“Always look under the bed for the monsters.” No. Should I happen to have a child in the next thousand light years to come, I will make sure to tell him or her that monsters hide under the bed. What?! Are you kidding me?! No. I will make sure to tell them that monsters are dressed as normal as humanly possible, and sometimes they lurk closer than we care to look. That they can be disguised as anyone. Uncles, aunts, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, that friendly neighbour, and strangers.
And to back up my claims, I will make sure to cite my own story as a point of reference. You see, I was 9 years old and had recently graduated to class four. I was ecstatic to have become part of the “bigger” population of the school, which also meant that I had divorced collecting firewood and running errands for my mum as she attended fellowship or whatever parents do with their time in the afternoons back in the village. Finally! No more of those duties that were expected of me when I got home at 1p.m. But my graduation did not mean that I was exempted from being asked to rush to the shops now and then.
The evening rain had just stopped, and dusk was fast approaching when my mom realised we were about to take “nylon” or “white tea” after dinner and according to her expertise, such kind does not satiate the thirst. Being from the village, you know that tea after supper in some households is mandatory and mine was not an exception. Thus, I hurriedly changed into my home clothes and put on shoes capable of navigating the mud. Quickly rushing to accomplish the mission, my grandma saw me and asked if she too could send me to bring her a bucket of charcoal from the shops and being the obedient child, I said yes.
Getting to the destination, the one shop that I was expected to buy the commodities from was fully packed with young men who often came to hang around the shopping centre hitting on teenage girls.
This particular day though, they were all crammed up in this shop and being the chronically shy and timid kid that I was, I waited for every one of them to buy whatever it was they were buying before I finally placed my order. By the time I was served, it was almost 8p.m, and a sense of foreboding struck my gut. I panicked. How was I going to get home? I remembered what my friend Jackie had told me that there were stray leopards prying around at night and I could not imagine of a more horrid death like that of being feasted upon by a stray, hungry leopard. Ha! I should have known better that stray leopards might have a kinder heart towards a kid compared to a disgusting human.
Panicking, I hurriedly took the half-bucket of charcoal and the tea leaves and slowly walked out of the shop. Stepping outside, the reality of what I was going to brave slowly sunk in when the apparent contrast between the lights inside the shop and the darkness outside greeted me, gloomily. I instantly became scared, but I was even more afraid to ask anyone to see me off. Slowly, I dragged my feet and with every step, braved the darkness that seemed to engulf my weakling body into the abyss of damnation. Few meters away from the shopping centre, I heard the footsteps. Torn between waiting for him to pass and hurrying up so that he doesn’t catch up with me, I stood paralysed with fear.
Looking, I instantly knew who he was because everyone in the village knows everyone. But why was I not feeling safe? Remember the foreboding feeling? The knot in my stomach tightened. But I was too dumb to realise that “You should always TRUST your gut instinct.”
But hey, I know him. He is from this village. Surely, he cannot cause harm to a young kid like me?
He asked, “Boina, are you crying?” “No.”
“Your mum sent you this late?”
“Can I see you off?”
“I’ll see you off.”
I followed him, silently. No word was exchanged after that. Of course not until we crossed the little valley and came to the deserted part of the village when he said, “I want to have sex with you.” Those words struck like a thunderbolt, and my whole being came crumbling down on me. The first instinct was to scream. I screamed at the top of my voice that I am certain my great great grandmother that passed on aeons ago heard my cries. Do not get me wrong, at that age I was not aware of the mechanics of sex, but I knew that whatever that statement meant was not good for me. He was a full-grown ass man, and he wanted to have sex with me!? A 9-year old child?! Why would anyone think of such a vile act? I thought he wanted to see me get home safe?
At the break of my first scream, he ran, and for a moment, I thought I was safe. But then, the thought that perhaps he was hiding somewhere waiting for me only now to carry out his plan, this time forcefully shattered my illusion of safety into tiny uncollectable pieces. I stood there rooted on the spot for what seemed like an eternity of time. I thought of changing paths and brave the woods and bushes, but I remembered of the stray leopards and all creatures of the night that could do me harm and that again, shattered my faiths of ever getting home safely. After a long deliberation, I decided to carry on with my journey hoping against hope and praying to all the gods that that monster was gone and was not waiting for me ahead of the road. With every step, I chanted incantations and invoked the gods and goddesses of protection without sage or any sacrifice whatsoever.
Luckily enough, my mother’s sixth sense must have alerted her because after walking a few steps, I saw two figures approaching me and it was her and my brother. I was too scared to tell her what had happened but she knew something was wrong somewhere. I did not know how to tell her. I could not bring myself to utter the words that the man had said. I felt dirty and guilty that perhaps I was the one who had led him to think of me in that light even though I was just a child. I was afraid that if I told her that she would blame me instead and insinuate that perhaps I had flashed the man a perverse smile and that’s why he followed me. I was so traumatised that I became terrified of being left alone because, at the back of my mind, I thought that the man would come back and this time the screams would not deter him and that he finally, would have the last laugh defiling my innocence. So, my future child, “do not look under the bed for monsters. They are dressed like you and me. They hide in plain sight, and sometimes they disguise as good Samaritans.”
Shiro . Nairobi