A RAY OF HOPE
By: Lubnah Abdulhalim
Photo Courtesy: Salem_Beliegraphy
Early that morning, I rose up with the cock’s crowing so loudly just outside my grandmother’s grass thatched hut. It was a nice feeling being back at the village after ten years of studying in the city. I stood outside the hut for a while, letting the sun rays hit my face as I breathed in the cold fresh farm air.
“You woke up early mamma,” my grandma said as she went on grinding the maize. I could feel the loud thuds of the mortar and the pestle like I could hear my own heartbeats. There was that peace of mind in the village that I couldn’t find anywhere else.
“It is not early grandma…let me go fetch water.”
“No mamma…you are from the city, you don’t have the strength anymore to carry the calabash. I warned you from going to the city to study but you didn’t listen to my words…now look at how weak you seem!”
I laughed loudly at how my grandmother still took me as the little delicate baby she knew long ago. I ignored her words and rushed with a calabash to fetch water. As I walked away barefooted, I realized how much grandma had missed seeing me in her compound here in the village. I was glad I finally came to see her and that way; I would be able to do what had brought me to the village; be a teacher in one of the centers of street children. That had been my dream and here I was, many years later to fulfill it.
Today was my first day as a teacher at the center and I couldn’t help but get scared a bit. The director of the center welcomed me to the large and dusty compound with a number of mud and grass thatched rooms. I could see a number of boys playing football at a far end with what seemed to be a ball made of paper bags and dump ropes. Just nearer to me sat a young boy of eleven years, playing with sand and sticks. When he noticed my presence, he stood up and stared deeply at me. I smiled lightly before going to where he was. He shyly gave me his dirty and greasy hand. I looked at his dirty unkempt hair and his torn up oversized clothes without a word. He was just about to take back his hand when I gave him another smile and shook his hand gently. When the rest of the children saw me, they flocked around asking me all kind of questions. I couldn’t help but laugh at how eager they were to know whether I was from the city. I spent the entire day answering their questions and hearing their endless stories of the streets. That evening, as I went home through the thick bushes and plantations, I could feel tears slowly roll down my cheeks. I was glad that I had come to assist them in learning; they really needed me I realized.
The next day, I woke up earlier than usual. I already had a plan on how I was going to teach the boys at the center and I walked very fast to start my lessons with them. I started from teaching them how to read letters and how to write their names. I was so touched at how happy they were to learn. They then started to sing and dance the traditional songs for me as they merrily bet the drums and thumped their feet. The young girls wore old lesos at their waist as they danced to the tunes being made by the flutes. After I had ensured that their minds were already captivated, I started narrating to them an old story of the past; a story that meant a lot to me.
“Pakawa,” they shouted back loudly. I took a long sigh before starting the narration.
“Gitonga, Musau and Muthoni came from a very rich family. They lived in one of the most beautiful houses in Karen. They had a big compound with a nice garden in it. Every evening from school, they would play around in the compound with their many toys, play hide and seek and many other games. Their parents were always busy with work and the three siblings would always find themselves alone in the huge house. They didn’t really mind being left alone for they had all they wanted and could do whatever they wanted, which included, messing the house upside down, disturb the house girls, and play with the water pipe, thus wasting a lot of water.
The three of them went to one of the best school in town. Every morning they would be picked by the school bus. The house girl would give each one of them their packed lunch and watch them leave. That was the same routine for them every day. They had very little time with their parents.
Gitonga, who was twelve years, was the eldest. He was very playful at school. He always got punished for misbehaving in class. He would also ask his friends to join him in his mischief. His parents were always being summoned at school for his cases. They even tried to get him special tuition but Gitonga never improved in his studies.
Musau was the second born in the family. He was a quiet nine year old boy .He performed better than his older brother Gitonga at school. He would at times study but Gitonga would always ask him to join in the games. Muthoni was their baby sister. She was seven years old .Muthoni liked playing with her two brothers and she loved them very much.
The children grew up seeing their parents only on weekends. They spent most of their time with the house girls. They would bathe them, feed them and prepare them for school each day. But today, something unusual happened. Their parents came home earlier than usual. After they had all eaten dinner and showered, their father called all of them into his room. They stood there, anxious to know what was happening.
“Children, we have received some bad news,” their mother started.
