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Fiction From the May 2013 issue: North Korean Defectors
After Uhuru, a new scramble began. A race for wealth and riches. As one member of parliament who cared about the country’s future put it: with Uhuru had come, sadly, a new contest for lucre. In an ordinary race, runners start together from a single spot. But this mad scramble for riches did not keep to the rules. When this contest began, some runners were already well ahead of others. Gathered at the front were the few who had benefited from colonial rule. In return for helping the Colonizer keep their fellow Africans down, they had been rewarded. Those who say “One who dances on the home-ground is very well looked after” aren’t mistaken. These ”dancers” were the first in line to explain away the emerging class divisions. Their voices rang out in the streets, in villages, and even in government offices: “Equality is a dream. Human beings can’t be equal. There must be the short and the tall; the fat, the thin. There must be rich and poor.”
These harebrained views predisposed the people to make peace with their own wretchedness. They accepted the idea that they were destined to be poor. It was like this in the village of Gituge. Here, indeed, misery’s enclosure grew broader with each daybreak. Gituge was in a part of the country where no cash crops could thrive. The land’s character and soil could support neither coffee nor pyrethrum, tobacco, sugarcane or tea. The small farmers of Gituge—all of whom were terribly poor—grew only what they could eat. Beans, maize, plantains, and potatoes.
It was in these difficult environs that Riuki was born and raised. Though his real name was Muriuki, it was quickly shortened, affectionately, to “Riuki.” People grew so used to calling him “Riuki” that the full name was thoroughly, irretrievably, forgotten. Riukui was well-liked by other boys his age. He was pure of spirit, capable and lively, and (in a place where soccer is beloved) he was steady on the field. But it was in the classroom that his talents shone most brightly. Riuki sailed through his exams at Ugene Mission School, passing every test with the very highest marks. Father M’Arache, the mathematics teacher, awarded him the victor’s prize: a wristwatch.
The peak of scholarly achievement in those days was admission to Makerere University. Riuki set his sights on that bright summit (for the university sat atop one of Kampala’s hills) and, in the end, he reached it. When he got to Makarere, Riuki became the hero of Gituge. No student before him had ever gone so far.
Riuki’s father was a mechanic. He made a living repairing cars in the district capital, Ugene, three kilometers or so from the village of Gituge. Many young people from the villages left school for Ugene, where they got petty work waiting tables in the bars and eating-houses. But Riuki was already set against following that road—it ended in poverty’s maw. Riuki’s father was an out-and-out drunk who squandered his earnings on beer. As they say (and it’s no lie), “The brewer savages all a drinker’s wealth.” Magaju had no clue about parental duty. He couldn’t even pay Riuki’s school fees. It was Magaju’s older brother Mwiraria and his wife who took on that responsibility. Childless themselves, Mwiraria and his wife took care of Riuki as if he were their own. And Riuki treated his uncle’s wife like a second mother. They loved each other deeply.
While away at university, Riuki often daydreamed about what he’d do when he had a job. First, he’d spend the whole of his first paycheck on gifts for his two mothers. He would buy them gifts as good and great as the kindness and love they had lavished on him. This vision buoyed him. It made his schoolwork as easy as a game.
As it is when waiting for the sunrise: “not yet . . . not yet . . .” and then, suddenly, “it’s come.” Riuki completed his studies and graduated with a BSc. in math. In those days, there was no shortage of work for people with degrees. Riuki found a job right after graduation. He was taken on by the government as a financial officer in the district capital.
Riuki believed in the saying: “A promise is a debt.” And he had vowed to show his mothers how grateful he was for all they’d done, for helping him, for encouraging his studies. Though he hadn’t told anyone about his promise, Riuki knew the time had come to fulfill it. For a while, he wondered what gifts would be right. Eventually, he decided. The moment he got his pay, he sat down and made a budget. Next, he went to the shops, where he purchased: two heavy blankets, four big cooking pots, four lesos, and two dozen fancy china plates. His mothers, Riuki thought, would share these gifts evenly between them. He hired a taxi to take the presents to the village.
At home, Riuki found only his father’s wife, his first mother. His other mother, Bi. Mwiraria, had gone out for firewood. “Well, OK, then, Mama,” he said. “I’m going back to work. When your mate comes back, send her presents over. Give her: one blanket, two lesos, two cooking pots, and one set of fancy plates.” And he climbed into the taxi that had brought him. “Yes, all right, my dear,” his mother replied. “May God look after you.” The taxi took off.
Because Riuki trusted his first mother, he saw no reason to make certain that her sister-in-law, his second mother, had received her gifts. He went on with his work. Every morning, he walked to his office in town. Riuki liked his job, and he carried it out with energy and joy.
Two days passed. On his way home from work on the third day, Riuki ran into his second mother as she came from the river, where she had gone for water. Riuki felt kindly toward her. Poor Bi. Mwiraria didn’t have a child. She was tasa, barren—a terrible curse in a village like Gituge. She had no choice but to do all the chores herself. Other women Bi. Mwiraria’s age had children they could send to fetch some water, gather firewood, pick vegetables from the gardens, or buy matches at the shops. His second mother had no one.
Riuki greeted her cheerfully. “Ma, how are you?”
“I’m well, my darling,” she said. “How are things at work?”
“Good, Ma. Fine,” he replied. “I’m happy at my job.”
“That’s good news. I’m so happy to hear it.”
“Ma, you know what?”
“Tell me, darling.”
“A few years from now, this burden—having to carry water on your back, all the way from the river! It’s going to be lifted from you. I’ll do whatever it takes so that the people of our village can get water from a pipe.”
“It’s lucky for us that one of our own children has the government’s ear,” Bi. Mwiraria said. “Make them understand our troubles. Sometimes I feel they’ve completely forgotten our village. It’s as if we’ve been left to drown in poverty. Remember those fruits of Uhuru we were promised? Where are they?”
