“The Kenyan Pilgrim – book one” is the true story of a girl growing up with hope and defeat, tribe rules, ancient rituals and voodoo, with faith, love and violence. It is about bigamy, dreams of future of the grown-ups and about the neighbors son being stoned to death.
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We have just had our supper. My father is sitting on the big sofa, while Nyaranga and I are sitting on the chairs round the table, close to our bed. I cough continuously.
You are sick, Nyaranga tells me.
I am not feeling well, I answer.
Jacky are you sick? my father turns his head in our direction.
Yes, I say in a weak low tone.
She has been coughing like that since yesterday, but it is becoming worse, our stepmother Alice says walking in the sitting room from the kitchen. Why cant I take her to the hospital tomorrow so she can be treated? she asks looking at our father with concerned eyes.
Yes, do that tomorrow, I will give you some money, father says.
Jacky climb the bed and sleep. We shall go to the hospital tomorrow, our stepmother says in a soft loving tone.
Up in our double decker bed, between the sheets, I look at stepmother Alice. I get confused and begin to wonder: Why is she pretending to be so nice, yet she is so evil?
In the early morning my father comes to the bed and slowly uncovers my head and touches it, as stepmother Alice sets breakfast on the table.
You better hurry and go to the hospital, father says, as he pulls the sheet to my neck.
After having tea father and Nyaranga leave the house.
Come out of that bed quickly and wash your face! stepmother Alice commands me as soon we are the two of us.
She cannot even wait for Nyaranga and fathers smell of perfume to go. Her previously soft tone has change. She is now speaking so harshly to me and driving me so fast in the house. I do as she says, looking at her every moment.
Take your tea! What are you waiting for? A bell? she suddenly tells me as I look at the hot steam rising from the tea.
I touch the cup and lift it, but it burns me.
It is very hot, I say putting it down quickly and shake off my fingers.
So if it is hot, you do not know, what you are supposed to do? You do not have brains to think? Or you have, but you just want to use my brain and let yours rest? she tells me. You want me to do it for you, is that it? Because I am the maid here? She stresses the word maid with a move of her head. Look at me careful, I did not come here because of you children, but because of the man of this house. I do not know you. Always remember that and have it in your thick head. I did not come here to raise children. Whoever gave birth to you is supposed to raise you. No one takes care of another persons children. I have a child of my own and one day he will come and live here.
I hold the table and step down on the floor and walk slowly to the kitchen escorted by her bad words.
After taking a small bowl I return to my seat and pour the hot tea in it and then begin to carefully swing it a little. I pour it back in my cup before looking at her eyes.
They are filled with hatred.
I lower my head slowly to my tea as I take it.
Murmuring and clicking she goes to the bedroom.
I swallow the tea fast and take the things to the kitchen lest she comes and find me still at the table. Then I wear my long brown sleeveless dress and walk to the door where she is standing beside it waiting for me to come out.
Hurry up! She hit my head with her hand as I get out.
She locks the door and walks away without saying a word.
I follow her on the narrow path with grasses on either side and we arrive at the main tarmac road.
I will give you fare to the hospital, I remember hearing my father saying, as I hurry behind her, as I cough, along the stretch of the noisy market and the main road on the other side.
Vehicles come passing us, moving at different speeds.
Do not walk close to the road, unless you want to die, to make my life easier, she says without turning her head behind. We reach at another bus stage and again walk past it. Now I know our journey to the hospital will not be by car.
The bus that has been waiting here begins with hooting and I turn to look at it as it takes off. We continue our journey along the road side, ascending on a slightly raising area and reach a place, where it looks like it is only us walking here making those sitting close to the windows of cars look at us. Houses here are a little farther from the road.
I continue walking and running behind my stepmother Alice trying to keep up with her, as I cough deeply now and then and feeling pain in my chest.
We appear somewhere busy, people moving here and there.
There is an open noisy market on the other side of the road, with men workers seated on the ground in the sun, hitting iron into products. Many of them do not have their shirts on. The sweat is dripping from their faces to their necks and down to their stomachs. They are strong and muscular and they hit the irons with heavy hammers. They have displayed their finished products of metallic cooking pots, jikos, big and heavy frying pans, big spoons and others.
We leave the road to get swallowed in an estate and then come out to another bigger market, where many different things are sold.
This is an open market on a big area with many stalls. Stepmother Alice makes a stop at one of the stalls and looks at the children clothes hanged.
Can I see that cloth? she points at a nice baby boy outfit.
The seller removes it from the hanger and hands it over to her.
This is a very nice cloth for a baby, she says, turning it this way and that way and looks at the price tag. Then she looks back at the thick displays again running her eyes all over.
Give me that one, she points quickly at a cloth that has attracted her eyes again.
Which one? This one? the seller asks touching a cloth in the midst of others.
No the one next to that one you are touching.
On your left.
