Fatherhood

 

My mother once threw a shoe at my face. It was a nice sneaker, she had bought it for me as a birthday present from town together with the cake, but when she got home, I was nowhere to be found. My friend had invited me to an adventure to the forest, so without the permission of the house help, I disappeared not to be found for the entire Sunday. That day when I came home with a dry skin and filthy clothes from swimming in the river, I saw the freak on my mother’s face, and I could have almost sworn she had been worried sick to the level of tears. She could not even speak to me, she just gave me a blank worried stare and there the shoe came flying to my face. The house help took me to the shower before she threw the other shoe or the cake. The memory I hold on to from that day was her the expression on her face, scared and resigned.

 

 

 

I have a son now. He is seven years old. It is just him and me now; his mother left when he was five. She said something about feeling unfulfilled in her life. That motherhood was not going to be her eternal task. She wanted to travel, discover and build her career.  Before she left, she took a piece of my sanity away by dragging me through court hearings with regards to the custody of my son. She said she wanted to keep him and that he would be better with her because I was always working and the judge agreed.

 

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Rape

 

 

I am sure you have previously heard stories from grown-up women like me speaking about rape. Mostly we lie. Make it sound like we fell on our backs and our knees trembled in fear the second it happened. Nobody ever speaks about the fight we put up before these marauders let themselves unceremoniously into our thighs. Truth is I remember being scared stiff barely able to hear my voice above the sound of my heartbeat. Mostly I remember the aftermath of the whole unpleasant ordeal, my heart contracting with indefinable fear, and I lay there motionless, looking at everything but nothing. I remember hiding in my bed with my head deep under the sheets, and it was then that I heard her speak in an interview on the television. That voice, assertive and sure taking my fear, unit at a time and turning it into a fighting spirit. She was a rape victim and had survived the worst. She was a prominent American figure, and she spoke so fiercely, and for the first time, I shed tears, not in weakness or in memory of his spiteful breath panting on and on at the nape of my neck. They were tears of jubilation, tears of conviction that made the memories fade, tears of strength. I now knew that I did not have to hide, I now knew that a rape victim could speak out and have people listen to her.

 

 
While it is said that a beautiful day begins in the morning, I can recollect that regrettable fateful day starting like any other day. It was graduation, and with our smiles, the class of 2015 tagged along with their gladness with feelings of accomplishment and raw expectations. The joy of a graceful end to four tiresome years. The Vice-Chancellor declared us graduates at the graduation square, and we threw our hats in the air ready to be productive citizens of the nation. To cement the memory of this day, I took all kinds of photos with family and fellow graduates before we excused ourselves for a final class BBQ party in the evening.

 

 

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Alien

 

 

There are times I have taken a matatu and sat next to a stranger. A big man with broad shoulders and even a bigger smile. A man with an atmosphere of graciousness all around him. A man who looks like he plays part-time Santa Claus in December. A man who would be readily adored by kids. Just about when we are making a turn at Laikipia University on a journey from Nakuru to Nyeri, he turns to me, and I look away from my phone reluctantly. Then he exclaims about the school and how he studied there forty-seven years ago when it was just a kindergarten. When the entire region was a forest, and the number of trees doubled the number of people. In a half-baked attempt to be nice I put on a fake smile like the joker in Batman. I nod my head to show concession on how much it has changed. Then I stick my face back to my phone screen and plug in my earphones deep in my ears to avoid any more conversation.

 

 

Other times at the highlight of my melancholy I have cried in the bathroom. Days I have had my heart contract in indefinable fear of the future. When reality has unravelled before my eyes, and I have reluctantly plunged into depression. I have had a long shower and let my tears join the trickling bath water. These have been times when I have been engulfed in a loneliness so vivid that everything thing inside me has held, yet the insistent throb of my heart has pounded with both fists like a revenge mission. Tears just flowed and left a glum to sign off the fact that I could not be with the people I loved.

 

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Deep Dives. Part Two.

 

 

Nataana Leshan had been brought up in a traditional Maasai home together with three Maasai Morans as her brothers.  All her life she had felt the warmth of family, the protection of brothers and the appreciation of culture. She spoke perfect Maasai at the age of twenty and was not afraid to shove it down our throats of how distinct her exceptional language made her. So many times we would be engaged in a basic conversation, and a Maasai friend of hers would join in, and they would automatically switch to Maasai language. It was rude, and it was mean, but it never bothered me, although it should have. I would be kicked out of the conversation just like that, and I would do what any normal Kikuyu would do when everyone is busy speaking Maasai, I would grab my phone and click on my Twitter App.

 

 

For the longest time, when we the Kikuyu tribe were not busy fighting Luo’s for politics, then we were busy fighting Maasai’s for land. Regardless how many years it had been since 1982 when the battle of the Rift Valley lands terminated between the two tribes, it was always a general feeling that us, Kikuyu people, were land grabbers in the eyes of the Maasai’s, not even the internet could make that fade off.

 

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Deep Dives. Part One.

 

 

It begins in a bar because of a girl. A whisky glass dangles loosely on my fingers and I stare at it, looking unresponsively at its content which is running low for the umpteenth time. The more the number of times the base of the glass gets into view the deeper my mind sinks into a drunken abyss. My eyelids become heavy, constantly fighting off the increasing demand for sleep occasionally teetering on the razor edge between deep relaxation and unconsciousness.

 

 

The bar is poorly lit with party lights blinking on and off in unison with the raucous music playing from the bar’s loud stereo. It is rap music, which on usual circumstances would have had me listening closely to the lyrics in an attempt to obtain a unique rhyme to use as a Facebook status but not today, more so, I had heard the song more than a hundred times making all discoverable rhymes already exhausted.

 

 

I am seated across the bartender, on a seat I had made mine for the past few months. Behind me, is an open dance floor with a few scattered people, mostly couples, swinging their hips to the music, infrequently screaming a common word from the chorus of a song. This bar is a common escape for young people and today being a Thursday would have the bar full to the brim in a few hours. My plan is to be nowhere close to the bar before the small space is flooded by drunken people.

 

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Monday 8am

 

 

The first day is always the toughest. It is usually a Monday at exactly 8 am. You walk into gawky stares from people who seem like they have nothing better to do with themselves. Judgemental looks that feel as if there are tearing you apart limb by limb trying to decide whether they like you or not. The looks that make you feel as if a person’s competence nowadays is judged by their outward look. Like you walked into a nasty gossip about you.  You get stuck within the first few weeks trying to come up with what it is with you that is not likeable. You flash back your whole life in scenes trying to remember a time when people did not like you and the reason they did not.

 

 

It comes to you eventually, that one time in your class back in Primary School when the teachers and students all, kind of, hated you. Not for any particular reason really, at least not of your own doing, but because of your father, he owned the school. Teachers were stuck in between acting friendly to you and still being fair to all other pupils and your schoolmates loathed how you were always favoured. And this had made the space in your life shrink to a cold, pale discomfort like a vacation house in winter. You had to be transferred to another school, the one that your father did not own and truly, you discovered that the special benefits you used to have were no more. Regardless, you liked it.

 

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Damien

 

 

Moved to Nairobi last week and found a journal in the clothes cabinet of my new apartment. I am as pleased as anyone would, to find out that the previous owner of a place I now call home, was contemplative and took time to write a journal. Other people find possessed dolls and hidden cult caskets, I found a journal. Reading another person’s life in their own handwriting, to a writer is like discovering treasure. They are honest, vivid, raw and bare. It might be against the law, but if the law was a little bit interesting, we would all read the constitution on vacations.

 

 

Well, we are a family, let me share, a little for everybody. No gluttons please, there is enough to go round…

 

 

March, 2013; Protective Parents.

Mother will not let me leave the house. She has been going on and on today ranting about discipline and responsibility. All because I left piled dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. It is a bunch of bullshit. They wanted me to pass my final high school examination, and I have given them a clean 75 points KCSE certificate.

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Hidden Thoughts

 

 

She pants a step ahead. You follow closely behind as a dog does to a master. Her pace is slow, too slow and you secretly hope she was faster. You cannot outdo her speed for two reasons; one, you do not want to be an overly competitive moron and two, you like how her ass bubbles up and down before you as she jogs. She is exhausted. She signals you for a break, and you oblige. She places her palms heavily on her knees and breathes fast and heavily. You are scared she could pass out. You stop a distance away from her and observes her with eyes full of pity, like a sympathiser in a slaughterhouse. Unsaid, you quietly envy her determination.

 

 

Running three kilometres has never been a problem to you but today is her first day. She is not accustomed to such kind of resilience. You want to be helpful; you do not want to look like a self-gratified arrogant buffoon. You do not want to be the guy who sneers at her effort. You ask her to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. She squints at you from the corner of her eyes as if what you are saying is Calculus. Regardless, you persist, breathe in using your nose and then breathe out using your mouth. Nice and easy. The look she gives you makes you sure that that gibberish is not going to cut it.

 

 

You let go, give her a couple of minutes to make her breathing comfortable. When she finally let’s go off her knees and lifts her eyes to yours, you can tell she is ready to keep going. You ask whether she is okay and she ignores you and makes to start running again. She prefers not to speak when she is running, maybe, it is scientific as one of the way to conserve energy during a morning jog.

 

 

That last look she gave you before she started running settles a little longer in your mind. It is as if she is angry and the jog is some punching bag for the angry emotions. For a moment you think it is a look you have never seen, not once, in the last three years, you have dated her. Strange. What could it be? Is it something you said, something you did not do, something you did? That last one shreds your serenity like an electric guillotine. It is always about something you did.

 

 

Unknown, you start replaying your activities the past few days in your head vividly. It has been a while since you brought her flowers, red roses. She loves those. You make a mental note to correct that as soon as you can. There is no record of foul play in your head the last six or seven days, so you move on to the past two weeks. Still, nothing. You give up. Truth be told you do not, you just get distracted again by her bubbly ass. You reach and smack it playfully, but she does not even turn to look at you. You are disappointed.

 

 

You put your mind back to the jog. You like the vapour your breath causes to the air in front of you in the early morning breeze. You try to make some fun shapes with it like an expert smoker. She glances at you a little and then back to her front path. You can almost swear she gave a little fuck about what you are doing. One small little fuck.

 

 

Just past the river when you are about to make a turn to start the uphill track, is when you first see him. He is cold, he has been crying, and you can tell he looks very unsettled. He is a small boy. Barely eight years old. You turn to the lady who by now has also already discovered the boy. She slowly comes to a halt very close to the boy. She loves kids. She could leave you to play ball with the neighbours’ kids. And from the window, you can hear them chatting and counting goals like they are age mates. Kids dig her. Kids do not dig you.