The three of them stood in silence, listening. “Your grand mother is very sick at hospital. We have to live very early tomorrow morning to Mombasa,” their father continued.
“Mombasa?? Hurrah!” Gitonga rejoiced.
“We are coming with you right? It is going to be weekend anyway!” Musau said.
“Children….calm down. We will take you alone but you must understand this is not a holiday…”
“Yes we understand,” Gitonga cut in.
“Our first time to Mombasa! Hurrah!” Musau exclaimed with joy.
“Okay, okay children …go to your rooms. Let the house girl help you pack for tomorrow.”
The three of them rushed out of the room, very excited. They were going to see their grandma after very long and Mombasa was new to them. They couldn’t wait for sunrise!
This particular day, Mr. and Mrs. Kimathi found their children awake very early. They were all set to leave for Mombasa. Immediately after breakfast, they boarded their car and started their journey. It was quite a long trip. The children were excited and they kept looking through the car windows. They pass through bushes and forestry areas. They saw elephants and giraffes grazing around. This made them jump up and down with joy. They saw heavy trucks moving on the smooth road. Their mother would give them snacks once in a while. Gitonga took many photos on the way.
When they finally arrived in Mombasa, it was getting past noon. The sun was heating and the roads were busy with all kinds of ‘biashara’. The children were a lot quieter than before. They were very tired and hungry. Their father led them into one of the best Swahili dishes restaurant for a late lunch. They were welcomed with the sweet aroma of fish and chicken being fried.
Gitonga and Musau were staring at the menu.
“What is mahamri, mum?”
“And what is vitumbua?” They kept asking in amazement.
“These are cultural foods of coasterians. You do know mahamri. It’s just the other name for maandazi. Let us have lunch now. We will order some of those for take away,” their mother said.
The family had a delicious meal of biriani and fish. Musau didn’t stop describing how tasty the food was. They had never tasted such a meal before and they just loved it. They had ‘matumbo’ as delicacy before leaving for grandma’s house.
Grandma’s house was huge as well. It was situated in a place called Nyali. The place was so calm and quiet. There were beautiful houses all around. The children couldn’t help but see the playgrounds full of swings on the way. But of course their parents wouldn’t let them go to the swings right now. They had to see grandma first.
There was no one at grandma’s place apart from a single house girl. She was cleaning up the rooms when they arrived. Mr. Kimathi assembled his children again. “We all go to shower now, have a rest then we will later on go see grandma.”
“Yes daddy,” they all answered in unison.
The children were just so tired and immediately went for a nap. Later that evening, they all prepared themselves to go to hospital. Mombasa night breeze was so cool and the roads were still busy as if it were midday. The hospital wasn’t so far either. It took them barely fifteen minutes.
Gitonga stared at the playground with swings once more. He couldn’t help but wish he was there. But right now they had already arrived at the hospital. One could immediately see the fear on Muthoni’s face as she saw the doctors and nurses walk past them.
“Don’t worry dear, we are just here to see grandma,” Mrs. Kimathi said, holding her hand tightly. But Muthoni still feared, and her eyes followed the doctors until they disappeared. Meanwhile, Gitonga and Musau were busy sliding at the slippery corridors. Their mother kept warning them to stop but Gitonga would never hear anyone’s words.
Grandma seemed in a critical state. She had pipes all over her and she couldn’t even talk. Gitonga and his two siblings were staring silently at grandma. Each one of them was thinking in their own way. Gitonga was thinking when grandma would wake up so they could go to swings. Musau was just feeling sorry for her and was wishing she would get up soon. Muthoni was busy remembering the stories grandma told her some two years ago.
For the time being, Mr. and Mrs. Kimathi were talking to the doctor. Gitonga tried listening to their conversation but he couldn’t hear anything. They were talking in very low tones. After about ten minutes, they were all walking out from the hospital doors.
The night was so calm and there was a full moon. The family had their dinner and they were off to bed very early that night. The children changed into pajamas and went to sleep. Gitonga just lay in his bed wishing and thinking of the swings. He quickly woke up and went to Musau’s bed.
“Musau! Musau! Musau! Wake up!” Gitonga shook Musau’s shoulder.
“What is it Gitonga?” he replied sleepily.
