Chapter 13

 

            Dear God, please don't let me die! The prayer was impulsive as a big hand covered my mouth.

             I thought I was dreaming at first, but if I was, why then did it hurt so badly? I could not breathe. The lights in the room were switched off as the hand pushed me deeper into the mattress. My eyes widened with horror and my body slowly turned limp.

            Suddenly, a door opened and a man's voice reached my ears. "There are only two of them. The General says to bring them outside... alive!"

            The hand moved away and I started coughing for air. Beside me,  I could hear my sister coughing and knew she had suffered the same fate. I was too shocked to understand what was happening. It’s a strange feeling - terror. It clouds the air and takes one to a place between reality and fiction.

            Strong hands picked me off the bed and carried me outside. It was in the middle of the night but outside looked like daylight. I looked up and quickly shielded my eyes from the light. The chapel where we prayed was burning!

            "Wangechi, Wairimu! Are you okay?" A familiar voice. It was Sister Elizabeth kneeling on the ground next to the other Sisters in night gowns.

            The men placed us down and we ran into the Sister's embrace. "You will be okay children," Sister Elizabeth said. "God will protect us."

            "Kneel on the ground!" A voiced ordered and we dropped on our knees next to Sister Elizabeth. My fear was reflected on Wairimu's face and we were both trembling.

            The man who had told us to kneel down wore green military fatigue and looked like a soldier of high ranking. He had a red beret, yellow teeth and skin that had stayed in the sun for too long. All around us, I saw men walking and standing; some dressed in military fatigue, others in regular pants and jackets. They all carried machetes and guns and looked very happy to see the church burn. Mau Mau! I felt a shudder go through my body and for a minute I was plagued by memories of my father's demise.

            The General as the other men called him told me and my sister to stand up. He studied us, told us to remain standing and then moved on to the Sisters. There was Mother Superior, Sister Margaret and other Sisters, all on their knees praying furiously for God's mercy.

            "Your God is not here today," the General said with a grin. "But I will do you a favour. I will answer your prayers for you. Death will unite you with God, isn't that what you desire?"

            He stopped in front of the Mother Superior and asked for her hand. Sister Catherine gave it to him, trembling with fear.

            "Sorry if I don't kiss your ring today Mother Superior," the General said with a chuckle as he took Sister Catherine's ring and pocketed it.

            "God loves you my child," Sister Catherine said in a show of bravery. "God..." She closed her eyes and suddenly started praying fervently; not having the words to match what she knew to be true.

            One of the Sisters started crying and this seemed to please the Mau Mau men who laughed as they carelessly balanced their guns on their shoulders. "We have a struggler here," a soldier said. "The Sister's faith is not too strong."

            The General walked over to the crying Sister and crouched in front of her. The Sister tensed as the General reached out and wiped her tears. "What's the matter Sister? Ha? A loved one waiting for you somewhere?"

            "I want to go home," the Sister said, tears pouring down her face. "Please let me go home. I want to see my parents again!"

            The General grinned. "You can't do that. You are married to Jesus now, remember? Don't cry Sister, you took an oath to live behind walls." He was mocking her, and the Sister cried even louder. She was young, and looked to be in her late twenties. She obviously loved being a Sister but she had not signed up for the trials that came with the job.

            "There are many kinds of freedom," the General told her. "There's the freedom we all know, in which I let you go and because of your little faith, you will probably never make a good Sister." The General placed his hands around the Sister's neck and started squeezing. "Then there's the other kind of freedom that haunted men desire for. The freedom from our nightmares, the freedom from the screams that torment our memories, the freedom brought about by death." The General squeezed the neck tighter. The young Sister reached up and tried to pull his hands away from the neck but the man was too strong. A horrific silence filled the air and all one could hear were the Sister's gargling noises.

            "Please leave her alone!" Sister Elizabeth suddenly yelled catching everybody by surprise.

            The General released the crying Sister and left her chocking for breath. He walked over to Sister Elizabeth and studied her face.

            "You are begging for her life at the expense of your own?"

            "To show mercy is a mark of a great King," Sister Elizabeth said.

            "You are very brave and spirited Sister."

            "I'm only strong because of the one who stands next to me," Sister Elizabeth said loudly enough for the other soldiers to hear. "His name is Jesus Christ and he holds my hand now."

            The General looked impressed. "See these hands Sister?" He raised both hands, palms out for the Sister to see. "Nobody holds these hands. I have killed many men with these hands. I'm good at what I do. Men scheme and lie, and plot, and sooner or later the people you love betray you. Today you will call on your God and He will not answer and you will feel betrayed as you take your last breath. Trust me, I have seen it happen before many times. I like your pure heart Sister and I will be sad to kill you, but we can't let you live and continue ruining our country."

            I was horrified by the man's words and couldn't imagine anyone wanting to kill Sister Elizabeth. The General was a man fueled by his own dreams.

