I racconti del Premio Energheia Africa Teller

Pendo: an african girl_Steven Kamau

thumbnailCA3EK1DZ_Africa Teller 2000.

The girl had been asleep before the noises began. It was surely a big

group out there, screams of women and children cut the night air like

a razor through a piece of paper.

The girl looked through the window and thought she was watching

hell on earth, even in her half-asleep state she could tell that Neku’s

house was on fire and so was Malope’s, Jonah’s, Kena’s; and then she

heard the loud bang on her own door. They had finally arrived.

In the twinkle of the eye, seven of them were inside her house. She

heard her father being to protest in a loud voice, that was the last time

she ever heard her father speak. Her mother who was all the while

screaming was next, only they first pushed her into the girl’s room

and raped her in turns as the girl watched, then they cut her throat.

Her little brother and sisters, angels as their mother used to call them,

had already been butchered in their sleep. And then it was the girl’s

turn, she wailed as the seven brutes violated her teenage body in

turns, and when they were through they hit her on the head with a

machete. With that single blow came the deep hollow silence – they

were gone. Pendo woke up with a startle, a cold sweat running

through her body and soaking the nylon dress that she had worn for

days. She had been having that nightmare again, only it was a

nightmare she had lived through and now it haunted her every night.

As it always happened after the dream, she began to remember the

past. Everything was once normal, she had parents, brothers and

sisters and even a boy who fancied her. Then one day a war broke

out, not between enemies or strangers, but between brothers, cousins,

friends, between people who had lived side by side in harmony for

ages. But when the seed of hatred had been planted among these

people it had germinated and grown into a giant oak, whose web of

roots was now stretching and strangling everyone and everything in

the vicinity, and the soil was now contaminated with the blood of

hatred. They called it a tribal clash, a genocide, but to Pendo, it was

simply a gush of wind that had destroyed her life. On that fateful

night, after the raiders had left, she had woken up to an empty house,

an empty village. Somehow, she had survived the blow, though now

she truly wished that she had died along with all the others. She had

then walked for miles into a church compound where many people

had sought refuge. Here, to her short-lived delight, she had met Chidi

her boyfriend. But her happiness was cut short when she told Chidi

her story. Then he called her a prostitute who had offered her body in

exchange for her life and said that he was through with her. Her heart

was so broken that she didn’t want to spend another moment at the

church, not after the last person she had left in the world had hurt her

and rejected her. Her blue skies were gone and all that was left was a

dull heavy gray. Suicide became a constant item on her mind after she

ran away from the church but she decided she would walk on until a

wild animal spotted her and relieved her of her anguish by making a

meal out of her. That was yet to happen.

Now she stood up under the tree where she had been sleeping, and

looked around her. All she could see was open land, which stretched

to as far as her weary eyes could see. She had been walking for hours

without food or drink and if she did not get something to eat or drink

in a while, she would not need a wild animal to take her life. She trod

on, the ground below her bare feet burning like hot coal until she

could see what looked like cows, or so she thought. She gathered her

last reserves of energy and tried to catch up with the animals. This she

did, only to collapse in a heap a few metres from the herd of cows.

The herdsmen must have taken care of her: when she awoke, it was

morning and she was lying on a piece of hide in what looked like a

makeshift hut. She rose and ventured outside, there she saw little

children playing and women preparing food. She later learned that the

herdsmen had picked her up and carried her to their village where the

women had taken care of her. Pendo took a sweeping look at the

village, she did not know then that this would be her home for some

time to come.

