Bittersweet

The rain got heavier and he had to stop driving. The way was dark and the heavy drops of rain fell on the windscreen of the car, distracting his view. I was seated on the co-driver’s seat. I had adjusted the chair so that I could lie down and have a rest. It had been a long journey to Kapkoros sub-parish and back. It was located at the farthest end of the parish, at the border of Kericho and Kisumu region. The place was abandoned. Heavy bushes covered most of the terrain. The roads there were almost impassable during dry season due to dust and impassable during rainy seasons due to gullies and trenches formed by gushing water.

I had gone with him, to act as a mass servant. He was a new priest. Freshly ordained. Young and vibrant. He was youthful and his sermons were touching. He had a deep voice and a bright smile. He was tall. His brown skin shone in the sun. He had a way of persuading people to come to church. He was one of the reasons why the church was experiencing a swelling congregation. He came as a break to the boring, orthodox and strict parish priest. Nobody would have thought any ill about him.

We clicked the first day we met. His bright white eyes shone into mine and I knew I had found a spiritual guardian. I was happy to know him. We had first met when I was in form 3 when he was still a deacon. The whole school loved him. He was tender and caring. Since I was in a mission school, we met every time we attended mass. I was an active congregant; a liturgical dancer, mtoto misa and a choir member. Since then we became inseparable. He the master and I a faithful servant.

We sat in the car waiting for the rain to stop. There was an awkward silence. We had nothing to talk about. He was in his thirties and I was seventeen. He suddenly turned and looked at me. I had never seen that look in his eyes. He looked at me like a child would look at a candy that he is eager to devour. I didn’t know what to do, so I smiled at him. He placed his hand on my thigh. That was an unexpected move. I hit his hand away. He again placed his hand on my thigh. This time a little higher. I tried to slap it away but he held my hand with his free hand. I was in a skirt. My mother had forbidden us to wear trousers and my father wouldn’t even stand the thought of it. Wearing trouser, to them, was a sign of immorality. I no longer wore petticoats and biker shorts inside. That was considered ushamba. Petticoats were left for the country girls and elderly women.

The rain was getting heavier. The drops of rain continuously hit the tinted windows of the car making it hard to see outside. His other hand reached for my blouse. I was at the peak of adolescence. My breasts were full. They looked like ripe mangoes. I tried to fight him off but my energy failed me. For a moment I tried to open the door but it was locked. I scratched and bite, but it seemed the pleasure he got was more than the pain I inflicted on him. His hand was now under my skirt, on my upper thigh. I felt naked. My thighs were exposed and my blouse unbuttoned. He opened his zip, and came on top of me. I didn’t want to see it. I tightly closed my eyes and bit my lips. He used his free hand to force my legs apart. Then I felt an excruciating pain between my thighs. I bit him on the chest with all the energy I had. I scratched his back. The rain seemed to be getting heavier. Its drops hit the roof harder and submerged my screams.  As if it was aware of my anger and struggle. Then darkness.

“Where am I?” I wondered. The car was moving. The rain had cleared. The clouds too were clearing. Leaving a clear bright sky.

“I was worried you were not going to get up.” He told me when I fully regained consciousness.

“Why would you care if I got up or not,” I asked him angrily.

“You should have told me you were still a fresh flower,” he said smiling. “I would have taken it easy on you.”

I looked away. I couldn’t stand him. The faithful shepherd had turned to devour his flock. We had left the murram road and joined the main road, leading to the parish. This man had just done the unthinkable and there he was joking about it. He had deflowered me. I hated him with all the love I had for him. Passion turned to spite and respect to disrespect.

“What will I tell Z?” I sank in thoughts. Z was my boyfriend. He was a 2nd year student at a university. We had never gone beyond kissing and fondling. I had promised that I would give him my virginity on my 18th birthday. We talked a lot. We had even planned our future family. He was 22 years old. Witty and intelligent. I loved him since he never gave me pressure to sleep with him. He told me he can wait till I am ready. Even if it meant waiting till our wedding day. Now I had nothing more to offer him as a sign of my love for him.

I did not notice that we had already arrived at the parish house.

“It seems today you want to sleep in the car?” he asked. “Stop brooding like a chicken.”

This brought me back from my thoughts. I felt a spasm of pain between my legs as I spread my legs to alight. It was a routine for me to take a meal at the parish house before I went home but today I was not in the mood. I did not want to see his face again, even if it meant not going to church.

Karibu ndani,” his faithful cook invited me in.

