For the longest time, I struggled to understand why suffering seemed to be the only objective truth woven into the fabric of reality. I have met people who’ve never felt joy, or comfort, but not once have I interacted with a person who’s not encountered pain. Weird, right? This almost proves that the default mode of existence is suffering. It wasn’t until I accepted this damning fact that I saw the other side of the coin. That amidst all the darkness that engulfs the human psyche, it is within our capabilities to seek the satisfaction and meaning that our beings thrive on. The trick is in accepting pain as a necessary malady to existence, the night that is dispelled when we intentionally seek out the good in everything. The problem is only a handful of us have mastered this mode of being.
The evening felt stale after a long day of running around. The sun sunk lazily into the horizon, and for a second, I was mesmerized by how beautiful yet effortless, the sunset was. I stood a few yards from the tarmac road, waiting with thinning patience for my unexpected guest. Even after days of talking, I still didn’t feel like I knew Karen for sure. Don’t get me wrong, we had already created an undeniable bond, but maybe our charm only worked when we hid behind phone screens. Mathe was actually more excited about her visit than I was. That was a good sign, I trusted her instincts. Her moral compass wouldn’t let her allow me to mingle with just anyone, so her eagerness also rubbed off on me, and I found myself restless in anticipation of her arrival. Nahope umefika stage, ndio nashuka, she texted. A beat matatu screeched to a halt, and a few people alighted. An old man, a mother with her kid, and a hawker. Si I thought she said amefika? But just before I could call her, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder.
“Sasa?” It was her. In all her glory.
“Poa sana, how did you…?”
“Nilishukishiwa pale juu that’s why you didn’t see me”
She could’ve been a ninja for all I knew, sneaking up on me like that. Or I was just distracted by the smokie pasua I had spoiled myself to a couple of minutes ago. She had a carrier bag with her and a backpack. “Acha nikubebee hii,” I offered, still recovering from how enchanting she was in person. She had her dreadlocks held in a nice bun above her head, leaving two locks falling over her face. I also liked the fact that she was slightly shorter than me, not that I had any plans or anything, it just felt right.
The walk back home was ridden with awkward pauses but with mutual relief having just met. I didn’t think this was how my day would end when I left my place this morning, but I’m all for pleasant surprises.
“Unaskia njaa? Watoi washamaliza chai…”
“Ni sawa tu, I’m good. Leo ata nilikula lunch late nimeshiba mpaka sai…”
“Ooh,sawa. Mmekaa kwa barabara sana?” I never said I’m the king of small talk, this was me trying my best.
“Aah,zi… ni venye before I could leave kuna place my mum was going for work so I was helping her pack..”
“Ooh, so she knew where you were going?”
“Haha, kinda… anajua mathe na anajua I have a friend huku… I had to tell her nikimpigia story ya how Humphrey alinipiga character development…” we chuckled at that last bit. Humphrey was the guy that ditched her for her best friend, whom he had already impregnated. I know, Nairobi!
We were now descending the small hill to mathe’s place, and a small crowd of kids was still playing outside in the now dark field. One of the little girls seemed to recognize Karen, because she came running, her tattered dress flailing in the wind.
“Sasa baby!” Karen squealed, stretching out her arms as the little girl jumped into them, a reunion I didn’t see coming. It was a beautiful sight to behold though. The elder kids continued playing, unfazed by our presence.
“Unajua kucheza Kati?” She asked me, the kid still in her arms.
“Haha,nilisahau, nyi chezeni acha niingize hizi vitu umekam nazo…”
“Na uambie mathe kuna chipo ziko hapo na juice, atajua venye atawagawia…” no wonder the kids like her.
Inside, the aroma of chapos was undeniable. Mathe was just winding up her cooking, and a few kids were doing dishes in preparation for our little feast. “Kwani umeacha mrembo wapi?” she asked, seeing the hefty carrier bag in hand.
”Anacheza na akina faith hapo nje anakam sai tu. Kuna chips iko hapo na juice yeye ndio amekam nazo”
“Yaani mmeamua Leo ikuwe Christmas, si mkujange kila wiki tu,” haha, this was the happiest I had seen mathe in a long time. I had almost forgotten what a smile looked like on her. Years of taking care of others and neglecting herself had robbed her of her individuality, a hefty price that felt almost unfair to pay. But joy had a way of resurrecting the youthful nature in anyone, and tonight was her night.
