I am just a girl who loves reading and talking about books
He was just another faceless man much like the last one, shoving, moaning and grunting on a street corner. When he was done, he quickly got dressed and threw a 200shillings note at her and then hurriedly left. He walked fast as if he could not wait to distance himself from her or the events of that night. She was used to it. It didn’t even bother her anymore. She could have wished for roses and dinners or something nice like that but she knew that those were stupid thoughts and dreams. Maria was a prostitute and had to accept being treated like one.
She looked at the crumpled 200shillings note and smiled for the first time that week. At least she could afford a meal this time round and didn’t have to dig through any dumpsters for supper. She quickly dressed up and walked to one of the late night chips joints on river road. It was a great place which served a lot of chips and cost only 25 shillings. There were no seats at the restaurant and everyone ate while standing. They also used toothpicks in place of a fork but the food was good and on a hungry stomach, Maria would have gladly accepted any meal offered to her. As she stood hungrily eating her fries, she looked at herself in one of the mirrors around the place.
Her hair was natural, right now it looked dirty. She had no make-up on, her cheek bones were protruding making her eyes look hollow, and she had lost so much weight. Her lips were dry and cracked and her skin looked scaly. She always tried to shower at least once a week but sometimes didn’t even bother. Maria was miserable and she looked the part.
It wasn’t always like this though. It used to be better. Maria wasn’t born on the streets actually; she came from a home and had a family. It was a poor family and she was still miserable but it wasn’t this bad. She had food, shelter, daily showers and looking back now, actually had a good deal. However, blind ambition and just greed made her throw it all away.
Well here is her story…….
Maria used to be a small time girl with a horrible reputation. She grew up in a little town in the middle of nowhere. Everyone knew everyone there and so it was only natural that people knew her family. Her father was known as the town drunk and this was no secret. It was all everyone ever talked about. She used to hate finding him lying by the side of the road or in a ditch, drunk senseless.
Her mother struggled to feed the family and did everything that she could to put food on the table. This ended up leading her into the horrible trade of selling illicit brews right from their home. Her sister was unmarried with two children from different fathers, a fact that everyone knew. Her brother was in jail serving a six months term for stealing chicken. They were quite the family and it was no surprise that they were the talk of the town.
Maria was the dreamer. She didn’t belong in that small town or the miserable ill-reputed family and so she ended up building castles in the air trying to escape from her reality.
Maria had big dreams. She was not always going to be Maria Mumbi from Ragati. She was going to leave that small town one day and go to Nairobi. She wanted to be like those women she saw on TV with their makeup, short skirts, jeans trousers and perm-ed hair. She was too big for Ragati and definitely better than that unfortunate family that she had been stuck with. Poverty was not for her. She belonged to the city life.
Recently, Paulo’s sister, Gathoni came from Nairobi to visit her family in Ragati. She looked wonderful in a pair of jeans, pumps and a flowered blouse that accentuated her ample bosom. Gathoni had become a knock-out. Maria remembered walking to the shopping center with her and watching all the men drool over her. Gathoni left Ragati with shorter natural hair that had never seen the inside of a salon, she had jigger infested feet and barely spoke a word of English or Swahili. Here she was, walking around like one of those women that Maria saw on TV. She was quite something that Gathoni and Maria wanted to be just like her.
During her visit, she told Maria about the city life. Gathoni had really changed. She now went dancing with young men, had beer and even had a boyfriend. She told Maria about all the money that she made in Nairobi and the amazing life that she was living and Maria envied her. She longed for the day when she wouldn’t have to deal with her family’s shame. She wanted to go and start over again. A new life with no family burdens sounded ideal for Maria. She was too big for Ragati obviously and so Nairobi started beckoning her.
When Gathoni left and went back to her city life, Maria was left planning and dreaming about Nairobi. She had to leave. Lying on her thin mattress in the room that she shared with her sister and the kids, all she could do was stay up all night and plan her life away from that dump. She longed to wake up and smell clean, fresh air and not the stench of urine from her nephews, vomit from her drunkard of a father or the illicit brew that her mother made at odd hours. Each night, as she pulled my torn worn out blanket over her head, thoughts of spending nights in a lovely warm bed in Nairobi crowded her head. She couldn’t wait to get away from that god-forsaken home and family.
The main thing that kept her in Ragati after Gathoni left was her lack of money. Maria simply could not afford bus fare to Nairobi. She did not know what to do. She was so tired of eating weevil infested maize and beans and walking around town with everyone staring at her. She heard the whispers. Most people said that her family was bewitched. Others doubted her sanity since she was always walking around with her head in the clouds. Maria heard them alright and couldn’t wait to get away from all that.
One day, the perfect opportunity just presented itself. Maria was seated at home over lunch hour watching the maize and beans cooking with the weevils floating on the watery soup. Her mother called her into the cow pen which was being used as the illicit brewing den. She asked her to serve the patrons as she needed to run an errand. Maria really hated it when she did that. I mean, there she was in a cow pen filled with drunk men drinking cheap liquor and lewdly eyeing her.
However, she had hardly sat down when she saw the money. Her mother’s sales for that day were right there in a tin hidden in a makeshift cupboard where she kept her stuff. An idea quickly formed in Maria’s mind. Her chance to leave Ragati and its misery was right there. She quickly took a few notes, just enough to get her to Nairobi. She then sat down and waited for her mother nervously as excitement built up in her. Maria was finally going to leave her misery behind.
