Black misconception_Francis Matheka Muinde
Cathy and Lily
“Red… amber… green… yes. Cathy bring your hand, we have to cross
Street Honour’s Avenue before they close down the casino. I have already
paid for two games. Yours and mine”. He stretched his hand as if
holding an imaginary hand. I dropped another dish, totally carried away
by the reverie of my uncle Muisyo. Since he returned from the city uncle
Muisyo had been dreaming and dreaming even in daytime. From the
sitting room I could see Laviero, his wife, turn to my direction when
the cuttlery rattled. It never took her a minute to look and listen at the
direction of her husband. Together we neared the bed shocked to the bone.
He stretched his hand again and continued talking to his imaginary
“I think Lily was hot last night. But your hand is already an oven. Cathy,
my dear, don’t you think I have the magic to set fire and tear down pants.
C’mon Cathy. Cathy! Cathy! Why are you leaving me. Why are you closing
the door Cathy … Cathy…”, he woke up with a start, sweat all over
his grotesque face.
He got back to his senses. We watched him with silence. The only sound
was the creacking of the bed and Laviero’s heart which could be heard
beating even from the bedroom door. He tossed and turned. He spat without
moving and the saliva flowed down his pronounced cheekbones in
a thick cascade of light green. Laviero undid the lower buttons of his
blouse and wiped off the saliva from his face. I helped her return his
head back to the pillow. “God bless his soul” Laviero muttered, clutching
her rosary tight and tears cascading freely on her fleshy cheeks.
I couldn’t help seeing her cry in front of her husband and I walked to
the sitting room and lead Katile, my cousin, out of the house. I thought
about how to trick her. I told her that grandmother was calling her to
tell her a nice story. She was only three years old. She never seemed to
understand anything since she had spent very little time with her father.
One thing though was certain from her eyes. That she knew her dad
was seriously sick and that sometime she will ask her grandmother who
were Cathy and Lily. She was a child with enigmatic perception of everything
around her that fascinated everybody. Mostly she took after her
mother. It was something which never impressed grandfather Mulonzi.
On my way back I thought of uncle Muisyo when he was young and
I was only a kid. At highschool he was a young man, energetic with
broad shoulders. He was the attraction of every girl in the village but
he showed no interest on any of them. This continued until at last he
married Laviero who belonged to another tribe. This was not welcomed
by his family members especially his father and his grandfather. I had
walked for so long that I even didn’t realize that I had already opened
the door of Laviero’s hut. I was now in the sitting room. There was a
photo on the wall which told a story. There he was smiling broadly,
cheek to cheek with his wife Laviero. His wife was also smiling; a smile
that was absorbed by delights of marriage that it couldn’t see the present.
But such smiles were always short-sighted and I had no qualms.
Apart from kissing roses they have other two reasons: to make stories
and seal memories of course. That was the past. But it’s a past that Cathy
and Lily had lived. At least the one suppressing the one in the photo.
I peeped through an opening on the bedroom door and uncle Muisyo
was still breathing hard. His chest moved up and down in bated breath.
When I entered inside, what I saw frayed my nerves. He was holding
his wife’s hand, dragging her to come nearer to him. He seemed to have
gained some strength though he was trembling all over his body so that
anybody from outside could hear the creaking of the bed. I stole a glance
and looked direct into his eyes. A streak of excitement had lit his face,
if it could help. He tried to smile but his grin was a flinch that ran from
his sunk eyes to freeze somewhere in the peaks of his cheekbones. No
longer had I entered the room that uncle Muisyo insisted for my hand
also. I was shocked and I hesitated. A tear dropped from Laviero’s left
eye. I glanced at her with an air of sympathy and the look in her eyes
forced me to give my hand. He held our hands closer to form a knot on
his chest. I knew he was giving his last words but I pushed the thought
on the far corner of my mind. Laviero was standing like a statue her legs
touching the cold frames of the bed. I knew she was thinking the same
way I was thinking but too she tried with struggled effort to hide it. Muisyo
opened his eyes, closed them and opened them again, his upper and lower
eyelashes still mingled in his right eye. He turned on our direction
and cleared his throat.
