River of Blood
(If you haven’t read part one of this story, click here)
I am seated cross-legged on my couch, sipping my now cold lemon tea that makes a point of dripping on my grey sweat shirt every time I take a sip, when it hits me that I need to go to Gachie. I HAVE to go to Gachie. There are no two ways about it, because maybe someone’s life depends on my going to GACHIE.
I repeatedly say GACHIE in my head until it begins to have its own intonation. It begins to form its own pronunciation in my mouth. It begins to birth its own heart and soul. It fights to be released from the cage that is my head, now that it is breathing on its own. It has its own heart, which is trying to outpace mine in beating. GACHIE. GACHIE. GACHIE.
It is a mysterious name because it holds secrets. Dark secrets. Bold secrets. Those that cannot stay pushed under the bed, to the farthest corner. Those that remain silent even after people discover them, and continue tormenting them long after they have left the place.
I say GACHIE repeatedly in my head such that when, later, I tell my friend that I have to go to Gachie, it comes out in slow but sure syllables. Ga-chi-e. It comes out as if unbothered by my hesitation to go. It comes out in no hurry, as if it is here to stay until I make peace with it. It comes out as if it has found a new home in my spirit, and is unwilling to let go. It comes out slowly, caressing the edges of my tongue, leaving a bad taste in my mouth, reinforcing my resolve that I HAVE to go to Gachie.
“Where is Gachie?” My friend asks.
“I do not know. That is why I am calling you.”
“Why do you want to go somewhere you don’t know?”
In the silence that follows, I think about Nina. I think about the restlessness in that restaurant last time. I think about the cold tea. I think about her scarf, which she left me with. I think about the marks on her forehead and the blood stains on the chest area of her white shirt. I think, and think, and think…
“Are you still there?” They ask.
“Yes. It is because of Nina.”
There is a sigh at the end of the line before the call gets disconnected, followed by a text.
If I were you, I wouldn’t go. There are battles you cannot fight on behalf of others. This one time, try to put yourself first, and others second.
I bury my head in my cushion and muffle a scream. The sound wreaks havoc in my stomach and reminds me that I haven’t eaten in 24 hours now. It reminds me of the first day I met Nina; that hot afternoon in high school. She trudging behind me as I led her to the dormitory. She constantly asking me why I was so little. She asking me whether there was space in our cubicle; she would love to sleep there. Why? I was the first person she had met. I was the first friend she made in our high school.
Reminds me of that first day when my cousin, also new to the school, came in search of me and on seeing Nina, they became instant friends.
It reminds me of the night Nina and I slept in the same bed, despite it being a crime, because I was too afraid of the ‘ghosts’ in the school. It reminds me of the tears Nina wiped off my face when I was down with malaria, and I was finding it hard to sleep.
The memories push me out of the couch, into the bathroom, into fresh clothes, and out the door. Destination; Gachie.
When Nina messages me, I am fixing myself at the matatu’s front seat between the driver and an obese guy who keeps telling me ’Unajua watu wanatoshana kama mimi hatuwezi kalia hiyo kiti ya katikati. Tutachemka mafuta iyeyuke.’
Nina is asking whether I am still going, and even though I have told her a couple of times that I am going, I understand her feelings of uncertainty. She is banking on my appearance to get her out of the hole. She is hoping she could ask again, if it was okay to hold my hand. She is hoping that somehow, if I get to see the seen first hand, then I would find the proper words to say to her.
Her messages keep coming in, and I keep ignoring my phone because this is Nairobi; the city under the sun. Someone will ask for your phone in the politest way ever, you would think they will return it. They will say they are calling someone else to come meet them because they have lost their phone, and before you know it, you will have no phone. You will see it in the person’s hands but they will say you are the thief. Alternatively, a hot slap will fly across your face that you will forget you were holing a phone. And when you regain your sight, the only thing you will ask for are the directions to Church; not your phone.
I ignore Nina’s messages because I am trying to keep up with the driver’s small talk. I want to give him the attention he deserves. I have to laugh out loudly, clutch my stomach even, when he makes not-so-funny jokes. Like when he says he finds it weird that a hen drinks water but doesn’t urinate, I laugh so much I can feel the obese guy’s eyes telling me ‘this is not how it works’.
Still, I laugh because I have told the driver ‘Tukifika Gachie niambie please nishuke’, and his reply was ‘Haina shida madam, bora ukue msichana mzuri.’
I am a good girl because when we get to someplace that reeks of stale alcohol and adult piss, the driver motions towards a metal shade and says, ‘Karibu Gachie. Ni hapa. Na uchunge iyo kibeti yako na simu. Au uweke pesa kwa mfuko just in case mtu apende hiyo kibeti.”
When you get to the stage, just ask anyone about Ruarike. Everyone knows the home. You won’t get lost. Nina’s words ring in my head as I approach one person who I have sized as the only one I can beat in this market place.
I get to Nina’s place without any hitches, apart from the eerie silence that fills my existence the moment I set foot in the compound. The lush green grass tickles my feet at the places where my sandals do not cover the skin, as I make my way towards the front door. Apart from a lone dog that sleeps hungrily under a mango tree shade, nothing else tells you there are people in here.
I knock. Once. Twice. Three times. Nothing. I am tempted to call my friend and tell them I should have listened. I should have not come all the way. Then, there is a small creak from inside. But still, nothing happens.
I presume I am doing very soft knocks so when I knock for the fourth time, I do it with so much force that the door gives way; it was unlocked.
A rusted metal smell hits my nostrils and sends me in three consecutive sneezes, still struggling to find Nina’s face. None. I walk towards the centre of the house, where a broken white flower vase lies on top of a glass coffee table. The rusted metal smell intensifies, and I can feel my intestines beginning to protest. The nausea hits me so hard and when I feel the vomit coming at me, I dash further inside the house in search of a toilet.
I stumble over Nina’s body at the entrance of the toilet and the vomit lands squarely on her face, trickling into her wide open mouth and forming a slight puddle at the base of her neck. It is the blood from her nose that makes me crawl to the ground, as I begin shaking her.
I call her name as I shake her body. I call. I shake. I sniff. Repeat. Then, as I shake her body for the umpteenth time, the rusted metal smell hits me again and I realise that she is lying in a pool of dried blood; dried blood smells like rusted metal.
The vomits starts to climb up my throat again and this time round, I find the toilet bowel in time and empty it all in there. Then, as I reach for the cistern to flush the toilet, I almost lose my balance at the site of what appears to be an infant’s legs floating in the open cistern, whose water is now the colour of blood. Like a river of blood.
My legs finally let go of me and I fall to the floor, landing just next to Nina face. Just then, my phone starts ringing and I remember I left my handbag on top of the table.
I let it ring, because the fear that has now gripped my entire body does not allow me to move. Does not allow me to think. Heck, does not even give me time to process what I have just seen.
Then, there is a creak and soft approaching footsteps. I turn back to find a naked child, about five years old, handing me my ringing phone. Her face is plain, and she continuously tugs at her loosely hanging hair when I ask her who she is.
“Aunty…” she mummers, pointing at Nina.
“Is she your aunty?” I ask.
She nods in affirmation, then points towards another room and mumbles, ”It is uncle. I am scared,” then disappears into the next room.
With my ringing phone in hand, I find my way out of the house, back to the stage, and into a matatu that takes me home. This time round, I do not sit at the front. I am in no mood to laugh at the silliness that life is. I am thinking about the river of blood. I am thinking about Nina. I am thinking about the naked child, and the smell of rusted metal that completely refuses to leave my nostrils.
When I get home, I acknowledge my friend’s words: There are battles you cannot fight on behalf of others.