The Death of the Other Livingstone.


Not many know this Livingstone. Not even in the village he died, though a few oldest natives can tell you the story of a white devil who met his death in the hands of a brave chief who founded the Chingelese Kingdom. 

He is only mentioned once and very briefly in church documents long lost in London Missionary Society archives. His absence from church lore is probably intentional, but well, he too was a missionary in roughly the same region of Africa Dr David Livingstone was saving black souls and civilizing savages. 

Our Livingstone was not nearly as educated nor as theologically refined as the famous one. He did come totting a Bible, but really he wasn’t sure how to convert into conviction the doubt of a civilized man, let alone a savage. He himself, had severe difficulties believing. 

He didn’t know what was so wrong with whatever the Africans believed in before this blatant imposition was taken up with a hypocritical zeal not before seen since the bloodlust of the Crusades. 

He had grown up unsure of what to do with himself. Largely because his father fastidiously manned the keel of his life. Livingstone had realized that by following his father’s wishes he could afford to be lazy of wisdom and still live a comfortable, even luxurious life. His father, though not a nobleman, understood that the future of England belonged to men of education and that noble birth was fast becoming cheap currency. 

He enrolled his only child in school early and spent the rest of his life toiling to ensure his son became a man of means. When the elder Livingstone died, our protagonist was in university studying law, a demanding discipline which had begun to interfere with his midweek romps with the painted girls of lower London. He had friends studying theology who kept telling him how easy it was. He switched courses. His father was too dead to object this sudden departure from the destiny he’d charted for his son. His mother had died way before the father, so Livingstone was unencumbered with family demands and expectations. 

He quickly joined the ranks of Presbyterian ministers and as quickly got bored ministering in rural England. He had just turned 30 when wonderful tales of adventures in the dark continent became all the rage with both veritable true accounts of missionaries dying horrible deaths in the hands of hostile negroes and mysterious malaises; and fantastic tales of Prestor John and his mythical Christian kingdom. The enthusiasm that accompanied the search for this kingdom was predicated on a quest to find untold riches a la the Lost City of the Aztecs and the possibility of finding a white king who had benevolently civilized and ruled over savage natives.

He immediately set his mind on Africa and spent many a days in a daydream fantasizing about travelling to this distant land of savages. Despite his singular aspiration, he was surprised when his application for missionary work was accepted for he wasn’t much of a talented evangelist. He’d never added to his congregation. In fact it had noticeably thinned out over the years, but no one had really questioned him about it so he assumed he was the only one who noticed.

The interviewing panel seemed to mistakenly think he was a brother to the famous Livingstone. A mistake he didn’t bother to correct for it had seemingly swayed their decision in his favour. His back was patted many at times and bishops would often heap him with praises over the exemplary courage of his ‘famous brother’ whose faraway adventures in the furtherance of the Gospel of Our Lord was held in awe by the church. If they had a pope, this is the first man the Protestants would probably have beatified. 

Our hero was lauded highly for his decision to join his brother’s blessed work. He was given numerous speaking engagements and he caused quite an excitement everywhere he went. His church began to fill up on Sundays. A rather extravagant ball was held in his honour on his voyage eve.

The ship dropped anchor on a  Sunday morning. The sun was about to emerge from the horizon curving over the sea and he could see shadows of palm trees, but no evidence of a port. It was really a rather virgin shore and as the sun came up he could see fishermen rowing by the ship in dug out canoes full of the night’s catch. They had a look on their face that told. The look told that they knew these pale faces were up to no good.

He walked into his cabin and picked up two small suitcases. He was hoping to win favour with the locals for supplies. He had enough food to last a week. He and a guide he had been assigned from England.

He’d completely forgotten about his guide or rather assistant. A large, African man named Moses. They hadn’t spoken much to each other for Moses, although a staunch convert back in England, had spent the entire voyage below decks getting drunk with the sailors.

Livingstone stepped out of his room with his suitcases in hand to go find Moses.

“All the supplies are already on the shore sir. I had them off loaded as soon as we dropped anchor,” Moses startled Livingstone by seemingly appearing out of no where. The reverend cursed under his breath and briskly nodded at Moses whose large eyes were bloodshot and his breath still reeked of whiskey.

Just then the captain of the ship appeared beside them. Moses excused himself and disappeared below decks, probably to get an early start on the day’s drinking.

“Thank you Reverend for being with us. This voyage I’m sure has been free of misfortune and danger because of your prayers. Go teach these savages the gospel of Jesus. As a subject of the Crown, I am indeed proud and esteemed by  noble service. May the Lord be with you.” He too was visibly drunk. He raised his hand to tip his hat, but ended up knocking it off his head completely.

Livingstone nodded briskly and turned on his heel to avoid laughing in the officer’s face. He hadn’t prayed since his last sermon in England.

He sat in the row boat with his back on the receding ship and his face towards the approaching beach. His view of it was obstructed by Moses’ bulk which was topped by a widely smiling head as he moved his black, muscular forearms back and forth to propel the boat. He was surprised by how much luggage they had in the small boat. He’d thought he only had a few packages.

He breathed in the salty air and closed his eyes to allow his senses to absorb this new world. He could feel a steady rise in atmospheric temperature. The salty air of the sea being replaced by the fishy smell of coral and seaweed.

He was shaken out of his reverie by a sudden soft thud as the hull struck a soft bank of sand. He opened his eyes to see Moses lithely jump out of the boat into the shallows and start pulling the boat towards the white beach. Natives had started to stop amid their morning errands to stare at the odd pair. Livingstone looked back expecting to see other boats behind them, but there were none and the ship seemed to be preparing to leave. Moses read the shock on his face,”Don’t worry sir. This is our post. However, the ships don’t really stop here. There’s a big port farther north where they stop to offload their cargo and get supplies to continue their voyage. The ship is going to India.”

Livingstone didn’t give an obvious reaction to the explanation. He knew the ship was sailing to India. He didn’t know what to say to Moses in response to this obvious condescension. He hadn’t taken to the large African with unusually dark eyes.

“Oh, right, right. So where are we right now?”

“We’re on the coast of East Africa, but we’re supposed to travel inland. There are Presbyterian missions making their way up from Southern Africa.  We’re supposed to try meet up with them a little ways inland before you start your mission. I hear the great Dr Livingstone, your brother, is with that group too sir,” Moses added more information Livingstone already had. With the same condescending tone and a wide grin on his face. The man had impossibly white teeth. A black devil with sparkly teeth. He imagined the monster had a deafening laughter. 

He turned his mind from the African and back to England. He knew he was ill prepared for this work. Another in a long line of impulsive decisions he had taken since his father had died. 

During the endless, dull classes they were made to sit through before they were dispatched, he hadn’t really been listening. His mind was preoccupied with his impending liberation from a promise of marriage he had made. To a plain girl from one of the most influential families in his congregation. One that had enough influence to ruin him.

Plain as she was he’d bedded her with a vociferous appetite over the few months preceding his missionary approval. She had began demanding marriage or she would withhold the intercourse. Moreso when she found out he was leaving shortly for Africa. He had never really intended to marry her. Her father however had been pushing for this alliance with a man of the cloth. Maybe he had even encouraged the fornication wanting to safely guarantee the marriage of his plain daughter. And there was no easier man to press a plain woman on. The Reverend would obviously not want a scandal and would easily bend to subtle blackmail.

“That was a close shave,” Livingstone thought as he took off his hat and wiped a silk pocket square across a sweaty forehead. It didn’t absorb much and only smeared him with sweat full of rough, salt crystals. He crunched his boots on the beach, coat in hand looking at the sun climbing higher I’m the sky. 

His mind flitted on memories of Emma, that was her name, in the throes of passion with her ample breasts in his face. He felt a stirring in his trousers. Only her face was plain. He smiled and threw a glance at Moses who was busy trying to corral a few Africans to help carry their goods. To where? He did not know. Livingstone, being the white master of all sons of Ham should probably taken charge. Clearly he thought little of the dynamics of his relationship with Moses or what the natives might think. He thought giving Moses that much liberty over their mission might cement his loyalty to his new master.

He followed Moses to a rather large house compared to the others in the small village. It was built with yellow brick and mortar with wide windows on all sides. It had a rough concrete floor and rudimentary furniture.

“The Arabs built this. Before they decided trading prospects here were dim and the locals’ vehement refusal to convert to Mohammedanism was final and left.”

Livingstone smiled. Moses was a shrewd assistant. He obviously liked his spacious quarters. 

