27 Sep The Silent Shout
She came wearing a loose, threadbare dress, worn rubber slippers, and a tired headscarf, barely concealing rough braids underneath. Her thin, frail frame said it all.
“She looked thin and bony,” Lily tells me as we begin the interview for this story. “And I remember noticing that one of her slippers was torn – it was half a slipper really, red in color.”
Lily and I are seated at a coffee shop, just a few minutes’ drive from her office. She’s shared this story before, a few weeks ago on phone, but I feel it needs more telling. She’s kept me waiting here for more than an hour, but I’m feeling magnanimous this morning and I forgive her. Besides, I know she’s had to rush through several items in her diary to get here.
So we order our coffees, share some chit chat and begin. She still has to get back to the office, put in some work and make time for the afternoon school run I know.
Lily had just returned to work at the time she met Nancy, she tells me, and desperately needed someone to care for her new baby, a 2-month-old girl, while she was at work. So she had invited Nancy for an interview at her home that day.
“I could tell she really needed a job,” Lily continues. “I asked her if she had children and she said yes, but they lived with her sister in Kawangware; said her mother had passed on, otherwise they would be living with her.”
They were girls. Two of them. One in class seven, the other in form two. Around age twelve and fifteen we surmise.
“I asked her if she was ok with them living with her sister and she said yes,” Lily continues. But despite her current circumstances, Nancy sounded quite suitable for the job; she had worked in several other places and had been referred by a friend’s househelp, so Lily had seen no reason not to hire her.
But when they were negotiating her terms, Lily says, Nancy had asked if she could be taking the weekends off – going home on Saturday and returning on Sunday evening.
“I said it was not possible, because my baby was small, and I couldn’t have managed without the extra help.” Lily tells me. With two other young kids and a demanding role at work, she was only able to offer her Sundays off, plus the usual annual leave.
“She accepted the terms,” Lily continues, “only Sundays off. But almost immediately she began either coming back very late on Sundays or not coming at all. She was very good at her work, but we were always arguing because of Sunday.”
It was a troublesome relationship. But whenever she returned to work on a Monday, she would be there in good time; by 6.00am or 6.30am at least.
“I could see she was trying. I understood she needed to see her children,” Lily tells me. “So I didn’t fire her.”
But on one of these Mondays, fed up by the inconvenience of it all, Lily had finally had enough. It had been more than eight months since she had hired her, and the inconsistency was getting to her.
“It was really important for me to know how I would begin my Monday every week,” she says. “I needed to know if I would have help or not. I needed to know if I would have to call someone, early in the morning, to take care of the baby before I went to work.”
With a demanding job and several obligations to meet, the situation was simply untenable for Lily.
“I was ready to fire her,” she says. “But then she dropped a bombshell.”
“You’re always complaining about me coming late,” Nancy had replied, “but do you know it’s because I have to check on my daughters?“
“So I said ‘what do you mean,’ and she said ‘yes, they live alone,’ “ Lily tells me.
It was a shock.
“You’ve left your girls alone? How do you leave your daughters alone? Do you know how dangerous things are out there??” Lily had asked her, dumbfounded. “So who takes care of them?” she had pressed. “What happened to your sister?”
“I lied,” Nancy had replied, “because I needed the job.”
“I told her that if she had told me this, I honestly would not have employed her – she needed to be near her children,” Lily tells me. “But with things as they were, we needed to find a solution. So we began to look at the option of finding a new live-in helper, while Nancy became a “daily”.
“But I also talked to her at length about her girls,” she adds, “especially the high-schooler. I kept asking her ‘how sure are you that she’s ok?’ ”
She could be a ripe target for someone unscrupulous, someone capable of taking advantage of a young high school girl, Lily worried. “You need to have a frank talk with her,” she told Nancy.
“Not even for a moment did I consider that the younger girl, at age twelve, could also be in the same danger,” she tells me.
But Nancy told her that she had put them up in a safe compound with a strict land-lady, who checked on them and kept her updated daily. She assured Lily that they were safe.
“This thing troubled me a lot,” Lily tells me, “but it seems to have troubled her more, because apparently the next Sunday, she had a talk with the girls.”
