Open 2020, Short Stories - Yakobo Mutiti


Up Against All Odds

By Yakobo Mutiti  


It was a dry spell. The last drop of the rains that had been witnessed at Loimabus had been some eight moons earlier; the land was threadbare, and the livestock appeared haggard and desolate.

Oh…God of rains! If it continued like this for another moon, surely human deaths would be reported. The residents continued their daily chores as if to defy the weather; surely, their God was about to chastise Lucifer together with his drought…soon the skies would open up, and the land would be rejuvenated; the spring of life would flourish again uninterrupted.

Loimabus a locality near a shopping center that is far, far away from Lekuru, itself far from Kisima, itself far from Maralal, itself far away from Nyahururu, which is also far from Nairobi. The people of Loimabus stay in Manyatta; this is a kraal of makeshift huts. A few poles stuck to the ground, connected with a few sticks with strings of tree-bark peelings, sack-cloth used as temporary cover, and you have a hut. A single manyatta is headed by one patriarch; this is the father, who usually has several wives, each with a brood of children. Every wife guides her children to support the welfare of the larger family, while also recognizing responsibility to the nuclear family.

The center itself is nothing much, although there are tin-roofed shops, some surrounded with quasi-modern corrugated iron sheet ‘mabati’ walls; the shops serve the role of providing some subsistence essentials to those villagers who are getting into a modernized lifestyle. And in seasons such as the current, the shop center serves as a lifeline to the Loimabus villagers; it is here that one can hope to get something to eat through the use of the money they have saved from the past. Indeed, even the supplies at this center were getting depleted; some shops were closing down…

In one inconspicuous Manyatta at a forgotten corner in Loimabus, the members of the family had dispatched each to their daily chores one morning before the full moon. The youngest of the wives, was however not up and running that day. The eldest of Ngaino, the co-wives, had checked her and instructed the third and fourth wives not to go far, in case their mate needed immediate attention.


She herself had to travel to a far off location to participate in a communal negotiation for which she was part. The responsible wives, who were well tutored in matters midwifery, were ready and up to the task; their co-wife was only showing signs of getting to the term of her pregnancy. In her small hut, the young brave lady-girl waited for her moment with high expectation; today she was going to graduate into a mother, and therefore gain a respectful consideration as the rest of Ngaino!

“Hooooiii...aaahh...ssh… ss...,” screams rent the air at that apparently solitary hut at the corner in the Manyatta. The two ladies, who were not very far, rushed to the hut to assist one of their own.

“Naseda, dear…Don’t worry… It’s ok…ok…you are getting better…”

“Breath in… and out…in, out…relax, don’t be afraid…,”added the second co-wife.

“Wooosh….wooo…whoof, whooof!!!”

“It is coming…push! Push…p-u-u-u-sh…,” Co-wives repeated in unison.

“Ha-a-a-i-aaaaaaah…,” Naseda spent all the remaining energy and strength in one great final effort.

“Iyaaa…ia…ia…iyaaa..!” and I made my entry into this world of ups and downs.

“It is a girl..!”  The head co-midwife announced, and the great expectations in the homestead fizzled out like the mists of mid-July assailed by the onset of the warm August currents.


My father, the patriarch of our Manyatta never made any memorable comment; save for the usual paraphernalia for new-born baby care and mother’s re-invigoration, nothing else was provided, and neither was there a significant social occasion marked. Although this scenario was as usual in the Sampur culture, in which the birth of a baby-girl was casually welcomed, it was particularly anti-climactic to young Naseda; she always told me about it in latter days when I had grown up.

The fire of hope and great expectations that she had when she first entered Mzee Lemenwek’s Manyatta was dampened after I was born. I do not want to blame my dear mother, may God rest her in eternal peace and restitution, but I poignantly remember the bitterness with which she always treated me.

“Namunyak! Why do you always walk so lazily?”

“Namunyak…run to the cowshed and check whether the cows have been fed”

“Namunyak…before you rush there, ensure that the food has enough water… and remember…”

“Namunyak…what is wrong with you now?”  Namunyak, this…Namunyak, that…Namunyak, here… Namunyak, there!

