By Cecy Gaitho and Anita Nimmoh
Sundays were showing off days and the Wamakere village church was the perfect place.
Young women would come in droves, to show off their new hairstyles and their cheaply acquired dresses. Occasionally, a girl or two would pluck a pink or purple carnation and put on their hair. In no time, all the village girls would come to church wearing flowers of all colors on their hair. The trend would die and resurface several months later.
Young men too were not left behind. Sundays were the best time to woo girls, and if one was lucky, a girl would end up in their cage-sized cubicles or in the bushes for a quick rendezvous. This way, several girls had ended up getting married when, months later; they realized their stomachs were bursting with fruits from the forbidden fantasy.
In those days, older men stuck to their wives as it was an abomination for a younger girl to sleep with a man fit to be her father. The white man had brought new knowledge to the village folk. The Bible, he had said, condemned this act as witnessed by Noah and his wayward daughters. Thus, in order to avoid God’s wrath as in Nineveh, such matters were not taken lightly.
For Belinda, Sunday was just another ordinary day of the week, made different by only the fact it was resting day. It was the only day her overly religious father ordered her and her five siblings to church, lest they bring shame upon his head. His name was Reverend Peterson Gatheca and one of the pioneer members of Light of Christ Church. Belinda always thought the church-going routine as a boring norm; she hated how her father and other church elders emphasized on the Bible, a book like any other. “How could we tell that there indeed exists a God, who inspired the authors of the so-called Bible?” She would wonder, though to herself, because her father would never welcome such nonsensical questions.
Every Sunday, Belinda would get to church early, but her favorite seat was near the church entrance. Here, she had a good glance at every church member and in her mind, she would profile them one by one. “Mang’uru is too dark and ugly. He is not my type, even though he has money.” She would inwardly say, with a smirk on her face. Mang’uru was the village shopkeeper, who had severally tried to hit on her. Not that she was beautiful herself. She was short with fat in the wrong areas of her body, and an average performer in her local school. Unlike other girls, she was neither carried by the flower-wearing wave nor were her dresses pretty. She wore dull colors and her dresses were oversize, probably belonging to her mother who had a Goliath stature.
Next was Matenjagwo, the young man whom everybody looked up to. He had excelled well in his common entrance exams and would soon be joining the teaching college in Nairobi. Every girl wanted to have a piece of him. The gap between his teeth, the long legs and his strong build made him handsome the more. Yet, Belinda in her skulking manner, hated him for being every girl’s favorite. Not that she would mind having a piece of him anyway. She very well knew that Matenjagwo would never look at her twice, leave alone dating her, yet inwardly, she prayed and hoped for a miracle.
Matenjagwo’s impressions went beyond his school performance. The church elders loved him and used him as a model for a good Christian life. Despite girls drooling over him, he was ever careful not to be caught in the murky waters, lest he soiled his reputation in the good books. His mother, Wa Gatembura would brag to the whole village about her exemplary son. She couldn’t wait for him to marry a well-educated girl from the college he was about to join. Gossip was rife that he could not go far. Is it not said that pride comes before a fall? To Belinda, Matenjagwo was the cake he would never have, but enjoy eating with her eyes during every Sunday service.
Everybody knew Mutha Waiganjo for his church late-coming tendencies. He would arrive some minutes to the end of the service, with sweat running down his big nose. He loved to wear oversize suits, which nobody knew where he got them. Usually, the suits never matched and were in horrible colors. His favorite suit was orange in color, a far cry from his deep dark looks that earned him the nickname “Nduma”, which loosely translates to “darkness”. He had an awkward face, as if God created him in a hurry. Or on a boring Monday morning. Maybe God compensated for his looks with his talkative nature. He had smooth lines that nobody ever believed. “Maybe I’ll end up marrying a guy as ugly as Mutha,” Belinda thought bitterly. If only God granted her a person as handsome as Matenjagwo, that is the only time she would acknowledge His existence.