            "We are not ruining the country," Sister Elizabeth said, her hands tight around the cross dangling from her neck. "I'm a nurse at the  Mathari Hospital and every day I dedicate myself to treating and feeding the Kikuyu people. God is love. He sent His son Jesus Christ to earth so we may know the true meaning of love."

            The General suddenly pulled out a pistol and crouched in front of Sister Elizabeth. The Sister's face turned white with fear at the sight of the gun. Nearby, the chapel continued to burn, the flames rising higher in the dark sky. And in that moment, my eyes riveted on the gun, I wondered about the worth of the human life. If we knew what life had in store for us, would we accept it?

            "Jesus loves me?" the General said calmly. "Is that what you are trying to tell me? The church is full of hypocrites. People live in danger of death and you take advantage of that and offer them security in the church. You give them food and hope of eternity and they nod their heads because they have nowhere else to go."

            "Proverbs 18:10," Sister Elizabeth said in a flawless voice. "The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe."

            The General ignored her. "The church takes money from a government that kills people, for what? To build bigger churches, schools and hospitals?" The General touched the Sister's face with the gun and looked into her eyes. All around, Mau Mau soldiers with weapons waited for the ultimate command that would spill white blood on the ground and invigorate the course to recover land from the white people.

            "For the children," Sister Elizabeth said, tears pouring down her face. "To build institutions to ground children in the work of God. They are the future of this country ... razor sharp focus... they must stand with God as they take the reins."

            "You are about to die and yet you speak for the country," the General said, shaking his head. "I like the way you talk and you sound like you are willing to die for what you believe in. But maybe I should ask the children if that's what you are teaching them ... to stand with God and the country."

            "No," Sister Elizabeth said in a scared voice. "Leave the girls alone!"

            I was listening, and watched scared as the General walked over. There was something calm and deadly about him. It reminded me of a snake...lying very still in wait of prey.

            "So tell me little girl," the General said standing in front of me. "Have you taken the Mau Mau Oath?"

            "No," I said in a small voice.

            "I see," the General took a knee and looked me in the eye. "Would you be willing to?"

            "Ye-es," I said in a shaky voice.

            "Good girl. Do you know what your first duty will be after you take the oath? I will tell you. You will have to kill all the Sisters, the mean ones and the nice ones. No exceptions. Mau Mau oath requires that you kill the white people and steal from them. We want our land back. Would you be willing to follow the oath?"

            I was in a dilemma. My eyes found Sister Elizabeth and she nodded at me, making me believe that by a twist of fate we would make it through this horrible night. I looked at Sister Margaret and Sister Catherine and both nodded, urging me to say the words that I would never dare say...that I was willing to kill them! I dug deep and prayed for God's guidance and He gave it to me.

            "Don't look at them little girl," the General said. "The people we love always die on us; our parents, brothers and sisters. They die on us or stop believing in us. But the Mau Mau Oath will make you a member of the biggest family you will ever have...brotherhood...sisterhood."

            I looked at the General who was waiting for an answer and suddenly I wasn't afraid. He looked like a troubled soul. My voice came out strong and practiced. "I have learned a lot about God since I came to this convent."

            "Go on," the General said.

            "The...the Sisters have taught us... me and my sister that there are no white or black people, there are just people. Every day, the Sisters teach us to pray not only for believers but also ... so that peace can return to this land."

            The General looked stunned by my words. He turned and looked at Sister Elizabeth who was smiling at me with tears in her eyes. She mouthed the words 'God loves you' in my direction and I felt encouraged.

            "The Sister didn't lie to me," the General said.

            "No she didn't," I confirmed. "Here in the convent, we pray for those who have gone into the forest to fight, because they are our own flesh and blood. We pray that the bombs being dropped by the colonial British will miss them, so they can one day come home safely."

            The General looked shocked. I could see that I had reached him with my words; maybe I reminded him of a small sister...or the reason why he and his men fought in the first place.

            I watched him rise and put the pistol back in its holster, a hazy look in his eyes.

            "General?" A voice called. "The government soldiers are coming!"

            The General blinked and looked at Sister Elizabeth. "Your church is not African enough, that's why we burnt it down," he said. "There is no African architecture and your hymns are too white. Stop forcing your religion on us, and stop trying to change us."

            The General started walking to towards the trees following his men. In the distance, the sound of gunshots could be heard as British soldiers approached.

            "Should we kill the Sisters General?" A voice asked.

            The General turned and grinned at Sister Elizabeth. "No. Not today. Their God works in mysterious ways."

            The Mau Mau vanished into the trees using silent running formations. The British soldiers arrived firing into the air, and secured the convent. We stayed on our knees long after and prayed while crying. The ordeal had worn us out but we were grateful to God for our lives; for another day to feel the warmth of the sun on our faces. In a flash our lives had been shaken and we saw the fight for freedom in a different perspective.

 

 

 

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Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...