Carlos

Easter  Saturday,1988.It was a muddy day, wet than a widow’s handkerchief. The mango season was over so there were no succulent mangoes tempting us to steal them. Our mango shaped ten year old heads had to come up with mischief to keep us busy all Easter weekend. Thus my cousin and I decided to go and hunt for wasps for Carlos our dog. Now Carlos was like our  second self-a pillar of canine benevolence.His spaniel eyes made everybody feel like buying him a year’s supply of steak for his palate and shampoo for his matted hair.We lived for Carlos who loved us more than he loved himself.

The idea of wasps had been hatched a few days earlier in school. Back then, boys were endowed with  certain inalienable rights: among these were right to life, liberty and right to own dogs. You could also add right to all the succulent mangoes that hang in the village mango trees like earrings on a beautiful ladies face. Thus to fully exercise this right ,my cousins and I had motley of dogs between us. They were perpetually hungry creatures-some stray, some tame some wild- that always followed us like shadows. When we ate, they ate. When we swam in the treacherous Mathioya River, they swam. Sadly, when our scrawny backsides got whipped for stealing mangoes or whichever fruit had tempted us, they too took a beating.

There were dogs,and then there was Carlos.He was the compulsively friendly mongrel we had named after the famous terrorist-Carlos the Jackal. Of course we got the name from Mr.Munderu our history teacher after Socrates,our previous favourite dog died. We told other boys that Carlos’ mother was a leopard and his father a mountain lion and that he had jaguar aunties and puma uncles. But Carlos was no more than bag of bones with fleas enough to infest a small village to pandemic levels. His tail was permanently between his thin legs. He was not living to his famous billing. We had to do something to redeem his image.

To us, Carlos was more than a dog. In our journey in the village lanes towards becoming men, Carlos was our benefactor; our dumb constant north. He had this existential angst in his eyes which other people took for a lonely stare but us boys knew better.His primordial instinct helped us to know where the juiciest avocados were ripening. When we wanted to cross the often moody Mathioya River and get sugarcanes beckoning to be eaten by us the other side, Carlos guided us on the safest place to do so.Many a day, when we became too wayward and our mothers denied us food, we shared our last stolen avocado with Carlos, knowing too well that he will repay us not with a similar avocado, but with unfaltering loyalty. He gave us our first lessons in loyalty, in swimming and many other vitals skills of boyhood. Carlos lived for us; one woof at a time. His bark was his honor. But his meekness troubled us a lot and we had to get a solution fast.

Thus we approached Eutychus- the boy who had repeated Class Four  three times and sported a nice beard. At some point we had applied paraffin to our chins so that we could sprout a beard and be like him, but it didn’t work. That was our first lesson in scams.Eutychus was the brightest of them all; he always had a solution for all our boyish problems tucked in some corner of his guava shaped head. He loved us because we were very obedient-we diligently delivered the perfumed letters he used to write to our elder sisters. We didn’t deliver them because we loved our mean big sisters that much, but because we respected Eutychus more.

At the price of two stolen sugarcane sticks, Eutychus advised us to feed the meek canine on a meal of wasps three times a week. Henceforth, Carlos would scare even the devil himself. I tell you this boy was genius.

Every dog has its day-that’s how Easter Saturday found us hunting for wasps for Carlos’ problems. We took the bushy footpath towards Boyo, the gurgly river that washed our villages’ sins downstream. The guava trees around the river had plenty of wasp nests. Several wasp stings later, we decided that the best time to catch them was at night and abandoned the mission altogether. This meant that we would be idle until nightfall when we would embark on the wasp job.

Girls will always be girls, always trying to enhance one or other aspect of beauty. In the village then, grapevine had it that if you took a specific water beetle that used to thrive in the rivers and made it bite your  titties, they would bloom big enough to cause an eclipse. This knowledge had been passed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter, long before the Americans came up with silicone implants for the same purpose. Thus we decided to look for water beetles and sell them to the progressive village belles later, each at the price of one chapati. Our heads were always teeming with brilliant ideas those days.

When we had collected enough water beetles to turn our village into big boob’s fetishist   heaven, hell broke loose. A loud helicopter loomed on the horizon, its steel blades cutting the rarified village air into pieces.

A Lancia Delta Intergrale, loud enough to wake the devil from his afternoon siesta, came charging at us from the road that led to the next ridge. In one brief moment, my brief life which was largely consisted of episodes of mango stealing flashed before me. I tried to say the Lord’s Prayer, which I only knew the Kikuyu version, but gave up the idea altogether when I reckoned that Jesus was a handsome white man who didn’t understand Kikuyu.

After the rally car passed us, we followed it down the muddy path watching it skid with glee. Carlos followed the car too, salivating at the Farmers Choice sausages emblemed on the car’s sides. Carlos had never tasted a single sausage all his life, but all in all he knew sausages existed. Just like we human beings have never been to heaven, but we know it’s up there. Dogs got canine faith too.

For us boys, we were following the rally cars for a different reason; the big spare tyre at the cars back could make a nice wheel for our carts. We had to pinch it.If we could steal old lady Jerusha’s mangoes without her detecting us, we could steal the big spare wheel behind Kirkland’s Car No.9 without him noticing.

The Safari Rally -the greatest duel between man, machine and time- was underway. The wasps and water beetles could wait!

After the Safari Rally was over, we managed to feed Carlos on a buffet of wasps enough to sting a whole village to death. Red wasps, black wasps, big wasps, small wasps-he was spoilt for choice. We waited for him to get braver than ten lions, but instead he got very sick and in a short time acquired the pale hue of death. Eutychus, the wise fellow who had advised us to feed Carlos on a meal of wasps to make him brave told us that we had overdosed the poor thing with wasps. But we suspected he had bewitched our lovely dog with his evil eye.

