Celebrating East African Writing!
Kariuki sat with his head held between his hands as if it were too heavy for his neck. The room was partly dark, he had locked the door as a precaution and he needed time by himself. He had shared this room and bed with her for the most part of her life. Now she was gone and tears were failing him. He badly wanted to cry it out and have the heaviness in his heart lifted. That is why every once in a while he excused himself from the crowd that had gathered outside and locked himself in. Tears were hard to come and he was a man, he reminded himself. She had asked him to be strong from her death bed at Cancer unit of Kenyatta Hospital. They had been through a lot together, but he felt he couldn’t make without her. Their union had been described a burden and had been they had been urged to forsake what they couldn’t borne. It was not their fault that they couldn’t be together, it was hereditary and something they could do nothing about.
“But Father how can I not marry her when you don’t tell me what is wrong about her” Kariuki had asked.
“Son you do not understand, we just don’t see eye to eye with that mbari (clan).” His father had told him.
“I am still going to marry her nevertheless.” Kariuki was adamant.
“It is not about you, I have nothing against you. But your forefathers made it impossible for their descendants to form any formidable relationship. Their mbari is going to oppose the union too.” His Father explained.
They used to meet by the river where no one could find them, deep in the thicket where their companions were birds and fish that swam upstream. They spent hours sharing in their forbidden love and trying to come to terms with their dilemma.
“We cannot suffer for what happened ages ago, it no longer matters.” Kariuki would argue.
“But if our families do not want us together don’t you think there is a reason good enough.” Naomi would caution. “I am afraid we may be doomed.”
“Whatever they have against themselves is not going to keep us asunder.” Kariuki would say. “
They eloped after realizing that their families would never come to any agreeable terms. The elders had beseeched the two families to atone the prevailing matter by the sacrificial of two unblemished rams under the Mugumo. They would reach no common ground. They defied all to be together.
A long time ago when the Whiteman had invaded the land and created factions, their great grandfathers had taken different sides. Kariuki’s kin Njoroge, had gone to the forest where he fought from while Naomi’s kin Kamau had served the Whiteman and had been rewarded with a home guard post. The situation had pitied those two friends against each other. The maumau detested the home guard for siding with the enemy, the home guard thought the maumau aloof for not wanting progress. The homeguard with all the authority bestowed on him started taking matters out of his hand and exercised his power over everyone. And that included even coveting his friend’s youngest wife, who she took her forcibly. When the fighter emerged from the forest he confronted the aggressor who had him locked up. Kamau detained him on charges of being a maumau and had him beaten up and tortured. He suffered under the inhumane conditions and was sick for a long time. He died a day before he could be rescued by his fellow fighters who stormed the cells the next day. His fellow inmates recalled that his last words were that his children and his descendants should never form any kind of relationship with Kamau’s for the betrayal he had suffered from him.
Kariuki and Naomi moved to Nakuru where they sustained themselves by hawking on the streets of the town. They made enough to enable them buy a ten acre piece of land in Subukia where they settled and concentrated on farming. Their two children were born a few years into the marriage but none survived past infancy. Some strange disease attacked and the doctors couldn’t cure them. They never bothered to have any more. It appeared that something was amiss, they knew better than going to consult back home, they already knew answers that awaited them.
They continued with their lives alone and held on to each other with the hope of a bright future ahead of them. Kariuki couldn’t pay dowry for his wife and he definitely knew that he was going against the custom. He had never even gone to report to his in-laws that he had their daughter; such an act was deemed as rebellion and was greatly condoned.
Subsequently the couple became estranged from their respective families and no intermediary bothered to bring them back together. Their families disowned them and cast them off like the plagued, for not even one ever paid them a visit. The couple never despaired, for all the hardship they were going through brought them more closely to each other. Nobody had cared right until the time Naomi died.
Her family had appeared and demanded that they bequeathed her body so that they could go and properly bury her. Their reason was that no bride price had been paid on her head and therefore they had the right to bury her. Kariuki’s people arrived and stood by their long lost son and declared that he had every right to bury her in the land they had lived on for most part of their lives.
Kariuki avoided them all, his and his wife’s relatives, for he wanted nothing to do with either of them. If only they could leave him on his own and let him be the person he had been all along then maybe he could find peace and find the way forward on this matter. Who had cared where they lived, he asked himself, so why care now where she was to be buried. He hated each faction with equal measure.
The local headman was having a hard time trying to quell the feud.
“We cannot butcher each other over matters we can resolve amicably.” The headman was talking.
“But it’s them,” a member of Kariuki’s clan said as he pointed a wicked finger to his adversaries, “who do not want to leave us in peace.”
“No it’s them who cannot follow protocol. No bride price was paid on my sister and therefore the right to bury her remains with us.” Njeru the deceased brother was a stocky short fellow whose nostrils fumed with rage as he spoke.
“What right are you talking about?” David a brother to Kariuki retorted. “My brother had her for most of her life when you didn’t care; you never demanded for her then, why should you now.”
“Why do you find the time and reason to come for her, now when she is no more than a body. Of what use is the body to you now.” A woman bewailed.
“Just give us the damn body.”
The headman and the elders present found it difficult to quell the situation, the best they could do at the moment was find an arbiter before they charted the way forward. The Reverend was chosen as the arbiter; he came forward and cleared his throat.
“People of God let’s pray.”
Kariuki was in dissolution, his head was in a spin and at times he found it hard to breath. It was like he was running from a deadly beast and when he paused to take a breath the beast gained on him. His eyes were bloodshot and fiery, his hair disheveled. It had been three days since Naomi had died and up until this point no meaningful discussion had taken place. Actually it was the neighbours who tried to run matters as they watched silently.
He consulted with the headman who assured him that the elders would resolve the matter sooner. All possibilities were being considered even carrying out an impromptu mock bride price payment to assuage the in-laws. He felt like someone was hammering at an anvil in his head. He missed Naomi, what if, he thought, he were with her wherever she was now. He couldn’t be feeling so alone now and he would stop caring. Suddenly he felt so light like all the burdens had been lifted off his shoulders.
At half past midnight when the air outside was numbing, Kariuki walked out with a rope in his hand and took in the chilling air his lungs. He had never felt freer in his life than he did now. He didn’t care what the elders would come up with; only that he didn’t want to be there to hear it. In the middle of the compound stood an avocado tree that they had enjoyed its fruits and shade. He climbed up and tied one end of the rope at a branch. He tied a noose at the other end and put it around his neck. Before he slid off, an owl called out his name and he looked up to see Naomi dressed in a glorious white garment stretching her hands towards him.
©Zak Waweru 2015
Make a brief comment on Originality, Style & Execution, Grammar & Punctuation. Then rate on a scale of 1 to 5:
1 – Very Weak
2 – Weak
3 – Average
4 – Good
5 – Excellent