Reena Shah
Posted March 11, 2009 from Kenya


Nairobi is a city filled with flamboyant buildings that tower over each other as they break the monotony of the clear blue skies. However, Nairobi is also cultivated by a plethora of young and able children traversing aimlessly through this exuberance. This is the story of one of those children.

“I have no name. At least to you, I have no name. I am simply a young boy with grubby hands, a snotty nose, tattered clothes and unkempt hair. I am one of the many faceless children that roam the streets.”

He is right. There are so many of them. If he hadn’t stood as long as he did at my window, I probably would have ignored him, like I did the others.

“I did not intend to find myself here,” he said to me. “I wish I could say that I had a home I could return to, but sadly, I am one those same nameless, faceless annoying brats you see on the street. To you, I am invisible.

You want to know how I came to live on the streets. You actually want to know who I am and why I am here? Ok, I will tell you.”

This is how we began our journey together.

“My name is Kagai. My mother, Mama, used to call me Kale. I do not know why she called me Kale. I do not know even know my father’s name. Actually… I did even not know that everyone had both a father and a mother… at least until I was five years old.

I had been asked by my teacher to come into to school with my parents. When I came with neither the next day, my teacher did not hesitate to verbally abuse me. Apparently I was unable to do anything right. I explained that Mama was working and was unable to come. When asked about my father, I could not answer… so I stood mute. This made my teacher ferociously angry. I was sent out of class to the sound of laughter from my classmates.

When I returned home that evening, I questioned my mother about my father. She was not happy with my question. Ordinarily, I was used to being a disappointment to her and so I was also used to receiving a few beatings. I knew I was an ugly child. I also knew I would never be successful, not like my brother or my sister. I can still hear her telling me that a cripple can never be successful. However, I was not prepared for the punishment she gave me that night. From that night onwards, a cripple did not deserve food.

When I was 8 years old or there about, I returned home from school early. I was excited. I would be able to play football before Mama returned home from work. Happily, Mwangi (my best friend back then) and I kicked the new ball we had recently made all the way home. Mwangi and I had sifted through garbage to collect plastic bags to make the ball. We were very proud of it. Despite my happiness, I knew I had to rush home and change out of my school clothes. Mama would be extremely unhappy if I got them dirty. I did not want to be punished by her.

I remember that just as Mwangi and I neared my home, I heard my name being yelled. “Kale! Kale!” I looked up to see Mama standing in the door way of our one room home. “Kuja hapo!” I heard her shriek. I approached timidly, afraid because she had caught me playing football. Mama did not like me playing football. She said I could not play because I was a cripple. I did not understand. I was really good at football. I was slower, but that was only because of my crutches.

She grabbed my arm and pulled me into the house. Immediately, she started to beat me. First she slapped me, then she started to beat me with her hand and eventually she caught hold of a rungu and cruelly began to batter me with it. She was wild. She did not stop, even when I asked her what I had done to upset her, even when I apologised, even when I cried out in pain. She continued to beat me. Soon, in the midst of the frenzy, I noticed my blood spraying on her clothes. Mama also noticed my blood on her clothes. That made her even more irate. She began to yell at me for dirtying her clothes and then started to beat me all over again.

At some point, I noticed my brother in the far corner of the room. You could see the fear on his face. My sister and he were crouched in the corner watching Mama torturing me.

Mama stopped eventually. I do not exactly know when. All I remember is that it was dark outside. As soon as she stopped, Mama ran out of our home. That was the last time I saw her.

My siblings and I stayed home waiting for her to return. We waited for three days, but she did not return.

Then one day a large man came to the door. As he stood in the door way yelling at us, it seemed as though the sun suddenly disappeared and night came. He told us to leave our home. His instructions did not have to be repeated.

Despite having not eaten for several days, with the little energy we had, we scrambled our tiny bodies out of our home as quickly as possible. My brother and my sister, not being crippled like me, were able to get out faster and they soon disappeared in the alley ways around our home. I attempted to follow them, but being tired, hungry, as well as still hurting from my recent beating, I soon gave up and turned back towards our home. I sat waiting nearby for two days hoping they would return to find me. They never returned. Eventually I left my spot to search for food, having watched a new family move into our home.

This is how I came to be live on the streets. These dark and dusty alley ways are where I sleep at night. These dustbins are my source of food. Begging is my education and my career.”

Comments 1

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  • Maria de Chirikof
    Mar 11, 2009
    Mar 11, 2009

    Reading this makes me feel more like 'wow, wow, wow!' since it is very vivid and powerful.