And she fell asleep at last. Curling herself at the corner of the five by six bed. She was all alone. The neighbours had long gone to sleep. Her mother had carried her younger siblings, Wanja and Sonie, when she left in the morning. Leaving her alone with her father. She never understood why her mother had so much bitterness with her. It wasn’t the first time her mother left without her.
She had not eaten anything since morning but a morsel and half a cup of milk that the neighbours gave her. They were more of housemates for they lived on one house, shared sitting room and different bedrooms. She had eaten the milk and bread gratefully. Her mother had left before they took breakfast and her father followed. She did not go out to play. She was afraid of the shopkeeper downstairs. She still remembered vividly how she once went to buy soap. The shopkeeper gave a task inside the shop and promised her some sweets. She was only 8 years old then. Her mother had taught her to respect the elders. She willingly obliged. Once inside the shop, the shopkeeper started touching her private parts… She bit his hands and screamt. Her screams attracted attention and she was rescued. The shopkeeper said he did not know why she was screaming. He had only asked her to sweep the shop. The people believed him and scolded her. Her mother beat the hell out of her for creating a scene. The shop keeper became her arch enemy and every time they sent her to the shop, the shopkeeper would tell her “siku ile nitakushika utaona.”
Today, she was all alone in the house. Hungry and cold. The neighbours had gone to sleep. She was grateful when she fell asleep. Hardly had she dozed off than she heard a familiar voice sing at a distance. The voice got nearer and nearer. Father was home at last. She was elated. Then fumbling, keys falling, cursing. Then opening the front door.
She curled up in bed. Pretending to be in deep sleep.
“Wanjiru,” the drunken voice called from the sitting room.
She didn’t answer. This was the father she was afraid of. The one who threw words and hit her mother. Wanjiru knew her father loved him so much for she was named after his mother.
“Shiru,” the voice called again. This time walking towards the bedroom.
She still didn’t answer.
“Kamami, mami eeeh, ” her father called again. This time softly. He was standing at the bedroom door.
Wanjiru turned and pretended to wake up from deep sleep. Her father walked to her. He was carrying a black polythene paper. Smell of potato fries wafted through the air. The smell reminded Wanjiru that she was hungry. She lazily sat up on the bed. Her father sat down beside her and gave her the food.
“Eat mami,” he said. Looking at his daughter passionately. Shiru devoured the meal. Potato fries and grilled chicken, every child’s favourite.
“Pole nilikuacha pekee yako mami. Nilienda kutafuta pesa,” he said. Moving closer to his daughter and placing his hands on her shoulders. It was a normal act of parental affection. It didn’t raise alarm.
Wanjiku finished eating. She was now fully awake. She collected the bones and the papers and took them to the kitchen. She washed her oily hands and went back to the bedroom.
She found her father sprawled on the bed, snoring. She took an extra blanket. She wanted to go to sleep on the chair, that is where her and Wanja slept when the mother is around. His father grabbed her hand and instructed her to sleep beside him. She timidly obliged. She got to bed and curled herself at the corner.
She started drifting to sleep. Then. A hand on her budding breasts. You know how they hurt when growing. She wanted to talk.
“Shhh,” a hand on her mouth. His breath smelled of alcohol and tobacco. What a nauseating smell. She kept silent. The hand moved to her thighs. She slapped it off.
“Unafanya nini, daddy,” she asked.
“Nimesema unyamaze,” he boomed.
His hands moved to the upper part of his thighs. Unlucky, her mother always instructed them to sleep panty less to avoid infections and urinating on them. His hands reached where the shopkeeper had touched her.
“Daddy wacha,” she cried out loudly. This attracted the attention of the occupants of the other bedroom. Baba Shiru had woken them up when he came in shouting. They knocked on the bedroom door.
“Nini inaendelea hapa?” the lady shouted.
“Hakuna, rudini mkalale, hii si kazi yenu,” baba Shiru answered back.
The neighbours could hear Shiru crying.
“Kira, neke nawe,” they could hear from the door.
They were good neighbours, they couldn’t go and leave a child in trouble. The door wasn’t locked. They entered, picked up Shiru and left with her. They left her father sprawled in bed in his drunken stupor.
Wanjiru stayed with the good neighbours, let us call them the Karimis, until her mother came back. All she could hear of her father was the drunken hum at night and she would find chips and chicken left for her on the sitting room table.
Her mother came a week later. Shiru never mentioned a word to her of what happened. She was afraid she would beat her. If the Karimis did, she doesn’t know. But next time her mother left, she left with her and all that her mother owned. Never did they go back to that house. What became of her loving father, Shiru never knew until many years later.