(I first wrote this story as “Return of the Prodigal” in 2018. I have edited it and altered the story line to make it a novella)
Eva is numb. She cannot believe that her son is no more. Sam is one of her two children, the children that she poured her heart and soul into; the children who made her a strong woman because she needed to be. If they were to grow up to be independent human beings, she had no option but to rise up and be a lioness. She was up to the task, although the children broke her heart in adulthood. But she believed that they would find the correct path again. She has never stopped loving them, both of them, and she has always made it her business to pray for them each night.
But one of them is now lying cold in the grave, her prayers notwithstanding.
Sam and Janice are the two children she conceived with her husband Fredrick, who she met thirty seven years ago. Just like her, he was a primary school teacher, so theirs was a love brewed in the staff room. They got married at Ganga PCEA Church when she was already pregnant with Sam. Janice came two years after Sam was born.
They were one happy family until Sam was about eight years old, and Janice six. That is when Fredrick found the woman called Joanna, who would be his second wife. By that time, Fredrick had already received three acres of family land from his father, the same as his two brothers and one sister.
Eva and Fredrick had sacrificed a lot to build a home. Both of them had taken loan after loan to complete the house. But when Joanna entered Fredrick’s life, Eva was kicked out of the home with her two children and Joanna took her place. At that point, Eva was still paying the loan she had taken so that they could tile the house and give it a fresh coat of paint.
Eva moved to the nearby town centre and rented a one room house. She barely managed to survive. With the loan repayment and with both children in school, money was tight. But she somehow managed to survive. She took the children to cheaper schools and prayed hard that their grades would not suffer.
She had one ally though: her father-in-law. Old Geoffrey had a bitter falling out with his son over Eva. He said he would never recognize Joanna as his daughter in law. When Fredrick and Joanna started selling the land, Geoffrey went to the Land Control Board and blocked the sale. He also advised Eva to place a caution on the land, which she did. Geoffery made it clear to his son that no land would be sold until he gave Eva one acre out of the three. When Fredrick realised that his father was serious, he reluctantly agreed to transfer an acre to Eva.
When Eva finished paying off the loan she had, she took another and built a three bedroom house on the land she got from Fredrick. She and her children moved in even before she completed the construction. Once the walls, windows, and roof were in place, Eva decided that the house was ready for occupation. With no rent to pay, and with the bulk of their food coming from the farm, the quality of their lives improved. The food became better, and Eva returned the children to their previous schools. By taking one loan after another, and by denying herself luxuries that her colleagues enjoyed, Eva not only completed the house but also managed to take her children through school.
After High School Sam studied journalism at Daystar University while his sister Janice studied medicine at the University of Nairobi. Sam landed a plum anchoring job at a leading television station while Janice became a doctor at the Aga Khan University Hospital. Eva was excited when both of her children graduated and got well-paying jobs. But then her joy was short-lived. She saw both of her children, accomplished academically and in career, completely miss the mark in relationships.
Just like their father.
Joanna ruined Fredrick’s life. Or rather helped him to ruin it. They sold everything, including the house and lived a luxurious life for a while before the money ran out. Then Joanna dumped him and left with her three children, and Fredrick turned to the bottle. He found another woman in a club and moved in with her. They are constantly squabbling, and but they have been together for eight years now and have two children. The woman is a bar tender, but how she hangs on to that job is a miracle because she is almost always drunk. Not that Fredrick is any better. He became a drunkard as as well. Their children are perhaps the only street children in the small market town of Ganga.
Fredrick was fired by TSC because of absenteeism, insubordination and showing up at work while drunk. These days he survives by ferrying jerry cans of water for business people as well as running other minor errands. All his income goes to alcohol.
Eva prayed hard that her children would not turn out like their father, but for Sam, things became even worse.
When Sam completed his studies at Daystar University he was euphoric. He had made it. He called his mother and she squealed on the phone. She traveled all the way to Nairobi for his graduation, just as she did a couple of years later when his sister graduated. Sam got an internship at a radio station. Later he was hired by the radio station’s sister TV station and rose from a reporter to an anchor.
