Alone in the Dark

In the past few months, my little brother’s eyes have grown somewhat…older. In many ways, Terence is still the same. He’s still dwarfed by many of his classmates, and still hides behind the nearest wall when visitors come over until someone drags him out into the open, then, after a bashful ‘Hi,’ flies up the stairs and slams the door of his bedroom shut. But even though gaps still show in his mouth where little teeth used to be, and he still finds sweet things irresistible and study a recurring nightmare (sometimes, when he’s told to revise for his exams, he even cries), there’s something different about him nowadays.

Ever since my youngest sister, Eleanor, was born, he’s had to give up the lastborn privileges – she is now the two-year-old queen of the Nyiha household. Her subjects? A doting father, a caring mother, a wise, cheerful maid and five insane siblings. For my part, I can’t help it: her innocence just shines out from her, glorious and pure and unpretentious, digging deep into my heart and, by the contrast, so vividly showing me my own interior darkness and complication that I feel ashamed. Often, I turn away so the tears don’t well up; maybe you’ve felt the same way before. And nowadays, when Terence looks at her as they run shouting all over the house, there’s a hint of a protector inside his boyish eyes.

I still remember those nights when he and I used to sleep in the same room. He’d yank the door open and patter across the landing to my parents’ bedroom.

“I’m scared!” His wide eyes would glisten in the half-light coming in through the curtains.

My dad would murmur in a voice thick with sleep, “Mm…what are you scared of?”

“Monsters!” He’d think he’d heard them lurking in the dark …

Remember your old childhood fear.

Alone in the darkness, surrounded by her emptiness, your clothes and your own body heat the only sensations against your skin, she would haunt you. She’d echo every distant sound and long after the silence had settled, she’d whisper it in your ears. She’d compel your imagination to fill her emptiness with all sorts of strange noises and movements. She’d set your heart racing with fear. She’d slow down the passing of time itself. But worst of all was the blindness, and the thoughts that came along with it, that anything could be hiding in your wardrobe, under your bed, right next to you, and you’d never know until it was too late.

Alone in the dark, you yearned for light.

For anyone who’s seen a bit more of life, though, that fear has a slightly different tone. Ask anyone caught out of his home after 7:00 p.m., and you’ll realise that darkness is to be feared. Only, it isn’t monsters we’re afraid of now…

Darkness, coldness, emptiness… it’s all the same, isn’t it?

Well, I used to think so too, until I started noticing kids more. Working in a school makes you notice them, no matter how aloof or absent-minded you may be. I like to look at the boys falling all over and screaming their heads off (just the younger ones, mind you; the older ones have lost their innocence). Every morning, they shout like it’s the first day of school, they play football with bottle tops and paper bags, they climb onto the monkey-bar and race each other back and forth, their eyes shining with delight, fear, and the thrill of being 1.5 metres above the ground – I guess that’s a huge drop for the little guys. And I think, “All of these also came from darkness.”

For nine months, they were sheltered in their mothers’ wombs where they were never alone, not even for a single moment. The darkness was never empty. There was no chilling silence because, even while she slept, her breathing accompanied them in the blackness. Though they could never see her or feel her touch, they knew she was there. And she always loved them.

The world is a mother’s womb.

We are inside it, immersed in darkness, in emptiness, in cold, in bitterness, in lies. You don’t need to go as far back as the World Wars. You don’t even need to go to the morning paper. Just look inside yourself, and if you’re honest, you’ll see it’s true.

Yes, in the world we find laughter, excitement, adventure, beautiful sunsets, the ocean’s hiss on the shore, the rain’s whisper in the trees… There are also tears, hatred, corruption, anguish, cynicism and despair. But we are not alone.

God looks upon us with a mother’s love.

… Then, why do we suffer?

Well, when I hear this question, I remember two closely connected things:

The first is a smile on a black face. (When I say black, I mean black.)

Joy coaxes all that darkness into gentle curves and sets the eyes gleaming with a light all at once familiar and mysterious. It seems to have no source, but suffuses the whole face, the way the twilight sun lights up the sky even though the sun has disappeared beyond the horizon. All sternness, all scars of time disappear in that strange glow of youth, vigour, hope and life.

Suddenly, a light fills the darkness.

The second is the Pope’s address to the youth in the Kasarani Stadium during his visit to Kenya two years ago.

Manuel, one of the youths chosen to ask the Pope a question, asked, “How can we realize that God is our Father? How can we see God’s hand in the tragedies of life?”

Visibly moved, he replied:

“There is only one answer: no, there is no answer. There is only a way: to look to the Son of God.

God delivered his Son to save us all. God let himself get hurt. God let himself be destroyed on the cross. So when the moment comes when you don’t understand, when you’re in despair and the world is tumbling down all around you, look to the cross!

There we see the failure of God; there we see the destruction of God. But there we also see a challenge to our faith: the challenge of hope. Because that story didn’t end in failure. There was the resurrection, which made all things new.”

Goodness from evil.

Life from death.

Light from darkness.


On Inspiration

Those moments rare, when the veil is lifted,
The old light shines once more,
Not as faded gleam nor glimmer faint
Through the woven fabric’s pores,
But quickening the weary soul,
Illumining the mind;
A sudden burst, a brilliance fair,
Eternity’s bright, tender stare –
Oh, how I languish for those moments rare!

A Smile in the Dark

It’s like looking at the stars in the night sky…

A flurry of activity, all around him: children are running about, playing soccer in dusty school uniform, clouds of dirt rising at their hurried footfalls; birds flit about from branch to branch like black streaks in the brightness of an August afternoon, withered blades of grass dangling from their beaks as they fret about their nests; tides of animated chatter surge and recede; here, shouts of raucous laughter resound; there, a cry bursts from the lips of a lively storyteller.

As he speaks, there is a depth in his eyes as the words trickle forth from him, a depth that beckons, invites his listener to come closer, almost as the clear stillness of the ocean calls one to plumb its depths. His gaze is gentle. Now, a laugh escapes from him, thick and heavy and soft. His brilliant smile wreathes the hard stone lines of his face into smooth, mirthful curves; a twinkle dances in his eyes. It’s like looking at the stars in the night sky, or the warm light of a distant flame in the dark. So black a face, yet so radiant a smile!