The seller holds the hanger of the cloth and hands it over to step-mother Alice who quickly looks at it with eager eyes, while holding it up. She turns it every side and touches it to feel its soft material. She looks at the price tag and says:
This cloth is also beautiful, and I like its bright colors very much. But the price! Cut for me the price.
The price is fixed, customer.
Cut for me, you know I will return, if you sell nicely. You know, you just have to grab me with a friendly price.
I wish I could customer, but you know I get very little profit on these clothes.
No come on, stepmother smiles slowly at the seller.
Yes, very little you cannot believe it. But also just look at the cloth itself my dear. It is worth the price. You do not easily find such a cloth even in the big Asian shops in town.
My customer, you think it is a lie? Go to town, I can even give you the bus fare.
Ha, ha, ha, ha, stepmother laughs still looking at the cloth.
I am telling you pure truth. If you just make a mistake of leaving this cloth and walk round this market, you will not have finished it before this clothe is gone. You will not find it existing in my stall.
The price is high, but let me just buy it, because I want it and you seem to stick there, stepmother says while dipping her hand in her bag and removes a note. She puts the note on the cloth and hand them together to the seller, who carefully puts the money in a safe.
She then wraps nicely the cloth and gives it to stepmother Alice, who puts it in her handbag.
After given the balance she moves to the next stall, looking at more clothes and I follow her.
Let me see that, she tells another seller.
I turn and look at other stalls, people are busy buying and selling, but when I turn my head back stepmother Alice is already on the way walking on the small path in the market. I begin to run to catch up with her, but the people on the small paths in the market make it difficult for me and so I instead walk in a hurry, turning my head side to side not to lose her head, which I have spotted in a group of people walking ahead.
I hold my dress on one side and run again a little but a group of people walking speedily come face to face with me. I step aside squeezing myself close to a stall on my right side and step back on the path, after they have passed. But when I look ahead again, I cannot see my stepmother. I panic and my heart beats fast as I look everywhere.
I begin to walk slowly with sad eyes sliding past people talking and laughing as they buy and sell. I decide to stand at a stall belonging to a woman carrying a small baby on her back, praying that stepmother Alice will show up.
Where is she? Which direction did she take? I wonder looking all around in despair. The woman seller looks at me and moves closer, as I cough continuously.
Who is with you? she asks.
Jacky, come here, suddenly my stepmother calls me, standing at one end of the market.
I quickly turn my head and see her.
She looks so worried and angry like she will eat me.
I quickly run towards her before she disappears again.
My God, Jacky, she says. I have been looking for you everywhere in this market. What happened? What would I say if you got lost here? she says angrily. Silly, what did I tell you? Walk close to me, always, she emphasizes knocking my head three times as we proceed on to the hospital.
My legs are now tired and my chest is burning as we enter the hospital. Here the smell is of medicine. The patients are sitting in the long queues in silent moods all hoping to feel well after being seen by the doctors.
Stepmother stops and looks around at the long queues of patients.
These lines are too long, am I going to wait for all these people to be attended? she seems to say by the look on her face.
Slowly we move to a bench next to the last person, an old man covering his body with a dark blanket and holding a walking stick. His head is falling forward, sleeping, making him take ages to move.
Suddenly my stepmother turns to me and says:
Do not report to your father or Nyaranga what happened at the market and that we came here on foot. You hear me? Her voice sounds threatening. If you ever do, I will cut your ears and I mean it. You will bleed until you die.
This sends a sudden bad fear in me. I node slowly looking at her sharp eyes and then look at the patient on the opposite side.
After I have being examined and given medicine we walk out of the hospital to the different fresh air.
When we reach the stretch of markets near home, my stepmother takes a different route.
I just follow her like an innocent animal going for slaughter.
We reach a house and find a girl washing clothes outside.
Hi, Mutuku is mother in? stepmother asks her.
Hi sister, yes she is. The girl rises excitedly rubbing off her soapy hands.
Stepmother pushes aside the curtain door and we enter.
There are five children scattered lying on the floor, looking at a picture book. Some clothes and dishes with traces of food are lying down too.
Alice, I heard your voice from outside, her mother says as she opens the curtain dividing her bed place and the rest of the room.
Then she hands my stepmother her baby as they begin to speak in their vernacular. Her mother reaches for a small stool and puts it close to the wall.
I sit down and look at the children playing as my stepmother moves around in the room pulling out boxes from under the bed while conversing with her mother. Then she removes the package she bought from the market and gives it to her.
My lips are dry and cracked. My eyes are red and tired due to the walk. Their conversation becomes my lullaby and I begin to fall asleep.
Jacky! Wake up! my stepmother says harshly to me.
I quickly open my eyes and see hot food producing smoke served on six plates and a nice smell coming from it.
The members of the family each pull their plate and begin to eat.
I begin to cough badly again and the children look at me now and then as they put food in their mouths.