“Well,” Riuiki said, “maybe someone else got them. But, even so, Ma, we can’t lose heart. I’m hopeful that we’ll get help soon. Poverty isn’t forever, and it’s not a question of fate. It can be overcome. Development and progress are the medicine we need,” he explained. “If we can initiate some projects—say, one that would bring piped water to where the people are—poverty will vanish.”
Bi. Mwiraria studied Riuki silently for a moment. She could see how passionate he was about this question of “development.” When he was a student, Riuki had decried the betrayal of people’s dreams for Uhuru. In those days, he blamed the country’s leaders for busily lining their own pockets while they closed their eyes to the people’s suffering. It was as if, he’d say, they’d sought political office not for the betterment of all, but to propel themselves into the upper classes. That member of parliament who’ d decried the greed that came in Uhuru’s wake, Bi. Mwiraria thought, what he said was true. Eventually she returned to the conversation and said, “We’ll keep praying for you, darling. Your success is our success. You’re the lamp of this village. If you light the way, we’ll come out from this wretched dark, we will.”
As if considering something, Riuki hesitated a moment. Then he said, “What did you think of the presents, Ma?”
She was surprised. “Presents? What presents?”
“The presents I brought for you,” Riuki said again.
There was silence for a while, then, sounds erupted from the top of a nearby tree. Boughs shook. Dead leaves rustled and fell. Something dropped to the ground with a startling thud.
“A snake!” Bi. Mwiraria exclaimed.
Riuki found a stick and approached the snake, but, as he got closer, he realized that it was dead. “Maybe some bird caught it,” he said, turning the body about.
“It’s possible. Actually, I did see a hawk near here on my way to the river. It hunted well, but the quarry slipped away. Bad luck,” Bi. Mwiraria said.
Riuki looked up. “There’s the hawk!” he said, pointing. “Why doesn’t it come down to fetch its kill?”
“He can’t come down if we’re here,” Bi. Mwiraria said. “He’ll come when we’re gone.”
“Let’s forget about the hawk and its hunt,” Riuki said. “The other day, I brought you both some gifts. I left yours with Mama, so she could bring them to you. When I came, you were out for kindling. I thought she’d brought them already.”
A cloud of confusion spread across his second mother’s face. “Maybe . . . maybe she forgot,” she said in a thin voice. She didn’t credit her own words, but she didn’t know what else to say. Why hadn’t she received her gifts?
In a voice that showed his sadness, Riuki said, “She forgot!? How could a person forget a thing like that? I’ll go ask her right now.” He turned and headed home in quick, agitated steps, while Bi. Mwiraria followed behind in her own slow way. When Riuki arrived, he didn’t even stop first at his little house to set down his heavy briefcase. He went straight to the kitchen shed where his mother was cooking. He called out, pushed the door open, and went inside. There, he was greeted by a cloud of smoke. He coughed and his eyes watered.
“Forgive me, sweetheart. This firewood’s too damp,” his first mother said.
“How can you bear to be inside like this?”
“I’m used to it,” she said. “Cooking and smoke are friends.” She blew on the fire until it caught. The smoke thinned and finally disappeared. She pushed the stool at her side toward Riuki so that he could sit. Riuki sat and then began to speak. “Those gifts... Mama. What did you do with them?”
“I’ve not sent them over yet, sweetheart. I’ve had so much work to do I haven’t had the chance. But I’ll get them to her. Don’t worry yourself about it.”
“Your two houses are no further apart than a mouth and a nose. You haven’t found the time to go? That makes no sense. It’s not as if you have to undertake some enormous journey.”
“I’ll take the gifts to their rightful owner,” she repeated.
Riuki considered bringing the gifts over to his second mother’s house himself, but he thought better of it. If he did that, his first mother might suspect that he, her own child, didn’t trust her.
“How are you getting on at work?” she asked. She wanted to change the subject.
“Just fine. No problems at all. I’m getting along with my superiors as well as those below me. And I want to use my position to fight poverty in this place.”
“You sound like a politician,” she said.
“Politicians say they want to help, but they just want people’s votes. I truly have the will. And,” Riuki said firmly, “I want no votes whatsoever.”
“Well, you certainly have a lot of education. And you’ve got a big, important job. Talk to those government officials and they’ll listen. Our village has really fallen behind. We don’t even have a primary school.”
“We’ll keep pushing forward. We can’t keep living like this.”
They talked for a while, then Riuki took his leave. As he entered his own little house, he heard his second mother calling out at his first mother’s kitchen. Had she gone to get the gifts herself? As Riuki listened in amazement, a fierce exchanged erupted. It sounded like a quarrel.
“Do you think I’m a child you can just lie to? Tell the truth! You want everything for yourself. Everything!” his mother’s visitor shouted.
“I told you, I forgot,” her co-wife said. “If you don’t want to believe it...”
“Heh! Listen to you! When did you become a frail forgetful woman? This isn’t about forgetting. It’s pure greed. Don’t think that just because I’ve not said anything till now, I don’t know what’s going on!” Bi. Mwiraria shouted.
“If I’m so selfish, what have you come here for? Go some other place, where people care about you.”
Heated words continued to fly from Bi. Mwiraria’s mouth. “All I can see is that you’re different. Since Riuki got a job, you’ve been avoiding me. It’s as if you want to own him. If you see me talking with him, you make such a face! What’s your problem?”
Riuki’s mother’s voice was hateful, angry. “Riuki is my son. What’s it got to do with you, how I am with him? What are you after, when you follow him around?”
Now Bi Mwiraria put both hands on her hips like a dancer about to leap into the fray. “Oh, now he’s your son, huh? All these years, while we were raising him together and making sure he finished school, he was ours. Now he’s yours because he’s getting a paycheck? What hypocrisy!” she shouted. “Such wickedness! What incomparable greed!”
