A fridge today, a washing machine tomorrow.

I had very rich neighbours. This was in the 1990s when only a few could afford a car. When I remember how much I used to be amazed by the prosperity of this family, I hide my face from myself from embarrassment.

I will change their name for privacy reasons and call this family The Tajiris. This family was extremely affluent. Their kitchen was elegant with electrical appliances everywhere: toaster ,fridge, cooker,etc. It had shelves in every corner. The life of this family stunned me.

Image of modern kitchen

Please believe those stories that people say about shady people fetching drinking water from the Water Closet. It happened to me. I was six years then. We were playing outside when I asked Tajiri’s daughter who was my agemate to take me to their washroom, she took me to a room that had a basin like structure. Next to it was a bucket from which I transacted my business. The water in the structure was so calm and blue that it made one thirsty. I cupped my hands, dipped them inside the WC and took a heavy sip.

It tasted funny but I thought it was the rich people’s taste. I run to my friends who were waiting for me for the game to continue. Few minutes later, we were summoned by Mrs Tajiri! She was angry at whoever had soiled her bucket. She wanted to know who it was . I remained silent even as everyone pointed their finger at my three year old brother.

He was thrashed three strokes and banned from using the toilets inside.

“As a matter of fact, if you are not a Tajiri use the workers latrines!”She ordered. I was glad there was an option close to home. I never stepped foot on those bizarre washrooms for a very long time.

Then there was this day, the househelp was emptying the shopping bag. She took out some meat and asked me to store it in the fridge. I had no idea how to do it but there was no way I would humiliate myself by asking how one opened a refrigerator’s door. So I pulled with all might and the door sprang open forcefully.

I was shocked when I saw ‘smoke’ billowing from the fridge. I started to cry in intense fear. I remembered our home radio had also puffed out smoke and then thrown off sparks of fire before ‘dying.’ The radio was now a scrap. I did not believe that I had spoiled my neighbour’s fridge. My mother would kill me.

Every family member from the Tajiris came to the kitchen curious to see what I was crying about. When the househelp told them about my fears, they burst out into a guffaw of laughter. The sixteen year old daughter laughed, she laughed slapping the wall, she held her tummy, she stamped her feet and did all kinds of theatrics as she laughed at my primitivity. I had now stopped crying, I was staring at her.

When my sibling told my mother of that day’s happening, she was angry not at me but at the Tajiris for being so rude at me.

“Rich people have no courtesy. They just laugh at a child’s face like that!”

But something more serious happened. It got my mother furious like a rattled lioness. My three year old brother was sexually abused by their thirteen year old son. He had used my brother to satisfy his sexual curiosity. That evening , my brother complained of pain. Upon further probing, he revealed what Faraja Tajiri had done.

My mother matched to Tajiri’s house breathing fire carrying my small brother. I followed to witness the drama .We stood at the door as the five members of the family peered at us. They listened as mother ranted and raved, cursed and insulted, threatened and warned. Then Mrs Tajiri laughed on my mother’s face.

“That is a good one! Mama Mercy, are you telling me that that poor brain of yours can only come up with that in order to extort money from us? Listen and be very keen,you are not getting a cent from this family.” She told my mother in the most contemptuous manner. My mother was a fighter. She started to speak but Mr. Tajiri gestured to silence her.

He took out a few notes from his wallet and threw them on my mother’s face. The notes fell and scattered on the floor. My mother was perplexed at the audacity the family had. Mr. Tajiri asked his molestor son to unleash the dogs from their kennel. Their youngest daughter, Nuru held her mouth in shock at her father’s order.

In an innocent and caring tone that any six year old would have, she said, “Why don’t you run now? Those dogs will eat you up!” It was good advice. We heard a loud bark and quick footsteps. We did not need to be told twice. My mother and I took to our heels. We did not stop running until we arrived at home.

Mother had never been sadder. She warmed some water and poured some salt to it then gently wiped my brother. It was a painful sight. I still recall my mother wiping my crying three year old brother and using the back of her hands to wipe her tears.

The following day, she prepared an early breakfast. She had already bathed. She gave my brother and I a bath and fitted us in clean clothes. She would report the crime at the police station. Before we left, she went to my father’s grave. We watched as she talked,cried and prayed then she came back rejuvenated.

As we got closer to the police station, my mother stopped suddenly. I noticed what she saw. Tajiri’s car was parked outside the police station. My mother ordered us to turn around and quickly go back home. I overheard her telling a close friend later that she had left the matter to God. She could not fight with the rich. We never stepped in the Tajiri house again.

The Tajiris shifted from the rural life. Nobody in my home cared to know where they shifted to. We never saw each other again until twenty years later.

I was now married with a three month old son. I had asked a colleague friend to find a nanny for me to look after my baby while I went back to work after my maternity leave. After three months of stay at home,I missed my corporate manager position. My friend was thankfully helpful. Her errand boy had a sister who was just idle at home. He was to bring her to my house the next day.

They kept their word. They were polite and respectful. My colleague had mentioned that her errand boy had worked for her for three years and she had nothing to complain about him. If the sister was like him, I would be a happy employer. They introduced themselves.The name they gave sounded familiar.

“Did you say Nuru Tajiri?” I asked and she nodded. ” Your brother Faraja Tajiri?” He nodded politely. I was mesmerized! They stared at me in confusion. The two looked beaten by life. The rich glow on their foreheads that my mum kept talking about was no longer there. The plump cheeks they both had were now emaciated.

I disclosed to them who I was. The two bent their heads in shame. Nuru’s eyes were now teary. Then suddenly Faraja fell on his knees. He tearfully apologised for all he and his parents did years ago.

“Please find it in your heart to forgive us and give Nuru a job. Please Madam!” I wished my mum would wake from her grave and see this. My brother was still abroad pursuing his Masters. I could not wait to call him and give the news. Tables had turned. “What happened?”I asked.

Their father got retrenched. He went into depression and killed himself. Their mother did not have a job to sustain them but she still wanted a nice life. She sank in prostitution and died of H.I.V. Their old sister got married to a useless man somewhere in the outskirts of CBD. She was now pregnant with her fourth child.

Nuru got the job. She was good with the baby. She had always been the nicest one. We were friends again. This time she was the naive one. She had never used a digital microwave. I also had to show her how to operate a washing machine. The way to flash the toilet was different now. We had a good laugh when I told her of my first experience with a WC at their house.

“Life can change all over sudden Mercy. I have learnt that the hard way. But I have learnt that however rich one is, the best wealth is a good friendship.” Nuru said. I will never forget those wise words.

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