eyes watched like ravenous wolves as she poured them a frothy liquid. A hand slipped inside her skirt and her shrieks made her siblings rush out and descend upon the perpetrator with blows. The crowd burst into fits of laughter as the three melted into the shadows. The lamp was out when a figure drifted out of a room like fleeting ghost, going over bodies sprawled across the floor reeking of alcohol and urine. The morning came with howls and cries as Ma beat Sada senselessly over her stolen gold earrings. Kamari’s evil stare swore Sada into silence and the child dared not tell on him.
It was later, when a dark car pulled up outside and a fat, bellied man came in. A face peeped out from the opposite room and the radio came alive.
Save a child’s soul today
And tomorrow he’ll hold your hand
And if he becomes king
He’ll surely remember you
Ma came out grinning as she stuffed a wad of notes into her bosom, an insatiable appetite for money evident in her eyes. Her friend always paid her well. As Jumba’s car sped away a hand stretched out in the opposite room to receive something from Ma. Traffic was heavy in the town centre. Buildings and trees were awash with colourful posters and banners depicting smiling children.
A large procession marched up ahead. Men and women in blue t-shirts waved placards “Give children their rights.”, “Stop child abuse and slavery.”, “Lets honour the African Child.” Indeed it was the day of the African child. A sharp horn blew outside the window startling Lucy out of her wits. A masked clown waved at her. Shadows whizzed by mingling into one distorted blob. Something gave in inside her and a bitter taste came up her mouth. She wanted to throw up but Jumba restrained her as a policeman advanced on them. He peeped inside exchanging pleasantries and as he waved them away a rolled note slipped into his hand. Jumba laughed mockingly as he thumbed the car’s radio.
Save a child’s soul today
He squirmed in his seat and quickly turned the dial.
And tomorrow he’ll hold your hand
Airwaves seemed to mock him too.
Hours later as Jumba in his exquisite managerial uniform went around Minter Sea Resort checking on the preparations for a grand ball in honour of the African child, a wrinkly mass of white flesh, high on a drug tore viciously at a tiny body. Tears of excruciating pain and muffled sobs all died down as unconsciousness set in on the child. A shadowy figure pruning a rose bush below hurried away in haste. Dusk was falling when a dark car took a sharp turn on the banking street and hitting a young boy with a scar on his forehead as it sped away. The limp body kicked then let up the ghost, a begging bowl firmly in his hand.
A face peered into the darkness outside as a car’s lights disappeared round the marsh. Sada sat staring at Lucy’s lifeless body. She’d bled to death from a ruptured womb. Ma was long gone and she wasn’t coming back. Kamari had vanished too and their mysterious neighbor. Boi would never be coming home, no one would. As a child’s soul was being tortured by helpless thoughts somewhere in the brisk breeze of the sea, a toast was raised to the African child. Violent sobs racked her frail body as Sada wept for Boi, for Lucy and more so for herself because soon her little soul would be extinguished like the burnt out candle by her bedside.
© Sarah Manga 2009
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