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The Journey to Freedom

By Mercy Adhiambo (Kenya)


 

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Akinyi rocked baby Otis gently on her laps, praying inwardly that he would fall asleep. Her patience was slowly running out and the sound of Baby Otis laughing playfully was beginning to irritate her. It was obvious that he was not going to sleep soon. She patted his back gently in rhythm to the lullaby that she was singing. It was a slow song and it sounded more like a dirge than a lullaby.
The baby’s eyes searched her face — It was expressionless. He reached for her hair and tugged hard. She raised her hand as if to hit him, and the baby let out a loud yell.
“Hush! The hyenas will hear you and come to eat you up,” she whispered to her crying baby.
This made him cry even louder.
Akinyi sighed in exasperation. She knew that her husband was almost coming home and he would give her a thorough beating if he found his food not ready. She remembered how he had beaten her two weeks ago for not preparing food on time and had it not been her brother in law’s intervention, he would have probably killed her.
The thought made her spring into action. She hastily placed baby Otis on a mat that was spread under the mango tree next to her hut. The baby clung to her skirt and cried. She looked at him and felt tears stinging her eyes. She wished she could carry him and play with him for as long as he wanted, but her husband would not hear of that. He always said that children should not be carried, as this would spoil them. He had never carried baby Otis ever since he was born, and anytime he found Akinyi carrying the baby, he would threaten to send her back to her people.
“Let me go and cook for you,” Akinyi said to baby Otis, trying to loosen his grip from her skirt.
The baby held on more tightly making Akinyi hold her skirt against her waist to prevent it from falling. She forced herself free from the baby’s grip, and the impact was too great, and he fell heavily on his back.
His cries were lost to her as she entered the kitchen. For a timeless moment, she stood in her dark kitchen, wondering what to do. There was a heap of unsplit firewood in the corner of her kitchen. She dragged one heavy log to the compound and went to borrow an axe from her neighbour Nyaseme.
Baby Otis having seen her began to cry. She paid no attention to him, and increased her pace towards her neighbour’s hut. A strange feeling came over her. She felt a sudden hatred for everything. She missed her mother and sisters. She wished she could go back home.
Tears filled her eyes and she struggled hard to fight them. She reached Nyaseme’s house and found a huge padlock on Nyaseme’s door. Her mood soured. She was sure her husband would not understand. She had to act fast.
She decided to run to her friend Nyaduse’s house. She would give her the axe, and she might even give her some of her split firewood. Nyaduse lived in the neighboring  village and there was a river separating their villages.
She ran, and not once did she stop, until she reached the river. She plunged into the ice-cold water and walked across. The water had risen and it was almost reaching her shoulders. She had crossed the river so many times before, those days before she had gotten married. Those days that seemed so far…
Akinyi found Nyaduse seated by the door when she arrived. She tried to smile, but the sight of her best friend lowered her defenses. The tears that she had stoically held back came tumbling.
“What is the matter Akinyi, are your people fine?” Nyaduse asked in alarm.
A severer sob rocked her. She could not find words to express herself. She hugged her friend tightly, and more of her tears flowed.
Nyaduse wondered what had happened to her friend. They had been so close and had even shared a locker in standard three, a year before Akinyi got married.
“Nyaduse, it is my husband. He treats me so bad.” She managed to say amidst sobs.
Nyaduse felt pity for her friend. She was barely two years into her marriage and she had shed so much weight.
Akinyi was her age-mate. They were both fourteen years old, but Akinyi’s father had married her off to the richest fisherman in the area. His wife had just died, and Akinyi’s father had thought that she would make a good wife to the fisherman.
He had personally gone to the fisherman’s house two nights after the death of his wife and told him that he had a mature girl who would make a good wife to him.
Three weeks after the visit, Akinyi was taken to the fisherman’s house. Her friends had really envied her. Most of them had said openly that they would have loved to trade places with her, and Akinyi had felt a tinge of excitement and pride. But today as she stood before her friend, there remained only an empty shell of her former self.
“Nyaduse, I came to borrow an axe, I left baby Otis all by himself. I have to leave soon.” There was urgency in her voice, and Nyaduse understood.
She gave her the axe and made her promise that she would come back soon. As she turned to leave, Nyaduse noticed her grief-stricken face and realized that she looked older.
“Bye,” she whispered, placing the axe on her shoulder, and with that, she turned to go.
