Forgiveness is one of the hardest things that a person can do, but like most difficult things, it is also most fulfilling. The weight of bitterness and unforgiveness, when laid down, brings the most liberation to a person.
When Viola shared part of her story for the first time, it was in a group where we were studying forgiveness. The topic was heavy for her, she sat there shaking her head, wondering if everyone else really understood the immensity of the issue.
When it was her turn to speak, she simply said ’for me it is very difficult to forgive someone’.
The group leader probed further, and Viola yielded and shared part of her story.
Viola endured such suffering in the hands of her loved ones to the point of being suicidal. She bought poison, administered it to herself and her 2 children (aged 4 months and 3 years then).
She lives to tell the story.
Her narration left me mulling over, what kind of agony can make a mother contemplate killing herself and her children? How did she gather the courage to do it? What was her state of mind? What happened to the children?
I remembered stories in the news every so often of parents who kill their families and commit suicide. I was shocked at how close such cases are to us. I followed up.
I meet Viola almost a year later.
We sit in a restaurant and the waiters never bother us, they never come to take our order, as if aware of Viola’s weighty story. And they were right, because when Viola started talking, I could not imagine her being interrupted. She poured her heart out.
I am a roots guy, and so I wanted to understand her background, how it was for her growing up.
Viola’s misfortunes started when her mum died of cancer when she was to join form one. Life became difficult. She was left with her dad, two brothers and an older sister who was married.
‘My dad never cared about us, he became a drunkard. He would come home, change his clothes and disappear’ she starts.
The man didn’t pay rent or cater for any of the children’s need. While in form two Viola stayed without going to school for a whole year.
‘I started plaiting people’s hair to get money for food’ she remembers shaking her head.
Viola’s dad was working, and he earned good money, enough to support them but he was too deep into the bottle to see any sense. They knew because they saw his payslips. Viola’s brother had to go and report the dad at his workplace which shocked him to some responsibility. But it was short-lived.
One term in school, another term at home became Viola’s version of secondary education.
The stress was too much, so one day she packed her bags and went to stay with the sister. The sister’s husband was accommodating and he took her to school. But it became a burden for him, because Viola’s dad was around, living in the same neighbourhood, and he could not understand why he could not provide for her.
‘My dad became worse, he would be dropped and picked at a pub, only came home to change his clothes and go’ she says.
Viola’s dad asked for early retirement, against the advice of the employer and everyone else. He was given his benefits worth 30 years of work. He took the cash and put it in the top drawer of his wardrobe, but the children did not know. His drinking buddies, having gotten a sniff of the cash, did not let go of him, they would accompany him to the house, make sure he has changed and out they went again.
All the while the kids needed school fees and rent hadn’t been paid.
‘We had to sit him down and ask what he wanted to do with his life, we told him we were tired of him’ Viola says.
He was remorseful, like most sober people would be, and he apologised but he did not reveal that he had money in the house. They did not even know that he had retired.
By the time they got wind of what the mzee had done from one of his friends, it was too late. Viola’s brother did a search in the house and found little money that had remained.
‘We will not touch your money, hatutaki useme we took part in wasting your money, enjoy your money and remember none of us benefited from it’ was the brother’s message to the dad.
The money was soon finished, and they had to start supporting him again, paying his rent and buying him food. He was still sought by his employer due to his experience but he declined the offer to go back.
Life became unbearable in Nairobi and the man decided to move to the village.
‘After high school I went to college and did a secretarial and business management course then started working at my elder sister’s school as a secretary, temporarily while studying and then full time after I finished college’ she says.
‘When I was finishing form four, I met a man, he was a family friend, our mums were in the same chama together’ she remembers.
The friendship grew into something else after school and she got pregnant while living with her sister.
‘I did not even know that I was pregnant, it was my sister’s husband who suspected it first’ she adds.
At his insistence, and accompanied by the sister, Viola did the test and indeed she was pregnant.
She had to explain ‘I told them about the father of the child, but I was shocked because I wasn’t ready to be a mother.’ She decided to move out.
‘Did you live with this guy or just alone?’ I ask.
‘I was alone, even at the time of delivery of my baby girl. He had gotten a job in Tanzania and moved there’ she answers.
He supported them and also traveled occasionally to see them. Then later he got a job in Kenya and they started living together.
‘Life was good, we lived together well until I got pregnant again’ she says.
That is when life changed.
He got another job which took him back to Tanzania and when he came to visit (while Viola was expectant) he was in a kanzu. He had converted to Islam.
‘He had changed kabisa, he was a different man, he did not want to see the bible or anything Christian even on TV’ she says. ‘He started introducing our first-born daughter to the Quran and that really pissed me off, she would take her for Islam classes while I was at work at my sister’s school.’
The shock came when the daughter told her that she had changed her name to ‘Fatuma’. That is when she realized that things were not right.
‘I cannot live with a Christian, there is no way that light and darkness can live together’ he told her.
He was asking her to convert to Islam or else…
‘How did you respond?’ I ask.
