When you wake up you assume you know how your day will end: you will drive home from work, your laptop wedged between the passenger seat and the back seat because you have some work to catch up on. Dinner will be nibbled on while squinting at your laptop, something light because didn’t your lithe yoga instructor shake her head at dinner past 6:30pm? The TV will be on but ignored, a flash of white light and talking heads. Later, you will look at your social media feeds as you take your dirty plate to the kitchen, switch off the lights on your way to the bedroom and finally drift off to sleep in an old t-shirt and faded pink booty shorts. You will curl up like a fetus, your mouth half open, sleeping the way you have always slept since you were a baby. That’s how the day will end because it’s always ended that way, so why should it change now?
Only it does.
And it starts with a carjacking.
As with all carjackings it doesn’t register that you are being jacked. Even when you hear that thud of someone knocking on the door. Even when you look up through your rolled window, at a man whose features you will not remember later, a man holding a gun, a man with an evil face, shouting something which you can’t hear because this is happening too f*king fast for your brain to fully process. You feel the men before you completely register their hostile presence. You feel how they have surrounded your car, crowded it. They are only four men, but it feels like they are 400 men, mobbing your car, pulling at door handles wanting to invade you, to invade your privacy, to breach your liberty. It’s worse if you are a lady. Far much worse.
Maybe it’s the ringleader at your door and his frantic, almost scared look, that makes you float from this nightmare that is about to unfold. Maybe it’s what you have always known about these situations that makes you start making decisions that would set the night on a different tangent. You remember those words that you have always heard in conversations: Don’t resist. Don’t look at them in the eye. Don’t make any sudden movements. Don’t fight them. Don’t talk at them. Don’t hesitate. Give them whatever the hell they want. Everything they want. You can buy another car. You can buy another laptop. You can make more money. This shit is not worth dying for. Cede to the bad man. Let them take their loot.
“So I unlocked the door.” She tells me.
We are in a very quaint small bistro not far from the scene that also witnessed a great tragedy some time back. She’s having a mocha or something, I don’t recall, I was taking an uncomfortable call when she was ordering. Dangling from her neck is a necklace that looks like if you rubbed it a genie would heed that summon. I hear the click sound of all her car doors opening simultaneously, the sound of her freedom escaping as the thugs came in. Rather, hands are in, grabbing at her – rough male hands – pulling her. Remember it’s all happening at the speed of light, so it’s a flurry of activity, men giving harsh commands, their voices filled with fear, urgency, violence. Hands with veins running behind them. Hands with bitten nails. She could see that someone – the help – had opened their gate for her to drive in and upon seeing the commotion had ran inside to get help. Her parents were definitely home. They would get home earlier than her. As these men grabbed her, her father was probably watching the 7pm news in the house, his feet on the coffee table. She was closer to him than she was with her mom. They talked often.
“I was screaming loudly now, hoping that my father would come out and save me. Screaming at the top of my lungs.” She says. “Somehow – I don’t remember – but they grab me and shove me in the back seat, with two other men.” This was her first car, a Toyota Starlet, a tiny vehicle with headlights that made it look sleepy and sweet. If cars could be stroked like cats, the Toyota Starlet would get a lot of offers. “I loved that car,” she says. “Not only was it my first car but I bought it with my own hard earned money. It was mine wholly. A product of my own sweat. It was a KAS, we all called it Ka’supa.” (Get it? KAS? Ka’supa?)
It was a dark January night and the Starlet sped away from her father as she screamed and the men beat her up with the butt of their guns, trying to restrain her, the leader driving now, yelling at the men at the back in their mother tongue, why the hell they couldn’t restrain a woman. But this woman was not taking it lying down. “The more I screamt the more they beat me up. My face was swollen. I had blood coming out of a cut over my eye. My shoulders hurt from them beating them with their guns.” She says. Finally, upon realising that it was foolhardy to scream, she kept quiet.
“I was shaking.” She says. “I was terrified and confused.” I don’t exactly remember these men’s faces but I recall that the ringleader was a massive guy, tall and big. I vaguely remember that one of the others had a face without any facial hair. He looked like a baby. I also remember looking at the feet of one of the men who was wearing Timberland boots and thinking, who the hell goes to rob in Timberlands?
The men at the back rummaged through her handbag and laptop bag as they zipped past Karen and headed towards Ngong. One of them found wet wipes in his handbag and waving it at the rest shouted angrily, “Muiritu uwinga’ga gathia ta ici ni mumaraya wa ibango.”She laughs at the memory. But It’s not a laugh with mirth, it’s the preposterous laugh. “In short the man was saying that I was a prostitute. For carrying wet wipes in my handbag!”
