It was on the evening of Friday the 11th August 2017 a few minutes after the presidential election results were declared showing the incumbent having recaptured the seat. Youths had come out in opposition strongholds to protest what they claimed was a stolen election.
Juja road was impassable, youths had barricaded the road, tires were burnt and the light from bonfires shone towards the slum kissing away the darkness that had started setting up on thin corridors between corrugated iron sheets and mud walled small dwelling cubicles. Chants from the malcontent youths kept growing louder and louder as the crowd kept soaring.
The anti-riot police arrived and a confrontation ensued. The rioters who were in hundreds were overpowering the cops, totalling about two dozen. Stones were hurled at them and in retaliation tear gas canisters got lobbied, those who were unlucky and got cornered tested the sweetness of the clubs the red-berets boys walk around with.
I watched all this drama unfold through the window from my room, a single room on the second floor of an old dilapidated apartment towering above old shanties that characterise Mathare slum. From my window I could see Kiboro Primary School compound beneath on my left side where most of the demonstrators ran towards after the demonstrations turned into a riot and violence erupted. The demonstrators ran in panic, scattering from the brutal police like cockroaches at the flash of a light.
It was my eighth month in this apartment and in Nairobi. I had rented the room immediately I got admitted for a Diploma in Information Communication Technology in Nairobi Technical Training Institute in January. It was relatively cheaper to rent a room outside the school than reside in school hostels.
Given my background and the struggle my parents were going through to put me through school, I decided to look for a cheaper place to put up and that’s how I ended up in Mathare. From Mathare to school which is sandwiched between Park Road and Ring Road in the outskirts of Nairobi, I could walk, a distance of about two kilometres.
Many other students lived there, others in Huruma, Eastleigh and Ngara. Most shared a room. This made them save, one could pay rent while the other took care of food. In some instances you would find as many as four or five boys sharing one single room. That’s how people survive through school. I paid rent of two thousand shillings for my single room. No one had won my trust yet so we could cost-share.
I had however met Ochola the previous semester and we had become campus lovers, sort of. I liked him and he liked me too. Ochola was a final year Petroleum Management student. Just like myself, Ochola was from a humble background. We shared a lot, we did supper together most of the evenings before he would leave for his room in Huruma, a half a kilometre from my place. Some evenings we would talk till late and I would allow him to spend at my place, we had become inseparable in just a few months.
Ochola had a roommate, Kiarie. They were classmates and good friends, they were so close and Ochola always talked about his friend. A few weeks before we broke for the August holidays, Ochola and I had a lengthy discussion about our future together. Didn’t I tell you I loved him? I did, very much, in case you forgot.
Kiarie had a girlfriend, occasionally when she came to visit, Ochola would be exiled to my place. During one of the discussions Ochola said they would talk to Sandra, Kiaries’ girlfriend so we would start staying together. I liked the idea, she was a cool girl and I wouldn’t mind her being my roommate. Besides we had started being close due to proximity and common purpose. Sandra was from a better-of-family by look of things, she stayed in the school hostels. Peer pressure was however taking a toll on her and she really wanted to move out like the rest of us, get freedom and visit her boyfriend whenever she felt like.
This arrangement was perfect and it would work to our advantage - to my advantage of course. I couldn’t wait for the electioneering period to end so we would start this arrangement. An exchange program.
During the last two weeks of the semester we temporarily started living together unofficially. We became like two close knit families, the Ocholas and the Kiaries. I could make dinner one day and Sandra would reciprocate in the boys’ place the following day. The last two Fridays we went out together, Sandra sponsored the outings.
My mum is a mitumba vendor in our rural local market in Meru, she occasionally travelled to the city and would spend at my place. She would wake up at 4am, head to Gikomba to restock her merchandise before travelling back to Meru. During those nights that mum would be in the city, Sandra would be forced to go back to her room in school.
We spent the weekend before election in my room, the four of us. We shared a lot about ourselves and even set a date after the short holiday when we would help Sandra move to come stay with me. They were all to travel on Monday to their rural homes to vote the following day on 8th of August. I chose to remain behind, not because I wanted to but because I didn’t have bus fare. Besides, mum was coming to Nairobi the following Sunday. I lied to my friends that I had registered to vote in the city, I never wanted to bother them. I hate people pitying me, I really do.
On this particular Friday, everything took a new twist. The quite place I had called home for almost eight months turned into a battle field. The running battles between the police and the angry rioters turned chaotic in my very own glare. At one moment the police started firing live bullets in the air to scare away the crowd.
I remember seeing people lying on the road, helpless. Others scampering in all directions. I saw neighbours close their houses and run for their safety. I couldn’t understand where they were running to and why. I felt I needed to run too. I hurriedly stepped out of my skirt and wriggled into my pair of jeans. I put on my running shoes, locked the door behind me and as I bent to do the laces just on the doorstep in the verandah hell broke loose.