Waitherero had all the people turning. She was a beautiful woman in her mid-thirties whose light complexions marveled the congregant to have a red thigh, what her clansmen called kiero gitune. Whenever she got married, the husband would die under mysterious circumstances.
If not for the white man’s religion that said, “I will not reject anyone who comes to Me,” Waitherero would have long been excommunicated from the village. In her short life, she had been married six times and all the men were long dead. Despite her drop-dead beauty, she was a lonely woman. To Belinda, “it should have been me with all that beauty!” she would curse inwardly. “In another life, I will be as beautiful as Waitherero, without the red thigh.” Sadly, the other life would never materialize, unless in reincarnation, which was unheard of. The reverend only spoke of resurrection in Christ, for those who lived worthy lives. Belinda doubted if she ever was going to see the much praised eternal life.
“Repent and make straight thine paths, for the kingdom of God is nigh!” Reverend Gatheca would say. To Belinda, this was just a line to hook people, and to have them come to church every Sunday. Maybe Matenjagwo believed in this stupidity and that is why he ignored even Gathoni, the girl with cute dimples from the choir.
Nothing excited Belinda like reciting The Grace. It meant the end of the boring service and a chance to go over to where Matenjagwo was seated to greet him. She loved his brethren embrace that made her heart dance to a non-existent song. She would ignore Mang’uru, with his hand outstretched and his gaping teeth all out in a crooked smile. No way was she going to relate with a man with a king’uru. As the congregants dispersed, Belinda would hurry home to make lunch for her family, pleased that the Sunday tirade was finally over and a new week was about to begin.
Monday morning meant waking up earlier to go to school. Despite being in her final year of Primary school, Belinda still found it hard to wake up and prepare for school. They would begin with a one-hour assembly and the head teacher, Mr. Mengere would lay down so many rules and threats for those who did not follow them. Belinda hated him for the one time he called her a pig, when he caught her making noise in class.
“One day, I am going to revenge on the goat!” Since that day, she had always tried to come up with plots on how to carry out her revenge mission without ever been caught. Just like her life, Belinda found everything a big bore. Probably that is why even her classmates avoided her like a killer plague. She sat by herself at the farthest end in class, ate her lunch alone and during break time, she would be lying in the field alone, profiling her schoolmates. “Belinda the bitch” was her nickname behind her back.
One Tuesday evening, as Belinda walked home from school, the unexpected happened. This was the turning point of her life, for better, for worse, who knows? Belinda decided to take a different route home. They had been released early because no teacher was interested in taking them for evening games and the fact that Mr. Mang’ere was not around made it even better.
She thought going home that early was lame, she would just end up being overworked. Not that she was lazy; she just wasn’t in the mood for extra work. She decided to kill some time by taking the rarely used route which had thick bushes and a hill called Karema Hiti. It was not a safe route at night, but it was still early, so why not?
It was too quiet until she thought of singing one of the church hymns, then the thought disappeared as soon as it formed. In her mind’s eye, she saw her mother leading the hymn in church as she always did in her frog-like voice which always irritated her. She shook her head to clear the ugly thought from her mind, which had started to eat her like a plague. She reminded herself that that was her time, instead she indulged herself with fantasies like meeting with Matenjagwo, and getting a prolonged hug, different from the ones he gave her in church. Seeing him smile down at her with that breath-taking smile of his. She was so lost in the fantasy that she almost missed strange noises emanating from a thicket ahead.
She was trembling as she approached it, she could have just run past it fast, well as fast as her thin legs could allow since they were already carrying lots of weight, but she could not. Not until she got to know what was making such disturbing noises, like someone was being butchered.
The noise was coming from a bush near mushida nugu (camphor) tree. She approached it with caution and came face to face with a naked, sweaty Mr. Mengerre making some funny guttural noises, with his mouth twisted in a disgusting way. Beneath him was a naked, screaming Waitherero, whose legs were thrown in the air in an awkward way. Belinda could not believe what was right before her. She tried to talk but her traitorous throat had suddenly gone dry. Her mind went blank, the only thing that responded was her thin legs that carried her at a breaking speed that surprised her.