“It’s only for a few days, sir. Then we move inland to meet up with the other mission team.”

Livingstone nodded. He didn’t like the humid heat of this coastal village anyway. He retrieved a wide brim hat from his belongings and wore it. 

The villagers stared at him whenever he passed by and whispered suspiciously among themselves. He felt uneasy, but had heard the Africans thought white men were gods and therefore wouldn’t dare harm him. He started to form in his mind his first sermon. He had to reiterate the white man’s superior civilization and teach these savages what it means to be civilized.

Moses was amazingly at ease in their new sorroundings. As far as he knew Moses had been born in or brought to England as a child and was a thorough English gentleman. Trained and instructed in every way to be an English aristocrat’s butler. He couldn’t be sure though. He thought he heard Moses speaking to the locals in a language he, Rev Livingstone couldn’t understand. Maybe Moses had been taught African languages in preparation for this trip. Livingstone thought this an advantage as they wouldn’t have to find a translator, which could take weeks or even months. Finding someone who could speak enough of the babel of languages spoken in this part of the world.

By noon when the sun was hotter than anything Livingstone had ever experienced, Moses and the group of natives he had managed to convince to help were finished setting up their temporary quarters. Moses had purchased brightly coloured fabrics with ghastly flower patterns on them from the local merchants and used them as curtains in the open, arched windows facing the ocean to let in the cool breeze.

The reverend sat down on the cot in his ‘bedroom’ and untied his boots. He could feel hot sweat dripping between his toes as he pulled putrid, drenched socks off his feet. He lay back on the cot and closed his eyes to remember Emma and their afternoon trysts in the vestry.

He was startled by Moses’ voice informing him that lunch was ready. He must have fallen asleep. He took out his silver pocket watch and it read 10.30 a.m London time. He guessed it must have been around 1.30 in the afternoon. His stomach was empty. He quickly wolfed down the soup and bread on a small desk beside the cot and almost drank the entire pitcher of water Moses had thoughtfully brought in as he was eating.

He could hear Moses’ voice droning outside, intermittently interrupted by a piercing laughter he had come to associate with savagery. He closed his eyes again to try sleep. Recollections of Emma easily allowed him to drift off. He could even positively say he missed her, but then he realized what he really missed was a woman. Any woman. He wondered about the savage women. How do they smell?

He lifted himself on an elbow, “Moses. Can you come in here please?”
There was a brief silence as Moses excused himself from his new friends to answer his master. When he walked in he had a glazed over look in his eyes and Livingstone immediately knew he had been drinking.
“If you have any whiskey, may I have some? I’m having trouble with the heat.” It was a rhetorical question. Livingstone had seen Moses carry enough cases of whiskey to get the village drunk for a month into the adjoining room, which was to be Moses’ quarters. It turned out whiskey was the bulk of the surprisingly numerous parcels of luggage they brought from the ship.

Moses smiled amiably,” I didn’t know you drink sir, I would have served you a long time ago. I am forming some alliances to try and get porters and guards who will travel with us. Would you like to join I and my new friends or do you wish to drink by yourself? ”

“I see you are far gone while I’m still sober. Just bring me a bottle and I’ll join you after I finish writing a few letters. ”

The preacher was lying. He had no one to write to in England. Maybe the church fathers, but those did not require quick correspondence from missionaries in the thick of the jungle. He was just wary of getting drunk in front of the same Africans he would soon prohibit from taking alcohol. He wondered how he would approach the issue with Moses who had taken to drink like a thirsty fish once they had left England. He would have to sober up to work with the mission or at least be a little more discreet about it. 

Moses walked in with the uncorked bottle, winked and placed a finger on his lips before leaving with a conspiratorial smile playing on his lips. This indication of a shared secret irked Livingstone. He wasn’t sure he wanted to share secrets or an intimate relationship with Moses. Livingstone raised an empty glass to him and as soon as Moses was out of the room, filled it with whiskey and downed all of it in one speedy gulp. He lay back to appreciate the smooth cooling as the alcohol settled in his stomach. He could swear he could feel it seeping through his intestines into his bloodstream, but being an occassional dabbler with science he knew better. He drank two thirds of the bottle and fell asleep sitting at a small makeshift desk Moses had fitted in the Reverend’s room. 

He was woken by shrill singing and screaming. His eyes took sometime to adjust to the gentle dusk that was falling. He moved a curtain to peer outside. Moses’ party was dancing and chanting with intimidating warlike prances around a fire. He felt the whiskey all the way to his wee toe nail. He saw Moses briskly walking towards the house with a tray of roasted meat. He sat down.

“Aaah, you’re up sir. That whiskey is strong. Twelve year old. You haven’t drunk in a while I imagine. It’s almost impossible to find a clergyman who has a stomach for whiskey in England these days. Never mind that the Savior was a staunch advocate of a man’s right to drink. He even refers to himself being a drinker. Even God demanded wine as part of the offerings and sacrifices brought to him. Drink is good to calm the turbulent soul and roil up the timid. It’s the chief prerequisite for socialization in these societies we’ve come into. With drink you can buy a man’s soul here.” He laughed as he placed the platter on the small table and placed another whiskey bottle beside it.

Livingstone hadn’t figured Moses to be a philosopher. He wanted to ask Moses where in the Bible it said that Jesus drank, but stopped. He didn’t know the Bible well enough. He should probably have been embarrassed that the large African knew the religion better than he did. However, he really couldn’t see what such theological nuances had to do with the message of salvation and redemption. He shrugged his shoulders as he peeled a roasted rib with his teeth and walked back to the window to watch the native dance that seemed to have taken on a tantric rhythm. Moses joined his friends waving a bottle of whiskey in each hand. He was welcomed with wild whoops.

They rested for three days. And each went more or less the same way. When Livingstone woke up his breakfast would be on the table, but Moses would be nowhere to be found. He would take a stroll in the village before the sun rose too high and he had to beat a retreat lest he roast his skin. He envied the melanin rich savages. They could work and sit in the scorching sun all day. The villagers seemed to have lost interest in him. They would even not stare much when he passed by and no one seemed to be whispering about him. However, their lost enthusiasm in the pale stranger was taken up with extraordinary zeal by mosquitoes that followed him everywhere in a swarm even in the hot midday sun. He was going through tubes of insect repellent so fast he feared he would run out in a month.

By the time he got back to the quarters Moses would be back, smiling as ever with a bottle of whiskey to offer. 

They had started talking more. Moses had told him racy stories of his escapades with white women. Stories he wouldn’t dare tell in England at risk of lynching. He even had a torrid affair with the wife of a famous lord. He probably had been sent to Africa to save the lady the embarrassment of a scandal for he showed neither Christian conviction nor the nauseating overzealousness particular with African converts. 

Livingstone tried not to judge a man who responded to urges of his loins though. For some it was their only discernible talent. And Africans were rumoured to have humongous organs and inexhaustible energy.

Moses’ number of friends had grown tremendously and every afternoon, a raucous crowd would gather at their quarters to drink and dance (and he guessed fornicate for he had seen several women in the group who didn’t seem attached to any particular men) until wee hours. And he would meet them during his walk, hoes in hand headed to their farms the following morning with no visible signs of fatigue from a night of depraved drunkenness. 

Livingstone hoped he wouldn’t have to start their evangelizing anywhere near these villages and that he would never come back here. For he had began joining the high octane parties and a native girl had caught his eye. He would sneak her into his room when he thought everyone was too drunk to notice. She always smelled of sweet scented soap and coconut oil although she had danced herself to a fine sweat. He on the other hand had what he could only euphemistically describe as a stinging oduor. How did these Africans smell so nice?

One of these nights he had just closed eyes, spent from his exertions with the native girl. Emma was all but extinguished from his memory. He could feel himself losing his calling to ministry for another type of calling. One that meant disappearing in these jungles and becoming a savage too. The rumours were true. No white woman could quite move like the shy dark girl could. 

It was with these thoughts that his eyelids lazily drooped and he was almost lost to the aftermath of ecstasy when he heard a loud skirmish outside. He dismissed it as the quarrels of drunks when a rifle report rent the air.

He quickly got up pulling his trousers on. The girl pulled the covers over her head and let out a small scream. He could see the outline of her naked contours and the points of her still stiff nipples beneath the thin sheet and felt an urge to devour her again when another loud bang of a rifle sounded, followed by screams and yelps of obvious terror. He cursed and ran out to see a mêlée as the confused drunks tripped over each other running. Some fell into the fire while others ran head on into thorn bushes. The compound had cleared in an extremely eventful instant. 

