Thank you God for giving me a job
Thank you for the misfortunes that
Drove me trembling, into the
I took Market Street all the way to Gichuru Avenue, brushing shoulders with the hundreds of people on the streets. People called Kenya a walking nation. The buses were there but not everybody could afford them.
The afternoon sun was hot and I regretted the low heels I was wearing. I saw a few familiar faces and waved. The people in Nyeri were friendly and quick to strike a conversation. The markets were chaotic and entertaining.
Martin always gave me busfare but today he hadn't. It was going to be a long and dusty walk home. A left turn took me past the city council building and a right all the way to the road leading away from town. The roads that had once been tarmacked, had been washed out by the rain. Now they sat jagged with rocks sticking above red dirt.
I took a short cut over the hills and through people's gardens. The highlands of Nyeri were beautiful with green jungles, windswept moors, dense conifer plantations and a Mt. Kenya backdrop. Walking home was never a dull affair, and the spectacular view was usually spiced with the appearance of wildlife. I had seen elephants many times.
I thank you Lord for showing me favour
And for this new joy in my heart
I lived on my father's land with my small sister Wanjiru. She was a big girl now, almost nineteen years old. Over the years, we had managed to build a two bedroom wooden house next to our parents' mud hut. The money had come from selling milk and farm produce, and included years of savings. We cooked in our parents' hut but slept in the new house.
I arrived home sweating and paused at the main gate to catch my breath. Slowly I opened the wooden gate and walked past our two cows grazing under a tree. The house door was unlocked when I got home, and Wanjiru was sprawled on the couch reading an adventure novel.
“Hi Wangechi,” Wanjiru said looking up from the book.
“Hi Wanjiru.” I wiped the perspiration from my face with a towel and took a moment to adjust my eyes to the dim room.
There was no electricity or running water in the house. But the chief had managed to install a water pipeline from the river to the village where we could easily fetch water. Wanjiru slept in one of the bedrooms and I slept in the other. An old red couch was the only furniture in the living room, and I was saving to one day buy more furniture to accomodate our whole family.
Wanjiru’s light skin glittered even in the dark room and her beauty was radiant in her late teens. Light from a small window above the couch made her small eyes glow and her cheekbones looked full and cute. She sat up with a yawn and brushed a hand over her long shiny hair. God had graced her with looks and she was a beautiful girl. “You look tired Wangechi.”
“Long story. How was your day?” I stood by the door as though deciding what to do first.
“It was okay,” she said. “I did chores and was just relaxing."
Wanjiru was done with high school and was waiting to go to the University of Nairobi. She had received an invitation letter and I had cried in joy. But we didn't have the money and so she couldn't go. Nevertheless it did not prevent us from celebrating her success.
"They are planning another strike,” she said trying to sound indifferent. "The University of Nairobi. I heard it on the radio." Wanjiru kept up with the news and tried to learn as much as she could about the university life; the life she would never enjoy.
“Not again!” I exclaimed.
She was a smart girl who wanted to do medicine. The idea of an institution of higher learning in Kenya went back to 1947 when the Kenya Government drew up a plan for the establishment of a technical and commercial institute in Nairobi. The name University College Nairobi was formed in 1964 after the institution gained University College status. Students were prepared for bachelor's degrees awarded by the University of London.
Wanjiru was a diamond in the rough in our family and we prayed she would go where none of us could ever reach. My highest level of education was standard seven, and funds had dwindled after that. I had stayed in Nyeri helping with my father’s land until I reached eighteen. My big sister Muthoni had wanted to sell our two cows to raise money for my secondary school education, but I had stopped her. Our two cows were all we had. The truth though, which I failed to mention was another story. I wanted to save the cows for my smaller sister who wanted to become a doctor. To me, Wanjiru was the priority. She was an ambitious girl who knew exactly what she wanted in life. I wanted a job, she desired a career. The two cows would not be enough to pay for her university but it would be a start if we decided to make the move.
“One of the student leaders is missing,” Wanjiru said nonchalantly. “They suspect he’s being held by the government for stirring up problems."
"What's the government afraid of?"
"Something to do with land taken back from the Colonial British. Most of that land is now owned by the government you know, but some of it was redistributed unfarely to people with money."
"I heard about that," I said thoughtfully. “Not everybody got back their land.”
Wanjiru frowned. "This strike by university students will be big and long. I have a bad feeling about it. The last university strike resulted in five dead students from police brutality. I feel connected to this. It’s a strange feeling.”