 

 

This one time, you had an argument, and she stormed out of the house, and went outside for ‘fresh air.’ Moments later, through the window, you could see her seated with one of the neighbour’s small kid by the stairs as she poured her heavy heart to him. The boy was only five years old, but from the expression he had while listening to the conversation, you could tell he understood everything. To this date, whenever you meet the small boy, he tells you not to beat Esther again, or he would tell his father who is a policeman. Once or twice, you have tried to explain to the small boy that you did not actually ‘beat’ Esther, but your defence is always treated with absolute contempt. So you walk around knowing that you are a branded enemy of the neighbourhood’s five-year-olds because you ‘beat’ one of them. The other day he had a new water toy gun, and as you walked home from the grocery market, he pointed it at you with the gun and sprayed water to your face. From his look, if it were a real gun he would have shot you. You know better than to cross Esther now as she has a battalion of five-year-old guards with guns.

 

 

Today, however, is a different story altogether. She squats next to the boy by the roadside and begins an interrogation in a calm and concerned voice. The boy’s name is Kaniaru. He had been roaming the streets for the past three days. His mother woke up one day and left – no goodbyes, no nothing. She just vanished into thin air like the NYS funds. Since then, Kaniaru has been looking for his mother. He inquires on whether you have seen his mother, a woman in long blue dress and a PCEA women council headband. Of course, you have not seen his mother, but you somehow wish you had better news for him. Your heart melts down like a toffee candy in the mouth. You could swear by your good eyesight there are tears in Esther’s eyes.

 

 

In situations like these, she always comes up with a plan. She asks Kaniaru whether he has other relatives and he says he has a grandmother in Murang’a. From Nyeri to Murang’a is a comfortable one hundred kilometres. She turns to you, and a single look confirms her decisiveness. You have to get him to his grandmother. She says, and you agree. You both terminate your morning jog with hearts heavier than the sins of hell.

 

 

Esther and Kaniaru walk a little ahead, and they go on chatting about where he studied. The subjects he loved and all that. They become fast friends, and before you can say Usain Bolt, you become a third wheel. She brings him to the house and tells him to take a shower as she excavates for clothes that could fit him. All this time you make pancakes. That is all you can do; she has the rest figured out. She makes calls, to the police, to the chief (you never even knew you had a chief). At last, she tells you that the both of you have to get Kaniaru to his grandmother personally. You do not agree with this because you had other fun plans for a Sunday but you do not want to be the Satan in this whole situation.

 

 

Kaniaru eats breakfast like it is the first meal he has had in days and both of you watch him. None of you touches the pancakes. You just sip coffee a little and off you leave the house to Murang’a. None of you has been to Murang’a, but Kaniaru says he can remember the way to his grandmother’s home. The matatu ride to Murang’a is a silent one. Kaniaru places his head on her lap, and she puts her head on your shoulder, and they are both fast asleep. You stay wide awake thinking about the activities in the past few hours.

 

 

There are moments that your problems must cease to matter and put other people ahead of your needs because that will not only be a kind action but evidence that humanity has not lost all its goodness. You become an advocate for the 7.5 billion people on this planet.

 

 

Two hours later find the three of you in a small dusty Probox headed to Kandara town in Murang’a, then Kigumo village where Kaniaru’s grandmother lives. His memory turns out to be a perfect compass, and you find the grandmother just as she is about to leave for church. She is overjoyed. She tells you that Kaniaru’s mother has a mental problem and she has been praying God to have her grandson back. She welcomes you and spits on her chest severally, a custom of blessings among the Agikuyu. She gives you tales and tells you that she had to go to church and thank God for bringing her grandson to him.

 

 

All this time, you try to explain to Esther what is happening. She is Meru. She only knows greetings in Kikuyu. After tea, Kaniaru and grandmother are headed to church and you are headed back to town. It is late afternoon when you get to town, and you dive into Unity Café for lunch.  Mukimo and fry meat makes the long journey ahead manageable.

 

 

Again, you travel in silence. An uncomfortable silence. You can tell that there is a lot in her mind. You can never dig for information from her. The only way this works is to make her comfortable to want to open up to you. Do you want to lie on my shoulder? You ask, extremely determined to lift off the weight of her troubled thoughts. She does not respond she just places her head on your shoulder, and you consequently place your head over her hair. No one sleeps, you just cuddle like that in silence occasionally adjusting your position to get more comfortable. The scent of her shampoo fills your nostrils, and you fall a little deeper in love with her.

 

 

Eventually, you get back home. She stops momentarily for a small chat with her kid friends by the stairs and then joins you as you get the door. She walks in, and you follow closely. She loves to kick off all her clothes away after a long day, but she does not even remove her shoes this time. You walk to the bedroom throw away your trousers and shirt such that you are only in your vest and boxers. You let the cold house air of to bring back sanity to your mind. After a while, you decide to join her in the living room.

 

 

The moment you walk in, she just races into the kitchen and disappears behind the kitchen door. You do not understand what is happening. All over sudden, she breaks down unexpectedly as you try to convince her to open the kitchen door for you so that you can speak. She sobs uncontrollably, and you approach the situation like an alien lab dissection. You had felt this was coming all along. You had only hoped it did not have to be this heavy.

 

 

Ultimately, she opens the door slowly and lets you in and after a long hug and hot chocolate; you are both seated on the floor of the kitchen opposite each other observing each other cautiously trying to pick cues from each other’s expression. At this point, there is not much to do, but to sit and watch her tears flow quietly from her face. She looks like she has some serious weight holding her down but to avoid saying the wrong thing; you just hold on to dear silence.

 

 

She finally opens up abruptly, like an unpredicted hail storm with a short statement, I am pregnant.

 

 

Feature Image by Mukiri Gitiri.

Campaign Girls

 

 

 

Elections found me working for an aspiring governor. A big man with a big smile for the crowds and deep pockets, deeper than the boreholes he dug for the locals to aid in their water problems. He knew what to say and when to say and the exact ways to mould it when saying it. And when he said it, even when it was gibberish, the red flags went up high, and the locals pledged their loyalty. He had made his fortune from his family wealth, but when he spoke about himself, which was quite often, he said of how his intellect had made him a successful business person. He gave us tales of his big cup of excellence, and like the dummies we were, we sat by his feet sipping slowly in coveted admiration.

 

The March long rains came and fell with both hands, the water gouged out deep channels and swept away twigs, leaves and the top fertile soil. With it, we marched into the rural areas and dived into the locals’ conscience and asked for their votes in the primaries. We met them tilling their gardens, feeding their babies, taking out urine drenched mattresses from last night’s atrocities by the young boys, basking, and drinking. Sometimes we met their dangerous unwelcoming dogs or abandoned houses, but we never relented. The Jacaranda beautiful purple flowers collected into small groups on the murram roads beneath the intrepid trees and with it, the beauty of Central Kenya shone like the morning star.

 

*

 

I got a job as a Data Entry Clerk for the big man’s gubernatorial campaign. I cannot correctly recall how it happened because it took place while I was under the magnificent alcoholic haze. It was in the club back in 2016; our Governor-to-be was having expensive drinks with his friends on a table close to ours. My friends and I had just completed our final examinations in campus, which was the reason we were draining red wine like we had won the Nobel Peace Prize. Our neighbours were getting louder with each bucket of ice they ordered the waiter to bring.

 

It started out as a dare. The big man thought he could make his way to Parliament and his friends sneered in disbelief. A little later, he said bluntly and insistently, ‘I will even run for governor to prove you idiots wrong.’ That is how his campaign started. He bought drinks for every lady in the club that night and when he approached our table, and we told him our reason for celebration, he instructed us to be at his house 8 am on Monday, he would be the first to hire us. Our salary would be Ksh 30,000. That is how my two friends and I got our first job, on the same day we cleared the last paper in campus.

 

His gubernatorial bid was a dare. But then, a wise man once said, it is not how a race starts, but how it ends that matters. The next day, after the hangover had subsided, I called home and broke the good news that I had completed my four years in school of nursing and at the same time got a temporary job. My parents were elated, mostly because they never had to pay my rent again.

 

We worked from his mansion. He had three, so it did not matter that he used one of the houses as the campaign headquarters. The living room was the size of a basketball court and the bathrooms the size of my apartment. The carpenters came on Monday and converted the living room into an open office, and right there we began working. I would receive massive amounts of money and distribute it to the campaign ground workers to distribute to the voters. Every voter we asked for a vote was entitled to a Ksh 200 note. Most of my days would be spent chasing Ksh 1000 loose change in 200s. In a day, around Ksh 500 000 crossed my hands.

 

My other two friends did other things in the office daily, and as usual, there can never be a group of women without gossip. It started three weeks after we started working. The big man walked in rage and flew upstairs, we all stood stunned in awe wondering what the devil had done. A little later we heard struggling and screaming from upstairs from a lady. What surprised me most is that within those three weeks, someone was living upstairs and we had never seen her. A little gossip later we learned that it was the big man’s wife. It was against the rules for the wife to leave the house. She stayed locked up as the big man made plans and money for the family. I was infuriated and just like that my admiration slowly started turning to abhorrence.

 

It was the mansion’s custom to burst open a bottle of whisky at the end of a successful week. The big man’s whisky cabinet was bigger than his bathroom which was bigger than my apartment, so I hope that can draw you a vivid picture of its size. In those parties, I discovered Hennessy, Platinum Label, and Jack Daniels. Beautiful drinks that cost more than my salary. It was in one of those parties that things started to get incredibly wrong. I was standing by the printer when the big man approached me and asked why I was working on Saturday while I should have been enjoying the river of whisky courtesy of the big man almighty. I was dumbfounded that he cared. Then it happened, he put his hand on my bum and made to grab it like I was his. Part of me was immobile, astonished with despair like those rats that lose hope in laboratory experiments and lie down in the maze to starve.

 

His wife attended that party in particular. She was the one going around serving the drinks. I was even more scared about her feelings about my ass in her husband’s hand than the actual big hand that tried again to grope my unlucky ass. I did not speak, I was frozen but moving away from him. I took a seat and waited for my shock to subside before I took my things and left the ‘office.’

 

When I left I was so sure I was never to come back again. As if the night was not yet done with me, as I waited for a matatu to take me home, which was extremely unlikely considering the neighbourhood it was, the big man’s driver pulled over and told me to get into the car, that he had been ordered to take me home. I was one part resistance, two parts grateful so I got in, and he ferried me back to my place.

