Face Mask

My Covid-19 odyssey

  • Anne Kagure Wahome

“Please keep your voice down. I have explained to you already that she used all the money today.”

“You will not tell me what to do in my house woman! How can she afford to think of luxurious things right now?”

“She had no other choice. You have to understand.”

“She is very stupid and definitely takes after you because it can’t be me. You teach your daughter how to make better life decisions because she clearly can’t.”

“Please stop. It’s only for one night.”

“So now we sleep hungry for such stupid unnecessary things? I shall not support such silly acts in my house.”

Mama was certainly going to heal another bruise tomorrow and it would be on me. My name is Wanjiku and this is my story:

It was now two months since schools were closed indefinitely after the first Corona case was reported in the country. I remember how excited I was for an early holiday away from the teachers and assignments. All students were. Two months later, I would do anything to be in school again. I come from a family of eight – my parents, four brothers, one sister and myself. Before the Corona pandemic, my dad worked as a cook at a nearby secondary school. Mama had been having health issues for some time, forcing her to retire early from her grocery store and stay home to take care of my sickly youngest brother. Now with my dad jobless and under a lot of ‘stress’, as mama always puts it, as the first-born child I had to take up the parental role rendering me the bread winner in the family. If you ask me, hanging around the bodaboda stage for a whole day was not a stress cure but I only kept that thought to myself.

I had tried doing laundry for pay around the neighbourhood, but clearly a 15 year-old was no comparison to the experienced ‘mama fua’ who had been doing the job almost all their life. With no other jobs available, I started making mandazis and hawking around. At first my business was very promising.

I would make 300 shillings a day, making me so proud of myself. However, as the days went by my sales dropped drastically. On a good sales day I would only pocket 150 shillings a day. That would be little, but enough to buy food for my entire family. One meal was our usual routine. If we made it to two meals, we would consider that a blessing, three meals would be a miracle. This was another reason I missed school.

Today was no different from the other days. The sales were still devastating. I even tried other neighbourhoods – totally risking my health, considering I couldn’t afford a hand sanitiser. But the sales were still consistent. I only managed to earn 80 shillings. A little amount, but it would still buy the family something to eat if only I was not in this terrible predicament. My younger sister had been using old rags for her menses for some time and it was so sickening. With my 80 shillings I walked into mama Brian’s kiosk and bought sanitary pads for 50 shillings, a packet of milk for my sickly brother and sweets for the rest of my siblings and headed home. On my way back I was planning on how I’d narrate exciting stories from my school best friend to my siblings to put them to sleep and hopefully ease their hunger. Maybe the story of her Zanzibar vacation or how her mum fights their house help every time she serves them yoghurt for breakfast, instead of fresh juice.

Mama was not so pleased after I told her I spent my earnings, but I could tell she was not angry with me. “You did what you had to do and it’s okay. But your father will be outraged. You know how he is,” mama said.

I couldn’t care less about his rowdy behaviour or the insults and blows I’d get, especially after the relief on my sister’s face when I handed her the packet. I could still hear him yelling at mama, saying she was taking my side instead of his. “Sanitary pads are not luxury and you would know that if you weren’t so ignorant,” mama yelled back at him.

“Wanjiku, tell us more about Zanzibar,” pleaded my sister. The eager faces on my other siblings told me they were also interested. We were in the farthest corner of our room or as we would call it on nights like this, ‘our safe place’. My plan was working well. I only hoped this pandemic would end and I’d be back in school soon.