Inside the hearth of darkness in Shakahola

What was it like for a mother of twins watching life ebb away?

In Summary

• County has been making the headlines for all the wrong reasons over cultic church

• This piece recreates the dying moments of a victim through the power of imagination

Illustration of people dying
Illustration of people dying

She called out for the umpteenth time. This time, she did so without her tongue. The sun had been gone for close to two or so hours. She used her womb to call them. There is a voice in womb vibrations that only mothers use. It is one of the mystical telepathic powers they possess as special beings of creation. She had used it several times when both her children were in her belly.

Those times, her belly was rotund and full. They would respond with kicks or even turnings akin to that of the ugali she adores moulding and then mauling with her husband. Her husband. The thoughts of him sent reverberations down her brittle spine. How she missed him now.

She thought of how he must have looked for her and the kids across the entire land of Bungoma without a clue. The last time she called him and broke her SIM card into pieces, he had sobbed like their kids. It was May Day. He was at home and claimed he had not touched ugali for two months as he always stays by the hearthstone, staring at the bamboo gate for their return. Alone. Forlon.

She stared at the gate that was the entire black sky of night now. The night sky of here in Kilifi was different from that near Mount Elgon. One could see creatures of the sea nearby wander the plains high above. This particular night had a deep sense of foreboding for two reasons.

One. The crickets of here that sing in strange tongues were silent to the last one. Usually, they engage in a duel of noise with mosquitoes the size of Nyayo beans. Their decibels soar into this thick thicket and beyond. Their songs outdo the thumping of the heart and become like wax made of nothing in the ears of people here.

Tonight, not even the mosquitoes were on the loose. Something quite indescribable was on the loose. She could feel it even as her twisted intestines begged her again to rise up from her makuti mat and hunt for food. 

The hearthstone was two hands away, where she had placed her twins earlier in the day to rest, before she, too, collapsed and passed out, hunger holding her in close embrace. It is the twins that she was calling in an alternate manner.

First, she called Wangamati then she called Lusaka. She repeated their names at intervals of about 17 minutes or as her frail parched throat of pain would permit. Silence was the answer. She remembered Jesus from time to time and called on his name with her Bukusu accent.

She occasionally called the name of her spiritual leader Apostle Pieni Makesi, who people simply called Nabii. This land that he had offered as a new Jerusalem for the thousands who loved him was free. It was the second thing she had ever gotten freely ever since she was born. The first one was free primary education offered by the serikali of Kibaki. She did not go beyond it. She called the names of Nabii and his voice was silent, yet in the preceding weeks here far away from the sanctuary in town, she used to hear him always, in her mind, in baobab trees and even in the flapping wings of lapwings and owls.

Two weeks earlier, she had finally received her breakthrough. It was one of those Sundays where the man of God was in high spirits. He had come adorned in overflowing robes the colour of the national banner. He had asked all to lift up their prayer virakas of white hue. This time round, it is her own and that of two neighbours where she sat that had turned black.

People of this sanctuary recognised black as the fountain of light. They loved the colour. The church carried it in the name Tabernacle of Black People Ministries, or simply TBPM. They came from across the counties of Kenya and even countries of Africa to watch this prophet do things.

His sermons were beamed to the entire world, actually. His TV station is popular even with those who don't understand English and Kiswahili, the main languages of sermons here.

The neighbour to her left, whose kiraka cha maono turned black too, was from Zaire. He spoke broken Swahili but mostly used French. It is him who had guided her to Chakahola, where the new Jerusalem awaited those whose visions had finally come through. It is these ones who got a direct ticket to dwell on the vast 1,000 acre land owned by the sanctuary. The sanctuary itself sat in the centre of a big town in Kilifi county.

The new Jerusalem was rural but unlike the rural village in western Kenya where she had left her husband of 10 years abruptly. The twins kept telling her in their first days here to return them to places of light. They meant the town of the sanctuary by the big sea or perhaps they meant Naitiri in Bungoma, their home village, which had potholed but tarmacked roads and power, even when rationed it was per village per week. She egged them on in their walk of faith, each with a new bandanna of black cut out of her kiraka cha maono.

The taller one, Wangamati, was the stubborn one. He was a photocopy of his father. She remembered him the most now. She called his name more than that of his brother. She called him again. Silence. Wangamati. Silence. Wanga. Silence. Mati. Wa. Silence. 

Hours beget hours, night sires midnight and more hours of darkness. Black remained the ambience. Black remained the hearth. Black remained the presence around her as her voice finally deserted her. She thought she was about to pass out again.

A new feeling had creeped unto her. It was not dizziness. It was not that near-vomit one. It was the feeling of solitude. It might have been what the Christ felt a few minutes after he called out to God, in vain. She felt her womb weep as the call it had made had returned unanswered. Where the twins rested in the black light of past midnight hours, hours after she put them there and collapsed then blacked out, in this newly made wattle and makuti shack, in the heart of Chakahola kichakas, was calm.

Silence hoovered in the air real and silent like the owls that stared at the three from the tree by the door, an ancient baobab the size of a cattle boma. Silence. Minutes of silence. Hours even. She extended her feeble hand towards the fruits of her womb. She scratched the sandy soil helter skelter, the armband with colours of Kenya, slipped effortlessly from her wrist to the land. She wrapped her fingers around it, faintly.

She collapsed. 

From a faraway place, deep inside of her, a place without a name, a place of void, a place without colours, in a distance she could not understand anymore, not at all, she thought she had the voice of men, dogs and a vehicle. Summoning the last iota of energy in arteries of her heart in darkness, she died. Did she?

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