“It’s humiliating and hurting to know that you die hated and you die knowing
what is killing you. But it gives you a kind of painful excitement to
know that you die principled and adamant without waving under the winds
of tradition and tabooes”.
He swallowed hard and continued:
“I’ve never found myself mingled with the tradition of my father and
my grandfather before he died. I knew the world was changing and if
we wanted to succeed we had to change with it. For example that is why
I didn’t even marry your mum when your father died”.
He said this turning to my direction then he continued again. “According
to tradition I was supposed to sleep with her but I even refused. They
said my elitism was nothing and whether I liked it or not I had to do it,
for the sake of the family. I knew they couldn’t kill me for that and I
knew my stance”.
He seemed to be composed even, perhaps because this was farewell.
Laviero was listening keenly, speechless. The tears in her face had dried.
“And to my wife Laviero, I want you to follow my footprints. When I
married you they weren’t happy simply because they said according to
tradition one was not supposed to marry from another tribe. But I loved
you so much. I’ve had enough now. I want you to prove to them that
belonging to another tribe doesn’t reduce you to a rug to be taken for
Laviero was shaking audibly and I held her by her shoulders to prevent
her from collapsing. Torrents of tears were now wetting her blouse. At
the same time I fought hard to hold back my tears.
“Please, don’t allow them to make you sleep with Muli my nearest
brother because that is what tradition entails. Neighter, don’t be married
to him. I don’t want anybody to marry you. Anybody can do what
he wants but don’t allow it at all. Muthini here can help you bring up
Katile. He has been very good to us and I knew from his childhood that
he was the only one who could understand my situation”.
Tears were now shining on my eyes and I could see Laviero weeping
through the mist now on my eyes. Uncle Muisyo was loosing his breath
fast and it seemed he wanted to finish what he was saying.
“I’ve never been on the wrong side with the two of you, not for real. Then
again I suppose you could say I’m the kind of person you are supposed
to fear. That is why I fear for our family also. When they realize what
I’m trying to save them from, they’ll give a sign of relief. I don’t want
Cathy and Lily to kill any more of our family members. I suppose Muthini
you can go outside. There’s something I want to tell my wife”.
He loosened my grip and I walked outside wiping my tears. It wasn’t outside
really, I stood in the sitting room because I was afraid I’ll miss something
important. I peeped through the door. He cleared his throat again.
He was now looking Laviero with a new set of eyes. The excitement was
gone and replaced by sadness. The bed was now creaking loudly.
“Laviero, my wife. I’m now going but I’ll never be going forever. I will
always be watching you and our child from the spiritual world. Please,
take care of our child. Educate her as it has been our wish. Tell her that
though she hasn’t got me for a long time as other beauties have theirs,
I will always be watching her”. Laviero was listening amidst a spree of
“I realized that I’ve been dreaming of Cathy and Lily. I won’t tell you
who they are because they’ve already gone. I don’t know where they’ve
gone. They may have thrown their knives towards you but have courage.
One day you’ll know them and I hope you will undestand. I know they
are out there. They’ll want to use black misconception to sweep the family
but don’t allow it because you’re the only person they can use. Greet
our child. Bye”. He said the last sentence almost breathless. I saw his
hand drop suddenly and his eyes turn cold. I knew he has died.
Before I opened the bedroom door to enter, there was a blood curdling
scream that almost shook the walls of the hut. I was right, Laviero told
me that he was dead and she rushed out of the room to the sitting room
and sat there weeping and hoisting on the chair. Her scream had attracted
the attention of the neighbours, who were family members who came
and crowd both inside the hut and outside. Laviero was taken to another
hut and the kids were denied to come near. Grandmother was weeping
uncontrollably. Heaven knows why she was crying because I thought
she hated her son the same way grandfather did. But it was a son she
had lost. Two hours later grandfather arrived and as if death was a
child’s play he had no slightest show of concern. He went inside the hut
and moved out quickly as if what was inside was a doll who has just
burnt her fabric legs. This was a man I hated and I wasn’t surprised by
Three days of weak mourning had passed. It was just a day before the
funeral. This was the day of the traditional ceremony towards the death.