Immediately her mother came back, Maria excused herself. She quickly ran back to the house and packed the three dresses that she had in a black nylon back. She then wore her only pair of shoes and darted out of the compound. Passing near the kitchen, she could see the food cooking on the fireplace. She quickly looked away silently thinking to herself that she would never eat weevil infested food or tear up because of the smoke from the firewood. She was leaving the misery behind. She was free at last.
That was the last time that Maria saw her family. However, her misery still followed her to Nairobi where life was not exactly what she thought it would. It turned out that Gathoni had forgotten to mention that she lives in a shanty with a leaking roof and hardly enough room to stand in. You either sat on the bed or stepped out of the house. There was simply no room. The girls used a stove to cook and everything smelled of smoke. Maria was shocked when she first got to the house. This is definitely not what Gathoni had promised her.
Maria also came to learn about what Gathoni did for a living. She had a day and night trade as a prostitute. The men used to come to the house for the rendezvous. This meant that Maria had to keep looking for a place to stay every time someone came over. She tried looking for a job so that she could get her own place but that was difficult. With no English or Kiswahili knowledge and hardly an education, nobody was willing to hire her. Soon enough, Gathoni convinced her to join her trade and she honestly gave her no choice. She threatened to stop feeding her if she didn’t start bringing money home.
It wasn’t long before Maria and Gathoni had a fall out and this meant that accommodation arrangements had to change. Maria headed out to the streets. She started spending nights on the corridors of Nairobi with only a cardboard to use as a bed. The cold, rain and insecurities of the city all bayed for her blood. She still traded her body for food but the misery just kept getting worse.
Now looking at herself in the mirror, at the ghost of a woman who she once was. Maria felt tears well up behind her eyes and fall freely down her cold cheeks. The hunger was now forgotten as she looked at herself and thought of Ragati and her dysfunctional family. She could now remember her father. Not as the village drunk but the story teller. Whether drunk or sober, he always had stories to tell the family that would leave them in stitches. She remembered watching him head out to the beer den in his favorite brown corduroy jacket. Until then, the only memories that she had of her father were that of his drunkenness. Now she missed him, she missed his laugh, his off-key singing and the way that in his own strange way, he used to really love his family.
Maria thought of her mother. She thought of all the sacrifices that she made for the family. She remembered her soft face, smooth skin, eyes always filled with sadness. It never used to be like that. Her mother used to be very cheerful and beautiful. She had a good teaching job and used to enjoy her work. However, her career ended when the government decided to sack teachers instead of paying them their dues. Despite all the hardship, her mother loved her family. She ensured that they always had food to eat. Maria remembered the day her mother went out and bought her a beautiful new dress. It had cost a lot but her mother had always had means of ensuring that she made her children feel special even when times were very tough.
Her sister was a wonderful woman who just made some poor choices in life seeking love in all the wrong places. The two men who impregnated her all got her through false promises of love and marriage. They did not know the real her though. They did not know just how beautiful she was on the inside. They had no idea of how she much she cared for others even at her own expenses. Rahab was the kind of woman who would share a food with the hungry and go to bed on an empty stomach. She was a very intelligent and funny person too. They did not see that, all the men saw was a woman who they could take advantage of. They got her pregnant and then left her to raise two kids on her own. Speaking of the kids, Maria missed the boys so much. She missed playing with them after school, talking to them and just being around them. She missed how they would wrap their tiny slender arms around her in a hug every time they were leaving the house. Maria missed simple things like tickling them and watching them roll on the ground in fits of laughter.
Then there was Murimi her brother. He made wrong choices in life but he was another great guy. Maria fondly remembered how he used to take care of the family like he was the dad. He watched over her and Rahab making sure they were safe always and even took up the role of being the father to the boys. His love for the boys is what got him into trouble. One day when there was absolutely no food for the family, Murimi made the bad decision of stealing from the neighbors. He preferred getting into trouble rather than watch the boys go to bed hungry. That was Murimi. 6 months in jail but he still ensured that we had something to eat. Maria wondered what her brother would be like now that he was certainly out of jail.
She thought of the home that she had eagerly run away from and the love of her family. Long forgotten were the chips in front of her as suddenly, she gained clarity into life. Her family may have had some troubles, they may not have money and the lifestyle that she had craved so badly but either way, they were blessed to have each other. She remembered the laughter at home even when the food was not enough. The encouragements when someone was going through tough times and the good old days before the poverty.
Maria decided to do the right thing and go back home. She didn’t know how she would make the money to get all the way back to her family but she decided that she had to go back no matter what it took. Leaving the chips unfinished, she walked out from the restaurant. It was really dark outside but she only had two streets to walk to get to her corner where she would then spend the night. Head hung low, heart heavy with thoughts and tears she slowly walked with only thoughts of home on her mind.
She never saw him coming. All of a sudden, she was standing face to face with this huge mean-looking street urchin who menacingly pointed a blade at her demanding to get all her money. Maria had the 175 Shillings left which she tightly held in her hands. It was her ticket home and she wasn’t letting go of it. She didn’t even feel the pain at first, just something warm trickling down her neck. Suddenly everything went white and she sagged to her knees and fell on the ground still holding the money in her hands.
Maria did go home at last but not in the way she expected. Instead, she went home in a box, a wooden box.