It had been four months since Pendo had arrived at the village and

within that time she had learned a bit of their language which was

only a little different from hers. She had also learned that the women

and girls were treated differently from the men and boys. While the

men went grazing and hunting the women’s place was at home,

cultivating and tending the children. In other words as the women

toiled and laboured on the land the men lay under trees and pretended

to look after animals that given the open space, needed no looking

after as such. But that was the way things were done around here and

Pendo found herself adjusting as days went by. Her stomach had

started to bulge and she could not understand why, but the older

women seemed to understand, and they told her that she would soon

be a mother. This baffled her more but like the child she still was she

went on with life happily, apart from the vomiting in the mornings,

she had begun appreciating life once and more. Then they told her

that as a girl she had to undergo a ritual so she would become a full

woman. Since not much about the ritual was revealed to her then,

Pendo did not give it much thought. On the day of the ritual, the girls

of Pendo’s age were woken up early in the morning and told to bathe.

Then they were taken to the old woman of the village, the one that

looked so old and frail that all the children revered her. Shortly the

ritual began, the first girl was stripped naked and forced to lie down.

With two strong women holding her down the old woman

commenced to perform the ritual on her. Pendo had never seen

anything like it and the screams from the girl on the ground

convinced her that she would die before they did that to her. She

looked around and saw that the huge crowd that had gathered to

witness the ritual were glued to the mutilation that was taking place

before them. Still, she knew that it would take one with the strength

of the Biblical Samson to get through that mass of people. Then an

idea struck her mind and she decided that if it failed then nothing

else could save her from the fate that awaited her. The old woman

was on the second initiate when Pendo collapsed in feigned

unconsciousness. The women present, aware of her pregnancy

carried her away from the compound to the shade of a tree. Intuition

told Pendo that it was now or never and soon as they had laid her

down, she stood up and bolted towards the hills. Given the

advanced age of the two women who had carried her and the fact

that her acting had left them dumbfounded, Pendo was able to make

good her escape. She ran like a deer whose only weapon against the

lion was her speed. She fell and tumbled so many times that

eventually she lost count and she was clever enough to realise that

she could never go back to those people. She was all alone again,

back where she had began so many months ago. She was at the top

of the hill now and she looked down to see a road at the foot of the

hill. She had to get to that road and follow it to wherever it took her.

In her haste to get down there she tripped on a rock and began to

fall, at first slowly, then faster and finally she was spinning through

the air and rolling on the harsh ground. And then the darkness began

to form, that same darkness that she was now familiar with. Finally,

the darkness engulfed her and she was back at home, asleep with

her parents and her brothers and sisters, then the noises began…

If ever Pendo had thought of heaven, it must have looked like this.

She had woken to find herself in a white room, in white clothes in a

bed with white sheets and women in white clothes hovering over her.

These must have been angels, just as she had seen them in the books

at school. Now one of them was telling her something but she was

speaking in a strange language that Pendo could not understand. She

gently pulled her out of the bed and led her outside the door, there

they found a man and woman who smiled when they saw Pendo. The

lady in white clothes handed the girl to the couple and waved them

goodbye. Pendo did not understand what was going on and tried to

pull away from the man’s grasp but he held her tightly and pulled her

along. The girl began to cry but they took her to the car that drove

away immediately. Pendo cried all the way, things were happening

too fast for her not to, first the bulge in her stomach had disappeared

and now two strangers were driving with her through a big place with

tall houses and hundreds of cars. Though Pendo did not know it then,

this was the city and the people in the car with her were a Muslim

couple who had picked her up from the foot of the hill where she had

fallen. They had taken her to a hospital in the city where she had been

in a coma for three days, within which she had lost the baby growing

in her womb from her fall down the hill. The Muslim couple took

Pendo to a house where they dressed her in a long dark flowing dress

that covered her hair too. Then they fed her.