“Our child? What, did we both give birth to him? Riuki came out from right here, from my womb. You know what they say. ‘If you don’t have a baby of your own, go find a rock to hold.’” These last words shot out like a poisoned arrow, and they hit their mark.
Bi. Mwiraria leapt into the air as if she’d been stung by a scorpion. She grabbed Riuki’s mother with all her strength, raised her up and dropped her to the ground. Riuki’s two mothers coiled and writhed together. They slapped each other and tore at each other’s clothes. The struggle went on and on until Riuki finally intervened. When they’d quieted down a little, he took Bi. Mwiraria by the hand and led her to her house. He regretted having left the presents with his first mother. Oh, he should have distributed them himself. It pained him that these gifts, which he’d intended as signs of love and closeness, had brought ill-will and rupture.
From that day on, Riuki’s two mothers were so estranged that neither one would even have lit the other’s fire. Even so, Riuki didn’t take their enmity very seriously. He bought Bi. Mwiraria gifts like those he’d intended for her in the first place. He continued to visit her at home and he talked with her as he used to. Even when he sensed that Bi. Mwiraria’s heart was turning, souring from hatred for his first mother, he still loved her. What Riuki couldn’t see was that the festering wound in his second mother’s heart was so deep and ached so much that it couldn’t ever heal. The poison that had shot out of his first mother’s mouth the day of the quarrel—that unforgettable day—had struck her very badly. The cruel reminder of her barrenness, the very bitterest blow, was impossible to forgive.
A problem Riuki had thought no bigger than an anthill had quickly become a mountain. Indeed. A mountain of enmity that kept his two mothers irrevocably apart. Riuki’s father and uncle tried to reconcile their wives, but nothing they did worked. Riuki couldn’t understand it. He just couldn’t believe that one day’s argument could conclusively wipe away so many years of friendship.
At that time, Riuki and his old teacher, Father M’Arache, occasionally met up in town. They talked about the deepening rift in the country between the rich and the poor. Clearly, this rift was the result of ineffective leadership. M’Arache liked to describe the country’s politics as “the politics of the belly.” People didn’t enter politics to serve the people, but rather to fill their bellies and get fat on the nation’s wealth. Eventually, Riuki told Father M’Arache about what was going on between his two mothers. He asked M’Arache to intervene, to put out the flames of discord which were burning still. M’Arache promised that he would do his best.
Riuki was from the village, but he lacked village sense. He dismissed a lot of things that happened there. He didn’t have the time to follow up, find out what was really going on. In many ways, the villagers baffled him. But what surprised him the most was this habit of fighting very bitterly over things that seemed so small. If a cow broke out of its enclosure and trampled a neighbor’s crops, hatred sprang up between the cattle owner and the farmer. If children argued or fought with the neighbors, their parents became enemies. It seemed to Riuki that the villagers sought every possible reason to generate mistrust. What had happened between Riuki’s two mothers was ordinary, a daily occurrence in the village. But it was pure foolishness as far as Riuki was concerned. And he refused point blank to have anything to do with such a stupid conflict.
Riuki had never lived in the village or interacted with its residents long enough to be able to fully understand. That is, to understand their psychology, their ways of doing things, what they thought about life. He’d spent his childhood studying and playing soccer. And, later, when boys of his generation went to Ugene for petty work to scrounge up money to buy cigarettes, Riuki sought refuge in his books.
In the evenings, when boys his age trawled the alleyways looking to meet girls, Riuki lit an oil lamp in his room and read like a person starved for education. And his was a peculiar hunger, because the more Riuki ate, the hungrier he got. He completed secondary school. He was so perfectly prepared for the final exam that taking it was as easy as gulping a thin porridge. He scored the victor’s crown, and the road to Makareke opened before him. After heading for Kampala, Riuki was seen in the village more rarely than Ramadhan rice. During the long vacations, he worked in Nairobi or Kampala. His visits home lasted only a few days.
When he graduated and started work in the district capital, he decided to live in his little wooden house in the village. He slept at home, but he raced to work each morning. He thought he would do this during the first year, saving up his money so that, in the following year, he could buy a house in town. In short, Riuki hadn’t breathed the village air enough to be a true person of the place. Things like witchcraft, curses, jealous schemes and plans—all of which preoccupied the villagers—were as far from Riuki’s being as the earth is from the sky.
At this time, foremost in Riuki’s mind was his plan for combating poverty. He believed that poverty was the root cause of ignorance, of witchcraft, of needless enmity, of the thoroughgoing misery and so many other woes that kept the villagers stuck exactly where they were. He thought that alleviating the villagers’ unrelenting poverty could really change their lives.
He’d become an evangelist for the religion of education and development. Only its light, he believed, could dispel the darkness of ignorance and want. But his religion had a powerful enemy. That enemy was witchcraft. It was true that the village of Gituge had no cash crops, no good source of wealth. No one from this village could possibly compete in the scramble for wealth and riches that had started up after Independence. Even so, without witchcraft, poverty’s roots would not have been as deep. There were lots of stories about well-meaning, hard-working villagers who’d been felled by it. Just recently, a well-known cattle owner had died in mysterious circumstances. One night, he suddenly cried out that he was being strangled by his enemies. His wife lit a lamp and tried to wake him, thinking that her husband was having a bad dream. But he didn’t stop. He rolled about on the bed, foaming at the mouth—and in no time at all, he was gone. That was the end of Marete, top man at Ugene’s slaughtering grounds.
Even schoolchildren weren’t spared the problem of witchcraft. Those few who did well on tests or completed any kind of course were especially vulnerable to attack. Some of them went mad. Others were laid to waste by strange illnesses. Their bellies swelled, and eventually they died.