 

I could not help thinking about my situation. I was certain that this would never have a chance of a good ending. I drifted back to that moment when he placed his hand on my bum and then tried to do it again. I was so sure that other people in the office had noticed. Even his wife. When I called home the following Sunday afternoon, it was to say that I would be going home. Mother picked the call and could not stop ranting about how happy she was I had not asked for rent. That I was a big girl now, taking care of my problems like a grownup. I ended the call exceedingly sure that there was no going back. I had to make a living for myself.

 

 

*

 

 

Monday morning found me debating whether it was all worth it. At 10.00 am when it was two hours past the time I was supposed to get to the office, I got a text message. It was from the big man according to Truecaller. It was short and extreme in brevity. It was like it was typed in a speedy, careless, go-to-hell sprawl, like something I would write fast before going out to the grocery market. It said, ‘report to work.’ The big man was calling; it would be rude not to answer. So at midday, I walked into the office like a loose girl doing a walk of shame on a Monday morning.

 

The primaries came, and we lost. With it, we became an independent party and even pressed harder for votes. The campaign speeches grew longer, and the Ksh 200 notes increased to Ksh 500 notes. We used land cruisers to get to places young boys had never seen automobiles. We promised electricity to people with no roofs and fertilisers to individuals with no land. We even hired bloggers, and I sent them Ksh 1027 to post nasty, made up rumours about our primary opponent. Still, after all that, the poles still said we were 2% behind.

 

It was a battle to the bone. One that had started out as a simple dare now had become a serious life or death situation. Secretly, I hoped he would not win. He was arrogant, disrespectful and beat his wife. That was enough to make sure he would never get my vote. By the time we got to the final polls on 8th August, he had already bedded my two friends and increased their salary to Ksh 40 000. All but me.

 

The final poles threw him off the gubernatorial seat by a 9000 votes’ margin. A very close shave. He had lost but had made a huge impact on the county. He did not seem bothered by the loss. In fact, even before the announcement, he had me allocate funds to a big party of all his campaign staff.

 

I decided to bring my boyfriend to the big man’s party. Partly because the big man smashed my two friends, they seemed to have grown distant, so I had no friends and also partly because I felt I needed security. At the party, the big man insisted that I was to dance with him and when my boyfriend gave me an okay look I let him take my arm to the middle of the room. It was the longest ten minutes dance I ever had. When I came back, I found my boyfriend already ordered a cab to take us back home. He was furious. These young men and their possession pride (rolls eyes).

 

 

*

 

 

A week after the election, after we had cleared out and our contract terminated, I got a call from the big man. I was curious, so after some few relaxation stunts, I answered the call casually. It turns out, they needed to keep five employees for permanent employment and I had been shortlisted, so he was calling me to let me know that I was being called in for an interview.

 

Before I could make a response, he told me to carry my documents, and he would have the driver pick me up within the hour. This smelt like a distasteful disaster but I had to keep paying my rent, so I got ready in my skirt suit, made my hair look professional and put all my documents in a folder. The driver in a Range Rover was waiting as I left my apartment.

 

I got into the car, and the car sped towards town, then past town towards God knows where. I got unsettled and asked the driver where we were headed, and he briefly announced that we would get there when we got there. Without further options, I accepted my fate and drifted back into a fretful doze.

 

The car came to a halt about 200 kilometres from my apartment. It was a colourful modern hotel. A place where green dominated and nature displayed all its beauty. I now wish I had more time to let the beauty sink in, but my legs trembled and my mouth felt dry. I felt like an anchorless red balloon was floating on my stomach. Quickly I got my phone and shared my location on WhatsApp with my boyfriend and my sister. If I died, I wanted them to know where exactly to start looking for the body.

 

I found him relaxed under a gazebo sipping some expensive German Whiskey. He was in a Bahamas coloured short and a baggy checked shirt. A nasty combination of prints but that was barely within my range of fucks to give. He smiled and stood up to make a handshake with me. I was determined to make this an official interview, so before he even ordered me a bottle of 1800 Italian Wine, I handed him my CV. He pretended to read then threw it aside. In a statement that seemed too calm to be a threat, he assured me that I would get or not get the job depending on what I had to offer him.

 

There are points in life when a woman must accept that she is prey yet besides it, be determined enough to be fierce to level up the predators in the ecosystem. For certain, I knew I would never have sex with him, yet it did not matter, I was in the middle of nowhere, and the choice before me was not even a moral one, more than it was a survival one.

 

I was too engrossed in my thoughts that when he enquired whether I had a boyfriend, I just shook my head distractedly. In plain simple bare and definite words, I opened up my thoughts to him. I let him know that I would not sleep with him in any circumstance even when I needed the job this much. I looked directly at him and told him that I had a boyfriend waiting for me at home. That I love him so much to cheat on him (*rolls eyes, we had only been dating three months). I told him of the family I would want to have with him, a family of three or four kids. All girls. I told him of my accomplishments and what they meant to me. Of my rent and my parents. My fears and my aspirations.

 

I was talking consistently for more than twenty minutes that when I was done, I just stood up and made my way to leave. I did not even know a way out. I just walked. I could feel my heart pounding in my arms. I was certain that in the middle of my pressured outburst I may or may not have called the big man a sexual predator. One part fierce, two parts stupid. The elephant in the room would be how to get home.

 

 

*

 

 

As I type this story, I am home waiting for a call to know whether I aced that interview or not. Otherwise, I am just among the 40% unemployed Kenyans out here.

 

*

 

 

***Based on a true story***

 

 

The Gatekeeper

 

 

 

They come in a little after midnight. Just about when it begins to get chilly, when the air reeks desertion, and the haze of darkness accepts its fate making the grandeur of the environment look insubstantial and unreal. They are always dropped off by taxi, each time a different taxi. They stagger past my small habitat avoiding my gaze as assiduously as if I was a forbidden fruit they had been warned about. A single look at them tells that they are well buried under the magnificent alcohol haze. They hold each other, always in couples, either trying to keep away the cold, supporting each other from the lack of balance or as a sexual foreplay ritual before the main thing.

 

 
On most days they are four of them. The two masculine figure are not residents here, who I am supposed to stop but I no longer interest myself in the dedication of arguing with drunk people. So I let them pass, I actually think they like me for that. They walk with footsteps slowed to a jarring and unmistakable cadence like zombie footsteps. Past me and into the hostel lobby and later to their rooms and minutes later after the laughing and indistinct loud statements die down, I can hear heavy breathing and low moans. Sex. I always try to create a mental picture of what goes on in that room but over and over, my imagination fails me.

 

 
The rooms are fitted and furnitured for four occupants. Their room particularly has two other roommates when they walk in. Meaning that when the pangs of love can no longer themselves, the action happens in front of two innocent roommates, probably sleeping and another couple who most likely are engaged in the same activity. Somehow, I find myself hoping in between the moans that these two couples have the decency to take upper bunks. I have no idea why that to me assumes the possibility of being more private.

 

 
On more than one instances, I find myself thinking about this situation. My interest predominantly lands on one of the four. I tend to overthink people or situations sometimes. Often I find myself unable to hold back from asking myself about the appearance of circumstances until I am in my humble bed, flipping from side to another unable to solve a conundrum in my head. I do not have much education, you see, I never had a chance for university, therefore, most of the lifestyles people I guard live, are either new to me or coveted greatly in my subconscious.

 

 
Her name is Lucia. A young brilliant tenant from one of the rooms on the ground floor. I find myself under the spell of her plain facial expression when she is sober. A masterpiece of calm, an appearance of strange and dangerous fearlessness. For the two years I have manned the gate since she moved in, nothing appeared to ruffle her or make her upset. When there was a strike in school and students threw stones all over breaking glass and burning grass, she just strolled by me like she was talking a walk in the park. She has a stillness so powerful that molecules and atoms appear to align themselves systematically when she walks into the lobby. This often makes her look more mature than she actually is, older even. However, all this disappears like the sun in winter on weekend nights when she staggers past my watch kibanda. Then, she looks susceptible, open to suggestion and unguarded.

 

 
Yesterday was on a Sunday. She had been out partying with her three other friends and came home later than usual drenched in alcohol like a headless chicken ready for plucking. Her supposed boyfriend held her right arm around himself, half of her weight well on his shoulders. They came in at around three in the morning and after a few amateur moans from room C16 on the ground floor, everything was still and the night went on as usual.

 

 
The following morning, just about when my shift was to come to an end, Lucia comes from the lobby full of grace and glamor in a stripped somehow long dress and make up that must have taken tonnes of patience. My evaluation was that she was headed to church. As she walked past me, she turned her gaze slowly towards me, smiled and waved at me. The usual calm had returned, her ebony oval face revealing a particular kind of smoothness like the bark of a guava tree. This was the first attention to me in two years.

 

 
The other opening day, her parents brought her to school, dropped her off on their usual Toyota Corolla. I have seen her get dropped by her parents each time a new semester begins. They always come in shopping bags and suitcases, walk up to room C16, help her get settled in and then make a family prayer before a series of hugs and goodbyes. That room has seen more mood and moral variations than a husband to a pregnant woman.

 

 
After the parents leave, it is usually not long before her horny boyfriend swaggers past me on the gate. I can almost see two weeks’ semester break dry spell written on his face. They meet in the lobby, hug and kiss passionately before they leave the lobby into C16. The last time he held a small bunch of red roses in his hands. For once, I gave him points for effort in my head.

 

 
Today is on a Monday, my shift begins at six in the evening. I have not been able to let Lucia out of my mind all day long. I should have been sleeping but sleep comes with difficulty these days. I lay in the wake of my distracted mind trying to bring perspective to fantasies. My room is humble, my gatekeeper salary goes to my savings because I do not plan to be one my entire life.

 

 
Financial limitations can only keep a man grounded physically but not mentally. So today, just about the time Lucia comes from town with her boyfriend, a bag of fries for supper in her hands I will do it. Something I have thought about doing for as long as I can remember being a hostel guard. I will request the boyfriend to give us a minute, walk up to her and let myself feel the scent of her presence. It will be the closest I have been to her. I believe myself to be good-looking and a good speaker, so I do not expect presentation to be a problem to me.

 

 
I let her boyfriend past the gate at weird ungodly hours, so I do not expect him to be an issue. He owes me that much. I will let her pretty face reflect all my insecurities and reveal a shine of hope, brighter than the sun in summer. I will have to be quick not to draw a lot of attention from other students passing through. I will be in the best of dressing and smoothness of tongue. It won’t matter how many times I have heard her sexual moans in room C16, or that her parents look as protective as a lioness to her cubs. The only variables will be me, a gatekeeper, and her, a taken a girlfriend standing in the doorway to the hostel.

 

 
This evening will be the day I ask her to be my girlfriend and we will all be here when I narrate to you how it goes tomorrow.