“But then she didn’t show up after the day off. But this time, because I was aware of the situation with her children, she didn’t switch off her phone as she usually did. This time she sent me a message: ‘I can’t make it today, but I’ll be there early tomorrow. I will explain.’ ”
So the next day, Monday, Lily is there waiting impatiently when Nancy arrives. She’s more than fed up – she’s had it up to here. She’s late for work after hastily preparing the kids, is rushing out and just has a few minutes to talk.
“We didn’t quarrel or anything but I told her that this was not working for me, and that we would talk in the evening,” she tells me.
So Lily goes to work and when evening comes, she’s ready. And when everything is quiet – the kids are in bed, hubby is not yet home – she calls Nancy for a talk.
“How long are we going to do this thing of Monday morning?” she starts. “We can’t go on like this. I’d even rather you went on Saturday evenings and came back on Sunday.”
“So she tells me yes,” Lily says, “but something else has come up and she actually needs more time off that week; she says that after I talked to her, she decided to talk to her children. And then she says ‘my elder daughter is ok. But I found my younger one had been raped.’ ”
Oh Lord, Lily gasped.
It had happened on a Sunday, Lily explains. Apparently, the two girls had a standing arrangement for Sundays – the elder girl would go for an early youth service in church, come back home and then release the younger one to go to the family service, where she could attend Sunday school. But on this day, as the younger one was heading to church, she had been grabbed by a man she knew, forced into his house and raped. Traumatized, she had skipped church, gone back home and kept quiet. Told no one, not even her sister. And whenever Nancy had come home on her day off, the girl wouldn’t say anything. She just kept quiet.
This past Sunday however, Nancy had taken Lily’s advice and talked to the girls individually. But when she got to the younger one, the girl had suddenly burst into tears. She had cried so hysterically, Nancy had realized immediately that something was desperately wrong and that she couldn’t leave. But the girl wouldn’t say anything. So Nancy had taken her to a nearby clinic.
“Please check this girl,” she had told the doctors.
Nancy’s worst fears had been confirmed. Her little girl had been defiled and was pregnant. She had been silent for five months.
It was terrible. But as Nancy shared the story with Lily that evening, it was clear that she had come to a decision concerning the unborn child. And Lily could sense what it was.
“Your daughter is just in class seven,” Lily had told her gently. “Kawangware is not your home. Why don’t you consider letting her have the baby, and then you could take the baby to your rural home and raise your daughter in another part of town?”
But Nancy’s mind was set. The doctor had agreed to terminate the pregnancy and had even arranged the venue. A small clinic somewhere in Kawangware.
Lily was desperate. “I begged her,” she tells me, “Please consider. Give the child up for adoption. You can even decide not to let anyone know.”
“I even reminded her that at five months, the baby was already fully formed. But she said no.”
“I could see she thought her daughter’s life would be ruined,” she says, “she could be kicked out of school, she could lose certain opportunities, all the things that come with early motherhood.”
She looks away for a moment, and sighs. “She was just a mother who wanted the best for her child.”
But still, Lily’s heart had not been at ease and she had been unwilling to give up. Finally, she had stood up and gone to her bedroom, while Nancy headed to the dhobi.
“From my room, I could hear her soaking the clothes, getting them ready for the wash. I remember sitting on the bed, holding the Bible, wondering what to do. I suspected she was going to do it on her next day off.”
“So I was having this back and forth,” she explains, “asking myself if surely abortion is wrong if it is rape. If your child has been raped. I was having like three different conversations with myself. This is how I started a conversation with God, actually.”
“I said: God, I know your Bible.. the Bible.. has an answer for everything. But which story in the Bible talks about this? Which one? Ruth? Which? There must be one that has something to say about this!”
“I wished I knew the Bible more. I kept asking God all these questions.. ‘God, Your word has an answer for everything under the sun. But what happens when a girl has been raped? Just tell me which scenario, which story in the Bible talks about this.’ ”
“It was not a prayer, Mugure,” she tells me, “it was a conversation. I was desperate.”