This happened even long after Naseda’s nuclear family had enlarged considerably. My younger brother, Leshume, was born two years later. This is when the true colors of my father’s homestead were trooped to the full. It was time to recognize the full womanhood of Naseda, my mother. Naseda, a tall dark woman with milk-white teeth, with her burst flowing effortlessly with the rest of her body in a walk of gait, was surely the hero of the moment. Patriarch Lemenwek also had a great heart throb! What he called a very long patience of two full seasons had finally rewarded him with a Moran,praise to the Almighty Enkai e-shumata.

My brother Leshume always felt special; probably this is because everyone in the homestead considered him a special child, and he was the third boy born in the entire LemenwekManyatta. What care and attention was extended to the boy-child! The rest of us behind Naseda’s door were like mere pawns in a game of chess, huddling around and getting in the way of all manner of salvos to safeguard the King; mother, herself, was like the queen moving in all spots to protect our beloved Leshume, while father stood at a silent distant secretly observing the growth of the boy like a rook in secret poise. But Leshume genuinely cared about me, and was always at my beck and call; as his older sister, he obeyed and listened to my directions as we went about our daily chores and escapades.

We grew up like wildfire. One incidence led to another…

“Namunyak… ai!” Mother called me one morning.

“Eeh, Mae...,” I replied. I had just woken up and was sitting on my mat, my threadbare blanket on my shoulders, in the section that is set for girls, usually very close to the mother’s bedroom.

“Come and help me light the fire, please… I would also like to have a talk with you…”

“Ok, Mae,” I walked closer to the hearth-place, picking a few splinters of would that would assist in organizing a quick blaze.

“You have grown into a big, beautiful and responsible girl, just as is expected of a real Sampur. I am proud of you; you make me a very happy mother. Soon you will make a good wife to a brave Moran of our tribe.”

“Mae..! What are these things you are telling me now… I will remain a child in this home, my brother is Leshume, and I will remain with him and my father and my other sisters and brothers in the Manyatta; my father will not release me to any strangers!”

“Not like that young girl… not like that… It is not happening just tomorrow! You see, your sister Nyasore from the other home who is older than you will be getting circumcised this season, and her suitor has already started the initial dowry payment…”

“I don’t want to get circumcised Mae…and I don’t want to get married!” I shrieked.

“A real human being, a Sampur woman, must be initiated to be prepared ready for her husband, and which woman would be proud to remain unmarried forever, ai ..? Some things that you say young girl can make your Akuyas turn in their grave, doi!”

Why was it that as a maturing girl I was faced with the possibility of getting cut in the most secret, sacred and scaring part of the body? And why, pray, was I meant to be plucked away from my only known family roots, away from the people I held dear? My mother’s morning pep talk was the worst experience I had had in my life; it set all my emotional and thinking faculties in direct cross-purposes with the feelings and wishes of my own mother. Indeed, this marked the commencement of my alienation with my own parents, my people and their culture.

Soon I was to interact with my age-mates and be inculcated with the Sampur values of life. Nyasore’s bridal occasion became an eye opener to what every girl born in our culture expects to be her career and life. A day before the appointed day, our Manyatta suddenly filled with females of all age groups from our locality. Shouts rent the air; there was excited chatter all around.


Even the baby-girls with curious little faces moved up and about our compound: “Which one? Oh… not that one…but the one at the door is the candidate…” They seemed to utter such words as they directed their gaze towards the main entry into Nyasore’s mother’s house. They would all keep vigil in our Manyatta, sitting by the embers of a night-fire, watching and waiting for early morning when Nyasore’s womanhood would be proven through the circumcision razor…

Yes, razor blade… new and pristine, ‘Nacet,’the one whose leaf-cover has a picture of a crocodile split into two by a razor blade, writhing in pain…yes, that one! That is how it was known to us, upcoming brave victims of the practice. Oh! Is that not beautiful and predestined for elevated communal glory…To be an impeccable mother of the tribe, and imagine, the whispers continued, she woke up early yesterday and braved the bazaar of our Shopping Centre to source for her own razor blade! Brave and courageous, focused, Nyasore surely knew and understood what she wanted in life.