All girls were supposed to declare whether they are undergoing their periods
because a cleansing ceremony involving men and sex was supposed
to be done. It was a taboo to deny any of this because it was believed if
anybody refused, she was then cursed by the ancestors. All girls were
not supposed to attend the funeral and were supposed to be closed in
one hut. It was simply referred to as the women’s hut during the funerals.
After the funeral they were all supposed to stay indoors for some
time. To culminate it all was the final part where the widow was supposed
to sleep with the closest brother to her dead husband. This was
to be carried out somewhere in the forest.
Uncle Muli seemed to be happy at last to have a chance to sleep with
this woman. It seemed he had been longing for this but he was at a loss.
Laviero denied all of this. She even said that she was ready to harm anybody
who will try to force her to anything, so at last everybody, the family
and neighbours, knew that she was cursed.
“I don’t want to disobey my husband. Even if he is dead he is still my
husband. I am not marrying anybody”, she could say beaming with
strenght and courage.
“I don’t buy anything, from a cursed wife of a cursed son of the world.
Wait and see, you won’t stay here after the funeral”. Grandfather could
then crash the walking stick on the ground and walk fuming with anger.
It was only hours to the funeral.
Roses of Crimson
Well it wasn’t what looked like a funeral. Small knots of people, mostly
the elderly, stood in the small shade of the huts and the trees. Few
women of the middle age dotted the compound, idling. Others inside
the house were laughing and gossiping. There were no children at all.
According to tradition, children were not supposed to attend funerals.
It was believed that the dead will haunt them in their sleep. There was
the normal silence that engulfs any funeral just at the eve except the commotion
from the women’s hut, and a few screams which came in snatches.
Back to the people under the shades. The programmer was a tall, thin
man in his early forties. He was now calling people to come nearer to
the grave. For reasons known to grandfather Mulonzi, I noticed that this
grave was not among the other tombs or rather out of the family cemetery.
There was a coffin placed on the top of two shaky stools. It was a
simple coffin made of the local pine trees by the local carpenter, Kinyoli.
It was dacked with a white piece of net which looked more of a mosquito
net than a net of its purpose. Kinyoli was only seventeen and people
congratulated him for his talent as a child, except me perhaps. The
inexperience and the prolonged childhood of toymaking was written all
over the coffin. Nails could be seen bend over the wood and small circular
marks could be seen through the net. Through the corner of an eye,
I saw Kinyoli feigning sorrow and fighting hard to suppress a smile beaming
with mistaken prodigy, maybe.
It couldn’t take an illiterate kid from the heart of Kimoo village who
never knew of a square nor a rhombus to notice that this grave was shapeless.
Well, I had my own conclusions. A pit maybe not to bury Muisyo
the son of Mulonzi but one to dispose the cursed prodigal son of a disobeyed
man with a ragging pessimistic wife and a lot of demanded grandchildren.
One thing was certain here: the dichotomy between a burial
and a disposal. The latter was what was taking place, yet again for a reason
known to the sad eyes of that man Mulonzi. I enjoyed calling him
by his name in my thoughts. There were no shading of tears for two reasons
perhaps. One, nothing was emotional and, second, none were held
in the back of those pretentious eyes. There were few, though, the invisible
ones from the woman weeping inside the women’s hut and the
ones slowly drenching my eyelashes. At least from the minority two who
had the nerve to watch a cursed man die in his own bed.
Nevertheless, there were things which mark any funeral in this planet
whether of a cursed son or a blessed one. There were dirges. These ones
were sung not with an air of sorrow but with a bit of vigour and mirth.
Voices could be heard raising and lowering fighting hard to droop spirits.
There was a short session of the preacher whom I thought was even
worse. Mr Mavunye (one with a pot belly) was a pastor from the local
church and almost ran all the funerals in Kimoo. As usual he wore a black
shirt with a rounded collar, which had a section, white in colour, exposed
on the front of the collar near the uppermost button of the shirt. He was
in the full religious attire. Something was unusual with him. He had no
Bible. And apart from looking like a preacher he never sounded like one.