Though Riuki heard about all of these things, they remained distant from him. It was as if these events took place in some other country instead of right there in Gituge. He never thought for a moment that it might happen to him. But, as they say, “not yet . . . not yet . . .” then, suddenly, “it’s come.” Bi. Mwiraria didn’t recover from the terrible disease that had infected her during that quarrel for the gifts. She joined the witches’ army. And in the depths of her heart she swore that her fellow mother—the woman who had given birth to Riuki, whom she, Bi. Mwiraria, had helped so much to raise—couldn’t go on reaping all Riuki’s wealth for herself alone. She said under her breath: “If there’s getting to be done, let’s each of us get something; but if we are to lose, let’s lose everything, together.” Right then, as Bi Mwiraria spoke, Riuki lost his mind.
Soon after, he showed up in the village without any clothing, carrying office files and babbling. “This Government Official. From this Hard-Governed Government. This Government Official! From now on He’ll work from Home. This Government Official! He’ll stay right by the People, oh! The People of the Village!”
Children hooted and threw stones. At the sight of him, girls and women ran. From that day on, Riuki never went home again. He spent all day in the sun, wandering and babbling along the paths and in the fields. Even in the cold and rain, Riuki stayed outdoors. And he lived in this manner for five months. In the sixth month, the witches’ army claimed its victory: Riuki died at last.
Father M’Arache—Riuki’s old mathematics teacher—led the mourners in prayer at the gravesite. He rebuked the villagers for “following Satan’s lead.” In murdering Riuki, he told them, they’d put out the very lamp that might have led them from poverty and ignorance to the light of better days. This was his final judgment: “You’re held in poverty’s thrall. Until you change your views and ways, you will stay right here, like this, in the wretched dark.”
© Mwenda Mbatiah. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2013 by N. S. Koenings. All rights reserved.
Baada ya uhuru, shindano jipya lilianza. Shindano la mbio za kujitajirisha. Mbunge mmoja aliyechukizwa na hali hii aliieleza kama “uhuru na kunyang’anyana”. Kaida ya mashindano ya mbio ni kwamba wakimbiaji huanzia kwenye mstari mmoja. Lakini mashindano haya ya mbio za kujitajirisha hayakufuata kaida hii. Mbio zilipoanza, baadhi ya wakimbiaji walikuwa mbele ya wengine. Waliokuwa mbele ni wachache waliofaidika kutokana na utawala wa kikoloni. Walimsaidia mkoloni kuwagandamiza Waafrika wenzao, naye mkloni akawatunza. Hawakukosea waliosema kuwa mcheza kwao hutunzwa. Hawa ndio waliokuwa mstari wa mbele kuhalalisha utabaka. Walisikika mitaani, vijijini na hata katika ofisi za serikali wakisema: “Usawa ni ndoto. Binadamu hawawezi kuwa sawa. Lazima kuwe na wafupi na warefu; wanene na wembamba; matajiri na maskini”
Mwelekeo huu ulisaidia sana kuwashawishi wananchi kukubali kuishi katika umaskini wa kupindukia. Waliyaona kuwa ni majaliwa. Hali kama hii ilipatikana katika Kijiji cha Gituge. Hapa ndipo umaskini ulipojenga zizi lililoendelea kupanuka kila uchao. Kijiji hiki kilikuwa katika sehemu ya nchi ambayo haikuwa na utajiri wa mimea ya kuleta fedha. Tabianchi na udongo wa eneo hili havikuendana na upanzi wa kahawa, pareto, majani chai, miwa wala tumbaku. Wakulima wadogo wa Gituge – ambao walikuwa wachochole – walitegemea mimea ya chakula iliyozaa maharagwe, mahindi, ndizi na viazi.
Haya ndiyo mazingira ambamo Riuki alizaliwa na kulelewa. Jina lake hasa lilikuwa Muriuki lakini lilifupishwa kama ishara ya upendo. Mwishowe, kifupi chake, yaani Riuki, kikazoeleka kiasi kwamba jina kamili lilielekea kuzikwa kaitika kaburi la sahau. Riuki alipendwa na vijana wa rika lake kutokana na usafi wa roho yake, uchangamfu na wingi wa vipawa vyake. Alikuwa mchezaji wa mchezo uliopendwa sana na uliokuwa na mashabiki wengi. Huu ulikuwa mchezo wa kandanda. Lakini ni katika masomo ambapo alijitambulisha kama kijana mwnye kipaji cha kipekee. Alipita mitihani yake kwa alama za juu sana. Mwalimu wake wa hisabati – Padre M’Arache, alimpa zawadi ya saa.
Siku hizo, kilele cha ufanisi katika masomo kilikuwa kuteuliwa kujiunga na Chuo Kikuu cha Makerere. Hiki ndicho kilele ambacho Riuki alikuwa amekilenga (zutafindaki hii ilisimama juu ya kilima kimojawapo mjini Kampala) na hatimaye kukifikia. Baada ya kufika kileleni Makerere, Riuki alikuwa shujaa wa kijiji cha Gituge. Alikuwa wa kwanza kupata ufanisi kama huu masomoni.
Babake Riuki alikuwa makanika. Alipata riziki yake kwa kukarabati magari katika mji wa Ugene ambao ulikuwa makao makuu ya wilaya. Mji huu ulikuwa umbali wa kilomita tatu hivi kutoka kijiji cha Gituge. Vijana wengi kutoka kijijini waliacha masomo na kwenda mjini kufanya kazi uchwara kama vile kuhudumu katika mikahawa na vilabu. Riuki alishakataa kufuata njia hii iliyopelekea kwenye shimo la umaskini. Babake alikuwa mlevi wa kupindukia. Mapato yake yote yaliishia kwenye pombe. Kweli cha mlevi huliwa na mgema. Magaju hakuwajibika kama mzazi. Hata karo ya Riuki alikuwa ameshindwa kuilipia. Kakake, baba mkubwa wa Riuki, pamoja na mkewe ndio waliochukua mzigo wa kulipia masomo yake. Mwiraria na mkewe walimtunza Riuki kama mtoto wao waliyemzaa. Riuki alimchukulia mke wa babake mkubwa kama mamake wa pili. Walipendana sana.