All of us younglings in attendance silently and patiently observed the celebration and demonstration of female bravery and accomplishment in our community. For sure, a seed was planted in us; each of us looked forward to the breathtaking moment when one would be initiated and recognized as a full-fledged Sampur woman. 


“Ndito!” That was my father calling me one morning many seasons after Nyasore’s marriage occasion.

“Papa…” I answered and looked back, stopping on my tracks.

“Tomorrow, I have visitors…And they are coming because of you”

“Papa… This is too abrupt, and I have never seen any of them… I am asking to be given time…”

“Ndito..! I was not asking for your opinion or permission!  I want you to be within your mother’s homestead for the whole day…that is all, just go now…”
I walked away so worried and confused! Did it not mean that I had to undergo circumcision within the next few days? And sleep with my legs entwined with a man’s within a month!?


I wanted to rush to the safety of my beloved auntie, my mother’s sister, who was married in one of the homesteads of our Manyatta, but I remembered that she would only shout in joy and celebrate my so-called maturity. The police! Police!!! But the local police are Sampur, and have no patience with young girls…I remembered some police boys who always chased us when we passed by the police-post, and got afraid… I will walk, walk, and walk away…even if it means being eaten by hyenas… I will walk…

I had reached the Shopping Centre, andit was getting late in the evening. Every shop was in the process of closing down. There was a ramshackle Probox, with a tout calling out on any late passengers who wanted to reach the bigger town before dark. I decided to talk to the tout to ask for a lift… Before I could talk or explain anything, I had been roughly pushed into the vehicle, not without having had my breasts explored by the hands of this lascivious lad.

I could not raise the fare! I did not have any money, nor did I have enough clothes on my body. The tout listened to me, and laughed cheekily…he promised ‘to pay for me’ if I was ready to escort him home in the evening!

“I am afraid of the dark. You come from a warrior community; you’ll be my watchman today!” the passenger tout-cum-conductor mused.

“It is ok…I will do my best”, I replied in a whispered tone.

The tout suddenly appeared very happy and energetic. And I knew then that he had a totally different agenda.

Of course many things happened! I had to accompany the tout to the hideous hideout he called home—a one small room place in which you enter into bed at the door-step; corrugated rusty iron-sheet roof. The space was infested by mosquitos, big rats and bed-bugs.

“My name is Wanyoni, and I am single, though I never want to get a wife…What is yours?”

“Namunyak,” I never felt like saying more… I did not for sure know the actual intention of this apparently benevolent stranger.

“Good… we now know each other!” Wanyoni replied, and added, “Let us first go to a food place nearby, we get something to eat and the rest will follow.”
I obliged and accompanied Wanyoni to a dinghy place where he called out orders.

“Ugalimbili, matumbombili, sukumambili, namajimbili…kamatulivyo!”

“You mean you have a visitor, Wanyoni? Who is the unlucky person!?” A rough womanish voice emanated from a dark place purported to be a kitchen.

“You have been thinking that you are the only fish in the pool, Mama Safi! Get out of that forgotten place and see what I have got! Deep from the garden of Eden…”

We sat on some roughly hewn wood flats, and were treated to a hot meal of ugali, matumbo and sukuma wiki to boot. It was not very bad after all; it even tasted superior to the foods that I was used to in our Manyatta. Above all, I sensed a kind of individual freedom away from the culture of the Manyatta; each of these people appeared free to do what they liked.

Wanyoni called out for the water, and I felt thankful because I also felt thirsty.

“Kwota, or full?” Mama Safi sounded from within.

“Full…kamatulivyo,” Wanyoni blasted hysterically.

A broad, middle-aged, black lady bounced to the front space carrying two big mugs.

“I would like to see my competitor, kwaninika-dame!”

Immediately, the mugs were put on the table, I knew that this was not ordinary water; it was a Muratina brew; I hesitated, and asked for some fresh water instead.