He called out Moses’ name but no one answered. He dashed back in the house to pick up a rifle. The girl was no longer in the cot. He quickly checked the other rooms. She wasn’t anywhere in the house. He cursed and cautiously walked about the compound. He hoped the meagre training in rifle handling he had received just before they had set sail was enough. He was pretty sure though that he couldn’t hit a target especially with his pulse racing and his heart threatening to break free of his ribcage as it was then.

He walked towards the fire to assess what the party had left behind. He couldn’t see anyone left within the compound. He breathed a sigh of relief and turned back towards the house. 

He heard a soft whine in some bushes near the fire. He lifted his rifle and walked towards the bushes. A lone dog was standing there staring at him. Unyielding its position even as he struck an intimidating pose and started towards it. He remembered being taught that you should try to make yourself seem as big as possible if you encounter a dangerous animal in the jungles of Africa. He hoped it would work with the obviously domesticated bitch.

“Yaar!” he roared but the dog merely put its head on the ground and ignored him. He edged closer looking at what was holding the mongrel’s attention thinking it was a bone when he stumbled and clumsily fell on something bulky and soft. He quickly got up. It was dark in the bushes but he immediately knew what he had stumbled on. He ran back to the house and called Moses loud as he could without a response. Could it be it was Moses’ body he had tripped on? He realized he was shaking and sweating profusely. He walked into Moses’ room and saw there still were several cases of whiskey. He cursed the darned devil’s brew and quickly walked back to his quarters.

He spent the night pacing. Too fearful of retribution to fall asleep. Too angry at Moses for holding the rowdy parties. Too angry at himself for getting carried away and forgetting why he had come to Africa. Too angry at himself for being too afraid of the large African and letting him do as he wished insteading of reigning in his servant and directing their mission. He couldn’t believe it had only been four days since he’d landed on this God forsaken continent yet he had turned into a savage too.

A mournful wailing started from the distance that was echoed and like wailing sirens, the terrifying crying went on all night. Dawn took months to come, but finally he heard a cock crowing over the wailing as the sun rose over the ocean. He strode to where the dead body was. The daylight had given him enough courage to walk out. He had spent the night by the door with an ammunition box and another full of gunpowder beside him. He could tell by the rotund shape of the dead man that it wasn’t Moses.
He turned around to go back into the house when he saw Moses creeping from a bush behind the house, rifle in hand.

“Moses! Where the hell have you..what the fuck happened here?” he began with a shout that ended with a whisper as Moses gestured at him to be quiet. He walked furiously up to Moses who was darting his eyes in all directions.

“That man. I killed him. He tried to steal from me,” he hoarsely whispered, a murderous look in his eyes.

“What did he steal or rather try to steal?” Livingstone asked following Moses who was quickly retreating into the white man’s quarters, “And what the hell are you going in my room for?”

Before he was answered, the noise of an approaching mob caught his ear. He turned to see men who had all manner of crude weapons approaching. He even saw one or two bird rifles being waved by some of the crowd. He knew why they were coming. He straightened his back and combed his hair with his fingers before taking a couple of steps towards the approaching mob. He raised his rifle and pointed it at them. Wearing the most nonchalant look he could muster on his face.

The mob advanced until it was about forty five yards from him. Then they stopped as if one organism. A few agitators tried to urge the mob forward, but no one moved. Livingstone smiled to himself. They really did fear a white man.

A voice said something he couldn’t quite pick out.

“I didn’t hear what you said. Could you speak up, in English. Clearly you can see my translator is not here.” He pulled up his trousers with his free hand and spat in front of him.

A sinewy man with a hard face stepped forward. He was one of the two men who had duck rifles. He strained his face in an obvious effort to squeeze out the words.

“Moses. We want Moses. He kill a man. He kill my brother.”

Livingstone was surprised at the clarity of the man’s demand. He raised his chin and ran his fingers through his luxurious golden beard. He lost his balance but quickly covered it up by pretending he was taking a step forward. The mob shrank. He smiled wryly. He could get why the cowboy tales were  popular. But this wasn’t a fantasy. His  hue gave him a real power and presence. Maybe he should abandon the mission and position himself the king of these people. It wasn’t unheard of. A white man who had gone native.

Someone coughed startling the preacher from his reverie. He raised his rifle and placed it across his shoulder.

“Well, last I heard from Moses he was with you. And what gives you the right to trespass on Her Majesty’s protected territory?”

The men looked at one another. Livingstone could see the terror on their faces. His pre missionary training begun coming back to him. Even parts that he had slept through. He remembered clearly that a white man should never cede ground to an African. The savage must know his place in relation to the white man.

The mob, evidently dissatisfied with his response started murmuring loudly. The agitators even convinced enough members of the mob to start advancing towards the white man. There were isolated chants and whoops and the men in front of the mob started making their menacing war faces. Livingstone could see they were beginning to gain courage. The spirit of the dead man was telling them Moses was in the house. He did not step back. The two men with duck rifles pointed them at him and the crowd seemed to get bolder and they picked up their pace. 

Livingstone at once realized he had to take a decisive step and he fired his rifle in the air. The deafening bang made his ears ring, but it had the desired effect. He expected the men with duck rifles to fire, he knew the little putty wouldn’t hurt him much. It seemed the armed men knew so too for the advance halted and a reluctant  retreat started. He raised his rifle again, this time aiming at the heart of the increasingly restless mob, but the Africans although they showed fear in their faces stayed in one mass. He heard a yelled threat as he fired his rifle a second time to try scattering them, but the bloodthirsty mob wasn’t going to move as if daring him to shoot into the mob.

Even a man as dim as Livingstone could tell he was outnumbered and he started retreating backwards, slowly with his rifle shakingly aimed at the centre if the mob.

This retreat emboldened those whose sole role it seemed was to rile up the mob with taunts and deadly chants. The mob again came to life. Livingstone turned to see how far he was from the door. He saw the dark girl standing off the side of the house with an alarmed look in her face, wildly gesturing. He didn’t have time to decipher the frantic waves and unintelligible sounds. He turned to meet the wild face of Moses, large red eyes, bulging veins on his forehead as he viciously drove the wooden stock of a rifle into the reverend’s face.

The lights momentarily dimmed on the preacher but he could feel the heavy weight of a boot in his ribs and Moses saying something in a language he couldn’t understand. His tongue moved over a few teeth he could feel rolling around in his blood filled mouth.

He opened his eyes as he spat out a mouthful of blood and teeth. He could see Moses standing above him rifle raised, spit flying out of his mouth as he shouted something to the mob.

Livingstone turned his face towards the mob and they were all staring with wild eyes and pointing at him. Making the shrill screams and chants. He knew something Moses had said must have turned them against him. Clearly it was his blood they were thirsting after now.

He saw his rifle lying a few paces to his left. He started dragging himself towards it, when Moses without looking, kicked it away and brought a giant fist crashing into the white man’s already broken saw. Livingstone could feel his face puffing like a balloon.

He groaned as he was roughly picked up and thrown into the mob that set on him with kicks and their crude weapons. Livingstone resigned into his confusion. A moment ago he was in the dominant position. By the mystique of his race, but Moses had just shattered it. The cunning swine had just sacrificed him.

Everything was happening in slow motion. He could see through the blood trickling over his eyes the rage, the hatred in the black faces as the hands, clubs and sticks came in a torrent towards his lifeless form. He couldn’t feel any pain. His body lay limp being tossed about like a rag doll by the impact of the blows loaded with hatred and terror. The hatred of this strange being that had upset their entire existence. The terror of knowing they were going to murder a god. Brutally. Viciously. In cold blood. 

He could tell they knew he was innocent of whatever Moses had told them. But they were more afraid of Moses than of this creature. The hatred they were taking out on him was really their hatred of Moses. He could see souls, frustrated they couldn’t touch the devil turned their furious rage on the thing they felt no kinship towards. He felt sorry for them. Maybe his sacrifice had a purpose. He wasn’t under any illusion about the objective of the missionary activities. Of religion. It was to pacify the poor savages for the chains that were about to be put on them. The exploitation and appropriation of the wealth of their land. How did such an ignorant, entitled Reverend know this? Everybody knew what was going on in India. Enslaving for God, the Crown and glory of the civilized race. I told you he wasn’t as foolish as he seemed.

