Even God Has a Place Called Home
by Ray Mwihaki
It’s no coincidence that I find myself rooted here: in the valley of the damned, bathed in a brilliant light cutting through the fog that grants me cover as I let the mint and lavender and sage and chamomile and gooseberry and wild raspberry swallow me and deposit me into a belly of safety. I need to say, before we go any further, that I am not a bad person. I am just a storyteller hoping to stay out of everybody’s hair. Like the louse that doesn’t like the taste or smell of your hair and chooses, instead, out of self-preservation, to burrow in the cold wet earth with the worms and the moles and the bones of the old men buried there.
Peculiarity often attracts ants and maggots and those fat blue-green shimmering flies no one likes. It’s just like some extraterrestrial honey harvested from the pyramids in Sudan or the underground hives made by the stingless wingless bees of the Martian plains. That’s why the drones are circling here and everywhere I am rumored to have been seen.
I have to confess that I may have lived my life into some kind of urban legend. Eighty years old in a world where humans, with or without enhancements, only live to about thirty or thirty-three—if they’re lucky. Living in one of the only forested areas in all the land. When they search for me, they believe they will find, somewhere in me, the fountain of life. Well, I’m not the one to comment about that!
When they took away my Jamila and sent me a video of her cremation in the loneliness of the dead night, I ran to my mother’s land and dug and dug and dug and dug. I dug in the day. I dug at night. I dug till my fingers bled. I dug till I reached the rotting wood that held my mother’s remains. Until then, I hadn’t been able to sleep—not since Jami heard the viral symphony that was killing the children.
Even though I could only sleep in the village quiet, I made regular trips to the city to bring food packages to those I cared for. I spent the early hours foraging for greens and fruit, and every once in a while, slaughtering a chicken. The blood on the cloth I carried the chicken in would make most of them gag. The wilted greens would see neither pan, nor plate, nor oral enamel. They didn’t see why I bothered with the inferior food while they had their CRISPRmeals crafted specifically for their genes. They didn’t see that the land was dying all around us, and so was all we held dear—including ourselves.
“Haani is here again with her pre-colonial organics!”
So, me and my pre-colonial organics stayed in Kiawamagira for longer stretches of time. I forgot to yearn for Thoni, my wife. I learnt not to miss my brother Mathu and his family. I learnt to stay far away from the city and its sterile scents. I found home in the land that held my foremothers, the trypophobic creatures, the forgotten food sources, plants filled with the holy spirit, and Ngania, my reclusive cousin.
It was on Ngania’s small transistor radio that I heard Thoni’s death announced, many years ago.
“Revered food scientist, Thoni Mawasa, is dead.”
Mathu came to visit. He couldn’t make it past the first circle of mugumo trees, so wide they kissed. He was one year younger than Thoni and was afraid for his life and mine. He looked frail, burdened by implants hanging loosely around his chest, wheezing as he spoke. He wore a tunic made of gurney material like Owuro’s people—drunk for a prophecy that favored their wretched lives. I must have asked if his beliefs had saved him, because he went on and on about solitude not pleasing the gods. How my separation from godlike people had robbed the universe of the chance at redemption.
“He is a fool who rejects the counsel of the wise.”
“Bollocks!” I spat at him, I believe, before I turned, desperate to let the wilderness swallow me.
“You are older than I am, and Lord knows you very well might be the oldest person on the lived planets!” he shouted. “Wisdom is knowing another year will not pass before you die, and horribly if you insist on staying here. The Lord has given us authority over life and the creation of it, but we have to do it together. Haani, come with me to Owuro, be saved before your time is up. You have many sins to atone for. Thoni and your kind have suffered fates I wouldn’t want my sister to suffer.”
“You will die before I do, Mathu. Who I love has nothing to do with your afflictions. Mark me absent from your sermons, you slave!” The calm in my voice was not reflected in the forest around me. The nettles glowed red, bamboo grew spiny, and the air seemed to blow faster, rising into the sky right where I stood. In that whirlwind, my voice was a roar. “My people—my people are love, nurture, and truth. You will know nothing of the sort in your miserable life! Look at you, here, breathing hot nonsense to a person more alive than you are. I have lived this long and I will thrive even longer if the earth wills it. If I am to die, I’ll let this land feed on my remains. I have no material possessions to appease Owuro and no need for him and his gospel of the damned.”
