My name is Njuguna, gush for my close friends. I know you don’t really see me, I am there but it’s like am invisible. I am the boy who sells you groundnuts on Uhuru highway. I am the short boy with slightly curly hair, a face with pimples and one missing main tooth. I guess you still can’t see me. I guess no one does, I am just another boy on the streets selling groundnuts.
I sell groundnuts made at home. I wish I could say that my mum makes them but it’s not her. Mum is sick, very sick. She has something people call the mdudu or HIV. In her case, I hear the health worker who comes sometimes refer to it as full-blown AIDS. I don’t know what that means but I think it means mum is going to die just like dad.
Dad was a truck driver. He used to make a lot of money transporting goods from one area to another. We never used to see most of the money though. Apparently, he had a girl in every town and he was well known in all the bars. By the time he would get home most of the money made on the trips would be gone.
Dad started getting sick about 4 years ago. He would complain about his chest and how he was in pain. He went to the hospital and was told he had pneumonia. He was given drugs and for a while, he was better. Then he started getting worse. He went to the hospital again and was told he had TB. He was also tested for HIV and was found to be positive. This mum found out later. He did not tell mum that he was very sick.
Soon Dad could not work. So he came to stay at home. He would always disturb mum to give him money for changaa and mum gave him. I could not understand how mum would give him money yet he never used to give her much money.
By the time Dad died 2 years ago, he had gotten very very sick and thin. He was coughing blood. Frankly, I was scared to go near him. There was this sickening stretch on him. It’s like he was rotting from inside.
When we went to the funeral they said he died of TB. But someone stepped up and said Dad had AIDS. Mum was so shocked she fainted. After that Mum was never the same old sweet mum that we used to know.
Mum used to sell peas and carrots at the market. In essence, she is the one who brought us up. That’s me, my brother Kamau and my sister Njeri. But Njeri is dead now. She died two months ago. Apparently, she was born with the HIV virus. Mum didn’t know it at the time and so did not get her medication. It seems her body was too weak to fight the virus. She was 5 years old only.
When Njeri died I think mum gave up the fight for her life. She had been getting sick but she was on medication. They say they are called ARV’s or something. She had been doing well her health was getting better. She had been really sick after she found out about dad but she got better. After all, she was the bread winner and she had children to take care of.
When she had not been working we used to be given some food by the neighbours. It wasn’t much but at least we had something to eat. But after a while the neighbours started grumbling. They had their own children to feed and there was no money to go around.
So mum got off her sickbed and went to hospital to get treatment. It was hard surviving. The thing that hurt the most was walking down the mud corridor to the mud house that we used to live in. My siblings and I would hear the other children laughing and when they would spot us they would scream and run away. I don’t know who told them that you could catch HIV just by being near someone you thought had it.
I used to cry sometimes in the bed that I shared with my siblings. I know I am a boy and am not supposed to cry. But sometimes you have to cry. Cry for your lost childhood and innocence. Cry because you know nothing will ever be the same again. Those children crying in horror at seeing us, that used to be us. Doing the same when we heard someone’s parent had died of AIDS.
“Njugu, njugu. Ten bob” I hold my groundnuts that are wrapped in paper that was waste paper for some bank. You can actually see someone’s account sometimes. I wonder how some of these people have so much money and we have none. Life is so unfair.
“Kijana, why are you not in school?” a motorist with children at the back asks me.
I don’t know what to tell them. I have heard these questions so many times. “Go tell your mum to take you to school.” “School now is free. You should stop selling groundnuts and go to school.”
I sometimes look at these people and think, “Do you think I don’t want to go to school. I want to seat and learn. I want to do math and English. I want to play football with the other children. But where is the money? We don’t even have enough money to buy enough food. Where will the money to buy uniforms come from? I don’t even have good shoes. If we had had money Njeri would not have died. We did not have enough money to buy good food. That’s why she died. No good nutrition.”
In the end, I don’t answer. I just say “njugu, njugu. Ten bob”
These people presume to judge me according to what’s right or wrong to them. But do they understand that some of us have no voice, no money to make things happen? They drive in their air conditioner cars and some in the matatus. All they worry about is where they are going to drink or taking their children out for a meal of chips and chicken.
Ah chicken. I can’t even remember the last time I tasted chicken. It was years ago. That is now a luxury. We can’t afford it so we can’t eat it. Our menu is the same day in day out. Ugali and sukuma wiki and on alternative days it is githeri. Oh for a taste of chicken or even some meat.
Sometimes on my way walking back home, I pass restaurants. I look inside and see people eating with gusto. I wish it was me. But it is not to be.
Every day I wake up at 4. I have to give mum her first dose of medicine for the day. Then I make black tea. We can’t afford anything else. My brother goes to the markets every day when it is closing to ask for rotting or spoilt produce. That’s what we eat in the morning. Decaying mangoes, squashed or overripe bananas.
After making the tea, I prepare the charcoal jiko and roast groundnuts in a pan. While they cool, I wash the house and my brother washes the clothes. Because mum is very sick she tends to spoil the sheets so we have to wash a pair every day. The sheets are now frayed but there is no money for more. I don’t know what we will do when these ones get torn.
After that, I pack the groundnuts. I then put them in a paper bag and start the 2-hour trek to Uhuru highway. Nowadays the competition is very stiff. When I started we weren’t too many. I had to drop out of school to help mum with getting money. I started doing this business one year ago. Mum then was ok and she used to make the groundnuts for me. I think her groundnuts were better than mine.
On getting to Nyayo, I first go seat under the flyover. The journey is usually tiring and I need to rest. There are other boys there and we laugh and tell each other jokes. This is how we encourage ourselves for the very long day. Sometimes it gets very hot and it rains hard. But we have nowhere to go. So we have to stay under the bridge or sell even when it rains. Because our sales determine whether our families will eat tonight.
I come up to your window. You’re driving such a nice car. It is beautiful. I wish I could get a ride. I raise my packets to ask whether you want some. You nod and pull down the window slightly.
“Leta za twenty, na ulete kubwa.” You tell me.
You take the packets and give me a twenty bob. You don’t even look at my face. You don’t care. I am not your responsibility. I am faceless. Nobody. Invisible.
Potentash Founder. A creative writer. The Managing Editor at Potentash. Passionate about telling African stories and stories about the inclusion of minorities. Find me at email@example.com.
“We're all stories, in the end.” ― Steven Moffat