I stood still staring at the tree hoping it was clean. I had just washed it. I hoped the sun would shine. I had been instructed to wash it because, out of the blues, Sospeter wanted to climb every day……
After coming back from the shop he dropped the package in the house, picked our nine-month old son, Gizzard Matumbo, and went straight up the tree, with him held tightly against his waist. I walked to the tree, looked up and shouted….
“My darlin Sospeter!!!!!” …..
“Yes, wife!” he answered looking down, almost slipping….
I jumped back very fast because I did not think Sospeter’s weight would have spared my life…… and there was this meat that he had brought.
I did not want to die before eating it…
“What are you doing up there?” I asked, “Can I join you?” ….
“No! Women do not climb trees! Go and do what you do best, gossip!”
Sospeter said looking over the fence at Mama Mwikali’s compound….
I did not say anything. I walked back to the house and cleaned the dishes. From where I was I could see Sospeter through the window. He was rocking the baby, singing…
“Shhhh baby don’t cry,” he sang rocking Gizzard, smiling down at him.
(the baby was not crying)
“Daddy loves you….
But if you will not be a good boy….
Daddy will feed you to the crocodiles…
Try and see, try and see…”
“Ai Sospeter!” I shouted, “What is that you are telling Matumbo…?”
Sospeter turned his head slowly to face me and shouted, “Let us see who loves him more. If you love him get him.”
He placed the baby between two branches on the tree, looked over the fence at Mama Mwikali’s compound and climbed down the tree….
My heart was in my mouth. I was short of breath…… Matumbo was quiet. Thank goodness. I walked very fast towards the tree. Very angrily I thought of how I would put chili in Sospeter’s mouth tonight when he falls asleep on the sofa…
I climbed up the tree, carefully stepping on the branches towards Gizzard…
I was only a few inches away from Matumbo when the branch I was standing on gave way and I fell….
Whatever Angel directed me to wear a dress that morning was truly God sent… The hem of my dress was caught on a branch saving me from sudden death….
I was swinging clockwise………stop.
Then anti clockwise………stop.
Gizzard chuckled. “I will not scream…” I whispered to my heart. “I will not give Sospeter the satisfaction of seeing me suffer….”
I looked towards the house in time to see my husband’s hand placed over his mouth. He looked very scared. He pretended to yawn and entered the house…. I stretched my arms as far out as I could and got hold of a branch. I pushed myself up the tree and moved towards Gizzard in little steps….
He looked up at me, smiled and held out his arms… I picked him up, kissed and held him tight….
I looked for a nice place to sit on and breastfeed my child….
My eyes wondered over the fence into Mama Mwikali‘s compound. And therein was a ball….
Sospeter stepped out of the house carrying a mattress. He placed it exactly under the branch I was sitting on.
“There!” he shouted. I ignored him…
‘Maybe this is what Sospeter was looking at…’ I thought, ‘He is planning to steal that ball…. No way…. I must get to it first…. My children need something to play with….’
After a while Matumbo was full and we climbed down the tree. I did not feel like I wanted Sospeter’s help so I jumped clear of the mattress on to the grass….
“Wooooi.” I whispered as I felt the tiny painful needle pricks from the soles of my feet to my ankles…
“My ancestors wake up! your daughter is in pain…!!!” I lamented and kicked the mattress very hard. I kicked again, but this time I missed and hit the uncovered root of the tree with my big toe. I almost dropped Gizzard… “Oooooh…. my ancestors!” I screamed, “how long does it take you to wake up…. Oooooh come with everybody! Your cows, dogs and cats…. The angel that saved me by the hem of my yellow, green flowered dress! Where are you…???” I was shaking my foot, my mouth blowing fhoooo fhoooo!! Which was useless because my toe was nowhere near my mouth….
Gizzard was smiling….
Sospeter was at the door again, looking at me in amusement…
After a while I knocked on Mama Trevor’s door….
“Mama Trevor! Mama Trevor! Quick!” I whispered, “Finally! Our kids will no longer get bored.” Mama Trevor was excited. She raised her eyebrows at me in puzzlement, “Come, let me show you……”
We knew Mama Mwikali‘s family had gone to visit their relatives in Machakos….
