It’s dark, under here.
And scary. And hot.
There is a spider at the corner, near my left eye, sitting still, staring at me. I’m too scared to move, so I keep my eyes firmly on it.
I can hear Baba coming. I don’t know what time it is, but there’s a bit of light under the door. I can tell from how Baba is walking that he’s been drinking that yellow soda. The one that smells bad and makes him talk badly to me. And sometimes hit me hard in the face.
When I saw him outside, I ran into our house and hid under the bed. There’s nowhere else to hide – I can’t fit under that sofa at the corner. Mama brought it home some time back; I can’t remember when but I know it’s been at the corner for long – its darker and dirtier than it was when it came. Mama said someone gave it to her. The Madam of the house where she goes to work, I think. It’s big enough for me and Mama to sit on together but too small to hide me. Besides it smells bad. Sometimes Baba forgets and falls asleep on it and then his food pours all over it.
Baba is at the door.
“Naki?” he calls again.
I can’t move, nor can I answer. I’m scared. The last time he came home like this, he kicked me hard. I tried to open the door for him, but couldn’t open it fast enough. Mama had told me to lock it tight, when she went to work that day.
He had been away for two days that time. And now, I haven’t seen him since Friday last week.
“Nakisisa!” he shouts.
I can see him now. His legs, up to his knees. His boots are black and dirty, and his trouser has mud all over it.
He’s muttering something. I can’t hear what he’s saying. I’m on my knees next to the wall, as far away from the spider as I can be. I hope he can’t see me.
He’s scratching his belly. He does that when he’s about to sleep. Now he’s coming to the bed.
He’s fallen on the bed and its hit me on top of my head. There’s a black wire hanging from the bottom and it has scratched me. It’s so painful. But I can’t cry.
The spider is still there, staring.
Oh Mama, please come home..
Baba is snoring now.
There’s a bump hanging down from the mattress and I can tell where his body is.
My knees are starting to feel pain and my head is stinging where it was hit.
But Mama is at the door now. Someone must have told her that Baba has come. She does not go far on days when there’s no work at Madam’s house. She sits near the market with other women and they sell things together.
Other times, she finds work at that big brown building near Madam’s house. It’s nice and has lots of people in it sometimes. When Mama goes there, she comes back happy, smiling softly and singing to herself.
Baba does not like that smile. Or the singing.
“Naki?” she whispers.
“I’m here Mama,” I whisper back.
I crawl out quickly. “I’m so glad to get out of here. That spider is still staring”.
Mama says, “shhhh!”, and pulls me up. She grabs my hand and we creep to the corner where the stove is. Mama bends and picks two green mugs and the jug with porridge in it. She cooked it yesterday and its cold and lumpy, but I know we’ll need it.
She seems tired. May be because of the baby she said is coming. It has made her stomach so big, and she walks so slowly.
“Shhhh!” she whispers again.
We tip-toe out, so that Baba can’t hear. He won’t be back from where the sleep has taken him, until tomorrow. But we can’t stay here with him. If he wakes up…
Mama closes the door gently behind us.
She has a sad look on her face. I see her place her hand gently on her tummy.
“God … help us,” she whispers. “Please help us ….”
We walk quickly towards the market. That’s where we’ll sleep tonight. I hope the dogs are not there. The last time we tried, we had to run away very fast in the middle of the night, because they started running and growling at us. They didn’t want us there.
We are at the gate. Mama stops and looks around. We hear a growl. And a bark. They’re still here. She takes my hand and we walk quickly away.
We walk and walk. Mama is tired now and very quiet. But I think I know where we’re going.
I know Baba must still be asleep where we left him. It’s getting dark but I’m glad we didn’t stay.
We pass by the big building near Madam’s house. It’s quiet but I can see a few lights. Maybe there are some people inside.
We’re near Madam’s house. Mama must really be scared, because we have never come here at night. There’s a light on, in one of the rooms. Today was not wash day, so Mama didn’t come in the morning. I hope Madam won’t be angry that we’ve come.
She gives me the jug to hold. I think it’s making her more tired. I can feel the porridge slosh a little bit inside. At least we’ll have something to eat, if Madam doesn’t give us any. I look to see if Mama is still holding the mugs. She is.
We knock on the door. I can tell Mama is nervous.
“Oli otya aunty,” she says quietly, when Madam opens the door.
Madam looks surprised. But she opens the door wider. She looks at Mama sadly.
“Again?” she says.
Mama nods. “But we left before he could do anything,” she says, her eyes on the floor.
Madam does not look angry. But she keeps looking at me and then at Mama’s tummy.
My stomach makes a noise. I’m hungry, but I’m scared to ask Mama if I can have some porridge.
“Come in,” Madam says finally.
The house is nice. And the food Madam gives us tastes very good. She asks us to pray before we eat and I see Mama bow her head. She looks relieved and at peace.
May be this is why Mama brought us here.
I’m glad we came.
The next time there’s a knock on your door, open up, won’t you please?
“I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in..”