No use to carry a Bible, in a cursed funeral of a cursed man or the holy
book won’t open. In the middle of his session I looked in the direction
of Kinyoli and saw him knocking the man standing in front of him, dozing.
I gave a sigh of relief, when he was concluding but his last statement
frayed my nerves. It even raised a stir in the crowd. Laviero’s screams
could be heard drowning every sound from the crowd. It wasn’t a statement
from the Bible. No, the book was very holy to contain that or rather
it won’t be called the holybook.
“You were made from the holy dust but you return a cursed dust. I hope
you will have a nice time as you rest in hell”.
“Oh God!”, I gasped wiping tears with the back of my right hand. There
were now louder cries from the women’s hut. For the first time I saw
real tears flowing from real mourners even from Kinyoli who had been
awoken by the stir. Women were more histerical that men. I felt a painful
relief because what I was seeing was a burial scene, not from a melodramatic
play. I raised my hand to wipe my tears just to make sure this
was reality and was happening. Sniffs were increasing and tears were
wetting faces except the face of Mulonzi of course which was as dry as
the bottom of his cracked feet. I felt a pang of hatred ran through my
body. I felt like hitting him but I had a feeling that this will only help to
worsen things. Laviero was now ululating. Even grandmother was weeping
uncontrollably. Mr potbelly was still flirting his stomach in front of
the crowd as if he had just ordered ugali from the church kitchen.
As if nothing had happened, pastor Mavunye shook grandfather’s hand
and returned to his seat. Grandfather instructed the programmer to continue.
Things settled a bit. Even Laviero’s ululations had subsided. Mr
tall programmer announced that it was time to return dust to dust. As
young men were shoving the soil back to the pit, young ladies were bringing
the wreaths nearer. There were all kinds of them both in colour and
shape, perhaps the only beautiful things to see uncle Muisyo off. There
were no eulogies and I was relieved since they tell a lot of lies.
It was now time of laying the wreaths in the foot of the small hill. I kept
reassuring myself that these were not wreaths but roses. Roses to hide
hatred and stash the true sanctity that had existed between the dead and
the living, so that a person like grandmother could whisper ‘Rest in peace,
son’ while laying them. When the relatives had finished laying theirs,
it was time for laying the one of the church. Pastor Mavunye almost toppled
to the ground rushing forward to lay the cross-shaped one of the
But I was forgetting. There was a circular one remaining. The programmer
announced that it was one for grandfather. Heaven knows
why his face was marked by sadness than sorrow while everybody was
prostrate with grief. But I could guess that something was hiding behinds
those eyes. Some poison was behind those eyes which had the magnitude
to dissolve all the tears and any other liquid in the face. Before
going back to his seat, he said that he had something to say. I knew it
was time to unleash that poison because everything was already done
except the last prayer. People were already dispassing except Kinyoli
who was waiting stock still behind the preacher for his pay. He began:
“I thank you all for attending. As the preacher has said a cursed dust is
back to dust”. He paused. It seemed that poison had dried all his saliva
because his words were dry. He continued: “Though he was my son, I
never respected him from the moment he disobeyed my father, who I
believe cursed him before his death. He has never been my son since
he married that witch inside the house. A man controlled by a woman
is no man. That is why I believe she is also cursed…”, he was now weeping.
But before he continued he was stopped by a sharp scream from
the women’s hut.
No. It was from the crowd. Within a minute Laviero was seen pushing
her way through the crowd hiding something under her blouse. No one
tried to get hold of her since everyone was afraid to touch a witch. And
a cursed one. When she reached the grave she eyed Mulonzi for a much
longer time, then turned to the direction of the wreaths. She muttered
something in the thinnest of whispers. She looked at Mulonzi once
more, for a much longer minute. There was pindrop silence as villagers
watched the drama even with excitement. Mavunye wanted to utter a
word, but a look from Laviero reminded him that he should go back to
his seat and continue nursing his belly. She turned back to Mulonzi, who
seemed to have gained some courage. I was enjoying every bit of all
this and I could read the eyes of Mulonzi. He couldn’t be afraid of a mere
woman especially after spitting his poison, still it wasn’t clear what she
was carrying under her blouse.