“During all this, I could sense that there was something nudging at me,” she continues, “but I couldn’t hear it, because I was still talking and talking. Finally I said, ‘how can there be nothing in the Bible on this? There must be something, in the Bible about this!’ That was the statement I made.”
“And that’s when I heard it. It was a voice. Have you ever heard a voice so commanding, that it does not need to shout? I heard it. It spoke above the words in my head. A voice, so deep and commanding, said:
‘Thou Shalt Not Kill!’
“It was so loud, I thought there was someone standing just outside my room! I remember I looked up. Then I looked around. Then I stood up, walked to the window, pulled the curtain aside and checked if there was someone standing there. But how could there be? Our apartment was on the third floor!”
“But the funny thing is the voice didn’t say ‘you shall not’ or ‘do not’. It said ‘Thou shalt not’. This is exactly how I learnt the Ten Commandments as a child.”
She smiles wryly. “I was shocked that the voice took me to the commandments.”
But there it was.
“So,” she tells me, “I said ‘thank you’ feeling very silly. And then I sat back on the bed. How was I going to tell Nancy?”
She didn’t get an answer, she tells me, but felt a nudge to just go and tell her. To try again.
“The way our house is designed, the dhobi is right next to my bathroom. From my bedroom I can hear what’s going on in there. I used to hear Nancy singing as she worked. So I was sure she had heard the voice.”
But as she approached her, she tells me, she could see from Nancy’s expression that she was not willing to hear anything more on the topic.
“I asked her; ‘did you hear anything? Did you hear a voice coming from near my room?”
But Nancy had heard nothing.
“So I told her how I had been talking to God, telling Him how His Word had an answer for everything. And how I had heard this voice and it had shouted: ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill!’.”
Nancy immediately began to weep.
“I think God is telling you something,” Lily had told her gently. “Please don’t do this to your daughter. Please.”
She didn’t say yes or no. But Lily hoped that she had been touched enough to at least think about it.
Come Friday however, Nancy again requested time off and left. Lily was unable to ask her if she was going to do it.
“Maybe I was a coward,” she says quietly. “But that’s where I feel I failed her.”
The hours seemed to crawl by but at about 5.30pm on Saturday evening, unable to wait any longer, Lily had finally plucked the courage to call. She couldn’t make the call in the house, she remembers, in case her family overheard their conversation. She had to do it outside.
“When I asked her how she was,” she tells me, “she simply said ‘I can’t talk right now’. I knew she had done it.”
“I’ll be honest,” she says, “I got really scared.”
It was a long evening.
Finally, Nancy called at around 8pm. “Pray for me,” was all she said. “Please just pray. Things are so bad, I think I’ll lose my daughter.”
Lily, by now, was terrified and began to pray fervently for the girl to stay alive.
“At around 11pm, I tried to call her again. She didn’t pick. I went to bed not knowing anything, expecting the worst. She didn’t call me again until late afternoon on Sunday. She said it was over, and asked for more time.”
She came back two days later.
Lily gave her some time, she tells me, and then asked Nancy if she’d like to talk about it. And that’s when she narrated her daughter’s seventy-two hour ordeal, at the hands of the “doctor”.
Sharp instruments hastily inserted into her child; water breaking, the girl screaming, moaning, gripping the bed-sheets; hours stretching interminably, her frail body, wracked in pain, twisting this way and that, straining to expel the remains of her twenty-week fetus. Friday evening blending into Saturday and then Sunday, the girl flitting in and out of consciousness with Nancy standing, terrified, by her side.
Lily looks at me. “What she saw..” she says, shaking her head quietly.
It was a brutal, three-day nightmare.
“Her elder daughter kept asking if she was going to lose her sister,” Lily continues. “Nancy couldn’t answer.”
And as she watched her daughter fight for her life in that clinic, Nancy kept asking herself if it was all worth it. Never would she do it again, she told Lily. Never.
“After that she became more careful with her daughters, and would go on Saturdays and Sundays.” Lily says. But neither she nor Nancy were at ease, and Lily counseled her to seek a job closer to her home, where she could be with her girls on a daily basis.
They never discussed the events of that terrible weekend again.
Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. Proverbs 24:11
Names and places have been changed.