, NAIROBI, Kenya, Sept 21 – They came to light candles to recall the fateful day when lives of their loved ones were shattered by terrorists’ bullets.
They came to lay down red and white roses outside the Westgate mall where they sang and shed tears freely.
And Queen Kere, a Customer Care Officer with Barclays, remembers how a beautiful Saturday turned bloody exactly a year ago.
Queen had been sitting behind the Customer Care desk near the entrance to the bank when she heard gunshots.
“It happened when I was serving a customer and his two year child,” she recalls.
Then there was running, bodies falling to the ground, “I initially thought it was a robbery but when I saw they weren’t only shooting at the guards but men and women too, I knew we were in trouble.”
Crawling on his belly, she narrates, the guard stationed outside their bank somehow managed to get their doors closed and they hid.
And so they moved to the back, into a filing room, “I’m surprised we all fit.”
But even in there, she says, she didn’t feel safe. “We could hear the gun fire. We now knew we were dealing with terrorists and we thought they’d blow up the mall.”
They didn’t and help eventually came in the form of a military officer who “told us to keep low, that it wasn’t yet safe, and not to look to the side. But what does a child do when you tell them that? They look. And so did we. It was like the red sea.”
A year later, back to the scene of her torment, “I couldn’t sleep for three days,” it’s the lack of bloody bodies strewn on the ground that she finds strange.
Queen isn’t the only one who finds it difficult to be back. Even with her boyfriend, family and friends by her side, so does Chandni Solanki.
“It’s so quiet now. Different from what we experienced standing out here waiting for my brother to come out.”
Her brother never came out. As they stood there waiting, a call came in to her mother from the mortuary.
“They asked her who is Rajan Solanki to you? She collapsed and bringing her back here would have been like opening old wounds.”
But they came, “for her,” clad in matching white t-shirts with a portrait of Rajan on the front, “to light a candle for him.”
Being a, “foodie,” he’d been invited to a children’s cooking competition and called his mother frightened when the gunfire started.
“He’d thought it was a robbery and then the phone went off,” Chandni recalls. “So my mom called me to ask who he was with and if I had their numbers.”
Unlike Queen and Chandni, David Muturi says he’s glad to be back. Happy to see the colleagues he managed at the Nakumatt branch. “You know after the attack we were absorbed in other branches,” he explains.
Muturi, his colleagues say, is an unsung hero. He didn’t run for his life, he went back into the mall three times to help evacuate them and their customers.
“You never really know if you’re truly a leader until you find yourself in a situation like that.”
He recalls how the third time he made his way back into the mall almost cost him his life.
“We met an officer with his shirt off and he told me if this is the day we die, we die.”
And so together they made their way back into the mall. Except this time the gunmen almost spotted them.
“The officer went ahead of us and when they saw him they asked him who he was and asked him to put his gun down and the next thing we heard is a gunshot. It’s a miracle they didn’t check to see if he was dead or come in our direction. We carried him out.”
These are the stories they shared as they stood outside the Westgate mall; not to relive the horror, but to remember.