They would one day fight off the yokes of the coming invaders. But it was men like Moses they should be most wary of. For these would enslave them more brutally than the British. Forever. Livingstone raised a bloody eyebrow the size of a banana. He quivered in laughter at his sudden clarity of thought. He must be getting a high fever he thought. It made people think they were engaging in profound labours of the mind. A doctor had told him about it once back in good old England.

He heard Moses say something above the frenzied crowd. Each trying to hit the white god and see him bleed. The beating let up. The monkey was wearing his widest smile yet. And Livingstone’s wide brim hat, a bottle of whiskey in his left hand.

The mob parted and Moses walked through the human corridor they formed to where Livingstone, looking more like a bloody pulp was lying.

“I have been appointed your judge. I am to decide your fate,” Moses solemnly began. “I know. I know it must be confusing going from revered master of the world to a bloody mess in an instant,” he winked at the Englishman who lay on the ground without moving, his eyes puffed shut. The huge African let out a chuckle and with flaming eyes let out a long blood curdling scream.

“What am I being judged for?” the Englishman opened his mouth to ask, but all that came out were unintelligible gurgles as blood filled his throat. He gave up on the futile effort. He sank his elbows into the grey silt that covered the area and tried to lift himself up.

Moses said something and a chuckle was heard here and there in the otherwise solemn crowd. He said something else and the isolated chuckles became laughter that swept through the mob. He caught sight of the girl who was looking at him from the fringes of the crowd. Tears were rolling down her cheeks and the moment their eyes met she averted hers.

He smiled at the memory of her. And the memory of Emily. And the bitterness of life. The cruel nature of a greedy man.

He felt like a mere onlooker in the events that happened next. The hoisting of his body above the heads of the mob. The march to a rise in the corner of the market. The ecstatic singing, chants and ululations. The frantic dancing. He caught sight of Moses wearing his clothes that were too tight on him and made him look ridiculous. He had also taken the white man’s boots. Livingstone was sure those too didn’t fit the giant. He also wore Livingstone’s fine silk-cotton, knee length frock coat. Although it barely went past the big brute’s mid-thighs and he couldn’t button it. It was too hot to wear the frock coat anyway, but the Reverend appreciated the symbolism behind appropriating a dead white man’s belongings in this part of the world. It meant conquering the conqueror and established unquestionable authority and credence as a foremost warrior. Livingstone checked himself. He had to desist from these useless thoughts. He was probably living through his final moments and he should spend them in repentance.

He said a half assed prayer. He hadn’t really thought seriously about the existence of God until this moment. But he was a preacher, you ask. That was just business. A clever man finds the easiest way to earn a living with minimum expense of his energies. He smiled at this conclusion on his cleverness.

A thought dared him to refuse to repent. To refuse the grace of redemption at the hour of death. Get thee behind me Satan!

He was thrown in a heap under a tree. He raised his eyes to see a noose tied around a branch. It struck him that this had been thought out before hand. Moses had framed him for the death of the fat man. Probably convinced them a white man isn’t invincible too. Moses had picked out a place near the beach. Probably wanting to replicate the pirate hangings in London harbour.

As he was hoisted into the noose his stomach knotted. So this is how it feels at the point of death? He wished to maintain a defiant disposition, but he could feel the fear creeping on his face. He opened his eyes to the grinning tar black face of his traitor.

“You know, sir. It was great knowing you, but the tide of history dictates you exit here. These people. These savages need something tangible to believe in. A God in heaven and a master on earth that looks like them. Your sacrifice is not in vain. You’ve just ushered them into civilization.” Before Livingstone could say anything in return, Moses called out and the rope was pulled. Livingstone felt the constriction tighten increasingly around his neck. He scanned the crowd again and she was standing a bit nearer now. Her hand over her mouth. A petrified look in her eyes.

He could feel feaces sliding out as the pressure on his neck reached a threshold. A warm stream ran down his leg and, “Snap!” He was sure he’d heard his neck break.

He expected to slip into darkness, but he didn’t. He was surprised. He knew he was dead though. He expected to be ushered into hell any time, but he was merely standing next to his lifeless body hanging on a tree. He looked at Moses who stood there with a satisfied look on his face. Moses turned around and began addressing the mob.Livingstone was surprised he could understand what was being said despite their speaking in a language other than English.

“Today we affirm the freedom of our town. The white man is not a friend. The white man has come to invade our land and make us slaves. We can not resist him unless we organize ourselves like him. We must have a leader, a king and an army if we are to survive the coming conquest. Consolidate the wealth of our community and get ready.”

Livingstone hadn’t taken Moses for a political orator. He knew what Moses was driving at. He had no interest to hear anymore of the killer. When the invading forces came, Moses would definitely be on the side of the British. Some men are born curses with an insatiable greed for power. To enslave others for their own wealth and prestige.

He glided above the crowd like a slow wind. Flying towards the beach. He turned to see the crowd quickly disperse after the speech. So quickly in fact, as if afraid of something. He sighed. It was done. Africa would destroy itself. These were no clueless savages. Not all of them were savages after all. Just the few calculating men whose era the British and other colonialists were unwittingly ushering this beautiful land into.

On Slavery and the Role of Africans in the Slave Trade.

May I drop my two cents here on slavery and the slave trade in Africa, being a native and quite conversant with the history. Slaving was not an economic activity in Africa and the suggestion that Africans were selling each other simply because they didn’t think trading in humans is wrong is false, deeply ignorant and offensive. Pre European invasion Africans had sophisticated community based civilizations and economies that have been attested to by neutral research and anthropology and by examination of artefacts that are largely stashed in European and American museums. Slavery was usually utilized as a wartime tactic against enemies where their women and young children were captured and taken to the victor’s land. These ‘slaves’ were not subject to the brutality associated with slavery in the Americas as the women were usually married to the victorious warriors and their children adopted into the tribe and their labour involved normal activities every member of the tribe was participating in. Captured men would earn full rights in the tribe. Once they learned the language and culture of the tribe, they were usually assigned a clan anf family name. No one, not even tribe members were exempt from the communal labour that characterized African societies. Only the Muslim tribes in North Africa kept slaves as indentured servants of lower rank to them usually because they did not share the Islamic faith.

When the European and Arab ships docked in Africa looking to buy human beings, the local war tribes realized that selling those they captured in war to the Europeans was more lucrative and they started doing so. Bear in mind that these people were unaware of the brutal nature of slavery abroad and probably thought slaves there would be treated the same as they were in African communities where ‘slaves’ and their descendants could even rise to be kings (most monarchies were not hereditary in Africa then).

However, soon information came back on the inhuman conditions the slaves were facing in voyage and how they were treated worse than cattle once they got to the Americas and the tribes became more and more reluctant to sell their slaves to the foreigners. However at this time, several wealthy merchants had established themselves as slave traders with well armed militia to plug the deficit that the resisting tribes created. The tribes under attack too started organizing resistance and at the height of the trade, European traders organized themselves into bands that would go into the interior to capture slaves. What was once a wartime tactic thus became a systemic hunting and capture of human beings to sell as cattle. They would literally kidnap children and lone travellers and attack poorly defended villages. So, no. It wasn’t normal for us to sell each other as slaves. No. We didn’t do it purely as an economic activity. This doesn’t absolve our role in this evil trade, but our motivation was neither poverty nor greed.

As for the confluence of slaving and racism, the Oxford English Dictionary defines racism as ‘a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.’ We also need to understand that Western Europeans considered themselves racially superior to all other races in a heirarchy that placed the black African at the very bottom, placing him just above the great apes in terms of intelligence and ‘civilization’. This had always been used as the justification for enslaving negroes and treating them as cattle. The Bible was also heavily used in particular quoting the book of Genesis, chapter 9 verse 25 to 27, to claim that Noah had cursed his youngest son Ham and his descendants into servitude under his brothers and their descendants. This belief has been used alternately to justify the Israelite subjugation of Canaanites and later in history by Jews, Christians and Muslims as an explanation for black skin and to justify the slavery of Africans although the story itself doesn’t mention Ham himself being cursed nor race or colour of skin.  

At it’s very core, the slave trade was driven by two main forces. Economics- for it was very lucrative business and racism – for the traders did believe they were justified. However, this DOES NOT automatically make their descendants racists.

