Of Thunder and Smoke

She remembers the events in a smoke of memory that cannot be dismissed as too blurred. After all, it was her playmates and everything that happened to them left permanent spots on her memory. Fatu had come and said they would be going away. She had asked where, and the other girl had said just away. Far away. That they were going home.

She had wondered whether there had been a world beyond the market of Elureko where her mother sometimes took her when she went to buy panadol for sick chicken. That was the furthest she had known to be away. That was the end of the world. And it didn’t require a lorry to carry anyone there. She had asked her mother if there was another home for anyone else apart from the village where they played at night and basked in the moon. Her mother had only told her to go out and play. She had gotten so upset at the funny thing her friend had said. Perhaps when they grew up, she would ask her why she had lied of a possibility of a home away from this home.

Then the fever to go away had ended the way it had come. And they held hands and  went to school together. They sang behind Mwalimu Ellen during the afternoon lessons when the sun was hot. They lived for sometime. And then Fatu returned with the nonsense news. This time she didn’t want to hear any of the lies. But the other girl was adamant. She said her father had said that someone had said that some people were not needed. And that they were those people. She asked needed by who. And how would they distinguish between those who were those people and those who were not those people when they all looked the same. The other girl could not answer. The next day Fatu and Ebi were not there. She heard a truck rev outside their house and when she came out, only the smoke was what she could see at the corner where the road wound its tail towards the river. She tried to run in trail. But soon she was exhausted and she stopped.

She wonders how their home looks like. She wonders where this world reaches. She wonders if any single person can own a big part of the world like Elureko. Everytime she sees a lorry, she hates the driver because of what she cannot get off her mind. How could they drive away such beautiful souls from her life? She feels alone without Fatu. Fatu was her sister. Fatu was her friend. These days she no longer played. Even when her small sisters shared their toys, she never felt the taste. She sits aloof. She thinks of Fatu. Did she find another friend? Will she come back so they go to school together? It has been many days since. Has she shed her teeth? Did her parents die too? Is there even a world beyond this village and Elureko or the driver plunged them into the river?

She remembers the day people came to her home at night. It was about 8 in the evening. It was her father who responded to the knock and he remained at the door in conversation with the men outside. She couldn’t hear anything because they were whispering. Then her father closed the door and joined them at the table. But it didn’t take long before the men returned. They didn’t knock. They entered past the family into her parents’ bedroom. She could hear them overturning the bed and breaking their wooden box. They came to the sitting room, checked under the table and under chairs. Then they had gone away. She had wondered why her father had not stood to defend her and her mother.

She wishes her mother could die today. She’d have taught her how to cook and sit and walk like a girl. She’d have taught her how to sew clothes for the family and even make some money. She’d have taught her how to be a good girl and avoid flies. If her mother died today, she would die having taught her how to live like an orphan. How to run away and eat from the food thrown away at Elureko. She hears her small sisters play. She hears them call her to join them. She cannot.


Child of war
Child of war

She remembers how her mother died: It was Small Father who came with them. It was not many days after Father’s death. They grabbed her by her hair and hit her head on the wall. They kept asking why she had betrayed them. They said she had told people to come kill Father. I knew they were lying. Mother had loved father and me. I remember she had refused to eat anything after Father was buried behind our house. Now I was confused.
They beat her up. She cried. She bled. But they still beat her up. I couldn’t take it anymore. I jumped onto Small Father and bit his leg. He slapped me hard until I fell on the ground. I urinated. I couldn’t get energy to defend her again. One of the men drew a long knife and handed it to Small Father. He pulled Mother onto her feet by gripping her hair. Then he drove the brutal thing into her chest. It came out from her back. She threw her legs and hands. Then she died.
Small Father took me and told me he’d take care of me. He said I was now his daughter. He bought me good things and I played with my new our children. During the days that he didn’t go away to defend House, he would come and play with me and our children and say my father was proud of me. He would carry me on his shoulders and tell Small Mother not to give me a lot of work.

She wishes her father was still alive. To defend her. To take her to school every morning.

It was at night and Father had just come from his night shift at Factory. That night, there was an attack. There was noise all over as people ran. Father took me and Mother to the bedroom. He took the rake he worked with at Factory and told Mother to blow out the kerosene lamp. In that darkness, he kept telling us not to make any sound. Outside, people were wailing. They shrieked in pain. Even cows mowed if fear. Then I heard our door break. I heard feet on the floor. The bedroom door was whacked again and strong beams of light shone into our faces. I felt pain in my eyes. Father was contained even before he used his rake. When the torches shone on him again, he had been subdued. The men were talking in a different language. I heard Mother talk to them. She went to her knees and held the feet of one of the men. I knew she was pleading. But her pleas brought nothing. That night, I saw my father die. He wasn’t beaten. Someone just slithered a knife into his back and it protruded in his chest, opening ways of blood.

The next day, there was ash everywhere. Huts had been burnt. There was still smoke coming from the last thatches. Bodies lay scattered on the paths. Some did not have heads and some did not have hands. Some bodies lay on other bodies. Some faces were recognisable and others were not. I saw the head of the man who roasted maize for us at school. I knew it was him because the large birthmark on his forehead was still there and he was in his usual overalls with the picture of a child the front. I saw bodies of small children. I saw bodies of small girls like me and small boys. All lay scattered and quiet. I couldn’t believe that many people could get silent and immobile like that in just one night.

Many men walked on with bandage on their legs and hands and faces. There was blood everywhere. Small Father was among those who got off it unharmed because I didn’t see any bandage on him. But most of the others limped and cried. That day I saw big men cry. The attackers had injured and burnt. The next few days there were meetings of men because my small brothers told me Small Father was attending them to bring safety. But I needed not safety. I needed anyone to return Father back so I could hold him and ask him questions about Factory.

Her cousins are calling her. They want her to play. They say their mother will beat them if she sees Akwanyi not playing. She hears them call and plead. Now they have given her two dolls. But she doesn’t want dolls. Dolls don’t breathe. She wants her father. She wants her mother. She wants Fatu to come back so she could tell her that their school was burnt down and that they no longer go there. She wants Fatu’s mother to cook the food she used to cook.

She sees things in the smoke they do not see. She doesn’t want to play.

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