Night Flowers

Kibera-nightThe nights are painted with the strokes of a platinum moon, the pale warmth of lanterns in  the seller’s stalls, and the crimson embers of the charcoal fires

In the faint light are the late night vendors trying to sell the last of their wares; others waiting for the winding down of the day and the return of their husbands or wives or children; still others are lingering for just a moment more in the fading day.

The kipupwe winds come low and cool, a hint, a hope of rain carried on the currents
Collars are pulled up against the cool and the swirling dust, eyes turned away adding to the treachery of the uneven, rutted road underfoot. The taps are freely flowing as the music begins to stir up crowds of revelers in the road houses. The noise chasing a child who races past carrying some last-minute purchase for the evening’s meal. Fathers weary from a day searching for work, mothers weary with a day of fetching water and carrying fuel, all moving past the revelry. The day’s last tide is ebbing homeward

From the evening shadows emerge the strangers come down from the hills, sent by parents having too many to feed, sent for a better way. Expected to send money to help those at home, expectations burdening their young hearts. The strangers once heard the piper’s voice and tradition Kikuyu song, “Oh, you are so beautiful. You should go to the city, to Nairobi. The city is the place for one as beautiful as you.” Now they are haunted by its newness, pursued by those who prey on their innocence.Tracing rumors of a friend from the village who was said to live nearby. Remembering hopes, these days lost. And now there are only the colors of the night.

One stranger stood shaking like a night flower in the wind

A child in woman’s clothing, old before her age, sad before her time. My cross tells her that I am not here for her business. But it is still early for the trade and so she has time to pass. She told me of her home in the highlands to the north. Without the rains the food was low.
The sun would eventually take the rest from the family’s fields. As the oldest she’d been sent to look for work, but here the times are as hard and the jobs are few. Her voice breaks a bit as she speaks of home and her family, but she hopes the money she might send home will help, help her younger sisters.

The men tumble from the road house on their way home, there is now no time for me. I tell her there is room at the inn, but she has a trade to ply and a family to support. A final teenaged smile as thank you for asking, quickly changing to an older more alluring bearing. Readying herself to be reabsorbed into the darkness, into the shadows.

Behind me the lanterns hiss to a stop, the embers cool and die while the moon moves on in the sky. The day is complete having ebbed homeward, resting to be ready for the next day’s flood. In the hills her parents think about their slowly starving family and their hearts are overcome as they hear. a younger sister hum, softly singing, “Oh, you are so beautiful…..”

Dagoretti – September 10, 1997

Something  a little different today. This was something I wrote in 1997 while serving as a  missioner in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya with Franciscan Mission Service.

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