Then one sunny morning, three old men came to her father’s house. Her parents were still asleep, so she answered the door. She greeted them and ushered them in. Her father was the hero of the community, so this kind of thing was not unfamiliar. People came to him for solutions to every problem they had. If a couple’s marriage was in trouble. He was the glue that would stick them back together, if children went astray, he was the rod that put them back in line, if a husband beat his wife, he was the only one who could boldly warn him. He himself had hit his wife only twice but the children were familiar with the violent whipping. His seemed to be one that came from a place of hatred and not of love.
Ruffo remembered a time when he hit her sister Garro on the back of her head so hard that she hit the ground and started bleeding. He then rushed to grab a stick big enough to kill a python and Garro ran barefoot, all the way to her grandmother’s home, spitting blood all the while. Ruffo could not erase the image of her unconscious brother from her head. He was barely four then. Her father had asked him to hold a baby goat as he went to fetch the mother. Ali was so young then and the kid wiggled out of his hand. Her father came back and found Ali chasing after the kid and thinking that Ali was playing with the kid, he slapped him so hard that the little boy went prowling in a pile of goat waste. Ruffo carried him into the house and attended to him. He was bleeding from his ear and his aching ear was a constant reminder of what her father could do. However, people trusted him, they even loved him and for their every problem, he had a solution, so even the old visited him for answers and Ruffo served her guests breakfast and then went to fetch her father.
“I told you to never wake me up because of these people,” he barked as he flashed past her, knocking her shoulders in the process. She went back to the kitchen and turned the qita that was cooking to the other side. She then cleaned the utensils and mopped the kitchen floor and finished at the same time her sister Garro walked in.
“Sleepy head, school is almost opening. You better start practicing for the routine of the morning preps,” she said teasingly.
“What do these old men want?” she asked rubbing her eyes.
“I don’t know, they just asked for dad,” she answered as she wringed the rug. She then shook particles off it and spread it on a dry guava plant.
“I don’t know who it is but they are discussing something about a boy interested in someone’s daughter, I feel like they are talking about you, you better marry Wekesa fast or he’ll have to deal with a stolen bride case.”
Ruffo would never expect that of her dad. He would never do that to her. Even if he did, she was a monument of defiance, she would defy. She had gotten a job with a writing consultancy firm and was due to start working in two weeks time. She had thought it wise to spend the days after her graduation with her family, since it was the holidays and her siblings were all home. True to her sister’s words, the men had come to ask for her hand. Her father summoned her after breakfast and broke the news to her. “We know the family,” he said, almost apologetically. “I grew up with the boy’s father and he is well educated, he works in Nairobi, so it will not interfere with your job, we can do it this week so that you get to start working at the scheduled time. He is a son of the tribe and he will be good for you.”
Ruffo’s head was wobbly. Her father’s words reached her ears in waves of echoes and her feet began to shake. She felt like crying, she wanted to insult her dad, call him ugly ugly names and then walk out but she had too much respect for him and maybe that was part of the problem.
He will be good for her? Since when did they know what was good for her? What did they know about her life? Nothing. They were not there when she was raped at the age of nine, she could not tell them about her uncle’s actions, she could not even reveal to them what she truly wanted for her life and now this!
“No dad,” she said, “I will not marry a son of the tribe. I will not marry the man whose father you grew up with. This is a lifetime decision and I want to make it for myself.”
“I have already accepted their khada, it is miraculous that with your character, you have found someone to marry you.”
“Dad, I respect you so much but this, I can’t bear. It will not be respecting you, it will be disrespect to myself and no, you don’t know anything, it is not just the trousers, I wear short dresses too because God knows how comfortable I am with my body and no amount of religion will prevent me from flaunting a bit of my beauty. If you think that I will keep men from sinning by overdressing for them, then you are wrong. The sinful nature of my dress code is a different story. I will know how to deal with that. And I have smoked too, even taken alcohol on several occasions dad, because I am all grown and can make all these decisions. Part of the reason why you do not like how I turned out is because your perfect image of me is not to me, what you have in your head.”
“You will not talk to me like that,” he said grabbing her by the braids, pulling out a handful of them. He flunked her to the floor and grabbed a coiled electricity wire. He had never been talked back at. He had never consulted anyone on any major decisions he had to make. Even his wife had to go by his rules for fear of his violence. His daughter was an insult to his manhood. A father had every right to get whatever he asked of his daughter but not if that daughter was Ruffo. She lost count of the many times he had told her how much he regretted having her and how much of a burden she was. He whipped her all over and the last thing she felt was the bang on her head and the trickle of blood flowing down her face.
When she came to, she was in a hospital, wrapped in bandages like an early Christmas gift. Part of her hair had been shaved to stitch the cut. Her entire body felt like one big bee-hive. Her eyes had swollen and she could barely open them. She tried to look around but could not move her neck. Then she recalled what had happened and tears flowed down her face, settling in her mouth, like two streams that had found home. Garro walked up to her bed and her eyes lit up. She called Dr. Tunu who came and assured her that she was going to be alright. Garro wiped her tears before breaking into tears of her own.
“Atha I always tell you to stop doing these things. Father will kill you one day. I swear he will and you don’t listen, you don’t. Do you think everyone who lives in this place likes their life the way it is? No, but they obey, you, you will not. He will kill you and I will not know how to live, I will not even know what to live for. You are my strength and my hope but you just cannot take care of yourself. Do you not love us? Do you not care about Zeyna and Jay? Don’t you know how much we love you?”
Ruffo broke into fresh tears and she felt every one of her vein flush new dose of pain up her body. “Garro I care so much about you and even though I do most of these things to ensure I live the life I will enjoy, I also hope you learn how to choose your path, however different it is from the norm. And I love you all, so much and every pain you go through because of the society or our father, it adds new wounds to my heart. Do you remember when he almost killed you and you had to run all the way to grandma’s house? Do you remember what he did to brother when he was barely four and you don’t know this but when ayyo, (mother) was pregnant with you, he hit her so hard because our house help was in a relationship with our neighbour’s son and you both nearly died. And are you not tired of running around like a rat from a cat whenever you hear his voice, looking for something to do even if you have already done everything, you can’t watch TV, you can’t be on your phone, you can’t read, what does he expect you to do? He will not stop if I don’t stop him and I will stop him even if it is with my life,” she stopped to catch her breath. Garro snuggled close and fell asleep, tears drying up, leaving two long lines of salt on her face, life was bitter.
About the Writer
Munira Hussein is a Microbiologist and a writer. She is a pioneer at the Writers’ Guild of Kenya, an organization that helps budding writers achieve their writing goals. She has also worked with Longhorn Publishers on developing content for the Literacy and Indigenous Languages, new curriculum text books for Grades 1, 2 and 3. She is the author of Unfit for Society, an anthology of short stories. When she isn’t writing, she is reading, listening to music or thinking about leaving the house but never really doing it (winks). She is currently working on a collection of poems.
You can reach her at email@example.com or Munira Buzunesh on facebook.