Rich families are always the same;each poor family is poor in its own way.Such was Maara and his mother who were poor in their own way. They lived in hut that epitomized poverty-it was so small and full of holes that with one turn Maara often found himself outside it. Since a man’s primary duty is not to be poor, they worked hard-but with each effort they put, the deeper they sank into want. They lived hoping for a better future, losing each day contriving for tomorrow. Poverty makes people powerless.
Maara and his mother were a sight to behold. While other children played with balloons, Maara walked around with a balloon of hunger in his belly. His hair had been bleached a dirty brown hue by malnutrition. His legs had been twisted into grotesque shapes by jiggers and other vermin that seeped into his body through his bare feet. Her mother was no better. She was poverty on two weak legs. But deep in their heart, they had an iron resolve to live on. Like a lioness with ten hungry bellies to feed, they soldiered on against all odds.
Every morning Maara and his mother went to the shamba following each other like figures from drawings in a rural sociology encyclopedia. They tilled at their shamba-but their crops always failed and their livestock died like there was a plague that was particular to them.Every time they came from the shamba they found Mr. Poverty already sited in their hovel, saying ‘welcome home’, hugging them like long-lost kinsmen. To them, life was a montage of catastrophes that followed each other with unfailing frequency.
One day Maara requested to join the village Poverty Anonymous Group. The group leader rejected his application; his poverty plus his mothers was too much for the group. The group was eyeing some donor funds and they didn’t want anybody who was very poor since they would hog all the funds at their expense. The poor are the most discriminatory group-unlike the rich. But it follows that as long as money is respected, the poor will always be disrespected.
Luckily, Maara’s mother found some work at some rich man’s home. You know those obscenely opulent men who are so rich that they create squalor by hogging everything from food to land to livestock? Such was this man. But she didn’t last long in the job to earn her first salary as she got sick.
Each day she woke up with different ache, each stronger than the previous one. Her hands got thin-her eyes were rheumy and had the ugly hue of death. Since they could not afford a doctor, Maara took her to an old shaman who lived by the gurgling river, juggling some strange pebbles mumbling even more strange mumbo jumbo.
The first time the shaman asked for a cock and upper whiskers of a porcupine to cure Maara’s mother. Since Maara was a fighter, he hunted down a porcupine and got the whiskers. He took them together with the cock to the shaman but his mother never got well.
Next, the shaman asked for a fattened he-goat and the left toenails of the njimbiri the water otter that was known to feast only at night around the River Mathioya. Maara got the toenails and took their only he-goat to the shaman. This time around the mother got worse. With each visit to the shaman, his demands became more outrageous and costlier than the previous one. By the time they gave up, they had sold everything except their skins. Sometimes the sick spend more than the rich in their pursuit of health.
Finally, it became clear to Maara that his mother wasn’t going to live long. Her skin had acquired the pale colour of death-her voice got guttural like that of a ngomi or spirit. Her ailment had no cure. Maara felt lonely and forgotten by the whole village, and there was no cure for that too. But indeed the whole village had forgotten about them-nobody loves misery.
Maara my son,come…
Maara’s mother called him one night. He body was here, but her voice was from the next world.
I am not afraid to die. But I am afraid to say goodbye to you eternally…
She gasped with a thirst for life. Maara dashed to the kitchen to fetch water for her. Then, at that particular moment when Maara was not looking, Gods big fingers closed her eyes and she slept eternally. It was around 3 a.m. in the morning,the time when kiania utuku the dreaded night demon haunted the night.
Maara didn’t cry; there was no one to wipe his tears. All his life, he had worn grief like an old sad shawl. He had cried all his lifetime tears leaving no tears for big grieves like his mother’s death. He just sat there, more worried about himself and how he was going to cope without his mother.
There comes a time in a poor man’s life when he realizes that virtue is difficult or even impossible due to want. There comes a time when a man risks all knowing that he has nothing to lose since he didn’t have anything in the first place. This was such a time for Maara. He had to choose between principles and survival.
Maara though fast-this was his last chance. He bound his mother’s body with her only clothes. He did his last prayers for her and wished her well in the land of ngomi or spirits where the soul of man never dies. Then, like someone possessed, he placed her body by the road which led to the iriuko or the communal watering hole by the river. He also placed the calabash she used to get water from the river by her body.He made sure that her mother’s body was on the route the livestock of the rich men from the village used to go to the watering hole.
When the village woke up, they found Maara’s mothers body trampled by the rich men’s’ ox beyond recognition. Sadness fell over the village like blanket. The village crier dusted his greater kudu horn and blew it with urgency, calling kiama or council of elders for an urgent meeting by the giant muiri tree near Thiririka the gurgling stream.
When the sun got cooler, the council held court, each man of means sitting on his njung’wa or three-legged stool. Each man spoke with wisdom, spicing his talk with parables before finally hammering the point home with his muthigi or ceremonial staff reserved for senior elders. After the half-day meeting, the leader of the men, a man who was said to have survived four famines, ten Maasai raids and witnessed three ituikas stood up to speak.
We all have committed a crime. He spoke with authority and in a deep timbrous voice.His head rested on his shoulders like a calabash of wisdom.
We have let Waceke die, yet we could help. But we are not here to ask who is guilty of the crime. We are here to correct our communal mistake and see to it that this will not be repeated.
The men nodded at the depth of his words.
A man cannot enjoy his meal in peace while he can hear his neighbour’s stomach rumble with hunger.
He added, emphasizing the point with his ebony staff gone oily with age.
It is decreed that every man shall give a goat for every ten goats he owns and a cow for every ten cows he owns to Maara. He said with finality.
Thaai thathaiya Ngai thaaaaai! The thousand-strong elders answered back.The deal had been sealed.
With that, some young men were instructed to take the body of Maara’s mother to the evil forest lest it made the village unclean. They then later went to each home, collecting Maara’s due share of animals from each man’s flock.Maara got his share of wealth from each man and lived to be a wealthy man respected by all.
Upto date, among the Gikuyu people, 3 a.m. is called riria Maara ateire nyina.The hour that Maara woke up to dispose his mother’s body.