Days rolled into weeks, Carlos didn’t get better. Each day he had a new ache, much stronger than the previous one. We knew this because we felt the pain too. He was always in brute grief, so pained that even the fleas that infested his skin deserted him like rats running away from a sinking ship. Like a father watching his son bleed in the battlefield, we watched Carlos handle his grief like gentleman. You see, to call Carlos a dog hardly served him justice. He may have had four legs and a tail, but to us who knew him well, Carlos was gentleman. More refined than some men we knew, but we didn’t dare say that aloud.

By and by, his bodily features betrayed how life had wronged him. Mortality weighed heavily on him, like unwilling sleep. We touched his coat, wishing that some of his pain could be transferred to us, and thus be shared. It didn’t happen. But Carlos bore his pains stoically, raging against the dying of the light, without  yelping like some mangy mongrels who lacked pedigree.

One day, with the single-mindedness of boys with a dog life to save, we approached Chege our cousin to come and pray for our dog. Chege was older than us and never missed Sunday school. Thus he was fluent in the saying ‘The Grace’, and such prayers. When he heard our idea, he laughed so loud that we thought we could see the githeri he had taken for his lunch in his stomach. Then he dismissed us.

With that, it became clear that Carlos death was imminent. He sat on the evening veranda of his life-reminiscing about famous hunts we have had back in the day. He ruminated on many a juicy avocado we had stolen together, and the swims we had in the River Mathioya.

Then one day, around that time when the Berlin came down, Carlos soul went up. God’s fingers touched him, and he slept eternally. He became one with the wind and joined other dog souls. While the whole world was celebrated the fall of the Cold War, we mourned the death of Carlos.

However, my mango shaped head refused to accept that Carlos had died. Maybe he had taken one of his long naps. Or he was in some dog coma from which he would come from if we stole some bones from Kuria the mean butcher and ran them over his nose. To protect his lifeless body so that we could bring it to life later, we hid him by the old muiri tree which was said to have powers to turn a boy into a girl if one run round it seven times.  But why would a boy want to turn into a girl while boyhood was so much fun? Anyway, if that tree could do that, it could revive Carlos form his coma since to us, he want fully dead. Denial.

The day at school was longer than a week in a hospital bed. We couldn’t wait for the school bell to ring our way to freedom and rush out to go check out on Carlos. When we finally arrived home, we found ants crawling on his matted skin. We ran the bones we had picked form Kuria’s dustbin over his nose, but Carlos didn’t as much raise a paw. My cousin Tony took a long stick and started beating the ant trail all the way to the hole they came from.Myself,I took to stoning the birds that chirruped above in the tree, oblivious of our sadness which hang on the whole place like a sad shawl. Anger.

Deep inside, I wondered why God has taken away Carlos and not the other less colorful dogs in the village. Why couldn’t he take all those useless village cats-all meows and airs-and leave our dog alone? We could even add Him ngunu-the old angry cow that was always itching to gore our bottoms. God, please take even the only donkey in the village and leave our dog alone.Bargaining.

For the next week, grief and despair descended on us fighting for a piece of our hearts like two jealous Naija wives. We wore a cloak of grief that was too heavy for our boyish heads. We no longer stole avocados-stealing them with Carlos not around meant nothing to us. We stopped going for the Sunday football jamboree by the river. Who could enjoy a football match when Carlos was dead? Or better, who could enjoy life in the absence of Carlos? The whole village was teeming with men and dogs, but the loss of one dog made it look empty and bereft of life.Despair.

Soon, we started reliving the times we had with Carlos. We talked about that day when he saved us from Wamatangari the village madman when Carlos appeared from nowhere when he was chasing us cracking a nyahunyo behind our backs. We reminisced on how one day Carlos led us home after we followed the Safari Rally Cars six villages away till it got dark and we got lost in some coffee bushes. We recalled how Carlos had nurtured many a dog to life by licking their lives wounds. In short we decided to celebrate Carlos life. We let Carlos dog soul rest, not because we loved him less, but because we cherished the moments we had with him more. After all, Carlos had blessed us with a thousand tail flicks, which were more honest than the handshakes we had gathered in our lifetime. Though the world was full of suffering, it was also full of overcoming that suffering. The world had just overcome the 40 year long Cold War, so we could also overcome the death of Carlos. Acceptance.

Its only when we came to this stage when we buried him under the ancient avocado tree down by the gurgling river. We called our cousin Chege to officiate as the padre since he was holier than us as he didn’t steal mangoes and avocados like us. Granted, he used to touch our sisters breasts but he didn’t steal them unlike us who ran away with every mango that our fingers touched. The burial was a solemn affair where Chege intoned in some Latin words he borrowed from the local padre. Where he lacked words, he filled the spaces with Kikuyu words or mumbled along.

After the burial, I waited to see Carlos’ soul ascending to heaven. It didn’t see it happen so I imagined him there. I saw him seated on the right side of the Light in some dog heaven where there were no strays or mongrels or mangy dogs with fleas since every dog was a thoroughbred with heavenly pedigree. In the dog’s heaven, it rained steak every morning and sausages every afternoon and avocados at dusk and the heavenly choir howled some dog ballads all night long. It’s only when we imagined that Carlos was in heaven that our minds found peace and started looking for another dog. By and by, we adopted another stray dog who remained nameless. However, he never replaced Carlos, but only expanded our hearts.

In our little minds we knew that this life isn’t fair to dogs-and maybe this also happens in the next world. Thus Carlos might have been locked out of heaven since he wasn’t washed by the blood of the Lamb. My cousin and I swore that if Carlos wasn’t in heaven, then when we die, we want to go where Carlos went. But if heaven really goes by merit and not favour, then Carlos is there, howling eternally while jumping up and down the golden stairs by the crystal shore.

