I was always the rebellious type. The kind to question everything. Why does the alphabet have to be in order? Why do we sleep at night instead of during the day? I like to do things differently, and maybe that’s why I was never my mother’s favourite.
After high school, I decided that there was no point in moving forward with education. It wasn’t for me. I was just wasting my parents’ money, knowing well how hard it was to raise enough funds to pay for my fees. My father was not having it. He yelled at me day after day after I broke the news off to him, even after I explained that I had a deeper calling than education. You might be wondering what deeper calling this is, and even as I uttered those words I was wondering the same. I just thought I would figure it out along the way. The way I saw it, education made little sense. Why do we spend money to go to school to learn how to make money?
When I turned 25 years old, my father said he was not having it anymore. I remember that night vividly. He walked into the house staggering in the middle of the night and started to shout.
“Miranda! I…I am tired of you! You are now 25 years old and all you do is laze around and finish the food around here. Go and do something with your life. Tomorrow morning, I want you out of my house. Go out and find your way. I can’t have you here anymore.”
I sat up, wondering why he didn’t start by at least saying happy birthday. He handed me a one thousand shilling note and said that it was up to me to know how I would use it to put food on the table.
My mother watched from afar and started to cry. You could see in her eyes that she felt helpless. You see, my mother was a dreamer, and she was also very expressive. I remember when I was younger, she would tell me almost every day that one day I would make a good lawyer with my argumentative personality. She hoped that I would buy the family a piece of land so that they could move away from my grandmother’s place. She was tired of all the politics of that place. I knew that one day I would be able to give her that life. I felt in my heart. But I also knew I could do it without spending half my life in a classroom trying to grasp concepts that were way beyond my understanding.
The next morning, I thought my father would wake up sober enough to take his words back and apologise to his loving daughter. To my dismay, he didn’t even wait for me to wake up. He started yelling at 5 a.m. I guess the alcohol was still in his system. I was never one for confrontation so I packed my few belongings quickly and left. My mother hugged me for about five minutes. She handed me a 200 shilling note and bid me goodbye. She also gave me her mobile phone and asked me to call her through my aunt if I needed anything. I walked away with tears in my eyes, with no idea where I was headed.
I boarded a bus to the city and spent about 500 shillings. I had seen a poster somewhere that there was a bureau holding interviews for potential housemaids. So I headed there immediately after I arrived, but because I spent a great deal of time asking for my way around, I arrived late. The interviews had already been held. I took out the phone and tried to call an old high school friend but she didn’t pick up the phone. This was when I knew that life is indeed hard out there. With no other option, I sat on one of the benches and stared at people walking fast and with a sense of purpose. Lucky them.
Night came, and I was still clutching my bag tightly. I started to dose off and two minutes later, like a flash of lightning, someone grabbed my bag and ran off. That bag had the little money that I had left, and the phone that my mother had given me. Now I had nothing. The rains started pouring heavily and I started to cry. I was feeling cold, lonely and helpless when someone walked toward me and sat next to me.
“Hi, I can see that you’re a newbie around here!” He said.
I looked at him suspiciously. He wore ragged clothes and was dirty. He also had a foul smell. It suddenly occurred to me that this was no time to judge anyone because in a few days I would probably be looking like him.
“My name is Nelson. You know I can help you,” he said.
“How?” I asked him.
“My boss runs a business and I could help you get in.”
“What kind of business?” I asked.
“We steal headlights from cars during the day. It’s a dangerous business but at least you will have something to eat.”
I looked at him from head to toe, and then I stood up and walked away. I wasn’t a thief, and that was not a genuine business. I could do better. I could act, or sing. I would rather be a beggar than be a thief. I started walking and then I realised that he was following me closely.
“Here, take this,” he said, removing something from his bag. It was three slices of bread, and I still remember looking at that bread like it was a four-course meal. I grabbed it and ate it like a beggar. After all, I might as well start to act like one.
It was then that I realised that maybe this guy wasn’t a bad guy, and maybe I should listen to him. He led me to his shack. It was a rusty corridor where he had built a makeshift structure using old iron sheets. He had a small mattress that had been cut into half, and a torch to light up his little room. He allowed me to sleep there, and then the following day he would introduce me to his workmates. I looked at him one more time as he washed his face, and I saw that he was quite handsome.
The next morning we were woken up by the loud sound of cars. People started their day quite early around here. Nelson led me to his workplace. It was a filthy area around a dumping site. They had many metal scraps and then he explained how they sold stolen car parts to a nearby garage. I was introduced to the boss and immediately started my job. Nelson took me with him and said that we would work together on this first day.