 

 

 

Feature Image of Mukiri Gitiri Captured by Gathige.

No Witnesses

 

 

 

I was born in 7th March, 1987. The day I was born, it rained hard, a storm that brought down trees and houses. I was born in my mothers and fathers house by a midwife. My father hated hospitals, he said that they reeked of weakness and infection. So my mother pushed without anaesthetic, cried and cursed until my head popped out. Outside, lighting struck followed by deafening thunder as if in protest to something. The midwife with really rough hands probably from harvesting tea in the fields, pulled my small body in the world.

 
My father worked in the armoury where he tended to the army’s weapons. I can remember him cleaning more guns in our living room than I saw him shower. He held himself on high regard constantly claiming that only a man of great responsibility could be accorded such an important task. Before I could stop pooping my pants, I knew how to hold and clean a gun.

 
On the evening of 27th January 1996 as I came from school, I found my father’s body splattered around the floor like a red carpet on Christmas. He had blown himself to kingdom come on his favourite seat in the living room while tending to his guns. Poor guy had taken his wife with him without even asking. Asking was not his style, he was a dictator, issuing commands and hitting mother on the head was more his style. Now, standing on the doorway, all I could see was brains and decapitated limbs of both him and mother.

 
I shed a few necessary tears for mother, collected the remaining guns and set foot on my way. Let the dead take care of themselves; the Bible says something like that, I think. His guns were now my guns. I remember vividly packing no clothes or food, the only thing I packed were the deadly guns father loved. To this day I do not know whether father blew himself up by accident or on purpose. Maybe it was mother who got tired of him and shut him up by blowing his brains, whatever happened, I was not staying to find out.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

I loved blood. I made acquaintance with the butcher in the place I moved to. He supplied me with raw blood from the cattle they butchered and I would put in a cup in the secrecy of my wrecked house and sip it slowly like Asian tea. A cup in the morning and a cup in the evening, sometimes even more when the spoils from the slaughter house accommodated. I lied to the butcher man that I used to make mutura. Stupid dumbass believed me.

 

 

 
A usual day for me was working out and cleaning my guns which were often dirty from hunting hare in the Aberdare forest. I ate a lot of meat. My body was more meat than brains but so is everybody else’s’. My body was curved like a sculpture from the workouts with all kinds of vein patterns on my arms. Strength was mandatory, that was one thing I had picked from father. I was hairy, very hairy all over my body like a caveman. But I was a caveman of sorts, living on the edge of the forest and hunting deer and hare for meals.

 

 

 
At the age of seventeen, as I lay on the grass a scorpion climbed up my boot and chewed my left heel unceremoniously. I barely survived the poison but the living were not done with me so I survived day after day until the only thing left to tell the scorpion story was a limp. This limp stays with me to this day.

 

 

 

 
At nineteen I began working on contracts. A man and his wife were walking home when an armed guy in a hoodie approached them, pointed a gun and promised to put bullet holes in their stomachs if they did not hand over their phones, wallets and jewellery. On ordinary circumstances, I would have kept to the darkness and watched the free film before I went on my way. The two victims handed the thug everything they had and begged for their lives. Cowards deserve to die, so I hoped that the gun the hoodie guy held would get to be fired. Then it happened that the man threw himself in front of the lady and asked the hoodie guy to shoot him and let his wife go in peace. In my mind, I quickly resolved that this man was not a coward. He was brave he did not deserve a bullet after all. I snuck behind the bushes stealthily and silently like a serpent and struck the hoodie guy on his back, disarmed him effortlessly, cautiously and swiftly, just like hunting deer before I put bullets all over his body. The first bullet on his left foot, second on his right knee cap, third on his belly button, fourth on his left eye, sixth on the right lung before the last bullet put him to eternal sleep from the forehead. I would have shot his groins too but the bullets ran out.
The man and the wife rewarded me heavily even though I had not expected it with six thousand shillings and that became my first contract.

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

When I met Maria, I had just come from the Rift Valley. I had been there for three days, working. This assignment was special. It involved a very important man. My contact, the person who had handed me the assignment also sounded important but identity was not any of my concern. So on a misty Tuesday morning, as a helicopter sailed an important person to the plains of the Rift Valley for an occasion, I lay flat on a raised ground one eye shut to put all the juice on the other one that was looking on a tiny aiming hole of my father’s M21 Sniper Weapon machine. I shot three times; at the pilot, then the choppers propeller and finally just as the chopper begun to spin, I shot one passenger. The last shot was unnecessary. The chopper landed on a hill and blew up like the fourth of July. The job was not done until I walked to the crushed site and shot the remains gratuitously. No witnesses.

 
I was paid twenty thousand shillings. I met Maria on my usual visits to the butcher. She was barely dressed. All she had were pieces of cheap fabric covering her private areas seductively, I assumed it was fashion. She stood by the butchery calmly as if waiting for someone. I had never spoken to a girl so I was specifically surprised she talked to me first. It was a quick hello followed by a question I did not have a response to. She asked me whether I had seen anything I liked. It was a weird question but one that demanded a response. I threw my eyes to her hair, artificial but so beautiful, her body, the way it graciously made a figure eight and the waist, the tiny waist held me captive that I only murmured a yes.

 
Maria must have been a very free person because while I expected her to turn away and move on like I did not exist, she simply asked me another question. She wanted to know whether I had money and food because as she put it, she was starving. I explained to her patiently that I had had good luck that morning and caught a gazelle that was lying waiting to be roasted at my place and yes, I did have money. With that, Maria held my arm and we walked talking about everything until we got to my house.

 
This had been the first time I had company at my place so while I stayed nervous, she eased the mood by constantly holding my arm. I liked the way she held my arm and looked into my eyes. Instead of roasting the meat, we boiled it as per Maria’s suggestion. She served the meat on a plate and we ate while she went on and on about different things in her life. This strange creature amused me but I let it.

 
When the meal was over, Maria said that she would teach me something new and I gladly accepted. She took her clothes off until she was completely naked. The lamp shone on her nakedness like the sunset of the Tsavo. The she cautiously got my clothes off too while looking deep into my eyes like she was looking for approval. I let her have her way. A few minutes later, I had proudly had my first sexual encounter.

 
I did not have much use for money so the morning Maria left, I handed her ten thousand shillings and told her to use it since we were friends now. She accepted gladly and did that naked thing for me another time before she hurriedly left. We made plans to see each other later in the evening where she promised she would teach me something else.

 

 

 

The same day, I got another contact from a woman who wanted her husband gone forever. As usual I was not concerned about the reasons why she wanted her husband dead so I asked for details like where he would be, an image of him and all that shit. I was determined to finish this assignment fast and join Maria later in the day. When I got to the location directed by the wife who wanted her husband gone, it was a function. The husband was launching his new flats that he had built with his wife and now they were ready for tenants. It was an easy job, I let the function terminate before I met the husband in the restrooms, told him that his wife had decided to let him join the dead and put two bullets, one on his head and the other to his heart to make sure he would never wake up and left him face down in the toilet bowl like he was hugging it and left. Let the dead take care of themselves; the Bible says something like that, I think. I was paid four thousand for this job.

 
I was late for the agreed meeting time with Maria, so when I got to the butchery, I was not surprised that she was not there. I asked around but nobody around seemed to know her. I decided to head home and see if she was home. It was dark when I got home and unluckily she was not there either. I blamed myself for getting late and fell asleep immediately. I had a very nice dream about Maria and her naked body which made me so happy.

 
The next day went on slow, too slow. When it was evening, I left the house to look for Maria. I was determined to apologize for the previous day. I wanted her back more than anything. I got to the small town centre just in time to see Maria vanish to a turn with another accomplice. I ran as fast as I could to get to her but eventually I decided to just follow them like I did with gazelle, deer and hare before pouncing on them unawares during hunting.

 
They walked to a house, which by the fact that it was Maria who opened the door, I assumed it was her house. It was tiny and spoke a tale of limited resources but still better than mine yet I felt sorry for her. I would have liked to give her everything good this life had to offer. They walked in with the man and I waited for about twenty minutes. When they did not come out, I decided to walk in myself and explain everything. Explain the reason I had been late for the hook up the previous day. I had it planned out in my head, everything I would tell her, yet cautiously leave the part about me killing people for a living.

 
When I go to the door, I could hear Maria’s voice, she was screaming all kinds of words beginning with her maker followed by all kinds of curse words. She kept screaming and I thought she was in trouble so I stormed into the house to the biggest disappointment of my twenty one years.

 
There she was doing out thing with another guy, both entirely naked and worse was that she seemed to be enjoying it more. They stopped the moment I stormed in. I could feel my anger rising like mercury in a thermometer. I could not comprehend why she was doing our thing with other people. Maria started to say something but stopped the moment I held the man’s neck with both hands and lifted him up like he was a cup of coffee.

 
He chocked. Maria begged. I was not listening to either of them. He spoke, he said something about Maria being a prostitute but I did not care. He had to die. He writhed like a worm until his legs relaxed. Maria screamed her lungs out. I threw the lifeless body away and headed for her neck too. When I caught her I felt something inside me, I hesitated. It was something I had never felt, not even when I watched my mother’s body lifeless on our living room. It was a weird emotion.

 
She tried to reach for something from the table, a kettle which she threw to my face missed and it landed on the floor splashing hot water to my left foot. The scorpion bite hated anything hot. It was painful too painful, I let her go and limped out of the house and ran.

 
I had never left any witnesses. She was the first one. I had to go, I had to leave the Central region to another region. I did not even bother to go pick my father’s guns. From now I did not need them, using my hands to finish my work had felt more gratifying. I ran into the forest to an uncharted region where Maria would not lead the police.

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

My clients still reach me. If someone wants you dead then you will die by my hands. I will not use a gun. Guns are too quick. I will use my hands and watch life escape your body like a treated plague and then leave you dead. Let the dead take care of themselves; the Bible says something like that, I think. I will get paid as low as four thousand for your life. One day I will get Maria. I know now that she is a hooker but she is still mine. I will let her body do things to my body and then I will kill her slowly and respectfully. No witnesses.

 

 

*

 

 

END

 

 

Feature Image by Mukiri Gitiri

A Guy with a Girl

 

 

I am a guy without a girl, lying awake in the dead of the night thinking about a girl. Deeply rooted in the proverbial uncontrollable love screaming a girl’s name to no one in particular yet hoping to be heard. Sleep is a long lost visitor, coming in unannounced amidst a pillow wet with tears. For that reason, I am the guy always on the phone or on a computer forcing distraction upon a troubled mind so that it can accommodate peace. I am the guy with a hint of happiness as a distant memory, cursing time in between breaths for moving too fast.