Losing Carlos was painful for us ten year olds because we never pretended to love him-we loved him more than we loved ourselves. Thirty years down the line, I hardly recall the fall of Berlin Wall in October 1989 since that’s the time Carlos died. But I vividly recall Carlos since he left paw prints in or hearts no age can erase. This is because a loved one is not truly forgotten until he or she is no longer remembered. Carlos lives in our hearts, and like all things ever enjoyed can never be lost, but is a part of us.

When Carlos came into our lives, he taught us about love. When he left, he taught us about loss. No Professor, however well read, will ever teach you that.

Bobi

Bobi got paid on the 25th. It was earlier than usual. He had gotten a text that 25k had been deposited into his account. He went there feeling giddy and smiling at everyone. He withdrew 10k, 5k for rent and the rest to get a bit of food. He walked to Mageria’s kiosk with a thousand bob.” Nipee unga ya ugali kilo mbili na royco sachet mbili” he proclaimed proudly. Mageria took the 1000 bob, gave him his goods and change. 870 bob to be exact. “Kwani unga ilipanda tena?” Bobi asked counting his change a second time. “eeh, hujaskia? Ilipanda immediately tu after elections.” Bobi shook his head, “hawa watu aki” He put the 500 bob in his left pocket, the three hundred in his right and carried the 70 bob by hand.

He bought credit from mama Maina who had a small shop just below the apartment he lived in. She looked at his unga and royco, which he carried unwrapped, with disdain. “Naona siku hizi unanunua unga town” She proclaimed accusingly. “Apana, hizi niliachiwa na uncle kwa duka ya Mageria si ati nimenunua” Bobi lied. She gave him his credit, 50 bob airtel and 20 bob safaricom. He whispered a thank you and went into the apartments. He lived on the third floor. He walked up lazily, peeping into different houses on his way up.  When he got to the second floor, his pace slowed even further. Wanja was outside, struggling to light the jiko. “Nikuje nikuwashie?” he asked. “Apana, niko sawa.” He looked down at his unga and royco and then back at Wanja who had not looked up. “Ama ukuje tusaidiane hii unga yangu.” He asked only half joking. “Apana” Wanja started, finally looking up at him, “Ata sikulangi ugali.” Bobi chuckled, said okay, and continued up the last flight of stairs to his floor.

He lived in a bedsitter in room 36 at the corner. He got in and put the unga and royco on the small shelve near his sink. He then took a quick shower, got dressed, put on some axe, and headed out. He called his friend Kama on his way to the matatu stop. “Nakam hivo si ushike mzinga.” Then he hang up quickly leaving his friend no chance to protest. That was Bobi’s second mistake. When he got to Kama’s place, Mwajuma was sitting there, with a jar of honey on her hand. She got up at once and handed it to Bobi before proclaiming; “najua ulitaka mzinga lakini nilionelea nikuletee asali ili usisumbuane na nyuki.” Bobi laughed so hard he forgot his problem with Wanja. The rest of the evening turned out okay. Kama showed up with the drinks and Bobi even gave him more cash to fill up on the bottle they emptied too quickly. By the 1st, Bobi had used up nearly all of his money. It was time to go back to his frugal life as he waited for the next payday.

Tajiriman

By Elias Muthama

 

Not all superheroes wear capes. And Tajiri was one of those, you know the ones who probably have no idea who Clark Kent is. But Tajiri wore an old cowboy hat. Two things that were not apparent about this young man were the hat and the name Tajiri. His neighbours in Plot 13 had no idea what his real name was or why people called him by that moniker. The poor bastard just had a bed in his single room apartment. That notorious squeaky bed that thirsted for proper oiling and perhaps better bolts and nuts. That was apparent to the neighbours. The late night escapades had given him away.

“Mama, what’s that noise?”

“You ask a lot of questions Pendo. Have you done your homework?”

“The teacher did not give us any homework today.”

“Then finish your food and go to bed before I open a can of whoopass on you.”

Pendo’s mother clearly knew our superhero was not busy saving Gotham from the diabolical plans of villains such as the Joker. Tajiri was busy destroying the bed in his Bat Cave and probably the insides of some random woman. Pendo would probably not understand these things even if she had explained it to her. She was just an eight year old girl swimming in the ocean of sweet ignorance. Plot 13 had thin walls and this was the least of the worrying shenanigans they were yet to experience.

Just a fortnight ago, MrTumbo had stirred the pot of drama at the plot. He was a retired Headmaster of a girl’s secondary school. He had spent his years lusting on women and every night at the bar. His wife who had stuck with him through the years of his tomfoolery and bad decisions always mocked him on how he was a collosal failure for having spent their retirement benefits on alcohol and hookers.

“Look at you! What kind of a man are you? Your peers own plots and hardware shops and all you do is sit in the house all day and expect me to do everything. I should leave you, you good for nothing pig.”

“Don’t talk to me that way woman. I am still the man of this house!”

“You are a fat pig! You wasted all of our money on school girls and you won’t stop drinking cheap alcohol!”

“I still have money. Be nice to me or I will get myself a schoolgirl and spend my money with her.”

The school board had passed a message earlier to MrTumbo telling him they would be awarding him with a golden handshake cheque for his many years of service to the privately owned secondary school. He had not left his old ways and had decided to withhold that information from his dear wife.

 

“Wanja, a round for everyone on me.”

The patrons clapped and screamed at the generosity that MrTumbo was displaying at the Usiku Sana bar. They had no idea where had gotten the money but they did not care as long as the watering hole was not running dry that night.

MrTumbo had his pockets full and he was feeling like Midas, everything he was touching was to turn into gold that night. He smacked Wanja’s buttocks.

“You have no respect old man”

“Don’t call me old man, I am King Midas and whatever I touch turns into gold. You should count yourself very lucky.”