True, we talk a lot about the slavery of Africans. Much more than other races. Of course slavery in all its forms including the modern version of indentured servitude, forced labour and human trafficking is an evil and abhorrent trade. Regardless of the colour of skin of the slaver and the slave, throughout history there is an element of racial superiority and today a criminal element is incorporated into this trade. The African slave trade is discussed more because of the massive death toll arising (most died during the attacks on their villages and at sea due to the horrific conditions in the ships) from it and the large numbers of the slaves that made the inhumanity of the practice impossible to hide as happens with most other races where the numbers are smaller and in most places even the neighbours will be unaware that there is a slave being held next door and governments especially in the Gulf states have complete power over information going out of their countries and actively coverup this vile practice. In Europe, Eastern Europeans are still trafficked as sex slaves and unpaid servants in northern Europe, but the organized nature of these criminal enterprises and corruption leaves these unfortunate victims almost completely hidden from mainstream society. Slavery and racism, no matter who is meting it out is evil and immoral.

A Dress and a Punch: The Makings of a Perfect Romance.


He walked into class late. His hands were numb inside plush wool gloves with the early morning cold. The classroom was extremely noisy and he couldn’t quite make out what everyone was so excited about. He walked to his desk, three places from the front of the middle row. His deskmate wasn’t at her seat. He smiled in greeting at the few classmates who weren’t too consumed in the early morning buzz of a teenage scandal to notice his subdued arrival. He sat down with a deep sigh and sore eyes. He pulled his Mathematics notebook and a textbook from his bag to complete homework he had pushed aside the previous night. Sleep had overwhelmed his tired eyelids. Even waking up that morning had been a herculean task. His head was still heavy with sleep.
As he sensed the slippery scratch of his pencil across the square ruled page, he could feel his eyelids dropping like they were made of lead. He shook himself and tried to concentrate on the animated chatter of his classmates. He could pick out her name from the conversation. He smiled. A benign shrug moved on his shoulders. She had always been a hot wire. She was scandalous. She had sat beside him the last two years and she thought him such a square. She was always talking about pulling some stick out of his ass and animating his dull, wooden demeanor. He largely steered clear of her wacky escapades, although they retained an oddly close friendship.She would interrupt his keen concentration during lessons with a smutty joke. He would have to use every fibre of his being to resist laughing. He almost got kicked out of class every so often, save the fact he was a well behaved and mild mannered straight A student. She on the other hand didn’t seem to care for her grades. 

Or so she let on, until she started sitting next to him and asked him to tutor her during breaks. Her grades were picking up. He liked tutoring her. She always rewarded him with wide eyes filled with an innocence everyone thought she’d lost as soon as puberty came knocking. She would gently touch his arm and rock her head back at his murmured jokes.

She never wore the school’s standard issue uniform. She preferred shortened skirts and tight blouses and mostly got away with it. She was that kind of student. Too much work for any teacher to spend their time chasing after for every tiny misdeed. For she was a walking litany of misdemeanours. Her transformation into woman hood had been almost spontaneous. The tall, ever smiling girl, he and his friends had christened ‘Longbones’ had morphed into an incredibly curvaceous being that their teenage lust ached after. She was scandalous. He didn’t know one boy in his school she had time for. She openly bragged about liking older men and would regale the other girls with tales of her escapades with her college going boyfriend. You could literally touch the jealousy oozing from their every pore as they listened to this flawless creature crassly whisper her adventures in wickedness. He had seen a few randy male teachers cast a wayward look her way, but the strict school administration at least kept her safe from their lewd paws.
They were eighteen now and in their final year of high school. He had always been a reserved boy whose focus was making grades to attain a medical school scholarship. She always teased him to smile saying it added immensely to his handsome features. He was of modest upbringing. A straight arrow as any. She was a spoiled brat. Still daddy’s little girl. He would have asked her out if it wasn’t for her constant insistence on her college going boyfriend. A grown man. With a full beard, while he nursed sparse bristles. 
He rarely got into trouble at school if ever, less because he was a goody two shoes -seeing as he would slip to the loos to smoke some shitty weed a mate from the rougher parts of town brought to school on Fridays- but more because he preferred calmly going through school and making medical school with a mostly clean record.
“Square man! You finally show up! Where were you minutes ago when I needed my deskie?”

He looked up at that electrifying smile. She’d just walked in preceded by an aura soaked in expensive perfume. The whole class started with a roar as she sauntered in throwing her hips. He tried to hold back that smile she always teased him for. She wasn’t even wearing school uniform. Instead she had on a monstrous gown he couldn’t imagine she’d be seen dead wearing. He let out a careless chuckle at the thought. She was always immaculately put together with a dab of pale lipstick on her lips. Never a hair out of place. She was largely that same way today, but the gown…
She walked around to her desk and he just couldn’t help himself.

“Nice outfit. Who’s this one by? Dolce and Gurney-bag?”

She slapped his shoulder and let out a shriek at the lame joke. Their classmates were gathering round in an anticipation he didn’t understand. He looked back at his books weary with sleep.

“What did he say? Are you getting suspended? O my gosh! You’re such a bad girl,” said some timid admirer who always walked locked in step behind her. He was trying to stay out of the exciting conversation and finish his Mathematics homework seeing as the first period was a little over half an hour away. The first period on Wednesdays was Mathematics.

“Well, you can see what am wearing now. This is worse than a suspension! I begged to be sent home. My boyfriend was going to take me to the movies. Mrs Killian then pulled out this.. this tent.. and I was ordered to wear it and come back to class.”

“Hahahahaha…awwwwww.”

You could see the downcast disappointment on the other girls’ faces as they tried to substitute jealousy with sympathy.Their teenage lives so numbingly boring they cherished every opportunity to live vicariously through this wild child. He chuckled again at her joke and kept scratching his pencil across his notebook.

“Girls, I’ve gotta get started on my Math homework. Ta-taa.”

With that the crowd of girls and boys raging with hormones, who stood at the fringes trying to catch a whiff of the perfume soaked girls dispersed. She climbed down from her perch on top of her table and sat on her chair. He could see her watching him from the corner of his eye. Biting her lower lip. Assuming a face that begged to be asked what all the hocus pocus was about. It unsettled him. The way she always bit her lip with her eyes on him when she thought he wasn’t looking. The steam was expanding rapidly filling all the vacuities inside him until he burst out.

“Alright, spill it.”

“Spill what, Deskie?” She said with a poker face that was all fluttering eyelashes and those wide hazel eyes.

He smiled and went back to his scratches. She smiled and slid a big screen phone – the biggest he’d seen with a student – across his tabletop. The image on the screen immediately caught his attention. There she was. Tall and ebony. Her hip cocked to one side. He looked at her face again. Her beautiful and slender face with a narrow nose that ended atop a smile made of rows of small, white teeth. Her glistening lips. She was wearing a sequined silver dress that ended a couple of inches above her knees. She had miles of ebony legs. Right then he wondered if she wasn’t taller than him.

Her looked at her wondering what that meant.

“Well, that was my outfit to school today. Too bad you weren’t here to see it before Mr Buzzkill made me wear this thing.”

He opened and closed his mouth like a fish. She was absolutely bonkers. Beautifully bonkers. He swallowed and finally his voice came back.

“Your parents let you come to school dressed like this?” It was his turn to do the wide eyes.

She threw her head back and laughed that laugh of hers.

“Are you crazy? No. I had my hijab over everything. I had just taken it off to show my girls my outfit when Mr Butterface walked in on us.”

He laughed and shook his head. School uniform was mandatory, but Muslim girls were allowed to occasionally wear their hijab over it. Not that she bothered much with outward shows of piety. She didn’t even wear a headscarf. He was still swimming in undecided thoughts on whether or not there was anything between him and this creature from his most private dreams. She broke him from his hormone driven spell with a gentle tap on his bristling forearm, that shot electricity through his frigid body. Instantly warming him.

“Are you going to help me with this Math or what? I didn’t really get it during yesterday’s class.”

He asked for her book and he started explaining the calculus. She keenly followed his lips and hand as he walked her through differentiation and integration. He deeply inhaled the sweet scent of her designer perfume and listened to his heart banging his ribs so loudly the reverberations struck his eardrums. This was his favorite time. When he would explore her analytical mind and unearth to her brilliance she had no idea existed in her. When his entire brain buzzed and flooded his body with endorphins. When she fed his secret feelings with those wide brown eyes.
By the time the bell rang for first period, they had completed their assignment and she was entertaining him with her reenactment of her short catwalk before Mr Sausage Fingers had walked in on her and made her kneel for almost half an hour. His sleep had somehow vanished completely.
The Mathematics period was the most unusual of any school in that they were taught by two teachers. Simultaneously. A husband and wife couple that completed each other’s equations. The husband always walked in first and said his greeting while the wife lurked just outside the door like a monster waiting to jump in and scare the shit out of the class. On this day they were particularly chipper they almost forgot to ask to see the homework. Their faces showed people who had lived together a long time spending most of it with each other by the lines that gave them a certain eerie resemblance. They made for a very interesting lesson although Brian could feel sleep tugging at the back of his eyes. He glanced at his Deskie and she was keenly following the lesson. He smiled. She had grown to really like and enjoy Mathematics. He souciantly slipped a hand over his shoulder and patted his own back.
The bell for the mid morning break rang. Four periods had slowly dragged by and Brian had been waiting impatiently for the twenty minutes break when he would try to offset some of his sleep debt.
“Deskie, you don’t want to go out for a snack?” She was standing over him.