“Sit up! I have a brilliant idea!” Gitonga said excitedly.
“Mmmh… let me sleep!” but Gitonga kept on insisting. He lazily sat up with eyes half asleep.
“Let us go to the swings!”
“What do you mean? Can’t you see its night?” Musau said.
“Yes…but it’s just eight p.m! I saw at the gate it was written they are open until ten p.m.” Gitonga continued.
“But we can’t go without mum and dad.”
“No we can!” Gitonga said, “Come let me show you,” Gitonga pulled Musau out of the bed to the window. He then pointed to the two gate guards who were busy eating and chatting some few miles away.
“See we can easily sneak out without anybody noticing,” Gitonga whispered.
“Where do you want to go?” a tiny voice said behind them.
They both jumped in fright, only to see Muthoni behind them.
“What are you doing here?” Gitonga asked me quickly.
“Your movements woke me up….what are you two doing? What are you up to?”
“Just go to bed little sister. We were just looking at the beautiful full moon.”
“No! I heard you telling Musau about sneaking out. You have to take me with you or I will report you to mum and dad right away!” Muthoni was about to cry.
“We have to take her along. She will report us if we don’t,” Gitonga whispered to Musau.
“You don’t even know the way! This is not a good idea Gitonga!” Musau said.
“Listen Musau, grandma is suffering from malaria and it is very serious. Did you see all those pipes to provide food and water to her body? She can’t do anything now and she might not be out soon. Let’s take the chance now!” Gitonga said.
Musau sat silently, thinking about Gitonga’s words and Muthoni was just staring at the two.
“Let us go! We won’t take long I promise,” Gitonga said.
“Do you remember the path which we saw the playground?” Musau asked him.
“Yes! Let us go fast before it’s too late!” Gitonga said as he started changing into a t-shirt and jeans.
Musau without saying anything stood up and changed his clothes too. Gitonga quickly dressed up Muthoni while giving her warnings that she shouldn’t disturb or cause trouble. Muthoni nodded quickly, she didn’t want to be left behind.
The three of them slowly crept out of their room. They could hear the low whispers in their parent’s room. They could be talking about grandma’s critical situation and they might not notice our absence, Gitonga thought. Quietly and very carefully, they opened the front door which had not yet been locked. It was very quiet outside and getting even darker. The three walked through the backyard and behind the gate guards. Just as they were about to go past the gate, Muthoni cried out.
Musau and Gitonga quickly turned to Muthoni.
“What is it?!”
“I got pricked by a thorn,” Muthoni said.
“You will have us get caught Muthoni!” Gitonga whispered angrily.
Luckily for them, the gate guards were busy chatting and laughing loudly. They didn’t even feel their movement. Both Musau and Gitonga had carried their small bag packs which had some money, snacks and torches. Off they went. Gitonga led the way as he tried to remember and follow the path they had been driven at before.
They first walked past a petrol station, then a roundabout. Muthoni and Musau silently followed. They let Gitonga think clearly.
“Are you sure you remember the way?” Musau asked.
“Yes…don’t worry. We are almost there,” Gitonga said confidently.
They walked and walked but they never got to the swings. When Musau asked Gitonga again, he kept saying they are just about to arrive at the playground. Muthoni was already tired and her eyes were full of sleep. But they kept on walking, until they got to a certain point, Gitonga suddenly stopped.
“What is Gitonga?” Musau asked.
“I think …we are lost!” Gitonga said slowly.
“But you said you knew the way, Gitonga!”
“Yes I knew, but…I don’t know how we got lost!” Gitonga said slowly.
“I am tired, I am sleepy!” Muthoni said.
“Now what are we going to do?” Musau asked Gitonga.
Gitonga looked sadly at his siblings.
“I don’t know…maybe we ask for help from someone,” he said.
“Help from which person? Can’t you see the roads are clear? This is the silent part of the town,” Musau said.
“Let’s just walk back then. Maybe we’ll be lucky to get back to grandma’s home,” Gitonga replied.
Muthoni kept yawning and complaining that she is hungry, sleepy and tired. And now, Gitonga was getting fed up with her.
“Can’t you see are trying to find the way? Please be quiet and stop complaining. You followed us yourself!”
“But you said we’ll go to the swings…” Muthoni said sadly.
