Public speaking.

Mathia always thought she was one of those people. That she could go out and have fun, even be charming. She was right. Through high school and college, she found out that she could be any of those people.

She had been too good at her role. Mistaken for a dog, a pack animal. Joining Amka Dada was her idea of making a difference for other young women. If anyone had told her her article in the university newspaper would have led to a speech. She would have tucked away in her shell and been exactly who she was.

The room behind the stage in the hall smelled like mould. The dust was making it hard to breath, at least that is what she told herself.

“Are you ready?” Jane asked. Jane was the chairlady of Amka Dada.

“I’m about to present a speech to 3 members of parliament and about 1000 other people.” Mathia did not sound panicked. Friends always laughed at her monotone voice.

“It will be fine, stare at the clock on the other end.” Jane said and went off to call Mathia to the stage. That is what Mathia had been doing for years, staring at the clock on the other end.

My article was about the need for legislation making divorce and emancipation of children, especially girls in crisis, easier… She stared at the clock. One of the MPs stood and shook her hand when she was done.

Everyone was happy. Promises of funding for Amka Dada were pouring in. They would make front page news.

“Do you really think that the way to go is legislation?” Amina asked. A group of them were at a bar to celebrate. It was close to campus so debate could pass for conversation.

Mathia was trying to remember something in her speech to answer when someone did it for her.

“Of course not, most of the problems in gender relations today are rooted in our culture. The change must be social and cultural. What does a judge and his gavel mean to a Maasai moran looking for a wife?” He said.

Amina whispered that he was a journalism student and also wrote in the paper. His name was Otieno. It looked like an intense debate was about to start, that was her cue to leave.

“But you did make a few good points. At least emancipation means that parental consent to contraceptives and their say in school will no longer be required.” Otieno said. He looked right at her.

She would not rise to the bait. He was a bully. Someone had taken up an opposing position and distracted him. She told Amina that it was getting late. Amina was having fun and Mathia was not walking to campus alone.

Hours later, when Mathia was sure she was bleeding out of her ears, they walked home. She supported Amina’s weight as the rest of the gang came down from their high. She had been too busy getting Amina up and out of the bar to notice that Otieno had followed them. The sound of his voice nearly sent them toppling onto the ground.

The topic had become lighter. Small talk and flirting were easy enough to ignore. The light from the dormitories called to her like a ship to a lighthouse. The group split when they got to the dormitories. Mathia started feeling Amina’s weight as he went up with them. He was walking with Jane and they lived on the same floor.

“Ok, goodnight.” Mathia said, opening her door and keeping Amina upright. She was well practised.

“Let me give you a hand.” Otieno said. Mathia was going to say no, but she could not remember ever saying no.

She opened the door and he held Amina. After Amina was snuggled in. Mathia held the door open. In the tiny room, he took up too much space.

“Thanks. It’s been a long night.” Mathia did not look at him.

“Did you mean any of it? Jane told me that’s what you sound like but still.” He was grinning.

“No, I didn’t.”

“There’s that voice again.” Otieno said. He looked like he was baring his teeth.

“I have an early day tomorrow.” Matthia said. She opened the door wider.

“Why don’t you just let go? Tell your truth.”

“Endurance is my truth. Men piss and moan, fight wars over nothing. Women survive. The tables are tipping, the world won’t need hunters and armies. If I were you, I’d quit the roadside declarations and run. Goodnight.”

Mathia woke up early the next day, got Amina her painkillers, and started on another article for the paper. The article was about implementation of affirmative action regulation in the civil service.

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