When my sister Precious left home I was lonely and missed her every day. She was five years older than me and I always looked up to her. She finished school and went to Nairobi to train as a nurse. This was what she had wanted to do all her life. I remember her playing nurses at home in the village. Setting up her “treatment centre” she would tell us younger ones to line up and then she would bandage our arms or legs with bits of cloth and sometimes she would make a sling from an old maize bag or a crutch from a piece of firewood. Drops of water were put into our eyes or ears and she would ask us to open our mouths wide so that she could look down our throats. One day, she packed my mouth with pieces of mango and told me I had an abscess. I found it hard not to swallow the mango, and saliva was running down my chin when Precious at last allowed me to spit out the “abscess”.
Precious was very happy in Nairobi and loved her nursing. When she came home for holidays, the neighbours would greet her with “Welcome home, Nurse. Hurry up and get your certificate. We need a new nurse in the Under-fives Clinic”. The boys used to make fun, calling out, “Nurse Precious, you can examine me any time”. Precious just laughed at them.
Then Precious stopped coming home. We heard nothing from her for months. When she did not visit us at Christmas, my father said he was going to Nairobi to find out what was wrong. I begged him to let me go with him and he at last agreed. We got a lift as far as the main road and waited for the bus which would take us to the city. I was overawed by the sights of Nairobi and kept gazing around and asking, “What’s that, Tata?” My father was too worried to answer my questions. He just kept walking, an anxious look on his face. We reached the hospital and went straight to the School of Nursing, where my father had taken Precious two years earlier to begin her training. A group of student nurses were just leaving the school and we approached them, asking if they knew where we could find Precious Kanye. They looked surprised and finally one girl said that Precious had left the School and had gone to UK. My father just bent over with shock. We helped him to a bench and someone brought him a drink of water. “Please tell us all you know”. I begged but the girls could only tell us that Precious had left three months previously, telling them that she had made contact with someone who was willing to pay her fare to UK and to get her a place in a University hospital to get a better training. They had heard nothing from her since then. When my father felt a bit better, we went to the office of the Director of Nursing. She confirmed what the girls had told us, saying she understood my father was aware of Precious’ plans.
The Director took us to the canteen in the hospital, where we were given a meal, though we could eat hardly a bite. After the meal, my father seemed to get stronger. “We are going to report this to the police”, he told me, so we asked for directions to the police station and soon found ourselves waiting to be seen by a police officer. We waited for a long time and finally got our turn. We explained everything to the police officer who interviewed us. He did not believe that Precious had left the country. “She probably got pregnant and was ashamed to go home and tell you she had lost her place in School”, he told us. “We will make inquiries. Come back next week and we will give you any information we have”. We were bitterly disappointed but we could only leave the police station and go to the bus station and travel back to the village. When we told my mother the story, she wailed and wept as if Precious was dead. Women from the village came when they heard her crying and they too cried and wailed. Somehow the word spread that Precious was dead.
The days that followed were just like funeral days. My parents could not eat or sleep. My younger sister and I tried to take care of them and neighbours brought food and firewood and water and supported my mother as she mourned for her daughter. My father went to the fields to work. He was totally speechless with grief.
When a week had passed, my father and I went to the city again. We went straight to the police station and met the same officer we had talked to the previous week. “We have made our inquiries”, he said but have no definite information”. Then he asked us to go back home and to send him a photograph of Precious. He said it would help in the search for Precious. Sadly, we headed back home and next day we sent the photograph.
Three weeks later, we had a visit from one of our local police officers. He said he had got a message from Nairobi saying that Precious was indeed gone. She was pictured on a security film at the airport as she passed through in the company of a man. Contact would be made with the police in London to see if she had arrived there. We could only pray now that she was safe. A month passed and then we had another visit from the police. Precious had been filmed passing through Heathrow Airport in London in the company of the same man.
Why had Precious just gone away like that without telling us? Why did she not write to us? Would we ever see her again? These were the questions we asked each other day after day. Then, out of the blue, we got news, or rather, I did. I was walking home from school when a jeep stopped beside me and a white woman got out and asked if I was Nyambura Kanye. I said that I was and she gave me an envelope. When I opened it, my heart leaped. The note inside was in Precious’ handwriting! She was asking me to go and meet her at a hostel in Nairobi. “Don’t tell our parents”, she wrote, “not yet”. The white woman said that she would drive me to Nairobi the following day. Next morning, I left home as if going to school and met the white woman on the road. She drove me to the city and entered the gates of a big compound. Inside was a building, a hostel. The white woman, who was called Mary, took me to a room and inside was a girl in bed. I looked at her in shock. This thin, sick-looking girl was nothing like our beautiful, happy Precious. Tears rolled down our faces and we hugged each other over and over. Then she told me what had happened:
“I was getting on very well with my nursing, always passing tests and being praised by the Ward Sister. In the canteen one day, I was approached by a man who told me he had heard I was a top student. He asked me if I would like to go to UK so that I would be in a better training school, a University. He said he was recruiting bright girls for the London programme. I was very wary but he was persuasive, saying that I would have an excellent career and would be able to send money home to our parents. He also warned me not to tell others because they might be jealous. At last, I agreed and a few days later I left for UK, accompanied by the man I had met in the canteen. I was frightened and excited at the same time.
“When we arrived in UK, I was taken to a house on a very nice road with trees and gardens and big cars parked in the driveways. A woman took my bag and showed me to a bedroom. She said I should rest and she would come back later. Soon after that, the man who had brought me from Nairobi came into the room. He pushed me down on the bed and raped me. I screamed but he only laughed. He told me to clean myself up and then went out and closed the door. That was the beginning of weeks of torture for me. Every night I was raped. Night after night. I was a prisoner, only leaving my room to go to the bathroom or to eat in the kitchen. I cried bitterly when I thought of all of you back home. I had been so stupid”.
“How did you get away, Precious?” I asked. “How did you get back to Kenya?”
“One night, a young man came to rape me. He looked kind, a bit nicer that the others. I begged him to help me. When I told him I was a prisoner, he said he had no idea. He thought I was a professional prostitute. He told me to keep quiet and he would get help. I waited and then there was a lot of shouting and banging in the house and a policeman came and opened my door and took me out to a car. I was taken to a police station. I made a statement and then I was taken to a hostel. There were a few other girls there. A week later, I was brought back to Nairobi. Some women came to the airport to meet me and they brought me here. I have been treated very well in this hostel. I got medical care and counselling. I still have nightmares and I am not very strong yet. I need a bit of time. Most of all, I am ashamed to go home. What will our parents say when they hear what has happened?”
I wanted to take Precious straight home with me but I knew she was right to ask for a little more time. I said I would tell our parents that I had seen Precious and that she was safe. When the white woman took me home, I cried with happiness. I burst in the door and gave my mother and father the good news. They had been wondering why I was so late getting back from school. They wanted to go straight to Nairobi to see Precious, so I told them she was trying to get stronger before she saw them. They would not listen to that and next day, they both travelled to see Precious. A decision was made that Precious would go to stay with my cousins in another town until she was well. That night my mother sang and danced, clapping and praising God because she had got her daughter back home safely.