 

 

 

I am the guy jogging every morning on the sidewalk. Talking long walks deep in the countryside in the evening with white earphones dangling loosely from my ears, speaking but barely being heard. The guy taking a shower after a jog and letting tears flow smoothly with the warm water from the shower. Taking really long showers and losing myself in the meditative walls of the bathroom.

 

 

 

The guy holding a large novel at noon in the living room with a glass of whisky placed on the coffee table begging to be sipped but constantly being ignored. A guy that knows the value of control when it comes to alcohol because it always starts as a means to terminate the melancholy in the living room and ends up in a rehabilitation centre’s reception somewhere in Limuru. A guy that is not curious to find out what lays on the bottom of the bottle yet still opens the bottle anyway.

 

 

 

I am the guy who used to have a girl. Then, nothing could go wrong. A guy who once held fate by the throat, but now is held down to the filth by fate’s fury.

 

 

 

A guy, busy making plans in the middle of diary pages and notebooks only for it to turn to shit just moments before implementation. A guy who is weary of praying for the same thing from January to June and now wondering whether the omnipresent heaven tenant took a long vacation to the Bahamas. Tied to my mind with voices screaming from every medulla of the mind but ineffable torturous silence and unrest on the outside. The silence preceding a catastrophe.

 

 

 

I am the guy whose girl means the entire world to him, busy scribbling romantic notes in the middle of the night and then deleting them because they will never be read. And now staring long and deep into the framed art on the walls reliving each photo painfully like the plucking of a broken molar tooth.

 

 

 

The guy alone in a big house secretly afraid of a monster under the bed, a monster I call time. Twenty turns to twenty-one and then to twenty-two and everything moves but I have nothing to show as progress. A guy aware of important dates in July, surreptitiously aware of what they mean and their implications on the flow of life.

 

 

 

An old lion chasing young love across the savannah grasslands of the Mara. A prey faster than time, swift as the wind and seductive as forbidden fruit. A predator aware of the sweetness and thrill of the hunt but forced by prevailing circumstances to settle for unfulfilling scavenge life.

 

 

 

A monkey gracefully gliding from branch to branch in the dense Aberdare forest in the middle of the rainy season. But now lost a limb and living in caves hiding my face away from the cold June weather.

 

 

 

The guy who found a girl to be bliss, the definition of love, the true purpose of life and the only ingredient to happiness. The guy cooking in the kitchen, food made with love but only gets enjoyed by solitude, desolation and a tasteless tongue. Then waking up in the morning to dirty dishes and hot coffee, another day to exist and feel shitty in the evening when there is still nothing to show for twenty-four hours.

 

 

 

I am better with the girl than without. But in a callous world full of individuality and commitment to independence nobody seems to get this. Maybe the white man took too much freedom from us, such that to this day we feel enmeshed and buckled up in chains and handcuffs when we feel that we indeed need dependence.

 

 

 

Writing down and reading a lot of words each day, yet feeling drained of words. Words are not oxygen, you cannot live off them. You cannot fill your lungs with words and breathe out bad words leaving the good ones to sustain life in the body.

 

 

 

The scientist in a cruel lab, performing ninety-seven trails and receiving ninety-seven failed test outcomes. A scientist slowly becoming a monster with each trial because it gets to you brain, it feasts on your sanity with a big spoon and serves your heart as dessert.

 

 

 

A man, sinking into depression, first with a single toe, then a foot and now gasping for air with the whole eternity finding its way to the bottom of the sea.

 

 

 

The prisoner serving time in solitary, marking dates on the walls with a rock waiting for the day they will allow the sun to touch my lips again and entrust her with my presence. The sun to place a warm hug on my shoulders, never to leave him alone again in damnation and anguish of darkness. The prisoner who tried to do everything right in the beginning yet stays condemned with zero chances for redemption.

 

 

 

Devastated, angry and desperate.

 

 

 

I am the author of who scribbled this sad short memoir in January, yet flinches with familiar acrimony in June because the plot still the same old. A mad man persistently doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. The guy with a girl but without her altogether.

 

 

 

 

Feature Image by Mukiri Gitiri.

Dear Mother. Part One. By Mukiri Gitiri

 

 
Mother, today I would like you to listen to a story that happened many years ago. I would like to suggest that you lose that judgmental temperament you are always carrying around the house, at least until I am done.

 

 

 

What was that mother? You promise? Okay. Now, it was five thirty in the evening. I remember feeling awfully tired but also happy and excited for my first weekend in the University. I had just survived a five-hour lecture on calculus. Math was never my thing, I will not lie, and I only pretended to like it so that I could make you happy.

 

 

 

Mother! You promised you would be silent! If you start judging this early, I will take this story to father instead. Okay? In my defense now that you asked when I applied for a course in campus I specifically signed up for intense Chemistry and Biology. To this day, I have no idea why there was Calculus, Algebra, and Statistics in my unit courses. To be entirely honest University was a disappointment, I had expected to be marveled by the lecturers, the lecture rooms and the students, turns out the lecturers were just old and tired educated heartless morons, the lecture rooms were similar to the ones in Chogoria Primary, only that the seats were sponged and the students were just a bunch of competitive social climbers trying to figure themselves out. That is a long sentence mother, let me catch my breath.

 

 

 

I hated small talk with my classmates. I disapproved a lot of things. Come to think about it; I was probably a sad and frustrated girl doing more observations that associations. On this particular day, I left the class in the company of a girl friend of mine, headed to the hostels. It was a silent walk. I loath silence but at the moment, my inexperience would have had me talk about Calculus differentiation and broken test-tubes, so I held on to my silence like a mother does her child. I did not want to be the buffoon that brings the classroom out of class. This was University, studying ended the moment you swept across the classroom door frame.

 

 

 

Alternatively, I would have started a chit chat about lipstick, weaves and camel toes but I did not even know what a camel toe was.

 

 

 

What was that mother? No! I am not going to tell you what a camel toe is. You can google after this story is ended. Now, as I was saying, I was really bad in conversations. I had stayed away from the close girl to girl friendships because I could sniff trouble and drama from a mile away. Another reason I was bad at this kind of engagements is that my knowledge outside the classroom was as tiny as a teacher’s pension. I could not even tell the difference between Beyoncé and Rihanna. Yes, mother, I could not tell shit!

 

 

 

I am sorry. Yes, I will mind my language mother. I had cool roommates though. They assimilated me into a gang we called the Room 3 divas. We even had a Whats App group. I had always felt that they were to cool for me. I mean, they could rock a thigh long dress and six-inch strappy heels on their second day on campus. Oh! And Rihanna’s signature red hair covering one eye. They were clearly absolute divas.

 

 

 

Mother, correct me if am wrong, but there is a scowl expression on your face. Can you wipe it off? I do not like it. As, I was saying before you rudely interrupted with that damn scroll, I was one of them, not by any qualification, but by the geographic existence in the same room. They would dress for hours as I watched and learned and then they would ask me how cool they looked. My opinion mattered mother, I was important. I was their coolness thermometer, measuring how cool or hot they looked. When you do this for a while, you are bound to pick a few tricks, soon I had to throw away my baggy trousers and flat shoes you bought me, no offense, and I just had to. I started becoming more like them and less like me. We would dress up together for class now, and take selfies later. I would have shown you those selfies mother but my phone mother, my phone was the Huawei Ideos you bought me, its pixels was almost zero mother. Not that I am complaining, but I needed something that would flatter my face and put some beauty filters, something that would paint me to their standards mother. I am not a liar; I just needed to fit in.

 

 

 

Now this particular Friday Evening, most of the people were headed out from the hostels for drinks and stuff like that.

 

 

 

No, mother, the drinks were neither coffee nor tea. Others were strolling chatting loudly in English with some occasional loud laughs hugging, smooching and touching. Yes mother, touching. I was bored, so when I got a call from my cool friends, the ones from the land of fish and English, I did not even think twice about it.

 

 

 

See what I did with the words mother? Fish and English? Come on, you can laugh a little. This is a funny story mother. That day mother, I rocked a 1950’s floral skirt. Its length would have made you kneel before God. Don’t curse mother; I had a pair of stockings inside, everything was well covered.

 

 

 

When the boys called, I was overwhelmed. All my life I had been a good girl mother, a little backward and uncool, but good. Your kind of good. I was a determined uncool girl. It was the first time a boy had called me on my Ideos Phone mother. I love to stand out mother; maybe I got it from father’s side of the family. I hoped back into my cubicle, took off the stockings and put on grey boots. As I said, mother, I was a determined uncool girl with pretty grey boots, a short skirt, a tiny top that would make you ask where they had taken the rest of the material and an immensely adventurous spirit. That day mother, I left my decency in my dressing cabinet together with the rest of the material for the top I was in.

 

 

 

No. No mother, do not gasp like someone just died. I am still here, am I not? Shall I move on with my story?

 

 

 

Okay, mother. Now, I got to the boys’ hostel across the school. You will not believe what these boys gave me; they handed me a FIFA pad! A FIFA pad mother! You know what that means? They did not look at me like the sexual object I had tried to transform myself into, mother. To them, I was a bro. Maybe my grey heeled boots did not make me tall enough, or my legs were not long enough to be sexy, or even I had always overestimated the prettiness on my face. I was disappointed beyond words.

 

 

 

Do not look so relieved mother; the story is still far from over. These boys mother, were not only from the lake but also from Nairobi City. The good side of the city where there are tarmac roads and gated communities. The kind of Nairobi that is green and cool, colored by flowery yards and fences. The kind that they do not have to use Mwi Sacco or MSLs matatus. A different kind of Nairobi where their fathers made collection cabinets of wines and expensive vodkas. Alcohol that was more expensive than the school fees we paid at school.

 

 

 

The kind of girlfriends these resourceful boys had used to put gel nails; you know what gel nails are mother? I too didn’t know. The only gel I knew is that one girls in my primary school would use to force their hair to curl. Oh and silica gel from my chemistry class. I was a sad little girl mother.

 

 

 

When a boy from the next room came in and invited me to the next room for a private party, I thought that it was your prayers mother, which had landed me such an opportunity. I hear you praying for me in the middle of the night mother, make sure you will never stop mother.

 

 

 

So your prayers landed me to a private party. By the time I got there, there was smoke from all kinds of smokable drugs, even bhang mother. It turns out bhang is not only for demented, hopeless people but also cool kids too. The smoke was mixed with the stench of alcohol that made me flinch with inexperience. In the room, there were guys already rubbing their crotches viciously on the behinds of other cool girls with even lesser material on their clothes than me. It was fucking awesome!

 

 

 

Sorry, sorry mother, I got carried away in the heat of the moment, I will not curse again. Well, if you want me to finish the story here, I can.

