Celebrating East African Writing!
It is 4.17am. There is a drum beating somewhere. My eyesight might be failing me, but my hearing hasn’t bailed on me yet. I can hear it loud and clear. It beats continuously.
Dam daram…dam daram…dam daram…
4.22 am and it is getting fainter. Maybe ‘whoever’ is getting tired? The beats are weaker too.
No it is loud again. Strong again. Faster than before!
All I can hear is the drum beat.
This takes me back to the day my daughter Talai gave birth. Drums were beating then as they are now. She had carried the pregnancy to term with no complications and we expected a smooth delivery as well.
“Mama!” I heard her call me that night from her room. It was just the two of us. Talai’s father had left me when I had told him I was pregnant.
I had been a good girl. He had proved it the first night we slept together in his simba (bachelor hut) just after I had completed high school. I had been brave and did not wince when he slid inside me ever so roughly. He was too eager. As if he was afraid I would change my mind. I had bled and he had panicked when he was sated enough to care about someone other than himself. “It was your first time?” he had asked
I had nodded shyly.
He’d touched my shoulder, tried to cover my nakedness with the sheet, decided against it and held my hand when he noticed that the sheets were soiled.
He tried to look me in the eye but gave up when he was unable to lift his eyes beyond my neck.
“It’s ok. I am ok” I had tried to assure him
“Did it hurt?” He had been so concerned…
“You should have told me!” he had been so angry
The drums are unrelenting. Dam daram…dam daram…dam daram…
Talai had gone into labour that night. The drums had started in tandem with the labour pains. I had no choice but to deliver her baby. It wasn’t as if we could get a car to take us to hospital at that hour – who even owned a car back then? I had known all along that there was a chance I would be delivering my granddaughter. Not to worry though, I had done this before. My maiden delivery had been of my neighbour’s daughter.
Talai had followed my instructions to lie on her back with her legs spread out. I had put lessos under her, heated some water and sterilized the blade for cutting the umbilical cord. The pushing had progressed swiftly. Screaming rent the air. She grit her teeth. I barked at her to keep pushing. She was an obedient girl.
The head had appeared. Then the shoulders. Then the rest of the tiny body had been followed by two tiny legs. She was perfect. I had wrapped her in a shawl and cut the cord. I had then waited for the placenta. It didn’t come. I resorted to massaging her tummy to get things moving. The placenta had taken its time but was eventually expelled when I massaged her stomach with more enthusiasm. It had come out alright. Then blood had followed. And it wouldn’t stop raining blood.
All the lessos had been soaked.
Dam daram….dam daram…dam daram…
I needed more lessos.
Or the bleeding needed to stop.
How could one human being have so much blood?
“Talai!” I had screamed!
“Mum, the baby…the baby is not crying” she had told me in a weak voice.
I was torn. The baby should be crying…the bleeding should be stopping.
I had picked the baby and turned her upside down then gently tapped her back. She had started crying. With tears in my eyes, I had smiled and held her close to my chest.
“What shall we ca…” I had started to ask for the name of the baby when I saw Talai’s body lying stiff.
That would be the first time Talai had laid eyes on her offspring. And also the last.
She had lay there in a pool of blood.
The drumming had stopped.
There was silence.
The drum beats tonight are similar to those I heard years ago when I lost my daughter. They are loud. They get weak. Then loud and fast!
I raised the baby as my own. I called her Chero. When she was old enough to understand her mother’s death, she had asked why her mother had not had her in hospital. Today wasn’t like our days. She wouldn’t understand.
I wanted more than anything for Chero’s life to be different. For her to get a husband. I taught her how to handle men; “Don’t be too choosy or you’ll end up alone” I warned.
See, I wanted Chero to prove my fellow elders wrong. They called us a cursed lineage of girls only. They said that we kill our mothers when they give us life. They even went further to explain how the curse spares one generation then jumps on the next. They insisted that no man would ever pay bride price for us because we were unmarriageable. I did not have a problem with them talking – they could talk about us all they wanted. I had a problem with the fact that they were proven right each time. Every woman gave birth to a girl. She never got married. She died during childbirth or watched her daughter die during childbirth – it was always one or the other.
I was born to a mother I never saw. I was lucky to have Talai but true to the words of the elders, she was quickly snatched from me when she gave birth. If what they said was right, then Chero was safe. Her daughter would however not make it through childbirth.
The suitors never came for Chero. She fell pregnant and had a safe delivery. A girl. She was called Chebii.
I was worried for Chebii. I never wanted to see her pregnant but fate was having a field day on my account. Chebii fell pregnant at the age of twenty four. She was barely through with college.
I was devastated.
One elder came to visit when she heard that Chebii was expecting.
“You know what will happen right?” she asked while glaring fearfully at me.
“What you are God now? You want to kill my great great grandchild?”
“You know what needs to happen, Nyalat. I am surprised you haven’t done it till now”
“Leave our family alone! We will not kill an innocent child”
“It is the only way to break this curse. You have to bury the baby with her mother. In the same grave. They go together and the curse goes with them”
I don’t know…
All I knew was pain. I had blamed myself for my mother’s death. She gave me life, and subsequently ended hers. I had watched Chero go through the same pain. To imagine that Chebii was about to bring another child who would go through life blaming herself was unbearable.
But killing an innocent Child? Was that the remedy? Who even could prove that this was a curse? Maybe…maybe it was all coincidence?
The drums are growing louder. Then fainter. I am alone. I have declined several times to take up Chero’s offer to go and live with them in the city. A woman my age in the city? No. The village quietude serves me better.
Chero’s call comes at 4.25am “Grandma, we are going to Nairobi hospital. Chebii is in labour. She is having the baby grandma!” She sounds excited and nervous both at once.
Dam daram…dam daram…dam daram…
I wonder whether Chero can hear the drums too.
I am about to lose another member of my family.
This has to end.
Dam da-ram …dam da-ram …dam da-ram…
At ninety four years, I don’t have much to live for. I only want the generations that come after us to be free from this curse. I want them to be happy. I pick the phone and squinting through the contacts, manage to trace Mariam’s number. Mariam is a nurse at Nairobi Hospital.
Tell me. This technology, is it a blessing or a curse?
The call comes at 4.56am. Chero is in tears. The pain of losing both a child and a grandchild is unimaginable. This pain is too familiar.
There shall be joy after these tears, I assure my granddaughter.
The funeral will happen in four days. There shall be one coffin for mother and baby.
It was a girl.
©Renee Murrey – www.renee.co.ke
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