Ndoto mojawapo ya Riuki ilikuwa kuutumia mshahara wake wa kwanza kuwaonyeshea shukrani mama zake wawili. Alidhamiria kuwanunulia zawadi iliyotoshana na fadhili nyingi na mapenzi yasiyoelezeka kutoka kwao. Hali hii iliifanya kazi ya masomo kuwa kama mchezo kwake.
Hauchi hauchi unakucha. Riuki alimaliza masomo yake akapata shahada ya BSc. Katika somo la hisabati. Siku hizo hakukuwa na shida ya ukosefu wa ajira kwa watu wenye shahada. Kwa hivyo Riuki alipata kazi pindi tu alipomaliza masomo yake. Aliajiriwa na serikali kama ofisa wa uhasibu katika makao makuu ya wilaya.
Riuki aliamini katika usemi kwamba ahadi ni deni. Alikuwa ameahidi kuwaonyesha shukrani mama zake kwa juhudi zao za kumsaidia na kumtia moyo masomoni. Japokuwa hakuitamka ahadi hii kwa mtu yeyote, aliona sasa kwamba wakati wa kuitimiza ulikuwa umewadia. Kwa muda, aliwazia zawadi ambayo ingefaa kwa mama zake. Hatimaye alifikia uamuzi. Alipoupokea mshahara, aliketi na kupanga bajeti. Kisha akaenda madukani na kununua blanketi mbili nzito, sufuria nne kubwa za kupikia, leso nne na sahani za kaure darzeni mbili. Mpango wake ulikuwa kwamba mama zake wangegawana zawadi hizi nusu kwa nusu. Alikodisha gari la kubeba bidhaa hizi kutoka mjini hadi nyumbani.
Mamake mzazi ndiye aliyemkuta nyumbani. Alipoulizia juu ya mamake wa pili, alijibiwa kwamba alikuwa ametoka kwenda kutafuta kuni.
“Basi mama, mimi narudi zangu kazini. Mwenzako akirudi mpelekee zawadi zake. Mpe blanketi moja, leso mbili, sufuria mbili na sahani darzeni moja”, alisema huku akiingia kwenye teksi iliyomleta.
“Sawa mwanangu. Mungu akubariki”, mamake alijibu.
Gari liling’oa nanga na kuondoka.
Riuki alimwamini mamake, kwa hivyo hakuona haja ya kufuatilia kuhakikisha kwamba mamake wa pili alipata zawadi zake. Aliendelea na shughuli zake za kazini. Alitoka nyumbani kila siku asubuhi na kutembea hadi ofisini kwake mjini. Aliipenda kazi yake, kwa hivyo aliifanya kwa bidii na kwa furaha.
Siku mbili zilipita. Siku ya tatu akirudi nyumbani kutoka kazini alikutana na mamake wa pili akitoka mtoni kuchota maji. Riuki alimhurumia. Maskini Bibi Mwiraria hakuwa na mtoto. Alikuwa tasa – dosari kubwa kabisa kijijini. Ilibidi afanye kazi zake za nyumbani zote mwenyewe. Wanawake wa rika lake walikuwa na watoto wa kutuma kuchota maji, kuokota kuni, kuchuma mboga na kwenda kununua kiberiti madukani.
“Mama hujambo!” Riuki alimsalimia kwa bashasha.
“Sijambo mwanangu. Habari za kazi?”
“Nzuri. Nzuri tu mama. Naipenda kazi yangu”, Riuki alijibu.
“Vizuri. Nafurahi kusikia hivyo”.
“Unajua nini mama?”
“Katika miaka michache ijayo dhiki hii ya kubeba mtungi mgongoni kutoka mtoni itatuondokea. Nitafanya juu chini kuhakikisha kwamba watu wa kijiji chetu wanaletewa maji ya mabomba”.
“Tuna bahati kuwa na mtoto ambaye yuko karibu na serikali. Waeleze taabu zetu. Mara nyingine nahisi kama kwamba kijiji chetu kilisahauliwa. Ni kama tuliachwa tuangamie katika umaskini. Yako wapi matunda ya uhuru tulioahidiwa?”
“Labda matunda ya uhuru yana wenyewe. Hata hivyo tusife moyo mama. Nina matumaini kwamba tutapata usaidizi hivi karibuni. Umaskini sio hali ya kudumu wala majaliwa. Unaweza kuondolewa. Dawa yake ni maendeleo. Tukianzisha miradi kama vile kusambaza maji ya mabomba katika makazi ya watu, umaskini utatoweka”, Riuki alieleza.
Mama alibakia kimya kwa muda na kumtupia jicho Riuki. Alitambua jinsi alivyokawa na hamasa kuhusiana na suala la maendeleo. Alikumbuka jinsi ambavyo akiwa mwanafunzi, Riuki alipenda kuzungumzia juu ya kusalitiwa kwa ndoto ya uhuru. Aliwalaumu wakuu wa nchi kwa kuyafumbia macho matatizo ya wanancni huku wakijishughulisha kujitajirisha. Ni kama kwamba walitafuta uongozi sio kwa nia ya kuboresha maisha ya wote bali kujinyanyua kitabaka. “Utabiri wa yule mbunge aliyezungumzia uhuru na kunyang’anyana umetimia”, aliwaza. Hatimaye alirudi kwenye mazungumzo na kusema:
“Tutaendelea kukuombea mwanangu. Ufanisi wako ni ufanishi wetu. Wewe sasa ni taa ya kijiji chetu. Utatumulikia njia tutoke kwenye giza la ufukara”.
Riuki alisita kwa muda kama kwamba alikuwa akiwazia jambo fulani, kisha akasema: “Zawadi ulizionaje mama?”