Wanja who was very infuriated at the arrogance and disrespect of the intoxicated misogynistic former Headmaster just shrugged and walked away to serve other tables. She knew better than to start a confrontation with this man who had the upperhand because he was spending the most in the bar and the other patrons in there were literally worshipping him.

“Where did you get this cow?”

“You are supposed to thank me woman, not ask a lot of questions.”

“And what are we supposed to do with a cow. We live in a rental house and there is no grass or even a place to keep it.”

“You always see the problem in everything. You have been complaining that I am a good for nothing man but now that I have bought you a cow you are still being an ungrateful bitter woman.”

Apparently, after King Midas had had too much to drink at the bar an opportunistic patron had managed to con him into buying an old sickly cow. That’s what he had taken back home to his woman.

 

“Tajiri, please help me with my homework. I don’t understand these mathematical questions.”

“I would love to help you right now Pendo but I can’t. I have to go somewhere.”

Mr Super-Rich-Guy had other plans. Plans to get into panties of some lass she had spotted a week ago. He was not going to let a little girl ruin his grand plans with some stupid homework. School was a useless thing to him and he had spent his time regretting all the money his parents had wasted on him in school.

“MrTumbo! MrTumbo!”

“Who is it?”

“Don’t ask me ‘Who is it’”

“Tajiri, is that you? What do you want?”

“Your stupid cow has chewed my shirt. You have to pay me.”

Tajiri had gone earlier to the clothing line only to find MrTumbo’s cow with the shirt he was supposed to wear for his skirt hunting escapade. But not even that would stop him. He was relentless and not even the fires of hades would stop him from releasing the frustration locked up in his loins. He had to pick another shirt but not it was not his first choice. Or at least the one that would have won him some points with the ladies.

On his way to see Rukia, Tajiri passed by a farm with a variety of flowers. Word had been she was not an easy to please lass. You either had to have a shitload of money or some sort of superpower for her to even look at you twice. Tajiri well knew ironically he was no rich man despite his moniker meaning a rich person in Swahili. So he knew a bunch of flowers would have done the trick. He quickly snuck in the garden of flowers and started with the red roses. Tajiri did not know this was also where the owner of that farm had his beehives. The sneaky little bastards with wings had done a number on the face of the intruder who had no courtesy to even knock and exchange a few pleasantries with them. Tajiri fled with a swollen face and screaming to his ancestors to rescue him from the wrath of the bees who were not going easy on him.

After that day the legend of Tajiri the poor boy had spread like an urban legend. He was a villain in your usual story but to those who had heard about him he was Superhero of sorts. His superpower was being a bad example. And the parents especially loved him because he was the perfect metaphor to tell to their mischievous children to get them in line. He was the story told to kids to warn them about what happens when you don’t abstain from sex. You get a hideous face. Deadpool hideous.

 

 

Avem

By Tim Maina

Krik! Krik! Krik!

Avem and a dozen other mothers called out to their chicks. Her two chicks have been missing for four nights now. Their chicks have not been found just yet.

By maternal guild, they hovered in the air; with nowhere to perch, occasionally looking down for that familiar plume and life. Only a gang of scavenging Sciurus lumbered around on the ground, mocking their call-outs with squeaks so horrible they hurt their ears. This called for punishment.

KRIK! No answer. KRIK! Nothing was said.

It was one of the saddest days of their lives. Trees get cut down in Mearowi daily, making food scarce for all. Trees have been disappearing for a longtime now, turning the land bare but not their brood. KRIK! Vir has been setting forests and grasslands on fire, pushing away other realities and life forms. But who cuts down the sacred Baobab that houses Avem’s clan? KRIK! The last of its kind on Mearowi. Who is this prick? KRIK! They cried out to Mearowi gods, made peace to the setting sun and the attendant moon throughout the night. KRIK!

Avem was upset, partly, on her own account that she lost her chicks; and upset on their account that they had a mother who could not protect them from getting crushed under the weight of the falling mighty Baobab, and from the lumberjacks.

She was also sad that her whole clan was sad, truthfully they still are.

She cannot sing again atop her house. The gigantic Baobab that straddled half the Mearowi land has been felled by Vir, crazy homines! Her favourite boughs where she plucks her feathers and sentimentally entangles with her new suitors during the high moon seasons have been made boat oars and doorknobs. The trunk where she hides her beaky brood now floats Vir on the waters of Mearowi. The lesser boughs and leaves that house many a wingy, crawly and slithery visitor from distant lands had all been stolen.

Only the oozing gummy stumps and roots strong and buried remind them of their once safe haven.

Avem conducted her clan through a dirge for the generation of fallen trees and family. Their rage burning to their stomachs, a taunting member of Sciurius gang was taloned and devoured; they soused their grieving beaks into tree stump tears and flew away.

*

Besides staring into the sea abyss, what else did Roughskin the randy pufferfish say to Toadie when he realised violent oncoming sea undercurrents?

He cried.

He cried out because the currents would flatten their sand nest on the ocean floor.

And Toadie?

Unsurprisingly, she too cried at the thought of rebuilding a new nest and at the sight of both of them crying.

Avem, do fish ever cry?

How the shoal should I know?

*

Far and below, Avem and her fellow riders spotted a flotilla of merchant vessels carrying away timber from Mearowi – dancing in the violent waves. The sea and Mearowi gods had heard them and were stirring up the sea.

High sea waters slapped at rocks, licked and crumbled foundations of houses on Mearowi Island. Flooded and drove homines off the streets. Cete, Balaena and other big sea mammals leapt into the air and back into water rocking the boats. Avir and his team squalled, reefing their sails. To save life and limb, they tossed away some of their possessions into the ocean.

The revenge was on.