She didn’t know how long or how far she ran, because she found herself in Mang’uru’s tiny cube on his uncomfortable bed behind his shop and a worried Mang’uru sitting on a jung’wa next to the bed, looking down at her. She shut her eyes hard just in case she was dreaming until he called out her name.
She opened her eyes and looked at him, she had never seen such an ugly being, the worry on his face made him darker and uglier, his mang’uru gaping at her.
Despite all that, she looked deep in his eyes and saw something she had never seen in anyone, the concern, tenderness, care and something else she could not fathom. He explained to her how he found her fainted at the Wamakere junction, just beyond the rare path’s border, when he was coming from buying the shop’s stock. The previous events came tumbling down her memory and she wondered if the day could get any worse.
Mang’uru told her that he had carried her to his house and had been sitting there waiting for her to wake up. He confessed that he was almost going for a mundu mugo to go see her. She enquired and was told that she had been laying there for two hours; he wasn’t sure how long it had been before he found her. She refused to tell him what had led her to her unconsciousness; she thought he would be better off thinking that she was just sick. She thanked Mang’uru and as she walked home, she was worried about her school life, and she wasn’t sure if she was still a student or if it all was over for her.
“If only Waitherero would unleash the spell of her thigh on that man!” She thought loudly, albeit to herself. Mr. Mengere was going to kill her for seeing him in his Adam’s suit. That night, to her surprise, her dreams were not filled with the mocking smiles of one handsome Matenjangwo as it always was but a worried Mang’uru.
The following day, she went to school expecting the worst. The headmaster came bustling in her class and summoned her in his office. He told her that he had seen her the previous day, asked if she had told anyone of what she had seen and when she replied no, his face brightened a bit.
He promised not to kick her out of school if she kept her mouth shut. He was a married man and it was an abomination for married men to sleep around with young women. In addition to that, his short, fat wife had a serious, killer demeanor. All villagers kept her at an arm’s length, nobody wanted to risk their life by crossing her path. Rumor had it that she had broken a man’s jaw with her bare hands.
So, Belinda concluded that Mr. Mengere preferred the peaceful red thigh’s death as opposed to that of his beast wife. Belinda found herself making a mental note to hug Mang’uru the following Sunday.
The loud screams coming from the school fence had everyone peeping from the wooden windows. The pupils had just returned to class after their ten o’clock break and it was daunting to hear screams at such an hour. The obvious conclusion was that someone had died from the Matenjagwo’s family, who lived across the school. Teachers abandoned classes midway their lessons, as they ran to answer to the distress call. The younger children crowed in their classes, afraid to run with the rest of the school. Belinda ran with the crowd, hoping against hope that Matenjagwo was alright.
Lo and behold! Everyone was treated to a naked Reverend Peterson Gatheca with an equally naked Matenjagwo inside his cubicle. This was unheard of in the village, of a man sleeping with another man. A curse was going to befall the whole village. Wa Gatembura had gone to the market and returned earlier than usual.
“I called Matenjagwo and couldn’t find him in the compound.” She explained to the shocked multitudes. “Imagine finding the Reverend sodomising my own son! Uuuuuuwi! Uuuuuuuwi! I am going to kill someone today!” She shouted as she lifted an axe, ready to hit an already panic-stricken Gatheca. Mutha Waiganjo, who was already among the first people to arrive to the scene tried to calm her down.
Everybody had seen the man of God’s nakedness. Belinda could not imagine the shame her father had brought upon her whole family. She would no longer look at him in the eye or call him father. No longer would she attend his boring sermons, because he preached water but drank wine.
Thirty minutes later, people scattered one by one, too ashamed of the ordeal that had happened. Women whispered among themselves, wondering what had come to the reverend. The village was no longer going to be the same.
As Belinda got home that evening, too ashamed to face her father who couldn’t leave his bedroom, she packed her few clothes. This was going to be a new beginning.