Then something terrible happened. The excitement of wanting to know
what she was carrying turned into grief and shock. With one last scream,
that almost knocked people off their feet, she withdrew her hand from
the blouse. Then she waved it towards the chest of Mulonzi and with a
thud he fell. And Alas! It was a dagger. It was too late to stop her. It had
all happened in a split second. She had stabbed Mulonzi right in the heart
of his chest. Blood was flowing freely from grandfather’s chest who was
losing his breath fast. There were no tears, people were too shocked to
cry. Grandmother could be seen lying still on the ground. The echo of
her scream had been drowned by the screams from the crowd. People
were trying their best to stop the bleeding and save his life. At the same
time men had gained courage at the wrong time and were now tying
Laviero on a tree.
So many other things were happening at the same time. Pastor Mavunye
was calling the police. At the same time I was thinking about this act
of pure bravery, done out of hatred. I was aware I was the only one thinking
that this man deserved this. I tried very hard not to show it because
I knew these were lethal thoughts in case some people could read other
people’s thoughts. All the wreaths, no roses, were drenched with
blood. You couldn’t differentiate their previous colours. They were all
crimson in colour.
When she saw me she broke into tears and I too did. With the movement
of her head, which was the only moving part of her body, she beckoned
me to come nearer.
“Please, take care of Katile. You’re the only one who cares for me, please.
Explain everything to her so that when she will grow up she will understand.
I don’t think I will be coming back again. In case I spend some
time in prison before I am hanged, please don’t bring her to prison. This
will only add my pain though I am now relieved. Please, don’t try to
come to my trial because in prison I will feel better”. I couldn’t control
myself and I was sobbing audibly. She continued with feigned courage:
“Make sure also she doesn’t get a glimpse of any of this scene. I hope
you will understand, because I had no choice. Please, tell Katile I said
goodbye”. She finished and looked the other direction. With one struggle
strength I tried to find my voice and said: “I’ll do as you say Laviero,
My legs were blocks of stone but I forced them to move. I walked away
to no definite direction, but later realized it was towards my grandmother’s
hut. I could no longer stand her sight. Even I couldn’t afford the nerve
to watch the police push Laviero in the back of the landrover but through
the window of my grandmother’s hut I saw a cloud of dust disappear in
Hours later after grandfather had been taken to hospital by the police
news came that he had been declared dead and that his body was taken
to the district mortuary. Grandmother, who hadn’t gained consciousness,
was still lying in her bed surrounded by her grandchildren and the wives
of his sons.
The whole village was back to mourning once again in the same family.
After the burial of grandfather we shifted from Laviero’s hut to our grandmother’s
hut. After some time a cleansing ceremony was done and
Laviero’s hut was set on fire. We now lived the three of us in her hut.
Time was running quickly. I was seventeen and Katile was four. She used
to be so nice to us that she even called us her own kids. Most of the time
you could find her in the shamba teaching Katile how to harvest beans
and peas. I realized that our grandmother wasn’t that bad only that earlier
she had behaved so due to pressure from her husband. It was such
a nice thing to be revealed to us, so that we could even change our attitudes
towards her; she was to us a loving ‘mum’. Her health wasn’t
good but she kept telling us that we were not the ones who were supposed
to care about her health.
Three years passed and grandmother’s health was deteriorating at an alarming
rate. One day while I was in the shamba, I heard Katile calling me
incessantly. I came running to see what was happening. When I reached
the compound, I took some steps to the door and stopped to eavesdrop
what was happening inside the hut.
“Muthini ooka muoie nina muathima. Naku athimika. Nawoora Mwenyu
ui…uimwi…nina …mua… ninamuekea”. This is what I heard before
rushing inside, meaning: “When Muthini comes pass him my blessings.
And you have my blessings when you see your mother tell her that I
have forgiven her”.
When I reached inside I saw her holding Katile’s hand, the way uncle Muisyo
had held mine. But before I reached them, I saw her hand drop. I saw her
head move sideways and she was dead. Katile told me what she had told
her but I had already heard. We never screamed because she had already
prepared us for all this but we couldn’t hold back our tears.
