This is Judy’s story.
When I did my primary last exam, my hard work paid off. I was invited to a national school. I was skeptical about my parents affording the mammoth school fees.
“You are definitely going baby girl. If it means I work all day and night for you to be in that school I will.” Father assured me.
“I will even open the shop on Sundays after church from now on,” Mother continued.
So I prepared to join my dream school. On the eve of opening day, father broke some surprising news.
“Judy, your mum and I think, that for us to save money, you should only come back here once a year. But we have good news for you. You will stay at Aunt Esther’s during midterm and the three holidays.” Father said.
I was tickled pink at the news. It was the best news ever. I had only stepped foot at my aunt’s house once on a get-together party and now to imagine that I would be spending nights there elated me enormously.
However, what I experienced hit me like a bolt from the blue. I decided to suffer silently and not to alarm my parents about it, but the four years were terrible.
No, they did not make me work like a slave as you would expect. There were two maids for that. In fact, my aunt insisted that I lock myself in my bedroom all day and read. She had two daughters who thought the world of themselves. They were both in university. When I found it difficult to construct a sentence in fluent and eloquent English, they spoke as if they were born to speak it. I had never been very good in English and they somewhat knew so they relished in mocking me.
“Judy, we are having last night’s remnants of kales and cornflour cake for breakfast. Your share is in the fridge.” Cate said. I got excited at the word cake but when I saw what was in the fridge,I almost cried. Couldn’t they just have said ugali and Sukumawiki?
The two laughed at my disappointment.
“What’s wrong Judy?” Carol, the younger sister asked.
“Cat got your tongue?” Cate said and I pulled my tongue out, wondering how a cat would get to my tongue without my knowledge. The two broke the air with deep shrills of laughter. I ran to the bedroom with my plate of cold ugali. My face went red when the dictionary exposed my shadiness. Few minutes later,there was a strong aroma of fried sausages. No one called me to have my share.
My aunty was either too busy shopping or visiting friends to notice how her children treated me or she just saw it as child play. But their father was the sane one in the family. He came on weekends and would bring a present to each one of us. What he bought his daughters, he bought for me. I grew to respect him so much because even when he was around, his daughters rarely bullied me.
Cate and Carol intimidated me not only with their language but also with their blithe disregard for life. I wondered how they had managed to get to university. Their father would reprimand them for taking several re-takes of their exams comparing their failures to my zeal in academics. They shrugged him off and ensured that I got the short end of the stick when he went back to work.
“Hey Judy, heard dad lauding you for burning the candle both ends. You happy now?” Cate asked.
“I have not burned any candle!” I said defensively. Carol banged the table in jeer. Her sister fell on the floor in exaggerated laughter. As I was running to my hiding place,Cate called out.
“Don’t try too hard Judy, the candle will burn the house up!” I left them to continue with their ridicule.
Then in my last year, my aunt announced that they would be spending the festive season with our grandmother for three days. One would have thought they had been asked to visit the morgue. Amongst the bags that they carried was one full of disinfectants, sanitizers and gloves.
While I was jubilant about being in the rural again, breathing the fresh air and smelling the trees, it seemed like torture for them. They spent a lot of hours in their car. They sanitized their hands at every handshake from relatives. No, it had nothing to do with Covid-19 but sheer insolence. I even thought I saw Carol throw up when one of my drunk uncles came to greet them. He stunk yes, but not enough to churn the stomach to cause one to vomit.
They asked only me to serve them the meals because I would not tell anyone that they threw the food to the roaming dog around and then they would eat the snacks they bought. They just did not trust food cooked with tree branches! They disgustedly complained to me that it had a funny smell, a smoky odor!
Then there was the bathroom trouble. They sneered,frowned and grimaced at the pit latrine that they were to use. They wore gloves and topped it up with holding the doors and walls with tissue as if they were smeared with faeces. As for taking a shower, they would rather have stayed without taking one instead of using a basin to clean themselves.
“Eeew, Me? Bathe with water from a basin? A bathroom without a bathtub? Who does that!” Cate remarked disgustedly.
“Or why can’t they just install a shower? As in, how do you even stay in a house with no electricity? Do you even live? Gosh!” Carol added rolling her eyes.
Shishi, one of my aunties’s cat was appalled by Carol’s behaviour when she saw her. Carol would scream when Shishi came near her and tried to cuddle herself around her legs. She would move back in shock and go away miewing.
They sighed with great relief when their mother cut short their stay at grandmother’s place. They did not know what was ahead of them was the beginning of their journey to grass from grace. Their father had been involved in a fatal accident. His companion, a workmate had died. Their father was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
One would have thought that they would survive quite well because he left vast wealth for them. But they sunk in debt trying to keep up with the former life when their dad was alive. Banks and Shylocks did not listen to the pleas of more time to pay back. Rental houses and lands that their father had bought were sold until a loan shark finally came for the lavish house they lived in.
When days are dark, friends are few. This family discovered this when no one was ready to give them any boost. The only place that had a roof for them was my grandmother’s place.
When a storm comes, any port will do. They quickly learnt to use the pit latrines. There was no money to buy luxuries like gloves. They could not stay without taking a bath forever so they learnt how to use a karai. They had no choice but to adapt to the rural life.
As this was happening, my life was getting better. So many doors were opening that I was getting spoilt for choice. I chose the biggest door. An overseas oil company employed me. I had a fat salary that helped my parents build a palatial house. I bought a luxurious car. The new version of Toyota Hilux. My aunty had the old version.
Then I paid my people a visit one day. I was amused at Cate opening the gate for me. I honked my automobile loudly to mock her. She bent her head in shame when she saw me. I had now perfected my English language skills so I derided my cousins at every chance I grabbed.
As I was about to leave back to work, abroad, they called me aside and gave me an awakening talk.
“Judy, we deserve every ridicule you point at us. We also made life hard for you. We had been where you are now, rich. But money gives you a feeling of invincibility. It fills you with pride and spite.” Carole was saying.
“Judy but we would hate even on our worst enemy for anyone to fall from grace to grass. It is very very painful. You know why? Because of karma! Karma is a terrible punisher. She makes you eat your dirty pride and swallow it when others watch. Please Judy, take care.”
Then Cate, tears in her eyes, said, “We have never said this but we will today. We are deeply sorry for the way we treated you. It is only because we admired you that we tried to put you down, you are way better than us. Please forgive us.”
Their words struck me like they had literally slapped me. Every word they said was true. I was becoming more and more like them when they were rich and if I failed to heed to their advice, I would fall with a heavy injurious thud!
I drove back to work with a change of heart. It was the most sensible thing that Cate and Carol had ever said to me. The words “you are way better than us” would be forever etched in my mind.