“Itsorait… Give her real water first, but still leave the honey juice at her table!” Wanyoni offered advice.

I felt it was ok…I wanted to be free like these people; and honey was after all not bad!

At the end of the first round, I became friendly to both Wanyoni and Mama Safi.  After the second and third rounds, we talked many things, and even made many plans!

I went home with Wanyoni, and clambered onto his bed with him. Wanyoni told me about himself. He was a passenger tout after a long struggle of trying out things that never worked out. He had lost his parents in the infamous tribal clashes of 2017 in which they were disenfranchised of their legal property, and had dropped out of school. There was no relative who could assist him, and his two brothers and two sisters were destitute, now living in the streets of the big city of Nyrokia. Wanyoni agreed with me that nobody should force me into marriage; it was a matter of individual decision. He himself never wanted to get married, although he would hook up with a lady so that he could overcome sexual urges.

Wanyoni touched me; caressed my breasts, mockingly sucked them—raising my temperatures! I felt an inexplicable urge to eat him up or swallow him. Oh…broad torso, muscular hands, smooth sweaty warmth! Oh that muscular, rising, strengthening shaft… My in-between was bursting with desire. He carefully touched my Labia, caressing…rhythmically, rhythmically…Oh! Introduced the muscular shaft into the vv… and broke my virginity. The bitter-sweet session that followed was a precursor of a full-blown relationship that from the outset was not headed for marriage.

Wanyoni and I decided that it would be more useful for me to look for something to do, rather than lie in bed the whole day waiting for him to appear in the evening. We started at Mama Safi’s; on the face of it, she was very helpful, although, as I discovered later, she was merely seeking to pimp me into a career of prostitution. I was hooked with a bar-cum-night club in the neighborhood, and started off immediately. At least it appeared interesting, clean, neat and orderly; the food was good, and at least there was some money in the offing. The only problem is that, there were too many groping hands, some of them feeling that they had every right as customers to partake any benefits that could accrue from the female resources that served in the club. And poor Wanyoni was also feeling that my employment had somehow compromised his franchise!

Wanyoni and I still moved on. We disagreed; we agreed, and agreed to disagree. After all, we were not bound by any vows; ours was, so to speak, an agreement between a lady and a gentleman. But, however, this is just talk, and nothing like this can ever exist in the heart of an individual person. I remember we once had a bitter misunderstanding emanating from his enchantment with another girl he had discovered, my escapades with Doc Odok notwithstanding.

Doc Odok was a regular customer at Jabulani Night Runner Resort, in short JNRR, where I worked. This gentleman had refused ‘No’ for an answer from me, but kindly asked me not to be bothered at all…He would work out his way into my heart through what he called ‘high-tech’ seduction. I even tried to cheat him that I was already married, but he still insisted that he was willing to become ‘second-husband’, whatever it takes. Odok’s overtures for sure overcame all the hurdles of sense, sensibility, responsibility and decency in me. I decided to give him a single chance, just one chance! The rest is history.

Doc Odok came very early that day; there was a knowing glow in his left eye as I served him his usual Smirnoff-on-the Rocksafter he had cleared his plate of marinated beef sirloin, pilau rice, the vegies pack and fruit salad.

“Thank you respectable lady for your diligent service to a man crying in the wilderness,” Odok made an attempt to befriend me.

“Oh…not at all, Doc; it is my job to make our customers comfortable,” I replied, taking some of the used utensils away. I stayed at the kitchen, basically doing nothing in order to avoid the gentleman. After quite a while, the customer service bell rang; I rushed out, hoping that a new customer had surfaced to be served only to see Odok’s frame talking to the Supervisor!

“Namunyak, dear, you left Doc Odok without due attention; why are you letting us down now?” the Supervisor feigned a knowing attack on me and left me to face Odok alone.

“Can seek your indulgence to answer two very simple and harmless questions from me, madam,” Odok asked, feigning unparalleled politeness.
“With kindness and pleasure,” I also faked my emotion.

