Inferno of Despair

Mum was out cold on the plastic chair in the corner of the shack. Her clothes were wet from all the washing she had done today. That is how she made money to feed, clothe and school the children. She cleaned people’s laundry by hand washing. By the end of the day, she had washed about close to 15 to 20kg of clothes coming home with about 2,000 shillings.

Gitau and his brothers creaked the door of their shack open, at 4.30pm. The usual time they got home. The mud walls painted white and plastered with polythene to keep the cold July weather from oozing into the house.

“Wake Mama up, get the money for dinner Kama and Maina clean up the house.” Gitau directed.

Mum was completely exhausted opening her eyes was so hard. She grunted then, “Kama let me sleep, I am so tired. Do your homework.”

“We don’t have homework today Mama. Wake up, go and sleep on the bed,” Kama said as he peeled back the sheet hanging in the middle of the room separating the living room from the bedroom. The bed was three huge planks of wood arranged against a wall, a 4 by 3 foot bed, not big enough for their 5ft 11 inch mother. By the foot of the bed, there was a kerosene stove which served as the kitchen with the aluminum pots and pans piled up next to it.

Maina’s effort in tiding up was futile, there were metal boxes all over the floor that served dual purposes; as a coffee table, chair and suitcase for their clothes and storage of food from ants and the water that seeped through the walls of their shack. The floor was cemented adding to the cold at night.

“Mama, please change your clothes so that you don’t get sick.” Maina called out to his mother who was inching into the bed completely worn out from the day’s work. Gitau walked through the door with some shredded collard greens in a transparent plastic bag with two onions and a tomato in one hand. In the other hand in another transparent bag, looking like diluted urine was paraffin.

He grabbed a funnel and nodded at Maina. Maina grabbed the stove and brought it into the ‘living room’. They watched as Gitau filled the tin stove with the paraffin. He stepped outside to light it. Kamau brought out an aluminum pan and a knife and a small 5 litre jerrican of water.

Gitau peeled the onions in his hand and washed them with water from the jerrican. He diced them in his hand and into the pan, he washed the tomato and added it to the pan, they didn’t have any oil or lard to fry it, so Gitau dashed about two tablespoons of water and a pinch of salt to onions and tomato. He covered it and it let it simmer, and then added the shredded collard greens.

When the food was ready, Gitau steadily lifted the pan, and then out of nowhere the stove blew up, blasting him and his brothers who stood by observing, through their front door and setting their whole house and sleeping mother ablaze.


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