Leo siingi,” I told him, feigning a smile. I had to rush to get home. I didn’t want to find my mother home. I didn’t want her to see my tear-stained cheeks and my scared eyes.

Tuonane,” he told me.

“Sawa,” I answered. Knowing well that was the last time he was going to see me.

I walked home slowly. Carefully watching my steps. I didn’t want to inflict more pain on my already hurt genitals. I was never going to tell anyone. “I will keep it to myself. How was I going to tell my mother? She had warned me time and again against going to out-stations with him. Especially if there was no one else accompanying us,” I thought.

I got to the house at around 4pm. My mother wasn’t yet in from Bible study. My younger brother was out playing football and the rest of my siblings were in boarding schools. The house help had gone gossiping with her colleagues. I had the whole house to myself. I went directly to my bed and nursed my broken soul, trust and virginity.

The pain between my legs did not subside until two days later. I was lucky that my mother was never home. She left for work early and came back late in the evening.

Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. I didn’t notice that I had missed my periods. It was not a big deal because they were yet to be regular. I started experiencing nausea, dizziness and fatigue. “Malaria,” I thought. I was mistaken. The symptoms did not go away even after taking a full dose of fansidar. I started eating a lot and sleeping.

One morning my mother came to my bedroom. She was ready to leave for work but she insisted that she had to talk to me. For those who know my mother, know that her morning talks are usually a sign of trouble.

“You are pregnant,” she said.

“I don’t know.”

“I am not asking, I am telling you.” She continued, “Who is responsible?”

“I don’t know.”

I could see hurt in her eyes. She felt that she had failed as a mother. I pitied her. People can be cruel. Especially to mothers. Being a small town, I knew the news of my pregnancy would spread fast once it starts showing.

“Is it Z?” That obviously would be her first guess. Nobody believed that a boy and a girl could have a relationship without having sex. It is only in the villages and small towns where you get pregnant by walking with a man.

I shook my head to indicate he was not.

“Is it Ben?” Ben was a good friend of mine and he was from the wealthiest family in the town. He used to buy me lunch when I was alone at the canteen. He had expressed his interest in me but I declined. The first reason was because of Z and the second was because he was academically challenged, having dropped from school in form one.

I again shook my head indicating that it was not.

“Is it the priest?” she asked.

“How did she know?” I wondered. She must have guessed since we used to spend a lot of time together. I remained still. I didn’t say a word or make a movement.

“Did he force you?”

I said no. I didn’t know why I protected him. Up to now I have never understood why. Maybe I was afraid of how the society would take it. People always find a way of blaming the victim. I remember when I was in primary 7, one of my classmates was raped by a man and instead for campaigning for the arrest of the rapist, they all said that she wanted it. Why was she walking in a lone path late in the evening? Why was she wearing a knee length skirt with nothing inside except the panty? They asked.

Nilijua tu, na nikakukataza.” My mother said in anger. “Asiyeskia la mkuu huvunjika guu.”

She then called one of her friends to ask for the priest’s number. I didn’t know why she didn’t ask me and I had it. May be she thought I would lie to her. After she got it she called the priest.

“How are you, father?” she started calmly.

It was two months since the incidence and I had never set my foot in church. I always found an excuse for not going. I had heard that the priest had been transferred to the neighbouring parish after being caught in the act with a married woman. The parishioners were baying for his blood. “It serves him right,” I had thought.

After a short silence, my mother continued, “My daughter is pregnant and she says it is yours.”

She waited for the response from the other side then I heard her say, “I don’t crucify you, don’t act innocent to me as if I don’t know you. Don’t quote the scriptures for me; even the devil can do that.” Her voice was rising in anger.

She angrily hung up phone. She was like a tigress defending her cub. She then turned to me and asked, “What are you going to do?”

“I will keep it,” I said quietly.

“Are you ready for the responsibility and shame?”

I nodded my head and said, “Better the shame of keeping the pregnancy than the guilt of abortion.”

When she left for work, I called Z and broke up with him. He was at the university. He wanted me to wait for him to come home and talk but I refused. I didn’t want to see his heart break. I then prepared myself to go to the canteen. My mother had opened up a food canteen at the Administration Police camp and I was the one managing it.

The pregnancy was growing and the bump started showing. I was a walking shame. A walking proof of immorality. I had made a lot of friends at the canteen. Brian was one of them. He was caring and loving. He would take me for walks in the evenings. He had heard that pregnant women need to exercise. It wasn’t a surprise that he was the first suspect.

