Celebrating East African Writing!
The bus stopped again, more passengers alighted. They brushed her shoulder as they exited. Lucy felt irritated. The bus started again, more dust and exhaust fumes entered. She felt choked. Gladly, her neighbor had alighted and her irritants were less with sweat and cheap perfume. She finally saw her home town, it was her time to alight and breathe fresh air. The town looked uglier than she had imagined, buildings were almost falling off from the heavy dust settled on them. She stood at the bus stage some more minutes after the bus had left. She wiped her face with a white handkerchief which soon turned brown. She picked her bag carefully without putting it too close to her body. She started walking towards the small path leading home. It was hilly and she could see her father’s hut down the hill.
“Lu-u-cy, Lu-u-cy, Lu-u-cy!” she heard a small child singing and suddenly her bag was in the child’s hands. “What did you bring me?” it was her youngest sister, Beth. She hardly recognized her. She was in dirty tatters and her face was covered with dust and food remains.
“Don’t touch my bag! I will give you what I brought in the house. Have you not been taught manners? What are you doing playing in the dirt?” she was screaming and Beth seemed terrified.
“Ok, don’t cry. Let’s go home. Is mum there?”
The gate was made of sticks and Lucy wondered what purpose it served. Their house stood lazily at the corner of the compound. Rusty iron sheets at the top, mud walls, small ventilations for windows and a wooden door made their house. The compound was no better. There were goats grazing outside the house, tethered at the house’s protruding pillars; their droppings everywhere. She could swear a broom was a strange thing in their home. Her mother was coming from the farm, carrying napier grass and weeds for the goats. She dropped them in the middle of the compound and ran to her daughter; her excitement too evident.
“Thank you Jesus! Ka-Lucy your home!” she hugged her passionately with tears flowing freely.
Lucy could not do the same. She felt as if someone was pulling her from behind and could not release herself to hug her mother passionately. She felt choked under her grip and was glad when she finally released her. Her mother looked aged.
“I can’t believe my eyes! I prayed day and night that you come back to us and finally you’re here!” she hugged her again. “You have grown beautiful my daughter. Come inside. Let me make you some tea and tell me all about where you went. Beth, go call your father.”
“Am happy to see you mother,” she said without meaning it. She actually meant that she was surprised to see how badly things looked. She sipped tea hoping it would be finished without her taking it in. The tea was thin and sugar seemed to have missed its destination.
“I can’t explain the joy I feel right now my daughter. God is good,” she said raising her hands and eyes up.
“I am sorry mother, but I cannot stay for long.” Her mother’s hands and eyes dropped. She was obviously disappointed.
“Why? You know how much I have waited for you. Do not break my heart ka-Lucy. Your father and siblings will be so happy to see you.”
“Lucy you’re home! Karibu sana,” he shook her hand. “I thought your sister did not know what she was telling me, am so happy to see you again.”
“Yes father, I am home. I came without saying.” She felt guilty. She had also left without saying.
“It’s your home. Anytime without knocking is ok,” he laughed dryly. “I see you and mother are catching up. Let me milk the goats before its too late then I will join you. ” He picked up a black coated sufuria with warm water and left.
Her mother prepared supper. All her other seven siblings sat on old sacks around the fire and her father on a wooden chair behind them. She detested the setting.
“What do you eat in the city?” Beth was asking.
“We eat different foods every time. We eat meat all the time. I like sausages for breakfast” She said looking at the green herbs that were to make their meal.
“What are sausages?” Peter, the youngest brother aged five asked.
“I want sausages for breakfast” Beth said desperately.
She could see how much her eldest brother and father detested the talk.
“Do you cook with fire?” Lydia, aged seven asked.
“Yes Lydia. But we do not use firewood. We use gas.”
“How much is gas?” her eldest brother joined in sarcastically.
“Enough talk for tonight. Let’s eat and we will talk tomorrow.” Mother server the meal silently and soon it was time for sleep.
“Tell us a story, Lucy, before sleep,” Beth begged.
“Yes, tell us the stories the city children are told.” Her third born sister, Naomi joined.
“Oh, am sorry. In the city, children watch cartoons on TV for stories.”
“I will tell you one.” Her father was tired of the city hype.
The story over, girls disappeared into one room and the boys headed outside to their hut. Lucy could tell that her parents wanted to have a talk with her around the fire. She remained sited aware of the stare each gave her.
“So, what do you do in the city? Is it better than education?” her father sounded confrontational.
“Lucy, we would love you to stay and finish school. We know life is not easy here but with education, you can make your future better,” her mother tried to cool the tension.
“I have a good future in the city. I cannot come back here. My boss treats me like one of her children and I know she will take care of me. With the salary I get, I will do something for myself in future.”
“You need to stand on your own, what if your boss fires you or God forbid she dies? I need an answer by tomorrow. If you decide to go, then fine! You can enjoy your city life.”
“All your dad and I want is to prepare you the best way we know how.” Her mother was helpless. She could see her husband getting out of control.
“I will be gone in the morning dad. I have made up my mind. I cannot live here,” she said looking around with distaste. Her father stormed into his bedroom.
Her mother maintained her calmness, “I will respect your decision my daughter. You are my first born and I still remember the joy your father and I shared holding you in our arms. I pray that God will guide your paths. Wherever you go, remember you can always come back to our arms.”
She kissed her forehead, closed her eyes, warm tears dropped and she rose to join her husband in bed. Lucy felt love sweep her hard heart but she could not be persuaded.
So, that was me, Lucy, 30 years ago today. I left for the city the following morning. I worked harder for my boss hoping one day I will afford the life she afforded her children one day. I grew ambitious and envious and she found out that I was stealing from her. I was thrown into the streets, with no money or education. I fell into the arms of vultures. They provided money and some comfort. Some of them swore they would marry me. One after the other, they devoured me. Too proud to go back home, I took it all in. My health started failing, the doctor said I was pregnant and HIV+, my world was crumbling. I denied it, but the doctor told me to face it for your sake and manage my life. Here I am my daughter, ashamed and beaten but for your sake I have struggled to face the bitter past. I wish I obeyed; I was more humble and patiently went through school.
© Njeri Marasi