“Nah, I need to catch some Z’s or else I won’t survive the next block of lessons. Bring me a fruit,” he said with a feeble smile and droopy eyes as his hand went into his pocket for some money. She put her hand on his cheek and before he could pull his hand out of his pocket, she skipped away to join her followers who were expectantly standing near the door waiting for their leader to lead them outside.
Sleep must’ve immediately taken him for Brian never heard or saw anything after that image of the lithe angel skipping away from him. He just remembers a loud “Booooo!” and him standing over a short man in a suit writhing on the floor with a bloody nose. The whole class was in chaos with some of his classmates standing on their desks stamping their feet. Some cheering, others covering their mouths with their hands. Others still, chattering like a troop of drunk monkeys. He wondered what kind of bizarre dream he was having, but a throbbing left hand, curled in a fist told him he was wide awake now. And he had just socked Mr All Up in Everybody’s Business right between the eyes.
The furious teacher stood up dusting his clothes. His face was red with ire and embarrassment. Students from other classes were drawn by the cacophony and could be seen peering though the classrooms’ wide windows, pointing and laughing. Brian looked around at his classmates, flummoxed with upturned palms, lacking words to ask what the hell had just happened.

“BRIAAAAN! TO THE PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE NOW!” Mr Bloody Nose screamed. Brian, still in a delirium, unaware what had happened slowly walked out of class in front of the red faced teacher. The entire school was held in a raucous laughter as students poured out of their classrooms and followed the two figures a few paces apart towards the principal’s office. For a moment the school had degenerated into a chaotic mess before teachers gathered their wits and started running up and down trying to coral the students back into their classrooms.

Brian could hear Mr Potty Pants swearing behind him.

“Today boy you’re going to know who I am! I am going to get you kicked out of this school. You will know who I am!”
Brian slowly advanced towards the Administration Block head hung. He could never have imagined talking back at a teacher, let alone punch one! Oh shit! Oh shit! Shit! Shit! Worst of all he had no idea of how or why it happened. He went into a calm panic amidst the fog of being suddenly woken from sleep. Trying to think of what he was going to say to the principal. His mind was blank.
As he turned a corner on the pavement leading towards the front door of the administration building, right there on the front step, on her knees was his deskie. She was intently looking at something in a crack on the pavement. An ant or some other tiny critter that seemed to thoroughly entertain her. She instinctively raised her head on his approach and a mask of surprise came over her. It turned to snickers when she saw Mr Punch Eater holding up his bloody nose with his mouth open to expose a cracked tooth.

“Kneel down there beside your friend you ingrate!”
Brian slowly set his knees down beside Fatma.

“What happened to Mr Hog Face’s face?” She whispered.

“Apparently, I punched him.”

“Whaaaat? That’s a Boss Move right there. Tell me he was being an asshole.” Her face lit up with excitement. He could also see something else behind the glint in her eyes. Admiration. He adjusted his posture and scrunched his mug into a bad boy expression. He couldn’t hold it. Too much strain on his facial muscles.

“Are you having a seizure or something? Your face just twitched all weird.”

“I was trying on a mean look.”

She laughed so loud he feared it would add to their trouble already. Even on her knees about to receive punishment, she maintained her happy radiance and sense of humor.

“So why did you rearrange Mr Silent Fart’s face?” She was running out of clever insults.

“Honestly, I don’t know. Last thing I remember was asking you to bring me an apple or something and then I slept. I woke up to this noise and I saw him writhing on the floor with a bloody nose.”

She put a hand on his cheek again. Suddenly the impact of what he had done dropped on him like a ton of bricks.

“Am probably going to be expelled.  You don’t sock a teacher and get to stay in the same school. Oh damn. Am screwed Fatma.”

Her smile melted. He could see gears turning inside her head. She opened her mouth and inhaled sharply as if about to say something. She paused again thinking then she said, “I think I know how it happened. I have an idea. Mr Rat’s Ass likes to slap anyone he finds asleep hard across the face before they wake up. I’ve heard him brag that he’s made a number of students pee on themselves. He loves embarrassing students. He probably was trying the same with you, but your trusty left hook was too quick for him.”

Brian slowly nodded his head. He remembered seeing Mr Embarrassment slapping students who dozed off. It’s like he was trying to trigger heart attacks or something. His defence was slowly forming in his mind.

“And what are you in for, bad girl?”

She laughed and punched him softly on the shoulder.

“Aah..that thing earlier, with the outfit. Seems he’s decided I deserve a suspension. I was summoned here as soon as I walked out of class.” In absolute contrast with him, she was immensely enjoying her notoriety.

“WHERE ARE THESE HYENAS? Come in. Quick!” boomed the principal.

The two students got off their knees and exhaled in relief to their sore knees.

The door was wide open. Inside the enormous office sat a tall, gigantic man seated on a high back leather office chair. Behind a wide, polished mahogany desk. Flanked to the left by their snivelling accuser. 
The principal’s presence filled every inch of the cavernous office. He was an old man. Probably in his sixties who always had that, ‘I’m so tired of this shit’ expression on his face. He had neatly combed salt and pepper hair and a silver mustache from the seventies. Probably got his entire wardrobe and fashion sense from there, for he still wore loose double breast style suits. He had on these huge rectangular spectacles that were pulled so low they were nearly at the tip of his broad nose. He glowered above the rims of his glasses at the two kids in front of him like a judge staring at juvenile delinquents. His irises danced in milky white eyes towards Fatma and started, “You’re the one that doesn’t know the meaning of school uniform? Little girl, do you think this is your father’s goat shed? Huh? Coming to school looking like a street walker! Shame on you little girl! You are suspended for five days and you are to come back with three new pairs of standard issue school uniform. Have I made myself clear?” He glared at Fatma and she timidly nodded her head. Timidly! The free spirit was human after all.

Brian felt a chill creeping through his organs as he awaited his turn on the chopping block. Once Fatma was handed her suspension letter, the principal pointed to the open door and she walked out, bathing Brian with eyes full of fear and concern. He was now sure she liked him and for a moment it was enough relief in the face of imminent doom.

“And close the door behind you, little girl!”
She was too slow pulling the door closed, when Mr Pound of Flesh strode over and banged it shut. He had stuffed pieces of tissue in his nose and their bloody ends hang outside his nostrils like giant nose hair.

“For Chrissake Mr Mwangi, get those things out of your bloody nose!”

“Yes sir.” He stuffed them in his pocket.

The principal faced Mr Broken Tooth. “What happened?”

“I found this boy asleep during classtime and when I woke him he punched me! That is utter insolence! He must be expelled!”

The S’s slithered out with air like a tiny train whistle.

“Calm down, Mr Mwangi. Young man, why did you punch Mr Mwangi?”

Brian cleared his throat. He could feel a sweat trickle down his back. His intricately prepared and eloquent defense had completely vanished from his head. He opened his mouth and stammered. Mr Merchant of Venice had a gleeful grin on his face. A gleeful grin that looked ridiculous with a broken tooth that whistled everytime he spoke.

“Sir.. I’ll just be honest. I didn’t sleep well last night and I thought I could try to nap during break so I would be attentive during lessons. Mr Mwangi likes slapping students he finds dozing hard across the face to wake them up. His slap startled me so much I thought I was being attacked. I didn’t mean to punch him. It was pure reflex, sir. That is the truth and anyone in my class can bear me witness.”

“He’s lying! He’s lying! He was looking me straight in the eye when he punched me! It was intentional.”

“Hold onto your knickers Mr Mwangi. I thought I told you to cut that slapping students shi..?” The principal started to curse, but glanced at Brian and held his tongue.