“Number One: Are you really married, cohabiting, or come-and-staying?”

“It could be all or neither of the above!” I answered in ambiguity because I had begun to open up to this gentleman.

“What!” he laughed, “Marriage as in obtaining a legal certificate or through a recognized cultural process..?

“Anyway, anyway…I am not married, but I am in a very robust relationship”

“Question Two: If you were to get an opportunity—and you know, opportunities come only once in a lifetime—would you be brave to seize it?”

“Now… I don’t know what you really mean…” I said pretending to take some residual materials away. My mind started racing wildly. Why not see what this man has got? After all, has this man not treated me so well, despite my willed defenses against him? Has he not enabled me to look and appear as good as the rest of the girls at JNRR? My friend Wanyoni just wants us to remain in a non-committal relationship, and I do not see any plans now or in the future. We could remain platonic friends; after all we have been through many rough patches together. What do I do now?

I went back to Odok’s table, passed a towel on the surface, looking at him steadily on the face.

“Ati what were you saying Doc Sir?” I asked.

“Don’t sir me dear! I know you’ll be getting out of shift at four-thirty; it is now three-twenty… I will wait, and I am taking you out this evening!”
“Sawa…” I answered with a silent hiss.

Doc Odok took me places. Doc belongs to a community and society that knows how to nurture a woman’s soul. Doc made me a true queen for sure! For that evening, I slept in fluffy, warm and specially aerated bed-space. I do not even know how I slept, and how I woke up! The journey that I was taken through was full of thrills that may never be imagined by a woman who had never had the experience. And true to his word, from that time on I would not work at JNRR; he could not allow it, and with the apparel that I now donned, I would simply be ill-fitting in the godforsaken place!

At JNRR, I had now turned into lady patron who was in the constant company of Doc Odok. The one problem that continued to nag me was Wanyoni, my original friend. How would I escape from the Charybdis of guilt and despondence that secretly crept up my spine? This man pierced my hymen and turned me into a woman; how could I spurn his initial gracious assistance? Word soon went around, and Wanyoni came to know that I had abandoned him for a tycoon who was a habitual at JNRR.  One morning, as I sat on the balcony of the top-floor in the maisonette that had been specially procured for me by my one and only Doc Odok, a shrill tone came calling on my digital phone.

“Halo...” I answered.

A grumpy, rough sound started on the other end, “Wanjoni speaking…”

“Who’s calling?” I asked because the name sounded wrongly pronounced. Just then, Doc surfaced from inside the house, and I quickly replied, “Wrong number!” and hang up. I immediately realized that Wanyoni had either not given up on me, or he was seeking an avenue to even the scores.



My Doc did great things for me. Although he had two other wives, he was able to cater for my entire needs and fancies. They were minor incidents with co-wives, but I think our man was able to manage all of us fairly and equally, although, as expected, he spent more of his time at the Mill-mane maisonette with me, his youngest wife.

‘Wife?’ you ask…

Yes, wife, I answer with a lot of pride and confidence.

Dear Doc sought the bearings to my rural home. He enlisted the support of the local chief and got to the clan elders. They held a big baraza with the elders at Mzee Lemenwek’s Manyatta. Old man Lemenwek had by this time gotten so old, and my brothers were now the succeeding negotiators.

Since I had escaped a negotiated marriage, there were strong fines to be paid to various parties. The first was for my impudence to Papa: ten mature cows that are at the first serving stage. The second fine was to return at current value all that had been paid by MzeeIlaiyok as dowry for me, plus the fine that had been imposed as fine to my father. Third, I had to beg for pardon from the all ladies, young and old, married into the home; each of them had to impose a personal fine on me, so that such a bad behavior may no longer be repeated in the Lemenwek lineage. And finally, both Doc and I had to appear for a traditional cleansing ceremony presided over by the traditional healer and doctor. It is only after fulfilling all these requirements that the clansmen would be ready to listen to Doc Odok’s proposal.

