I am just a girl who loves reading and talking about books
I remember that fateful night just like it was yesterday. I have no idea what I did during the day, but I sure do remember the night. My mom, a policewoman, had gotten home a few hours earlier on. She was tired and went straight to bed. I remember checking up on her. She was fully dressed in her uniform and lying on the covers. On the night stand was her pistol. Having been raised by a police mum and a military dad, seeing guns around did not faze me at all.
I went back to the living room and sat down to watch “7th Heaven”. I was really into that show back then. About 10 minutes into the show, I heard some movements outside the door. Soon, the door flew open and my brother sort of collapsed in. I wouldn’t call it walking in since he fell in. Half of his body fell in the house while his feet were outside. I have never seen anything like that. He was covered in blood with his face swollen and clothes torn. He kept whispering “ Shiro nakufa….”and then he started gasping for air. I don’t remember much after that, I know I screamed and mum woke up. Everything happened so fast. Soon there was noise all around us, a police car had come and my brother was being rushed to hospital.
In the midst of all that confusion, one thing that stuck out in my mind is one of my brother’s friends showing up and telling us about some bar brawl. Apparently, my brother had been in a fight over a game of pool. A disagreement ensued and these six boys attacked him beating him up with pool sticks. I couldn’t fathom the idea that people could be that cruel. He was dying over a game of pool?
Like someone in a trance, I hardly noticed my mum and the police officers speeding off to the hospital. My mind was on one thing only, the pistol on the night stand. I rushed to the bedroom and to my surprise my mum had left it behind, something that she had never done before. She safeguards her firearms at all times. I can’t even explain my thought process at that time because the next thing I remember is that the pistol was in my hand and I was running out the door.
We lived at Rongai at that time, about 10 minutes from the shopping center. My brother had been in a fight at a small bar at that center. I can’t explain how I got to that bar but all I remember was the pistol in my hand, pulling the trigger towards the direction of the pool table. People were screaming and running around me, crouching under tables. I was mainly concerned with the boys playing pool. I fired again and again until there were no more bullets in the pistol. There was nobody standing by the time I was done. People were crying, begging and screaming. I could hear their voices but it sounded like they were very far away.
The next thing I know, I was walking back towards my home. The interesting thing is that people just stared at me from a distance. Nobody stopped me or even confronted me. I don’t know if it was the gun in my hand or maybe, I just looked crazy like a raving lunatic who had just shot at people. Instead of going home, I walked straight in the police station and just sat down in the reporting area. I was well known at the station because of my mum so nobody really had an issue with me being there. The police hadn’t yet heard about the shootout. At first, the reporting officers thought I was in a state of confusion because of what had happened to my brother. I tried to tell them what I had done but nobody was really paying attention to me. I was taken to my mom’s office and someone else took the gun.
Alone at the office, it felt like hours before anybody came to check in on me, at some point, I actually fell asleep. Suddenly, when I woke up, there was a flurry of activities all around me. At that point, it reality hit me and I thought about what I had done. My parents were going through a divorce, my brother was fighting for his life in hospital and here I was. I wondered if I had hurt anyone at the bar. I couldn’t remember anyone being hit by the bullets but then again everything had happened so fast. Thoughts of there being a possibility that I may have killed someone filled my mind and I started crying uncontrollably. I was supposed to go back to school and sit for my KCSE exams that month. It all seemed like a nightmare.
All this time, I could see the officers standing outside the office. Nobody came in to say anything to me. Some of them came and peeked at me through the door and silently walked away. It was hours before finally an officer I knew came in and started questioning me about the shooting. After a while, my mum came in too. I remember her holding my hand and telling me that it would all be okay. All I could do was cry.
The weeks after that, I was arraigned at Kibera law courts and charged with 6 accounts of assault with a weapon. I also got minor charges for damage to property, endangering public safety, using a firearm in public without authorization. There was an attempt to charge me with attempted murder but this did not stick as there were no fatalities. It was also proved that the crimes were not premeditated.
By the time, my court appearances were over, it was time for KCSE. By God’s grace, I was allowed to sit for the exams although under police guard. I was completely alienated from my peers. It was as if people were either scared of me or they thought that whatever had led me to commit my crimes was contagious. I did my exams and on November 13, 2002, I started serving my sentence. Luckily, I had been tried as a minor and so I was to join a juvenile facility. This facility was different from others. It was more of a military training camp. My absentee father who is in the military had pulled strings to get me here. At first I thought I was lucky, however, after being there for only one week, I realized that mainstream prison would have been a much better option. I was in hell and I couldn’t leave since I was still considered a danger to society.
I remember my dad taking me to the facility (later on, I learnt that it was called camp) very early in the morning. I actually arrived there before 6am. There were soldiers everywhere, already up and about. Most of them were very young, around my age or even younger. The interesting thing is how they were all moving around the camp. Nobody was walking, everyone was running! Nobody paid any attention to me. I was just a skinny little girl who had been brought to camp by her father. Most of the senior soldiers running the camp knew my father so we were well received. We even had some tea with them. I sat quietly listening to my father talking and laughing with them. “This wont be so bad”, I kept telling myself.
