I racconti del Premio Energheia Africa Teller

Love cuts deep_Kenneth Nd’Ung’U Gatari

albero_Africa Teller 2003.



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

  1. 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”.