KRIK! The band rained volleys of fire at the escaping boats. Dragon fire! The fire consumed half the boats, sinking, as the stormy sea swallowed them. The angry birds in their hundreds rioted and attacked the merchants.

They relished in gorging out their eyes and incinerating the boat parts. When a dragon gets a whiff of your blood, be very worried. Seventeen sailors were left blind, bleeding and half burnt. So they stumbled and fell off the deck into the deep of the ocean. Would you deny a dying man a drink of water?

Krik! Krik! Krik! Till the sea cleared.

The squadron knew it did not have much time left; it had given off too much. Wearied to the bone in a disappearing melancholy, it rose high up in the sky paying homage to Solis krik, krik, krik until the kriking killed it. Each dragon bird burst into a ball of fire and rained down flaming into the sea; burnt to cinders.

Avem when you find our chicks, tell them we perished in good cause.

When the land regenerates; does everything always have to come back to krik, krik, krik?

My Father’s Watch

By Lewis Wachira
I have very few memories of my father and they’re not particularly interesting or worth dwelling on. He was a tall thin man with a thick moustache and long curly hair, who almost always smelled of cigarette smoke with a hint of menthol. A chain smoker for as long as I’d known him, he and my mother would often get into heated quarrels about him smoking in my presence. He would, on purpose, get my mother worked up after which they would argue and break things and if the argument got too heated, he would send me outside with his car keys to go wash his white Peugeot 504 – and some money to find something to do with the time.
I liked that he was a generous tipper. To him, money was never a problem. “There’s always more where that came from. Just remember, nothing goes for nothing.” he would often say as he slipped a coin or sometimes a fifty shilling note into my shirt pocket.
My mother told me he was a scientist working with the government and for this reason, we never got to see him much. I can even count the times we got to see him with one hand. On the day last day I saw him, he was particularly pensive and drawn to himself. He kept taking long swigs of whiskey out of a test tube that he had brought home from work. Our house was full of such; work objects that he had carried with him from the office. At first, I didn’t notice the tears strolling down his eyes until he sniffed.
“Dad, are you crying?” I asked him, now worried.
“Yes.”
When he noticed that I was looking at him, he dried his eyes up before he picked himself up and went outside for some fresh air. As he left, he stopped where I sat at the door and squatted looking at me.
“I shouldn’t have let her keep you. What kind of place is this that I brought you to? …Tell me you’ll accept the calling when you get it…” He begged, smiling but with new tears flowing again. His breath smelled of alcohol, something my mother hated about him and for this reason I was a bit uncomfortable as he tried to make physical contact. He mumbled a bit, kissed my forehead, put some money in my shirt pocket then left to get some fresh air.
*
That was the last I saw of him until last week.
It was funny how we met. I was seated on a wooden bench outside Kama’s shop, smoking a cigarette when a man joined me. Local neighbourhood boys normally meet there to discuss hot issues currently trending in the country but on this day, no one was in sight.
“You really should put that out,” he said. The entire time, I hadn’t paid much attention to him but his voice did sound familiar.
“What I choose to do with myself is my choice old man. But I’m leaving anyway…” I said rising up to leave. As I did, he reached out and grabbed my hand, Calling me by name
“Kim… we need to talk.” He said looking deep into my eyes.
Everything else about him had changed but for his eyes. For example, he had a full beard now. He was also much fatter with thin ageing lines formed around his eyes. I didn’t have time to say yes or no. He just grabbed me and pulled me aside.
“Take this. If anything weird happens while you have it on, start running. Don’t tell anyone you saw me. Say hi to your mother.” he said as he strapped his heavy metallic Casio watch around my wrist. A pat on the shoulder and he was gone.
*
Today something weird happened.
I had gone to buy detergent at the new supermarket next to Omolo’s Butchery when a young lady crossing the road got knocked down by a motorbike. It happened rather fast. She was talking on her phone when the bike appeared almost out of nowhere and knocked her to the ground.
As soon as she hit the ground, I found myself rushing towards her my face framed in shock.  The accident scene smelled of dust and burning rubber as the bodaboda guy had swerved, trying not to hit her. He also lay on the ground writhing in pain and bemoaning a broken leg. The girl, on the other hand, was rather quiet. too quiet, like she had sustained a fatal injury.
“Are you okay?” I asked trying to straighten her torso to lie in a more comfortable position.
She didn’t respond. Instead, the entire time, she was looking at me, her eyes fixated on my face and watch. Guided by the little first aid knowledge I had, I decided to check whether she had any broken bones or injuries but she didn’t appear to be in any pain.
“Are you in pain?” I finally asked when I realised I was getting no feedback from her. She wasn’t crying or screaming in pain like the bodaboda buy. She just stared at me with a deep fascination like there was something unusual about me. Feeling unsure of how to handle the situation, I rose up to check on him.
“What is the… time?” she asked from behind me, in a thin whisper.  It was a weird question coming from someone who had just escaped death by the whiskers. If this is what will make her better, then so be it. I told myself as I pulled out my smartphone and read the time.
“11:21” I said now turned to face her. She ignored me and instead pointed at my watch.
“It doesn’t work that well,” I said, stretching out my hand and moving closer to her so she could see.
“Read the time.” She whispered with some steeliness ingrained in her tone.
“Why?”
“Just read the time, please,”  she finally uttered, and as she did, she coughed out a bright red spurt of blood which landed on my pink t-shirt. Except for a few scars, for the most part, she was unscathed so I hadn’t assumed her life was in mortal threat.
“It’s wrong. It says 11:11” I said, kneeling down towards her.
*
It’s 11:12 now.
I’m outside my flat doing laundry and the detergent has just run out. Maybe I should head over to that new supermarket next to Omolo’s Butchery to buy some. I should also get a nail cutter while at it, I think to myself. I’m about to leave when my neighbour, Daisy stops me at the stairs. “Is that blood on your shirt?” she asks coming closer to inspect.
“Why are you so nosy?” I ask speeding past her. I learnt early to avoid Daisy’s questions like the plague if I didn’t want to be the topic of gossip in the neighbourhood.
“Are you really going to leave looking like that? On my way in, I met two well-dressed guys at the entrance looking for you. One of them was white. Since I was not sure whether they were cops, I thought I’d tell you first.”
That’s when it all hits me.

