The old man would walk in with the day’s newspaper, just like he did every day after work, and his daughter would pounce on it and go straight to the obituary pages. She would then look at the faces on the pages with so much longing, envying them of the peace that death brought.
“I wanted it to be me on the pages,” she says softly, settling into the interview
The beautiful woman seated across me is vivacious and full of life, and her soft eyes reveal a hunger for life.
About 10 years ago, Catherine, 21, then a fresh faced second-year sociology studen had her life figured out. She had career plans and ambitions, and just like most young women, couldn’t wait to meet the man of her dreams. She was a virgin, and planned to keep it that way.
“I was a nice girl” she says with a pensive smile. “I did all the right things. I didn’t smoke or drink and didn’t even have a boyfriend.”
But then a monster happened.
“He was a fourth-year student doing biomedical engineering. My friend and I visited his room to print out an assignment. His roommate was in there too. At some point, my friend received a call from her father and had to leave. The roommate left with her, leaving me alone with this man.
Suffice to say, he raped her, and life was never the same for the Catherine.
“He was so rough and at some point, he abandoned the protection,” she says,still disturbed by the memory.
But the man went scot free as Catherine didn’t report it.
This incident however left her scarred, and it was a free fall from there on.
“My dressing and my whole attitude to life changed, especially my perspective about men,” she says. “I started dating older men. Many of them were rich old men with position of influence.”
Less than a year after the first incident, she was raped again, this time by the family farmhand at home. “I was busy cleaning up for bed time. Everyone else was asleep. While showering in the bathroom outside the main house, the farmhand who had worked for us for over a year, forced his way in and raped me, with no protection.” she says.
Angry and frustrated with herself, she declined counselling.
Something in her had changed, and her will to live had diminished.
“When I turned 23, I felt that I didn’t need to live another year. So I began planning my death.”
THE FINAL ACT
But before she exited the world, she needed to do one outrageous thing, after all, she wasn’t going to live long after.
“I saw posters seeking escorts. So I called the number and planned to meet up with the woman on the other end. She was suspicious at first and said that I did not look like the type for the job. She also said that other than the escort services, they were also shooting a blue movie for ‘International consumption’. I told her I was up for anything.”
What was that like? I prod.
We were in some Kileleshwa apartment. And I was in a room with five men, fellow actors. We were briefed on what to do. It was what they call a gang bang. I went through with it. I wasn’t scared, just utterly empty and going through the motions. It was only after I was paid and left that doubt and guilt plagued me. It got so bad that I took my Sh10,000 payment and threw it in a bin.
She tried her best to put the episode out of her mind. Ashamed of herself.
“I was only comforted by the fact that no one would know about it, after all it was for an international audience.”
CATE THE PORNSTAR
When schools reopened in 2009, her roommate told her that a porn movie with her face in it was all over the school.
“The movie turned out to be a local porn movie and the victimisation began. I was now known as Cate the pornstar. That was the most difficult time of my life. Nobody wanted to sit next to me in class.
“One day the lecturer was teaching about what makes something newsworthy and he mentioned pornography. The whole class burst out laughing. I had to walk out. On my way out, someone shouted that I was leaving to shoot Season Two. Oh the humiliation I felt.”
DESIGNING MY DEATH
“I graduated from the University in December 2009 and embarked on a fruitless search for a job. I lived a day at a time and sunk into a deep depression.
And so she set about a mission to take her life.
“I made a concoction of weed killer, rat poison, insecticide and tick killer. I sent the farmhand for 20 piritons for the drowsy effect. I wanted to sleep forever.”
So she went to bed and hoped to die, but even the best laid plans sometimes go to damnation.
“In the middle of the night, I woke up vomiting so I felt like my intestines would come out through my mouth. I woke up my mother, confessed what I had done and she rushed to hospital.”
ATTEMPT IN THE HOSPITAL
Not one to give up easily on her endeavour to die, her second day in hospital saw her trying to suffocate herself by putting a polythene bag over her head and covering herself with blankets. This however failed as it was taking too long.
“It felt like an eternity, so I figured that there were better and faster ways to go.”
Before being discharged, the doctor demanded to know why she had attempted suicide and threatened to call the police if she did not confess.
“I only admitted to the second rape and that is how my family found out about the incident.”
Horrified, they took her to see a counsellor. However, a couple of weeks into counseling, she fell into depression again, and that is when she took to reading obituaries just to admire the people in them. And she attempted suicide again, hoping that the fourth time was the charm.
“I took a shuka, put a water tank on top of a stool and climbed on top. Then I tied the shuka to a kitchen ceiling bar, put the noose round my neck and kicked the tank away.”
Fortunately, the knot wasn’t tight enough and when her father opened the kitchen door, she was startled and jerked, loosening the knot. She fell to the ground. Her dad, who hadn’t been keen on the episode, didn’t realize that she had been attempting suicide.
Later in the week, she decided to drown herself by jumping off Bridge, but just as she was about to jump, 11 in the night, an Indian man stopped his car, shone his headlights at her and she abandoned the attempt. That was her last attempt.
“This time, something changed in me. I started thinking that I needed to change things and try live. I also felt like God was telling me that I was precious. And from then on, I felt like a light bulb had come on.”
She took her counselling sessions more seriously and considers herself work in progress.
“I resolved to start talking about it last year when I realised that no one talks about mental health and there is too much stigma surrounding it. And yet the worst thing you can do is fail to talk about it.
Her family has been supportive through her healing process.
“My main supporter is my dad,” she says. “My boyfriend too,” she quips. When she reads skepticism on my face, she goes on.
“We met in 2014, knows my story and supports me through it. He doesn’t judge me.”
Sometimes her past rears its ugly head, but now she takes it in stride.
“One time we were in a bus and the driver said, ‘Aren’t you the girl I saw in a certain movie?’ I did not know what to say my boyfriend sensing my discomfort told the driver, ‘Ni yeye. Utado?’ (She is the one. What will you do about it?”
Our interview has come to an end and she warmly embraces me, smiling in that beautiful way that is both so innocent and beguiling. She is a girl who has finally found her wings and is not going to get them clipped by anyone.