Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tears For The Village Girl

When the pains began, she had hurriedly rushed to call Nyasembo. Nyasembo’s homestead was about three minutes walk down the narrow zig-zagging path that formed a vast network of paths, joining one village to another, and eventually connecting the whole location. In her case, it would take her more than fifteen minutes to make it to Nyasembo’s. The load she was carrying made her pace much slower. Still, for her age and condition, she was remarkably strong. When the news first broke that she was heavy, many had predicted a difficult period for her. Worse still, many had expressed concerns for her grandmother, for she was literally her grandmother’s hands, feet and eyes. If she was going to be rendered incapable of moving around very much, how was her almost immobile grandmother going to cope? However, by the eighth month, much to the disbelief of many, she was still remarkably strong. She was still making the daily 45-minute walk to collect water, balancing a full twenty litre pail of water on her head and dangling two other smaller jerricans on each arm. She had always been strong.

It was Amollo’s strength that made her standout from the rest of her siblings. Maybe it was the reason why she was the one who was packed off to go and stay with her grandmother Paulina. She had arrived in the village as a gangly, shy, but rather malnourished ten-year-old. With the last of her stronger grandchildren taking off to the city to look for either employment, study or marriage opportunities, grandmother Paulina needed somebody to help her around the village. Somebody who could collect water for her, prepare food and generally keep her company. All that was left in the village were the elders and very small children. The young men were not counted as their general contribution to the development of the household was minimal, if any at all. Yet, they too needed somebody to prepare for them food at the end of the day. Under the prevailing circumstances, it was very easy for everybody to assume that somebody had made sure that granny had had something to eat. So it was that on one of his rare visits to the village, John, granny’s only surviving son, had insisted (over a glass of the illicit chang’aa brew as usual) that somebody must be found take care of granny. His last born sister, Atieno, was struggling to raise her four children on her chang’aa addict's husband miserable wages. When the opportunity to send her eldest daughter to her granny’s arose, she was only too glad. It meant one less mouth to feed. That was four years ago.

Nyasembo was not at home. Though Amollo could see that the door was not locked, that did not necessarily mean that she was nearby. For all she knew, Nyasembo could be in the market, thirty minutes away, walking at a steady pace that is. In her case, it would be an hour before she could get there, probably more because of the hill and depending on the contractions. The pain sliced through her back to her lower abdomen and she sat down. It was about 4pm and if Nyasembo had gone to the market, she should be on her way home. She will just have to sit down and wait. Luck was on her side for she noticed Odhis slowly walking towards the homestead. He was back from school. She called out to him and Odhis having received the message, was soon flying away towards the market. In his mind, he was driving one of the rally cars he sometimes sees on television. Vroom!!! He went.

It had taken Amollo almost one year to get used to her new surrounding. She was a shy girl and avoided socialising very much with the rest of the society. She mostly kept to herself and only went outside the homestead when she was sent, or had to collect water or firewood. But she was hardworking, and very soon everybody in the village had noticed this particular trait. Granny Paulina harped about it to anybody who came to visit her. Normally she was up by six in the morning and by 9 she had finished all her chores. She would prepare lunch at one, wash dishes then go to the river at four. Most of the day she spent listening to Granny’s endless talk. The other women soon realised that she could help them in her spare time, after she was through with granny. The trips to collect water and firewood became more. When somebody wanted to get something from the market, they thought of Amollo. By the end of the year she had become pretty much the village’s maid. Then John came home from Christmas.

He was happy that his granny was now happy, being well taken care of. But he was also a schooled man, who believed that everybody should be schooled. Despite protestations from his wife, over a glass of chang’aa, he declared that he would pay Amollo’s school fees from January (in January the government would declare free primary education for all anyway). Yes, it was quite possible for her to help out in the home early in the morning and late in the evening while getting schooled in between, John declared. Once more, an important decision regarding her life was made over a glass of chang’aa.

By the time Nyasembo arrived, the contractions were now becoming more regular. It had taken Odhis one and a half hours to get Nyasembo (it would have taken him less had Baba Onyango not hijacked him on route and send him to get him some cigarettes despite his protestations). Nyasembo had handled several deliveries before and considered herself a professional. She could handle a delivery with her eyes closed. She asked Odhis to light the stove and put on some water to boil. He was then to look for granny Paulina and inform her that Amollo’s time had come. She should be back from her prayer meeting by now. Amollo’s body did not betray the fact that her time was up. She could have easily convinced anybody that she was only five months pregnant. She had not attended any clinic during the entire duration of the pregnancy. A waste of time, Nyasembo had remarked when she had told her one evening that her school teacher had been to visit her and asked her about clinic. He had said that she should go for regular check up. Nyasembo wondered what men knew about pregnancy. As long as one was not feeling unwell, one had nothing to worry about. Besides, did he leave any money for her to go to the clinic? she sarcastically asked. Granny could not have agreed more with Nyasembo. Amollo never mentioned the subject again.

The contractions were now more rapid, and more intense. Nyasembo found her stoicism amazing for she never let out a scream even as she pushed. At half past six, the baby boy bounced out, looking healthy but quite small. Granny, who had been patiently seating outside was called in to receive the baby while Nyasembo struggled to stop the bleeding.

