The first of the seventy-first

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***Mohamed Kimathi***

She was one of the good ones. If goodness were a person it would have eyes like hers. Indeed, it would walk like her, for her very steps had a kindly, composed air about them, as if she did not want to press the ground too much. She was so good, she never cursed; not once did the ‘f’ word (or other neat compositions of the alphabet) escape her lips. And aye! How she prayed! No idle hour passed in which she did not set up an altar to her Creator, and give vent to a copious flow of pious expressions and interjections.

Her saintly lips could not master the courage to utter an untruth. Not that she particularly tried it – no. The thought simply did not cross her mind. Neither could she talk about things generally considered bad. Topics such as hatred, conspiracy and vengefulness were alien to her. They repulsed her whole being. In truth, as soon as her friends began gossiping she would up and run, like she was fleeing from the devil himself. Of course they judged her and dismissed her as self-righteous, a holier-than-thou.

She dressed modestly so as to avoid “aiding and abetting” the man with a roving eye, leaning idly against the wall across the street. Her trick worked well, for so far, very few men had as much as looked at her twice. The few that followed her figure did it out of curiosity, even as a cat, after its dinner, might look after a rat scuttling about. She was beautiful, to be sure: had she altered her dress code the tiniest bit, the men would throw themselves at her feet. But poor men, they did not know where to look. Having thrown her the first glance and finding her unattractive, they looked aside and let her be, thus throwing away the baby with the bathwater. She paid them no mind however, for she knew very well how a second look might mean a fall from grace.

What she did not tell anybody was that it strained her to not be bad. She looked up to people who dared to be free, careless of the words of caution and wisdom all around them. It occurred to her that after all, strength might be in being bad more than in being good; that he is strong he  who can resist all conscious and subconscious messages from society that it is best to be good; that they are a wise lot those who throw all caution to the wind, and just let go. She imagined herself safe, however, for she knew that she had a strong will, else she would not have come thus far. However, it is true that iron-willed persons might be strong and dependable, but when they break, oh how they break!

It is said of negative puritanism, that it leads to a furtive desire for things forbidden; that those who flee disgustedly from occasions of sin – those who hate and are repulsed by worldly things in a repulsion proper – stand a risk of desiring the things they flee from. What they so determinedly run from pursues them with a new vigor and cleverness, and catches up with them in the most unexpected of circumstances. Spiritual literature has it that we must study our sins and how we come to commit them, if we are to rid ourselves of them, even as a surgeon studies a tumor, instead of fleeing from it in horror.

Now, it happened that our lady’s virtue landed her into a most unfortunate set of circumstances. The circumstances will not be written here, but suffice it to say, “Some rise by sin and others by virtue fall.” She offered up sacrifices and prayed day in day out, that the cloud might be lifted and she may see the light again, all to no avail. She took her eyes off the path then, only to see a man watching her. In that breathless moment she felt something she had never felt before. At first she was hesitant to go to him, even as a child might untrustingly approach an apparently dead snake, lest it springs suddenly and lands a fang in his neck. Yet all this experience was new to her, and its novelty was sweet and enticing, such that she found herself listening to his sweet words in rapt attention and sweet delight.

Next thing she knew, they were headed to a club. Her who had steered clear of such dens of the devil, as she had called them, was now going to one, in the hands of a man she barely knew. Alas! She was shocked. Her mind told her no, this is not good, but her body told her yes, this is good stuff. She was swayed this way and that way by the arguments of her mind and body, even as a blade of grass might be swayed by an inconstant wind. Yet even a blade of grass had a better chance of standing strong against the wind than she had of keeping to the path. Seventy times seven times she had endured being called names; seventy times seven times she had watched her friends letting go; seventy times seven times she had walked away from good things in life. She decided to let go this once.

The man turned out to be like the others, those who lean against walls across the street, for the next morning, she woke up confused, in a strange bed, half-dressed, with a throbbing pain in her head and a note by her side, the gist of which was: the man had fun and he’s done. So much for letting go.

She felt used and abused. She felt unclean and unholy. She felt unworthy before her Creator. Yet what to do? The damage was already done, and the man who did it was probably luring another innocent girl into his trap. She wanted to go after the man and do something bad to him, but where to find him? And even if she found him, what to do? Aye, what to do?

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