“Zawadi? Zawadi gani” mama aliuliza kwa mshangao.
“Zawadi nilizokuletea”, Riuki alikariri.
Kulikuwa na kimya cha muda.
Juu ya mti mrefu uliokuwa karibu, sauti fulani ilisikika. Matawi yalichezacheza na majani makavu kuanguka. Mara, kupu! Kitu fulani kikaanguka ardhini kwa kishindo.
“Nyoka!” mama alimaka.
Riuki aliokota jiti la kumpondea lakini aliposogea karibu aligundua kwamba ni mfu.
“Labda ni windo la ndege fulani”, alisema, huku akimpinduapindua kwa jiti lake.
“Inawezekana. Kwa kweli niliona mwewe karibu hapa nikielekea mtoni. Mwewe kapata windo, likamponyoka kwa bahati mbaya”, mama alieleza.
Riuki aliinua uso na kuuelekeza angani.
“Mwewe yulee!”alisema huku akiashiria. Sijui kwa nini hashuki kuchukua windo lake?”
“Hawezi kushuka tukiwa hapa. Atakuja tukiondoka”, mama alijibu.
“Tuache mambo ya mwewe na windo lake”, Riuki alisema. “Juzi nimewaletea zawadi, nikamwachia mama akuletee. Nilikuta umetoka kwenda kuokota kuni. Nilichukulia kwamba alishakuletea”, Riuki alieleza.
Wingu la mshangao lilitanda kwenye uso wa mama.
“Labda … labda alisahau”, alisema kwa sauti hafifu. Hakuiamini kauli yake mwenyewe lakini aliitoa kwa kutojua aseme nini. Hakuelewa kwa nini hakupatiwa zawadi yake.
“Kusahau? Utasahau vipi jambo kama hili?” Riuki aliuliza kwa sauti iliyofichua kwamba alikuwa ameudhika. “Nakwenda kumuuliza sasa hivi”, alisema huku akitembea kulekea nyumbani kwa hatua za harakaharaka. Mama alimfuata nyuma kwa mwendo wake wa pole pole. Alipofika, hakuingia kwenye nyumba yake kuutua mkoba wake uliokuwa na makaratasi ya kazini. Alikwenda moja kwa moja hadi jikoni ambamo mamake alikuwa akipika. Alibisha kisha akasukuma mlango na kuingia. Alikaribishwa na wingu la moshi. Alikohoa huku macho yakitoa machozi.
“Samahani mwanangu. Hizi kuni hutoa moshi mbaya”, mamake alisema.
“Unawezaje kukaa ndani kwenye moshi wote huu?”
“Ni mazoea. Upishi na moshi ni marafiki”.
Mama alipuliza moto mpaka ukawaka. Moshi ukapungua na hatimaye kuisha. Alikisukuma kigoda kilichokuwa karibu naye upande wa Riuki ili aketi. Riuki aliketi kisha akaanza mazungumzo.
“Zile zawadi mama ulifanyaje?” aliuliza.
“Sijazipeleka mwanangu. Nimezongwa na shughuli hata sipati nafasi. Nitampelekea. Usiwe na wasiwasi”, mama alijibu.
“Nyumba zenu ziko karibu kama mdomo na pua. Shida ya kutopata nafasi haieleweki. Huhitajiki kufunga safari ya kwenda mbali”.
“Nitampelekea mwenyewe zawadi zake”, mama alikariri.
Riuki alifikiria kuzipeleka mwenyewe lakini alighairi. Ingemfanya mamake afikirie kwamba mwanawe hamwamini.
“Unaendeleaje na kazi?” mama aliuliza ili kubadilisha mada ya mazungumzo.
“Vizuri tu hamna shida. Napatana vizuri na wakubwa na pia wadogo wangu. Nina hamu ya kutumia wadhifa wangu kupigana na umaskini katika eneo hili”.
“Unasema kama wasemavyo watu wa siasa”.
“Wanasiasa husema tu ili kuwalaghai watu kuwapigia kura. Mimi ninayo nia hasa. Wala sitaki kura zozote”, Riuki alisema kwa msisitizo.
“Elimu kubwa unayo; kazi kubwa unayo pia. Ukisema na wakuu wa serikali utasikizwa. Kweli kijiji chetu kimebaki nyuma sana. Hata shule ya msingi hatuna”.
“Tutasukuma mambo. Hatuwezi kukubali kuendelea kuishi namna hii”.
Waliendelea kuzungumza kwa muda. Hatimaye, Riuki aliinuka na kutoka. Alikwenda na kuingia kwenye nyumba yake. Pindi tu alipoingia kwake, alimsikia mamake wa pili akibisha hodi jikoni alikotoka. Aliwaza kwamba labda ameamua kuzifuatilia zawadi zake badala ya kusubiri apelekewe. Mara akasikia majibizano makali kama ya ugomvi. Alishangaa, akatega sikio.
“Umeona mtoto mdogo wa kudanganya hapa? Sema tu ukweli! Unataka kuchukua kila kitu”, mgeni alisema kwa sauti ya juu.
“Nimekwambia nilisahau. Kama hutaki kuamini …”, mwenyeji alijitetea.
“He hee! Hebu sikieni haya jamani! Umekuwa lini bikizee wa kusahausahau kila kitu? Hamna cha kusahau. Uchoyo mtupu! Usituone tumenyamaza ukadhani hatuelewi”, mgeni alipaza sauti.
“Kama mimi ni mchoyo umekuja fuata nini hapa? Si uende kwenye ukarimu?”
“Nakuona tu umenibadilikia siku hizi. Tangu Riuki apate kazi umeanza kujitengatenga nami na kutaka kummiliki. Ukiona nasema naye, unakunja uso. Nini kinakusumbua?” mgeni aliendelea kutoa joto lake.