This was the new republic of Kenya, an authoritarian rule passed down from one bully to the next. The president had managed to concentrate all the power and most of its economic benefits into his hands and those of a few trusted allies. Opposition members and student leaders disappeared and were never found, or found dead. It was a story of freedom found, and lost.
“We can talk about that later. I have some good news,” I told Wanjiru.
“You do?” She stared at me, and searched my face, wondering what I was hiding.
“I found a job today!” I squealed in delight. Wanjiru froze for two seconds before rushing over to hug me. She was skinny and easily sunk into my embrace. I held her and enjoyed the moment. Just to see her so happy, meant the world to me. My family had been scarred... all but her. Nderitu, Wairimu and I … we would never be the same due to life’s tests we had encountered. It was Wanjiru we wanted to protect. She was unscathed, pure and full of life. She would carry our father’s name a distant further.
I released her with a smile and watched as she placed her small hand on my belly. “Even the baby is happy,” she said.
“It’s God’s plan,” I said happily. “God will show me the way. He will never desert me. If God be for us…”
“Who can be against us?” Wanjiru finished the Bible quote.
I was the religious one in our family. It had started at the Convent with the Sisters and had stayed with me. Walking with God felt like magic. He was a friend I could talk to anytime, a Father I could turn to in times of need. I talked to Wanjiru about God and sometimes took her to church. She had many questions and found God to be a huge mystery.
“What did Martin say? Are you guys going to get married now?” Wanjiru asked hesitantly.
I sighed and my face fell. She saw it and panicked. I left her and walked outside and into the kitchen. I poured myself a cup of water from the five gallon drum and drank noisily. My eyes browsed over the shelf as I drank, picking out the tins of Blueband and Kimbo. The smell of smoke was strong here and I knew Wanjiru had just killed the fire. It was my ultimate dream, to get married to Martin. As a young girl, I had dreamt of walking down the aisle with little flower girls flanking me. In my dream, I wore a white dress that swept the floor behind me. Above me, the music sweetened the air and softly touched the happy faces of the people.
“I told Martin this morning about the baby,” I said, walking back into the living room. “He didn’t say much because he had to rush back to his law firm; something about a big case he was working on. We agreed to meet for lunch at the Oasis Fish and Chips but he never showed up. I hope he’s okay.”
“How dare he…” Wanjiru couldn’t finish the sentence. She was furious. I had seen her angry many times before. She was beautiful until she got mad and then none of us could reach her. “He’s going to hear from me when I see him. You told him you were carrying his baby and he left you sitting by yourself in a restaurant?”
“Actually… it was worse,” I said closing my eyes. “I didn’t have money and when I couldn’t pay, they made me peel potatoes in the kitchen.”
“What?” Wanjiru started pacing the small room with clenched fists. “I can’t believe this Wangechi. I knew there was something wrong with that man. What’s more important than a baby? You can never go back to him sister. You hear me?”
I heard her, but tried to find reason and focus beyond the pain. “Don’t blame him sister. We don’t know where he was. This was fate. It was how I got the job.”
“How?” Wanjiru placed both hands on her waist and watched me.
“I helped them in the kitchen to pay for my meal and the manager, Mr. Njuguna liked me. They told me to take trash through the back door and when I didn’t run away they were very impressed by my personality.”
“Oh Wangechi!” Wanjiru hugged me again. “You are always the nicest in our family. It’s why everybody loves you so much. And finally it has paid off.”
I smiled and enjoyed the compliment. It felt different for once. Many times I had been told I was too nice and people took advantage of me because I didn’t know how to say no. I was quick to avoid confrontations and always kept my head down. Wairimu my older sister had called it my weakness. She was the strongest of us girls and liked putting people in their place, as she called it.
“I am a Ribiru,” I said in a strong voice. “I am my father’s daughter.”
I warmed up some leftover ugali and sukuma wiki and felt my energy ebb back as I ate. Eating in the kitchen was something we did subconsciously. It was where we had sat with our parents as children. It was where we felt close to them.
"You know what I will do with my first pay cheque?" I said, mouth full of food.
"What's that?" Wanjiru pulled a stool next to me in the kitchen.
"I will buy flour and we will make chapatis all day."
"With chicken?" Wanjiru's eyes brightened.
"Yes, and anything else you want."
"And then eventually we will afford a black and white TV and a car battery to run it," Wanjiru added.
I laughed. Buying a TV was a little ambitious but hey, why not. "It will be nice to watch news at home," I said looking wistful. Most importantly, I would try to save money so Wanjiru could go to university.