The Nightmares of Tera

By Grace Nyaguthii

The gunshot sounds had now died down. Tera sat by the lifeless body of her sister, Makena, shock still keeping her from crying. It had all gone by so fast. People had started to protest, the police had arrived, and Makena had died. It was so simple. She was not sure what was happening or why. She just sat there, holding her sister’s hand. Mama Babu’s mabati door creaked open. She peeked outside, gauging the situation. “Wameenda?” She asked, caution laced in her voice. No answer came from Tera whose back was all mama Babu could see. “Tera kwani nini mbaya?”Still no answer. “Haiya!” she exclaimed now opening the door further to fit her large body. She walked out and went to tap on Tera’s shoulder but was stopped by the scene. She shrieked loudly, even before her mind got the chance to react. Every door now creaked open, some faster than others. Soon, people were all around Tera, comforting her, crying, screaming, cursing, hating. Her mother arrived moments later and she screamed louder than the sirens that had brought death to the slum they called home. Everything after that was a blur to Tera. The body was taken to a mortuary, people came for maombolezi, the funeral was held and life moved on. Weeks turned to months and tears dried. All the while, Tera said nothing, having retreated to her mind. Life moved on. Tera did not.

Mzee Ndiidi,was a known wizard. Tera needed a man of his status. A mganga who knew his craft. She had made the decision to seek his help two months after her sister had died. She had saved for two more and was now ready. She went to his house, expecting to find chicken legs hanging from the roof. There weren’t any. Tera did not care, she was prepared to risk losing her savings to Ndiidi if it meant hope that she could avenge her sister. She narrated her story, speaking now for the first time since her sister had died. He asked for two thousand shillings. She smiled, she had saved three, the extra she would use to shop for her mother. He chanted and danced and burned some wood all the while circling her. When it was over, Tera stood and waited for a spontaneous miracle that did not come. “Utangoja siku kathaa kabla uone mabadiliko. Lakini maadui utawaweza usijali.” She smiled, bowed and walked out. When she got home, she took a nap and dreamt for the first time. It was a nightmare. The nightmares became a regular for her every time she slept, but she preferred them to having to see her sister’s lifeless face.

Eight days later, Tera, was asleep on her bed. She was having another one of her nightmares that day. They had become a regular for her and she could now sleep through them. However, one particular dream nightmare had become recurrent. The nightmare of the crawling goo working its way up her leg, all the way to her face,and then suffocating her to near death. It had been recurrent ever since her visit to Mzee Ndiidi.She woke up startled and decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood. It was not safe. She knew this, but could not help that she needed the air. Besides, life had lost all meaning after the death of her sister. She opted for the red slippers, snuck out, taking care not to wake her mother, and took to the hill where she could often see the rich folks’ houses. Tera had walked for less than ten minutes before she was stopped on her tracks by two police men. She recognized one of them from the riots that had ended in the death of her sister. Hate began to simmer within her. The cops spoke smugly, questioning her and making sexual innuendos. He flames were fanned and her hatred now at the brim, was beginning to show on her face. “Unajua mimi sipendi wasichana hawajui ku-smile.” Cop number one said, addressing his colleague but looking at Tera. “Ata mimi Brayo, huyu dame ni kama hajui kukua thankful na sisi ndio tunalinda nchi” Cop number two chimed. Tera scoffed at that statement, unintentionally.

The first cop, offended by Tera’s scoff, reached to his baton and swung it at her. She bent over. He missed. The second cop came to his rescue with his baton and missed as well. “Sasa utaona aki!” swore the first cop, gritting at his teeth. Tera was scared, but her anger would not let her fear show. She whipped her braids back, exposing her eyes so she could see better. A baton flew to her face; she was not sure whose it was. She waited for the pain. It never came. She opened her eyes slowly, first the right then the left. The cops were clearly astonished and hesitated to swing a second blow. Tera’s hand, as if moving with their own instinct, reached out to the cops, each grabbing at the collar of one officer. She lifted them up, easily, surprising herself more than she did the cops. She then threw them to the ground. Black goo splashed out of her hands and onto the two officers, covering their faces. Within minutes, they had suffocated to death. Tera was not sure what had happened. It felt as if her body was moving on its own. She stood still, shocked, but only for a few seconds. The realization then hit her. She had gotten the power she had prayed for. She ran home, all the way plotting the events that would soon follow. The nation’s nightmare had just begun.

 

 

