The insistent chirping of birds wakes me just as a warm ray of sunlight hits my sleepy face.
“Nayioma! Nayioma!” calls out mother from outside my door. I toss and turn, as I sleepily fumble with my blanket which is already entangled around my languid body. I can hear the low of the cattle and the loud bleating of the sheep and goats as they are led out of their sheds. I sit up in bed and slowly rub my temple.
I have a splitting headache.
“Oh!” I force my resistant body out of bed. Mother, without knocking, opens the door and enters, locking the door firmly behind her.
“Mother…” I begin.
“My daughter…” she interrupts.
We exchange a look of suppressed helplessness and fear. I jump to my feet and run into her arms. I can feel the heave of her ample bosom and I know that deep inside, she is in agony. I brush away my tears as she pulls herself together and stares deep into my puffy, bloodshot eyes.
“Nayio,” she starts. I look up at her. Waiting to hear what she has to say. I love the way she calls me by my pet name. “Nayio,” she repeats. “Your father will be here any minute from now. Take this.”
She opens her clenched fist and reveals a two hundred shillings crumpled note. I stare at it in amazement, wondering where she got so much money and what it’s for.
“Take this money and go to Ole Sarao’s home. Give it to her. She will tell you what you must do.”
I stare at her, bewildered. Escape? No, mother could not possibly expect me to escape. The thought itself was simply inconceivable!
“Mother, how?” My eyes are as round as the milk gourds hanging from the sooty rafters in the kitchen. She squeezes the note in my hand and turns to leave. At the door, she pauses and looks back at me.
“You know you have to. You are the only hope for Nadupoi. I can’t bear the thought of the two of you suffering as I have.” She opens the door and quietly slips out.
I turn back and walk slowly to the bed. I stare at Nadupoi, still sound asleep. Her childish face is as smooth as calf-skin and without a trace of worry. She sleeps innocently, breathing softly in her sleep. A tear trickles down my cheek as I look at my younger sister. Only three years to go and she will be in my shoes. I quickly pack up a few belongings and slip into my rubber shoes. I walk to the door, quietly opening it and slip outside.
It is chilly outside and the dew clings to my feet. I glance at the main hut. The door is still locked but I know that father will be awake soon. Mother appears at the kitchen door and waves at me. I wave back, lingering at the gate. I turn on heel and choking back tears, I run as fast as I can towards Ole Sarao’s home. I take the path in the bush where I know I won’t be seen.
The cold wind slaps my face, bringing tears to my eyes. I clutch my bag next to my chest and hold onto the edge of my skirt to prevent it from getting caught in the thorny brush. My heart is beating fast, like a hunted kudus.
I look ahead. I can see Sarao’s grass-thatched roofs. I reduce my pace and walk briskly to the gate. She is standing solemnly at the main entrance, her walking stick clutched firmly in her right hand.
She greets me solemnly. “Ee,” I reply, bowing my head in respect.
She takes my hand and places a bag in it. I want to open the bag and look inside but I know it will seem disrespectful so I don’t. But I know it contains some clothes and foodstuff.
I can hear the sound of a car approaching. I turn around and see a white van with some words inscribed on its side. I cannot understand what the words mean. Two women, who I recognise from the village school and a white man, get out of the van.
Sarao approaches the group and they exchange greetings. She then turns to me and beckons me over. I walk falteringly towards them. Sarao introduces me to the white man who greets me with a firm handshake and a smile.
“Nayioma, we are here to help you, so don’t be afraid, alright?” one of the women from the village school says, smiling gently at me.
I look up at her, tears prickling my eyelids. “Thank you madam,” I whisper.
I turn to Sarao and bow my head again as she gently pats my shoulder. “Enkai be with you, my daughter,” she whispers.
The women lead me to the back of the van and I enter. As I turn to sit down, I see Nasieku, my friend from the village school.
“And what are you doing here?” I ask her in shock.
She smiles and slowly wipes her eyes. “Nayio,” she says softly. “I’m just like you. I ran away too.”
I don’t understand. I look at her bewildered.
“I don’t want to get cut. I don’t want to get married either! I’m too young! I want to go to on with school. I’m afraid if I stay, my father will force me out of school.” She sighs as she finishes explaining.
An overwhelming sensation runs through me and I move towards her. We hug each other, as our emotions give way. I thought I was all alone in my predicament. I thought I was the only girl in the village who didn’t want to get married at fourteen.
I moved back to my seat. We stared at each other for a while and then burst into laughter. Laughter filled with joy. And relief.
“Nasieku, what is written on the van’s side?” I ask as an afterthought.
“Oh, its an NGO. Sarao told my mother that it’s called F.F.G. Fight for the Girl child.”
“Fight for the girl child,” I murmured slowly. A smile spread across my face.
“Nadupoi, I will fight for you.”