‘I got mad and told him that he was the darkness, that if someone had to leave then it was him.’
Viola would go to church and he would go to the mosque.
This was her first real test, life had thrown a spinning ball to Viola and required much more of her than before.
One day the guy packed most of his things and went back to Tanzania. He claimed that his new assignment had become more demanding and he would be coming less often.
‘He did not want to know about how we were living, he stopped supporting us and that is when I was pregnant with my second baby’ she remembers.
He would come occasionally, with a bag like a traveler on transit.
On one of the visits Viola’s curiosity got the better of her and she decided to check the bag, only to find baby clothes inside.
‘I found out he had another child, he did not accept at first but later agreed after his friend confirmed it to me.’
The child lived in the same estate as Viola. She found out that he would come and stay at the ‘other house’ for some days before coming to her. She decided to end things, she called him and told him to find all his stuff at the gate.
‘Was he providing for you at that time?’ I ask.
‘No, in fact there is a time I asked him for money to go to the hospital and he refused to give me, when I removed his stuff, he started threatening me’ she responds.
It was soon time for delivery of the second child and again Viola asked the man for money to go to the hospital. He told her to go and have the baby in Tanzania, where his mother was, or else he won’t support in any way.
‘Labour started the same day he told me that, my sister took me to hospital to deliver and left me there’ she says.
It was a grueling labour. She bled a lot. At the time when the baby was near, she could not push. It took 4 doses of induction drugs for the baby to come out.
‘The nurses were asking me if I was normal, no one had ever used 4 bottles before’ she says shaking her head.
‘I was so stressed, I almost died, it was really bad’ she continues. ’I was monitored for 4 days and then I went home.’
What name would you give such a baby?
The man had texted her asking that the baby be named ‘Hakim Karim’ but she was so emotionally and physically beat, that she decided not to name the baby, she even left the names of mother and father blank.
She went back home with 10 stitches, a nameless baby and an uncertain future.
The sister took her in and cared for her. Her things were moved to a two room mabati structure in the same compound where she would move later once she got her strength back.
‘It was a struggle because the baby would cry a lot, he could cry the whole night, I could not sleep, my sister would pray at night, but he still cried’ she says.
‘I could get tired and just let the kid cry, mpaka nikachukia mtoto, nikasema kama atakufa wacha akufie hapo, I was just tired’ She adds, the frustration clearly cut on her face, throwing her hands in the air in surrender. It is years back, but the emotions are still raw. She stares at the walls of the restaurant, but I know her mind is far off. Pictures must be playing in her head, questions must be lingering.
In suffering, when there are no more questions to be asked, what do people do?
While the baby couldn’t stop crying, Viola was still bleeding, nursing 10 stitches, and had to be supported to walk and to bath. She feared eating, and yet she had to breastfeed the baby.
The mother in law or should I say the mother to the baby daddy wanted to come from Tanzania to see the baby. Viola’s sister and her husband welcomed the idea, maybe she could see the baby and he would stop crying.
But when she arrived it became an issue with the sister’s family. The husband caused and made it clear he did not want Viola in his house. Seeing herself as the reason and not wanting to be a burden, she decided to move to the mabati two-room house.
‘It was a cold house with mosquitoes, and the baby was just 3 weeks old’ she says.
When the mother in law’s visit came to an end, she decided to go with her to Tanzania. The boy was still crying badly, and they figured that maybe meeting the father would change things.
The father only saw his child for one night and he was off. The baby’s navel looked like it could burst when the baby cried. They took turns at night to nurse the baby. A week later, Tanzania was unbearable, and she decided to come back to Nairobi.
The baby was prescribed all kinds of medicine, conventional and traditional, but none seemed to help.
Viola’s savings had depleted. She asked the sister’s husband to pay her since she was on maternity leave. He paid part of her salary with which she was able to pay rent 4 months in advance.
‘My sister would send me food but through the back door so that the husband would not see’ she says.
After 3 months she called her sister and asked about resuming work. The sister initially agreed but on the eve of opening school she came to visit.
‘My husband says that you should continue to take care of the child’ she said. She went on to suggest to Viola to look for another job. Viola pushed, and the sister came clean that indeed her job with them was over.
No job, no savings, two kids, not fully healed… life was sending another curve ball her way.
One Saturday she left the kids with the sister to go and look for a job.
‘I came back in the evening and found my children at a neighbour’s place, my sister’s daughter was watching from the window, she ran out and told me that the mum was crying and that she should not come close to their house’ she says.
‘Viola ajipange na watoto wake’ was the declaration of the man of the house as reported by the daughter.
Viola was shocked at the treatment. She cried and cried, the reality of the burden she had become weighing heavy on her.
‘Why does your sister treat you so bad’ the neighbours would ask.
No work was forthcoming. Life was hard. The sister still sent her cooked food but even that came to an end. It reached a point Viola was not talking with her sister. Depression was slowly pitching tent in house.
