Muhia walked the 6 miles to school, often alone and lost in a world of thoughts. He heard his father yelling at his mother, at the back of his mind. His mother’s muffled cries called out to him, after another beating from his father. The sisters’ whispers, as they busied themselves in the kitchen hut fell silent, as their father’s figure cast a shadow over the kitchen hut entry-way. It hurt to know or remember these things, but he could not keep them out of his mind.
He looked at the soft mud, squelching between his large two, as he kept his balance on the dewy green slopes on this cool morning.
The morning mists rose and wisped away as Muhia edged on, pushing and pulling his weight with each hill, balancing his weight, as the soft red mud gave way to his bare feet. His long, oversized shirt flapped between his bony thighs. His shorts were barely visible under his shirt, but he did not let this discourage him, even after weeks of being teased and sometimes bullied by his schoolmates.
This tall and lanky boy, walked tall, balancing the weight of his rather big head, as he walked in a daze. His blank stare belied the fear and anxiety he felt. His big, bright and light-brown eyes blinking away a fading boyhood innocence. His senses heightened as he passed a few feet away from the edge of the forest.
Muhia let out a coded whistle, to let the Land Freedom Army brothers know he was alone and no British troops were in sight, nor were they expected. Suddenly, one of their scouts stood stock-still ahead of him, beside the well-worn path. The smell of living wild in the bush, among the animals and in the dark enveloped the young man before him. The Land Freedom Army scout’s animal skin-scent accosted Muhia, and he struggles to engage past that.
They exchanged silent cursory glances and Muhia’s eyes widened after he passed the man, drops of trepidation threatening to overwhelm him. He breathed evenly, deeply and walked on, slow and steady, as if to prove he meant no harm. His days as a look-out for the Land Freedom brothers were far from over and he found both solace and joy in this minor task. Muhia wondered where his brother could be and fought the natural urge to ask. For fear of giving the impression that he was young, needy and dependent, he remained silent. His father had beaten that out of him, when he had tried to raise this with his parents. So he chose to bear the burden of being the only brother in the homestead, for as long as would be necessary.
It was 1954 and Muhia was doing well at school and just about to go to Secondary School, at the Catholic Mission close by. The Italian Fathers remained diligent but rigid, given the obvious language barriers. He silently chuckled at Father Paolo’s hand gestures, as he spoke. The other Priests had similar mannerisms and he giggled at the contrast between their spoken customs and his.
The anxiety of his studies came to mind and his large eyes began to blink rather slowly, as his breathing rate increased. He suddenly stopped and clicked his tongue. What was the point of all of this, he wondered, as his temper rose and he furrowed his brow. He arrived at the school, with his lips thinned, brow creased and a gentle stoop to betray his emotions. His mates knew well enough he was about to explode and gave him a wide berth. That morning, he got his first set of subject tests back and realized how well he had done, compared to the rest of his class and school. It was the first time he ever received public acknowledgment. He revelled in the triumph!
Two years on and another dewy and damp morning, he met with the same scout at the edge of the forest. This time, the tall man moved toward him and stood in his path, eyes glaring into his. Muhia trembled and waited to be addressed. He was asked his name and he answered. it was at that moment, he received the news of the near capture and death of his brother, at the hands of two new British Recruits on a surprise mission into their territory.
Muhia’s heart ached, as did his stomach, yet he stood there silent and immobile. Unable to speak or express any emotion, Muhia blinked hard and fast. Finally, he caught his breath, swallowed hard, then leaned against the tree next to him. The scout urged him to turn back and tell his family. On his long walk home, Muhia arrives, silently, shuffling and shaking. He falls to his knees, as he shares the news, first with his mother. She wails, eyes searching the heavens, as if for an answer. She clenches her middle and continues to wail, as neighbors run towards their homestead, shocked and worried.
His father takes slow aim as he posits himself on his stool, by his favorite tree. Missing it all together, his father collapses onto the ground, his body shaking as he cries quietly, hiding his face with his thin arms. His sisters weep. Neighbours and friends are all in shock and disbelief. He fears his mother would lose the child she is expecting, as she rolled on the ground, holding her middle. His sisters console her and the entire village mourns with them.
A few weeks later, they receive news of Muciri’s burial, by the Land Freedom Army deep within the forest, for fear of British troops reprisals. The family is notified and they concur with Muciri’s compatriot’s decision. An unmarked grave in the cold, dark forest is Muciri’s home now. The struggle to cope is the family’s new short-term reality.