They beat her some more, this time because she was a hooker who went around carrying wet wipes. She held her head in her hands to wade off the blows of the butts of the pistols. They were squeezed at the back because the Starlet isn’t known for its limousine comforts. She was in her early 20s, with small fragile shoulders, so these brutes squashed her. They were talking amongst themselves now. Talking in their mother-tongue. Making plans based on evil. They drove towards Ngong Forest which at night, loomed large like a black abyss that swallows all life and darkens it with sins of the night. They drove into the darkness of it all, her small car shaking from the roots and stones, the headlights illuminating tree trunks and reflecting off the staring eyes of the animals of the forest. They seemed to know where they were going. The driver, with his long legs that couldn’t really fit in the small driver’s space, his knees sticking upwards, struggled with the steering, the car bumping and swaying, the light being overwhelmed by the darkness of this forest because in there, darkness was the dominant force.
“What was going through your mind right at that moment?” I ask.
“Panic. Rising panic. And terror.” She says. “I thought, they were going to kill me. Because why bring me this far? I was shaking from fright and from the cold. We drove for what seemed like 30 mins. Nobody was going to find me there. I would die and my body would not be found for weeks. I started sobbing and the man on my right – the one who found my wet wipes – slapped me. He was very violent.”
The car stopped. They piled out. She had on a trouser suit and those 200 bob plastic shoes from Bata, great for driving. Her blue high heels were on the floor of the passenger seat. When they gathered outside, it felt like the forest suddenly realised that there were visitors, intruders and everything seemed to fall deathly silent. The crickets held their breath. She held herself, shivering. Trees climbed up and disappeared in the darkness above them. One of them got into the driver’s seat and drove off with Kasupa.
They stood there consulting. She was so scared her knees felt like they could give way, so she leaned against a tree. She wished she could turn into a tree so that these men would not hurt her. She could happily be firewood now, which was better than being human if humans were capable of holding someone hostage, beating them up with guns, and bringing them here, in this darkness. “I could see their silhouettes and the light of their torches as they made calls and thumbed through their messages from their phones.” She says. “I thought of making a run for it, but they were three and besides where would I go? I didn’t know where I was.”
Finally one of them, the big ape-like ringleader, walked over to her and said, “What’s your ATM PIN?” She had two ATMs in her purse, Barclays and Stanchart. “The Barclays was an old one that we had been given when they came to Uni to get sign ups. I hadn’t used it in two years, it didn’t have any money. So I gave him the Stanchart PIN and he walked away repeating the numbers to the person on the phone.”
He then turned and walked back swiftly and without a word, slapped her across the face. The slap whacked her head against the tree trunk and she suddenly saw a lot of bright stars. The slap got her off her feet and she staggered to the left. He grabbed her by the neck before she fall and hissed in her face; “You think we are playing f*king games here? Eh, you think this is a f*king game?” Because she couldn’t say anything, he slapped her again, across the face, this time she fell on her knees. Her neck felt like it would break from the whiplash. She felt the cold soil against her palms, smelled the damp soil. “I was now confused. Why was he angry. Why was he beating me?” She asks.
The man, grabbed her again by the neck and got her to her feet. He said, “If you give me the wrong ATM number one more time, I’m going to shoot you in the head. Now, what is your ATM code?” Her head swam. She felt dizzy. She started crying again. “What ATM?” she asked, but what she meant was what bank? So the guy retrieved the pistol from his pocket and hit her over the head with the butt. She was sure her skull had cracked. “Do you want to die?!?” The man shouted. The other two men had now gathered around her.
“Do you want to die?” He shouted.
She was now crying and screaming and pleading and asking what ATM they were talking about. The man put the phone back in his ear and said, “Which ATM are you at?” he was told Barclays, and she said there was no money there. That she hadn’t used it in ages and that she couldn’t even remember the number. He slapped her across her face again. She pleaded and said she had money on her Stanchart account and the PIN was 8484 which was the year she was born. She had 34K but the limit of withdrawal was 30K a day.
The man walked away talking on the phone. She swallowed something and it tasted metallic, her blood. She felt dizzy, so she sat down, on the floor of the forest. “They said dust goes to dust, and I wondered if this was the night I would go back to the dust of this forest.” She held her head in her hand and started sobbing, not too loud so as to not agitate them.
