Chapter 19

                                    Through Heaven’s eyes

             Sunday was one of the happiest days in Nderitu's life. The church was Baptist, a contrast to the Catholic Masses Nderitu had attended as a boy. Baptist church constituted a group of Christian denominations who believed that baptism should be performed only for professing believers as opposed to infants. It was a small church; the kind that made one self-conscious of watching eyes. Claire wanted to sit in front but Nderitu convinced her to move towards the middle.

            Everybody in the congregation was dressed to kill, and people smiled a lot. Men wore suits and women glided in long dresses and big hats. A lot of them seemed to know each other and the numerous hugs confirmed this. Nderitu watched the people walk in and pray, and every movement seemed well rehearsed.

            Claire was dressed in a black and white dress that looked blown out by the breeze although it was not. Her long hair had an extra shine of black and sat on one side of her shoulder. In her hand she held a Bible and on her face she wore a permanent glow. Beside her, Nderitu wore a purple shirt tucked into khaki pants. He had long strayed from his faith and sitting in the pews did not bring that back. He had agreed to accompany her to church so he could spend more time with her, and also out of respect for her and the way she was raised. Religion was the wall the stood between her and his love for her.

            The praise and worship team opened the service with beautiful songs that were accompanied by drums and dancing. There was energy in the music which was constantly interrupted by someone praying in tongues. The pastor, a short man with a solemn expression stood to the side hugging a Bible to his chest, and seemed to be searching for something in the ceiling. Shortly after, he invited the congregation to take their seats before diving into a lengthy preaching.

            Claire took notes while the pastor preached and so did other people in the church. “Open rebuke is better than love,” the pastor said.

            “Yes!” someone yelled.

            “Let me get an Amen.”

            “Amen!”

            “Amen,” Nderitu said, but his came a few seconds too late.

"If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. Put on the Lord Jesus and make no provision for the flesh. And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. They that know the Lord shall be strong."

“Amen!”

Claire waved a right hand in the air to acknowledge the words, and then quickly she went back to taking notes.

The congregation responded to the preaching by yelling out the name of Jesus. Some prayed in tongues and raised their hands to the skies. Nderitu felt distracted by the theatrics and couldn’t focus on one particular spot. There was the woman near the wall clock for example who tried to sing louder than everybody else – and yet beside her was a man half asleep despite the noise.

            Nderitu remained in his seat while Claire walked to the front to take communion. Communion was a beautiful ceremony to watch, and Nderitu loved the way the congregation humbled itself. Teenagers walked with their parents; girls in high heels and boys in ties - knelt at the altar like angels. Nderitu felt a sense of belonging when Claire took his hand into hers for the Lord's Prayer at the end of the service.

            “Say it and believe it,” Claire whispered to him.

            He closed his eyes and said it. He played around with the words and tried to understand them … Christianity - a foreign religion, now practiced in Africa.

            “Amen,” Nderitu said.

After service and feeling cleansed to some extent, Nderitu zigzagged through people after Claire. Outside, under a hot noon sun, men hugged and women held on to their children’s hands as they shared their testimonies - eyes soft and full of compassion. Here was a world where no one was judged by what they did out there; where redemption was possible. Surrounded by families stirred up old memories, and Nderitu thought about his sisters – Wairimu, Wangechi and Wanjiru. This … this life … felt familiar.

He met Claire's parents a few seconds after the service. They were caught in a group of worshippers, talking about the weekday prayer meetings. Claire touched her mum on the shoulder and waited for her to turn. "Mum, this is Nderitu, he lives next door to us."

            "Oh hi!" The older woman said happily. "Claire has told me so much about you." Her reaction sounded genuine and took Nderitu by surprise.

            "You have an amazing daughter," Nderitu said shaking the older woman's hand.

            "Thank you, she is a good girl." She gave her daughter a fond look.

            The dad was slightly shorter than Nderitu's six feet. He wore a cheap suit and looked more like a clerk than a banker. The mum was even shorter but something about her personality made her look tall.

            "Hello," the dad said in a quiet voice, and that was it. His eyes rested on Nderitu's hair and then quickly looked away. Nderitu had struggled to comb the long hair but it was tangled and still looked like a big afro.

            The mum just like the daughter was not shy and met Nderitu's gaze bravely. She constantly adjusted the red Anastasia hat on her head that matched well with her red dress. "I have seen you a few times going to the shop. What do you do?"

