Breaking Away: by Nduta Waweru

Photo credit: Baron Reznik via Flickr

The air was filled with dust, as the cars whizzed past the road to the Sumila Village. Children were playing by the roadside as it was the August holidays. Adults were on their farms, and others on the roadside selling their wares. Shops were open, full of buyers looking to quench the thirst brought by the heat. The sun was shining too bright for 11am. For Penina, the cool breeze of her mud-thatched house was enough for her to continue with her business. Her three children would be home anytime soon for their snacks before heading out again to play, and she had to prepare a decent meal for her husband, who was to arrive in the afternoon with his mother. “That woman! She’ll probably hate everything I do…the food will be too salty, the water will taste of earth. She’ll even ask if I am planning to kill her son,” Penina said to the brightness of her kitchen.

It was no secret that Mama Gloria hated her. Penina’s own brother had warned her about this the first time he witnessed the altercation between the two. For the first years of her marriage, Penina had to let Mama Gloria do whatever she wanted in her son’s house. When the babies came, she became even worse, policing Penina on how to raise her kids to become “true Otienos”. Mama Gloria never really wanted Penina as her son’s wife, and she made this obvious to everyone. In family meetings, she would move away from Penina as if she were a leper, and even denied her food when she visited over the holidays. It took neighbours and other relatives living with Mama Gloria to help her out. Penina tried everything from being polite to trying to be oblivious to her rants but it never worked. She finally resorted to talking to Otieno about it.

“You never support me when Mama is here.”

“Are you trying to make me choose between my mother and you?” he would ask with a sly smile. At loss for words, Penina would stare at the man she married, knowing it was a battle she had to fight on her own.

A loud yelp of her name indicated the arrival of Mama Gloria, and slowly, she got up to help her with the luggage she was carrying. “Lazy woman, how do you let an old woman like me suffer with such luggage?”

“Sorry Mama,” Penina responded, feigning regret.

“You better be,” Mama Gloria sharply retorted as she walked into the house. “My son stayed behind to finish some business.”

Penina wondered what Otieno was up to. She was almost sure that he was just trying to avoid the confrontation between the women in his life. It was not the first time he had done this. He had let Penina and the children go to his mother’s house alone, while he stayed a the nearby town until late in the night. Mama Gloria was not amused and Penina had had an earful of how she was at fault that her son was not in the mood to run home to his mother. Mama Gloria had scrunched up her face, making her wrinkles even more pronounced as she locked Penina out of the main house.

Penina quickly snapped out of her thoughts and began serving the food very fast, making sure that Mama Gloria had enough for her usual appetite, before the old woman’s abuses and insults ensued. “Penina yawa, what is this eh? Poison, poison, poison!” she shouted and got up, flipping the small wooden table with all the food on it. A tiny scream escaped Penina’s vocal chords and she stared at her mother-in-law in awe and hatred. The rage within her simmered like never before.

“Utado?” Mama Gloria asked with a sneer.

Penina did not remember how she had picked up the table and brought it down on Mama Gloria, and neither could she remember for how long she punched her. But she remembered the silence that fell, and the coolness of the room, just like the cold body of Mama Gloria that lay limp on the earthen floor. Outside, the sun continued burning the earth, the children playing, and the women selling wares by the roadside. Bottled water was sold and dust soared at the wind’s command.



Yawa – A Luo exclamation to show disbelief.

Utado – Slang for ‘What will you do?’

Nduta Waweru (@ndutawaweru) is a writer and poet. Born and raised in Kenya, she currently serves as a features writer at a Nairobi-based newspaper, The Sunday Star, and she is also an editor at Lesleigh Kenya, which has published three books under its auspices. She is one of the 2014 Storymoja fellows and she is also a 2014 Writivism mentee. A prolific writer, several of Nduta’s stories have been published in Storymoja, Kalahari Review, Up Magazine, Fresh Paint Volume II and Jalada. Her poetry has also been featured on the Koroga Project and the “A Thousand Voices Rising” anthology. She is an avid reader and loves to travel and eat to unwind. She is also an avid blogger and you can read more of her musings on

This story was published in collaboration with Bahati Books, an e-book publishing company that aims to bring to global readers captivating and well-written African Literature by African authors.

Related country: Kenya

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