We mourned for her for three days with the rest of the relatives. Her funeral
was marked by pure tradition. There was the incessant drumming
accompanied by the slow death march. There was slaughtering of the
bull and culminating it all was the strange nocturnal burial rites. She was
laid to rest just beside her husband just as per her own instructions. I
explained to Katile what had happened somewhere behind the hut since
according to tradition she wasn’t supposed to attend the funeral. All the
females of the family, actually. Except Laviero, I thought to myself. She
had the guts to break a door and attend one. I thought again with fascination.
Her death was a very big blow to us. No one of our numerous uncles
wanted to stay with us. Uncle Muli said he had a big family already. Uncle
Mulosi said that we no longer belonged to the family. Uncle Katero
said he can’t handle a curse with his family. There were many other excuses
from our other uncles.
Like any other village Kinoo was not the kind of place where rumours
were mouthed for long. Gossiping was the norm of the village and a good
driver of rumours. There were a lot of rumours spreading across the whole
village about our family. Rumour had it that, what Laviero had done was
completely devastating. That it will haunt the rest of the family. It was
even said that Laviero turned down tradition and killed her own father
in law to the detriment of the poor health of her mother in law. This implied
that Laviero actually was responsible for her death. When Katile
came home crying saying that she has been told that she is cursed and
her mother was hanged by her cousin, she said that she wasn’t going to
school again. She was in standard two and could understand everything.
This was too much for us to contain. We took all our luggage and closed
our grandmother’s hut never to return again. From Kimoo we went to
live with my mum to the next village of Ulaini. My mother was very
delighted to see us. That night she slaughtered Kasewe the cockrel and
cooked Muthokoi to welcome us. My mother’s father had given her a
very big shamba of her own. Her home was made up of three huts, a
low shed and a lot of chickens slept at the kitchen. Since she had left
my father she was unmarried. She was happy that now her home had
kids at last. I was her only kid. Though not far from Kimoo, Ulaini vil-
lage was a social contradiction. The people were more friendly and welcoming.
Katile told me that the kids at school were very friendly and
they were all delighted to be joined by a new friend. I had very few people
to miss at Kimoo. Katile too had few. The kids at Kimoo primary
school had even started calling her names. Her cousins were the most
abusive of all. Everytime she did something good, they were all jealous
One of the people we missed was our late grandmother. We missed all
the stories she used to tell us. I even realised that I was missing my bed
in my grandmother’s hut. But those were only memories. Memories which
couldn’t be retrieved. The present was where we were.
Laviero had now spent five years at the King’ole Women’s Maximum
Prison. No one had ever visited her. I had written a lot of letters but none
was replied. “She is still healing from the past because she is not hanged”,
I could reassure myself. Katile kept asking me whether she will ever come
back and with a good choice of answer I could tell her that one day she
will come. I never wanted her to know that I could think of another thing
beyond that. But I always did. Is she still alive? Why has she been quite
for a whole lot of five years? Those were questions which I tried to hide
One day I realised that she wasn’t attentive to her school work. I asked
her whether she was alright but instead of answering she asked me a question.
“Did mum say what date she’ll be coming?”.
I thought about it and tried hard not to shed a tear when I remembered
what she told me before she was sent to prison. “I don’t think I will be
coming back”, those words kept repeating themselves whenever she asked
me questions about her mum. However, I had to answer her. I had to
keep her hoping for the best.
“No, but one day she’ll be coming home to stay with us. Now, have
you finished your homework?”, I tried to change the topic. When I
looked up I realised that tears were flowing freely watering her books.
I went to sit by her side and wiped her tears. My mother joined us and
assured her everything will be alright and soon she’ll be used.
Thursday was when mother used to go to the market, so I had no rea-
son why she had come home so early even before Katile came from school.
Without hesitation, mother gave me a letter addressed to me. The sender
had used the address of Kimoo. There was no mistaking that he had no
idea that I had shifted to Ulaini. My mum believed that it must have been
Laviero and that is why she had come home early.
