By Josephine W. Kinuthia
It all started one day as Ciru was walking down a Nairobi street. As she turned a corner she bumped into someone. It was an elderly woman, dressed in tatters, and she was obviously drunk. Ciru tried to side-step her, but the woman blocked her way.
“Give me something small, please,” she implored. “I am so hungry and…” Before she could finish, Ciru dug her hand in her purse and gave the woman fifty shillings.
Later that evening, she was surprised when she met the same beggar. The woman approached her timidly. “I want to thank you for your kindness this afternoon.”
“That’s Okay,” she replied and looked more closely at the woman. Despite her ragged clothing, there was something dignified about her bearing.
“I wanted to give you something for helping me,” the woman went on. “It is something small but I suspect it is valuable”.
From her pocket she removed a small red stone that glittered beautifully in the sunlight. It was a ruby.
She went on to explain that she had found the gemstone at a dumpsite and decided to give it to a generous person.
“Keep it,” she urged, “it is of no use to me because I am sick and dying. But I know it will bring you good luck.
For the first time Ciru noticed how pathetically thin the woman was and the bad rash on her skin. Not wishing to offend her, she accepted the stone.
It was starting to drizzle and Ciru wanted to leave. She gave the woman one hundred shillings and got into her car.
The Old woman turned to leave too, giving Ciru a strange, sidelong glance. As smile played in her lips, and her eyes twinkled.
Ciru was 24 and lived with her parents in a lovely bungalow at Kinoo, 30 miles out of Nairobi. Hers was a happy, sheltered life in which poverty and want were alien. She had two brothers and a baby sister to whom she was very close. Later that night she snuggled into clean, sweet-smelling bed sheets and thanked God for the good life.
“How lucky I am.” She thought.
She would later recall that thought.
The next day dawned cloudy. It was the chill that woke Ciru from her slumber.
Who had left the window open, she wondered crossly. It was still early and she was surprised that so much light came through her heavy curtains. She was unable to open her eyes for a while and an itch under her arm made her scratch herself. She felt something crawl over her fingers and wondered what it was. She opened her eyes and saw the cloudy sky above her.
She frowned and looked around her and nearly fainted with shock. She was lying on a filthy gunny bag and was covered with a worn blanket.
Obviously she was having a nightmare, but just then another bug bit her delicate skin, and she scratched herself hard. It was then that she should have woken up with a start. But she didn’t. Instead, a cold gust hit her and she had to sit up and look around.
Ciru was lying on the ground, surrounded by beggars and street people. She recognized the location on the banks of a stinking river that was a favourite place for street people to shelter for the night. Like one in a dream she looked around and pinched herself hard, unable to believe her eyes.
Still stunned, she stood and made her way towards a nearby shop. The image that looked back at her from the shop window made her gasp. She saw a dirty woman with a tangled mass of hair, a filthy dress, ad a rag of a cardigan. On her feet were old bathroom slippers, one of which had a loose strap. Her lips were dry and cracked, her eyes red and bleary, her skin caked with dirt.
Ciru looked closely into the window and touched her unkempt hair. Suddenly, she realized there was something vaguely familiar about the sweater she was wearing. Yes, the beggar she spoke to yesterday, the one of the red gemstone! She was wearing that sweater, or one like it. Now it all came back to her, and almost automatically she put her hand in the pocket of the dress. There it was!
The red stone sparkled in the morning sun. She had forgotten about it. Surely it had something to do with her nightmare.
She put it back and walked off dejectedly. She became aware of passers-by who avoided her, the women fidgeting uncomfortably as she approached them.
She stumbled back to her spot by the river and sat down, drowning in her despair. She took out the small stone and looked at it.
“So you were conned, huh?” a voice spoke out. Ciru looked up into the face of a middle-aged woman. Like all others in this place, she reeked of dirt and poverty. She spoke again.
“That stone you took, do you know anything about it?”
“No.” replied Ciru “it was given to me by a woman who told me…”
“That it would bring you luck,” The woman broke in, smilingsympathetically.
“Come with me,” she continued, “and we will talk. My name is Wambui and maybe I can help you.”
The two walked to a secluded corner of the sleeping area and sat down under a tree. Wambui opened a parcel and invited Ciru to eat with her. The cold food consisted of the remains of chips and pieces of bread obviously salvaged from a garbage dump. Ciru felt the bile rise in her throat. “You’d better get used to this kind of thing,” Wambui advised her without ceremony. “It may become your way of life.”