After an hour my father said goodbye and left. One of the soldiers, who I came to know as General Kimathi, summoned a recruit to take me to the quarters where I would be staying. This recruit was known as number 96 while I was told that my new name would be number 100. I don’t know why the numbers were used though. In addition, nobody told me how long I would have to be at the camp.
All the way to the quarters 96 was practically jogging with me close behind her. She took me to the quarters where I was shown my little bed and uniform. I tried to talk to her but either she didn’t understand English or Kiswahili or she was simply ignoring me.
I was quickly given my tracksuit and led to a huge field where people were already running. I followed suit although it was strenuous for me. I have never been fitness enthusiastic; in fact I have never even played any single sport in my life. I huffed and puffed as my body strongly protested. By the second lap, I couldn’t move my feet. My legs were in pain, my chest and throat was burning up, nose running. I truly couldn’t move and so I thought of taking a short break to catch my breath.
Soon, one of the trainers, a female soldier who looked very angry caught up with me. “Are you tired 100?” She shouted at me even though I was standing right next to her.
I nodded yes since I couldn’t even say a word. “Its okay, it’s because you are new!” She said looking sympathetic. I was so relieved since for some reason I thought she would reprimand me. However, just as I was sighing with gratitude, she yanked me up with my hair so that I was standing face to face with her.
“Get down and give me 100 pushups, do you think this is your father’s house? She shouted while putting her face so close to mine that I can feel the wetness of her spit as she continued to scream at me. In my mind I was in shock. The 100 pushups hadn’t even hit me yet; I was still reeling from the shouting. “Did she think I had a hearing problem?” I kept asking myself.
I do not do pushups or sit-ups. My body just doesn’t have that capacity. I mean I am actually one of those people who can’t even bend down and touch their toes. So I got down on my fours and tried to do one pushup with the woman hovering around me. I failed miserably and collapsed on the ground.
The next thing I knew, she was hurling insults at me as she commanded me to get off the ground and try again. When I got back up, I felt the weight of her boot on my back. Apparently, I was now a foot stand and I was still supposed to do my pushups.
After an hour, I had done only 5. The rest of the trainers had already left. My nightmare of a trainer decided that I should count out loud as I did each pushup. It didn’t matter how long it took, she wanted 100 pushups done. I cannot even express in words what I went through that day. It took me exactly 6 hours to complete the pushups. My arms hurt, my wrists hurt, my back and tummy hurt, every part of my body was in agony. I was so miserable. I don’t think I have ever cried so much in my life. In addition, I was very hungry.
That day, I ended up going to bed hungry. After the strenuous punishment, I was informed that I had missed lunch. I was then directed to the laundry room with two other recruits and informed that my task for the week was doing laundry. I wasn’t able to complete the task in time for supper and so I had to work late and sleep hungry. My first day at the camp was one of the worst days that I have ever had to date.
I ended up spending 18 months at the camp. The mistreatment that I got cannot even be described in words. I remember having to wake up at 3am every day to jog up a hill near the camp. I also recall nights and days when we were made to sit under pouring rain and think about our lives. The food was so bad but due to hunger, we ate whatever came our way. The exercises became extreme with time and the manual labor was even worse. For some reason, religion was also forced down our throats with many mandatory prayer sessions. I was so miserable. There was no way to contact anyone at home and I didn’t even know the condition that my brother was in.
The whole time I was there, I only made one true friend. Her name was Ngonyo (recruit 78). She was a pretty bubbly girl who didn’t seem discouraged by the conditions that we were in. I remember one early morning sitting in the rain with her wallowing in my misery and for some reason, she was singing “ Wape wape vidonge vyao….” ,Without a care in the world. This girl was something else alright and I loved her to bits. She always had stories to tell and seemed so full of life. We never talked about what brought us to the camp but with Ngonyo, I always wondered.
On the last day of camp, I remember the excitement that filled the air. Everyone was talking about going home and leaving the treacherous lives that we had been subjected to. I don’t think that I slept even one wink. I was too excited, thoughts of home filling my mind. I thought about my mother and wondered if she still looked the same. I thought of Rongai and the friends that I used to have before the incidence.
When morning came, I was ready to go. Little did I know that my “debt to society” was still not yet fully paid? Nobody told us anything that day. Things just seemed to go in slow motion. One minute we were in the camp, the next minute, we were in an airplane heading to unknown destination.
Our flight seemed to take days although it was only hours. I remember listening to the others speculate about our probable destination. All the while, I just sat silently with only one thought on my mind, we weren’t going home yet! Hours later, we finally landed and for the first time, our destination became known to us. We were in the Democratic Republic of Congo at a time when war was in full force in the country.
Ps: This is fictional, the narrative is not a direct reference to any known individual or organization. Any likeness to any other parties is not intentional. This is just me trying out some creative writing. All images courtesy of Google images.