“Riuki ni mwanangu. Inakuhusu nini ninavyohusiana naye? Unamfuatafuata ukitafuta nini?” mwenyeji alitamka kwa hasira na chuki.
Sasa mgeni alishika kiuno kwa mikono yote miwili kama mchezaji aliyekuwa akijitayarisha kwa ngoma.
“Ooh, sasa amekuwa mwanao eh? Miaka yote hii tukimlea na kumsomesha pamoja alikuwa mtoto wetu. Leo amekuwa mwanao eti kwa sababu ameanza kulipwa mshahara. Unafiki ulioje! Ubinafsi na uovu usio na kifani!” aliteta.
“Mtoto wetu? Kwani tulizaa kikoa? Riuki alitoka humu tumboni mwangu. Asiyekuwa na mwana aeleke jiwe”, mwenyeji alifyatua mishale yenye sumu.
Mgeni aliruka kama aliyeumwa na nge. Alimshika mwenyeji, akamvuta kwa nguvu na kumwangusha. Walibingirishana sakafuni huku wakipigana makofi na kuraruliana nguo. Mapambano yaliendelea kwa muda. Riuki ndiye aliyekuja kuwaamua. Walipotulia kidogo, alimshika mkono mamake wa pili na kumrudisha kwake. Alijutia kumwachia mamake zile zawadi. Angezigawa mwenyewe. Zawadi zilizodhamiriwa kuleta mapenzi na mshikamano sasa zilileta uhasama na farakano.
Tangu siku hiyo, mama zake Riuki walikuwa hawapaliani moto. Riuki aliupuuza uadui wao. Alimnunulia mamake wa pili zawadi kama zile za awali. Akaendelea kumtembelea nyumbani kwake na kuzungumza naye kama zamani. Hata alipohisi kwamba moyo wa mamake wa pili ulishabadilishwa na chuki isiyoelezeka dhidi ya mamake wa kwanza, aliendelea kumpenda. Hakuelewa kwamba mamake wa pili alishapata jeraha moyoni amabalo halingeponyeka. Alikuwa amefumwa vibaya sana na mishale yenye sumu ambayo ilifyatuliwa na kinywa cha mwenyeji wake siku ile ya ugomvi. Siku isiyosahaulika. Mshale ulioleta uchungu mwingi zaidi ni ule wa kukumbushwa kwamba alikuwa tasa. Hili hakuweza kulisamehe.
Jambo ambalo Riuki aliliona kama kichuguu lilikua upesi likawa mlima. Naam. Mlima wa uadui mkubwa sasa uliowatenganisha mama zake. Babake na ami yake walijaribu kuleta suluhu lakini hawakufua dafu. Riuki hakuelewa. Alikataa kuamini kwamba tukio la siku moja liliweza kufuta urafiki wa miaka mingi.
Wakati huu Riuki na mwalimu wake wa zamani, Padre M’Arache walikutana mjini mara kwa mara. Walizungumzia hali mbaya ya kuendelea kupanuka kwa bonde baina ya matajiri na maskini nchini. Ilikuwa wazi kwamba haya yalikuwa matokeo ya uongozi bubu. M’Arache alipenda kuelezea hali ya kisiasa nchini kama “siasa za tumbo”. Watu waliingia katika siasa sio kuhudumu bali kujaza matumbo yao kwa kupora raslimali za umma. Hatimaye Riuki alizua mada ya uadui baina ya mama zake wawili na kumuomba M’Arache ajaribu kuuzima moto wa uadui uliokuwa ukirindima. M’Arache aliahidi kufanya kadiri ya uwezo wake.
Riuki alikuwa mwanakijiji ambaye hakuwa na uanakijiji. Mambo mengi yaliyotokea kijijini aliyapuuza. Hakuwa na wakati wa kuyafuatilia. Wanakijiji walimshangaza kwa mambo mengi. Lakini lililomshangaza zaidi ni tabia ya kujenga uadui mkubwa kutokana na mambo madogo. Ng’ombe alipotoroka kutoka zizini na kuharibu mimea ya jirani, uadui wa kudumu ulijengeka baina ya mwenye ng’ombe na mwenye shamba. Watoto wa majirani walipogombana au kupigana, wazazi wao waligeuka kuwa maadui. Mradi, wanakijiji walitafuta kila sababu kujenga uadui. Yaliyotokea baina ya mama zake wawili yalikuwa matukio ya kawaida, tena ya kila siku kijijini. Riuki aliuona kuwa ujinga mtupu. Alikataa kata kata kuhusishwa na uadui wa kijinga.
Hakuwahi kukaa kijijini na kuingiliana na wanakijiji kwa muda wa kutosha kumwezesha kuwaelewa vyema. Yaani kufahamu saikolojia na mikabala yao juu ya maisha. Sehemu kubwa ya ujana wake, alijishughulisha na masomo yake na uchezaji kandanda. Vijana wa rika lake walipokwenda Ugene kufanya vibarua ili wapate pesa za kununulia sigara, yeye alikwenda kujificha na vitabu vyake. Jioni walipokuwa wakipitapita vichochoroni wakitafuta wasichana, aliwasha taa chumbani mwake na kuvitafuna vitabu kama mtu aliyekuwa na njaa kuu ya elimu. Njaa yake ilikuwa ya kipekee kwa sababu kadiri alivyokula ndivyo ilivyoongezeka. Akamaliza masomo ya shule ya upili. Alikuwa amejiandaa vizuri kwa mtihani wa mwisho kiasi kwamba aliumeza kama uji. Matokeo yalimvika taji la ushindi, njia ya kuingia Makerere ikafunguka. Baada ya kuondoka kwenda Kampala, aliadimika kijijini kama wali wa daku. Wakati wa likizo ndefu alifanya kazi Nairobi au Kampala. Alikuja nyumbani kuwasalimia jamaa kwa siku chache tu.
