Nothing to lose
“We lie loudest when we lie to ourselves.” – Eric Hoffer
“The desire to know is natural to good men.” – Leonardo da Vinci
“We shall not grow wiser before we learn that
much that we have done was very foolish.” – F. A. Hayek
The body jerked spasmodically, like a live fish suddenly thrust on land. Through the crowds’ feet, a uniform kept popping in and out of view. Men looked on helplessly, worriedly. The women whispered amongst themselves. None of them could identify her. She was not a local. But her uniform was known – her school was a few metres down the road.
It was not out of kindness that they notified her principal. Nobody wanted the costs and responsibilities of being a Good Samaritan. The economy was too harsh for them to consider it. Even as they waited for the principal to turn up, a shopkeeper said, “alikuja kwangu kununua dawa ya panya.” [she came to my shop to buy rat poison]
But the circumstances were too suspicious; a preoccupied, unaccompanied, unfamiliar student attempting to buy rat poison smack in the middle of a school day? It didn’t sit right with him, and he’d pretended not to have any. But the girl was desperate and she’d moved on to the next shop keeper. Sure enough a little distance from her convulsing fingers was an empty packet of rat poison. The deadly kind.
As the sounds of sirens faded away ferrying their unfortunate passenger, the crowd dispersed. “Kumbe sio Kifafa?” [So it was not Epilepsy?] A woman asked no one in particular. They shook their heads and shuffled away speaking in hushed tones.
One month earlier the girl had been thrown out by – of all people – her grandmother. That last bastion of humane treatment was the first to throw her out. Since her non-exemplary parent had passed away, and with no father to speak of, her grandmother considered her and her sister a ‘burden’. Her aunt offered to help her find housework. But she had other ideas. Whether wise or not, she wanted to stay in school and complete her education. The government’s weak girl child messages had somehow worked on her.
Her sister took up her aunt’s offer and was immediately carted off to the big city. “But you go, and don’t come back! I have enough mouths to feed.” she told the girl.
So the girl trudged away with a heavy heart and the stubborn determination of youth. She would find a way to stay in school, she thought fiercely to herself. She wedged herself between two ramshackle shanties, and there spent the night poorly concealed from the streets of her slum neighbourhood. It was a wonder that no drunks spotted her. The next morning, numb with cold and with a growling stomach, she was still racking her brains and dragging her little bundle of worldly possessions with her, as she headed to church. After all, churches were meant to offer refuge weren’t they? Perhaps she had hopes of receiving help from a higher power.
One of her church mates having noticed how morose she was – got the story from her. She didn’t have to try very hard. The girl was at rock bottom, and any scraps of help she could get by telling her story, she would have taken with both hands and gratitude.
It gained her a temporary place to stay with a kind woman, while she sought an alternative. It was a small, but neat two-room shanty with access to a row of communally shared bath cubicles and loos. To say she was grateful was an understatement. But after one week of walking to school from her friend’s place, and sharing her meagre meals, her friend lost her job. They were duly thrown out. She was back on the streets.
That day in school, her eyes were red from crying most of the day. Her last teacher noticed – what with her sibilant sobs punctuating his lesson every few minutes – and called her aside. The story tumbled out of her in a rush of tears and sniffles. After a long stretch of time while the teacher observed her – hands crossed on his chest, he straightened and said, “I have a proposal that might be beneficial to both of us.” The girl blinked back her tears staring at him quizzically.
“What?” she asked. “You could come and keep house for me, and look after my little boy, in exchange for room and board.” When she continued to stare, he expounded. “My wife works far from Nairobi, so she’s only around on weekends.” In other words, she would be a moonlighting as a house-girl, in a house close enough to walk to school and still get the job done. Desperate as she was, she found the proposal ideal. After all isn’t that what her schoolmates were doing in one form or another?
The first three days were good for her. Even with her duties, she got to school on time in the mornings, got food in her belly at night and a warm place to lie down. The little boy wasn’t a brat either. On the fourth day, this changed. The teacher came to her pallet at night thinking she was asleep. She quickly scrambled out of reach and threatened to scream if he touched her. Not that it would have done her much good; it was a neighbourhood where people turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to wife battery. She would have been another invisible victim of the night. But thought of his little boy must have stopped him – who knows. He retreated. That night, the girl didn’t quite sleep. She kept jumping at every little sound, thinking the teacher was back. The next morning she asked him what he had been doing at her pallet, and received a trite reason in response.
That night again, the teacher attempted to catch her asleep. This time she was prepared, and she started screaming as soon as he approached her pallet. He hastily retreated and left her alone.
The morrow found her despondently making her way to school. She was like a chick that suddenly found itself in a hawk’s nest. She knew she wouldn’t last there. Could things get any worse? Worse happened at school that day. Worse than landowners turning IDP overnight. She’d been kicked out of school for lack of fees. A measly 3,000/= bob for the term. Pocket change for better-off high school students in semi-wealthy schools – the end of the world for her.
And so, she came to be twitching and convulsing on the ground – gripped in a seizure of her own making. Because she had no one left to turn to, nothing left to live for.
At least that was her thinking. No one has attempted to change her mind since. The shopkeeper who’d refused to sell her rat poison showed more consideration for her than her school counsellor. The counsellor had not tried to change her mind at all. Nobody wants to try. Can you help change her mind? Would you like to show her that there’s a lot to live for, and a legal way to live it? Suggestions are welcome, because something needs to be done about her, and you might just be the person for the job.
This happened about two months ago now. For more information, you can reach the author through www.twitter.com/streamlinedbiz