When Katana’s parent’s died from cancer, she went to live with her aunt in the village. At first, life was warm and she was showered with a lot of sympathy and support. But by the end of the first year, life became very hard and her aunt started mistreating her. At the age of sixteen, Katana pursed her lips and recognized the mistreatment in silence. Two more years and she would be eighteen years old. Old enough to graduate from high school and move out of her aunt’s homestead.
On Saturday, at the crack of dawn, Katana carried a red pot on her head and headed down the hill to fetch water in the river. It was cold and scary but she was used to it. She got back home around 7am, milked the cow and prepared tea and sweet potatoes for the family’s breakfast. Her aunt ate in silence and watched her with a lot of interest. “We have visitors in the evening,” she said. “Don’t worry about chores today. I want you to take a bath and dress up nicely.”
Katana looked surprised. Her aunt had worked her like a slave for many moons and this show of kindness threw her off balance. She walked through the village in a daze wondering what was going on. The gardens were green with crop and banana trees. This land was constantly blessed with rain.
At the edge of the village she found her friend Ngugi herding cows and sat with him. Ngugi was a year older than her; a handsome boy who always talked about going college.
“Hi Katana,” Ngugi said, herding stick in hand. “Shouldn’t you be home doing chores?”
Katana shrugged. “My aunt gave me the day off. She said we have special guests coming for dinner.” Her eyes glanced at the two cows and then settled on her friend. Ngugi’s clothes were old and he was not wearing shoes.
Ngugi furrowed a brow but chose not to pursue the topic. “At least I get to spend time with you. You are always busy. Come sit with me.”
Katana laughed and walked over. “I enjoy talking to you Ngugi. You are not loud like the other boys.”
Ngugi and Katana sat on a rock and watched the cows. They never said it, but they really liked each other. The Kikuyu people did not show their emotions in public and it was unheard off for couples to kiss or hold hands.
That evening, Katana went home and found many people in her aunt’s compound. All were dressed up nicely and the drums sang across the hills. The women danced by twisting their waists, and the people laughed out loudly. After the food was served, two men stood up to address the people. The first man was old, and the second one looked to be in his early thirties. The old man pointed at the younger man and said, “I found this man wondering around looking for a home, and so I brought him here.”
The people giggled and Katana felt her heart drop. This whole evening was beginning to feel familiar. All the girls in the homestead including Katana were called to the front and covered in a brown clothing, from head to feet such that their faces were hidden. The man who was ‘lost’ walked from one girl to the next as though struggling to make a decision. He finally stopped in front of Katana and pulled off the brown cloth to expose Katana’s face. The people clapped and cheered.
The old man walked over and took Katana’s hand. He joined it with the man’s hand and declared that the man had found a home. Katana almost fainted. How? What … what was happening? The sob came as she searched for her aunt. She saw her through the tears and noticed the unmistakable happiness. Her aunt was giving her away for marriage.
That evening around the cooking fire, Katana ate in silence and felt lost. She missed her parents and wished they were still alive.
“I’m sorry Katana,” her aunt said in a sympathetic voice. “It hasn’t been easy having an extra mouth to feed, and Mzee Wachira’s son gave us two cows for your hand.”
“What about school auntie?” Katana finally met her eyes. “I am only sixteen years old.”
“I was married off at the age of thirteen,” her auntie said, and that was the end of the discussion.
That night, Katana lay in bed and cried for a long time. Without education she would never succeed in life and would end up being the wife of an old man with a big belly. She cried for her parents and then cried for herself. And finally when the tears were spent, she just lay there and thought about broken dreams.
At around midnight, there was a scratch on the window - an almost nothing. Katana rose out of curiosity and cracked the wooden window open. Outside was a very familiar face. It was her friend Ngugi.
“Come out!” Ngugi said and motioned urgently with his hand.
Throwing caution to the wind, Katana tiptoed through the house and let herself out. “Ngugi, what is it?”
“We have to run away Katana,” Ngugi said. “I can’t allow you to marry an old man.”
“But where will we go Ngugi?” Katana looked worried.
“It doesn’t matter. I love you Katana.”
Under the moonlight, Katana gazed into Ngugi’s eyes and searched for answers. Behind her in the house, a hurricane lamp flared on.
Ngugi stretched out a hand to her. “Do you trust me?”
She stared at the hand … and then took it. “Y…yes Ngugi. I trust you.”
And just like that, the wheels in Katana’s head clicked and she knew that this was the right thing to do. Leaning towards him, she kissed his cheek and got the satisfaction of seeing his eyes light up. “I love you too Ngugi. I think I have for a long time.”
Ngugi’s face broke into a sheepish smile. The two friends hugged and held each other for a moment.
Behind them, Katana’s home came alive in the form of footsteps. “Who goes there!” A voice called.
Ngugi and Katana did not think twice. They turned and ran like the wind. The dogs backed just as they pushed through a broken gate. A sleepy cow mowed and an owl hooted. They ran down the hill and joined the dirt road. From here they could hear the splashing of the river and the whooshing of the trees. They held hands and ran with the energy of youth. They didn’t know where they were going, but love would find a way.
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...