“She must be the one, I knew her ’m’s and ’s’s very well”, she said. My
fingers were shaking and my heart leapt. She was right, it was Laviero’s.
I tore the envelope and rolled down the folded letter. Something dropped
from the letter. It was a small cardlike paper with a short poem addressed
to Katile. I kept it aside and together with mum we read the letter and
this is how it went.
Dear Muthini, my son,
How are you doing? How is my little Katile doing? Does she really remember
me? I hope she can. Five years is such s short time. She is now
eight and I bet she is a big girl. Please, keep reminding her that she has
my eyes and my spirit. And you. You’re twenty, a grown up, I bet.
As for me, I haven’t changed a lot. I am fine here and amused. Life here
is not that good though it’s better that the women’s hut. Is grandmother
still sick with me? Just pass my greetings to her, she wasn’t such a
good person to me though she was a person I could understand almost
They’ve jailed me for 15 years for murder. Thank God for the end of the
death sentence. I don’t have much to tell you, because with ten years
down the line I think I have a lot of time to tell you a lot.
Please, don’t be bothered to visit me because I feel am quite ok with myself.
They take good care of us here. I hope you will understand. Tell
Katile that I still think of her. Give her that poem and tell her that one
day I’ll be there for her. Bye for now.
You loving mum,
“Please make sure the kid doesn’t see the letter”, my mother told me, breathing
hard. At least Laviero was alive and we were relieved.
When Katile arrived from school I told her the good news that her moth-
er had written saying that one day she’ll be there for her. She was beaming
with excitement when I gave her the poem and together we read it.
To Katile, my love,
I can hear your voice from the wilderness
The voice that sings of affection
I can no longer stretch my wounded sight
To see your love sick eyes.
A day will come
Just a day with sunrise and sundown
And my ears will be there for your hearing
And my eyes will be there for your sight.
I couldn’t wait to answer and that evening I wrote her a reply letter.
Dear mum Laviero,
I was very glad to receive your letter finally just to know that you were
alive. I am doing fine. Katile is 8, in standard three and she is doing
well also. I realised from your address that you still think that we live
at Kimoo. We shifted from Kimoo to Ulaini where we live with my mother.
She is very happy with us. She has passed her greetings to you.
Katile thinks that she can still recall you and I keep telling her that she’s
I am sorry to inform you that a year ago grandmother passed away. Since
you went, we used to stay with her. She took care of us very well. Before
she died, she told Katile to tell you that she has forgiven you. After her
death, nobody else was willing to stay with us and that is why now we
stay with mum merrily. Katile is one and the only sister I have.
Lastly know that we pray for you and care for you. Kisses from Katile
and mum. Please, keep in touch. Bye.
Your loving son,
We were so much concerned with the fate of our lives, until we forgot
that things in the outside world were taking place as well. Five years
had ended and a new government was in power. There were a lot of
changes and reformations. Reformations were also done to the prisons
and we hoped that Laviero’s period could be reduced. We were still under
the euphoria of a new government and stakes were high. The pending
justice had arrived and many prisoners were appealing their cases.
I had confidence that Katile, who was now turning nine, was waiting
for us to do something.
First, I knew we had no case to appeal. Laviero was guilty of what she did
even if she had no choice. It was justice to be guilt but not justice to lack
a choice in order to commit a crime. Second, I knew we couldn’t afford to
pay a lawyer. But I never lacked the strength and courage to tell Katile that
one day her mum will come. That day was nearing and we had no slight
idea about it. So we kept waiting and hoping, if it could help.
The day arrived.
No one among the three of us knew that during Jamhuri day some prisoners
are released. So as usual Katile went to the market together with my
mother. I remained home trimming short the fence. Ulaini was one of those
villages where national holidays were never taken serious and so the normal
duties continued. Holidays were simply when kids were supposed to
help their parents with their working. The only indication that there was a
national holiday was the faded pieces of flags hanging loosely on the
shop’s verandahs. No more than that. By lunchtime they were already back.
We had just settled for lunch when we heard a knock on the door. We argued
jokingly who will open the door because we knew that it was one of
our neighbours coming to borrow a pinch of salt. After arguing and laughing
for sometime I finally rose and headed for the door.