“Hey you two, stop it now! Let’s get moving,” Musau interrupted their argument.
They kept walking, holding each other’s hands tightly. They didn’t even need their torches because the street lights were well illuminating the roads. They took out their snacks and started eating them. But just suddenly, they found themselves in a narrow path. The path was muddy and the street lights weren’t there anymore.
“Where are we?” Muthoni whispered.
“We don’t know,” he said as the three of them stood still, looking at the place they were in right now.
There were many unpainted houses and huts all so close together. The path was so narrow and there was mud all over. One could barely walk comfortably in such a place. It was all smelly and dirty and there was a dumpsite nearby. This place was quite more alive than the other places. They could see some women cooking outside their homes. It was pretty dark and they all wondered how those people were living. They now removed their torches and continued walking in the muddy path.
After they had now walked past the weird neighbourhood, they got to a rather isolated path. But on the sides of the road, they could see some children crowded over something. They were all seated under a rotten roof.
“Let’s go see what is happening,” Musau suggested.
“Hey no! Can’t you see they all seem dirty and in torn rugs?” Gitonga protested.
“But maybe they will help us,” Musau continued.
Gitonga kept quiet for a moment and then nodded.
“Okay…let us go try.” They slowly walked towards them in deep fear and as they approached, they saw what they were fighting over. It was some food in a paper bag. The gang raised their eyes to look up at them.
“Hehehe…seems some good catch came over to us,” one of the older boys laughed.
“Mmmh and they seem rich kids! Look at what they wear,” another one followed.
The three were now more scared and Muthoni was already about to cry.
“Let us go!” Gitonga said quickly, leading their way back.
“Wait…wait,” the one who seemed to be the eldest said, “are you lost? Need some help?”
The three of them turned back, surprised. Still filled with fear, Gitonga spoke up.
“Yes we are lost…please help us.”
“Okay calm down. Where is your home?”
“It’s not our home, our grandma. We don’t even know where it is,” Gitonga said, already in tears.
“Don’t worry boy. Come here sit with us. We will find a way to get you home together,” the eldest boy said as he led them to where the group was. The only light available was that from the three torches. The gang no longer made fun of them. They were nearly seven children of different age. The youngest was nearly of the same age as Muthoni and he was wide awake. They continued scrambling for the food that was laid down on the floor.
“Welcome!” another young boy told them.
“Yeah, come here and eat with us,” the oldest boy said.
Gitonga, Musau and Muthoni just stared in amazement. Why were these children eating so little food together?
“By the way, my name is Bakari. I am the oldest here. This is Hassan, Omari, Fatuma, Maryam, Katana and Zena,” he said, pointing at one after another.
Gitonga and Musau just nodded, still surprised.
“And what are your names?” Bakari asked.
“I am … Gitonga. This is my brother Musau and our little sister, Muthoni.”
Bakari asked them to sit down at the pavement beside a road. The three of them were very quiet and they just watched as the gang licked their hands hungrily.
“Where are you coming from?” the youngest boy from the gang, Omari, asked.
“We are from Karen, Nairobi. We came to see our grandma who is very sick,” Musau said.
“Wow! You are from Karen! You live in a big house then!” Zena said with excitement.
“Yes it is a big house,” Musau answered.
Muthoni was already asleep on the cold floor. Bakari removed the shawl he was wearing and covered her well.
“Then you eat all that good food we see in the supermarkets?” Fatuma asked, her eyes popped out.
“Yes,” Gitonga said.
“You are so lucky then!” Omari said sadly.
Musau and Gitonga looked at each other in surprise.
“Why?” they both asked.
“We have no place to call home,” Omari said slowly.
“Where do you live then?” Musau asked.
“Here, at the streets,” Bakari answered.
“Here?!” Gitonga asked, very shocked. He looked around the dark and dirty place. The floor was cold and there was nothing to protect them from the sun and rain, apart from the old rotten roof above them.
“Yes, we have no other place to go,” Zena said, looking at the two brothers.
“Why? Where are your parents?” Gitonga asked.
“We have no parents, no home, no school, no food…we are just alone. This is our family,” Bakari said slowly.
“Some of us don’t even know who our parents are,” Omari said.
“Omari was born in the street so he doesn’t know anything about his family,” Bakari explained.