 

 

 

What was that mother? No, I am not ashamed of myself. Your tone is rising mother, take a deep breath mother. I would like to continue with my story. Now, this guy, that had been sent by God, courtesy of your prayers to save me from the bro-zone, poured me a drink, and another and another. Only the first gulp was nastier than the look you give me when I pile dirty dishes in the sink. The more I drank, the more my clothes felt loose, and the more I became a better dancer. I swung my hips in all kind of angles, and the boys loved it. They loved me, mother! I swear they did!

 

 

 

I was so drunk that when the party ended, and one of my male party mates carried me in his arms to his room and started to work on my clothes, I did not have the brain capacity to stop him.

 

 

 

Tears mother? Really? You are going to start crying for something that happened four years ago? Well, if it gives you any peace, I did not lose my little pink flower. At least not that day.

 

 

To be continued…

Feature Image by Mukiri Gitiri

The Legend of Cornelio

 

 

 

My grandfather Chief Cornelius Kuria Kahuba always said that age is never about the number of years one had lived but rather the number of lifetimes one had experienced. Seated on the visitor’s seat on the edge of his mud-walled living room with his black and white old portrait towering above my head, this sentiment never made much appeal to me. In line to his beliefs and antics, grandfather always asked for everyone’s opinion in a discussion. To him, opinion from an eight year old mattered as much as one from his age mate. The twist in all this was that he heard all opinions but always came to resolve from his own opinion. Grandfather was chief and his leadership frolics could be felt from the moment you walked into his compound. He had two beautiful wives, Racheal and Rebecca and a huge piece of land that extended to the horizon. To the rest of the villagers, grandfather was chief, not by any government appointment but by merely his status to the community. They called him Cornelio.

 

 

 

 

We all thought heroes need caps and masks, that they live in Gotham, New York and Hell’s Kitchen flying around lazily during sunny Sunday afternoons assuring the people that they are protected. That heroes needed to stick to the shadows like Batman and come out when villains attack the city. That they need to save kittens from tree tops and damsels in distress.  Cornelio was a hero. He did not were a mask, he did not put on a cap, or fly, neither did he have the keys to his village but still he managed to assure people of protection. He was an alpha among wolves teaching people the virtue of love and pure kindness.

 

 

 

 

Cornelio was my grandfather. I never really did meet him because he passed away immediately after I was born in 1995. If I had known him I would have revered him. I would have sat beneath his favourite chair every school holiday and drank from his enormous cup of wisdom. I would have listened to every single tale of his time, and wrote stories of how he grew up and how legends are bred. I have heard tales that he held me once in his arms immediately after I was born but that was not fulfilling, I would have liked more. And last year as we did a memorial service to commemorate twenty years since he left us and I got to experience how it felt to be with him around, the conviction he had to the masses and most of all the scar he left on his sons, daughters and grandchildren.

 

 

 

 

He was a community man and a church head. Every Sunday after church everyone from the church would go to his home for lunch. Cornelio was not a rich man but his will was to keep on giving. His thing was for communism not accumulation of wealth. He did not see the essence of having a lot when his neighbour had none so he shared, gave freely to those who needed his help and services. He worked to solve the problems of his people, social and economic alike.

 

 

 

Whenever mother speaks about him, you can see her eyes go into a delirium, she goes back twenty plus years and narrates to me when father had first taken her to grandfather. Cornelio had asked father if that was the lady that had pleased his eyes above all others and he answered ‘Yes’. I would like to think father was filled with ineffable excitement to have landed a beautiful lady with captivating looks, my mother is quite a catch to this day. Cornelio had then asked again…

 

 

 

 

Njenga ūyū nĩwe ukweda?

 

 

 

 

And amidst self-assurance and determination, he had mumbled…

 

 

 

Ĩnĩ nĩwe.

 

 

 

 

Cornelio had made him promise to take care of his bride through all kinds of situations, live to make her happy and build a home with her. Cornelio had further made him promise that whenever a problem came up they would solve it both of them. And father had heed his words and practiced them daily until now. Mother had made Cornelio’s home her home too and had found the strange lands as peaceful as if it were her own home. That was Cornelio. Pacific and sagacious.

 

 

 

 

Cornelio’s kids grew up, ten of them in total. Four girls and six sons. In no time father, been the oldest had his first pay check and as all sons, father wanted to come home with shopping bags from Tuskys, those old enough know that it was called Tusker Mattresses back then. They had these yellow plastic bags with a lot of letters, ‘Tusker Mattresses’ is not a short name as you can all see. I suppose this was the reason their marketing manager had suggested the chop the wordy name off to Tuskys. So that their plastic bags would be prettier. I digress.

 

 

 

 

Cornelio had met father midway through the gates and made him put all these bags beneath a certain tree in the middle of the compound. He had opened the yellow Tusker Mattresses bags and one by one divided the contents into two each half for his two wives, Racheal and Rebecca. Racheal was the mother of the ten kids meaning that Rebecca had no children. Grandfather ensured that his kids knew that no mother was significant than the other, that biology did not make Racheal more their mother than Rebecca. So, he opened up the bags, the wheat flour bags were divided into two and the sugar too but even when one homestead had ten children and the other had none, to him things had to be shared equally.

 

 

 

 

Cornelio indignation was against insolence. His benevolence ran across genders and age groups. In the course of his memorial his age mates spoke of him at such a high repute. One of them just had few words and they sank in me like ice water on a scorching sun day, I thought through them like my life depended on them. They were simple yet imploring, they were in Kikuyu. He said

 

 

 

Cornelio was a giver, it did not matter if he had or did not have he just wanted to give

 

 

 

 

It took me back to the current world where everything is about grab and keep. Feign giving in form of fake foundations to build you reputation whenever there is a coming election and the cameras and are in an exaggerated frenzy, swaggering past a homeless family on the streets and thank you favourite gods that that is not you and then keep walking in you Ksh 4000 leather loafers.

 

 

 

 

I am grateful for the tenets Cornelius Kuria passed to us. I see them every day in father he has every bit of semblance in comparison to Cornelio historic tales, he is a front-runner everywhere and every time in the estate people want him to head their functions. He is my role model. His brothers alike, each has attained a governance role in their various professional fields, every single one of them. And to my family, my sisters the same, even the twelve year old Viona has indicated this early that she is going to be a leader as our firstborn has been on it for as long as I remember. Me, I just blog here but I am thinking of challenging myself sooner than later, let’s just make it later.

 

 

 

 

Grandmother Rebecca left us and Grandmother Racheal was left to carry the legend, I remember when we were kids she used to come visit us with a bag full of plums during the December holidays. When we went to visit her she made this roasted maize that was just legendary. She used to burn it together with the covers until the entire maize was evenly light brown and when you chewed that maize, trust me, you would never want to leave. We called this maze gara. One glance at her and deep in her eyes you will see the grin of achievement, she has made men and women of mettle to change the society, her legend will never be rendered to ash alongside that of Cornelio.

 

 

 

 

Grandfather’s name was Chief Cornelius Kuria Kahuba and has been laying with the ancestors for twenty two years now. He was a light from a lamp shining bright amidst troubled times like the sun in January. I still wish I would have met him.

 

Feature Image by Mukiri Gitiri.

A Story about Stories

 

 

 
I have never had a review of any of my articles by someone in the same field. The reason is not that I have never thought about it, in fact, contrast to that, I have always thought about it more often than not. Some people are just too good in what they do, and you want to have a talk with them and ask them exactly how they do their stuff. There are stories you read and after you are done, you lie there lifeless, wondering about the author, like who hurt him, is he going to be fine, did he type the story or did he handwrite it and then had someone type it up for him, worse is when the author is a lady.

 

 

The truth is, that writing is difficult. There is no unit of measurement when it comes to writing. You create characters from real life experiences, build their attributes and behaviors from your experiences and make them as humanly possible as you can. It takes time to get to people’s heads using text, and that is normally the purpose of writing, being able to grasp a readers mind, transform it into your own and fulfill a certain perception of things. There are no conventions in writing, the only thing constant is that there is always one persistent message that the author wishes to put across all along.

 

 

Recently, I gave one of my articles up for review by two professional writers, people that have been doing this for a while. People I admire, and you will find me beneath the covers of my bed reading their stories, eyes wide open, hoping and waiting that a character manufactured by them finds their happy ending. To be entirely honest, of the two writers, none, whatsoever, ever has a happy ending. Yet like a little girl, I always lay in wait that these two will get a life someday and cease messing up my expectations.

 

 

 

The reason I gave the article out for review is not that I was feeling insecure about the content I write daily, neither was it because I needed some gratification, it was solely because I believe art is expressive in nature. This is the reason it differs from one person to another. While one of them found it entirely romantic with instances of badly placed words, the other found it artistic and intellectually unrestricted. They both agreed that the idea and the characters were well built but differed in the choice of words. The thing that surprised me most is that their analysis and understanding of the 1300 words story was completely different.

 

 

 

And that is when it hit me. There no rules in writing. It is not a science where we have to exert a certain amount of pressure to get some predetermined results. It is an art, and the only responsibility I have is to my audience. There rules are non-existent, and the only limitations are the authors’ imagination. Then I thought of Igoni Barret in the book, ‘BlackAss,’ he transforms one of his character from male to female in a single story, and the reader has to take time off the book and marinate at what it is that just happened. That is the kind of liberty present in art. You create, you kill, you resurrect and create again without having any questions asked.

 

 

 

I think of writing more of an escape from the numerous rules present in life. When you jump up high, it is mandatory to come back to the ground no matter who you are. My idea when writing is that I can jump, up high and do not necessarily have to come back down due to stuff like gravity or lack of wings. However, I am always scared of the content I put out there, sometimes I am unsure about it, and I will write only for the story to remain on my hard disk until such a time that the re-write hits my mind like something publishable. The first responsibility of an artist is to him or herself and if at all the product is not satisfactory to him or her than it cannot be fitting to his or her audience.

 

 

 

However, different artist makes art for different reasons. While others are to inform, others to entertain, I would like to think of my reasons more like the ability to transmute my thoughts into your thoughts so that by the end of a story you and I have the same thoughts. To get to another person’s head is never as easy as it sounds. You have first to get rid of any initial judgment about the product, and after that, the way is clear to infuse your concepts. I remember the very first article I wrote here on dennispetersblog was about 2007 post-election violence and I was trying to create a character who was a boy that had lost faith in humanity when neighbor turned against neighbor because of their difference in political opinion. The key word is ‘trying.’ That was four years ago.