A heavy thing hit me on my left side sending me to the ground. I felt a sharp stabbing pain inside my ribs before I passed out.
I woke up the following day in Kenyatta National Hospital where I had spent the night in a ventilator to aid my breathing. It is then that I learnt I had been hit by a tear gas canister that left three of my right ribs fractured.
I was wheeled into theatre that evening to go under the knife in what the surgeon explained was a rib plating exercise that involved realigning ribs and bridging breaks with small, contoured titanium plates and screws, much as plates and screws are used to fix breaks in arms and leg bones. These surgical terms sent shivers down my spine. I prayed as I lay on that four wheeled stretcher and wished my mother was there by my side.
I regained consciousness after anaesthesia and was taken to the ward to recuperate. All this time I had not seen any familiar person.
The third day on Sunday as I woke up from an afternoon nap, I was greeted by the presence of my mother, tears rolling down her cheeks. I couldn’t tell for how long she had been standing there waiting for me to open my eyes and reassure her that I was alive. I wished I could stand and give her a warm hug, but there I was, all I could do was just stare blindly and as if in solidarity I opened my tears tap too.
‘Kaimuri my daughter, are you okay?’ Mum asked amid tears.
Words could not come out of my mouth for reasons unknown to me. I however nodded to signal that I was okay.
Mum had not known about my being in hospital until she had gotten into the apartment I lived in and a neighbour narrated to her about the chaos that had erupted on Friday. It is then that she launched a search mission that led her to Kenyatta Hospital. She had come for her normal restocking trips in Nairobi unbeknownst to her of her daughters’ predicament.
A week later, I was still in hospital recuperating. My family came to see me every day. Mum had temporarily moved to my place so she would save on travelling costs to come and see me in Kenyatta.
The chaos that had led to my hospitalization had lasted for only a day and everything had gone back to normal.
Kiarie and his girlfriend Sandra came to see me during my second week in hospital, a day before I got discharged. I asked them about my boyfriend Ochola. I had not talked to him since that fateful day. My phone had disappeared in the mishap. They told me he was doing well and had not gotten back to the city. I really felt I needed to talk to him. How I missed him! I asked Kiarie to call him and he said he had called a few minutes earlier and his phone was off. He promised to try again before they left. He however assured me they had talked in the morning and that he was doing fine and still upcountry.
The quick glances the two exchanged followed by silence got me worried. I sensed something was amiss but I just ignored. We talked for hours about so much. I reassured Sandra that we would help her move once I got out of hospital.
Later, after they left thoughts about Ochola filled my mind. I couldn’t get him out of my head. When mum showed up that evening I borrowed her phone and tried calling his number that I had memorized uncountable times. It was off.
It got me worried. He never switched off his phone. Why had Kiarie and Sandra exchanged weird glances when I asked his whereabouts? Mum noticed that I was uneasy and asked about it, I assured her all was well. She later left, and was to come for me the following day so we would go home.
We spent the following night in my room in Huruma. Sandra and Kiarie passed by to see me. A neighbour came by to see me as well, she narrated to us how they had found me half dead on my door step about an hour after the running battles between the police and the demonstrators had ceased. A teargas canister lying beside my motionless body.
“By the time we called the Médecins Sans Frontières headquartered right across the road, we thought you were dead. We actually called them to come collect a body, all along we thought you had left us. The paramedics arrived in a few minutes, confirmed you were alive before they whisked you into their waiting ambulance and spent off amid the screeching tires and the keening wail of the siren. One of the paramedics told us that you had been severely injured by the impact of the canister that had broken against your body and that you had also choked from its smoke, he added that if we hadn’t called when we did, you could've died. We thank God you are here with us now, we really do” She narrated. “I am really sorry and wish you quick recovery. Apologies for not having come to visit in hospital, financial constraints wouldn’t let me to. I however got regular reports on your recovery journey from your mother” Concluded mama Naliaka.
We entered a phone selling shop next to Accra Hotel in Nairobi’s busy Tea Room Matatu terminus the following morning. Being a Techno freak that I am, I settled for an ‘L9 Plus’ that saw mum part with a cool fifteen thousand. I replaced my phone line in the very shop before we finally jumped into a Unique Shuttle matatu bound for the place of my birth. I sat two seats behind mum.
Immediately the journey kicked off, I embarked on assembling my phone, oblivious of the six hour recommended charging time before use. I worked on the settings after inserting the sim card on its rightful slot. First to download was Facebook app that I immediately logged in to without wasting time. Notifications popped up on top of my screen thick and fast. People had really missed me, I thought to myself.
I gave the phone time to stop buzzing from the many notifications before I could start checking them out. I opened the first notification and it was something posted on my TL that read, “I am deeply saddened by the news of your loss. I pray that God will grant you the strength needed to get through this moment of your life. My most sincere condolences” I read this statement severally, I thought someone had misinformed people that I had died.