We ate heartily and made jokes. We sang in circles and danced on the veranda till we couldn’t feel the soles of our feet anymore. I told stories of my past work escapades and watched everyone’s mouth fall to the ground, as the realities of the outside world proved to be a little too much for my audience. We knew it was time to go to bed when one of the kids fell off the bench dosing off, his determination to continue with our enjoyment quite undeniable. Karen also borrowed the t-shirt I was in because apparently, she’d rather smell me on her if we weren’t sharing a bed.
My night was surprisingly short. It felt like I had just started sleeping when Boni- the kid I shared the bed with- woke me up. “Mum anasema unisaidie kuchota maji,” he whispered, careful not to wake the little ones. I cursed under my breath at the thought of how cold outside was, but man had to lead by example. It had been ages since I had worked here, so it was only fair that I helped. After a few trips of the agonizing task, I snuck out to go explore places I hadn’t returned to in years.
Mathe owned a large piece of land, and her refusal to sell parts of it was pegged on the idea that she wanted to build a school. A school for misfits and kids that needed her care. She first came here in 2001, to a barren wilderness that had seen no civilization. Her husband was a young pastor, full of ambition and the Holy Spirit in equal measure. He believed God wanted him to set up a new sanctuary here, a place where the defeated and the broken would find solace. Teresia Wangeci (Mathe’s real name) was a young woman then, willing to go down to the bowels of the earth just to be a supportive wife. Short on funds, the husband built a humble church-more of a small shelter than anything else- and started his ministry. Fate had other plans, unfortunately.
Her husband eloped with one of their church’s faithful. They had fostered their forbidden passion right under her nose and she hadn’t suspected anything, until one day when she neither had a husband to lay with nor a pastor to care of the Lord’s sheep with. Her husband left her because she couldn’t bear children, and if that didn’t feel like a sword through her heart, I don’t know what did. The remains of that church still stood, unabated by the cruel effects of the elements over the years, as if in rebellion of its founder’s failures.
We used this abandoned shack as a hideout when we were kids. But the older kids had more sinister ideas than ours. Mathe banished a couple of the elder kids after they were caught molesting one of us. She was still a baby, 9 I think. She was also the only person I actually hung out with and liked. I couldn’t really comprehend the graveness of their actions, until I was an adult. As I stood a stone throw away from this altar of iniquity, I slowly came to terms with the trauma that had its roots deep in every single human that called this place home. Despite her husband’s failures, mathe had found a way to grow her garden in this wilderness. She had been abandoned for her inability to sire children of her own, only to become the saving grace some of us needed.
It was getting cold outside, and having dealt with cold water that morning, the icy breeze stung. Then I heard a whimper, so frail I thought I made it up. It must’ve come from the church or my head. Although I hadn’t heard it again, I decided to sneak into the God-forsaken shed. I regretted almost immediately after my shirt got caught in the thorns that had grown in its doorway, but I had resolved to get inside and prove my sanity, or lack thereof. From where I stood, I could make out the silhouette of something at the corner. It didn’t look threatening, but it was something alright. My eyes adjusted to the dark as I slowly walked in, and right before me, where the church’s pulpit once stood, was a dead dog. Three starved puppies lay beside what I understood to be their mother, but 2 of them looked lifeless, as the fur on their little bodies was gradually coming off. The room also reeked of death, the pungent smell acting as a repellent to anyone that dared come close. I heard the whimper again, and this time, I didn’t have to ask where it came from. One of the puppies was still alive, but at the brink of death.
It was still trying to suckle on its mother’s tits but had ended up mutilating almost all her nipples, in a desperate attempt to fight for its meaningless existence. I still don’t know why I decided to save the puppy. My sympathy thus far has only been relevant to humans. But he wanted to live, that was obvious, and that’s all I needed to see. With my phone’s torch in hand, I picked up the little guy and left the damned place, hoping to shake off the smell of death as I emerged in the sun.
A packet of milk later, and the little guy came back to life. He was still delicate, thanks to the many days of starvation, but if he had fought through that, nothing was going to kill him now. So I spent the rest of my day building a small shelter from the remains of that church, and although he doesn’t know it, he was now set to thrive in the very same place death was to rob him of this gift we call life.
When I started writing, I didn’t anticipate the amazing feedback I’m getting now, asanteni sana. Please share these little worlds I create in my stories if you liked what you read…. See you next week!