The man came back and told her the words that would haunt her for a long time. Two words: “Toa nguo.” “All this time you imagine that death is the very worst thing that can happen to you. You pray that they don’t kill you.” She says. “But when you realise that they want to rape you, death seems like the very least of your worries. The very least. Actually, death seems like a better option.” She sips her mocha. “I didn’t understand his instructions, or perhaps my system rejected the instructions so I didn’t do anything, not until the one who called me malaya started beating me while telling me to remove my clothes.”
She stood up and they watched as she slowly removed her coat and dropped it on the ground. Although it was cold, she was now numb. She removed her blouse, a white blouse with a small collar. Then she removed her bra. The silhouetted men stood motionless, watching her sob. Her trousers came off then her panties. Then she was standing naked before these men, covering her breasts with her hands, the last gesture of self preservation. She silently prayed that God would intervene, that the universe shows its kindness at this final hour and save her from these men invading and brutalising her body. She hoped her father would walk out of the darkness and these men would run away and he would take her home and she would shower and get in her warm bed and all these horrors would be behind her. “I silently prayed for divine intervention.” she says, right up to the moment the ring leader told her to lie down. She lay down crying, and she heard with her eyes closed the metallic sound of a belt being unbuckled then the rustle of clothes of a man stepping out of his clothes, and then, his weight on her.
“I was a virgin.” She tells me.
I say “What, no!” She says. “Biko, I wrote that in my email.” I don’t remember reading that part, I tell her. So she fetches her phone and I tell her, “It’s okay, it’s cool. I believe you.”
In all her years she didn’t imagine that when she finally lost her virginity it would be to a gang of carjackers and certainly not like this in Ngong Forest. Not to a man whose breath smelled of cigarettes and who she could smell the dirt in his hair. Then she started fighting. They would have to kill her. She was punching and biting and the other strong men, beat her and held her down as their leader, breached her privacy, invaded her body and accessed the very end of her soul and she felt the blood under her and then pain, my God, the pain, and she had no strength to fight and she had closed her eyes, hoping that she would not be a witness to her own horror. Upon realising that everything had changed – she had changed, her body had changed, her very world had changed – she opened her eyes to see this new but at the same time, very old world she was now in, a world where men raped 22-year old girls in forests, with their undergarments strewn on the cold earth. As the second man took his place (“ a much smaller man”), he struggled with his erection, with his flaccidity, fumbling while she stared straight up.
“What could you see?” I ask.
“Describe it.” I say.
“Grey. Dark blue. I could see the stars.” She says softly. “Many, many stars. So I focused on that and removed myself from what was going on with my body. I kept thinking, nope, this is not happening to me. This is a nightmare that will end, a very bad dream.”
I think of Oscar Wilde and I think of his famous quote: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are staring at the stars.” It’s not the same. This was no gutter, this was hell. I want to repeat that quote to her but now there is a brief lull in her narrative, a catching of breath, which I want to allow her. She could continue, or she could stop right now and I would happily pack this moment. I’m still waiting for her cue when she continues again.
When the second guy is done, the rest wait for the third guy to have a go. “I remember him hesitating and I turned my head slowly to look at him, and he was there, silhouetted against the trees and the weak light of the sky, and he shrugged and walked away.” She says. As the ring leader came on top of her a second time, she could hear the guy who had chosen to pass this evil, talk on the phone. “He was talking to a woman, most likely his girlfriend or wife.” She says.
“Do you remember what he was telling her.” I ask.
“He was telling her that he would be slightly late, or something.” She says. “He kept saying ni ndirooka.”
It finally ends. But in that ending was also a worse beginning. The beginning of a long road of shame and guilt and self blame and suicidal thoughts and of fear and paranoia and hopelessness and a ton of questions with no answers. The end marked a new horror, because rape never seems to stop completely, it continues to live in small things.
She doesn’t wear her knickers. She can’t find them. She looks for them in the darkness long after the men have slipped into the darkness, their unnatural habitat, a place where men like them thrive and what’s left of these animals were the faint sounds of their whistling. (“They were all whistling as they left, perhaps to warn me not to leave until I couldn’t hear their whistles.”) She wants to wear her panties because ladies wear panties. She wants to cover whatever they had uncovered, this place of great violation and pain. She wants to reclaim a bit of her dignity by that very act of wearing her panties, to preserve her womanhood and decency. Because women wear panties. But it was dark and she couldn’t find them. Neither could she find her bra. So she threw on her trousers and her white blouse and her coat.
