Wanjiku’s date with destiny.
The chilly morning dew, coats evenly on your worn out jackets, stirring up a stale odor, that exposes the layers of dirt and dried up sweat, long accumulated in our jackets-the odor vary in intensity, depending on when last, one had washed their jackets or taken a bath, but one thing is constant, we all stink, and the morning breathe is nothing to write home about-say you are standing next to a person who has spend the better part of the night in a drinking spree in some dingy joint, and he lets out a yawn…
My heart races furiously, slowing down momentarily to unleash a cold shiver that run through my stomach making me weak, and scared, clear echoes of my father’s stern warning an hour ago roam freely in mind unrelenting,
“Remember this my daughter, by no means whatever are you to vote for any other candidate save for our man, are we clear, he explains intimidatingly while pointing at the campaign picture ‘our man’
“Listen, this man speaks our language, he is our son, our Hero and we shall not let him down” he continues
“But father, I understand that this man comes from our community, but I do not understand his policies, how is he going to improve the fortunes of the young people in our community, besides he is very corrupt, tribal and I don’t trust him with my country? I reply confidently,
I unconsciously soothe my cheek, still recovering from my father’s assault-his reply to my opinion regarding his preferred candidate. As I left the house under the cover of darkness, he promised to kill me if I did not vote for his man.
“But how will he know who I voted for, after all isn’t the vote not by secret ballot”, I whisper to myself as I wade through the dark narrow paths leading to the polling station -but he has tried to kill my mother twice in his drunk stupor.
My trail of thought is disrupted by the flurry of activities round me. We queue patiently, long and winding queues that sometimes seem to break off into groups for a while, then as suddenly as they break off, they align back again shorter as some people hastily retreat away into the cover of darkness, the process is repeated many a times, and I am curious to decipher the meaning of the developing trend-maybe the people break off into such close knit groups to wand of the cold, or to call upon the heavens.
Suddenly there is a pain on my shoulder, I turn-annoyed, to face the source of my pain. He is a ghostly figure, riding on the prevailing darkness to perfect his anonymity, he is wearing a red cap that attempts to hide his eyes, in that regard he fails, for the apparent quick flatter of his eyelids betrays his gouged, roaming eyes. He speaks-if you can call, incoherently mumbled hissing of words speaking- hesitantly, as if we are expected to know what he is about to say, even though he has not said it yet. By know, and unconsciously, we have broken off into a group, the shadowy figure at the middle. He squats, and we strain our heads together to get a better glimpse of the convener, who is still struggling to keep his anonymity by keeping his head down-I fear he will lose the battle. He starts.
“Today, is the day, two hundred if you will stay and vote for our man (he flashes a campaign poster of the man who is supposed to be our man, he is the same man my father wants me to vote for), five hundred if you give me your identity card and leave the polling station, how many are with us?
From his puffy jacket, he pulls put a huge bundle of notes and dangles it to ‘group members’ whose doubts are suddenly escorted to the door, there is a chorus murmur of apparent agreement, and I am lost.
Not one to wallow in the pool of not knowing, I raise my hands to enquire- it takes me several seconds to realize that it is not a public forum with set decorum, hence raising of hands will not suffice-I put my hand down, luckily nobody notices-how could they notice with their heads bungled together facing down at the man made pit. I adjust my head-by bluntly attacking and shoving aside all neighboring heads-and in oblivious disregard of all disgruntled complains, I stammer
“Excuse me, what do you mean? What is the money for? Why would anyone forfeit their right to vote and actively participate in the decision making of their country and communities? I start confidently,
“And for such a miserable amount, that is just misplaced, misinformed and a very disturbing state of thought, besides this candidate is involved in so many corrupt scandals, and I strongly believe that he should not be given a chance to manage our country” I philosophically conclude.
