A dark cloud gathers on the sky above chasing the blue away with one swift move. The wind blows and darkness descends slowly like a bride does on the aisle. The birds culminate their day’s rhythmic music and all over sudden it is as silent as tomb. At a distant, an owl hoots repeatedly, either in defiance to the bird law or in anticipation for the unknown.
A matatu stands on the estate’s shopping centre with its doors ajar. The matatu’s stereo is loud and the crowd gathering seems interested in the sound from the stereo. It is unusual, especially for little Ciku. This junction is on ordinary circumstances a beehive of activities particularly in Huruma estate, Eldoret at this time. Perhaps it is football, Ciku shrugs and walks away to run mother’s errands at the shops.
A little later, the crowd listening to the stereo dissolves into the darkness. Perhaps the football match is over or maybe it is the darkness that has sent them away but still things do not seem right. Little Ciku can be seen hurrying home with a black polythene dangling from her little hands. It does not take long before Ciku confirms her suspicion. Her little eyes above the chubby cheeks dart to the skies following a cloud of black smoke ahead. She becomes startled. She follows the cloud to the base and there it is, a big fire lights on the middle of the road obstructing her way back home. Ciku looks back and notices that within the blink of an eye, this familiar junction had become a desert with a few people running up and down in hushed footsteps; the apocalypse upon them.
Ciku becomes terrified. For the very first time in her short lifetime she had never felt so distant from home. She turns left, she turns right and just about when she turns ahead past the black smoke, darker than hell’s soot, past the raging inferno, is when she sees it. A group of young adults dressed scantily in cow skin holding spears on one hand, a bow on their other hand and a bag of arrows on their backs. They run towards Ciku, then at once, they stop, they lie flat on the ground and smear their faces with the white dust from the ground. Then they rise and start advancing towards Ciku again. By this time Ciku can hardly comprehend the circumstances surrounding her, all that she knows is that tonight might be a night she will spend away from mother.
The thought of mother triggers adrenaline in the little girl. She is determined to get home and deliver the package in black wrapping to mother. She hesitates then tries to dodge the blaze and rush home but the flame on the middle of the road appals her. Then she hears the screams breaking the evening’s silence, shrill screams as if someone is in pain. It does not take long, another strident scream runs the air, this time it sounds familiar and it sounds like mother. Ciku is now standing on the middle of the road muddled, her six years of age trying to comprehend the current conundrum. Looking back she realises people are running. Running away from the fire, their homes and the circus of the dirt smeared men with spears. Will she run with them or will she wait for the fire to subside so that she can go home? Little Ciku breaks into tears.
In her six years, Ciku had only learned to speak, to write a few alphabet and numbers and to calculate. Mother had taught her to do small laundry like handkerchiefs and her panties. She was bright, so mother had gone ahead to teach her to make green tea and pancakes. Father had taught her to make Ugali and ride a bicycle. But both had failed to prepare her for a predicament such as this, a day she would not get home.
Shouting men and screaming women urge everyone to leave Huruma estate as it is not safe anymore. The fire is not only a border between Ciku and mother but also death and escape. The terror on Ciku’s face can hardly be concealed as she sinks into the running multitude, most of them who she knew from Huruma Junction. She hopes that one of them would recognise her and at least tell her what to do. In death, everyone for himself and God for us all. It seemed like Ciku would have to survive the night alone until she could find mother or father.
In the rush to God knows where, Ciku finds a kid, much younger than her, startled and terrified in the commotion. She pulls the kid to her side with one hand and pulls her to where she was headed, perhaps thinking to herself that if the world was dark and unruly, little effort towards the light would sprout hope to the distressed and frightened souls. Now Ciku has someone by her side, not a protector or anyone she knows in particular but a terrified stranger looking up to her. Foot after foot away from the unsafe Huruma, her home that had changed with the tick of a second, where she was born and had lived her entire life now lay in shambles and total annihilation, with the stench of raw blood and death.
When walking in darkness for long, reality begins to fade and all you can hear is your breathing. When walking in darkness, scared and alone, reality hides somewhere at the back seat of your conscious and appears so distant. In a situation as such, survival kicks in and you make plans in your head, how you will survive until morning. Ciku might have had a good heart but her physical body was tired from running and helping her new stranger friend who had began falling behind. They had been walking for an hour.
End Part One.
Submitted to the Commonwealth Short Story Prize Competition 2016.
Feature Image: Mukiri Gitiri
Edited by Essy Wanene
Written by Dennis Peters and Inspired by real events.