When lunchtime came he bought a loaf of bread and said that we could share half of it and then leave the other half for supper. We stole from innocent people. Nelson was quite the professional. Once we were done we went back to the supplies shop, handed over what we had stolen and exchanged it for money. He gave us 200 shillings.
“All this work for just 200 shillings? I am hungry and tired. How do you survive on this little money? I’m exhausted.” I told him.
“Let’s go swimming. That will help you unwind,” he said.
“Swimming?” I asked, “I don’t know how to float. “Follow me, I’ll teach you.”
We snuck in through the back of a stadium and into the swimming pool area. We had to cross through barbed wire and I was scared that I would get scratches but Nelson held it well for me.
For the first time in my life, I learned how to float in water. For a minute I forgot all the problems I had, and I was happy. Every time I looked at Nelson I found a reason to stay positive. All would be well.
A month had passed and I was now able to do the assignments by myself. I had built a shack next to Nelson’s, but most times we spent the night together. He told me stories of how he had found himself in this situation. Like me, Nelson was an educated fellow. In fact, for the better part of his childhood, he lived a good life. His parents were involved in an accident and they passed away. His stepbrothers chased him away, and that was how he landed where he was now. Nelson had dreams and aspirations. He had been to school and had many skills including carpentry. He hoped to one day open up his shop where he could sell furniture.
As I listened to him day after day, I realised that he was an angel in disguise. I started to see him differently and some part of me felt butterflies in my stomach. I knew he felt the same way. I saw it in his eyes. He was protective of me and tried his best to make me comfortable. He bought me food, and even though it was cheap, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
One day we had been assigned a hard task. We were supposed to steal parts from the cars along Uhuru Park. The problem was that there was an event going on and so the security had been heightened. Nelson and I had agreed to stay by each other’s side through it all. We identified an area where there weren’t any policemen.
I went and stood in front of one car to distract people from seeing what was happening, and Nelson, on the other hand, tried to get the headlights out. He took much longer than I thought and I was starting to get worried. I turned around to see that Nelson was no longer there. I called his name out, and that’s when I saw him being pulled by a policeman. I ran towards them and tried to plead with the officer.
“Please, we are… we are sorry,” I said with a trembling voice.
“Miranda go away, you have nothing to do with this,” Nelson said.
“Who is this?” Asked the policeman.
Another policeman came running and grabbed me by my hand. He handcuffed me and said that he had seen me helping Nelson to steal. I was taken into a police car and driven to the police station. I had no idea where Nelson was all this time.
When we got there we were led to a filthy room. It was dirty and had a putrid smell. I sat in the corner and started to cry feeling helpless.
“Miranda! This way!” A policeman shouted.
I was led into another room for further questioning. They asked me who I was and where I was from. I wanted to keep quiet, but the officer behind me held a whip and I knew that they weren’t going to feel sorry for me.
“If I tell you, will you let me go? Where is Nelson?” I asked.
“Nelson is in a separate room. Now tell me the truth and I will let you go.”
Eventually, I said everything. I told them why I had come to the city and how I met Nelson. I told them that I had no other option but to join the gang, and I told them that I was in love with Nelson. At the end of it, I thought that they would let me go. They asked me to show them the exact place where we sold the stolen car parts, and I did. I thought that it would help me.
A few days later I was taken to court and the judge sentenced me to three years in jail. In all this time all I could think of was my dear Nelson. If someone could just tell me where he was and assure me that he would be okay, I would be fine. I borrowed a phone from my cellmate and called one of his friends from the gang who surprisingly picked up. He said that Nelson had tried to escape from the car on the way to the station, and the police shot him dead. He was trying to run after me and save me. He also warned him that the leader of the gang had heard the news about how I sold them out and was waiting for me as soon as I was released from prison. But all I heard was that my Nelson was gone, and I didn’t know what to do.
Luckily, my parents eventually found out that I had been arrested. To my surprise, they helped me to plead with the judge and reduce my sentence. We drove back home and they promised they wouldn’t let me suffer out there. I was like the prodigal daughter.
It’s been almost 3 years, and I still cannot forget Nelson. I can’t get him out of my mind. From the first time I saw him and thought that he was a thief. He was the very definition of kindness and a good heart. I wish I could tell him thank you for helping me that day when I had nothing to eat and nowhere to go. I wish I could thank him for giving me paradise in a way only we could understand.
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