 

 

 

 

Now as I marked four years of appearing on your email, facebook, whats app and twitter notifications blubbering about this and that, I can barely tell who reads what on this website unless they leave a comment. Initially, when I got a bad comment I would get disappointed and even refuse to let the comment visible to my readers, but as the years pass, I have learned to rely on my feelings towards my content. I have had loyal readers from the word go, people who never speak but I can always feel they are lurking in the shadows reading and laughing quietly to themselves. I do not know if my dad got tired of checking out the website occasionally like a boss performing a human resource check, but I know he does not approve the F word (Fudge), and the N word (Nazi) but can never bring himself up to question me.

 

 

 

Someone said that it is fine, most of us are intelligent, but the truest measure of intelligence is the ability to transform thoughts into words to be felt by those that come into contact with them. To other artists, poets, creative writers, the task lies not with the popularity of your content’s extent but by the touch of feeling it delivers upon those that try to understand it. Keep creating, the thing about all this is that it is only getting better and better with time.

 

 

Feature Image by Mukiri Gitiri.

Grass Ain’t Greener

The greenness in the grass of Nyandarua highlands should be the ninth wonder of the world after the wildebeests of Mara and the ego of Jeff Koinange. I say this with utmost sincerity and honesty to those that have never set foot in Nyandarua. I was born and brought up there, my parents’ marriage was there, I met Kate Njenga there in 1995 when she was three years old, and I was three minutes old. She became the first Njenga I knew, and I got fond of her faster than our mother and our father. I called her Kate, her name was Catherine, till it stuck like super glue and nobody else knows her by any other name except our mother, who when angry screams her three names in her Identification Card. She looks nothing like a Njeri, but you can never tell that to our mother who in anger is a force to run away from.

I was a naughty boy, but our mother has got angry even for far less, things that if I called petty and she read this article, I would have to move to a rural village in Nyanza, change my name to something less conspicuous, without a ‘s’. The letter ‘s’ makes names too noticeable, something like Dennis Peters has everyone noticing it. Kanye West, Chuck Bass, Neil Armstrong, Jackson Biko, Moses Kuria, Nameless, Miley Cyrus, Jack Daniels and William Lawson are names everyone here is familiar with. If you never knew, it is because they have a ‘s’. If your name does not have a ‘s’ then nobody knows you, you think we know you, but we do not. I mean why else would our esteemed socialites have ‘boss’ and ‘sidika’ in them? I will leave it at that for you to marinate.

Meanwhile, every day we walked to St. Richard Primary School with my sister Kate Njenga. School buses just begun recently after 2002 after the former president, Mwai Kibaki made the roads. Back then, it was much quicker to get to school by foot than by any automobile. Nyandarua was cold in the morning so we would be all dressed up heavily in gloves, legwarmers, long coats on top of an infinite number of layers of clothes beneath. On occasion, during March, April and September, our shoe wear was gumboots. When you live in such life threatening conditions, you learn discipline. There were a shoe and a coat for each month, and a dress code for each time during the day. Disobedience only caused pneumonia and colds worse than any imagination I can instil to your mind.

During lunch, the weather was often friendly, and the girls and boys would sit on the green grass in circles of small groups. The girls would sit on their side of the field and the boys on theirs. I was a boy back then, but I had I tough time coming to terms with that fact, so I followed my sister to the side that belonged to the girls. I was not bothered by the fact that my dressing was a short and not a checked dress, I just went wherever she went. Surprisingly at her age, she never seemed bothered when I joined the circle with her friends and classmates. She never asked me to leave even when her friends made discomfort body language, so I became a girl. A seven-year-old girl when I should have been a four-year-old boy.

I remember our mother had a tough task reminding me that boys pee while standing not while sitting. I wonder where I am headed with this story but let’s see.

My memory of all this mainly dwells more in the greenness in the grass. It was not just any green; it was emotionally green. Poetic. We would sleep, roll, play on the grass and go back home, shoes still shining, clothes still pretty clean. Dust was a thing I never came to know of until I joined Naivasha Boys Boarding in class five where everything was the exact opposite. In Naivasha, we had to water the fields, the sidewalks and the highways each morning because anything else would mean sand storms in our classes, dormitories and dining halls. I loathed that place. If hell is anything like that, then I am joining Dr Awour’s flock.

Through the years, I have been to other parts of Central Kenya, like Nyeri, Murang’a, Kiambu, Limuru, Wangige, Nyahururu and to be entirely honest the grass is not greener on any other side.

The other day a discussion rose up about why men are bound to cheat regardless the aspect that their wives or girlfriends are Beyoncé or Hillary Clinton. It was supposed to be a discussion on Systems Programming because of a test that was coming up real soon, but the topic about all men being dogs could barely be held down. The interesting part about this discussion is that it was by men alone, so we were discussing if indeed we are all dogs on not. I do not understand why we have to give dogs a character in such a nasty metaphor. I would be for the opinion that if the metaphor ‘All men are dogs” has to stay then let there be a specification whether it is poodle dog or a mongrel. I would not mind being a poodle; they eat better food than most people, have shampoos and smell like teddy bears, go for walks and have names. If you came up to me and told me that I am a poodle, my only offence would be that you did not specify the gender and race. Mongrels, on the other hand, is a story I cannot talk about without my anger rising like a thermometer on Lucifer’s armpit.

So, the points were that one girlfriend is never enough, that you have to test a few Toyotas before you settle on an X-Trail. That there will come a time that a man will be done doing the testing and he will grab his curiosity by the neck and choke it to death and then settle down with that one woman. That life will be perfect after that because there will be no much curiosity, neither too much desire to accomplish the undone. That this man will be the perfect husband and father, he will buy roses and kiss his loved ones on the forehead. He will have a nasty past but what matters is the future. He will be a dog but a retired one. He will have fulfilled his pants desires in every aspect. He will be a mega-man.

Then it got me thinking about the grass in Nyandarua when I was four. The way Kate Njenga never ditched me for her new clique of friends to fulfil some kind uncharted completion in her life. I thought about us now; we are still best friends. We gave each other time and space to grow, but our friendship remained constant through the fights, the loss, even when another Njenga emerged in 2005, she had a tough time catching up with us.

In the same way, in this discussion, the lady or gentleman you holding hands with right now could never be greener. You might leave him or her to look further in Nyeri, Murang’a, Kiambu, Limuru, Wangige, Nyahururu but to be utterly candid, the grass will not be greener on the other side.

Feature Image: Trica Ciku.

Little Ciku. Part Two.

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Eventually, little Ciku and her friend arrived to the destination of the survivors. The number had reduced significantly but the cold had multiplied in hundreds. The destination was a police station where they were received by the men and women in blue handing each of them a blanket. They were then led to a shed where they were to spend the night. Ciku and her new friend combined their blankets and cuddled into the night hunting for sleep, perhaps morning would make more sense. Her friend fell asleep first but Ciku’s mind was with mother, where was she? Was she looking for her? That scream she had heard at Huruma Junction, was it mother? Had the men with spears and arrows caught mother and father? At this point Ciku sobbed uncontrolled not because of mother but because she had lost a mother and became one in a single night. She wondered what the future had for them.

The shed got silent eventually and beyond the shed wall Ciku could hear hushed deep voices of men mostly discussing what had happened. She heard that no one had survived beyond the fire, that they had been slaughtered mercilessly by the strange men in arrows. How Ciku hoped it was a dream but her ice cold feet kept assuring her that it was not a dream. She heard the reason for the attack was the election outcome and quickly she connected the dots to the loud stereo at Huruma Junction, it was the election results. Her mind was too young to comprehend who was fighting who but at least eavesdropping put her thoughts into perspective. Ciku was tired and soon after she was on the teeter edge of a sharpened razor, somewhere in between deep relaxation and unconsciousness.

***

She was not sure what had woken her up, but it was still dark when she woke up. She had been dreaming of the men in cow skin holding long spears and arrows who had been chanting something in a language she could not understand around a bon fire, big as the one in Huruma Junction. When she woke up, her mind was in a temporary state of amnesia and one by one she recollected her thoughts to where she was, what had happened and why it smelled like cow dung where she had fallen asleep. She remembered her companion and ran her hands in the blankets trying to feel her with no avail. She was all alone beneath two blankets. Her pillow had been a black polythene paper with it sukumawiki and tomatoes, the one mother had sent her to fetch at Huruma Junction. She was surprised she had held on to the package for this long. She wondered where her stranger friend had gone and it was then that she realised that she did not even know her name.

Slowly and steadily she lifted herself painfully through the joint aches from running and lying on the floor to an upright position. She veered her eyes through the darkness to establish the doorway until she saw a burst of light through a half open door and came to the resolution of the possibility of that being the way out. Occasionally bumping into sleeping people she made it to the door and took a deep breath, perhaps hoping for a burst of fresh air but what she smelled was the reek of burning. She adjusted her eyes and indeed there was fire in a structure around fifty meters from where she was standing. A horrendous inferno accompanied by screams and the smell of roast human flesh.

She did not even realise when she let out a shrill scream and again and then again. People woke up fast and it was then that they realised that the burning structure was a church where the group from Huruma had split into two when the shed had run full. The church had been set on fire with hundreds of displaced people sleeping inside. People tried to put out the fire with buckets of water and soil all in vain, people choked and fell unconscious, other succumbed to the burns and fell into their painful death.

Ciku stared in disbelief. When she could no longer stand she sat. She stared at death right into the eye as death swept over like a swarm of locust on a cold season. She did not move, she did not even speak until the morning light appeared from the skies. Medical aid came and took the injured to hospital and the rest to the morgue. Death had had a feast under the cover of darkness leaving behind wailing women and children whose lives would probably never be the same.

When it was morning, the self-appointed instructors of the group Ciku had spent the night with explained the insecurity that lay beyond the police gate. Even them, that were supposed to shed light and show the way to young ones like Ciku, could simply not hide the melancholy. They shed tears as the names of the dead were read out by the police officers that had not taken off already. They wailed when it was established that aid from Nakuru was not coming because the roads had been blocked by trees, stones and burning tires. Each one of them stared blankly into the other not knowing where to go or what to do, worse, what to eat.

Meanwhile, outside, the birds welcomed the new day with coordinated rhythms, the sun brought out its smile unaware of the crimes her brother had done in the cover of the dark. Little Ciku still planted by the doorway to their new place of residence felt the morning light fall on her face and she turned away from it, her feet had been cold the entire night but not even the sun could bring a sensation of warmth to her heart. She had even forgot mother and was too busy replaying the horror of the night in her mind such that she did not notice a truck full of people stop at the gate and people come in through the police gate entrance. She was too engrossed in her despondency that when mother came and stood in front of her blocking the sun from her face she did not look up.

***

THE END.

