Before I Die

To My Children, The Fruits Of My Womb,

You’ve always wondered what became of me and why I had to leave you so soon. And I know that one of you has finally dug into my collection and fished out this letter. Let me start by saying that you are the best gifts God gave me on this earth. Knowing that I was about to leave you was the heaviest burden I had to bear for those five years. Living each day knowing that I was drawing closer to being separated from you was not easy. If it were up to me, I would have stayed longer. I would have fought harder. But I had to leave so that you may find your way. I know by now that you are aiming to be successful people in the society, with a future so bright ahead of you. I thank God for that because that’s all I ever prayed for.

I do know that you haven’t had it easy but I believe I taught you well about never giving up. Your faces were all I wanted to carry with me when I was gone. I will remember you in this world and the next.

To help you make sense of my situation let me start by saying that my life was never easy. I was bestowed upon burdens that were too heavy to carry. I dreamt so big but none of that came to be. My dreams burned right before my very eyes and before I could do anything, I was already a mother.

Not that that was something I detested. No. Believe me, you five great beautiful souls were the best thing that I left in this world. And this is my story.

July 93’

When that letter arrived at the post office that cold July, I had already given up hope. For so long I had waited for a response that would change my life forever. And when it didn’t come, something inside me died. My hopes and my will to live were snatched from me. I was a skeleton of the person I used to be.

“You lose yourself when everything is taken away from you.”

These were the last words my grandfather said to me before he left for a foreign country. A wise man he was. Too bad that he died a stranger in another man’s land and you never got to meet him. We never got his body and we assumed that he had been buried there, like a dog without its owner which is why you’ve never seen his grave. His death hit me so hard. He was all I had in life. He had wanted so much for me and looking at my life now there is nothing to show for it. There is nothing to show for the ultimate sacrifice he made so that I could have a future.

You know me as Abigale, your mother. I thought you should also know me as the only daughter and child of the late Meshack and Hannah, your grandparents who until today I’ve never spoken of. My parents always thought that they named me Abigael until someone in the government hospital went and registered me as Abigale when I was born. That’s alright. Strong souls those two were.

Until now I have always held on to the bitter part that they were to blame for how my life turned out to be. You don’t just go and leave the child you brought into this world to face life on her own. Yet, another part of me blamed the sick driver who thought it best to overtake a lorry on that fateful day. Your grandparents died on the spot. Holding each other’s hands as their spirits left them. They were made for each other those two.

This meant one thing. I had to go live with your great grandfather, seeing that he was the only relative who cared about me after my uncle tried selling me to his drunken friend for a cup of liquor. This is why I’ve always shielded you from the negative truth that is my family. You have other relatives, but for your sake, I wanted you to grow up not bitter but upright knowing that I had no living relatives.

After my parents died and later on my grandfather, my soul purpose in life became to join the army. I kept abreast with the news and always showed up whenever there was recruitment. I was a bit tall for a girl my age, but what do you know? Most women from my tribe grew taller than men and so I thought that I had the best chances to serve in the army. The first attempt I made turned out to be a disaster. I came in second after running for almost two kilometers. Apparently my speed was not what that were looking for in a soldier. I was disappointed but I have never been one to give up. I went in for the second time and this time, my teeth were a bit discolored. You know how these army recruitments are. A slight mistake and you are out. I corrected the situation with months of cleaning my teeth with bitter herbs and went in for the third time. That time it turned out that they were just picking people from a certain region but still I went in for the fourth and fifth time.

Let’s just say that a person can be stretched just as much and I had reached that limit. I had wasted so much time and money already that I was literally living from hand to mouth. After failing for the seventh consecutive time, I finally threw in the towel. It was just not worth it.

Joining the army was all I had to escape the dilapidated life in the village. I come from a small village far in the east. You’ve never been there and there is nothing to find there. We were not as civilized as other people but I was fortunate to go to school up to lower class three before the tragic death of my grandfather. Getting out of that village was all I had in mind. But that seemed like a far-fetched dream that I would never live to accomplish. When life gives you lemons they say, make lemonade. But for me there was no time to make lemonade. I had to have my lemons, sit down and enjoy the bitter taste. And so when my dreams died, I did what any other reasonable person in my situation would do. I got myself a husband. You see in my community, the sole reason why a woman is born is to one day become a wife and give birth to children.

And so by the time I went to pick up that letter, I was already married to your father. A thrifty human being he was but one who gave me five beautiful children. After the death of my grandfather, he promised to cater for me. He even promised to pick up on where my grandfather left off by ensuring that I became an educated woman. To do that, I had to accept his marriage proposal. Since it was obvious that joining the army was not my destiny, I decided to marry him, finish school and become a teacher. While I was vehemently against marrying a man I did not love, my future came first. And so we were married in a traditional wedding. He was a son of a village elder and so people feasted the best way they knew how. And a fattened bull was slaughtered for me.

