My Beloved Country
By Mercy Adhiambo (Kenya)
Click here to send comments
Click here if you'd like to exchange critiques
The candle that was burning in the otherwise dark room cast an eerie shadow of us, huddled in the corner of the room. I moved closer to the woman who was seated next to me to protect myself from the impact of the night’s cold. None of us spoke. We stared on—at nothing. Our gazes were fixed in the empty space; our thoughts occupied with what lay ahead.
“I want my Mama”, a little boy whispered behind me. Silence reigned.
“When will we go back home?” he pressed on. The woman seated next to me muttered something under her breath, then a severe sob rocked her body.
“Your mother is dead”, somebody whispered.
Those words cut the stillness of the night. I felt a lump on my throat and I struggled to hold back my tears.
“Dead…why?” the boy asked in a teary voice.
“She was shot dead”, the voice that had whispered replied.
“But Mama was no thief!” he stammered, and I saw his tears flow.
I reached out for his shaky hand and squeezed it. I looked in the depths of his eyes and I saw innocence. He wiped his tears with the back of his hands, and more flowed.
“Madam, is it true that my mama is dead?” ha asked.
“Yes,” I replied weakly.
There was a sudden tensing in the crowd. The night momentarily held its breath.
“Then take me where Papa and the rest are,” he ‘said.
“They died too,” I said in a low tone.
He breathed heavily and retained his gaze on me. I felt my heart being set ablaze.
“Who shot them?” he asked.
“They were killed after the elections”, I whispered, tightening my hold on his shaky fingers. Tears filled the corner of my eyes.
“Is elections a bad thing?”
“No, it is not”.
“Then why are people shot after elections?”
The question hit me so unprepared. Words froze in my throat. I looked on and said nothing.
“What are we doing here?” he asked. Big tears slid from his eyes.
“We are waiting for the war to subside…for the fighting to cease.” I said.
“When will the war end?” he asked amidst sobs.
“Things will be better soon.” There was uncertainty in my voice.
Suddenly, the night’s silence was interrupted by a thunder of sounds. A shrill scream rent the air, followed by a stampede of feet. We moved closer to one another, and one man rose to go and bolt the door. He secured it by placing several chairs behind it. The rest of us remained spell bound as mothers clutched their babies closer to their stomachs, and most of them wailed openly.
Outside, people were running around, earnestly looking for a place to shelter and escape the night’s terror.
“Please do not kill him”, we heard a child screaming outside.
My heart leapt and I felt blood rushing through my temple. We were on the threshold of death. We were woken up every day by sounds of people screaming and dying, and we fell asleep by the same sounds.
Then, there was a knock at our door; violent knocking.
“Open up!” Somebody yelled.
My stomach lurched and I tightly covered my ears. Children screamed holding anybody close to them while some hid behind the many lockers in the room.
“Open up!” the order was repeated.
“We have done nothing, we are just seeking refuge in this building.” Somebody dared to reply.
The door flew open, letting in a cold rush of wind that blew out the candle flame. There was pitch darkness in the room. For a timeless moment, a hush fell over the room and I felt the love I once had for my country being consumed in flames.
There was commotion all over as people struggled to escape. I did not rise from my sitting position. I smelled petrol fumes. Yes, they were setting the building on fire. I was overcome by a sudden inhuman weariness and I was incapable of thinking of anything at all. My senses were blunted, everything blurred as in a fog and the instinct of self-defense deserted me.
“Are these the people who killed Mama and Papa?” the little boy asked, chocking on the fumes of petrol.
“Maybe,” I replied.
“Why do they want to kill me, I did not go to the Elections!” he added.
His words struck me, and I felt the need to rise up and save him, his innocence, and his future. I used all my remaining strength in carrying him towards the door. People pushed at the door, and several children were tumbled on as we struggled to go out. I saw death, I smelled it, it was drawing nearer and nearer…so close to us.
From a distance, I heard someone whisper my name as I lunged out of the building. It was a relief to breath in fresh air.
The building went up in flames moments later. I heard people scream inside the building, and I swear, I will never forget that night that I stood helplessly watching as my fellow Kenyans were burnt up in the building. A part of me burnt with them; there remained only a shape that looked like me. A dark flame had entered my heart and devoured it. I stopped being me.
I stood staring at the burning building, unable to think or do anything. From the background, I could hear sirens. The Kenya Red Cross Ambulance was coming. It hooted just behind me, but I did not move. I had gone through so much that night, and nothing could scare me anymore. I was not scared of death, in fact, I so longed for it. In one ultimate moment, it seemed to me that we were damned souls, wandering in the half world, souls condemned to die in their prime without achieving their dreams.
The hooting got louder, and I felt somebody push me. I fell heavily on the ground and used all my remaining strength in weeping. Darkness gradually faded, and a new dawn settled. So much had happened within such a short time that I had lost all sense of time.
We started our journey to a safer place that morning. None of us spoke of the events of the night. One woman took her dead baby and tied it safely on her back. By the time we were leaving, wild dogs had began hovering around the place, waiting to make a meal out of the dead bodies. We walked on, and many women wailed and screamed in hopelessness.
That night marked the beginning of our hopelessness. We walked on, not knowing when to stop. I regretted having gone to the ballot box. Life has many twist s and turns, very ironic indeed, we had gone to the ballot boxes, all so hopeful and happy for the country, and here we were, now homeless and hopeless, waiting for redemption, a redemption that seemed so far and out of our reach…I turned and looked at the woman whop was carrying her dead baby on her back. Her gaze was fixed far ahead and she neither talked nor cried.
“Things will be better soon, she whispered to me. Those were the same words I had told the little boy who had lost both his parents in the war. I reached for her hand, and we let our tears flow. We cried for ourselves, for the little boy, for the dead baby on her back, and for our beloved country Kenya.