Musau and Gitonga sat silently listening. They had never imagined that there were children with no homes and no family.
“What about you Bakari?” Gitonga asked.
“I used to live with my old grandma. My parents died while I was very young. At the age of twelve, grandma died as well. I had to stop going to school… no one to take care of my studies or life. I was in class six by then.”
“Oh so sorry Bakari,” Musau said.
“What happened to your home?” Gitonga asked.
“I lived there for some time. I used to work here and there to get food… but one day a big rain came and swept it completely. I was left with no other place to go except here.”
The two were now even more shocked. They felt sad for them. It was getting darker now and Omari was already asleep.
“What about the others?” Musau asked.
“We all met here at the streets…and we became like a family. Each one of us has their own sad story. Some of us had their parents living in the streets as well, but they died just like Fatuma’s parents. Others had no other place to go after their parents’ death, like me. While others are like Omari, who were abandoned by their parents,” Bakari explained.
“We all had difficult times but Omari suffered a lot more,” Bakari continued.
“How?” Gitonga asked.
“He is always asking about his mother. He is always sad. He wishes he could know his family and ask them why they abandoned him,” Zena joined in.
No one spoke for a moment. They looked at the small boy Omari who was sound asleep.
“You should be grateful that you have parents and a home,” Hassan said.
Musau and Gitonga nodded slowly.
“None of us could go on with studies. I wanted to become a pilot… but that can never happen,” Bkari said slowly.
“And I wanted to become a nurse,” Zena murmured.
Silence filled the air once more.
“Let us all sleep now. It’s getting very late,” Bakari said suddenly.
“Are we going to sleep here?” Gitonga asked.
“Yes… sorry we don’t have a better place for you to sleep but we can’t help you in this darkness. We have to wait till sunrise,” Bakari told him.
“Okay… but will you help us find our grandma’s home?”
“Yes of course. All of us will help you tomorrow. Let us sleep now. We have a long day to come!” Bakari said as he lay on the floor and covered himself with a rug.
Both Musau and Gitonga were given old blankets and they all went to sleep.
The sunrise at the coast was marvelous. The rays are what awoke the children, one after the other. Bakari was already awake, earlier than anyone else. He was carrying two buckets and was tapping Omari lightly to wake up.
“Where are you going?” Gitonga asked as he sat upright.
“To fetch some water,” Bakari said.
“But where?” Musau asked, concerned.
“There is a lady who sells water, some distance away but she gives it to us for free,” Zena answered.
Muthoni now woke up. She looked around like she couldn’t remember where they were. Then she sat up and looked at Gitonga.
“You didn’t find grandma’s home?” she asked sadly.
“No dear, we are just going to fetch water then Bakari promised to help us out,” Musau told her.
Bakari asked Zena and Fatuma to stay behind while the rest went to fetch water. Each one of them carried an old bucket, half broken. Both Musau and Gitonga looked at the young boy Omari pitifully. He was also going to carry a bucket of water. The children started walking all together. The paths were real muddy and narrow. Bakari started explaining to them how difficult it is to acquire food for them. Sometimes they have to search in thrown away foods outside hotels and restaurants and sometimes they even had to steal. When they got sick, they either went to public hospitals, get medical care then run away so that they don’t pay.
“Many times we tell lies like ‘my mother is also sick at home, she couldn’t come with me’ to the doctors and nurses so that they may treat us. But most of the times, the doctors don’t agree to treat a child, dirty looking as we are and who just came alone to hospital. The nurses would sometimes pity us and handle us for free,” Bakari explained.
Musau and Gitonga were listening keenly. It was as if they were being told a story tale. Bakari continued narrating the challenges of living in the streets while others joined in at times to explain other things. The sun was getting pretty hot and the walk was quite long. Musau and Gitonga wondered how much longer they were going to take on the way. They didn’t dare complain, on seeing that the small boy Omari wasn’t complaining.
It was nearly midday when they finally arrived at the lady’s place. But what was worse, the tap was crowded with customers buying the water.
“You are quite late today boys!” the lady called to them.
“We slept very late yesterday,” Hassan said as they all approached the lady.
“And what were you doing till you slept that late?” she asked.
“We had some visitors,” Bakari said.