“I need to get to the bottom of this matter before I decide on the punching incident. Still, it is wrong to sleep in the school premises. Brian, you’re suspended for five days. Report back here on Tuesday with your parents for my verdict on circumstances surrounding Mr Mwangi’s punch in the face. Pick your suspension letter and leave!”

“But Mr Principal, this boy is clearly unruly. He deserves a stiffer punishment.”

“Mr Mwangi I understand you’re embarrassed, but I won’t just expel a student on your word alone. Wait until Tuesday to present your case. Now, both of you out of my office.”

The principal glared at them both  and for a moment Brian expected him to pull a gavel from under his table, bang it and yell, “Next case!”

Brian couldn’t fathom what had just happened. He was sure he’d be expelled, but the unexpected reprieve shocked him even more. He mumbled a thank you and swiftly walked out of the office.

Mr Dejected hissed behind him, “I’ll make sure you’re not coming back to this school you son of a bitch!”

“Mr Mwangi did I just hear you call a student a son of a bitch?” The Almighty Principal roared from his office. Mr Mwangi strode past Brian fuming and shaking his fists like a cartoon villain.
Brian felt a cool surge of relief as he walked out of the Admin Block. He went to class to collect his backpack. As soon as he appeared at the door and knocked, for there was a teacher in there, the class erupted into a cheer. The teacher frowned at the class and the noise receded.

“Yes Brian, what do you want?” He could see a faint smile dancing on the teacher’s lips. Everyone hated Mr Busybody. Even his fellow teachers. He was that teacher in every school who revels in torturing students and trying to get them knocked out of school like they were hardened criminals and he, an overzealous police officer.

“May I come in and pick my bag, please Madam?”

“I take it you won’t be joining our lesson today?”

“No ma’am, but I will on Tuesday next week.”

Whispers of “Yesssss!” filled the classroom. Brian continued, “As soon as the principal hears the truth of what happened from my classmates.”

“Alright, come in and be quick about it. This is the second interruption to my lesson today.”

Brian quickly gathered his books and walked out after thanking the teacher. He began the long walk towards the main gate taking a leisurely pace. Between the main school compound and the main gate was a ten minute walk. He walked it slowly, shoulders bent, soaking in his preliminary victory. His eye was on the ground, deep in thought. He tried to think of how he was going to explain it to his parents. He hoped the fact that he hadn’t been in trouble before at school would count towards his vindication.

“Ay..are you going to walk faster or am I going to stand here waiting for you all day?”

A smile automatically spread on his lips. It was that playful, singsong voice. He looked up to see her standing in the middle of the deserted road with a hip cocked to the left and a delicate hand with long fingers resting on it. The midday sun lit up her smiling face. Her naturally soft, ever so slightly curly hair which seemed alien on her dark skin lightly fluttered in a gentle breeze. “My God, she’s beautiful,” he thought quickening his pace to a trot to catch up. When he reached her she stood as she was and raised an eyebrow. It was a moment before he caught on.

“Oh, and I think I just won. Am coming back Tuesday. Same as you.”

“And just like that, by accident, you become a school legend. Ha Ha Ha!”

She threw back her head, just like she does and laughed such a happy laugh like she does. She edged close to him without taking her eyes off his. He felt a faint nervousness when it suddenly dawned on him. She didn’t have a college going boyfriend. She wasn’t as wicked as she put on. She had her eye on him all along. He swooped her in his arms and kissed her slowly, passionately. She closed her eyes and kissed him back until suddenly both of them realised they were still technically on school grounds. She pulled back and gave him the wide eyes.

“How long were you going to keep me waiting for that, you square?”

He smiled like he knew she liked and said nothing but kept looking into her hazel eyes.

She took his hand and squeezed it gently.

“Let’s go have some fun before we get home and each get yelled at till we go deaf. I told you, today my boyfriend is taking me to the movies.”

She beamed at him and kissed him again on the lips. He bent over and put his nose on the top of her head smelling her hair.

She picked up her bag which had been lying on the grass beside the road and they walked hand in hand towards the gate.

How To Get Service at the Bank After Hours.

I nervously looked at the clock on the wall. It was about two and a half minutes to four. I had to be at the bank before closing time.

My colleagues had done their share of dilly dallying, but really I was responsible for my current pickle. Although I could shift the blame from myself to that demon friend everyone blames. Procrastination.

I had put off these returns the entire week. Not really put off. I had been busy doing things that better sated my enthusiasm; such as organizing that weekend’s office goat eating retreat. A task I’d taken up with such gusto the boss appointed me permanent chairman of all future party planning committees.

These returns are bad news. Failure to meet the deadline would cost the company millions in penalties and losses. It would cost me my job. My sweet gig that afforded me a bearable middle-class existence. A neat second hand Toyota, a big screen TV and phone. A couple of fitted suits and I could afford as much alcohol as I wanted to drink so long as I didn’t get married or have children.

I slapped my forehead to bring my mind back to focus. I was almost finished and would be sooner, if I stopped getting distracted by these thoughts. I stared intently at the computer screen and tapped away on the keyboard. I filled in all the required data and information and pressed the dog eared paper icon on the screen to print.

As the printer whirred in labour, I lay back and put my hands behind my head. All done. Now to get to the bank. I looked at the almost empty cup of tea on the table, picked it up and swished the tepid tea in my mouth and swallowed it with a grimace.

I banged the little, old printer on the side. It was too slow. Seven minutes after four. I began to gather my coat and an attaché case I carried my laptop and office documents in.
“You’ll never make it by 4.30.”
“Such a consummate optimist you are.” I slid in my laptop and the documents page after another as they emerged warm from the belly of the printer.
“Hahaha don’t take it out on me. I am helping. I hailed you an Uber,” her playfully glistening eyes met mine. I smiled at her in gratitude. She threw her head back and laughed.
“Honestly, I can’t see how you’ll make it in time. 4.10. And the Uber isn’t here. I wonder how you’ll get in.”
“Shit,” I was trying to think fast what to do. I looked again at her as if the answer would scroll across her forehead. I am quite slender of build. Not more than two sizes bigger than her. And she had on a rather loose skirt suit.
“I have an idea. Follow me,” I briskly started towards the bathrooms. She hesitated for a moment. I urgently beckoned when I got to the bathroom door, held it open and no one walked in. She lingered for a second undecided. Swaying on her heels. I impatiently hissed. Her curiosity tipped the scales and after a quick scan of the office she rushed over on her tippy toes. There was only one other person left in the working area. The IT guy who rarely raised his eyes from the computer screen. The others were in the rest area taking tea and passing office gossip around.

When I gave her my idea she burst out laughing. She said I was ridiculous. That it wouldn’t work. But she didn’t take too much cajoling to play along. She enjoyed abetting my hare brain schemes and this time was no exception.

The taxi driver called just as we emerged stealthily from the bathroom, shoes in hand so as not to attract the IT guy’s attention.

I quickly picked up the last page from the printer, stuffed it in my attaché and we slithered out through the fire exit flying down the three flights of stairs. I had glimpsed the clock as we ran out. 4.13.

We ran to the taxi rank and jumped in panting. The driver turned from his seat and gave us a puzzled look.
“Keep your eyes on the road Casanova. Get me to the bank before closing time.” I told him brashly. I could see confusion in the contortions on his face everytime I caught his reflection in the rearview mirror. He opened his mouth to say something, but no words came out. He closed it and gunned the engine. Mindy was convulsing beside me in sniffles and giggles. The driver didn’t turn around when we reached the destination. His words failed him again and he mutely pointed to the bank. I tossed a thousand shillings at Mindy for the fare and got out of the taxi running.

“Good luck!” She shouted after me as I precariously tottered towards the entrance of the bank. I was a few paces from the door when I saw it swing shut and the guard outside put on a needlessly stern look. As I came nearer, the guard shook his head even before I got within touching distance of the door.

I stood bewildered for a second in the ill fitting shoes that kept shifting my balance like a see saw. Then I remembered a side elevator I had seen the employees use that stopped inside the bank. There would be a guard at that door too but I’d try it anyway.

I took off the shoes and ran to the side of the building just as the elevator door was about to close. Inside was an older lady who looked at me intently, from toe to head, then turned her attention to the control panel. I caught my reflection on the aluminium doors and gasped. The hair was falling out of place and I guess I must have rubbed my face for the red lipstick was all over my nose and left cheek. The mascara was no longer on my eyelids. Some was where my mustache grows, while still more of the grey, glittery stuff streaked across my forehead and ended in the hair. My head was terribly itchy. My mouth fell open. “Abort! Abort!” My mind rang. I couldn’t dare to raise my face or look at the reflection a second time. “Maybe the boss will be in a forgiving mood tomorrow,” I consoled my rapidly breaking spirit. Oh how Mindy would laugh at me.

