By the time I was 8 years old, I had lost both my parents. My father died from gang violence and my mother left me at a children’s home soon after. I never saw or heard from her ever again. When you hear of children’s homes you think of the well-managed institutions whose children get to travel the world thanks to donors. In fact, I was somehow excited the day I overheard my mother telling a friend that she intended to leave me there. I thought it was a ticket out of the slums. I thought a rich family would adopt me and I’d become someone in society.
That never happened. It wasn’t even a possibility. From the day I stepped into that so-called children’s home I felt like I had entered the gates of hell. The children couldn’t have looked more miserable. We worked throughout the day – cleaning, cooking, doing laundry. It was a never-ending task. There wasn’t a single textbook in sight and most of the children didn’t know how to read or write. Apart from the homeowner, there was one other adult in the area– the home owner’s son.
I knew I wouldn’t last a month there. I stayed for almost 5 until the perfect opportunity presented itself and I ran away with a group of older kids.
“Uko pekee yako, msee.” They said to me letting me know that I was not part of their plan.
I tailed them the first couple of nights as I had no idea how to survive on the streets. They would carry out violent crimes during ungodly hours – stealing handsets and cash from drunk pedestrians. They never got caught and almost always they’d drop some cash which I picked up and pocketed. My heart raced every time I emerged from the shadows to patrol the crime scene.
“Mwizi! Mwizi!” I remember one woman screaming when she saw me crouching near the badly beaten man.
“Mwizi!!!” More people chanted until it caught the attention of some security guards at a bank.
I saw a long rifle pointed at my direction and I started running as fast as my feet could. With all the adrenaline pumping in my body, it felt like I was flying. Thankfully, they didn’t shoot at me. Why would they even waste their precious bullets on a street urchin like me?
It finally dawned on me that the streets weren’t as mercifully. Nobody cared that I was only 8 years old or that I hadn’t eaten in two days. They were out for blood and would do anything to shed mine. To them, I was a hooligan who deserved death. But there were worse people than me walking among them.
I caught my breath and looked for cover still clenching to the two-hundred-shilling note. Then, I walked into another hell hole. It was a homeless den along some abandoned streets. Druggies, prostitutes and children all gathered there.
“Oh no.” I said under my breath. This was worse than being chased by an angry mob. They would tear you up limb by limb for a ten-shilling coin. I rubbed my face then tucked then note under my tongue.
“Who are you?” one of them asked but I didn’t reply.
He had an intimidating stature for my little 8-year-old self. However, I stood my ground and looked him in his bloodshot eyes.
“I asked you a question.” He asserted grabbing me by my jacket and roughing me up. He didn’t ransack me or harass me for any money. I guess these were the affluent streets in town. He sized me up wondering why I didn’t wet myself or squeal like a pig at the mere sight of him.
“Let him in.” I heard a woman’s voice say. She turned out to be the most amazing person I’ll ever have the pleasure of knowing. She was also the gang leader’s girlfriend.
He did as she asked and before I knew it, there was a plastic paper filled with a variety of leftovers. Without any regard for where it came from, I ate like someone who hadn’t seen food for two days. This was a rare opportunity on the streets and I intended to make the most out of it.
“Are you new here?” the same woman asked. Everybody was quiet and a bit uneasy.
“Yes. I ran away from Faulu Children’s Home.” I answered her with a slight sadness in my eyes recalling the torturous months I went through.
“Funny, I passed there as well. I stayed there for two years before I ran away to another home. That’s where I met Kali. One day, he tried to burn down the owner’s house but things didn’t go to plan and we had to run away. Things are much better here.” She continued for about five minutes before realizing she was ranting.
I didn’t mind listening to her, though. Apart from saving me from Kali, she had the sweetest voice I ever heard. She became like a mother to me. I needed that to survive on the streets.
On my tenth birthday, Kali assigned the riskiest task I had ever done. He wanted me to accompany some other gang members to a supermarket where I’d create a distraction as they robbed it. This scared me. I always remembered that long rifle I saw when I was new on the streets. Additionally, some of the people I ran away with were already dead because of such risky jobs.
“You better not fail.” He said as a warning.
I said goodbye to my streets mother and left with the others without any suspicion of what was about to happen. The first guy took position near the exit. He was dressed semi-decently as all of us. We didn’t look like we lived on the streets. I went in with another one then we split up. It was in the middle of the day so the supermarket barely had any shoppers.
It was easy at first. I faked having a mental problem which drew almost all the attendants’ attention. The other guy packed anything he could get his hands on under his overalls. The act was going so well that even the guards got distracted. He managed to sneak past the entrance guards and disappeared in the crowd of people.
On the other hand, I was still in the supermarket. They had called the police by that time and I thought of various ways I would escape before they got there. I knew there was no way out if the police came and it wouldn’t take them long to figure out I was a street urchin.
As I thought through it, I saw Kali’s huge figure. He spotted me surrounded by the attendants and came up to me looking as distraught as he could.
“Son!! I’ve been looking for you.” He said
I tried not to crack a smile as his acting skills were laughable. His voice was as blunt as always with little emotion. Regardless, I ran up to him and hugged him. The attendants dared not question him. He looked like he could take out the entire supermarket with one blow. We returned to the streets and Kali let me know as he was willing to let me go with the police if it wasn’t for Regina, my streets mom.
I felt a sense of family on those streets that I never felt in any house – not even with my birth parents. These thuggish people showed me more love than any “decent” person. That why I will always call these streets my home.