This was easy….
No one would find us…
I kicked the small gate open with the sole of my foot and went in very excited, with Mama Trevor behind me. I ran towards the ball….
Matumbo was happy too. He chuckled again…. I was preparing to kick the ball with my left foot when it screamed….
“Uuuuuiiiii!! Do not kill me!” I was so startled I took a step back, tripped over the root of a tree and fell backwards throwing Gizzard into the air…. I was already preparing an imaginary funeral for the child when Mama Trevor jumped forward and caught him……
“Asiii!” Mwikali exclaimed. “Achi! Achi! Achi!”
I stood up rubbing my sitting muscles.
“Goodness!! Mama Mwikali you scared me!!! What are you doing there buried in the ground…?” I asked, very shocked….
“Get me out! Quick!” Mama Mwikali seemed quite frightened. “The jembe and panga are there behind the door….!!”
“I thought we stopped curing skin diseases like this…Is it serious….?” I said looking at Mama Mwikali’s face to see if there was any rash or big pimples…. She was silent…
I walked towards the house and got the jembe…. Mama Trevor was where I had left her. Frozen like a statue and staring…. I walked towards Mama Mwikali and hit the ground with the jembe once…. Then stopped.
“Why are you planted here?” I asked.
“It is Sospeter” Mama Mwikali said angrily in a low voice…”I was supposed to go home and join my husband yesterday but he buried me here and said I’d never leave… I must stay here and cook the fermented porridge for him everyday…”
I turned to look at Mama Trevor to see if maybe she knew something I did not know… She seemed confused like I was….
“Is there a kitchen underground…?” I asked, looking around to see if I was missing something…. I hit the ground again, dropped the jembe… “Do you have a rope?”, I asked….
“It is in the kitchen, hanging on a nail behind the door.” Mama Mwikali answered. I rushed to the house to get the rope… I tied the rope around Mama Mwikali’s chest and pulled and pulled… I wanted to give her a piece of my mind about my throbbing toe that was beginning to turn purple, but I changed my mind….
“Mama Trevor come and help me!”, I shouted, “This is not a human being…… this is a rock. I think she has grown roots…”
“Mama Trevor, don’t move!” Mama Mwikali shouted with fear, Mama Matumbo is going to tear me apart…” I realized I had not dug deep enough….
I stopped pulling, picked up the jembe and continued digging. I heard a faint sound of a branch about to break and the rustling of leaves… I stopped, looked back over the fence towards the tree…. and…. there was Sospeter watching us… Mama Trevor looked at me, worried….
I went back to digging…. “Promise me….. (dig)… that you will never…. (dig)…. call my husband …. (dig)….. at four o’clock …. (dig)…. to take your rotten porridge….” I stopped and stood upright, looking at Mama Mwikali, waiting….
“I promise,” she said slowly….
“And….. (dig)…. if he gives you…. (dig)… an avocado…. (dig)…. you will not even look at it…. (dig)….. promise, promise….” I stopped and pointed the jembe at Mama Mwikali, “You! You! You will know you don’t know!”
“I promise”, Mama Mwikali in a shaky voice….
I placed the jembe aside and stretched my hand. Mama Mwikali held it firmly and climbed out of the hole….
The three of us turned and looked at Sospeter….. He was still up the tree staring…. I looked at Gizzard and wanted to breastfeed him, but my hands were not clean…
Mama Trevor and I got out of Mama Mwikali’s compound and parted ways. Sospeter was already in the house. He seemed angry, but it did not bother me. I walked to the kitchen, washed my hands and sat on my three legged stool…..
I was deep in thought, wondering why Sospeter was such a bad man sometimes…. At the back of my mind, I knew there was something I was supposed to do, but could not remember….
After a few minutes….. There it was, hitting my mind like a stone shot from a catapult….. I had not changed Matumbo’s nappy…. I stood, got a fresh nappy and rushed to Mama Trevor’s house…
Art by Ken Omollo from behance.net/KenOmollo