He was a good husband and he performed his duties as a husband was required to by tradition. However, by the time I was having you Jamleck, infidelity had already creeped into our marriage. He did not take me to school as he had promised and I constantly received thorough beatings whenever I brought up the topic. Several times I slept outside with you when he was too tired of my whining as he called it. I finally learned my place in his house. I did not want to lose you especially when you became so ill after spending the night in the cold. I had to give up on my dream and focus on raising you and being a wife.

I was not supposed to question his crooked ways. Sometimes he even brought these women into our house. You see as a woman, I had no right to question how my husband chose to spend his time. Society deemed me nothing. My husband was the head of the house and as such he could do as he pleased. He could marry as many women as he wanted and sire as many children as he desired. I was just a prize. A piece of property he had purchased when he paid my dowry. The greatest tragedy in life is not marrying someone you don’t love, but marrying someone who cares less about you.

And right there on this very seat as I read that letter, it felt as if I had lived a thousand years with nothing to show for it.

Dear Miss Abigale,

After a lot of consideration, it is with great regard that we want to inform you that you have been selected to join the army. You will report at Gilgil army base before the end of this month.

Please bring along this letter with you as a means of identification as well as your national ID.

We look forward to meeting you.

We wish you the very best as you begin this patriotic journey of serving your country.

Signed
Christian Arthur
National Army Commandant

It was one of those moments you feel like putting a gun into your mouth and ending your pathetic life. And I would be lying if I told you that I never thought of putting an end to mine. I even pondered so many times of how to do it. Strangulation was not a choice because as you know, I have never been one to bear so much pain. You would remember how I screamed that day when I grazed my foot with a hoe. The last option was a slow death by poison. I purchased some to eat along with my food and off I would go, leaving my troubles behind for a pain free life.

And then right there feeling nauseated, I realized that I was about to become a mother for the second time and I decided to give you, David a chance to experience the world without all the bitterness. I thank God for bringing you along because were it not for you, your three siblings would never have been born. You brought me back and gave me a new reason to live. You showed me why I became a mother in the first place. I had to live for your sake.

“There is nothing worse like looking back at the life you’ve lived and realizing that you’ve not lived; not even for a day,” You great grandfather’s wise words which you can recall me telling you every single day of your lives. Live by this my children and you will always succeed.

While I held that letter in my hand, I thought about drafting a reply to the National Army Commandant explaining that they made their decision too little too late and that sending me that letter at that time was only adding salt to injury but I could not.

Life had to move on. I was a mother and I had to look out for my children first. I had to sacrifice for your sake and that’s what I did.

There was another reason why that letter affected me the way it did though, which is the main reason I had to leave.

I was already HIV positive having been infected by your father despite me remaining faithful all the years of our marriage. At last, the army guys had a good enough reason to send me away. Why couldn’t they have given me that chance when I was healthy and needed it so badly? I was now dying and I had not lived, not even once. My life would never be the same again. I never became a teacher and I never got to join the army. I was just waiting for that cruel hand of death to take me. I was carrying in me a deadly virus, a virus I did not ask for. A virus that would one day kill me.

You were born at that time, Daniel and Devian – my two beautiful boys with eyes so bright that they illuminate your soul. But thank God for modern medicine because you were born two healthy little boys. You can go for testing to believe me. There are tests to prove that nowadays.

I did not ask to be infected and neither did I ask to be stigmatized for something that was in no way my fault. This was my life and the few years I had remaining, I decided to live like I had never lived before. I would love your father for the sake of all of you. I would let go of all the bitterness that I held on to for so long.

I want you to know that I was strong enough to hold on for your sake when you look at that mound of earth outside reminding you of the woman I used to be. The mother that you once loved. And so I pen off this letter and tuck it away in a box with all my souvenirs which you’ve always questioned what it contains.

The pain in my lower abdomen is getting more intense. In a few hours, in my arms I will have what will be the last of my generation. You will take care of your little sister because she will need you. Don’t let her live her life the way I did. It’s not an easy world for a girl child and she will need your support more than ever. Make something of your lives so that she can be proud to call you her brothers and so that you can assure her of a good life. This is my legacy to you.

Don’t blame me for leaving you so soon. For not sticking around to see you turn into respectable men in the society and take on good wives who will continue with my generation. I would have loved to stay longer and watch you grow up but my time is nearing. The disease is making me weaker each day and soon I will be gone. Don’t hold it against your father, for what our lives became. I forgave him a long time ago and so should you. He was my husband and I know that life will be much better when we are reunited again. Take care of each other and love one another just like I have taught you for so long. Until we meet again my children.

Your Loving Mother,

Written by Lillyanne Gathoni

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