Submitted to the Commonwealth Short Story Prize Competition 2016.

Feature Image by Mukiri Gitiri

Edited by Essy Wanene

Written by Dennis Peters and Inspired by real events.

Little Ciku. Part One.

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A dark cloud gathers on the sky above chasing the blue away with one swift move. The wind blows and darkness descends slowly like a bride does on the aisle. The birds culminate their day’s rhythmic music and all over sudden it is as silent as tomb. At a distant, an owl hoots repeatedly, either in defiance to the bird law or in anticipation for the unknown.

A matatu stands on the estate’s shopping centre with its doors ajar. The matatu’s stereo is loud and the crowd gathering seems interested in the sound from the stereo. It is unusual, especially for little Ciku. This junction is on ordinary circumstances a beehive of activities particularly in Huruma estate, Eldoret at this time. Perhaps it is football, Ciku shrugs and walks away to run mother’s errands at the shops.

A little later, the crowd listening to the stereo dissolves into the darkness. Perhaps the football match is over or maybe it is the darkness that has sent them away but still things do not seem right. Little Ciku can be seen hurrying home with a black polythene dangling from her little hands. It does not take long before Ciku confirms her suspicion. Her little eyes above the chubby cheeks dart to the skies following a cloud of black smoke ahead. She becomes startled. She follows the cloud to the base and there it is, a big fire lights on the middle of the road obstructing her way back home. Ciku looks back and notices that within the blink of an eye, this familiar junction had become a desert with a few people running up and down in hushed footsteps; the apocalypse upon them.

Ciku becomes terrified. For the very first time in her short lifetime she had never felt so distant from home. She turns left, she turns right and just about when she turns ahead past the black smoke, darker than hell’s soot, past the raging inferno, is when she sees it. A group of young adults dressed scantily in cow skin holding spears on one hand, a bow on their other hand and a bag of arrows on their backs. They run towards Ciku, then at once, they stop, they lie flat on the ground and smear their faces with the white dust from the ground. Then they rise and start advancing towards Ciku again. By this time Ciku can hardly comprehend the circumstances surrounding her, all that she knows is that tonight might be a night she will spend away from mother.

The thought of mother triggers adrenaline in the little girl. She is determined to get home and deliver the package in black wrapping to mother. She hesitates then tries to dodge the blaze and rush home but the flame on the middle of the road appals her. Then she hears the screams breaking the evening’s silence, shrill screams as if someone is in pain. It does not take long, another strident scream runs the air, this time it sounds familiar and it sounds like mother. Ciku is now standing on the middle of the road muddled, her six years of age trying to comprehend the current conundrum. Looking back she realises people are running. Running away from the fire, their homes and the circus of the dirt smeared men with spears. Will she run with them or will she wait for the fire to subside so that she can go home? Little Ciku breaks into tears.

In her six years, Ciku had only learned to speak, to write a few alphabet and numbers and to calculate. Mother had taught her to do small laundry like handkerchiefs and her panties. She was bright, so mother had gone ahead to teach her to make green tea and pancakes. Father had taught her to make Ugali and ride a bicycle. But both had failed to prepare her for a predicament such as this, a day she would not get home.

Shouting men and screaming women urge everyone to leave Huruma estate as it is not safe anymore. The fire is not only a border between Ciku and mother but also death and escape. The terror on Ciku’s face can hardly be concealed as she sinks into the running multitude, most of them who she knew from Huruma Junction. She hopes that one of them would recognise her and at least tell her what to do. In death, everyone for himself and God for us all. It seemed like Ciku would have to survive the night alone until she could find mother or father.

In the rush to God knows where, Ciku finds a kid, much younger than her, startled and terrified in the commotion. She pulls the kid to her side with one hand and pulls her to where she was headed, perhaps thinking to herself that if the world was dark and unruly, little effort towards the light would sprout hope to the distressed and frightened souls. Now Ciku has someone by her side, not a protector or anyone she knows in particular but a terrified stranger looking up to her. Foot after foot away from the unsafe Huruma, her home that had changed with the tick of a second, where she was born and had lived her entire life now lay in shambles and total annihilation, with the stench of raw blood and death.

When walking in darkness for long, reality begins to fade and all you can hear is your breathing. When walking in darkness, scared and alone, reality hides somewhere at the back seat of your conscious and appears so distant. In a situation as such, survival kicks in and you make plans in your head, how you will survive until morning. Ciku might have had a good heart but her physical body was tired from running and helping her new stranger friend who had began falling behind. They had been walking for an hour.

***

End Part One.

Submitted to the Commonwealth Short Story Prize Competition 2016.

Feature Image: Mukiri Gitiri

Edited by Essy Wanene

Written by Dennis Peters and Inspired by real events.

Stereo System

 
My radio is old. I inherited it from Kate Njenga when she completed her undergraduate, shipped it all the way from Eldoret, Rift Valley to Nyeri, Central Province. I needed it that much. My love and my moonlight. I call it Ampex because that is the name written in a bold silver color on the top. It has been through countless repairs, but beyond that, we are good and have remained stronger together. It is a healthy relationship where she speaks, and I listen. We never argue, I mean she can be a little bit nagging and talkative sometimes, but our differences only make us sturdier. We are often alone in the house most times, so we are reasonably fond of each other. Sometimes, Kenya Power does a number on us and switches off the power, and I am left alone, desolated and abandoned with no one to listen to. Such moments bring out the worst in me. Other times King Kaka’s voice vibrates through the house, and I dance to the tune. Rabbit gets me, I dig that guy, he speaks, and I listen yet I am not overly fond of listening because I am a reader and readers are more of talkers than listeners. Rabbit will say stuff like, ‘gerrahia’ or ‘besha shigana’ and the next day you will hear me say the same words to my clients through the phone, the latter is always gratifying and the something to smile about.

 

 

 

Now, the other day, we are chilling out with my radio just, as usual, time is around 10.00pm, and I just made and had supper for one, and I am slowly sipping a homemade whiskey cocktail from a whiskey glass, and then it happens. The guy speaking calls himself ‘Doctor Love.’ I know there are animal doctors, teeth doctors, eye doctors, private parts doctors, all kind of doctors but love doctor was somewhat a new concept. I pause my thoughts for a moment and open my ears to what the love doctor had to say. Maybe he had something I could do about my relationship with the radio. Better still, perhaps he had something really smart to say that I would rush to my sticky notes, write it down and pin on the wall for later use on the blog. Oddly enough, these sticky notes never end up on the blog, sometimes I wonder why I still use paper while Windows has a virtual sticky notes application I can delete after I am done with it.

 

 

 

Our resident love doctor is responding to a question from a disturbed young man who has a girlfriend. A real girlfriend and not with a radio, but with a girl. The guy has ninety-nine problems with his girlfriend. At this point, I slowly shake my head, girlfriends and problems always end up on the same line, don’t they? So, among the ninety-nine problems is that this young man is in campus serving his undergraduate sentence, (see what I did there?) but so is his girlfriend. They are at a university in Karen, Nairobi, home for the elites. Home for people with pockets so deep your head would spin trying to create a balance sheet of their income. It is the home for people who sneeze, and the country catches a cold. Such people with big houses and even bigger cars and you even wonder why they do not just move into their cars instead.

 

 

 

The problem with such kind of an environment is that people have money and you do not. Yet like every human being, you need a mate. It is basic knowledge that you need money to call someone your girlfriend, even a monkey can point that out. In a place like Karen, the same girl you are interested in also has the attention of a person who owns more hectares of land than the entire Rwanda. The same man has bank accounts with CBK, CBU, CBT and CBN in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Nigeria respectively and in addition, he has his illegal stash of money hidden away in Switzerland should the apocalypse strike.

 

 

 

Our guy asking the love doctor for a love prescription says that her girlfriend loves him too much, but he does not have enough money to afford her. To meet the prevailing conditions, this couple is about to make a decision that the girl can go out with these rich old super humans who own Eritrea and Djibouti, entertain them, sleep with them if she has to and get money in the process to sustain her needs. At the same time, the girl is not to get emotionally attached with any of these guys because she is in a relationship with her broke boyfriend. Expensive dates and paid sex are just business. Nothing is social about it. The mere reason the guy, let’s call him Peter, (because Peters is taken by someone who cannot tolerate this kind of bullshit) is asking for advice shows his level of distress, torture, and misery that this arrangement has on him. He sounds broken. He is just 23 and only owns a laptop and an Ampex radio then nothing else. He loves this girl yet, there is nothing he can do about it. So, yes he is considering this arrangement. Poor Peter probably feels like a leaking pot that cannot retain any water.

 

 

 

Up to this point, I am staring at my radio, mouth wide open like I had indeed heard what she had said and was now slowly trying to believe it. In my head, this does not even happen in movies, this is beyond creativity to be a real-life situation. What even appalls me more is the Doctor’s response. I expected something tangible, I was already preparing to write it down because I was sure it had to be something worth listening to. I was ready to be intrigued by the Love Doctor’s response. I poured myself another shot and put the glass on my lips ready to pour the doctor’s wisdom into my brain.

 

 

 

The doctor started with the word, ‘now.’ People who start their sentences with something that sounds like a conjunction, something that makes it appear like it is not the start of an idea, but rather, a continuation of thoughts, are very smart people. You can imagine my surprise when the doctors said that sponsors are a common phenomenon in campus, and it is just a means that girls get through campus. That there was nothing wrong with it provided he (Peter) loved the girl, and the girl loved him back. I felt wounded and affronted like someone has just insulted me. My mind was infuriated and could not simply comprehend why a person declared by the communications board a doctor, and not any doctor, but a doctor of love could suggest something like that.

 

 

 

Now, I am not the moral kind of person you come to when you need advice on life, but this was wrong, is wrong, and will remain wrong for all generations to come no matter how flexible the society becomes. Here is a young lady that was taken to campus by determined parents that she should study and uphold the community’s qualities through what she has learnt. That is the main purpose of education. But then what dignity is there in studying all those years then end up receiving favors and money because of your lady parts. Will you ever stand before your children and inspire them to make something for themselves when your past is ugly and heavy with misdeeds like the secret chambers of hell?

 

 

 

Doctor Love, I am just going to call you, Scam Doctor because that is what you are. Read your love medicine books again, this time slowly and take notes like a real doctor. Love is beautiful, love is unconditional, and love has got no money attachments. A real doctor would encourage Peter to put a start-up business or get his hands dirty in work so that he can make income and salvage his relationship. Just because things are ‘common phenomena’ does not make them right.

 

 

 

Ata nimecatch tena. You guys, si we talk baadae? Yes?

 

 

 

 

Feature Image by Mukiri Gitiri