‘I called my brother and asked him for help to pay rent, he sent me 2k in bits which ended up being used to buy food’ she said.
The young boy became sick and she could only take him to a free clinic where he was only given painkillers. They would both cry at night, joining their voices like a choir, as if calling for help that could only come if they cried louder. No help came.
‘I was a burden, people stopped picking my calls’ she says. ‘I remembered the father of the kids, I called him and asked him to send some money at least for food but he refused’
It was desperate times, having not eaten for two days, she went to the sister and begged her for food for the kids. She said there is no food for them.
Viola had lost a lot of weight, most of her clothes did not fit, she was embarrassed to go outside, people started saying she had AIDS.
With the last ten bob she had, she went to the local shopkeeper and bought red rat poison. One dose wouldn’t be enough, so she took two more on credit.
‘And I hope hauendi kujiua, unakaa mastress’ the shopkeeper retorted.
‘Mimi nakaa mtu wa kujiua? hii ni ya panya’ she laughed it off.
She mixed the poison and took it first. She forced the 3-year-old daughter to drink amid cries. She gave the 4-month-old boy the last dose. She left the door wide open. They went to bed, their stomachs’ only visitor being the poison in two days.
‘I just want to die, this life is meaningless to me’ she made a prayer, which should have been her last.
Viola and the daughter on either side of the bed and the boy tucked between them was the arrangement of their last journey on earth. Away they would sail, from their tribulations in this world. The main door was wide open, symbolic of their readiness to enter the next life.
The boy slept instantly, the girl woke up crying at night. She eventually slept.
‘I woke up at midday the next day, I was sweating profusely, my clothes were dripping wet, the bed was also wet’ She says
‘I started crying regretting that I have killed the children and am alive’ she continues.
A neighbour heard and came.
‘Nimeua watoto’ she told the neighbour.
The neighbour went to the bed and picked up the boy and he was alive. He took him to his house and gave him milk. After some time, the daughter woke up. The neighbour later gave them food.
Viola could not understand, was the poison expired or what, she recalled a strong smell from the concentrated mixture she made.
Whether a touch of divinity or luck, it was clear that death had refused to kiss back. Viola knew that God wanted her to live.
The same day another neighbour referred Viola to a job. She went for an interview two days later. She had to leave her kids with a cousin who lived five kilometres away. It pained her because her own blood sister was living just next to her but could not help her.
She got the job and began the next day. It was a promotional job and her first posting was Tuskys OTC in the Nairobi CBD. She walked to work every day of the first month (about 10km one way) until she got her first salary.
The work was erratic, but she was always called for more work whenever they had promotions due to her good performance.
‘I went for counselling, which really helped me get myself back on my feet, with the money I got I paid for school fees for my daughter at my sister’s school, they were shocked at the change’ she says noting that her daughter had been sent home for lack of fees.
After a while she got another job with Startimes during the digital migration. It also ended after some months. The same day it ended someone called her and hooked her up with another job.
Things worked out in such a way that when one job ended, another opened in the same day or the next. She is now on her 4th job since then, all through referrals.
The financial struggle was alleviated but she still had a complex one to deal with. ‘I was not speaking to my sister or any member of the family, I told myself I don’t have a family, I decided to live my life with my kids’ She had declared to herself.
She did not even inform the sister when she moved from the mabati house.
‘How is your relationship with the family now?’ I ask.
‘One day I decided to invite my family to my place, and they came’ she answers clearly surprised because she thought no one would show up.
‘I updated them on my life, some thought I had a rich boyfriend, they could not believe how far I had come’
It was a divine reunion, they ate together, forgave each other and prayed together.
‘I told them I want to live at peace with them’ Says Viola.
Like any other family they have issues, but Viola chose to let go of the past and embark on a restoration journey, a journey that she is on even now.
The father to the kids called and wanted to come back but that request was swiftly declined.
And you must be wondering what happened to Viola’s father after he moved back to the village.
He met God. He is now a deacon at a church there. He remarried. He preaches. He goes for missions. He is a responsible man. In fact, that is where Viola’s kids are staying for the December holiday. And he is the one who asked for his grandchildren.
When he moved back to the village, he continued drinking, and this time the local illicit brew. Then he met someone who gave him the biography of retirees who moved back to the village from Nairobi and how they died of because they drank themselves silly and could not cope with the new life. He held Viola’s dad’s hand, took him to church every Sunday and discipled him to who he is now.
As we walked out of the restaurant, I ask Viola how she is feeling after sharing her story with me.
‘I feel relieved, I have never shared the full story with anyone, the first time I talked about it was at the bible study, I cannot explain how that happened’ she responds adding that had vowed never to share the story with anyone, even her family.
But I think I know what prompted Viola to share her story during that bible study on forgiveness. It is an effect I have observed with the word of God. It has the ability to bring to the surface issues buried deep in our hearts, it is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, judging the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4.12).
But it only works when if we allow it. Like Viola did.
**Names and locations have been changed or omitted for discretion purposes