One fine morning as I was walking to the canteen through the shopping center, I heard a group of women which was in front of me talking. I couldn’t help but eavesdrop.

Eti mtoto wa Mati ako na ball?” Mama Nora asked. She was a mama mboga. Nothing escaped her ears. She knew everything that went around town. She knew which woman was beaten by her husband at night, which one slept hungry and who was caught having sex in the plantations. Her vegetable stall is like an information center, whatever you want to know, just ask her.

“Mati mgani?” Edna asked.

“Mati Agnes.” The first speaker answered. They called my mother mati, a short form of matron for she was a matron at the only girl’s secondary school around.

“Na vile anajifanya mkristu. Si I thought she was joining university.”

“Ball ni ya nani?” another one wanted to know who was responsible for the pregnancy.

“I am sure si ya my brother,” Edna said. She was Z’s sister. She hated my relationship with his brother. No wonder she was quick to get her brother out of any blame.

“I think ni ya Brayo,” another answered.

“No it is not. I think it is Ben’s.”

Enyewe, it could be. You see the way they are close.”

“I think it is Muriuki’s,” another one joined in.

I kept walking behind them, enjoying the conversation. I would let them speculate. I was not going to let anyone know whose the pregnancy was. Muriuki was an AP. Fresh recruit. A happy and carefree soul. He used to be the District Commissioner’s driver. Every time he saw me, he would hug me and kiss my baby bump. Every morning he would come into the canteen and ordered chapo mayai or mkate mayai and tea. Then he would call me to eat with him. This made him join the list of suspects.

“May be she doesn’t even know who is responsible,” Sarah joined in. The others laughed.

Sarah was my neighbour. Her mother worked with my mother. I always thought she was jealous of me, but I never thought she would make such a statement about me. She had dropped in form two after being impregnated by a classmate. When she delivered, her parents could not take her back to school since two of her younger siblings had already joined high school. I had passed my high school exams and had attained a good grade that guaranteed a direct intake to a public university. I was among the few girls who managed to successfully go through secondary education. My classmates and age mates had dropped to either get married or due to pregnancy.

They suddenly stopped talking when they saw me behind them.

Habari zenu?” I greeted them with a smile and walked past them. I could hear their laughter and giggles behind me.

Hahaha uuu, dunia kuna mambo,” I heard one of them say.

I wondered why women were always their own enemy. I remembered how I had helped Sarah babysit when she gave birth. She got an infection and was bedridden for weeks. Her mother went to work and they couldn’t afford a house help. I remembered how I changed the baby nappies and washed her. But she seemed not to remember my kindness to her. She joined the market women to gossip about me. Why couldn’t they be like Philip, Muruiki, Brian and Ben? These men never left me alone. They pampered me as if I was carrying their child. To them I was a precious egg and had to be handled with care.

Nine months passed without much drama, except a few gossips, rumours and speculations about the paternity of my baby. Everybody made their guess but none of them ever guessed right. I attended pre-natal clinic every month without fail. I had gained a lot of weight and looked more beautiful and healthier. One day, on the ninth month of pregnancy, I felt a sharp pain in my lower abdomen. I took panadol advance tablets and rested. The pain did not go away. It kept coming at intervals. I waited for my mother to come home. I explained to her what I felt and she rushed me to hospital in a friend’s car.

The labour pains persisted. I stayed in the hospital, waiting to deliver, for four days I laboured in pain. For a moment I thought God was mad at me. I saw women come in, deliver after few hours of labour then discharged. I was tired of the hospital environment, the labour ward to be specific. I was tired of hearing the wailing of pregnant mothers and insults of nurses. I wanted a break. I told my mother, who was always at my bedside, to take me to my aunt who lived near the hospital.

We were eating supper at my aunt’s place when I felt a string of fluid trickle down my legs.

“I have soiled my clothes,” I said to my aunt.

“The water has burst,” she told my mother.

They rushed me to hospital. After another 24hrs of labour, I brought to life a little bundle of joy. “It is a girl,” the nursed told me. They covered her up in a fresh, sweet scented baby-shawl and gave her to me.

A bittersweet feeling rushed through me when I looked at her. She was an exact copy of the father. I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad. Happy that I am now responsible for another life or sad because that life would never know who the father was. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Laugh because I had safely delivered or cry because the little one in my hands reminded me of a painful experience.

I stared at the distance, through the hospital window, and wondered what the future held for me.

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