Nataana Leshan had been brought up in a traditional Maasai home together with three Maasai Morans as her brothers. All her life she had felt the warmth of family, the protection of brothers and the appreciation of culture. She spoke perfect Maasai at the age of twenty and was not afraid to shove it down our throats of how distinct her exceptional language made her. So many times we would be engaged in a basic conversation, and a Maasai friend of hers would join in, and they would automatically switch to Maasai language. It was rude, and it was mean, but it never bothered me, although it should have. I would be kicked out of the conversation just like that, and I would do what any normal Kikuyu would do when everyone is busy speaking Maasai, I would grab my phone and click on my Twitter App.
For the longest time, when we the Kikuyu tribe were not busy fighting Luo’s for politics, then we were busy fighting Maasai’s for land. Regardless how many years it had been since 1982 when the battle of the Rift Valley lands terminated between the two tribes, it was always a general feeling that us, Kikuyu people, were land grabbers in the eyes of the Maasai’s, not even the internet could make that fade off.
Nataana was different; she had been born in the Kenyan Rift Valley in Narok. She had been raised there but left to the city to get primary and secondary education. There she had met all the different people from the forty-two tribes of Kenya and learned their different cultures, names, and characteristics. She had learnt to appreciate everyone yet still maintained her customs. When she spoke her mother tongue despite there being people who never understood it, it was more from pride than from contempt. She was Maasai, and she behaved like the entire Maasai fate was on her shoulders, that is was up to her to represent her tribe’s way of life to the non-Maasais. Maybe she was tribal, but it was all well-intended.
She would put on bead necklaces and bracelets to class, put on the traditional Maasai Akala shoes during the weekends and have her tailor make her swimming costume in the famous Maasai red and white colours. She was a Maasai before she was Nataana or before she was anything else.
After primary school in Nakuru, she had gone back to Narok and undergone the Maasai girl rites of passage. Had it been a few decades earlier, the rite would involve the cutting off of the labia in a four-day ritual. She would have been dressed up in the best clothes and the finest of the traditional jewellery. She would get blessed by the elders using milk and cow blood to represent the way of life of her people. The whole community would sing songs; while their mothers would teach them how to please their husbands sexually and socially. All this would be beautiful, but earlier in the morning of the fourth day the same knife would be used to chop off the clitoris and labia of more than twenty girls. Nataana would have been expected to be strong; she would have been expected to be a warrior woman and not scream when it came to that moment. Her mother and other women would continue singing about Emuratta and Enkiama. Good girls get circumcised and then married, the song would say.
As the blade cuts off her numb skin, Nataana would be shaking profusely like a twig on an elephant’s footpath. She would be shaking not only because of the time she spent submerged in the cold river water but because of the pain of having surgery without an anaesthetic. She would try to scream in pain, but no sound would come out, and she would be glad because her mother did not have to hear her become weak. It would be over now; a few scattered stitches would be put in place to replace the chopped off body parts. Sometimes these stitches will go all the way making urinating tough, but at least it would be over now. From that, all that follows is food, good healthy food in a closed room for a month until she healed. On a good month out of the twenty girls with Nataana, eighteen would heal completely without an infection. Nataana would be among them because she is a fighter. She would leave her hut and never see the door of a secondary school classroom because she would get married off immediately. She would know what pain is, not by reading or by tales, but through experience. A strong woman who would then be expected to give birth to a baby less than a year after such an ordeal.
But days like those were gone and forgotten. In 2009, she was lucky the Emuratta of girls had been banned in the country. Now there was just Eokoto e-kule and Enkang oo-nkiri that consisted of meat and milk from cows and not humans. After primary school, Nataana joined other girls in a three-day long session about sex education, human rights, and self-confidence. Instead of mountains being set on her education, she was empowered to study and compete alongside her male age mates. She wanted to be a pharmacist. Off she went to secondary school back in the city and then to university where I met her.
The day I met Nataana Leshan, I would have never thought that I would fall madly in love with her. I would have never thought her smile would be my cocaine and the scent of her hair shampoo, oxygen in my lungs. If someone would have pointed me to her and told me that she would be the reason I thought I was alive I would have shunned them away and laughed at their folly. I would never have believed that her skin would make mine feel like a magical spark. And yet it did. If I had been blind, I would still have fallen in love with her because her soul shone on my heart like a morning star. Her beauty could never be overstated, and her impact on me was a bottomless ocean, no matter how deep I dove, I could never feel the floor of the sea.
On that particular day, the day she swept past me and never even took notice of my existence, she was nervous. Things were taking an unconventional turn. She was scared. She felt uncomfortable in her own skin making her have the appearance a person in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like she would jump out of her clothes and make a run from the bar.
It all started with her indeterminate desire to make a living for herself instead of the absolute reliance on her parents for money. She had felt that her siblings were already putting a massive strain on their parents’ resources and would be better off if she was in a position to work her way out of dependence. When a friend suggested that they should go, hang out with a couple of older business people for a short time and then work up a conversation that would get them hired, she had obliged and right now she was not so sure she had made the right decision.
So far, nothing had happened to cause alarm. Nataana had split ways with her friend earlier in the evening, and she was left alone with the stranger who she only knew his first name, Benson. He was kind, too kind for his huge body. He kept on asking whether she was okay and whether she needed anything from the bar. At some point, Nataana was sure he would never harm her.
She was right, Benson was interested in some good evening company and found her too uncomfortable to have fun. It was then that he decided to ask her of her familiarity with this kind of situations and she had plainly confessed that it was her first time. Then Benson had gone ahead to point out her purpose as an escort, and he was detailed in the job description ending with advice to her that she should never have sex with clients. Her job was to dance, engage in conversation and drink and then leave to sleep in her bed. He had made it seem too easy. This was the real life where strong principles never paid rent or catered for bills. Everyone had to do what they had to do.
A few minutes to midnight, the dance floor was too crowded and mostly with students, and Benson suggested that they should move to a better club. Nataana had agreed and followed him out of the club. She did not see me seated at a table by myself. If she had maybe things would have been different. That was four years ago.
Today, Nataana is not in the club. Somehow, her memory in my mind makes the table she had sat four years ago look like she had left her apparition there to reign in her absence. I missed her. It was stupid to think that it was love but somehow beyond everything that had happened between us, I hoped that she was here with me. Meeting her was like the proverbial grand opening of the Pandora’s Box.
To be continued…
A few years ago, I made the first attempt to write one long story that would be read as a book. The book progressed like a drive on a smooth highway until it went dry after exactly five Chapters. I have always harboured and entertained the thought that this infant story would one day mature to a rude adolescent teenager and then a full-blown adult. Now, I am not sure. The story you just read is an excerpt of the old story. Here is a link to the first part of the story: Deep Dives. Part One.
Feature Image by Mukiri Gitiri