Monday was a sad day for my family, and the morning routine was dominated by silence. We bathed with cold water and ate breakfast, our ears listening for the sound of the engine that would whisk us away to a world we knew nothing about. Even baby Wanjiru looked restless this morning, as though sensing the imminent destruction of our family. Nderitu hardly said a word and the usually loud Wairimu wore a solemn expression. Our lives had seemed secure until now. The happy life that our father had struggled so much to set up for us was about to be robbed from right under our noses, and there was nothing we could do about it.
The white van eventually showed up at ten in the morning, just as the cocks stopped crowing. We tensed and glanced at each other with trepidation at the sound of the idling engine. Shortly after, a round faced black woman wearing a yellow flowery dress came bounding into the compound with a folder clutched under her armpit.
“My name is Mrs. Susan and am from the social services.” She shook our hands then proceeded to open the folder and read from it, and suddenly I had an urge to pee on myself. “Nderitu, Wairimu, Wangechi and Wanjiru?” We nodded, too scared to speak. “Are you children ready? Where’s your luggage?”
There was no luggage since we were wearing the only clothes we owned, and no shoes. Nderitu wore grey shorts and a white shirt tucked in. Wairimu and I looked like twins in red dresses and Wanjiru wore a white one. Mr. Kamau our neighbor who had been looking in on us came to say goodbye and shook our hands. He looked unhappy to see us go and I realized that we were leaving a big gap in the world he knew and lived in. I was saddened to see our home come apart so fast.
The drive to Nyeri Town lightened up our mood a little and the increased number of people and buildings fascinated us. The green hills stretched out as far as we could see, the dirt roads winding away into the infinity of dark mountains. Nyeri Town was a cluster of buildings with tarmacked roads and no pedestrian pathway. Red volcanic soil could be seen in places where there were no roads and traces of it on the white walls. Mrs. Susan pulled in front of a shopping center near an array of old cars, and killed the engine.
The sun was hot as we stepped outside. There were a lot of people on the streets and Mrs. Susan explained that it was
because it was mid-day; people rushing from their jobs and offices to catch lunch. With the war tearing the country apart, I was amazed at how normal things looked in town. I saw a man wiping shoes
for a fee and another hawking candy. There were smiles on natives’ faces and laughter in their eyes. Their land had been taken from them, their relatives killed and tortured, and yet they braved it
all, lifted their heads and pounded the pavement to look out for those left behind.The supermarket and restaurants were open too. Mrs. Susan bought us chips, sausages and sodas in one of the
restaurants, and I think it was the most delicious food I had ever had. The sauce on the chips tasted really good and I subconsciously licked my fingers. Nderitu and Wairimu smiled as they ate their
chips, and leaving our home suddenly didn’t seem like a bad idea. We were out of our comfort zone, anxiously seeing the outside world through the eyes of Mrs.
sorry about your parents,” she said, calmly drumming a manicured finger on the table. “I grew up in Nyeri area and I know the land very well. My job is to find new homes for children like you. God
will make a way where there seems to be no way.” I liked Mrs. Susan and thought she sounded nice. I didn’t like her yellow dress though because it made her look fat, or maybe it was the black weave
on her head. She bought us sweets from a nearby shop and we jumped back inside the van. I ate one sweet and hid two in the pocket for a rainy day. My little sister Wanjiru put all three sweets in her
mouth making us laugh and easing the tension.
“Where are we going?” Nderitu asked, his mood a little bit more relaxed. He was riding shotgun while the rest of us sat in the back. “Mathari Orphanage,” Mrs. Susan said without offering further
details. “Almost there,” she added fifteen minutes later. I looked up and saw Nyeri Hill in the distance, and at the bottom of the hill, a clean water river cutting between banana plantations. The
van exited the main road and joined a dirt road that was very bumpy. I saw gardens green with maize, spinach, carrots and beans; I saw goats and cows wondering around. Shortly after, a gate opened
and Mrs. Susan drove inside a compound with a sign that read Mathari Boys Orphanage.“It’s only for boys?” Nderitu exclaimed in a surprised voice.
“Yes,” Mrs. Susan said as she killed the engine and opened her door. “This is your stop Nderitu.”
“What? I don’t understand,” Nderitu said looking stunned. And then a minute later he added. “I’m not going.” He folded his hands across his chest. “You promised not to separate us. You lied to us
just so you can make your job easier. You have no heart whatsoever!”
I started crying and Wanjiru joined me. I suddenly didn’t like Mrs. Susan. It scared me that she had been thinking about herself this whole time and not us. We were just a job, and she would tell us
anything to make her job easier.
Mrs. Susan tried to stifle her irritation as she stepped out. She walked around and opened the passenger’s door and motioned impatiently, her mouth set in a thin disapproving line. “Say goodbye to
your sisters. Please Nderitu, it’s only for a short while until we find a home where you can all be together. Please be reasonable.”
“I’m not getting out!” Nderitu said, his lower lip trembling. “I want to go back home. My father left me in charge of this family after his death. I need to be with my sisters.”
Mrs. Susan looked around with a tired expression. It was times like these when she wondered whether her skin was thick enough for this kind of work; whether she was capable of remaining objective.
She saw a man walking down a corridor of what looked like an office. Mathari Boys Orphanage was managed by a white director and looked very neat. The grass was green and colourful flower beds dotted
the compound. Wooden buildings with metal sheet roofing defined the homes where the boys ate and slept.
“Can I get some help please?” Mrs. Susan yelled in a frantic voice.
Two men with broad shoulders appeared and grabbed my brother. Nderitu screamed and kicked but it was hopeless. My sisters and I cried and watched him being carried away. I caught a glimpse of his
eyes one last time and saw that he was both devastated and broken. I felt an emptiness inside me that I could not describe. My brother was gone and I didn’t know when I would see him again. But one
thing I was sure about was that our lives would never be the same.
Once more I felt the loss I had felt the night my father died. Once more I felt the grief that had overcome me as an empty casket of my dad was lowered into the ground. My brother was gone now, and
the pain of separation was unbearable.
Off to AFRICA
My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.
The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen
Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...