Wave after wave

Some things are just unsettling, and for the life of you you might never understand them. One moment the sun in all it’s majestic form spreads all over and cures everything, the butterflies are no longer in people’s stomachs, they are out there hoping from one flower to the other. The white puffy clouds stretch from horizon to another. And behold another moment ushers itself in, unannounced, like a thug in the night who breaks the door and turns every thing upside down. The lightning splits the mighty fig into two, generations of birds no longer have a home. See that’s the thing about this life, one moment the tide is high and shore is getting hit by wave after another and the next the ocean is lost and people come collecting shells.
“Can you show me how to make those paper spider webs”
“Me?”
“Yes, you stupid”
“Why are you talking to me? No one talks to me.”
“Look Kira, are you going to show me how to make the webs or no?”
It was really strange that Crystal, the most popular girl in class was talking to the girl who nearly everyone did not to the least say a word. It’s not that it bothered her, she was always in her own world most of the time. Her head was always up in the clouds, somewhere no one else could get to. It was like a dirt road into the woods that no one else had walked upon and only her knew every turn and she did not have to leave breadcrumbs behind, getting lost in there was the very essence, an adventure of some sort. This usually got her in problems with the teachers who took it for arrogance. Her absentminded behavior always led her to miss out on mathematics formulae or the history of David Livingstone. She was however a genius when it came to art and crafts. Art class was where she excelled. She gave it her full attention and for a ten year old girl she was a connoisseur. The fact that Crystal was talking to her after four years of being in the same class was a little fishy. What was she up to? Was this some sort of trickery? What shenanigans was she up to?
“Okay, fine. I’ll show you, it’s really easy.”
“Really?”
“Yeah, you just fold a paper twice, then draw lines along here,” Kira said while demonstrating slowly to the queen bee who seemed to be paying close attention.
“Then you cut along the drawings and unfold it and there you have a spider web.”
“Wow, that’s amazing, thank you. We should be friends.”
Crystal who left with a coy smile returned to her friends and whispered something to them after which they turned to look at Kira and burst out in laughter. Like she had suspected, that wicked girl had been up to no good. Charlotte, who was Crystal’s best friend started walking towards where Kira’s desk.
“What do you want! Do you also want to know how to make a web!”
“Calm down freak, I don’t want anything from you.”
“Then what do you want.”
“I just came to tell you you will never be friends with Crystal. She lied, she can never be friends with an ugly weirdo like you.”
“But I showed her to make a web”
“Yes, that’s because Dylan was going to come to you to ask you to show him how to make a web. He is Crystal’s boyfriend.”
“Boyfriend?”
“Yes, so stay away from him you ugly girl”
That day Kira got suspended from school because she did not take it all too well being called ugly. Every one knew her as a recluse girl who kept to herself but after beating Charlotte, the teachers had after a deliberation were now convinced she was disturbed. No teacher would believe the absentminded girl’s story over the popular girls. Who would have believed they had started the storm.
It was not over. It had just began. One day can change a lot for a ten year old girl. One day you are just an innocent girl who loved reading books by Robert Louis Stephenson and then the next moment this life introduces something new in your life. She went home in her little blue dress that was just below the knees. It was her favorite dress, but now it was covered in tears. She wondered to herself, was she really ugly. She had no idea what a boyfriend was. She had only read about princes and princesses.
Her house was an old cottage by the woods that used to belong to an old tailor who had passed away about a decade ago and her parents had bought it. When she got home she knew she would get a scolding from her parents for being suspended from school. So she tiptoed towards the backyard to check if there was a way she would sneak in the house, go to her room and stay there till evening. This would allow her time to come up with a cover up story to get her out of trouble. She peered through the kitchen window. She saw her mother being held on the neck by a man who she could not clearly see who it was. Could it be her father? Her legs felt weak. A thousand thoughts were going through her mind all at the same time. Was someone trying to hurt her mother? Was she to scream for help? How would she explain not being at school?
“I’ve been a very very naughty girl, punish me daddy.” IMG-20160612-WA0003
That’s when Kira had her first glance into something new, the universe had come crushing with waves. It was not her father who was tearing her mother’s clothes apart. It was a man being addressed as ‘Daddy’. It was not her grandfather either, so why was her mother calling him ‘daddy’? What would her father think of this? Did he know there was a man in their house ripping mum’s clothes off? For a girl who spent too much time in her head, it was chaos in there, the lightning split figs and her innocence had no home in there, not anymore.

Memories of Loss

By Grace

It is now a quarter to one. Midnight has come and gone, a new day crept in and made itself comfortable while my eyes were glued to the TV screen. No count down in its anticipation, no fireworks, not a sound of ululation at its arrival. In the death of the night, this new day has come unnoticed, content in just being amongst us. It is quiet, even the cocks are quiet, asleep maybe. Not a crow, a quack or a bark from the neighbor’s dogs. A silent night. A holy night?

I wrap the sleeping bag tighter around me,shut my eyes tightly and call out to sleep. I do not shout, I whisper gently, softly. I wait in bated breath to drift off on her wings,but the only sounds I hear are those of  my shallow breathing and the beating of my heart inside my ears. The couches pillows press hard on my back,the tv’s light casts an eerie glow on the walls. I switch it off and  suddenly, I’m engulfed in darkness. I feel my way around, like a blind man,my hands become my eyes.I do not stumble.

The sound of the flushing toilet reverberates across the house, hitting walls,shattering the silence. I now hear the barking dogs, perhaps upset at the rude interruption.To what, I cannot tell. I make it to my room without bumping into any furniture. My bed is cold,devoid of warmth, of life. I burrow deeper,push my legs past the solitude. I wiggle incessantly,the springs creaking in protest,then silence.I am left in the company of my thoughts.

It occurs to me,for the umpteenth time, that I am indeed, alone. I think, albeit vaguely, of my inability to sustain a commitment, to stay, to love for long periods. I, involuntarily, think of lost love, arrogantly thrown away in moments of folly. My mind lingers on memories now washed off  by heavy rains, blown away by the wind to far off lands. I cling desperately to moments shared, then sweet and precious, now hanging precariously on the edge, about to fall into oblivion. I try to recreate them,I stop in my tracks to catch these beautiful butterflies. I’m close, but all too fast, they fly away leaving me empty. I’m in  a flower garden once flourishing with lilies and daisies and lilacs. They smell of love and warmth. Their scent is in my nose,my lungs,my heart. It clings to my dress and my hair. I sparkle.

I take captive these memories and refuse to let go. They are crystal clear. Then without warning,  they are dew in the morning melting away at the kiss of the sun.They are tiny droplets on rose petals falling onto the ground never to be seen again. They are a book stored for too long, mould growing on  its pages obscuring its letters, leaving entire pages blank, void.