“Oh, I hadn’t noticed them! What are your good names?” the lady asked politely, looking at Musau and Gitonga.
“I am Gitonga and this is my younger brother Musau.”
“Okay and I am mama Asha,” she said with a big smile before she turned to Bakari.
“Take your friends into the house. Let me request my neighbour to attend to the customers then I’ll be right back!” she said.
Bakari led the whole group into the house. It was a fairly big house but of course not bigger than Gitonga’s home. It seemed very old and the walls had cracks all over. It was dark inside and one couldn’t see clearly. They all sat down at the torn mat before mama Asha rushed into the kitchen.
“So…where are the visitors from?” she asked from the kitchen.
“They are lost from their grandma’s home. They are new here. They just arrived from Nairobi the other day,” Bakari explained.
Mama Asha then went to them with a loaf of bread and some juice.
“This is all I have to give you today,” she said sadly.
“No thank you…we really appreciate,” Hassan said.
“I am very hungry!” Omari said as he quickly began to eat.
“But where is Zena and the remaining others today?” she asked, very concerned.
“We left them with the visitors’ younger sister. She would have gotten tired walking to this place,” Bakari said.
“Do they have something to eat?” she asked.
“Yes, I left Zena with some few coins that I had from yesterday.”
Mama Asha went back to the kitchen and was humming a song beautifully as she washed her utensils.
“So…Bakari, what were you planning to do to help your visitors?” mama Asha suddenly asked.
“Mmmh, I don’t know for sure. Maybe we’ll take them to Nyali and walk around, maybe luckily they might spot the place,” he answered as he went on eating.
“Why don’t we go to the police station? By now their parents must have noticed their absence and they would surely report it to the police,” mama Asha said.
Yes indeed, Gitonga’s parents were already awake by then. They had woken up very early so as to go see the grandma in the hospital but when Mrs. Kimathi went to wake up the kids, they were nowhere to be seen.
They searched all over the house, at the garden outside, everywhere! But the children could not be found. Mr. and Mrs. Kimathi got worried now. Where could the children have gone so early? They asked the house girl, the watchmen, the neighbours but no one had seen them since the previous night. Mrs. Kimathi was already in tears.
“We have to go and report to the police!” she said.
“Let us be patient a bit more. They couldn’t have gone so far in a new town. They might be back soon,” Mr. Kimathi said.
Mr. and Mrs. Kimathi no longer went to the hospital after the doctor called to inform them that grandma was progressing very well. They waited and waited, wondering where they had disappeared to.
“It must be Gitonga’ mischief and he took his siblings along!” Mrs. Kimathi said angrily.
“Calm down, we have to think where they could have probably gone,” Mr. Kimathi said.
“We have no more time to think! Let us go report to the police!” she insisted. They soon left for the police station.
Meanwhile, the young Omari gave a very good suggestion.
“What if we take them to the swings and maybe they will remember the way to their grandma’s home?” he said.
“Oh yes!” Hassan said, “It will be much easier that way. Didn’t you say your grandma’s home is not very far from the swing park?”
Both Gitonga and Musau nodded.
“Then let us go there first. If we don’t succeed I will take you to the police station to get help okay?” mama Asha asked.
“Will you come with us?” Musau asked.
“Yes of course! I can’t let you go to the police station alone. They might as well ignore you,” she said as she wore her head scarf and buibui, the traditional coast veil.
By that time, the crowd at the tap had cleared. They all filled their buckets and started the long walk. Mama Asha helped Omari and Musau carry the buckets.
When they finally arrived to where Muthoni and the rest were, it was quite hot. Maryam and the others were busy selling groundnuts for another woman who had employed them. Muthoni was seated aside, looking at them work.
Mama Asha was introduced to Muthoni and she confirmed whether they had eaten. Zena told her that they had eaten some mahamri and some black tea which they shared. Some of the children disappeared into the nearby bushes to wash up, while others helped Zena and the others sell the groundnuts and other snacks in turns.
After everyone had washed up and dressed in their normal rugs, mama Asha sent Bakari for two plates of coconut rice and stew from a nearby ‘kibanda’. Gitonga gave out the money he had carried so they may buy some juice to eat with. The children were so happy to eat once more. They all ate together the delicious meal and they soon set off to the swings.