“I remember that the man in Timberlands had stepped on what seemed like cow dung or some sort of shit, and he seemed so mad at that, he had used my pants to wipe the dung off his boots.” She says. Those are the kind of men she was dealing with, men who used a woman’s trouser suit to wipe shit off their shoes.
So she’s running and staggering through the woods, shoeless and she’s stubbing her toes on jagged outcrops from the soil and she’s falling and getting up and using her hands to lead her in this darkness and it’s just like in the movies, only this is not the movies, this is right here in Ngong Forest and this girl is Kenyan, someone you might have gone to school with, she has a father who toiled and sacrificed and burnt his candle from both ends to give her an advantage in life through good education and loved her and always knew in his heart, like all fathers know, that he would protect her, that he would die for her if it came right down that wire, but now she’s alone in the woods, in the middle of the night, at 22, raped, bloodied, abused, beaten, humiliated, defiled and she’s trying to find home, trying to find her father.
As she describes this part I feel my heartbeat quickening in my neck. I get like that when I’m getting angry. Normally I try not to get too entangled with these stories but I now I can’t help thinking of Tamms in those woods, shoeless, pantless, abused and bleeding, looking for me. I silently wish the gruesomest of deaths to those men. The longest and the most painful of cancers. Bullets in their chests so that they can feel themselves die. Anything to make this right, fair and just to this woman before me with her cold mocha. Just anything to make the world just again.
She finally sees what looks like a floodlight. She runs faster and suddenly she can see what seems like a vague clearing at the edge of these woods and what would turn out to be the Southern Bypass, then still under construction. She feels something warm down her thighs; blood. She runs faster and then suddenly she plunges in a compost heap, she knows it’s a compost heap because they have a farm in shags. “It felt warm and it smelled.” She scrambles out of it and when she finally comes to the clearing, she sees a car driving towards her. So she runs back in the forest and watches the car drive slowly towards her.
“I didn’t know if it was another gang that was going to rape me again. So I waited, hiding in the trees.” She says.
The car stops a few paces away and the largest man she has ever seen comes out of the passenger door. Then the driver’s door opens, just as she’s contemplating the familiarity of the car and realising a beat later that… wait a second… is…is that..is that my dad’s ca…she sees her father stepping out of the car. He was just a silhouette but she’d recognise her dad anywhere.
Now screaming, she tears out of her hiding and runs towards him. Mid-flight she hears the squeaking of a police radio and the cop saying “We found her.” Unbeknownst to her they had homed in on her phone location and were following the signal. Her daddy had been searching for her half the night. She’s now running and crying and she can smell herself, she smells of cow dung, manure, men, dirt, leaves, pain and blood.
“ Immediately I fell in my father’s arms, I fainted.” She says.
After that it was a blur of time and pain. Of coming to in the back of the moving car long enough to see the back of her father’s head. Of the bright ceiling lights of Nairobi Hospital, the echoing of machines, the squeaking sounds of stretcher wheels on the tiled floors. Of waking up to find doctors attending to her, male doctors, who started her screaming and kicking at them to be let go. Feeling the cold metallic feel of speculum in her privates as someone in a white lab coat gathers samples. She had never done a pap smear, she was a virgin. Needles pricking her arm. Relatives gathering at her bedside as if to create circle against evil. Sometimes seeing her father standing at the back of the room, looking like he failed her and her heart going out to him. Then tears, buckets of it and all the time. Her auntie praying and praying. “I’d slip into sleep leaving her praying then wake up and find her still praying.” And sometimes peeing on herself right there on the bed. Two nurses bathing her like a baby and washing her hair, grass and soil particles from the forest falling off. An elderly nurse, eyes welling with sympathy sitting by her bed feeding her and reading her bible verses. Then the counsellors and psychiatrists, a battery of them; one lady with short hair, which she didn’t like at all and then those that she liked, like Dr Pius Akivaga Kigamwa and Dr Barbara Magoha.
Three days later being discharged and off to her aunt’s house. The ARVs prescribed for 30 days making her constantly sick, running stomach, nausea, malaise. A phalanx of friends coming to visit her bearing gifts; shower gels, cake, body lotion, a new phone, perfume, books, notebooks, pens, hair bands, jewellery, cookies, pedicure set, a teddy bear with a red belly…Then she had to go to the traffic police to take a P3 form used by medical officer to determine the nature and extent of bodily injury. And the ensuing examination where she joined five other girls who had been raped where you parted a curtain and got into a small curtain cubicle, opened your legs and a government man smoking a cigar came in with a file and peered at your private parts then wrote something on his file. Then finally moving back home, where this madness started outside the gate and seeing her car which was recovered for the first time and getting very emotional.
