by Serubiri Moses
The play is a treatment of the real story of Mercy Keino, the 24 year old University of Nairobi student who was brutally murdered in June 2011 in Westlands, Nairobi. Sitawa Namwalie’s retelling of Mercy’s story is first and foremost a psychological drama, and only then is it elegy and song: a series of melancholy poems, and Luo funereal dirges. This is the author’s way of mourning for this Kenyan woman and others like her. In the talk back session, Namwalie related that she promised to write the play during a hearty conversation on Mercy’s death, with the intention of reversing the process of erasure surrounding her memory, and the bureaucratic elision of the circumstances of her murder.
Namwalie also pays hommage by writing Mercy to be a good Christian woman, who will have a “fanta, room temperature” when asked to have a drink by a friend of hers. Similarly the placing of the powerful rendition of the Christian song, ‘How great thou art’ by the lead character, M, serendipitously acted by Mkamzee Chao Mwatela, lends the play the character of Kenyan women’s daily lives.
The psychology of the play is such that it begins with the subconscious of Mercy after her death. It is as if the playwright were a psychoanalyst that has Mercy sitting in a chair, asking her, “When did you lose your name?” and “How did you die?” We begin with the proverbial Chimera of her mind: the fear of having no name. This space is antagonised by two psychological apparitions: Gumali and Omuwanga, acted by Mugambi Nthiga and Nick Ndenda respectively. As M, answers, she realizes, “I don’t know my name.” Along the way we realize that she lost her name with the violence that took her life. There is no reprieve from the search for a name, until the very end. However, the psychological drama also works as a metanarrative, in other words, the real story of Mercy begins to progressively seep into the play, as we travel out of her mind, and back to her real death. Redemption is offered through a Luo dirge and a series of poems which function as an expression of honour, and compassion, as well as an elegy on Mercy’s death.