At that time, Mr. and Mrs. Kimathi had already reported to the police and they had promised to call them if they got any news for them. They then decided to go to the hospital while they waited for information from the police. Mr. Kimathi went into the doctor’s office to talk more on his mother’s condition while Mrs. Kimathi waited outside. She was very worried and couldn’t stop crying. She kept thinking where the children could have gone. Just suddenly, she had an idea and couldn’t wait for her husband to come out from the office.
Mama Asha and the children were already checking the road path keenly. They stood outside the swings park, trying to figure out where the house could be.
“I remember we passed with the car, we went straight ahead…” Gitonga said.
“Just straight ahead? Are you sure?”Mama Asha asked.
Gitonga was quiet for a moment.
“There is a corner somewhere I think,” Musau said as he looked ahead.
Mr. Kimathi now came out from the office. His wife rushed to him and said, “I think I know where the children went!”
“Where?” he asked quickly.
“To the swings! Remember how much Gitonga kept asking about the swings and when they could go there?” she asked.
“Yes, I remember. Let us go try! Maybe they are still there,” Mr. Kimathi said as he quickly went out of the hospital door. Just as they drove away to the swings, Mrs. Kimathi called her husband.
“Kimathi?” she said.
“Yes, what is it?” he asked.
“When we finally find our children and go back home Nairobi, we will have to find more time to spend with them. I realized we had very little time with them, they still need our attention,” she said slowly.
Mr. Kimathi kept quiet for a moment.
“Yes, it is very true. We must make time for our children,” he replied as they got nearer to the swings.
Mama Asha and all the children were now seated outside the swings. They were all tired.
“Think well boys. Try to remember the colour of your grandma’s house, any shopping center nearby?” Mama Asha told Gitonga and Musau.
“I can’t remember anything like that. When we came to Mombasa we were already so tired. I didn’t notice anything except the swings,” Gitonga said sadly.
“But I think Grandma’s house is red-bricked,” Musau said.
“There are a lot of red-bricked houses. You must think of another sign or thing to lead us,” Bakari said.
Just then, Muthoni started crying out excitedly, “That’s mummy and daddy!”
They all looked up to the direction Muthoni was pointing at. And yes indeed, it was their parents in their grand car. Musau and Gitonga stood up, surprised but very happy. They couldn’t believe their eyes. They quickly rushed to the direction of the car, with mama Asha and the children behind them. Mr. and Mrs. Kimathi had already seen their children and they were overjoyed as well. Mr. Kimathi quickly packed the car and rushed to hug their children.
Mrs. Kimathi was filled with tears of joy as she hugged her children. Mama Asha and the group stood at a distance watching the happy family.
“Are you alright? Did something happen to you?” Mr. Kimathi asked them.
“We are okay dad,” Musau said, very happy.
“Mum and dad…I am very sorry…I won’t do such a mistake again,” Gitonga started saying before his mother interrupted him.
“Don’t worry son, we all learn from our mistakes. You will tell us later on what happened. For now, tell us, who are those children and the lady?” she asked.
“Oh yeah! They helped us throughout. You should hear their stories! They are now our new friends… but they live in the streets,” Gitonga said as they approached the street children.
Musau introduced them one by one to their parents. Mr. and Mrs. Kimathi were very grateful and thanked them so much. They were all sad that the three now had to leave. Just before they did, he gave the remaining money he had to Bakari together with the torches. He told Bakari, the torches were going to help them see at night and in the dark. Mrs. Kimathi hugged each of the children and gave them some coins she had. She then showed her great gratitude to Mama Asha for her help.
Soon enough, Mr. and Mrs. Kimathi drove away, with their children at the back seat of the car. They all talked excitedly explaining what happened and how kind the street children and Mama Asha had been to them. Mr. Kimathi called the police to inform them that they had found their children. He then thanked the police officer and hung up. The parents then promised to bring them to the swings before they left back to Nairobi.
The children were taken home, showered and ate before they left to see their grandma at the hospital. Grandma had now woken up and she no longer had as many pipes as before. The children were so happy to see her talk once more. The doctor told Mr. and Mrs. Kimathi that she was still very weak but much better than before. She has to stay in hospital for some few more days. The family spent the entire day at the hospital because they were going back to Nairobi the next morning.