            Nderitu hesitated. This feeling inside his body; this new need for approval and acceptance. He did not understand it. "I work for Mr. Ferguson at the Nyati Ranch," he said in a small voice.

            "Really?" the mum said. "I have never met anybody who works there."

            "The workers live on his land and rarely leave," Nderitu explained.

            "I hear he has enough land to start his own country," Claire's dad said with distaste in his mouth.

            The mum looked embarrassed and apologised to Nderitu with her eyes. "It was nice meeting you Nderitu and its nice to see a young man like you interested in God and attending church. Come again, will you?"

            "Yes ma'am."

            A woman in a big white hat hugged Claire's mum and that was the end of the conversation. Claire grabbed Nderitu's hand and lured him away from the crowd and the church. Soon they were walking through the neighbourhood between people's houses.

            "My mum," Claire said. "She's a teacher and very inquisitive."

            "I noticed," Nderitu said with a laugh. "I felt her eyes undressing me."

            Claire laughed too. "That's one way to put it I guess. My dad is the quiet one, and never gets mad unless backed into a corner, which is very rare. But he's a critique and loves politics."

            "You got a little bit of both in you," Nderitu said. "You are the better part of them."

            Claire giggled. "Do you want to have lunch with me?"

            "Sure," Nderitu said without loosing a beat. "I've been indoors since I fell off the horse. My body feels rested and ready to explore."

            "Good," Claire said, and led the way. They had a good laugh at the sight of a man roasting maize, on the side of the road, under a hot African sun. Most people roasted maize to sell in the evening when it was cooler. Claire took Nderitu to a crowded shopping center on the outskirts of Amka Town. She walked past a supply shop and stepped into a fish and chips fast food restaurant. There was a line but eventually they ordered chips and sausages, and each took a soda to wash down the meal. She refused to let him pay for the food, which they carried outside the building. “You will buy next time,” she said to avoid any protest.

            "We are not sitting inside?" Nderitu looked puzzled as he followed her behind the building.

            "What's the fun in that?" Claire said happily. "And it’s too crowded anyway. Common, it’s a beautiful day and the sun is up. I know a perfect place. This is my town."

            The land behind the shopping center was hilly and green. They climbed for fifteen seconds, and Claire picked out a spot under a young tree where they sat and ate their food in peace, away from the people and the noises. The chips were tasty and the sausages left grease on their lips.

            “Thank you for lunch Claire.”

            “You owe me now,” she teased. And then added with energy in her voice. "Tell me something about yourself you have never told anybody." She giggled. "It's Sunday so don't lie to me."

            Nderitu laughed and looked ahead. From where they sat, he could see the short concrete buildings that defined Amka Town. A cloud of red dust hang above the town and tiny figures could be seen moving about.

            "Mmmmm... let me see. I was once shot by the Colonial British."

            She stopped chewing and stared at him. "That's not funny."

            "It's true," Nderitu laughed at her expression. "Here, look!" He halfway unbuttoned his shirt and showed her the scar on his left shoulder."

            "Wow!" Claire exclaimed. "A heart can only beat so many times. What happened?"

            "I was lucky. Somebody up there loves me." Nderitu took in a deep breath and exhaled. "The orphanage I lived in was raided by Mau Mau for recruitment. At the age of twelve, boys my age took an oath to defend this country and fight for our land. The colonial soldiers came with blazing guns and we had to flee into the forest. I was hit by a bullet while running. It was the beginning of my two years in the forest."

            "You were a Mau Mau for two years?" Claire completely forgot about her food. "It must have been tough, and cold, and scary."

            "We were pawns amongst kings; just boys who spent most of their time scouting the forest and training. I fell into this dark place that consumed me, and I remember the feeling of exhaustion from being petrified. I lost so many good friends." Nderitu looked away. Claire wanted to say something consoling but seemed uncertain. Instead, she moved closer, their shoulder touching.

            “Tell me what happened. What happened in the forest Nderitu?”

            His eyes moistened as his mind drifted back in time, to unlock memories that had long stayed shut. “The name Mau Mau was but a whisper in the night,” he said. “From Mt. Kenya to The Aberdare’s, people huddled in their homes at night and whispered about us around the fire. The Mau Mau are coming, they said.”

 

 

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