Shangazi Lulu and Mama Mdogo Philomena had leave to go back to their respective homes. Shangazi said her business would suffer if she stayed longer and Mama Mdogo said she would get fired from her job.
Ikunda was not crying as much now, though she was still as gloomy. Though Mjomba Samuel wanted her to go back, her sickness came as a blessing in disguise. Ikunda was constantly vomiting in the mornings. Her vomiting made her so weak, that Mama had to spoon-feed her later. Before Mama Mdogo left, she had told me that both Ikunda’s pregnancies were so problematic that Mjomba Samuel knew better than to let Ikunda go back unattended. Ikunda was happy that at least she would be away from the abusive Japheth.
Ikunda knew she couldn’t stay with us long though. She would have to go back to her husband sometimes. With Shangazi Lulu and Mama Mdogo Philomena gone, she didn’t know to whom to run too. She didn’t have any money to her name and she surely didn’t want to go back to her abusive and cheating husband.
“Do you know when Dubya would be leaving?” she asked me one morning as were taking breakfast in the kitchen. Mama had gone to church; while Salekio, Shindo and Ikunda’s children played outside with Bibi.
“This week, as a matter of fact,” I announced.
“Would you please tell him that I’d like to see him?”
“Manka, for once please take orders without asking questions!”
“I’m sorry,” I murmured, “it’s just that I thought you never liked him.”
“Whatever,” she replied impatiently, “just please tell him I’d like to see him at the soonest possible.”
Dinner was taken quietly that day. I could see Mama was still deep in thoughts – probably about Ikunda. The only noise was from Salekio, Shindo and Ikunda’s children – as usual. They had taken their dinner earlier and where playing at the baraza. The kitchen was too small to accommodate all of us, so the children always ate first. After bathing they were only not allowed at the yard.
“Come on Bibi,” I heard Salekio scream with laughter, “do tell us a story please!”
Our house had become so gloomy of late that it was welcoming to hear such cheerful laughter from the children. After dinner, cleaning up and saying our prayers we all retired to our rooms. The gloominess was getting to me. Before sleep used to come to me swiftly, of late I would lay back; count the stars through the torn makeshift khanga curtains before I fell asleep.
“What are you doing?” I asked when I woke up with a start and found Ikunda packing. My sleep was not as heavy either these days - the slightest commotion would wake me.
“I have to leave Manka.”
“But does Mama know?”
“Its not about Mama anymore, its now about me and my survival.”
“You can’t leave! You just can’t leave, Ikunda!”
“I have to, Manka my dear!”
“How about the babies? Surely if you go into Mama’s room to get hem you’ll wake her!”
“I’ll come for them some other day,” she murmured as she blinked back tears. “I’ll come once I’m settled there.”
“How are you going to go? There are no buses now. It’s too late!”
“I have arranged a ride with Dubya!”
“You can’t leave with Dubya! He’s a tega! Remember you told me so yourself!”
“I’ll be okay, Manka,” Ikunda tried to smile as she stuffed a khanga in the bag, “don’t you worry. I’m a big girl, I can take care of myself.”
“You can’t leave! You just can’t leave!” I repeated tearfully, thinking of Maria wanting to leave and now Ikunda, “if you go to the doctor’s you will get well. You don’t have to leave!”
“You are too young an naïve to understand, Manka. Just be careful of men. They are cheating lying snakes!”
“Are you leaving because you are afraid you will be late?” I asked only to realize rather too late that I had blurted out what I had eavesdropped.
“What?” Ikunda stopped packing and looked at me.
“You are afraid that if you get home late shemeji will beat you?” I murmured as cringed waiting for Ikunda to snap any minute.
“What?” Ikunda asked again this time laughing, “Manka, sometimes I wonder if you are okay. You hardly ever make sense.”
“Because you are late,” I tried to explain what I had heard, “late in getting home?”
“Who said I was late in getting home?” Ikunda asked.
“I heard you telling Shangazi and Mama Mdogo,” I replied as I looked down.
Ikunda laughed louder than ever, “you should never listen to grown up conversations. You are lucky I don’t have the time to smack your ears. The conversation was not meant for you that’s why you didn’t understand.”
“But if you go behind Mama’s wishes you will get cursed! Don’t you remember the commandment about honouring your parents, Ikunda?”
“I have to do this Manka.” She replied as she went back to pack.
“But Mama will –“
“I will deal with Mama when the time comes – if it ever comes!”
“Where are you going though? Where will you live?”
“I don’t know, dear,” said Ikunda, “But I know God will provide for my babies and I!”
“What is AIDS?” I had asked Makicha days earlier that afternoon, recalling the conversation I had heard in the kitchen between Shangazi Lulu, Mama Mdogo Philomena and Ikunda.
“Ask Dubya, he knows everything.”
“Umeme,” he curtly had replied
Immediately I understood. I had heard how dangerous electricity could be. I then understood Ikunda’s worries. Of course, if I knew someone who was electrocuted, I would have been worried sick too.
“I’ll come with you,” I suggested to Ikunda, “I will help take care of your electrocuted friends.”
“What?” Ikunda stopped packing and stared at me.
“Your friends who are electrocuted!” I explained.
“Which friends? What are you talking about?” Ikunda asked, moving closer to me.
“I thought you said your friends had umeme?”
For the first time in weeks Ikunda laughed. She laughed like she had never laughed before, and then she hugged me. “Oh Manka, I so wish I was as child-like and naïve as you are,” she said as she held me close with tears streaming down her face, ”maybe then I wouldn’t have been in this mess.”
“You can’t leave, Ikunda,” I begged sadly. It was such a bittersweet moment for me – for the first in a while seeing my sister laugh such a hearty laughter and seeing her old bag being packed.
“You don’t understand Manka.”
“You can’t leave. You can’t leave me, Ikunda.” I begged her, “what if the bad spirits come get me?”
“You’ll be okay,” she smiled with tears stinging her kind brown eyes. “No, spirits will come for you. I promise you. Our house is guarded by angels, remember?”
“But to become a woman –“
“You are already a woman, Manka,” she interrupted me, “a woman-child.”
“Where are you going to go?” I asked then, seeing that it wasn’t the moment to start asking about my worries.
“To the city,” she whispered.
“The big city?” I asked half envious and half afraid, “but if mama doesn’t see you tomorrow she will beat me!”
“If you wake up tired, you know mama will definitely scold you,” she whispered holding my head on her lap. “You have to wake up early for school tomorrow. Now go to sleep.”
“Yes, I’ll sleep, but please promise not to leave.”
“Here,” Ikunda changed the subject quickly, “let me hold you to sleep and sing the lullaby Bibi used to sing you as a baby. She used to say Babu used to sing it to her when courting her. Do you remember it?
Kiwaro apa ndenga
Kiwaro apa ndenga
Sleep baby sleep
Or the sheep will come
To bite you
If you don’t want to sleep
Sleep baby sleep.”