James and his younger sister never imagined that life would take a turn for the worst, for two innocent souls that only a while ago had been having the time of their lives. Everything was catered for: food, school fees, toys and everything they desired they got. How life can turn around and knock you down and as if that is not enough, it holds you down until you just can’t take it anymore. This is exactly what happened to the Mwaniki family.
Sad as this tale is, one might be made to believe that it’s a good thing that neither of them is with us anymore since it would be better for death to claim one than for them to relieve day after day of a meaningless and a life full of disappointment and suffering. The Mwanikis were our neighbours and still basically are despite the fact that nobody inhabits their house anymore. I can still remember Jolly James who was outgoing and a very kind kid who moved to our neighbourhood a year after I had turned twelve.
His sister was much quieter but still well behaved because of their good upbringing that their parents gave them. I cannot say much about the Mwanikis but from what my parents usually said about them, I figured that they were good people. For instance, Mrs Mwaniki was a good friend to my mother and would sometimes come to our house to chat and help her around the house. Though our two families were very close, there was a huge difference in lifestyles on our side of the fence and on their side.
The Mwanikis were successful at a very early age and were among the few families that had decent homes and a car in the homestead. For them, it was two cars. The father worked as an administrator while the mother worked as a doctor. Our family was neither poor nor rich and my parents always found a way to make things work out. We had been neighbours for almost five years when one Saturday Mrs Mwaniki knocked on our gate at about six o’clock in the morning to pass on the news to my mother that her husband had passed away and she would require all the help she could get arranging a fitting send-off for him.
After she had left, my mother started wondering aloud why she had not bothered to talk to her during the course of her husband’s illness. What still puzzled her was she had been really vague about what illness he had been suffering from. Funeral arrangements were made and the burial took place without a problem. My sisters and I were present at the funeral and it was really sad since Mr Mwaniki was known for his goodness. The distance between our family and theirs started to grow especially after the funeral.
Mrs Mwaniki decided a few days later to relocate to Nairobi, her workplace since her children were in secondary boarding schools and she didn’t want to stay at her house which contained so many memories of her late husband. She, however, came to say goodbye and charge us with the responsibility of looking after her house while she was away. Sadly, that was the last time we saw her again. A long time passed before news emerged about the Mwaniki family and from this news, I realized that nothing can remain hidden forever.
Mr Mwaniki had succumbed to opportunistic infections as a result of the HIV virus. The cost of treatment had caused a huge dent in the family finances causing them to sell their cars and other valuables in the house. Mr Mwaniki had also infected the wife and it was rumoured that she was fading away fast in a hospital in Nairobi. “Those poor kids”, my mother would always say. Despite the stigma still, that existed at that time, nobody could believe that the family had decided to suffer in silence despite them being known for their generosity. It did not take long for Mrs Mwaniki to pass away and from here henceforth is when life became a living hell for James and the sister.
Since none of the family members wanted to take them in considering how their parents had died, the children were forced to come back to their home, beside ours and lived there. James and the sister could no longer attend school since they did not have fees and could also jot to find jobs nearby since society thought they were ill like their parents. Due to this, these kids like their parents decided to suffer in silence. My parents would help whenever they were able but from the children’s faces, one could see that the two had resigned to fate and given up in life. They always found a reason not to visit for meals and eventually stopped coming altogether.
Two years after this tragedy, James and his sister still lived in hardship. The sister now turned nineteen, got impregnated by a motorcycle rider, and got married as a second wife by the man. Tragedy would strike again as during childbirth she bled profusely and though the husband rushed her to the hospital, she didn’t make it out, losing her life and the child too. During the burial, disagreements, hooliganism and even violence were witnessed with some refusing her to be buried in the area since they claimed the family had been cursed. After intervention from the pastor and various elders, Susan, James’ sister was finally laid to rest.
James disappeared shortly after his sister’s burial and was discovered a month later by children that had sneaked into their compound to steal mangoes and reported a foul smell coming from inside the house. Cause of death was termed as extreme starvation. The society had failed them. Despite having relatives and even friends, the family was rejected when they needed help the most.
I write this story because I hope it makes a small contribution and help right the wrongs that I witnessed being done and the memory of this family never gets forgotten.