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“Where have you been woman?” Akinyi’s husband shouted when she appeared in the vicinity.
Her heart leapt.
“I had gone to borrow an axe,” she muttered.
Her husband looked at her menacingly. Time seemed to stand still.
“Axe! For one hour! Didn’t you know that you have a baby?” he yelled, and his eyes bulged in anger.
Baby Otis screamed in fear. As her husband drew closer to her, Akinyi threw the axe on the ground.
He grabbed her by the collar and rained blows on her. He pulled her closer and hit her on the head. He slapped her hard across the face and she spat blood.
She screamed for help, but he did not let her go. He kicked her heavily on the stomach. The pain was unbearable. He kicked her over and over and she tossed and turned on the dusty ground as dust covered her hair.
Baby Otis screamed even louder. Neighbours assembled around them, and it was then that her husband gave her a final kick and walked away.
The pain in her stomach was piercing. She held her stomach and cried in pain. An old woman in the crowd helped her rise, and they noticed the blood in her skirt. She was bleeding heavily.
“Were you heavy with child?” The woman asked her, but she did not reply. Her vision became blurred.
She heard her son’s cry in what seemed to be a far distance. And that cry, it was a long sad cry, meant he was mourning.
“She has had a miscarriage, she was one month pregnant,” somebody said.
Those words struck her. They droned on and on in her ears. She felt bitterness strike her. Her husband was a murderer. He had killed her baby. Yes, he had killed her baby. He had killed the tomorrow that she was carrying in her womb.
“Arise, let us go”, somebody said from the crowd. There was meaning in those words—she had to rise. With difficulty, she stood and limped towards her hut. Somebody reached for her shoulders to support her but she pushed the hands away. She wanted everybody to see that she was strong.
With blood trickling down her legs, she walked and picked Baby Otis from the ground. She did not wash herself. She had the lingering fear that her husband might find her and try stopping her from liberating herself. There was no time to take a shower.
She tied Baby Otis securely on her back and left. She did not take anything with her. She did not want anything that would remind her of the past—she was getting into the future.
Barefoot, with her baby on her back, she started the journey towards her freedom.
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Nyaduse wept bitterly when she saw her friend. Her skirt was stained with blood and the baby on her back was weighing heavily on her, making her walk with a stoop. She fell on Akinyi’s feet and shed tears.
Akinyi also cried. They were not the first ones she was shedding since she was married, but they were the first she was shedding for the girl child.
Then, Nyaduse took Baby Otis from Akinyi’s back and took him into the house.
“He is hungry”, Akinyi whispered wiping her tears.
“I will give him porridge; go and wash yourself, I will give you clothes to change”, Nyaduse replied.
After feeding, the baby fell asleep, and then Akinyi narrated to Nyaduse what had happened. Both of them had their eyes in tears when Akinyi said that she had suffered a miscarriage.
Nyaduse noticed that Akinyi’s face was ashen. She had lost so much blood and needed immediate treatment. She ran to their farm where her mother was planting potatoes and informed her that Akinyi needed help. Together they took her to Nyanam Dispensary, leaving Otis with Nyaduse’s eldest sister.
Akinyi was admitted as an in-patient in the dispensary and word was sent to her father that she was ill.
He came immediately and the sight of his daughter lying helplessly on the bed set his heart ablaze.
“She is asleep, she is so tired”, Nyaduse’s mother broke the silence.
He did not reply. He just nodded and sighed. Heavy silence reigned. Akinyi’s father sat on a stool beside Akinyi’s bed and buried his face in his palms.
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When Akinyi woke up, she was surrounded by so many people.
“How are you feeling now”, her father asked with concern in his voice.
“Better”, Akinyi replied.
“I am sorry for what happened, I wish I knew”, her father said.
Akinyi felt a wave of mixed emotions. She could hardly believe that her father was apologizing.
“I do not know what I can do to…”he started.
“Take me to back to school.” Akinyi interrupted.
Her words were heavy; her determination was solid.
“You want to go back to school?” Her father asked.
“Yes Baba”, she replied.
Her father informed her that her husband was being held by the chief for assaulting her.
“He murdered my baby, he shattered my dream, he crashed my life, he stole my innocence…” she said.
“You will go to school as soon as you are well”, her father said, squeezing her hand.
“I am going to be a writer, and I will write to fight for the girl child”, Akinyi said.
Tears stinged her eyes. She could not hold them back. They were her tears of freedom. A cold wind blew across the room—the wind of liberation—and she felt a new feeling that has remained up to now. The feeling of freedom.

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