Celebrating East African Writing!
My mother keeps saying that I might not find a man to marry; that my education and my quest for personal liberty could eventually be my undoing. Surely, I know that the worst cigarette I ever smoked was my first. And nobody pushed me to it. Nobody pushes me into things. Begin smoking – I did it out of sheer curiosity – alone, in my room at home. And I’ve had strong thoughts of quitting for the sake of my future kids. But this scares me because I’m yet to know how I will cool my nerves after a stressful day at office without taking a puff.
About marriage! I almost got married. Almost, I mean! And this was the story I was telling Celina the other day over a cup of coffee in our favourite restaurant downtown. A buxom lady in her early thirties, Celina is a revolutionary of sorts. She wants to publish a remix of The Pride and the Prejudice. They do it in music, why not in literature, she argues. And the opening line of her remix-book is classic just like the original: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that the Kenyan 2007 election was stolen.’
So, I was telling her what happened to my dream of marrying Kitazi. On that day I was traveling to Eldoret to meet his family for the first time. Our pre-wedding would then follow in two months time. The journey began about midday. There was no music in the bus to accompany our thoughts; just the chugging, humming and spurting of the engine filled our ears. An hour later, with Nairobi behind us, most passengers had dozed off.
It helped that I was seating by the window: I savoured lady Rift Valley, whose ethereal beauty to the azure horizons as if touching the edges of forever. This exquisite beauty was blemished by tents, sprinkled around her canvas like white curses. This broke my heart as I couldn’t help wondering if her future held more tents for us. And I when I turned to the silent, thoughtful faces – faces from different places in that bus for a hint what I saw was the bus of life we all were in: common people sharing a common destiny and a common tragedy if that bus plunged into a valley.
I was thinking of how it would be possible to make all these faces see this truth when a plump elderly Mama seated opposite across the isle stole my attention. She spoke in Kiswahili to a young man she called Sam, who was seated besides her. The two were related to lad dozing off besides me. They called him Jimmy.
‘What kind of forgiveness do we owe this people?’ she asked.
‘Never!’ Sam reposted, shaking his head.
Her story had drawn curious glances, and you could see on the sad ridges of her face and, feel from the wet remorse of her tone that she was speaking from the bitterness of her spirit. For someone who had lost a brother and property to the post-election madness not to mention that her daughter was raped – her tale touched me because it somewhat it resembled the ordeal my fiancé family went through.
‘That’s so bad…’ I found myself saying.
‘Yes,’ she concurred, happy to have roused emotions in me. But her delight died when I proposed that she try to forgive them.
‘What?’ She snapped. ‘You didn’t lose your brother, you were not raped.’
‘It’s sad people died innocently. But we’re all to blame as things now stand!’
Incensed, she turned to Sam and they began to speak in their mother’s English. Unknown to them we were from the same tribe. They were arguing that we’re the chosen people in the land; that without us the land would collapse.
‘Now that’s where we go wrong,’ I interjected in our English . You should have seen the shock etched on their faces.
‘You mean you’re one of us and here you are speaking like one of these animals?’ Glaring at me, that Mama asked.
‘If they are animals why should they treat us like people? We’re also wrong, you see!’
‘You’re the kind that can marry them. That’s harlotry!’ She hissed.
‘You are blind!’ I barked.
‘Who do you call blind, you harlot!’
It was that word – harlot – that inspired my madness. I flung onto her, swinging slaps like a cock in a duel. But before long, my wings were clipped by her two sons who descended on me with kicks and slaps. Other passengers intervened but the drama didn’t end until the bus stopped at a roadblock and the driver gave me up to the police. I refused to go: I wasn’t fighting with myself.
Speaking in our English, the driver and conductor were categorical that that would be my lesson for defending those animals. The police promised me a dose of their brutality if I refused to move. I expected the faces in the bus would come to my rescue. Apparently, they neither understood my course nor my dream.
‘We will be free one day. Free from your backward thinking!’ I swore to my assailants as I alighted.
The police soon set me free, I think because they realised I wasn’t afraid of them. I reached Eldoret early evening and spent the night at Aunty’s house. The following morning I set out to meet Kitazi despite Aunty’s objection that I wait till my bruises heal.
We met at Eldoret town and proceeded to their home, some ten kilometers away. I didn’t know our love had come full circle until I arrived at their home. There was no way of changing yesterday. I had slapped his mother for calling me a harlot. And even though I loved Kitazi, I could see it in his eyes that it was over.
‘But beating someone because she cannot listen to you…isn’t the Kenya we want!’ Celina said after I had told her the whole story. I fear my dreams!
© Nyasili Atetwe 2009
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