Gitonga, Musau and Muthoni were still excited and they kept narrating what happened to them. They glorified how good the street children were and how sad their stories were. When dawn came, the family gave farewell to the grandma because Mr. and Mrs. Kimathi had to go back to their jobs. Gitonga, Musau and Muthoni had to go back to school too. They all knelt down and prayed for grandma before they left.
The children were taken to the swings as promised and when it got to nine p.m. they all left for home. The next early morning, they got set for their long journey back home. The children were sad that they couldn’t stay longer in Mombasa. They had all loved the place very much. They hoped they would come back someday soon.
It was now one month after the visit to Mombasa. Gitonga, Musau and Muthoni had very much changed after that. They had told all their friends at school on what had happened during their journey to Mombasa and the adventure they had. All in all, they were now obedient to their parents, they didn’t disturb the house girls anymore, and they didn’t play and waste water like before. They had learnt to appreciate what they had, for they realized not everyone had what they have.
Mr. and Mrs. Kimathi changed as well. They no longer went to job on weekends and they spent more time with their children. They took them to interesting places and had good family time.
One night, Mr. and Mrs. Kimathi called their children into their room. Mr. Kimathi cleared his throat and said, “As you all know, April holidays are coming…and we have decided to go to Mombasa again!”
The children were so happy. They jumped up and down with excitement.
“And we have some more good news for you,” their mother said.
“Do you remember my friend Mr. Okoko?” Mr. Kimathi asked.
“Yes!” they all answered.
“He had been planning to open up an orphanage for quite some time…and I thought of the street children in Mombasa. They will be sponsored for education, they will have a home now and people they can call parents and food is provided as well! I suggested my friend to take them and he agreed,” Mr. Kimathi said.
The children looked at each other in disbelief. They were now more excited than ever! They all hugged their father and kept on thanking him.
That night as they all went to sleep; Musau and Gitonga lay on their beds, imagining the glow on the faces of the street children when they tell them the news. They remembered Bakari and his dream of becoming a pilot, Zena, who wanted to be a nurse…and all the rest who had their own dreams. They couldn’t wait to meet them again. They couldn’t wait for the April holidays!”
I sat down silently for a minute and I could feel my eyes dropping tears to the blank paper that I was holding. The children looked at me strangely and in deep silence before a tiny boy stood up and said,
“How are you reading the story madam? The paper you are reading from is blank?!”
There was complete silence again and I couldn’t even utter a word.
The smallest girl from the class came to where I was seated and she sat next to me, just staring at my oily face.
“Are you the same madam Zena they mentioned in the story??” another boy asked loudly. The rest of the class all looked at me at once, as if waiting for an answer from me for that question.
“Yes…I am the Zena from the story and I was telling the story from my head. I am just like you; I lived in the streets.”
All the children looked at me in surprise and were busy murmuring to each other.
“Madam, continue with the story…what happened next??” they pleaded.
“The April holidays finally came and our three friends came back to Mombasa with their parents and their father’s friends, Mr. Okoko. We were all taken to school and had a place to call home finally. Bakari became the pilot he wanted to be. Omari was adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Kimathi, Fatuma is currently a doctor, Hassan is studying law and Maryam is happily married and now she has got two children…each one of them studied with a lot of hard work and I am proud of all of them.”
“Why didn’t you become a nurse anymore?” they asked anxiously.
“I decided I wanted to do something better.”
“And what is that?” the small girl next to me asked.
“To be here with you; I want you all to know how to read and write and to have a home like any other children. That is why I am here teaching you. I want you to have a bright future like the way I am having mine now.”
Before I realized it, all the children were surrounding me and they hugged me all at once.
“Thank you madam.”
“We love you teacher.”
I could smell their deep stench of glue right into my nose but I decided that is what I am here for; to help rehabilitate these children and give them a future worth living for.
That evening as I set to sleep on my mat next to grandma, I looked deeply at the candle lighting up the hut and then at grandma who was already asleep. I was so glad that Mr. and Mrs. Kimathi searched for my grandma for a long time and they ensured that they found her for me. I was happy that my dreams had come true and now, it was my turn to make the children’s dreams come true. I looked at the candle again like it was my ray of hope. I slowly blew it off and turned comfortably on the mat for a good night sleep.