Dreams of the big city and the mountains on the way

Wednesday March 18 2020

Hellena dreamt of the large, modern apartments of the capital she had seen on NTV, her own desk in her own office. She had even made a plan for getting there. But now, the growing swelling in her belly made her pause for thought. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA

The unseasonal heavy rains that Wednesday afternoon in Kijiji Village had washed away Hellena Chausiku’s last reserves of patience. She decided she had had enough. She wanted more. More than the mud, the village gossip and bullying by her mother. The draw of the lights of the city had taken hold of her.

Just a month before, Hellena had passed her Form Four exams at the top of her class. She had high dreams which reached over the hills of Alila, stretching all the way to Nairobi. They certainly did not involve washing dishes at the stream for her mother for the rest of her life.

She dreamt of the large, modern apartments of the capital she had seen on NTV, her own desk in her own office. She had even made a plan for getting there. But now, the growing swelling in her belly made her pause for thought.

Her phone buzzed briefly in her pocket and just as she was about to reach for it, her mother interrupted her daydream.

“Girls your age shouldn’t have to be reminded to use clean water for rinsing,” her mother said. She had become bitter ever since Hellena’s father had walked out on his family, never to return. That was 12 years ago.

In a softer voice, she said to Hellena: “Come and talk to me when you’re finished. I have news from your cousin.” Then she picked the full jerrican at her feet, swung it onto her head and started walking home.

Trying to hide her boiling frustration, Hellena stood and felt weak as she poured the now dirty water on the drenched ground at her feet. Despite the rains, the river that snaked its way through Alila was still clean and she could clearly see the sandy bed. She wondered what news her mother had from Susan, the cousin in the capital.

As she rose to her full height, she noted a sudden movement behind her reflected in the water, felt a gentle push against her shoulder that sent her splashing into the water. This was not the first time that her boyfriend, Tonny Mtundu, had played this trick on her.

Tonny and Hellena Chausiku had been fast friends for almost three years though their relationship had caused much friction with Hellena’s traditionally-minded mother. Girls her age, she said, should plan to get married, not carry on with boyfriends. But the hole left by her father had made Hellena turn towards Tonny’s wildness, even if his erratic behaviour made her nervous sometimes.

“Darling, don’t you love me?” she demanded, shaking the water off her skirt. This question had become a running joke between the pair. Now, it took on new urgency. She was starting to rethink her plans.

“I loved you, I love you and I will still love you as long as I live,” Tonny said. Hellena noticed the slight slur that gave him away. Tonny could afford to drink even at odd hours of the day or the month. After all, his parents were the wealthiest in the village.

“Why did you do that? And, you always say that but never show it,” Hellena retorted, trying her best to scold him but in vain. The slowly dawning realisation that grew from her belly was changing her outlook and she felt the need to act. Tonny stared at this new Hellena, wondering how to respond. As she picked up the dishes and started walking home, looking more beautiful than he had seen her before despite her drenched clothes, he wondered what had become of the light-hearted girlfriend he used to know.


Tonny ran to catch-up with Hellena. He had a deep affection for her though he knew he sometimes went too far. His family’s house was on the edge of the village and as they passed it Hellena reminded herself why he had stood out to her. His family was well-connected and successful.

So, when he had started flirting with her, sending her text messages all those years ago, she had taken more than a casual interest. She felt he was the type of person she wanted to be with. She admired his confidence and it helped that he had good looks, strong arms and an athletic body.

He walked faster to keep up with her.

“Didn’t you see my text?” he asked, before he noticed the tears running down the face that had become a fixture in his mind for so many years now. Ignoring him, Hellena ran to her home, past her mother who was busy winnowing the green grams they had harvested in the last season.

Hellena sat down near the kitchen table, her head in hands as she sobbed quietly.

She hadn’t felt right for weeks now; the nausea in the morning told her what she did not want to acknowledge. Yet her mother, like Tonny, seemed unaware of what was going on in her life and her belly.

Just then, her mother walked in, clouding the door with her big frame as she announced, “Susan has said you can stay with her.”

Hellena’s spirits rose as she drank in the news she had been waiting for such a long time. A small window of hope opened ever so slightly, letting in a ray of hope that glowed in her heart. She knew instinctively that now was the time to come clean with her mother.

“I have news too, mother,” she said, returning to yet more sobbing. “I am pregnant.”


What will happen to Hellena after her confession? Find out in the next episode.