From the moment she set foot in that big house life became a living

hell. The previously pleasant couple now turned into monsters who

tormented Pendo constantly. She was woken up everyday at the crack

of dawn to prepare breakfast for the family of seven. After the man of

the house had left for work and children for school, Pendo was left in

the cruel hands of the lady of the house who seemed to derive

immense pleasure from watching Pendo toil and labour around the

house. By the time she lay down to sleep every night, she could

barely manage to say a little prayer asking God to save her from the

agony she was going through. The days turned into months and

months into a year since Pendo had been taken into slavery, the young

girl had by now grown so skinny that she was scared of her own

reflection in the mirror. Apart from the insufficient food rations she

received, she was also frequently slapped and kicked every now and

then. Everyday spelt doom for the young girl and everyday she came

closer and closer to taking her own life. Then something happened

that finally decided Pendo’s next step. There was a man who

frequented the house, an old man who was always engaged in deep

conversation with the man of the house. Whenever he visited, Pendo

couldn’t help noticing the lustful glances that he always gave her as

she served them food. She never gave the glances much thought until

one day the mistress of the house sat her down and explained to her

that her husband and her were negotiating her marriage to the old

man who visited the home. Pendo could not believe what she was

hearing and told the lady as much. She plainly told her that there was

no way she would get married to that old man. Her outburst promptly

earned her a hiding and night without food. That did not change

Pendo’s mind one bit, it served only to infuriate her more that they

could even consider such a thing. Unfortunately Pendo did not know

the kind of people she was up against and how determined they were

to marry her off. What she was not told was that the couple that had

enslaved her would be receiving a small fortune from the old man as

soon as they had delivered her to him. One day she overheard a

conversation between the man and his wife and they were talking

about taking Pendo to the old man on the following day. Her blood

froze in her veins as she listened to them scheme and connive and

she knew that she had to find a way of escaping before the following

day. She made her mind up to run away that night, so she waited

until everyone else was asleep. She then opened the window to her

room and attempted to jump out. Unfortunately for her, her legs got

caught up in her dress and she fell outside with a loud thud that woke

up the master of the house. The dogs were now barking madly from

their kernel even as Pendo picked herself up and limped painfully

towards the gate. The master must have realised what was going on

for he went straight to the dogs and set them on the escaping girl.

Pendo tried her best to gather speed but she knew she was no match

for the three canines. She turned to look back and saw the ferocious

beasts leap into the air with their intimidating canines bared. They

pounced on her like she was a doll and she was sure she would be

dead in no time.

As fate would have it, Pendo had fallen on an ant trail and so as the

dogs got busy tearing her apart, so did the ants get down to biting

both the dogs and the girl. Even the master who had by now caught

up with the dogs was not spared. Soon the previously ferocious

animals were squeaking like rats and the master was getting rid of his

trousers. As for Pendo, the survival instinct in her told her to ignore

the biting ants and take to her heels. She did exactly that and

disappeared into the darkness, leaving behind a wailing man and his

equally terrified dogs. She ran along the city streets like an insane

person, ignoring the increasingly unbearable pain from dog bites and

itching from ant bites. Just when she thought she could not take it

anymore, she saw a building with the sign of a cross at its top. She

intuitively thought it was a church and darted into it. As soon as she

was through the door of the building, she fainted. She woke up later

in a white walled room and though the nurses spoke to her, she could

not understand them. Still shaken from her violent encounter with the

dogs she mumbled things in her own language, which prompted the

nurses to bring in a translator. With the help of the translator, Pendo

was able to give her story, eliciting immense pity from the doctors

and nurses who swore to take the matter up with the police. They

urged Pendo to rest and promised to take care of all her problems.

Pendo closed her eyes and for the first time in a very long time, she

did not have her nightmare, and she slept peacefully and soundly.

The following few days were a milestone as far as Pendo’s situation

was concerned. Her wounds wee healing and she was able to walk

around. As for her captors, they had been arrested and charged with

kidnapping, along with a string of other charges. Her story had been

reported in the media and had caused a huge public debate about the

general rights of the girl-child. Though the young female did not

realise it yet, her misfortunes were opening the eyes of the public to

seeing how much girls and by extension women were disadvantaged

in society. As for Pendo, she was taken into an orphanage, where she

would attend school and remain for as long as she wanted. Her

nightmare had slowly disappeared, though she sometimes cried from

thinking about her family, her life was finally looking up. Pendo’s

blue skies would finally return.