IMG-20160531-WA0044

I lose, on purpose, the memories that like sharp knives nick and slice whatever they find. I try, sometimes successfully, to throw out completely those words that when uttered, had left a trail of blood in their wake. I bury them deep,under layers and layers of earth. I forget, for while, that they exist. It doesn’t always work, for sometimes, in the most unsuspecting moments, they come back to life and leave me with gashes so deep I can’t help but let the long unshed tears flow.

 

Hope

For a moment, I’m twelve. Loosing teeth fast and growing more aware each day. I now know what a bank loan means. My mind is yet to decide whether it’s a good or bad thing but I know I wouldn’t want it on anyone. Three days in a row, I approach my mother, solemn and anxious asking “Is the loan over?”
On each day, she gives me a brusque “No.” My father rushes me off to finish my never-ending homework. I hate doing homework. I abhorr, revolt against it. I really don’t know what it is good for. Much like a loan. But homework is a more immediate concern that numbs my little, virgin mind against worries of loans.
One day I walk in on my mother with pen and paper, sitted at the dressing table, gazing into the mirror like it were an endless sea. She looks tired but her voice is not. Immediately I walk in, she startles me with a roar “Are you done with your homework?”
Oh, shit. Yes, I was doing my homework. I had totally forgotten. I am struggling everyday with concentration issues. My mind always seems lost deep in vaults unknown and I seem to be getting worse each day. Soon after, follows a deeply sobering moment when a close family member asks my mother “Is his mind right?” I am present. Fully aware. Acting blank, blase.
“Yes.” She replies. Confident.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I think.” A bit shaky this time.
“And his ears…” this question eventually checks me into Kenyatta Hospital for a specialist assessment on whether my ears are fine. More like whether my ears are the source of my unusual behaviour. In all this, I am only going through the motions. I feel fine. But for all I know, I could be a mad little boy with hearing problems. It could get worse, right?
Days later I finally find the piece of paper my mother was writing on. On it, are random figures. Fees, food, househelp, fare and right there at the bottom, loan. The figure seated comfortably next to it, is tremendous. Huge. In fact I only encounter such figures when doing multiplication. Somehow, these random figures make complete sense to me.
That evening, I and my questions happen. “What if we just give back the loan?” My mind has at this point inferenced a loan to be a modern yoke of slavery.
Maybe he is mad afterall. My parents give me a momentary glance then continue watching TV. “Have you finished cleaning everyone’s shoes?”
Oh shit.
I rush outside to finish on the three shoes I am yet to clean.
My immediate sibling is eight. A graceful creature with the most innocent countenance I have encountered yet. Once a chubby baby, she is loosing her baby-fat fast but also growing quieter each day.  Nowadays does not smile and play around like she once used to. Still, she’s quite the entertainer. Everyday she comes home with these crazy notions. Like this one day she comes home having concluded that she must be Luo. In fact she confesses to be Luo. No one will convince her otherwise. So we laugh happily at her childish innocence.
Our baby, the last born is four. Chubby and round faced, she has kinky red hair. One neighbour says that she needs to eat more fruits. Another says she needs to drink water. I think she is perfect and the only one who needs to drink pools of water is the neigbour. She is loosing her fears fast and growing her imagination everyday.
She is about to finish pre-unit and soon join us in primary school. We can barely contain our excitement that she is coming.
She also can’t contain hers as she doesn’t have any. She shares not, our ambitions. You see, she has her sights elsewhere. On a different school that is the stuff of myth around the community. Every time it appears on anyone’s lips, it never lacks one more wildly amusing rumour than the last which blows its myth to epic proportions.
“I hear the children there eat sausages and bacon every morning and go swimming in the afternoon”
“That’s nothing. Last year they produced several candidates who were top ten in the country. I saw it with my own eyes”
“I hear they have a new school bus.”
“Another one?”
“Yes… you would think driving yourself to school is not enough…”
I mean, at this point, I can only equate it to Hogwarts, the legendary. Everything about it seems stuff of imagination. If heaven had a school for little angels, this would be it. And that’s where our baby had her sights fixed. She believes that she would soon study there. Convicted with every bone in her body.
Mad, we all were mad kids. She the most.
Finally the year comes to an end. The Christmas holidays zoom by in a blur colored with kiddish hapiness. We are now finishing our homeworks and reparing our damaged uniforms for next year. Our house help has found this nice fundi who is not that busy and has offered to make a new uniform for our baby before she joins our school.
When she hears this, she cries. Hysterically. She then retreats to herself. I share in her sadness from a distance, perhaps I am even sadder. I don’t know why just yet. But I know she might receive a tap on her arm for unwarranted tantrums. Only much later do I realize the cause of my sadness. I had witnessed the hope in her eyes and the joy in her smile flicker. It is one of the saddest things you will ever see.
Days before school finally resumes, my father comes home in the evening with three pairs of new Bata shoes. “I knew it. I knew it!” our baby screams.
“Knew what?”
She knew that she was going to Hogwarts. Turns out we all were. And we all did. Her unwavering faith had carried us. That night, every time I woke up from my toss-and-turn-with-excitement sleep to glance over at my new pair of shoes I felt like anything was possible.
***
To this day, my mother says she does not grasp how we joined Hogwarts. It was too expensive, too mighty an attempt. Yet somehow, my little sister carried us on the wings of her little uncommon faith into the land of milk and honey.
I complete my twenty third trip around the sun this year and I can assure you, these trips are not free. With every trip, after a certain tipping point, we pay with grey hairs, waning sight and failing strength. Worst of all, is the point where we are loosing faith fast and growing pains daily. So I write this piece to present and future me, and anyone else who relates, that it will always spark a little faith, in a dimming soul.