The last days before my mother died she spent in a big hospital bed in a room just off the living room. I remember being told of my mother’s death. I was sitting under the table in the kitchen with my dog, Candy. I stayed there under the table for a long time. It’s one of the first memories of my life that I can recall. I must have seen her–although I can’t remember. As was the custom of the day, neither my older sister, Janice, who was 11, or I went to the funeral.
I felt so strongly for my character in this story and for his loss. Writing that scene was difficult. It brought me back. His tent and my table shared a lot. Neither of us ever saw our mother again.
I still had my father and an older sister to care for me, a roof over my head, my bed upstairs, my toys in my room, my neighborhood and my dog. Muchoki had nothing, except fears and his conern for his sister. I couldn’t help but wonder if Jata being there forced him to be stronger than he would have been without her?
The crucial moment for this book revolves around Muchoki’s decision to leave. Was this plan even realistic? Would he have the strength to attempt this journey? Would I have had the strength? Then I thought about the four young men who took part in our own Kenyan walk. I knew their histories well, the tragedies of their lives, the things they had endured and what they had survived. I wasn’t sure if I could have started what Muchoki was going to undertake but I knew that Mutuku, Mulwa, Keli, and Baraka could do it. Sometimes we do what we do simply because we have to do it.
All journeys do begin with the first step–and together with that group of young people, we were about to begin ours.
Stories for children and young adults often have parents who are “gone’”– whether they are absent because of life circumstances (war, work) or simply dead. This is not some macabre fixation of the writer’s but a necessary pivot for the story – especially if it’s one told through the eyes of a young protagonist. Let me explain.
If there’s a noise downstairs in the middle of the night, your parents don’t wake you up and send you down to investigate. They go. If you’re driving with your parents and the car gets a flat tire you’re not sent out to change it or sent to get a spare while they sit inside safe, warm, dry and listen to the radio. Separating the protagonist from his or her parents allows the main character to become the active member of the story, to experience, feel, and hopefully solve the problems that evolve.
In Walking Home the death of both parents sets the story into motion. Without their deaths there is no story to tell.
Baraka was one of the four orphans who accompanied me on this walk. His story has been told in my picture book My Name is Blessing. He is an incredibly young man, one of my personal heroes, and having him along for the walk was important.
I have yet to watch this video, made by Connor Clerke who was part of the walk, without being nearly brought to tears. There is such an honesty in the filming, such an honesty in Baraka.
I’ve seen the tape now a dozen times. I still need to look away when I view it. It’s so hard to look somebody in the eyes and see their pain and so much harder when you know and care for that person. Baraka is a special part of our family. As far as I’m concerned he is a member of our family. We will protect and provide for him now and in the future. I can’t change the past.