Alipomaliza masomo na kupata kazi katika makao makuu ya wilaya, aliamua kuishi katika nyumba yake ndogo ya mbao kijijini. Hivyo alilala nyumbani na kurauka kwenda kazini kila asubuhi. Alidhamiria kuendelea kufanya hivi kwa mwaka wa kwanza kazini. Adunduize pesa kisha anunue nyumba yake mjini mwaka wa pili. Kwa ufupi, Riuki hakuwahi kuvuta hewa ya kijijini vya kutosha kuwa mwanakjiji kamili. Mambo kama uchawi, laana na miko chungu nzima yaliyotawala mawazo ya wanakijiji yalikuwa mbali naye kama ardhi na mbingu. Kilichotawala mawazo yake wakati huu ni mipango yake ya kupambana na umaskini. Aliamini kwamba umaskini ndio uliokuwa chanzo cha ujinga, ushirikina uadui, uchochole na ila nyingine nyingi ambazo ziliwakwamisha wanakijiji. Aliona kwamba kuondoa baa la umaskini wa kupindukia kungebadilisha maisha yao.
Riuki alikwa mhubiri wa dini ya elimu na maendeleo. Aliamini kwamba huu ndio mwanga ambao ungeondoa giza la ujinga na umaskini. Lakini dini yake ilikabiliwa na adui mkubwa. Adui huyu alikuwa uchawi. Kweli kijiji cha Gituge hakikuwa na utajiri wa mimea ya kuleta fedha. Kweli kijiji hiki hakikuwa na watu waliotangulia katika shindano kuu la mbio za utajiri baada ya uhuru. Hata hivyo hakingekuwa zizi la umaskini kama si uchawi. Kulikuwa na visa vingi vya wanakijiji wenye bidii kuangamizwa na uchawi. Hivi karibuni, mfugaji maarufu wa kijijini alikufa katika mazingira ya kutatanisha. Usiku alianza kupiga mayowe akisema kuwa maadui zake wanamkaba koo. Mkewe aliwasha taa akajaribu kumwamsha akidhani kuwa mumewe alikuwa katika ulimwengu wa jinamizi. Lakini hakutulia. Aligaragara kitandani huku akitokwa na povu kinywani. Punde si punde alikuwa amekata roho. Huo ukawa mwisho wa Marete aliyekuwa mgawaji mkuu wa mifugo katika vichinjio vya Ugene.
Adui uchawi hakuwasamehe hata vijana wa shuleni. Wachache waliofanya vizuri katika mitihani; waliohitimu katika mafunzo mbalimbali, walihujumiwa na silaha zake. Baadhi yao walishikwa na wazimu, wengine wakaambukizwa magonjwa ya ajabu kama vile kufura tumbo na hatimaye kufa.
Yote haya Riuki aliyasikia kwa mbali kana kwamba yalikuwa yakitokea katika nchi ya mbali badala ya kijijini Gituge. Haikuwahi kumpitikia akilini kwamba yangewea kumfika. Lakini hayawi hayawi huwa. Mke wa baba mkubwa wa Riuki hakupona maradhi ya chuki aliyoambukizwa baada ya ule ugomvi juu ya zawadi. Akaishia kujiunga na jeshi la uchawi. Hii ilikuwa baada ya kuapa kimoyomoyo kwamba mama mwenza hawezi kuendelea kufaidika peke yake kutokana na mali ya mtoto ambaye walimlea pamoja. “Kama ni kupata tupate sote; kama ni kukosa tukose sote”, alijinong’onezea.
Ghafla, Riuki akarukwa na akili. Alizuka kijijini siku moja akiwa uchi. Alikuwa amebeba mafaili ya ofisini.
“Ofisa wa serikali. Serikalikali. Ofisa wa serikali. Atafanyia kazi nyumbani. Sio ofisini tena. Ofisa wa serikali. Atakaa karibu na wananchi. Kijijini,” alibwabwaja.
Watoto walimzomea na kumtupia vijiwe; akina mama wakamkimbia. Tangu siku hiyo hakuingia tena nyumbani. Alishinda juani akizurura njiani na mashambani. Alikesha nje kwenye baridi na mvua. Aliishi hivi kwa miezi mitano. Mwezi wa sita jeshi la uchawi likakamilisha ushindi wake alipokufa. Padre M’Arache – aliyewahi kuwa mwalimu wa Riuki – ndiye aliyeongoza ibada ya mazishi. Sasa alikuwa mzee wa miaka sitini na mitano. Baada ya maiti kufukiwa ardhini, alitoa hotuba ndefu, kali. Aliwakemea wanakijiji kwa “kufuata maongozi ya shetani”. Aliwaambia kwamba kwa kumuua Riuki walikuwa wamezima taa iliyowaongoza kutoka kwenye giza la umaskini hadi kwenye mwanga wa ustawi. “Nyinyi ni watumwa wa uchochole. Mtabaki katika giza la ufukara mpaka mtakapobadilisha mawazo na mienendo yenu”, alimalizia.
Mwenda MbatiahMwenda Mbatiah
Mwenda Mbatiah is a novelist, critic, and scholar of Swahili language and literature. His novels include Msururu wa usaliti (2008), Vipanya vya maabara (2007), Wimbo mpya (2004), and Upotevu (1999), and he edited and contributed to the short-story collection Kurudi nyumbani na hadithi nyingine (2007).
Translated from SwahiliSwahili by N. S. KoeningsN. S. Koenings
N.S. Koenings is a fiction writer and anthropologist. She is the author of the novel The Blue Taxi and the short story collection Theft. She grew up partly in East Africa and since 1995 has often worked as a Swahili interpreter and translator. She has translated legal documents and human rights testimonies from Tanzania, and interviews with women, peace activists and child soldiers from the DRC. N.S. Koenings teaches fiction writing in the School for Interdisciplinary Arts at Hampshire College. "The Wretched of Uhuru" is her first literary translation.
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