There are evenings I would watch the sunset and instead of finding beauty in it I found memories that made my heart swell. I remember standing on the balcony staring at the horizon as the ball of fire sank to a place I didn't know. It was yellow with a tinge of orange, round and perfect. I remember wishing life was different. But it wasn't. Those were a few moments before the captain rang the horrific bell. One that suggested that we were all supposed to line up and get our phones. After that we would be allowed two hours with them, before we labelled them again and tossed the gadgets back in a tray. We would not have them till the end of another 30 days. Lonely devices they were. But I didn't really mind. That time was enough for me to call that one person who meant the world to me. My mum.
See joining the Defence Forces training is not something I was forced into. It is a choice I made. Unlike the rest of the academic bullshit that was fed to me even when I was clearly saturated, this one gave me freedom. It gave me choices. If one day I woke up and decided that I didn't want to be here, all I had to do is assemble my uniforms, take them to the captain and be cleared out of training, never to join any other training unit for the same profession. 3 months into training I had felt that I was too young to do it. A little too pretty and perhaps a little fragile. There was also this thought that it was better to drop out then than later because that would have meant wasting more time from the limited years of my life. The beauty of it is I didn't leave. There is one evening I arranged all my uniforms, clean and well packaged and I was ready to walk into that office and say, "I can't do this anymore!'' But I didn't. I reminded myself why I was here in the first place, returned everything to the closet and joined the rest for the evening jog. That is how torn I was, but somehow I chose to stay. Not because it was such an awesome place but because I kept thinking... Go home for what? Then what next?
As we stood outside the captain's office he kept calling the owners of the phones by reading the tags. After a few rounds of name calling, my turn came.
" Phenne Ateka!''
" Small tecno, right?''
" Get out and tuck in, then come back immediately!''
"Yes sir. Eerrrrr, sorry sir, I...''
"Yes sir!'' moving out.
" Come back! Take your tecno and make sure that next time you have to be tucked in and smart.
I remember sobbing into that mouth piece and receiving long pauses of silence. I remember the words of encouragement that asked me to press on, to be strong, and to be patient. To push a little harder. It was only going to be 9 months of basic military training at the Recruits Training School, Eldoret, after which there would be a passing out ceremony for those who made it to the end.
The nights were mostly short. Others long. There are nights I prayed for God to take away my life because it would go with me being a first born and having numerous responsibilities. It would go with me having a father whose sole role was to sire me and my siblings and afterwards make my mother’s life a living hell. It would go with me being a woman, fighting harder than the man who bore me. Perhaps my life would go with everything that made me sad. But God didn’t listen. He kept me alive like a favourite pet and my longings became futile. There are nights I prayed for fire to come down and consume my father but instead came rain and it didn’t consume him. There are nights I sobbed on those government pillows and prayed for miracles which never came to be.
I am the first born in a family of five. Apart from being a professional driver, my father is also an alcoholic. Yes, his bottle takes more of his time than his profession. My mother has always been a business woman. She sells everything that can bring in money for the five of us to be in school and have a future. When I was in high school, some visiting days would coincide with those of my siblings and my mom would try sharing the burden with Mr Ateka. It’s hard to call him father. He has never really been one. He would take the little of my mother’s sweat for her kids and use it on his bottle. He always drank according to his pocket. All the way from chang’aa to first class whisky, depending on the size of the wallet. If anyone didn’t show up to visit me in high school I would know that once again the man had played mama and he had found a reason to celebrate. I never knew what he did with the shopping. I was always in and out of school because of financial constraints but somehow I made it to the end. On a universal scale it was a poor performance but considering everything I went through as a teenager and the school I went to, that was quite fair.
Mama wanted me to go to a medical college
and become a nurse, but that was her dream, not mine. Wait, I barely had
dreams. Everything around me was dark space and I didn’t know what to become. Somehow
fate fought for me and when the recruitment for Defence Forces was brought to
our county I qualified. There I was, with the sole purpose of fighting for my
family instead of my country. With a dream of changing their lifestyle, even
just a little bit.
You never really understand the meaning of a rigorous military training until you are there. You will never understand the meaning of your adulthood being trampled on the ground until a man commands you to lie on the ground for no reason at all, only to ask you to stand again and lie again, on and on till his breath feels like giving a different command. But that wasn’t the hard part. Most of the recruits would quit training after they passed out during exercise. It’s nothing like what normal people do at the gym. It included swimming, and running immediately and swimming again in the same attire. There are no pools in that institution. Only ponds.
Besides having a strong spirit, I was a little physically fragile but my spirit fought for me. I was still a girl, with allergies and period pain and mood swings and deeper exotic desires to fulfill. But I pressed on. I would pass out due to dehydration and lack of stamina and each time I regained I came back stronger.