“Then came the long empty days spent in the house, binging on Grey’s Anatomy.” She says. Only breaking to shower or go to the psychiatrist twice a week where she would sit staring at a wall, or crying, or feeling angry and bitter, or just focusing on her breath when her emotions became too complex to convey. Then the antidepressant drugs. A top cop coming to their home, removing his hat and sitting with her on their verandah and asking he gently to remember everything she could remember about that night. “I have daughters,” he said, “So, first I’m taking this as a father should then as a policeman.” To mean he was taking it personally.
She eventually returned to work and slowly she realised that she had changed. “I was very angry and very bitter. I would flare off at the slight provocation.” She says. Then the suicide thoughts crept in. “I would be driving and I’d get fantasies of ramming my car under trailers or driving off bridges or hanging myself. Setting myself on fire. Gas. Poison.”
“What stopped you?”
“My family…my dad. I felt like they would blame themselves. Especially my dad.” She says. “He’d feel as though he should have done something to prevent the carjacking, that he should have been there for me more. So I had to live, to be stronger. I had to sail through through this for me and for them.” She sighs.
Two years after the trauma she decided that she was going to try and get a different sexual experience. One that she controlled. In her own terms. It was with a friend who had been friendzoned but now had been given a get-out-of-jail card. “It sucked.” She laughs. “It was so unremarkable, but I was glad I did it. I felt powerful controlling that. I think it was important to me.”
Three years after stumbling out of that forest, she met her husband at a club she didn’t want to go to in the first place but her friend dragged her there by her hair. “He was wearing black suede shoes and was so smelling so good. He still smells so good.” She grins. He was an effervescent kind of guy, like Eno in water. The life of the party. They clicked immediately. “There was no struggle. It seemed natural.”
“When did you tell him about the rape?”
“After he proposed.” She says. “He was shocked. He is the kind of guy who takes two weeks to process things, so he went off for two weeks.” She chuckles.
“What was his greatest concern about it?”
“He was a virgin as well and we were abstaining until after marriage.” She says, and perhaps my surprise shows on my face because she says, “Yes Biko, most of my circle of friends were virgins. Virgins are out there. Anyway, he was a virgin too and I suspect that his concern was that I would compare him to others.”
They got married in church, properly. White wedding dress and all. Honeymoon was in Diani. “The first night we couldn’t have sex. We tried and tried, we couldn’t.” She says. So they sat up in bed and thought, “Ok, what now?” Then they tried again. “It didn’t happen that night. Or the next night. Or the next. The whole honeymoon there was no sex happening.” Penetration was impossible.
So she came back and saw her psychiatrist who gave her a drug – antispasmodic – and told her to take it before sex. Then sex started happening. “Now we can’t stop.” And because of that, they now have three children.
“How has the rape shaped the marriage?”
“Imagine not much, in fact the only way it came about was when I had some miscarriages initially.” She says. “I had my relas who were convinced that my womb was cursed and they were suggesting I do all sorts of things to do to get babies like get my womb exorcised because the devil had planted seeds in my womb. Or do a 40 day fast and ten-week step. I was given a lot of spiritual advice and generally made to feel that had I prayed more, gone to see my pastor more this would never have happened. Otherwise not many people know about the details of this story in fact, only two people know; my psychiatrist and now you.”
“But of course there are those annoying things that I continue doing that my husband has had to live with.” She chuckles. “For instance, it’s not uncommon for me to make him go around a roundabout thrice to make sure we are not being followed. I keep a nyaunyo under my car.” She laughs. “At night after he has locked the doors I sometimes have to wake up to make sure that everything is locked. I reopen and close doors, even my car door. But otherwise I can go for so long without thinking about it until something small triggers it. Like when I’m on the Southern bypass and I pass near Karinde or the slaughter house in Kikuyu, where I was found. He’s patient with me. He’s a great guy. Mostly this has increased my thirst for justice. Mostly it’s a memory and a reminder that I must have survived for a reason. My aunt says that God doesn’t waste pain.”
“Are you having a good marriage?”
“Yes. I’m blessed. Imagine if I had been raped then I also get a bad man?” She laughs. “He’s a very good man, very cool and very calm and steady. I rely on that part of him because I’m the girl who keeps a nyaunyo under her seat.”