On her lap lay the baby. With her right hand, she held an umbrella. Next to her was a cup with three shillings. Three silver coins. With her left hand, she held the kanga covering her baby. Raindrops splashed on her clothes. She didn’t mind. In fact, she didn’t seem to mind anything but her baby’s comfort. The weather was chilly but still, she didn’t mind. She actually seemed used to everything going on around her. Two ladies walked towards her, one looked into her cup like she was about to drop more than a shilling. The blonde then looked up, smiled at her friend and said, “Only three coins.” Like sanctified monsters, they walked away smiling. She stared at the cup, looked at the two ladies walking away, stared back at the cup, down at her baby then looked up like nothing had happened. “One more coin,” she muttered to her baby.
A young man wearing a fancy suit walked towards her, reached into his pocket then dropped a coin. A ten shilling coin. I saw her smile as she said, “Thank you”. The young man walked away. Again she looked down at her baby. A few minutes later, the rain stopped. People started showing up in larger masses. They all seemed to assume she was nonexistent. She still didn’t mind. Two hours pass, still no coin. A young boy in the company of his mother walks past her. He seems bothered. So he turns to his mom and asks, “Aren’t you helping her?” His mom turns to him and says, “No son, I don’t have time to waste on filthy people.” The young boy seems shocked. So he keeps on walking. The unexpected happens- after walking for a few yards, the boy stops, frees his hand from his mother’s and runs back. He draws out a 50 shilling note and puts it in the cup. The mother angrily walks up-to him threatening to beat him in public. His response is simple, “That was my money to buy ice-cream. I don’t want any ice-cream.” He walks away leaving his mom no choice but to follow suit. The woman looks at her child, a tear falls down her face. She says to her baby, “We have a note but still, one more coin.”
Marion is her name. Isaac is the baby’s name. For the past six years, I’ve seen her seat on the pavement from my office. Each morning at 8 she arrives at her spot, lays a kanga on the pavement, sets her cup beside her, holds her baby and waits. She is 33 years old. A single parent of two boys. She walks with the assistance of crutches because she has no right leg. The story of how she lost her leg-it’s summed up with a short story. One night her husband came home drank. Beat her up as usual. On that night, he decided to leave a mark. The mark- he chopped her leg. The same night she decided she had gone through enough during her marriage. She left. Weeks later after her leg healed she was fired. I guess the employer was embarrassed by Marion’s state. There was Marion; no job, no husband, no right leg and a son. She tried to go home to her parents. They said she was an abomination. An abomination for having gotten married to a drunkard, for having lost her leg to a husband meaning the husband must have been displeased with her and for having nothing to call her own. Her parents cast her out. Her husband was not an option. This marked the beginning of Marion’s journey.
She got herself and her son a house in Kibera. The rent, she wasn’t sure she would manage but she was sure she would try. Furthermore, she had enough money to cover the deposit and the first month’s rent. A week in their new home, they had only had one meal. She had tried 5 job opportunities that her new neighbors had told her about. All involved becoming a help or a cleaner. No one wanted to hire her. They all said she couldn’t manage. She was unfit. At the end of that week, she made up her mind. She was ready to take the only option. She was ready to start begging on the streets. I mean, how hard could it be? Monday she started her job. The same Monday was the first time I saw her through my office window seated across the street with a child next to her. On her first days, she would open her mouth to ask for help. She was determined. Some people would heed her cry yet others would just assume her. One week into her job, I was making my way from work I stopped to drop a coin or rather a note. She was grateful.
About a month later, I didn’t see Marion for a week. No-one knew of her where-about. On a Tuesday afternoon, she came back with her child. The same evening she stopped me. I guess she had been waiting for someone and that someone happened to be me.
“Hey, can we talk?” she boldly asked making passersby gaze. Maybe it was because she uttered some English words or because she knew me. Whichever the case, I stopped.
“Yea, sure. I can buy us some tea at the Magnolia café,”
“I hope you will not mind but please buy some takeaway tea. I can’t walk into the café. It’s not for people like me,” she said with a touch of sadness. “I insist,” she added.
I got her some tea and food. To this day, I don’t know how the café manager allowed me to walk out with the cups and plates.
“You seem like a kind face. A month back you gave me a good amount of money. It helped cover the rent. Thank you.”
“No need to mention it. I’m Daisy. I work across the street. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen you in a while,”
“I’m Marion. This is my son Jeff but not Jeff Koinange,” she smiled (I guess she didn’t tell jokes a lot) One evening I got home tired. Jeff was asleep. I accidentally fell asleep on the seat. Unfortunately, I forgot to shut the door forgetting I don’t reside in Runda. I was woken up by some noise in the house. Due to my leg, I couldn’t act fast. Next thing I know, a man was in my house. It all happened so fast. I couldn’t scream or shout because I was in shock and I didn’t want to wake the baby. The long days of sitting with him begging are enough torture. About where I have been- we could say I’ve been nursing my wounds,” she said it lightly. No tears, no regrets, and no hard feelings.
The next hour I sat listening to her. I couldn’t imagine how her life had been. She opened up, told me about her life; where she grew up, how she studied to be a secretary in college, how she loved her man so much that the nights he came home drank she’d do everything for him, her dreams, her marriage, her losses, and her life in Kibera.
It’s been 6 years since Marion and I had that conversation.
As I sit at the café watching her tend to her child with care, I wonder how she has come to love him so much yet he was a result of rape by a man she didn’t know and has never seen again. A young boy walks up to her. It’s her firstborn son, Jeff. He’s really grown. Now he’s in school. Every evening he keeps his mom and younger brother company, sits beside them and does his homework on the pavement which acts as his table. The confidence in that boy.
Walking out of the Magnolia café with two cups of tea, I approach Marion, Jeff, and Isaac. Jeff excitedly yells auntie that’s what he calls me. I sit next to them as they sip their tea, Jeff excitedly talks about school, his teachers, his subjects and his dream to build his mama a house once he becomes a surgeon. I can notice the pride in Marion’s face while she listens to her son.
“Marion, how has today been?” I ask
“Auntie, you know what she’ll say,” says Jeff
“One more coin,” we all say in unison bursting into laughter.
In the midst of that laughter, I come to a realization; they have found comfort and happiness in the struggle. They like it as it is. The life of ONE MORE COIN.