They say that ‘nothing can dim the light that shines from within.’ But when Oliver stared into Hope’s eyes, there was no light. Not even a glimmer of ambition. What was there was an emptiness and a darkness and deadness so powerful that it was infectious. The more Hope spoke, the more Oliver felt his own light dimming.

They are inside a mud shack that’s in the middle of millions of other mud shacks. In this neighbourhood, shanties are cramped up like junky boxes thrown out into a dumpsite. They lean on each other for support in no less way than the inhabitants lean on each other for survival. The air is humid and reeks of a cocktail of all varieties sewers have to offer. For the short period that Oliver has been here, he cannot seem to remember what fresh air smelled like. He cannot also remember the number of sewage streams he crossed making his way to Hope’s house, because they were too many.

Hope was seated across Oliver. He was asking her questions and she was responding. In her arms she had a baby, who was sucking on her left tit as if someone threatened to take it away and never give it back. It is the way life works around here. You learn from a young age to grasp on opportunities and make the most out of them because you never know if they will come around again. On her feet, a toddler was playing with something plastic, something which occasionally found itself in the toddler’s mouth soaked with saliva. Two more children busied themselves with a ball just outside the door as they waited for their mother to finish up with Oliver or Oliver to finish up with their mother – it didn’t matter. What mattered to them was they were hungry and needed their mother to do what mothers do, provide.

“I got pregnant when I was in Form Two, you see.” Hope explains.

“Was it part of the plan?” Oliver inquired.

“No one wants a baby when they are in Form Two.”

And like most unwanted things, she considered removing the embryo. What stopped her was the fear of dying. She had heard stories of girls who lost their lives in the process of abortion. She did not fancy being part of that statistic. So she kept the baby. That marked the start of her unfortunate journey, a journey of fearing loss and keeping things. She feared that she would drop out of school because she kept her baby, and she did. She feared that the father of the baby would bail out on her, he did. She feared sex would result in another pregnancy, it did. Two years after the birth of her first born, she got pregnant with her second child.

“Did the father assume responsibility?”

“No. He vanished. As soon as I told him about my situation, he disappeared. I have never seen him again,” she recalls, staring down at the dirt floor as if searching for him amongst the grains of soil; as if hoping that he would somehow appear and assume his responsibility.

“Shit. So did you also keep this one?” Oliver asks. Though, looking around at all these kids, he has a feeling that she did.

“Yes. I did not want to die,” the expression on her face after those words gives the impression that she possibly wishes she had.

No one knows the anguish of losing a child better than a mother who has lost a child. And no one can understand the wreck that was Hope’s life after she lost her second born child to pneumonia. She was devastated. The very essence of living was lost. She no longer saw in colour – everything become a dreary grey-scale. You see, for a teenager brought up by a bitter uncle (another long story), for a girl so young at heart, for a mother so inexperienced, she had no idea of how to make lemonades when life handed her lemons. So she took to drugs and alcohol as a means to escape her reality, keeping and carrying with her the loss of her son, and on a larger scope, the loss her dreams.

Yes, Hope used to have dreams before she lost them. She wanted to be a policewoman when she grew up because she wanted to protect girls in her community. For a person who’s childhood was robbed off by the bitterness of a bitter uncle and the harshness of life, she wanted to be a policewoman so that she could arrest thugs and rapists and unruly men who caused unnecessary unrest in her neighbourhood. Not even dreamlets of those dreams remain now.

Also read: Pain Cannot Accurately Be Defined

Misfortune knocks more times than fortune does at a persons door. Because life is always on a degeneration trajectory. One night, high on substances that cannot be spelt, Hope opened her eyes to a blinding light and the voice of someone trying to say something to her. But this person sounded as if they were in Jupiter. She was spread on the ground, cold. Then, as she tried to make sense of what was happening, she felt a sustained sharp pain on her lower abdomen, and she let out a cry. Her whole body was aching, she was bleeding. The security guard rushed her to hospital, where she would much later discover that she was pregnant. Again.

“So you had been… raped…?” Oliver tries to ascertain, unsure of how to ask such a delicate question. It felt like walking barefoot on broken glass.

Silence.

Extended Silence.

Her gaze is fixed firmly on the floor. She is rocking in her chair in a manner that Oliver can’t quite tell whether it is to put the baby to sleep or an expression of frustration. Then in an emotional outburst, words and tears come tumbling out of her:

“Yes. I kept another child.”

Oliver felt his eyes becoming increasingly watery. For a girl only twenty three years old to have five children with five different men was overwhelming. She barely provided for herself let alone her children. How much more painful can life get for a person? As he questioned no one about the situation of Hope’s life, one of the kids who was playing outside emerges at the door and demands for food – because that’s what kids do, they demand for things. This one does not seem to care that his mother is in the middle of something, and he certainly does not give a damn about this Oliver guy. Oliver fondly examines the child who is now looking at his mother (who has not responded to the food demand) impatiently.

To be honest and not to be judgemental, Oliver thinks these kids look as though they have been taken out of a trash bin. They were very, very dirty and covered their nakedness in tatters. As he continued looking at the child he wondered whether kids like these dream. Do they dream past their present? Do they dream beyond getting their next meals or clean water to drink? Do they aspire to be meaningful people when they grow up or they just survive with what life throws at them? Oliver does not get the answers.

“We are never sure of a meal, you see. We live like birds. Only surviving one day at a time. By God’s grace.” She says. For a person called Hope to be so hopeless is beyond Oliver’s understanding. She lives in absolute destitution – not even her life is hers. Sometimes she gets Kibaruas, other times she doesn’t. Sometimes neighbours offer her breakfast. Other times they don’t. It is only until recently that she got a job as a cleaner at the local health facility. They pay her a small salary and give her food for her children.

One kind doctor at the health facility told her that she could not afford to get pregnant again. She gave her options. Contraception options. Hope understood, and settled on a method. One does not have to get pregnant each time they indulge in sex. One can take control of their lives by getting contraception.

Oliver asks her what she thinks the future holds for her. She says, “Every mother wants a good life for their children. But that’s only a dream. And like all dreams, you wake up.”