Gunshots. Rape. Fire. The eight-year old me back then would have asked you to try my shoes, but in a world falling against my chest, shoes were just a mere luxury. In fact, the only consolation for my swollen feet was the hot sand that burned beneath at the North Eastern part of Kenya. And if you think bushes are a home for the wild then in other words you would term us a tame-able game, a perfect example of God’s imperfect clay.
Sunday 19th of December, 2019 was one of the darkest nights I have ever seen. The streets were all calm, not a symbol of peace but a symbol of defeat. Any unnecessary movement outside meant defiance of the law, and the law had to be obeyed unless you were ready to lose a head. Perhaps if luck was on your side you would just have your limbs broken; survival or death was a decision of the strength of your heart. Therefore, literary everyone was indoors, perhaps the only positive thing being there was more family time in many homes. However not in our home, at least not with the usual insults from my brutal father. Father, really? At least all those years I thought he was my father—just a male figure who caused more grief than joy. I was thankful for the darkness outside that concealed the sad grin of my face before I was interrupted with noises below my bedroom.
“Shut up woman! What do you know about political stability?” shouted my father.
“I’m sorry. All I am asking is for you to stop being at the front line…” I heard my mother cry.
“And what do you gain from that, stupid woman?” He slapped her hard.
“Richard, do you do this to me because I have no ability to bear children? I’m just trying to protect them even though they are not mine.”
“And by now you should know that their lunatic mother on the streets of Khartoum is much better than the piece of shit of you.”
I felt the world crumbling beneath me. Out of the most brutal insults I ever heard from them, those were the most heartbreaking. So I needed to find out what they meant, that the woman I knew was not my mother.
I crept out of my bedroom and headed towards the stairs to grasp the tiniest information relevant to me before I heard a loud scream. A sharp pain hit my heart and I could feel the penetration of the knife deeply inside her chest. She lay life less on the floor, her body a reflection of sin.
Just as I ran downstairs, the main door opened so I had to stay calm. The ‘law makers’ had arrived. A part of me was glad justice was going to prevail; another part of me was sad to lose both of my parents, one in prison. However, I was proven wrong by their approach.
“Sir, we are here to make sure you are Richard Deng,” the tallest man said.
“Yes… how may I help you?” my father said, trembling.
“Sorry, we are not here to negotiate the law!”
One, two, three… nine. Nine shots I had counted right. Nine bullets in my father’s chest. Beside my ‘mother’ his body lay there too. As if that was not enough the ‘law makers’ set the house on fire. Even as distasteful as the sight I had seen below, part of me wanted to live, to save my siblings’ life.
Four months later I found a home in Kakuma refugee camp. News reached me that most of our neighborhood back home was covered in ashes. At least life for a nine-year-old me had changed a bit for the better. There was free food, free healthcare and guaranteed education courtesy of UNHCR.
It was on one of the evenings in April when I sat staring at the sunset. When did the sun disappear? And why did it not take me with it. Earlier that day I had got an answer to a most disturbing question of where my sister was. The only blood I knew. The Kenyan newspaper had written it clearly in bold letters:
“WOE AS VULTURE WAITS FOR A CHILD TO DIE, TO FEAST.”
Whatever may have happened to her, it was clear she was dead, and a meal to a scavenger.
As much as I tried to ignore the knife that life had lodged deep in my chest, I realized that I did not have any more tears to give. That I managed to cry without tears, and that was more painful and impossible to control. I barely gave a whisper, lost in the wind and in my rage as I walked back to the camp.
Unusually in one of Kenya’s driest parts, there was a heavy rain that night. It was not the resounding drops of rain that woke us nevertheless. It started with a sudden rush of muddy water inside our houses. It then dawned on us that fate had wanted to wipe us out by floods. It must have been midnight when we started running to a higher ground, just taking a few most important things. Mine was a fully written script about my life as a refugee. The rain intensified, there was agony as younger children cried over disrupted sleep, and in a Flash we heard a deafening sound. It was not just flash floods, it was a landslide.
I was worried I was going to damage my vocal cord as I screamed, silent screams. Trees crumbled, taking more lives with them. I couldn’t see much but I could hear the earth tremble as we struggled to swim in the mud. Exhausted, I clutched on a tree and gave a deep breath. If fate had it I was going to breath my last, at least I would die knowing my life was different. That I did not walk on the earth’s crust, I walked on the mantle for nine years, and that was not enough; life had a way to crumble just when I thought my dawn had arrived. The said life as a refugee.
It must have been several days later when I woke up from coma. The first sight I caught was of a man in a tuxedo suit. As I sat up I noticed his weird smile.
“Good morning, we never thought you would survive. However, we are very grateful you finally up. We came across your script. You held it tightly when the Red Cross Society came to your rescue. Congratulations! The Writer Space Africa is glad to give you an award as Africa’s youngest author.”
I may not have shown enough gratitude at that time, but one thing I was sure with was that this time I had reached the light at the end of my tunnel. Life is a dice, this time I would rise. Now that I have stopped having my world under the sharp heel of a stiletto shoe, perhaps I could ask you to try my shoe. Refugees too deserve a life, they are the live ashes amidst dead smoke.