The same radio that announced Thoni’s death announced his.
“Mathu Kanyiru, revered pharmaceutical biotechnologist, has died at age thirty-four. He leaves behind a fourteen-year-old daughter, Anika Abinyi.”
I stopped believing in God before it was cool. That made me a bit of an outcast early on in life. I was fine with it. It made it easier for me to settle down with Thoni when being queer and out was only for the privileged few. When the struggle was a phase we went through. I mean, there’s nothing fantastical about that particular struggle, or any, if I’m honest. But I must admit, it was the chosen few who could walk tall and stand proudly queer. Things should be easier now. They definitely had got easier by the time we were having Jami. We got the most beautiful little one with wits that sparked your mind and eyes that glowed green in the dark and a laugh that made birds stop to listen. Only Abinyi’s laugh topped hers. With a chuckle, she could make you feel warm, make the stars reflect every memory of your youth and make you watch.
Anika found me on her thirty-eighth birthday.
The mugumos were no match for her height and athleticism. The bamboo and the napier did nothing to deter her. The nettle glowed as the leaves brushed her calves. She stood atop my house and spoke to my cats with such casual ease, I was convinced a drone had cut through the canopies and invaded my space.
She always had something mystical about her. A child who never slept or cried. When she was older, she made things with random items and told strange stories about them and everything else, till the day Jami died. She did not speak another word. She was six then.
She didn’t wait for me to emerge from the house. She spoke when she was certain she had my attention.
“Aunty, show me where to plant my seed. The moon will be full after two suns. The farm must be ready before then. The festival of lights must begin.”
My life had been devoid of eccentricities like these. It pleased me to no end that she was here, whether as a figment of my imagination or an actual living, breathing Abinyi. I obliged and walked with her to the spot in Ngania’s farm, atop a small hill, where I heaped excess manure. She looked as normal as children looked in our days. She had no lens covering her eyes, no metallic protrusion on her wrist, no buttons behind her ears.
“Here.” I pointed.
“Aunty, I’m sorry I annoyed you when I said I knew Jami would die.”
“Abi, I don’t hold it against you. You knew. Just like you know what we must do now.”
“Leave me here.” She knelt facing west. “The earth will bear fruit that ripens different with each moon. The fruit protects the earth. The earth imparts wisdom to form the one that’s needed in this time. Bring forth your healing, our healing, we, the children of the land…”
I left her, and sat on the Corsican mint outside my door and waited.
She stayed there that night, squatting in the hole she dug, causing the earth to sizzle. When she came down, I saw her eat for the first time—a salad I made. She shoved it down her throat, oming and noming till she was done.
She slept till the full moon had passed.
I knew Abinyi was behind me when my skin began to tingle and the Corsican grew warm and riotous, digging into the pores that dotted my skin, going deeper still to grow around my heart. I knew that she knew I knew that she was who she was. For the next three days, the forest that had grown dark and haunting was illuminated by a light so white, its embers burned my pupils, bringing them to bloom, brown on the inside with fiery red petals.
When the moon took over the sky on the third day, Abinyi’s fully grown seed found us. Where Abinyi had been, a green open pod remained hovering over the ground.
“Aunty, this is Kagendo, Kiawamagira’s child.” Abinyi said in a matter of fact way that put me at ease. “We shall leave till it is safe to return. There will be a group of us, coming in trickles to plant seed and settle. Those who shall find you shall find you. Those who come after shall have Kagendo to show them the way. The land is now safe.”
That was last night. The moon sucked them into herself the minute they sat in the pod. The same light that filled the sky as Kagendo grew is here now.
Ray Mwihaki is a puzzle to herself and many others. She finds joy in words, wax, colour, nature and a wide-eyed little one who is always looking for ways to make her smile. When she isn’t writing, you’ll probably find her on a farm somewhere trying to make Frankenstein mint varieties. One day, she will be successful. That day isn’t too far off.
Watch Ray and author Christopher Rowe for a virtual conversation about “Even God Has a Place Called Home”