Several heads sharply turn to face me, the registered disgust marked on their faces sends my mental warning bells into hyper activity, the shadowy figure rises and as if to cement the already build up tension, the ‘group members’, simultaneously take a step back, leaving me and the shadowy figure, standing at a parallel, to face-off. At that moment, I curse the spasms of youth, the primitive energy that drove me to ask, to inquire, and deliver me to this awkward moment. Two steps and he is breathing down my neck-literally, his breathe reliably informs me that he has been drinking cheap frothy drinks, and when he raises his hands to wring my neck, his armpits relay new information-he has not had close and deliberate encounter with water and soap for a long time.
Suddenly, my form is hanging at the not so friendly support of a pair of rough hands,
“Who do you think you are? Do you want the enemy tribe to spit on us? Do you know what we do to people like you? He, in quick succession loudly hisses to my ear.
The fear in my veins is slowly but surely boiling over to anger, and I want to spit on his face and send him straight to the first musician’s abode-the one who was kicked out of the place with gold coated highways and talking lions and a watchman named peter who coincidentally stands at a gate named after him-but it’s still dark, everyone around me is a stranger and I am a woman, a fast mental calculation educates me that those three ingredients are not conducive for any woman to be running her mouth intelligently or otherwise. I shall only be seen and not heard.
“Will you take the money or do we continue with this discussion elsewhere?” He continues,
“I will take the money” I stammer, and that prompts him to put me down, I sigh with relief.
He pulls out a five hundred note, I freeze-five hundred is too much, it means a lot, it is expensive and I will not accept it. At that moment staring at the money, intense flashes run across my mind; frustrated coffee farmers, youth unemployment, crime, my alcoholic brother, I feel like a cheap sell out, a modern day Judas Iscariot. He shoves the money in my mouth and stretches his hand, he wants something in return, my mental warning bells are deafening, my eyes dance around, looking for a familiar face to speak out and save me-there is none, and everyone turns their back, to them there is nothing wrong going on.
“I have no time for you, give me what I want”, he continues.
I can’t give him, my most sacred, most treasured belonging, I have waited for so long, for today, to make my stand known, my voice heard, to craft and shape my destiny, I will not give in to his demands.
With sudden might, he shoves me to the ground and begins to frisk me, slapping me occasionally in the process, he gets assistance from an evil old man whose intention is only to satisfy his desires, “we should strip her” he suggests, I lose it. I grab the old bull by the horn-pardon me, by the balls-, and squeeze them as you would a ripe juicy orange, leaving no juice un-drained, and the emerging flickers of sun rise allow me to see his face crease in sheer agony-I am encouraged. I dig my claws dipper into his pair of ‘life storage facility’, and when he suddenly lets out a loud scream, I know he will never mess with me again.His scream has a domino effect; the shadowy figure spits on my face, and beats a hasty retreat. My fellow ‘group members’ unceremoniously depart, the old bull falls on his knees in pain, soothing his stores. I rise, momentarily scared, but resolve and courage holds me hostage, I spit out the note to the ground and flex my neck muscles twice, sending a message to the staring beings watching from a distance. The police arrive, silence sets in, the queues are as straight as arrows, the sun is awake, it is six am.
There is excitement all around as the sun rays illuminate brightly, revealing the multitudes that eagerly wait to vote, and when the IEBC presiding officer steps forth to announce the official opening of Temple Road polling station, we begin to jostle impatiently. Sandwiched between two built men, I fight to regain my balance and fresh air, and in the process I accidentally step on the shoes on the man in front of me. He turns, furiously,
“What the hell is wrong with you, watch where you step”
“I am sorry sir, I didn’t mean to step on your shoes, it’s just that everyone is jostling for space and I lost my balance”
“Do I look like I care, if you lost your balance or space? You think I don’t know that you are trying to steal from me, you thieves”
“Excuse me, I am not a thief”
“Listen young girl, you are a thief, your parents are thieves, your clan members are thieves, and your whole tribe is full of thieves” he loudly barks
His sentiments attract attention from all within ear shot, and there is a hum of murmur that seems to be rising by the second, suddenly, the man behind me starts referring to man with the soiled shoes,
“You idiot, who the hell do you think you are, calling us thieves? Do you know who we are?