They got talking and Wambui told Ciru the story of the cursed ruby. It had been handed from one person to another, and whoever had it was doomed to become a street beggar. That person had the option of reclaiming his or her life by handing it over to someone else. The catch was the holder of the stone had to convince the victim to accept it as a good luck charm.
“That is how you landed in this mess,” said Wambui. “The charm was given to you by a woman called Regina.”
As simple as that.
It was on her day on the street that Ciru hatched a plan to change her circumstances.
The past three days had been the most traumatic time in her entire life. She kept expecting to wake up from her nightmare, to no avail.
The cold and hunger were real, the filthy public toilet she used was real, and it made her vomit the first time she got in. Then there were the red eyed men who harassed her constantly for all manner of favours. If it weren’t for Wambui protection she would have lost her mind. Still, she wept herself dry everyday wondering why this was happening and why her family was not looking for her.
She reached the city center, determined to do the needful. She could not go on like this; she looked at her reflection in a shop window and felt the tears come again.
Presently she approached a couple of well dressed women, one of whom was holding a small child in her arms.
After excusing herself and claiming she was hungry, one of the women gave her a Ksh100 note. Ciru indicated she wanted to say something.
She thought of the misery of her current life and the bitterness she felt towards Regina for landing her in it; she thought about the cold and hunger she endured, the lice infested bedding, the leering looks of dirty, ragged men, the hostility of the public and viciousness of the police.
No! She could not subject anyone to such a life. Ciru looked into the eyes of the child. She could not let a child suffer as she was suffering.
Without another word to the women she raced across the street in tears and did not stop until she got to the river bank.
“I cannot stand this kind life. But what option do I have. What shall I do, Oh what shall I do?” she cried in despair.
“You are still here?” it was Wambui standing over her with her usual sympathetic smile.
“I am still here,” replied Ciru tersely, wiping away her tears. Wambui sat down next to her and removed a parcel from her torn Jacket.
“Let us eat. It is not much but you will feel better.”
Ciru narrated the events of the day to Wambui who offered the best advice she could; just keep trying. Harden your heart and you will do it. That same day, Ciru approached a fresh faced school girl, a tall well dressed gentleman and a heavily pregnant woman.
Each time she managed to sell her story about the magic of the stone but could not bring herself to hand it over to transfer the terrible curse to anyone else.
Later that night she sat again with Wambui talking. She had made a decision, a difficult one indeed.
“I cannot do it, I just cannot. Let me leave the curse and God will release me and take me when he will.”
She walked to the edge of the water and flung the red stone into the murky waters.
Wambui sat quietly looking at her strangely. They got ready for bed and Ciru wept for a long time before falling asleep.
Morning dawned bright and beautiful. The sun came out early, lending a beautiful atmosphere and soft warmth to the freshness.
Ciru rubbed her eyes fully expecting to see the sky but she did not. She saw the cream coloured ceiling and walls of a room she knew so well and felt herself in a warm, comfortable bed.
Astonished, hardly daring to believe her eyes, he got up. It was her home! She was home! She raced to the mirror and saw a beautiful 24 year old with well cared for hair and a clear complexion. She was restored; she was herself again!
There was a million things to do, but not now. She took a bath, got dressed and headed for the city. There was someone she had to see.
Just as she turned down the path leading to the river bank, a smartly dressed young woman stopped her.
“Hello Ciru,” said the woman giving her a gentle sympathetic smile.
“Yes it is me. Come, let us talk.”
She led Ciru to a coffee shop and they sat a corner table.
“Wambui, I cannot believe it. Is it really you? What happened?” asked Ciru.
“It was you who defeated the curse, by your courage and self-sacrifice.”
“Yes. When you refused to pass on the curse, you broke its spell.”
“But who are you?”
Wambui smiled again. “I am an angel sent to watch over people cursed by the ruby.”
But why didn’t you tell me all this when I was under the curse?”
“It would not have been the same thing. The sacrifice had to come from the person own heart and that person had to be willing to suffer the curse without hope of a reprieve.”
Ciru listened I amazement. This was shocking as waking up to find herself on the street.
“Look who’s over there.”
Ciru turned to see Regina walk in accompanied by a good-looking man.
“Good for her.” Ciru bore no malice. The two friends talked about their brief adventures on Nairobi’s streets. Finally it was time for goodbyes.
Wambui bent over Ciru and kissed her warmly on both cheeks.
“Goodbye Ciru, You are a wonderful girl.”
“Goodbye Wambui. Thank you for everything.”
As the good angel turned to leave, Ciru caught sight of a gold necklace fastened around her neck. A pendant dangled at its end and Ciru managed to catch a glimpse of it. It was a small, shiny red stone.