It wasn’t a neighbour. It was Laviero.
I thought I was dreaming but the scream that came out of my mouth jerked
my mouth and I knew I wasn’t dreaming. Katile had forgotten that she
was eating and the food halfway to the mouth had dropped soiling her
blouse. She was running towards the door screaming also. When she
reached her she jumped and grabbed her by her neck so that she was
swinging, tears of joy flowing her cheeks. My mum rose from her chair
shaking, her hands trembling, she hugged her sister in law, Katile between
them. She was also weeping. All of them were weeping except
- I was standing beside them shaking with sheer excitement. The only
thing that never stopped fascinating me was that even after all these
years Katile could still recognise her mother. Sure, she was right when
she said she could still recall her mum. The other thing that I realized
immediately was that Laviero hadn’t changed at all. She still had her
figure with her, her eyes still were small balls of strength. Her legs were
still athletic and it was true when she told us that she was a striker of
the women’s soccer team in the prison. She told us about prison life and
we all listened with breath. We were now re-united back to the dining
table where the food was already cold. She told us of dried bread, of
scolding prison guards, of the morning rollcall and many others.
“Thank you for the responsibility of living with my daughter, I don’t
think I am going to go with her”, she said this as we were eating our
supper. Katile had already gone to bed and we were the three of us. She
had had enough of her mother’s hugs and she had retired to bed early.
We were shocked when she said she will be leaving but before I said
anything she continued:
“I’ll leave after two weeks. I’ll be going back to my husband’s home. I
want to be near his grave. I have been through a lot and everything that
has happened has bostered my courage”. She paused and continued:
“However nothing will change. Katile will continue schooling here and
I will be visiting you. I don’t know how I can thank you people but from
now onwards I will be one of you”. We all tossed our metallic cups for
hearing that. ‘She has a lot of courage and has gained a lot of courage’,
I thought to myself. I looked up from my plate and looked the two women
opposite me and a pang of satisfaction mixed with excitement ran
through my face.
“I have something I want to tell you. I have learned a lot in those five years.
A lot of things were revealed in my life. But of all things, the condition
with which I was released with revealed a lot of things to me. It was a
hard pill to swallow but I had to swallow and gain courage”. My mum
watched her keenly not to miss a word. I settled on my chair speechless.
“During the annual Aids analysis, we had to take a test, each of us. That
was a month ago. I realised that I was Hiv positive and a lot of things
dawned on me. I had a rough sketch now who Cathy and Lily were. They
must have passed the virus to my husband who in turn passed it to me.
I even realized why he never wanted me to be married again. He was a
caring man who cared about the lives of those left behind. I have courage
and that is why I want to go there and shed a ray of light to the black
misconception among the people” she paused. “I don’t even regret of
killing my grandfather in law because he could have caused the death
of so many people. I hope you two understand when I talk of this. Those
of us who were positive were excused, some of us wavering but others
like us beaming with courage to go out and enlight women and encourage
those positive like us. Tell them how to cope”.
My mum was now weeping. I tried to hold back my tears but I found
myself crying too. I couldn’t believe what I had heard. ‘I can’t let Cathy
and Lily to kill more of our family members’, those words were now
revealed and so I had to believe my ears. Laviero sat quietly on her chair
breathing normally, no trace of tears on her cheeks. My mother was now
wiping her tears and I could see she was about to say something. She
cleared her throat:
“For the first time now I know why your husband begged me to leave
immediately. I thought I wasn’t lovable and I couldn’t be married a second
wife because to me he was still attractive. But now I get the whole
thing. I understand when you say he was caring”.
For the second time, I couldn’t believe this: “He begged me to leave…”,
those were news for me. Surely uncle Muisyo was a good man who made
a mistake and never wanted somebody else to suffer from it. ‘Thank you
uncle’, I muttered to myself. It was already midnight and we went to
bed with a lot of revelations to think of.
Two weeks later, Laviero left us and headed for Kimoo. Katile was comfortable
with it. Two months later she was the district’s chairlady of the
district’s asssociation of women with Aids.