This is a story about Magdalene Zasha, a young university graduate
who is deeply in love with a young man from a different ethnic group.
They met at a wedding and instantly fall in love. All goes alone well
until Muraya, her boyfriend decides to take her to meet his parents.
As a person born and brought up in the city, she is not prepared for
what she meets there.
Because of her love for Muraya, she bows to his pressure and decides
to undergo what Muraya calls “the maturity ritual to make her a
woman worth marrying”.
This short story starts at the river where she is being numbed to
undergo circumcision. All the above are flashbacks to at first, her
bored mind. Later, she becomes feverish and hallucinations cloud her
reality as her cut becomes infected.
It is then just a matter of days before she succumbs to blood
poisoning. At hand at the time of her demise is her boyfriend who
weeps knowing that it is his fault.
The river is freezing, so too is the morning. I see the rays of the sun on
my bare skin but feel not its warmth. The world has just awoken – the
dew on the vegetation twinkles like a million sewn diamonds. I feel not
my legs; I feel not the lower part of my body that is submerged. I resume
the posture; hands akimbo and legs spread so that the numbness
penetrates deeper. I adjust the light cloth that is draped over my
shoulders, the only fabric on my body. It is lightened more by the
wetness and I can see my nipples hardened, pointing like two pinkies.
My skin pimpled by the cold looks like thawing turkey. I can see my legs
spread before me as I sit on the riverbed. I can’t stand this any longer.
“Alululuuu… Alululuuu…” The women’s ululation accompany their
singing. They are bare-chested and their breasts dance to the drums,
some hanging like cucumbers while others are plastered like overinflated
balloons. Men and crying, and especially crying is forbidden
at this ceremony. Two robust women enter the river heading straight
for me. I close me eyes and resist the urge to bolt. From the lack of
feeling in my legs, I realise that I couldn’t even if I wanted to. The
songs they are singing sound melancholic, the words alien like this
ritual I’m part of. The pair of women carry me, one hand under my
knee and the other, under my armpit. The cold, I guess has also
numbed my mind for I don’t feel embarrassed as they carry me out of
the water, my legs parted, my pink rose now blue. The lay me on
banana leaves. They part me more me as a toothless woman squats
between my legs, holding the crude looking razor. Don’t scream.
Please do not scream, I repeat over and over again in my mind. You
are the group leader by virtue of age. If you cry, the whole age group
will forever be branded cowards. You became a woman the moment
you stepped inside the river; I hear their words. I roll my head
backwards as the old woman’s crooked fingers fondle my genitals
looking for the forbidden bean that to them, distinguishes girls from
women. Then the pain begins! “Ahaaaaaaaa!… Ahaaaaaaaa!…”
Pain… Pain… Pain! Oh my God! What have I done? I ask myself as I
come to. I’m lying on my back with my legs parted and bent at the
knees. I lift the bloodstained bed sheet to assess the damage. Every
small movement sends pangs through my body. Oh God no! Dried
blood is smeared all over my inner thighs. This is not the small cut
that I was promised! Warm tears roll down my cheeks. They have
mutilated my womanhood. “Oh… God! Muraya my love, what have
you let them do to me?”
“Zasha…” Someone’s calling my name. I open my eyes. The woman
is talking. Her tone. I discern is rather harsh. She goes on lecturing
for a while before clicking and angrily pushing my way a plate that I
assume is my supper. In the darkness of the hut where we are all lying
incapacitated, I can feel the gawking eyes of those around me sting.
The gruel is cold and they have supplied me no spoon. I cannot make
out what it is so I scoop a bit of it with my finger and taste it. What is
this? About thirty pairs of eyes are watching me, I try not to make a
face. I place the plate on the uncemented floor, lay back and close my
eyes. I listen to the hiss of the kerosene pressure lamp. I see Muraya’s
smile as I hope to see when I walk out of this place. “A mature
woman worth marrying”, in his words. The day I first saw that smile
shall perpetually be engraved in me like the heart curving of high
school lovers on giants boulders.
It was one of those days when you wake up feeling that something
good will happen. By the time you wake up, the sun is out and doing
wonderful things to the scenery you often take for granted. I was
attending a traditional African wedding, the kind where only a quarter
of the guests know the bride and bridegroom. I was there because my
mother was a friend to the groom’s auntie. Muraya was there because
his cousin was operating the PR system. It was at the church, or should
I say outside the church that I first noticed him. The six hundred sitter
was packed. He looked familiar and I could not place him. When we
however made eye contact, I saw his smile relax into a dropped jaw for
a few seconds before excusing himself and walking towards me with a
sly smile. “Hi there. How are you doing?” he sat next to me uninvited.
“Hi.” He gawked rudely.
He realised that he was staring.
“Sorry. It’s just that you look gorgeous now that you have lost the few
extra kilos you had in high school”.
“Do I know you?” I wanted to be certain.
“I was at Kenyatta high school… your brother school”. His smile
disarmed me. “ You do remember me Magdalene, don’t you?” I
blushed and he seized the moment.
What followed on that day was nothing short of a sprint familiarization
ritual. Muraya never left my side. From the church, to the reception to
the evening party the time flew. He was at university studying for a
bachelor of education degree. I was at the neighbouring campus
studying architecture. “I don’t believe that a sweet petite girl like you
is willing to venture into the harsh world of construction,” he had
whispered in my ear as we danced slow. He towered over me and I
felt safe cocooned against his hard rugby body. His dark skin
contrasting well his brilliant white smile, he lead me from the dance
floor to the lit gardens. When he stared at me as we sat on a bench,
his eyes glittering with passion, I could not stop him as his lips made
slowly for mine. “Zasha my darling”. He whispered.
