“Hubert, where are my red heels!” she shrieks out, as she frantically searches for her shoes among her many pairs.
She has a particular set of shoes in mind, matching her newly bought handbag from Duscs wear. She needs to stand out, look good, it mattered to her.
I join in the search, a slight frown on my face, perhaps wondering why these particular shoes meant so much to her.
“Got it,” she shrieks again, and immediately fumbles into the new pair.
Slightly irritated, I reach out for the car keys by the dining table and head for the back door leading to the garage. I start the car engine, close my eyes and rest my head on the Volvo seat’s head rest, waiting.
A few minutes later, Aidleen storms into the car, eye pencil and lipstick in hand. I hear the front passenger door shut, but I remain still, eyes closed. I am deep in thought.
My wife had changed over the years, tremendously. Sundays had become red carpet occasions ever since her re-union with her long time group of flashy friends from campus days. The conversations had changed to who has the latest Gucci bag matching with shoes, wearing the latest fashion trend, and so on.
Hubert was born into a conservative catholic family, where church Sundays were more of worship days than fashion show offs, where dress codes really didn’t matter, or the kind of car you owned didn’t raise an eyebrow when you drove into the church compound.
The local community knew each other by their last names. What mattered was the genuineness of your worship, what was in your heart, how you spoke to God one on one, how you saw people for who, and not what, they were. For all we know, God looks into the heart, not into your Ferrari, MLG Mercedes or two thousand dollar custom-made Armani designer suit.
He really believed that, deep down.
“Hubert! Hubert! Can we go please? We’ll be late, honey. Why didn’t you wear the blue suit I had taken out for you? Babe, you need to look good.”
He leans forward and kisses her forehead, and whispers, “I’m good”.
He had worn a plain t-shirt embroidered in white and blue stitches, and faded khaki pants to match his oxford brown leather shoes.
“I look alright,” he whispers to himself, as he as he stepped on the accelerator and listened to the soft humming of the powerful Volvo engine as it came to life.
He loved the engine’s sound, how the machine picked up with ease, gliding past other cars on the highway with effortless power for such a big car.
“Hubert, let’s go!”
This time there was a heightened sense of impatience in her tone.
He obliged, and finally straightened his back. He changed gears, pressed the accelerator and eased into the driveway leading to the gate. The sun was hot, perhaps too hot for that time of day. He put on the air conditioner, it was instant, and the cold air felt refreshing to the skin.
The church usher stood at the gate entrance in bright blue African attire, clean-shaven and neatly dressed, patches of sweat clearly visible under his armpits, as he brilliantly tried to squeeze in as many cars as he could into the small parking area. Our turn came, and we were ushered into a small space beneath a leafy small tree right next to the entrance. It was a good spot, easily accessible and under a shade.
Aidleen was busy waving frantically at her friends as I parked. I couldn’t help notice the parking lot looked like an exotic car exhibition, a paradise for car lovers, fit to pass for a diplomatic convention of some sorts.
Melany was the first to catch up, looking very exquisite in a dark blue Bavaria suit with a matching handbag and shoes. Mike, the husband, was beside her, proudly clutching his newly bought iPhone 8 masterpiece, and we exchanged niceties over hugs and kisses. The ladies had already began making their way to the church entrance, greeting acquaintances and friends along the way. Catching up on the past week with church members. I turned to lock the car, and then she caught my eye.
Our eyes locked in what might have seemed like eternity.
She just stared, a beautiful little girl in a pale-white wrinkled dress that seemed too big for her, dark short hair and a pair of worn out slip-ons for shoes. Despite the creases and over-sized attire, she looked very neat, perhaps trying to fit in, as much as she could in a world she knew very little about.
She stood beside the entrance gate, motionless, hands clutched together in front of her. She smiled, but her eyes told a different story, one of sadness and despair. Eyes never lie. I slowly walked towards her, trying to smile as reassuringly as I could, vaguely acknowledging greetings from incoming congregation members.
My gaze locked on the little girl. The fixation growing the closer I got to her.
“Hello. How are you?” I asked. “Are you okay?”
She nodded, hands still clutched in front of her. She looked frail and weak, perhaps saddened by how life’s cruelty did not discriminate against age. Her cheekbones stood out, almost piercing the thin skin under which they held so tightly. Shoulders back, she had a confident pose, and despite her pale skin, her beauty still stood out.
She looked frail and weak, perhaps saddened by how life’s cruelty did not discriminate against ageGilbert Kariuki
Unconsciously, I held out my hand to her, as gently as I could. She did not hesitate. She put her hand on mine, clutching it tightly, as if never to let go. I didn’t want her to let go. There was something special about the little girl. I didn’t know what it was, but it was special.
We walked hand in hand towards the church entrance, and sat beside Melanie and the husband.
Church service had begun, and though the sermon was about giving unto others as the Lord had blessed, I wasn’t paying much attention. My mind wandered to the little girl beside me, hand still holding tightly to mine.
“Who is she? Why was she standing all alone by the gate? Where were her parents?”
I was lost in thought, as the priest’s voice became fainter and fainter….
Fifteen years later, I sit in the front row of a dignitary-packed conference room. I listen to a well-dressed, young lady telling the extraordinary story of her journey to her current status. She is the youngest leader in the history of a global humanitarian organization that focuses on Children Rights and Welfare.
Her story is captivating, inspiring, emotional, exuding faith and persistence all through. Against all odds, she made something of herself. Against all odds, she triumphed over life! Against all odds, that beautiful little girl in a pale-white wrinkled dress that seemed too big for her, short hair and a pair of worn out slip-ons for shoes, was now a global symbol of what it takes to achieve dreams.
All it took was a ‘hello’, and stretching of a hand. I took her in and cared for her as my own. Our eyes locked, as they did fifteen years ago.
She smiled, and this time her eyes told a different story, one of appreciation and love. She ended her life story with a soft ‘thank you’, amid a roaring standing ovation from the crowd. Our eyes still locked, tears streaming down both our faces, she came down the podium. We hugged and just like fifteen years ago, at the small church compound, she put her hand in mine, and clutched it tight, as if never to let go.
I never did let go – it’s been fifteen years, and it all began with a stretched hand to a beautiful little girl in a pale white wrinkled dress.
In life, we come across people on our paths whose destinies are intertwined. A simple stretch of a hand can mean a lifetime difference. As we are blessed and cursed in different capacities, so do we have a spiritual duty to reach out to others and try to correct the imbalance this world serves humanity!
Story by Gilbert Kariuki
I hope you enjoyed this story feature today. Nairobi is cold this month, stay warm. – Elly.