Jacky! Come, we are leaving, stepmother says.
We get out of the house in no time and hurry home.
When the door is opened I walk straight to the big chair. My bones are weak and tired.
Hey! Stepmother Alice looks at me with bad eyes. Are you mad? Look at your feet! Go and wash them first, then come and sit on my chair! she tells me pointing sharply at the door.
I stand up swiftly and begin to walk to the door unaware what is going to happen to me. As I make the steps out stepmother suddenly pushes me very hard with her two hands towards the pole, which holds our house right outside the door.
With a sharp scream I grip it before hitting my head against it.
She quickly puts her fingers on her lips and widens her eyes in surprise.
Shut up. Do not cry, she warns me. Then she turns quickly and comes out with a basin of water and pushes it carelessly causing water to spill on my feet. She turns to the house as I carry the water, walk slowly to the grass and clean my feet. When I am through I walk slowly carrying the empty basin towards the door feeling very afraid to enter the house.
I put down the basin at the outside of the door and stop beside it with my palms trembling on the wall, as I look through the open door.
Are you going to stand there for edges? she says as she sips her tea on the big chair.
I step in slowly and walk to our bed to wipe my feet with a piece of cloth, and then sit down for a cup of tea.
Jacky let me remind you in case you are dumb. The day you will tell your father that I have done this and that, telling lies about me, I will not spare you. I will surely kill you, she threatens and I feel a sudden great fear.
This woman can surely kill me. I am a thorn in her flesh. I have reached her up to her neck. She really hates me. I am so insecure, I feel so unprotected. Where is father? I am alone. I am helpless. I am small. I look at my small body with mercy.
I will, she continues. After all, your mother wanted to kill me. She is nothing but a murderer.
I feel so much bitter at these words. Bitterness that brings such a sharp bad pain in my stomach, that I put my firm hands pressing firmly my stomach and stare at the cup of tea. Her words are cutting like a sharp sword. Why is she saying such things? My mother is not a murderer, why cant she know this? My mother is a nice person. I feel so bad, I am so hurt. These words are not good to me. Why is she calling my mother a murderer? This woman is bad.
Now you are staring at the tea, she says looking at me. My hands have become magnetic to my stomach and I struggle to lift my right hand and bring it up slowly, take the cup to my lips and pour the tea in my mouth. The tea is tasteless, but I try and finish it quickly and return the cup to the kitchen and climb my bed and sleep.
Only a few days go by before stepmother Alice once again beats me mercilessly. I cry out loud, but she continues beating me with her slipper, anywhere she finds. I turn from side to side putting my hands on my head to protect it. She beats my hands, as if that is not enough, takes a ruler and knocks my fingers with it. Then she pulls my ears hard and my nose and step on my little toes.
I fill the house with my cry. I cry so much, from the pain. My whole body is hot and trembling and my heart is beating fast. Out of anger she does this, not knowing she is leaving marks on my body.
When Nyaranga returns from school I tell her.
Tell father everything, do not be afraid, she tells me.
At night, the moment I see our father step at the door, I cannot prevent myself from crying painfully.
What is happening here? Jacky why are you shading tears? he is startled and looks surprised.
I show him my hands and feet. He moves closer to me and look.
Who did this to you? he asks seriously. His face has suddenly changed.
I point a finger at stepmother Alice.
After a violent scene between her father and mother, the mother left the family leaving behind her two daughters in accordance with the tribe’s traditions.
A stepmother arrived and the new family moved to Western Kenya close to the Ugandan border. When settled Jacky witnessed her father’s dreams of a new and better life soon led into poverty and alcoholism.
Being afraid that her own future would get lost, Jacky confided her thoughts to the only friend she relied on.
The friend’s name was God.
It is morning. Jacky raises as usual, dresses in her school uniform, eats breakfast and prepare for going to school like any other day. But this morning it takes her a little longer to say goodbye to her younger half-brothers and half-sisters.
Outside the round mut-build hut she meets her father and stephmother. They are on their way to the laborious work in the field trying to secure the survival of the family.
“Hurry up, Jacky,” her father says, “otherwise you will be late for school.”
-“Yes, father,” Jacky answers, hangs the school bag on her thin shoulder and starts on her way without looking back.
She is 14 years old and has made the most important decision ever in her young life.
* * * * *
At a conference in Berlin, Germany, in 1886, the colonial powers divided Africa between them. In 1888 Imperial British East Africa started economic development of the area we today know as Kenya and Uganda. In 1895 Britains protectorate was formed and officially named British East Africa. The colonization changed the life for the population. In 1963, after being ruled by a foreign power for 68 years, the Kenyans regained their independency with Jomo Kenyatta as their first president until 1978. However, the colonial area had seriously damaged the society.
“The Kenyan Pilgrim” series is the story of Jacky‘s life and reflects Kenya’s history.
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