“Does he know where he is, and what we can do to him?” Onother one continues
“Tell him that his man shall never sit on the president’s sit” a woman echoes amidst applause,
Within no time, the discussion has spread wild and everyone wants to have a piece of the man whose shoe I stepped on, who is now feigning bravery, and he fails because I can see feel him shiver. No one knows where the flying missile comes from, but when it swiftly wheezes past my ears, I know the intended target.
The following events happen in real time.
The man with the soiled shoes is writhing in pain, he falls on the ground holding his head to restrain escaping blood. There is a deliberate scuffle around the man on the ground, blows and kicks are landing on him. There is another scuffle disrupting the initial scuffle, which seems to be in aid of the man on the ground. There are now two distinct groups; for and against the man on the ground, exchanging blows, kicks and insults. The jostling unintentionally assist me retreat behind a bourganivelia bush, shocked and scared. Suddenly gun shots fill the air, followed by sirens. Watching from the safe confines of the bush, I can see the police haul different men and women in a blue government truck,
“You want to cause disruptions today? Well you can cause those disruptions in the police cells “I hear one officer say,
“You two, can you pick up that dead man lying there, before the end of the day, you must tell us who killed him, you murderous” another office remarks,
It takes thirty minutes for the police to restore relative calm, there are marked pools of blood that people step on without any care and the police do nothing to stop them.There are various identity cards lying on the ground intact, and the shadowy figure who had assaulted me earlier creeps and collects them, quickly retreating to the crowd for cover, the men in blue do nothing.I am scared, tired and confused and the hem of my trouser is wet, from soaking up the red liquid. The Presiding officer returns flanked on both sides by two heavily armed officers, and after explaining to us on the need for peaceful elections, she beckons to one of the officers to open the gate.
I am the first to walk in-proudly for that matter, and when they run my finger prints in their fancy biometric machines, I know I am making history. The machine beeps twice, meaning I am a registered voter. The young man asks for my identity card, and I am suddenly alert, not again!, it takes me a minute to convince myself that my identity card is safe with the young man working for the IEBC and that there is no cause for alarm. I reach out my hands and go digging, I reach for the bra strap and pull out a small bag resting comfortably between my breasts-the safest place to hide important thing-I zip it open and produce my identity card to the amazement of everyone, including the international observers.
I walk to the private voting booth, armed with six ballot papers and as I lean forward to ensure my privacy, beads of sweat align on my forehead, and the pen in my hand begins to dance on its own. There is more, vivid pictures flash through my mind, I see myself unemployed, I see my mother’s dying coffee, poor roads, children dying from preventive diseases, money passing below tables, the dead man with soiled shoes, my father’s tribalism…
My knees are giving in, flash floods are causing havoc on my face, and neck, my throat is dry and suddenly I have a throbbing headache. I pick the presidential ballot paper, and stare at the familiar faces, my pen begins to scroll down-carefully lest it spits on the wrong candidate-then up again, lord have mercy!.
“Madam, do you need help” the presiding officer calmly inquires, “No” I respond nervously.
I turn to the ballot papers with new resolve, I know exactly what to do, for myself and my country.
Two hours later, I am matching back to the house, bubbling with a sense of achievement, having taken part in hiring my country leaders, I feel very important, like a boss and although I lack all the physical hallmarks that are associated with being a boss like cars and offices, I feel like a boss all the same. My joy is short lived, for when I arrive at the house, I find my father seated outside armed with a new sisal rope, the veins on his forehead protruding angrily. He is not alone, the shadowy figure from the polling station sits next to him. They both stare at me,
“She is the one I was telling you about, the one who was poisoning people minds not to vote for our man” the shadowy figure starts
“What did I tell you” my father barks at me, as he rises towards me,
“Daddy, I did what I thought was best” I stammer, in anticipation of a through beating,
“My daughter run, go to your grandfather’s house, run” my mother shouts while peeping from the kitchen window.
I turn back to escape but I trip at the gate. My father’s lashes are deliberate, swift and painful, he refuses to heed to my pleas as I beg him to stop hitting me. My mother comes to my aid, kneeling in front of him, shielding me, giving me the opportunity to crawl away, and splint. At the back of my head I know my mother will pay dearly for my decision.