Sunday, 5 April 2015

Her Last Text: (In Memory of Garissa Victims)

On 2nd April 2015, terrorists killed 147 students at Garissa University College. Kenya mourns them. This poem is my attempt to understand this sad episode.

This was her last text:

"Please babe, they are getting to us. Everyone in Nancy’s cube has been shot dead. Please pray for us. They are coming here; we are next. How’s the situation outside? Kenya Defence Forces are not here yet. Please tell them we are being killed; let them come to our rescue. Babe, in case I never see you again, just know I love you and will always love you. Bye babe and pray for us. I’m with Milly too…May God help us.”
 (Translated by Nekesa Wanjala)

Desperation, plea for help, outpouring of love
And faith—faith in God
That He will help her
From her killers.
Akinyi left that text to us
And is now dead
She is one of the 147—
147 whose heads were shattered by terrorists’ bullets
At Garissa.

Akinyi was a student at Garissa University College
With her hopes and dreams
Her parents must have invested in her
To give her a better life
But Thursday, 2nd April 2015
Was a Dark Thursday
Akinyi was shot at—and died.
A painful death.

The announcement came:
Dry statistics—147 DEAD
In other words, it has happened
They are dead, we can’t undead them.

How do you tell a parent that her daughter—
Safely tucked in school—died violently
By a gun, in school?
How do you explain to her
That her jewel is no more
And that her body is lying lifeless
At Chiromo Mortuary?

And how do you, as a parent, read her last text
When she still breathed, hearing gun-shots
In the next cube, her colleagues screaming
And the next minute the boom boom of a gun
And the chilling silence of death.

What can prepare you for this moment
The moment when your daughter was crying out for help
But you weren’t there
The searing guilt, the scorched conscience
Of a moment you abdicated your parental duty
As your daughter called out for help
But you were far away
The moment when the terrorist stood in front of
Your daughter, pointed the muzzle of the gun at her,
As she pleaded for help, crying out that her life be spared
The trigger pulled, the bullet jetting
Yet you weren’t there to stand in front of her
And be shot at, and not her
The moment when you should have faced her killers
And ask them what sin your daughter had committed
To die by the gun
The moment you would have been in that room with your daughter
And faced death together
Rather than this unbearable pain and helplessness
The moment you would whisper, though both of you be in the throes of death,
That you love her and die hugging her

But this text, you can’t even respond
To reassure her that she will be safe and that you are praying for her
You can’t respond and tell her that you love her
You can’t even ask for clarification
You can’t do something, something to save her,
Something to keep her alive
It is a text with a finality, a resignation to fate or God,
A helpless text, a text which will haunt you
A text that will always remind you of the moment your daughter
For the first time, cried out for help, and you weren’t there

Questions will linger:
What if you hadn’t taken her to Garissa University College?
What if you had received the text earlier and prayed for her, would God have saved her?
What if you were there with the killers, would you have wrestled their guns and bit their hands so as to spare your daughter’s life?
What if she escaped, would she be alive?
What if RECCE Squad killed the terrorists earlier, would she have survived?
What if she hid in a wardrobe?
What if she smeared herself in blood to mock death?
Did Milly die too?

A thousand what-ifs, yet your adorable Akinyi
Is dead. Lifeless.
Akinyi who the other day was laughing
Perhaps planning to visit for the Easter
Akinyi who encouraged you to sacrifice a little longer
For her education
With a promise of a good job
So that you may be relieved
That Akinyi, your loving daughter Akinyi,
Is no more
And in her place is this text
And lingering questions
What prepared you for this?

How do you dig your daughter’s grave?
What strength do you summon
To look at her shattered brain?
What amount of hate, you will wonder,
Will drive any man to kill your jewel
In so ruthless a manner?
What deep-seated religious extremism will
Be lodged in a man’s heart as to shoot your daughter?
Why your gentle, graceful, genial daughter?

You will remember your village squabbles
A chicken thief summoned under a tree and fined
A fight over land boundary
A quarrel over an unpaid debt
A public beating of an adulterer
A cross-examination of a witch
A baraza for a boy who has impregnated a girl
In all these, there was a reason for disgruntlement
And if people fought, it was for a reason
But this!
Someone just shoots your daughter at school
She didn’t steal a book
She wasn’t in a love triangle
She didn’t steal someone’s money
She fought no one, she quarrelled no one
She was your peaceful daughter
Studying in school
Yet she has been shot…. in the head!
And you ask yourself questions
Whether what evil eye in the village is not happy with your daughter
Or perhaps who cursed you
Or who you wronged and is sending you this affliction
But you don’t remember any such
For you are a peaceful person.

So, why was your daughter shot?
And you are told that the Alshabaab
Killed her because of  ‘religious extremism’
(an amorphous phrase you can’t surmise)
or because ‘Kenya invaded Somalia’
You still ask but why your daughter
And you are told that these terrorists
Kill any Kenyan to send a message to Kenya
And you struggle to understand all this
How any person would kill your daughter
To send a message to Kenya
As if your daughter was Uhuru to send troops to Somalia
But you will be shocked at how one, under religion,
Would kill your daughter
If one prayed to a rock, who bothered him?
If one worshipped the sun, who bothered him?
Who troubled those who hid in a dungeon, bespectacled with goggles,
Waiting for the end of the world?
Don’t we have witches who still dance naked, bumping on our doors?
Don’t our people commune with the ancestors
And speaking to a mountain, can tell who killed our loved ones?
But who has bothered them?
Who has killed them?
Haven’t we, in our tolerance, allowed them to worship whoever they worship?
So, what changed, you will ask,
That your daughter was killed?
Looking at your daughter’s shattered head
Her eyes never recognizable
Her face, a horror to watch,
A face which the other day lit with love
And smiles and warmth and brilliance
A face which, despite the hard rural life, kept you
A face which gave you courage to face tomorrow
But now, a mangled flesh, paler than death
Horrid than horrid can ever be
And you will still ask yourself,
Akinyi, what wrong did you do to these religious extremists?
When you prayed, did you lift your Bible a little higher?
Did you mock them? Did you mock their God?
Did you challenge them? Did you anger them?
How Akinyi?
But Akinyi wouldn’t respond
But your head would spin at all this
This senseless killing, this violent death
Of your daughter.
No rational explanation will make sense to you
And it would be better that it remains as such
Because your life hadn’t prepared you for
A time when heartless people will descend upon your
Unarmed daughter
And just kill her, just like that
Never thinking of how much she meant to you
The memories you hold of her
And hopes you had on her.

Amid your sorrow, you will stumble upon the Bible Verse
Psalm 127:1
Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain.

C) Salem Lorot 2015


Sanaa Rizvi said...

This is so sad and devastating... You have done complete justice in portraying it.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Sadly, God cant protect the innocent from such deranged and mindless acts. You wrote well about the many thoughts and questions and agonies surrounding this horrible event. Around the world, we are all speechless at the mindlessness of it. Such killers do not value life. I do not know what must have happened to them in their lives to make their actions possible. It is beyond understanding. Thank you for putting a beautiful young woman's face to this atrocity, Salem.

Salem Lorot said...

Thank you Sanaa and Koko Sherry Blue Sky.

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