It was an hour later that Nyasembo (and a few villagers who had gathered at her place by now) concluded that she needed to be taken to the health center. If anything, the bleeding was getting worse. Odhis (in his imaginary rally car) ran to Granny’s to get a wheelbarrow. After wrapping her with some lessos, she was put on the wheelbarrow and Osewe was tasked with the task of transporting her to the health center, with Odhis and two other young boys to keep him company. Nyasembo would be slowly following behind. It was an uphill climb all the way to the health center and it would not only be a long journey but also taxing to the young man’s muscles. Instruction was that they were to flag down the first vehicle they saw once they reached the main road. At this hour, very few haboured any hopes of coming across any vehicle.

Before he reached the main road, it became obvious to Osewe that she was gone.

I was lying on my bed, trying to tune the small transistor radio to Ramogi FM when Odhis bust into the compound. I could hear him asking Nyaseme my whereabouts. Then I could hear his footsteps running towards my hut. That boy was always running, I rarely saw him walking. Too much energy for his own good, I thought.

“I have been sent to tell you that you are wanted at Paulina’s, very fast!” he gasped. My heart started pounding. What could be the problem? Why did they want me at granny Paulina’s at ten at night? What could be so important that they sent Odhis all the way at this late hour to fetch me?

“What’s the problem?” I calmly asked.

“Amollo is dead” he said matter of factly.

I found a fair crowd gathered at Paulina’s. Baba Onyango, as the eldest male around was in an impromptu meeting with the women. I saw Osewe and Otieno making a makeshift stretcher. I wondered why they should be making a stretcher yet she was dead. Did they intend to take her to the hospital at this late hour? I enquired from him what was happening.

The old people, and specifically Baba Onyango, had insisted that she had to be transported to her father’s place, that her body could not stay overnight at the village. A few were of the opinion that the body be taken to the Health Center but they were quickly overruled by Baba Onyango. What would that achieve? He wanted to know. It was obvious that he had had his day’s share of chang’aa and he was going to get things done his way. He was the most senior man in the gweng’ and therefore his decision was final. They were rounding up a bunch of young boys who were going to carry the body all the way to her home. That was going to be about four hours of walking. Maybe five now that we were carrying a body. A bunch of young women were to accompany us. I cursed why they had to pick on me but this was a communal calling. You could not say no, especially to Baba Onyango (more so when he was tipsy!). Was the child okay? I inquired. Yes, it was a baby boy. I secretly wanted to see the boy but I was careful not to make known my wishes. This would raise eyebrows.

By the time we took off it was eleven o’clock. The women led the way out of the village, wailing, singing dirges and praises of Amollo’s qualities. We carried the body in shifts, groups of four at ago. I was not in the first shift and I walked behind the others together with a friend. It was getting cold. I looked up and saw that the sky was overcast. I prayed that it would not pour. Once we were safely out of the village, the wailing died, commencing whenever we passed a village and then quickly dying again. We exchanged shifts very often but not as often as we exchanged the chang’aa jerrican. We were not expected to travel all the way with the body with a clear empty head, in the middle of the night. Baba Otieno had donated a hundred shillings for the chang’aa and we had topped this with our own contributions. As the chang’aa started to take effect, the mood became kind of merry and the load a bit lighter. The women were concerned that we would get too drunk but we swiftly dismissed their concerns. The small jerrican went round to some of them and before long they were wailing the loudest whenever we passed by a village. Jokes were cracked and we bust into laughter, insults were hurled at laughing hyenas while occasionally somebody was berated for trying to grope at one of the ladies. Someone lit roll of bhang and passed it around. I inhaled deeply as one of the women asked whether anybody knew who had impregnated Amollo.

Amollo had insisted that the child she was carrying was my child but I had refused to believe her. How could she be sure? The question had been directed at myself more than at her. I had come to learn that I was not the only one she had slept with. I had taken keen notice of her sometime last year. She had changed from the Amollo of four years earlier. Her body was filling out, her breasts developing and she had started to be particular about how she groomed and dressed herself. A few heads were turning whenever she came down to the market. There were always whistles whenever she passed by the Base. The Base, or Al Qaeda as we also referred to it was a bench outside Ben’s Berber shop. Here is where we relaxed most of the day listening to reggae and soliciting money for drinks. It was also where Otis discreetly sold bhang and girls were discussed. It was not long before Amollo started featuring in our conversation. And as usual, the conversation around girls always centred on sex. And at the Base, there were no secrets.

Peter, a local school teacher was one of our peers who was not always welcomed at the Base. Not that we did not like him but because we did not like what he talked about. Peter was about fear. He was always telling us about how we were wasting our time spending the whole day hanging out by the Berber shop. This we figured was because he had a job. He was paid by some organization to preach to us about Aids and such kind of stuff. One day he had stopped by the shop and once more launched into a lecture about Aids. Then he had talked about the issues of the young girls getting pregnant by the day. This, he had said, proved that they were all doing it without condoms. What did this mean to us? He had posed. I could have sworn that he was looking at me.

When we were almost at the village, a small group went ahead of us, to raise an alarm. By the time we were entering the village, there was wailing all over as Atieno came to meet the dead body of her daughter. I walked slowly at the back, avoiding everybody’s eyes. This was because there were tears flowing down my cheeks.

7 comments:

  1. Nice but sad story. I like the writing

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  2. Hey you all, thanks for the comments

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  3. Amazing read....I like the particular varying tones the story adopts as it develops. You need to write more!

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  4. Amazing read....I like the particular varying tones the story adopts as it develops. You need to write more!

    ReplyDelete
  5. "Anonymous" thanks for your visit and comments

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