Before reading another notification, I remembered I hadn’t tried calling Ocholas’ number. I hurriedly dialled the number and it was switched off. It is then that I thought of in-boxing him on Facebook and find out if he would respond. I went to his timeline and I couldn’t believe what I saw. ‘RIP Ochola’ was the first thing I remember seeing before I unleashed a very loud scream.
The scream caught everyone in the matatu unaware. By then, we had reached Makutano. I half fainted but I could hear people talk, I heard echoes of mum shouting my name, Kamuri! Kaimuri! The matatu pulled besides the road and I heard people carry me out of the vehicle and started resuscitating me. I was back to normal a few minutes later. The driver offered to drive back to Thika so I would seek medical attention but I refused. I knew I was not sick. Mum told them that I had been discharged from hospital the previous day and they were all so sorry. The journey to Meru continued. I switched my seat with a girl who was seated next to mum so I would be near her. I leaned on my mums shoulder and within no time I went to slumber land.
Mum woke me up when we got to Mwea. It is then that I learnt she had known why I had screamed and suddenly passed out. The lady I switched seats with collected my phone that had fallen beneath my previous seat and she saw the RIP thing and gave it to mum to read. She asked me about it when I woke up and we talked, she comforted me and assured me that all would be well.
Life lost meaning, I felt completely lost in that void. I never knew what to do or who to talk to. I never knew Ocholas home neither had I met any of his relatives. I had however talked to his brother a few times through his phone. Whenever he would call, Ochola would always hand me his phone to say hi to his brother.
Sandra and Kiarie had attended Ocholas burial which had been on Thursday the 17th of August at their home in Siaya. They wouldn’t have told me about his death due to my situation when they had visited in Hospital.
Death is so unfair, so cruel. I questioned God. I wished I had died as well. Why would bad luck follow me wherever I went? Why snatch him from me when I desperately needed him by my side? Nothing was making sense to me then. All I could think of was how my life would be without Ochola and the many plans we had together.
Ochola was shot on his chest on Saturday the 12th, a day after I got injured. I later learnt from Sandra when she called. He was among the youths who were protesting in Siaya after the announcement of the presidential election results the previous day. He breathed his last in an ambulance as he was being taken to hospital. Two other young men died in the skirmishes and several others left with serious injuries after the demonstrations turned violent and police aimed at the demonstrators.
On Sunday the 3rd September, two days after the presidential election was annulled by the Supreme Court, Kiarie, Sandra and myself travelled to Siaya. I needed to visit Ocholas grave to draw some sort of peace and contentment.
Looking at the fresh grave was unfathomable. I cried my heart out. It is all I needed at that time, crying over his grave. I felt by doing so my chest would feel lighter. His family and neighbours were awed by my doings. I rekindled memories to some who had started adapting to the situation. Tears rolled down their cheeks. For a moment I forgot about myself and felt sorry for them. If I am feeling the way I am and I have known him for less than a year, how about these people who had known him for the 21 years that he had lived? It must have been hard for them, especially his mum and the other family members.
The school reopened after the election break but I did not find it worth to report back. I had lost interest in everything. How will I cope in that school without Ochola? My parents beseeched me to go back but I didn’t hear their annoying pleadings. I stayed at home and kept to myself most of the time filled with the emotional turmoil of sudden, unexpected loss of Ochola.
When loved ones are taken by death we come to recognize that this world can be a very unsafe place to be, and that the plans and dreams we have for today or tomorrow can be shattered at any second by a random act of nature, a violent act of people we don’t even know or just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We are forced to see how brutal our world can be and how fragile our lives are.
When my parents realized I had completely given up on education and that I harboured no signs of ever going back, they organized for my things to be transported from Nairobi to our home. This only meant they had completely given up on me in regards to education.
I joined mum in her mitumba business. It’s therapeutic working in the market interacting with all walks of people. It makes me forget the misfortunes that had befallen me. It is in the market that I find solace and I am slowly healing and recollecting myself.
My resolve to put this down came to me the other day after watching the momentous handshake between the president and the opposition leader at Harambee house. How I wish and pray that justice for those who lost their lives and those injured during the electioneering period is part of what they discussed. How I pray that the handshake acts as a ceasefire for the cyclic ethnic hatred and post-election skirmishes we experience after every five years robbing us of our loved ones.
By writing this I feel a sense of relief. Every character I press on this keyboard is like a tablet going down my throat towards completing the dose for my healing. I will not let this situation hold me back anymore, it is for that reason I’m picking back the pieces and I am working towards going back to school in August. I have learnt that we are much more than the pain and the struggle that we go through.
For you my love, Ochola, I know I have let you down, for that I am deeply sorry. I will make you proud moving forward. I will keep fighting for all the dreams we shared. For justice and for unity, I will fight. For equality and equity, I will fight.
In the words of Faith Evans, ‘One black morning when this life is over I know I'll see your face.’
Playing on my stereo, "I'll Be Missing You" Puff Daddy Ft Faith Evans