I open my eyes shivering. I look out the window to get the time. It is
getting light. A cock crows in the distance. Another one replies
relatively nearer. Is this real or am I dreaming? I think as I let my
eyes roam the squalid surroundings. As if on cue, the world comes to
life, birds start chirping and cows moo. The earlier deathly silence is
replaced by life. Condensation droplets dot my light bed sheet. God I
could use a blanket and while you are at it, a proper bed, not this sack
of straw on the bare ground. This whole structure too could do with
some changes; demolition would be more like it. The girl opposite me
wakes up. The old tin can disappears under her covers, there is a
pouring sound, and it reappears half full. “Disgusting! So, that is what
this can is for?” I don’t even want to know what the plastic plate next
to it is for! Love makes you do crazy things.
When we met again after seven days, it was electric. My inhibition
peeled off like a banana peel; we kissed passionately at the restaurant.
Our appetites insatiable by food but each other’s company, we
ordered only drinks and talked. What I lacked, he filled and what he
filled, I lacked. From that evening onwards, whenever we hugged
good-bye, we stuck together like Velcro and had to literally tear
ourselves from each other. In his final year, he still managed to spend
the weekends with me, we were only half circles without each other.
On Valentines, over a bonfire lit dinner, he looked at me with that lookeyes
glittering and all. “Magdalene Zasha…” I never quite knew whether
he was saying Magdalene or my darling. “Will you marry me?” Had I
known how my response would change my life, I would never have
responded so fast, “Yes Muraya! I will marry you”. The moon was
overhead as he walked me back to campus. We sat on the concrete bench
in that gardens talking for hours not as two people now, but as one. It was
at the garden setting that we consummated our relationship, the gentle
breeze cooling our passion for each other. We built our future and lived it,
had children, named them and saw them through school and even retired
to our country home in his rural home. We were truly now one.
I can hear myself sizzling. The iron roofing is radiating heat like a
grill. I need to take a pee. My God! The moment my knees are a foot
off each other, the pain… I reach for the tin can. I hear giggles all
around me. I swear I shall not use the plate. I return it to its place
making sure that it does not spill. Someone comments and the room
erupts into laughter. God, they hate me!
The wearer of the shoe only feel the pinch after walking in it a mile.
Muraya took me to his parents. Being from different ethnic groups
never disadvantaged us. That was not to be for long. The moment we
entered their compound, I realised they had not had the kind of
forewarning Muraya had given me. I was dressed in the closest thing
to a bui-bui I could lay my hands on, no make up or jewellery. They
reacted to lighter skin tone and petite frame with blatant hostility. To
them, plump darkness was divine. We were immediately separated and
I was taken to a hut that I later came to discover was that of Muraya’s
mother, the senior wife. When she came, she repeated a word that at
the time didn’t ring a bell but should have sent shivers down my spine.
“Tuhara!? Tuhara!? Wewe Tuhara!?” I had simply stare at her. She led
me to another smaller hut and there, against my will, they undressed
- The moment they saw my privates, a wail arose from those
present. In less than five minutes, the whole village was in a tumult.
As I got dressed alone in the hut, a young woman with a baby strapped
to her back entered the hut. “You no Tuhara?” She was scared.
“Tuhara? Cut down there? Pure… clean… No!?”
I shook my head, “No!”
Hear eyes widened, “No!? Go… go… they beat you. Go!”
The commotion outside ascended. I climbed out the back window and
ran like a mouse that had just escaped a trap.
Only two of us are now left, the rest have gone home. The toothless
woman comes to inspect her work… All is not well. I can smell the
wound. Her face confirms it. She pounded some leaves yesterday and
applied them there. Today all she did was smack her gums and walk
away. Ndimba, Muraya’s stepmother who saved my life and who
organised my purification came to see me. “Sorry… sorry..”, she kept
saying: “I go tell Muraya you go hospitali…”
The sand is, was… I do not know which. Muraya is by my side as we
walk along the sea side. “You need to be purified”, he tells me.
“There is no way my father can allow me to marry you without it. My
stepmother has organised it”. Angry, I turn and head back. Then I
notice it. There is only one set of footprints on the sand. His!
The smell, I retch. I have nothing to bring up. The other girl died
“Hospitali… Hospitali… Muraya… I screaming deliriously. One
moment I’m shivering the next I’m sweating. As the nights give way
to day, the smell of death nears my nose.
“Zasha… Zasha!” I open my eyes to see Muraya knelling by my side.
“I love you… always will”, I drawl barely audible.
“What have I done!?” His tears roll off his chin. “I’ll get you to a
hospital”. Muraya lifts me. “Zasha… stay with me”. The poignant
stench of death overwhelms me. I open my eyes as the sun hits me.
I’m raising towards it… floating to its warmth.
“My darling Zasha… Don’t go…”, Muraya sputters. The sound of
trumpets obliterates his pleas as the brilliant whiteness turns to
yellow, green, blue and then darkness with a light in what seems a
cave. The air tingles my skin pleasantly as a warm sea fragranced
breeze blows from the light. I taste or sense a presence.
“Zasha! You can’t die”. I hear his final plea as the full glory of the
presence engulfs me at the end of the tunnel. “You’re home!” I feel
relaxed, content and in no need. “I’m home”.