The funeral procession matched steadily along. No one was talking but a few sniffles could be heard here and there. There was a hush that even the wind and the various insects and birds that made noise in the daytime also seemed to respect.
It was not everyday that the village gathered to bury one of the pillars of the community. And to die such a horrible death…. Well, that was something the people would not get over any time soon. Mama Watoto, as she had been affectionately called since anyone could remember, had died from a snake bite.
It would not have been that serious if she gotten to the hospital on time but the village of Gatweke was deep in the Karura forest and the only cars that went that far were a Nissan matatu and a lorry for provisions on Mondays only.Since she had been bitten on a Wednesday it was just a matter of time before she succumbed.The nearest health facility was over twenty miles away and it was impossible to undertake such a journey on foot,especially with a sick person . As for technology, the villagers were a simple folk. They were used to relying on what they could see with their own eyes. Last year, Waiguru, a daughter of the tribe, had gone out to the world in search of education and come back with many new things, including a mobile phone. As was customary, she had presented it to her father as a gift and showed him how to use it to call his brother who lived in another country. The whole village had gathered to witness this strange phenomenon. When the brother’s voice came over the speaker, Mzee Ayubu having not known what to expect, had reacted with fear.He had declared that,as the spiritual leader of the community,Ngai had told him that there were evil spirits.He also declared that the devil had decided to pitch tent in his daughter and therefore, the only way to get him out was to beat the hell out of her.That said, the next hour was spent publicly flogging his daughter while the other villagers simultaneously prayed for their souls and encouraged him to beat her harder. To get out the devil,of course. As if that wasn’t enough she had to watch as her precious phone was thrown into the communal fire and burnt to a crisp.Henceforth she was known as the girl who had brought the devil to the village to feast on everyone’s souls( the gossipers had exaggerated the story a little bit to make it more interesting)It was no wonder that when she next left the village she did not return. Neither did development.
As for Mama Watoto, by the time Friday rolled around most of her body was swollen and she had already slipped into delirium. She lay on her pallet in her one-room thatched hut.She did not have much in terms of earthly possessions- a bed, a rickety old chair, two stools, a goat pen inside the house, a few clothes and one Sunday best, and a three-stone fireplace near the door. The few utensils she had were as a result of trading her goat’s milk and maize from her shamba for household items.
With the little she had she was happy. She was a firm believer in the Swahili saying ‘Watu ni vitu’. She made sure that she always had a kind word and listening ear for everyone. She was especially attuned to children and it was not strange to see her being followed around by at least ten children. That is how she got her moniker.
On her deathbed, the visitors were many, none willing to admit to themselves and each other that she was leaving them. Her biological child, her daughter, sat on a stool at the corner, staring forward sightlessly.
The funeral party had reached the plot of land where the burial was to take place. The pallbearers were ready to lower her to the ground. There was nary a dry eye around. Mzee Ayubu stood up to address the gathered.