A wedding ceremony at the centre of the weekend Mwingi bus tragedy had to be hurriedly concluded after the presiding priest was informed of the deadly accident.
The couple, Mr David Mutua and his wife of five decades Ms Veronica Syombua solemnised their marriage at Nuu Catholic Church but instead of proceeding to a planned wedding reception, rushed to rescue their kin who were swallowed by the swollen Enziu River.
In an interview with the Nation at their Nuu village home in Kitui County, the couple was still struggling to come to terms with the tragedy of losing nine close relatives at a go.
The nine family members, who were among the 32 people killed after the bus they were traveling in to attend the wedding plunged into the river, included their two daughters Rachael and Jane, and seven grandchildren.
This is the worst drowning disaster in the history of Mwingi and Kitui County.
Mr Mutua, fighting back tears, narrated how the wedding ceremony was disrupted by the sad news, with the priest and a few church members consulting in hushed tones before informing the couple.
“We sensed something was amiss, but we were not told until the ceremony was over,” said the 75 year old farmer.
News that the bus, which was carrying members of the choir, had plunged into the River Enziu stirred the congregation. But Father Peter Kilonzo, the priest officiating the ceremony, pressed on albeit quickly.
He was in constant consultation with the best men. "The priest hurried the wedding and by the time it was over my best man had already left the church for the accident scene. At that time it had emerged that my relatives and some of the choir members had drowned," Mr Mutua said.
The wedding ceremony started at about noon when it became clear the level of water in the river would not fall as quickly as was anticipated.
"We forced our way to the river bank despite concerted efforts by authorities and some of our relatives to keep us away from the accident scene. It was chaotic. On seeing the bodies displayed on the river bank, most of which were of my children and grandchildren, I felt that my life was meaningless and decided to toss myself into the raging waters. I was restrained".
That notwithstanding, the couple does not regret holding the wedding. "I do not regret planning and eventually holding the white wedding. It is something I decided to do because it meant a lot in my journey in faith," Mr Mutua told Nation yesterday.
Mr Mutua and Ms Syombua got married on June 6, 1966 in a traditional wedding ceremony and had seven children; five daughters and two sons. "For all those years we didn't have a white wedding," Ms Syombua, 70, said.
Saturday's wedding was significant as it marked an important milestone in Mr Mutua's renewed determination to embrace Christianity. The Catholic faith requires couples to hold a White wedding to show commitment to the faith, a journey the 75 year old peasant farmer was willing to take after recovering from an illness that, in his estimation and that of his children and other relatives, almost claimed his life.
"I was among the first persons to be baptised at Nuu Catholic Mission many years ago. But Satan distracted me along the way. When I got sick the doctors said that I had taken a lot of snuff and advised that I should change my lifestyle," he said.
"That is why I vowed to get back to Christianity in a big way. I enrolled for Catechism immediately. One of my daughters interested me in the White wedding which is a requirement in the Catholic faith and started planning for it," he added. Unfortunately, Jane Mutua is among the two daughters who perished on the day her parents solemnised their marriage vows.
"We were in constant communication with the bridal party and members of the choir who were stranded at the river bank following the swelling of River Enziu. We advised them to wait until the raging waters of the river subsided before they crossed," Mr Mutua said.
Ms Syombua identified eight of her relatives who died in the accident after forcing her way to the river bank.