My dear Doc acquiesced to all the demands, and the old men were indeed very glad. Four big occasions were planned consecutively to cater for the three respective aspects of fine, and the cleansing. Each of the occasions was translated in a mammoth ceremony in which Odok and his people attended in pomp. Indeed, even my co-wives had to be lined up in each of the four occasions!

After these occasions, a date was set within a period of six moons when fresh dowry negotiations would be instituted. I do not know whether to believe in tradition or not, but it is within this period after the conclusion of the first stage that I felt a tiny wriggle in my tummy, after I had missed my periods. For the first time since I left home in a huff, I started gaining a sense of belonging and hope in life.



The phone rang with a start…then stopped. I looked at the number, which was new and unfamiliar.

“Why does caller flash you when they are new to you? Nkkh…” I moaned, and Doc told me to give him the number so that he may track it through TRUE-CALLER service. I gave it to him, and went into the kitchen with my handset.

The call rang again, and I picked it.

The grumpy, dry, hoarse and rough voice again.

“Wanjoni, here…”

“Yes, Wanyoni… How have you been?”

“Like what did you expect?”

“I thought we had talked and resolved to end the matter,” I answered as calmly as possible.

“No… it cannot end just like that!”

“So what do you want? Would you like us to meet?” I tried to put my voice lower.

“Yes…and come alone to my residence; I am still where you left me…”

“No, I cannot come to your place; you must look for a neutral place,” I added.

“Then let us go to JNRR. You will pay for the expenses; after all you are rich!”

“OK, then… Tomorrow, six-thirty pm, JNRR, and don’t call again,” I averred.

I thought I had handled this bugger of a person very effectively. I would at least try to push him away, even if it was going to be through the carrot and stick method. I looked up from my phone, and my dear Doc was standing before me looking rather perturbed.

“Don’t worry, my dear: I will handle that chap decisively,” he hissed.

“I have heard what has gone on in your conversation, and here is my plan: you will go to meet the fellow as per schedule. You will appear to agree with him in every respect, except going away with him from the club. Leave everything else to me.”

What would I have done except to follow every instruction as had been given by my man?



Your most excellent honor… I stand before you raising the holy Bible with my hand, and I promise to tell the truth, nothing but the whole truth.

I met one Mr. Justus Wanyoni at the agreed venue; that is the Jabulani Night Runner Resort, popularly known as JNRR, on the material day: that is on 24th December 2018, the year of our Lord. The time was Six-thirty pm sharp.

He did not appear to me to be worried or disturbed by anything. Indeed he was very friendly, and accepted to have an early dinner with me. We ate our food and discussed matters between us which had brought us together in the first place.

Interjection from Prosecutor: “Your honor, can the witness elaborate on the matters they had to discuss with the said person!”

“Madam Lemmenek, please tell this court the gist of your discussion with Mr. Wanyoni”

Thank you, your honor. Mr. Wanyoni had been my childhood friend, indeed boyfriend. He wanted us to get together so that I could explain how and why I had left him. As you know, answers to such a question are best done in a one on one, or face to face manner...

Wanyoni did not seem to have any issues, and I can certainly describe our encounter as very friendly. He even took two shots of whiskey, and relaxed. I had to rush to the ladies room for a call of nature. When I returned, I was in time to see two men standing on each side of Wanyoni, each holding one arm tightly. A third person crept from behind Wanyoni gagging his neck with an object that was fitted to his arm. I shouted and ran out... There was sudden darkness and confusion! So many patrons were crying in the dark. I called my fiancé, Mr. Doc Odok, who immediately commissioned a driver to fetch me.

In the evening of the second day, the police came home and asked my fiancé, Doc Odok, and I to accompany them to the police station for interrogation and to record a statement.After the interrogation, I was released to go home, but my fiancé was arrested and charged with murder. Your honor, I would like to deny the involvement or complicity of Mr. Odok in the said murder. This is all I know regarding the unfortunate incident that occurred on 24th December, 2018.



Yakobo Mutiti from Kenya works as a University Professor. He is interested in the interface between modern day living and the traditional cultural background. He uses individual existential experience(s) of culture and how it impacts on our life in a changing society.


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