A group of children ganged up on me. Mama mkubwa’s children were in the group; they shouted and leered the most. One of the children kicked my shins, before stepping on my leg. The leg that was already bruised with yesterday’s kicks. Someone threw something heavy on my left foot. I howled in excruciating pain as I heard the crunching sound of breaking bones.
“Orphan … bastard … weirdo … poor …!” I heard them chant as I slowly slid into a sea of blackness.
When I finally came to, the sun was overhead. Quickly I looked for the basket of groceries I had with me before coming across the group. The groceries were scattered all over the dusty road. Limping in pain, I reached for the groceries, brushing the dust off them as I put them in the equally dusty basket. I winced as I thought of what Mama mkubwa would do to me for being late.
Slowly I got up. I dragged my sore foot. Hunger and desperation put one in the most compromising conditions, but this I never expected. Holding loosely the basket laden with groceries I stared at the horizon – endless, just like my situation – with no hope. I had once tried to write to my mother to tell her about my predicament, but Mama mkubwa got hold of the letter and punished me severely.
Mama mkubwa, my mother’s older sister got me from the village, from the warm bosom of my mother seven months ago. She had promised honey and milk and we were all excited and happy about the opportunities she had promised.
“Ashura, this kid needs to go to school!” she had scolded my mother. “You can’t keep her farming here. Where will that get her to?”
“Dada, you know I can’t afford school fees. With her helping me with the farm, at least we are sure of eating tomorrow.”
“I will take her to school! Let her come with me, she will finish her O’levels, then she will do a computer and catering course. I know she’s a very good cook,” she had laughed as she fondled my kinky hair.
“Aksante Mama mkubwa!” I had thanked her excitedly as I knelt down in gratitude. “May the good Lord bless you with many more.”
“Aksante sana dada,” my mother had echoed my sentiment as she bowed her head wiping tears of joy, “May the Almighty give you in abundance.”
I limped to Mama mkubwa’s house, welcoming the silence around me as my only company and solace. A girl about my age in school uniforms passed me. She quickly looked at me in disgust then hurried on. I looked at her in envy, wishing I too was carrying school books and wearing well starched school uniforms.
Everytime I brought the subject of school to Mama mkubwa, she would beat me. The last time she threw hot water at me. Between my howling in pain and her screaming in anger I heard her curses.
“Ungrateful fool! Do you think you live here for free? You want school, eh? Go tell your useless mother to take you to school! Ungrateful bastard!” Lifting me off the ground by my ears, she wrung them with her nails as she let out a long angry hissing sound, as if kissing her teeth.
I kept on walking, longing for the comfort of my mother’s arms. My eyes stung with tears as I thought of home. Although we struggled to survive, there was love. I was so hungry and tired that I was barely able to lift my other leg. Dragging both legs with the hot sun burning overhead, the broken bottles and thorns biting into my bare feet, I went on. I never felt the pain. The hunger, loneliness and pain I felt in my heart suddenly made me immune to physical pain. It was only the pain that my heart felt that I suffered. I wrapped my arms around my dirty threadbare dress as a strong wind passed. I shuddered and continued my walk to Mama mkubwa’s house – trembling as I thought of what laid ahead.
“Why are you late?” Mama mkubwa greeted me with a clap across my face. “Where were you, I ask you?”
Covering my burning cheek I tried to explain, “I’m sorry Mama mkubwa, a group of boys attacked me.”
“So you now have boyfriends huh? Whore! I knew it! The fruit never falls far from the tree!” She was now using her plastic bathroom slippers to slap me with.
Later after she had emptied the basket of groceries, she asked me to prepare them so she could make lunch. Sniffling and forcing tears back I washed and cut the eggplants, ochra, nyanya chungu and collard greens. My stomach grumbled miserably as I cut the vegetables.
“Go wash the fish!” she ordered me as she started throwing in the onions in the pot with oil, “then attend to the coconut. Quick! What are you waiting for? Lazy bastard!”
The aroma of the spicy vegetables taunted my nostril as I prepared the coconut milk. My stomach grumbled again. I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten a full meal. My meal was always the same ugali with beans. The bad beans with worms that she used to throw out before I came to live with them. I inhaled deeply, savouring the spicy aroma of the meal and triggering an aching hunger within the pit of my stomach. My nostrils flared as my eyes watered at my futile longing. Wiping the tears from my eyes and fighting the dull ache within my stomach, I went on working.
“You lazy whore, ain’t you done yet? Prepare baba mkubwa water to bath!” she called out from the kitchen.
“I hear you know men these days,” I heard baba mkubwa drawl behind me as I was mixing his hot bathing water with cold water. Suddenly I felt his hands under my threadbare dress.