‘He left his daughter in a restaurant never to come back’ - Beaking Kenya News

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Wednesday, 2 September 2020

‘He left his daughter in a restaurant never to come back’

 Esther Wambui shares a story of how her son went missing from police custody in 2014

God has a sense of humour, for sure.

In her childhood prayer to tour the world, Esther Wambui should have been more specific about why she wanted to travel.

After years of praying for a chance to tour her country, Wambui finally got the opportunity, but it is not what she expected. 

By the time Wambui was 58, had been to at least 10 counties. The trips entailed viewing corpses, some totally disfigured. 

She spent many a night in the cold as she searched for her only son.

“I had never gone to most of those places. I wish I never had to. But if I went back in time, I would still use my last coin, touring the end of the world in search of my son,” Wambui told the Star last Sunday, the Enforced Disappearances day.

The morning of October 12, 2014, is etched in Wambui's mind.

She had asked her 37-year-old son, Martin Ndung’u, to go and buy his daughter mandazi for breakfast.  

Wambui wishes she had undertaken the mission herself. They lived in Dandora.

“I tell my 12-year-old grandchild that she is not an orphan, but I don’t know if that is not a lie. Sometimes I see Martin alive, at other times he is dead and cold,” she said.

That day, Ndung'u left holding his daughter’s hand to get the mandazi. It was too early and the neighbourhood restaurant had not started cooking.

He knew the restaurant owner and asked him to keep a watch on his daughter as he went to look for another place from where to buy the maandazi.

That was the last time the daughter saw her father.

A Probox had been parked outside the restaurant, as if waiting for him. There was a brief commotion before he was arrested, handcuffed and bundled into the car which then took off.

The restaurant owner, who witnessed the incident, phoned Martin’s wife to inform her that her husband had been arrested and the daughter left alone.

“We did not know where Martin had been taken so we decided to wait until we knew where he was being held,” the mother recounted.

“That evening, a private number rang on my cell phone, and the caller, who did not introduce himself, informed me that Martin was at Buruburu police station”.

She woke up the following morning, taking with her porridge and some food to the station to see her son.

At the front desk, Wambui was informed that Martin had been booked in for being drunk and disorderly, but he had already been released the previous evening.

“I did not believe them. If he had not come home to me or to his wife, and not called either of us, he was definitely in custody. So, I decided to probe further,” Wambui narrated.

One officer then told her that Martin had suffered an epileptic attack and had been taken to Mama Lucy Hospital.

“For more than 30 years I lived with my son, he never had any attack. Did he develop epilepsy in a day? I immediately knew something was up, nonetheless, I left to go find my son,” she said.

At Mama Lucy, the nurses told her that no one under that name had been brought to the hospital. Noticing her distress, they offered to let her walk around the hospital in case her son had used a pseudonym. He wasn’t there.

 A return to the police station to seek more information earned her a beating that the deep scars around her neck tell to date.

“The police officers led by their OCS pounced on me, slapping and chocking me. The woman who had accompanied me called for help,” she said tearfully.

A report lodged at Independent Medical and Legal Medico confirmed that Wambui filed a complaint against the officers at the organisation but the case wasn’t concluded.

Going to the police was no longer an option, but the distraught mother would not give up the search for her only son.

“My three sons died. I only had Martin. Even though it would shatter me, I can handle death, if only I can get his body. But this mystery is unbearable, it kills you slowly each passing day,” she said.

Wambui began her trips to the counties she has never been to, sifting through bodies with the hope that one of them could possibly be Martin’s.

Whenever she heard the news of mass bodies found somewhere or an identified body, she would travel to go see if it is her son's.

For days, she used her last coin she earned from the foodstuff she sells in a small kiosk to tour the country.

“I have moved from Nairobi to Kiambu, from Thika to Gatundu, to Machakos, Murang’a, Kirinyaga, Embu, Nyeri, Naivasha, Gilgil to Narok. I have spent nights outside in the cold in foreign places. I have seen headless bodies, faceless heads. I have bribed morgue attendants to allow me search through piles of unidentified bodies, but Martin is not among them. He just disappeared,” she cried.

She stopped talking and looked at other people telling tales of how they lost their loved one as the world marked the day for enforced disappearances on Sunday.

Hopeful, enthusiastic, she begins telling her story, which she has shared 100 times over, but the ending has always been the same. Hopeless.

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