The Fruit of Ashes
The watcher saw Mama Ruth crumple like a rag in the ash heap that had once been her home. Her blistered fingers curled around a hard dry lump of red earth and crumbled it to powder. Nestled at her feet a half melted cooking pot folded in on itself like a chicken gone to roost. An ember still glowed from the corner where her goat skin mat had provided a place of rest.
The watcher knew that the refuge of twigs slathered with mud and dung plaster had protected her during the heavy rains and blistering suns of 40 seasons. Her husband Joshua Njoroge had risen in the community from a charcoal maker to an elder in the nearby corrugated tin shack used as their church. For 25 seasons the couple had soaked in the Word of God like their small shamba [garden] had soaked in the water from heaven.
When the missionaries became sick and left them orphaned, Ruth and Joshua had waited patiently for the return of their teachers.
Patiently, they waited for the seeds they had sown in the hearts of their neighbors. Patiently, they had watered. Patiently, they had met week after week to sing and to pray and to study God’s Word. A dozen seasons had passed.
The old widow focused on the crumpled heap that was Joshua. The Maasai spear still protruding out of his back gave evidence of chaos. Nine other elders lay in their own heaps with their own spears. Mama Ruth had gone for water for chai and returned to find her home in ashes and the beloved of her heart, dead.
In the mid-day sun the prickly pear, candelabra cacti and acacia trees at the edge of her property provided little shade. Despite the energy sapping solar vacuum that sucked her dry she remained. The gourds of water that she had walked three miles to collect lay upended and drained on the ground five hundred yards away where she had dropped them when she had first seen her Joshua.
This broken figure was one more victim in the political unrest after the recent so called elections. She was one more statistic in the tribal clashes between her people and the Maasai as the agricultural and nomadic cattle herders fought for space to preserve their culture.
Joshua and Ruth had persisted in sharing truth despite the community resistance. The watcher had heard Mama Ruth teach that Jesus wanted one family made up of people from every tribe and nation. He had heard her through the walls of the school house as he herded his goats. Day after day she shared. Less than the passing of a full moon ago he had slipped into the oven- like interior of the meeting house with a friend to hear more.
The heavenly shadows caught his eye but not hers. The sinuous necks of the White-backed vultures craning in a cloud of ever growing numbers circled above her like black ghosts. A dozen Ruppell’s griffons had spotted the cloud and calculated the odds of feeding here or sailing back to the Mara in search of a fallen Wildebeest. In orchestrated precision they rose and fell on the thermals – their eyes constantly watching for movement and analyzing the lone slowly moving figure in the ash heap. The scavengers waited patiently for the arrival of a Lappet-faced vulture whose three meter wingspan and hide-ripping beak would prepare the way for the rest who were hungry for the soft inside delicacies.
Mama Ruth slowly reached under a rock and pulled out one red shoe. The watcher knew it was a gift from the missionary children who had visited her. It was all she had left. The other shoe had burned in the fire when the watcher’s own age-mates had destroyed the church and every building in the neighborhood.
The watcher saw the widow shed a tear and then lift her head to the heavens. As if seeing the glory beyond where the vultures still circled and the sun still dazzled, she rasped out the words in the tongue of her heart “Mungu ni Mwema, Mungu Ni Mwema, Mungu Ni Mwema, Ni Mwema Mungu.” [God is so good, God is so good, God is so good, He’s so good to me.”
From the edge of the maize [corn] field Moitelel listened to the song of the widow. The young Maasai Moran made his choice and stepped out to protect her. Fruit could come from ashes.
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