It is almost midnight, but Teresa is not asleep. There is no point. She cannot sleep until her father, Kiruja, comes home. Kiruja is a violent man. He will come home drunk and cause chaos everywhere. He no longer beats up their mother daily, but he still insults her and flings cups and plates on the walls and floor. Teresa has been afraid of her father since she was a small girl. She is now 19 and has just completed form 4 last year. She scored a B+ and has been admitted to Multi-Media University. She will be reporting later in the year.
If you view it in terms of providing, Kiruja is not a bad husband or father. He has built a nice home for his family. His children go to the best schools in Chogoria. They eat well. They dress well. Kiruja is a violent drunkard and keeps mistresses, but his family does not lack anything.
But the fact that he is a violent drunkard and keeps mistresses is a problem in itself. Kiruja is not the kind of man to play with children, his or otherwise. He is not one to stay at home swapping stories with his wife, Harriet. He is a tough Meru man who hardly spends time at home. Tough is not the right word. Brutal is the more appropriate word. Violence is always bubbling under his surface. He needs only the slightest provocation to beat up his wife and daughters or start a fight in a bar. His mistresses don’t get it as roughly as Harriet and her children, but they also get an occasional slap. The mistresses often leave him after he starts getting violent, but Harriet has stayed by his side for twenty years. She married him while he was still at the University. Or rather, she started sleeping with him when he was at the University. He did a Bachelor of Education at Kenyatta University.
They were village mates so she knew him well. They studied together at Kairuni Primary school. He went to Chogoria Boys High School while she went to Thigaa Secondary. After High School she got a job at a salon at Chogoria market while he managed to secure a university spot. He started flirting with her while they were still in High School, but she refused to sleep with him. She only succumbed when he was in college, by which time she was working as a salonist and was ready for marriage. She became pregnant when he was in the second year, and unlike many of his age mates, he did not deny the pregnancy.
When Teresa was finally born, Harriet moved into his bachelor’s house at his mother’s urging. Kiruja did not object, and she and her daughter would stay there even when he went away to school. Her fear was always that he would find a sophisticated girl at the university to marry, but he did not. He paid her dowry a few years later and she settled in as his wife.
He is a physics and mathematics teacher at Gerere Secondary School, a mixed secondary school in Chogoria, Tharaka Nithi County, where he also serves as the Deputy Principal. The students fear him. Or loathe him, depending on who you ask.
The long-serving Principal, Justus Mutembei, recently retired and Kiruja expected to replace him. Instead, the deputy principal of the neighboring school, Gakiro Secondary School, was brought to Gerere as the principal. To make it worse, she is a woman. Kiruja has challenges with authority, and only submitted to Mutembei because the latter had a larger than life presence, a towering figure whose authority was felt beyond the borders of the school. In fact, there are doubts that anyone can sufficiently fill Mutembei’s shoes.
For Kiruja, being made to deputize a woman is an insult. He is among the remaining conservatives who have refused to accept women as equals. So far no woman has challenged his authority. His wife lives in constant fear because she was battered for years and even though she has not been beaten for years, the threat he batters her almost daily. His daughters cower in his presence. Even his mistresses fear him. He is not one of those men who smile and sweet talk girls as they flirt. If he wants a woman he says it directly and fully expects her to comply. He targets younger, vulnerable girls, so he is yet to face rejection.
His wife has borne him four daughters. It would have been depressing for him but one of his mistresses has borne him two sons, and it is these two that will inherit his property when he dies. The girls will get married and go to their husbands.
It is Kiruja’s frustrations at the workplace that are evident at home. He is more violent and is always spoiling for a fight. He also drinks more heavily these days.
Headlights flooding the house alert Teresa that her father is home. She gets up quickly and joins her mother in the kitchen to warm his food. Kiruja doesn’t like being kept waiting. Teresa’s sisters are in school, and Teresa envies them. Boarding school was a welcome respite.
As her father parks the car, Teresa places his plate, spoon and cup on the dining table, as her mother brings the food and tea. As her father enters the house, Teresa retreats into the kitchen. She can hear as he enters the house, without staggering. He somehow is able to take in large amounts of alcohol and still remain steady on his feet and behind the steering wheel of his Toyota Premio.
“Where is my food?” he demands. Teresa’s mother, Harriet, starts serving the food. She serves a generous portion of rice and then serves greens.
“Mchele na sukuma? Why are you feeding me like a pauper?”
Harriet knows he is just spoiling for a fight so she keeps her mouth shut. Instead, she opens another dish and serves him beef.
“Why haven’t you washed my hands? Do you want me to die of diseases?”
Teresa jumps to her feet and takes warm water to the sitting room. Harriet had asked her to take the water but in her attempt to avoid meeting her father, she forgot. Now she will have to face him.
“Good evening dad,” she mumbles, trying to sound pleasant. She can get a beating for failing to greet him. He doesn’t necessarily reply, but he expects to be greeted anyway.
“Why are you hiding my water? Do you think I am your age mate to play monkey games with you?”
“No, dad. I am sorry,” Teresa replies meekly. Her heart is pounding. She has to be very careful here if she is to avoid a slap. She washes his hands and as he starts eating, she starts retreating to her room.
“Where do you think you are going?”
It is not a question she can answer truthfully without sounding rude, so she opts to stay silent.
“Answer me!” he demands.
“I was going to the kitchen to wash dishes,” she lies.
“You think I am a fool just because I have taken a few bottles of beer? You think I don’t know the direction of the kitchen and the direction of your bedroom?”
“I am sorry dad,”
“Stay here until I finish. Do you think you are more tired than all of us? In fact, Harriet you can go and sleep. This one here will clear the table when I am done,”
Harriet hesitates then obeys. There is no need to provoke him to beat up both of them. After Harriet leaves, he eats in silence. As Teresa serves him tea, she can feel him watching her.
“You have grown up so fast,” Kiruja says.
“Thank you dad,” she says as she goes back to her seat. He is studying her intently, and she suddenly feels uncomfortable.
“You look just like your mother when I married her,”
Teresa does not know how to respond to that.
“Come and sit here,” he says, tapping the space next to him on the sofa. Teresa does not move. This does not look good. She mentally calculates the distance between her and the nearest room, the kitchen. The only problem is that to get to any other room, she has to pass by him. Her only other option is to leave through the main door into the cold outside. She doesn’t believe her own father can try to rape her, but if he attempts, she will run outside. She can brave the darkness and go to her grandparent’s house. It is not the first time. She has done it before alongside her mother and her siblings. They always run away in the middle of the night if Kiruja becomes too violent, or if he starts using weapons such as knives.
When he stands, she stands as well and starts moving towards the main door. He moves to intercept her. Teresa suddenly dashes to the door, hoping to get there before him. Unfortunately, Harriet had already bolted the door after he came in, and as she struggles to open it, she feels his hand around her. She fights him but his grip is firm and strong. He is a large man. He pulls her towards the couch. As he pulls up her nightdress, she screams at the top of her lungs. Her screaming doesn’t deter him though.
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