He met Adriana at a friend’s party, and he took her to his house that night for a night of drunken sex. He had no plans of getting married, but he soon realised that getting rid of Adriana would be difficult. She inserted herself in his life, and three months later she moved in with him. Although he was a TV anchor, Sam had been living a relatively simple life in Roysambu.
Adriana changed that. She “opened his eyes” to the reality, that reality being that he was a celebrity and therefore needed to act like one. Sam quickly learned that there were places he could not live because of his status. So he and Adriana moved to Lavington. He started drinking, but his new friends, including his wife, told him that men of his class do not take beer. They only deal with expensive wines and spirits. Palates have class too, Adriana cooed.
Sam was earning more money than he had ever imagined as a child, but he was constantly broke. Sometimes he would even borrow his mother money, and she would give him generously. That was in the early days of his relationship with Adriana though. With time, and under the influence of his wife, his relationship with his mother broke down. Adriana imagined that Eva was borrowing money from her husband/boyfriend, and did not realize that it was the other way round.
Sam stopped going to the village to see his mother. Adriana hated these village trips. She never accompanied him, and whenever he came back she would sulk for a week. So to avoid cold war in his house, Sam cut off Eva from his life. He became a stranger to his own mother.
When his son was born, he sent his mother a photo via WhatsApp, that is as close as Eva would get to her grandson. Eva prayed hard that her son would return home to her. She did not nag, and she tried hard not to hate Adriana; she just prayed that her relationship with her son would be restored, if only for her to have a relationship with her grandson.
Sam returned to her alright, but he returned in a casket. According to the information she has gathered in the last one week, Sam’s relationship with Adriana had started deteriorating, especially because he was suspecting her of cheating. He had tried to kick her out of his house but she refused to leave. So he turned to the bottle. This made his situation worse, especially after he received a warning letter from his bosses. This stressed him, and he drank even more.
His car crashed into a stationary lorry a week ago, on Friday night/Saturday morning. He was dead drunk, and died on the spot.
Eva sits pensively in her house. She no longer has any tears to shed. The funeral is over, but her compound is still full of urbanites and villagers alike. The tiny village of Ganga is usually sleepy, especially during the school term when the cantankerous little ones are in school. Occasionally, a cow will moo, followed by another moo and a bleat. At this time of the year, people are usually in the farms planting maize. Smoke can be seen from the huts where women are boiling githeri. Even the market centre is usually quiet during the day.
But today the village is alive. Cars are parked on the sides of the dirt road, all the way to Mama Eva’s gate.
Eva’s compound is full of people. There are so many urbanites disturbing the peace of the village. Their rowdiness does not betray the fact that they are coming for a funeral. They generally look happy, taking photos with their expensive phones.
Eva has sought refuge in her house, if only to get a few moments of peace. But it is not to be. The door suddenly opens and four people enter: Fredrick, Janice, Fredrick’s older brother Joel and a woman Eva had never seen before today, but who she now knows is Sam’s widow Adriana.
“Mother, we need to talk.”
“What do you want Janice? I am not in the mood right now.”
Janice has been nagging her mother, mostly about money and about her father. In the past three days they have fought bitterly over the slightest of things. Janice is always spoiling for a fight, and Eva has been wondering where she went wrong with her children.
“Snap out of it mother. Sam is dead and he is not coming back. We need to focus on the living, beginning with Sam’s son Kyle.”
“What about him?”
“He needs to be taken care of.”
“He has a mother.”
“Adriana is not working mother.”
“Then she can leave the boy with me. I will bring him up, the same way I brought up his father.”
“You can’t separate the boy from his mother.”
“Just say what you want, Janice. Stop taking me in circles.”
“The four of us have been thinking, and we think it is time you gave us our inheritance. Subdivide this land into three parts. I get a third, Adriana and Kyle get the other third and you can keep the third with the house. But we also think that dad should come and live with you. He shouldn’t suffer in town while he has a home here.”
Eva is just too shocked to respond.
Image by Carolyn Booth from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/death-funeral-coffin-mourning-2421820/
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