We chatted all afternoon with Wanjiru about my new job and the new Kenya. The white man with all his ego had tried to settle down in Africa and build an empire. He had failed. God had allowed his people to suffer for a reason. It was suffering that brought the people together and made them desire for a better life.
There was power inside me. I felt like I had reached the Promised Land. With a paycheck not far away, my eyes were suddenly opened to endless possibilities and the world looked beautiful. Buildings in Nyeri Town were now more than just buildings: they were fancy shops full of designer clothes; they were golden brown chickens roasting on the grill, they were banks I could walk into ... the life I desired within grasp.
At 3pm, Wanjiru and I fed the cows and the chickens, then left the house to go and call our older sister Wairimu and give her the good news. Wairimu had become a primary school teacher after her secondary school education, and was married with two children. She lived in a lovely farm in Tetu where they grew small food crops and kept milk cows. Wairimu had been the most outgoing of us all, and the most rebellious. While living in Nairobi as a young girl, she had ventured into every night club, tasted all kinds of liquor and dated a dozen men. It was strange to see her confined to a simple life away from the luxuries of the city.
We walked for five kilometres to Gatanga Primary school where a black phone hanged on the wall. One had to use coins to call. It had been stolen once and we were lucky the chief had replaced it. Now it was protected with a metal grid.
“Hi,” Wanjiru said into the black receiver. “Can I speak to Wairimu Ribiru?”
“I will send for her,” a man’s voice said.
The man who had answered the phone was a shopkeeper in a shop near my sister's village. He would send a kid down the hill to call our sister and then Wairimu would call us back. In the meantime, we guarded the phone and prayed no one would show up and ask to use it.
The phone rang fifteen minutes later and Wanjiru answered it. “Hi Wairimu, how are you? I’m here with Wangechi?”
I leaned forward and tried to listen in on the conversation.
“How are the kids?” Wanjiru asked.
I looked behind me and saw a small boy with a dirty face selling peanuts in a tray. There was hardly anyone to sell to and I knew the boy had been walking all day.
“Wangechi got a job today!” I heard Wanjiru saying. “Yes. It’s quite a remarkable story. She was supposed to meet Martin for lunch and…”
The boy walked up to me and offered to sell me some peanuts. I shook my head and watched the dejected boy walk away. I turned and Wanjiru handed the phone to me.
“Hi Wairimu,” I said as I wriggled around my sister. I could picture my older sister clearly; a five month baby girl on her back and a two year old boy running circles around her. She had married at an early age.
“Congratulations Wangechi," Wairimu said firmly. "Now all you have to do is get rid of that boyfriend. He is going to hurt you.” My older sister never wasted time to drive a point home.
“How are you Wairimu?" I tried to change the topic.
“I know you heard what I just said Wangechi. You are too nice and that guy is taking advantage of you. You must get rid of him!”
“It’s not that easy," I said. "We are talking about the father of my baby?”
I had started nurturing dreams of a little son, of feeding and cherishing him till he grew into a handsome boy. And in the dreams, I had seen a man – a father figure... Martin.
“Yes, but a father is more than blood,” Wairimu said, pushing. “If he can’t be there for you then you must drop him. Did he promise to take care of the baby?”
“No. But we were supposed to meet and talk…”
“My point exactly.” Wairimu sighed and I pictured the angry lines on her face. She was the toughest of us and had played men around like toys, promising them the world and giving them nothing. Her strong beauty had lured them over and her strong personality had left them on their knees. The news that she was settling down had come as a shock to all who knew her. And then, she had pulled it off to become a lovely and devoted wife. “Listen to me Wangechi,” she said in a soft voice. “When I told my husband I was pregnant, he swept me into his arms and literally cried with joy. The following month, I met his parents and we agreed to move in together. That’s called love and that’s what men do when they want to have a family with you. Your man Martin is playing you. I know you don’t want to hear this but I have to tell you as a big sister. Let him go before he hurts you.”
“God will not let me down,” I said in a small voice. If God be for us, who can be against us?
I felt a sad tag and didn’t like the direction the conversation had taken. None of them knew Martin the way I did. He was sweet and smart, a lawyer in a prestigious firm. We had been together for a few months and he had treated me like a queen. He had taken me to the museum and ... and we held hands just like people did in the movies. Martin loved me. He had not told me so but I could see it in his eyes.
“Have you heard from our brother?” I asked, desperate to change the topic.
Wairimu sighed in resignation. “No. I’ve tried to ask around, but nobody knows where Nderitu is.”
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...