“I was wondering if you hadn’t noticed,” the old lady quipped with obvious amusement in her voice. I felt an urge to hurl an insult, but thought my energies would be better used trying to make myself presentable. How the heck did women manage to stay pretty throughout the day without showing discomfort? No wonder they take so many bathroom breaks. In groups. And I thought it was their small bladders; which I considered a biological fact and terrible handicap up to that point.

I put the shoes down and started trying to fix the wig on my head, but I couldn’t figure out which side was the front and I ended up with tufts of plastic hair in my eyes and mouth. I cursed under my breath.

“Are you bald under there?” the old lady quipped a second time. The lift was approaching the sixth floor where the bank was. I was growing frantic and desperate and I hid my face in the tangled mess waiting to press G as soon as the old lady got off and making a run for it.

I shook my head in answer to her question after a pause.
“Then take that doggone thing off your head, my dear. Why do you girls like to complicate beauty so much? Don’t you pity the poor horse without the tail you’re wearing on your head?”
I foolishly pulled off the wig and almost retorted with a pout, “This is synthetic. The Chinese don’t have the patience to wait for a horse’s tail to grow this long.” I stood in front of her with my head bowed in shame thinking she’d obviously realized that I was a man.
“Oh dearie. It’s worse than I thought.

She pressed the ‘STOP’ button on the lift and removed an assortment of oils, paints, powders and brushes from her purse and set to work on my face. She finished by taking enormous dollops of what I assume to be hair gel in her hand and putting it on my mini Afro before styling it with a comb.

“There, simple is always elegant remember. Now your beauty comes out in it’s glory.” She smiled contentedly to herself pressed the emergency brake button again and the elevator resumed it ascent. She got off on the fourth floor with a cheerful “Cheerio!”

I was left bewildered in the elevator. I wasn’t sure I hadn’t been dreaming. I caught my reflection in the mirror once more and my eyes widened. That old angel had performed a miracle. I could even positively say I looked that feminine kind of handsome old school writers were always on about. I pouted my glossed lips mimicking an out of fashion girly trend.

‘Ding dong. Sixth Floor,’ declared a robot lady with an Oriental accent. The doors opened before I had finished stuffing the hair in my borrowed handbag and worn the cursed high heels. A man waiting for the elevator curiously stared at me, in the middle of the elevator on one knee struggling with the shoes, my belongings strewn on the floor. I noticed a smile lingering at the corner of his mouth as I walked out. I gave a most seductive look and then with my deepest voice asked, “What are you staring at?” As the elevator doors closed on him.

I confidently strutted my stuff to the guard at the door, phone in hand feigning a female voice.
“I’m here for Robert.” I had read the name on some organisational chart in the bank. I knew he was a mid level manager of sorts. A big enough fish in the bank for the guard to hesitate before asking if he was expecting someone. Especially a potentially discreet girlfriend. But not too big that the guard definitely had to ask a secretary if Robert was expecting someone.
“You have an appointment?”
“Oh my gosh. I just finished speaking to him on the phone. Should I like, call him again and tell him you’re detaining me here?” The squeaky voice sounded a tad overdramatic even to me.

The guard was thinking fast. Not quite convinced, when I started fiddling with my phone, put it on my ear and said,”Robert babe, I am at the door and the guard..”
The guard was finally felled by the bluff and waved me in quickly before I finished the statement.

“Sucker,” I muttered as I walked into the banking hall, my eyes set on the door to the clear glass walled office where I was supposed to take the returns. I turned to look at the guard who was beaming me with a hostile look. I stuck my tongue out at him and walked into the office. I was loving being a woman so far.

Jennifer, the Compliance Officer was in there with another girl. They were filling in some documents. I cleared my throat and began, trying to sound as feminine as possible,”Excuse me please. I’m Michelle from SNB Limited. I have been sent with these returns to bring to you.” I fumbled with the attaché and produced the all important documents. I had my fingers crossed.

Jennifer raised her eyes. I followed her gaze to the clock on the wall. 4.39. I was nine minutes late. She took off her glasses and regarded me for a long time. The other girl also turned in her chair to look at me. I wondered what it was. Had a mustache suddenly sprouted on my lip? I was always clean shaven. To hide my age. Not from women, but to fend off questions of when I’d get married with ‘Can’t you see I’m too young?’

“Where is Mitchell? He knows that he should bring these in by 4 not even 4.30. And how did you get in here at this time anyway? Is the bank still open?” She peered behind me to the front door which was firmly shut.
“Please, I really need to get these in today. My life literally depends on it. Mitchell didn’t tell me I had to be here by four. Plus I’ve had a long day. My..” I nodded downwards repeatedly like I was having a seizure, “..My you know what, started today and I’m really in hell of a pain,” I clutched my stomach and almost doubled over. Had I been a lady longer I’d have known to place my hand lower. Much lower than the diaphragm I rubbed in untold ‘agony’. She raised her hand to stop me just as I was about to recite the feminist manifesto to her and ask her to help out a sister. Maybe even invoke that ‘There’s a Special Place in Hell Clause’ introduced by H.E Madame Albright in 2016.

“Okay, Michelle. It’s the 21st Century and it’s not taboo to say periods anymore,” I sensed sarcasm in her voice, ” I’ll take them, but then you’ll have to wait till I finish what I’m doing before I get to you. Go sit out there and wait. You can get yourself a cup of tea as you wait.”

I mumbled my thanks and started to bow then I remembered I was a lady and tried to curtsey, but I couldn’t remember how it is done and I almost broke my ankle in the effort. I don’t know why I thought Victorian manners are still required of women.

The banking hall did not seem like a bank once the customers left and the doors closed. Everyone was in a relaxed mood and there was a trolley loaded with fine liquors that stood near the cubicles where there sat some suits. Probably bank hotshots and aggressive up and comers. They had rolled up their shirt sleeves and put their feet on the desks with glasses of whiskey, brandy, vodka name it, all trading stories. I tried to catch the drift of the conversation, maybe even join in, but quickly lost interest. They were all whining about their car loans, traffic and their favourite football team’s losing streak. Men become boring after they get married to women they don’t love.

I took little steps trying not to seem awkward in high heels. I was heading for the liquor trolley. I needed strong spirits in my system if I was going to bear the tiny shoes on my feet until Jennifer was ready to see me.

After what seemed like forever I got to the trolley. I smiled at the men in greeting and proceeded to pour myself a tall glass of Jack Daniels. I would have filled it to the brim if they all hadn’t stopped their conversation to stare at me. I smiled again in a manner I thought shy and started walking towards some chairs. I heard someone say under his breath,”Man, the interns are getting finer by the day. Look at that caboose,” I paused startled and looked back to confirm it was MY CABOOSE they were talking about. “Did you see how she looked at me? Bet she wants this.” The others laughed and slapped his back. Some funny man added,”Did you see how she poured that Jack Daniels into that glass? That’s a tanker my friend! You’ll need another loan to quench that throat.” More laughs and high fives. My face was burning with rage. I was more angry cause I’d made such comments about women too. Within hearing and had assumed they were flattered. Even though I was an impostor and can’t speak for women, I was disgusted.

I sat down heavily and callously threw the handbag on the floor, my mind on the whiskey. Made all the more thirstier by the blatant sexual harassment. I slowly raised the glass, drawing the grainy whiff of Daniels into my cultured nostrils. I was about to empty the glass into my mouth to calm myself down, when a dainty hand ensconced in a cloud of sweet fragrance intercepted my wrist mid flick.

It was the girl in Jennifer’s office. She was blushing and giggling. I was confused and frustrated. I tried to raise the glass to my mouth a second time, but her grip was firmer than I had imagined. I surrendered the whiskey.

“Oh my gosh. I’m so sorry Michelle. We didn’t tell you, there are drinks for women. Softer ones. They’re in the kitchen.”
I stared at her pretty mouth. Then at the glass in her hand half full of whiskey I badly needed. She had lovely eyes too. Real windows to the soul. And a little under bite that made her smile weirdly beautiful. I caught myself just as I was about to say something sleek. As I am wont to do when a girl even a quarter as pretty comes up to me. I was struggling to remain a woman.

She took me by the elbow and started dragging me towards the kitchen. My protestations were impotent to her strong will, so I meekly followed, concentrating all my energy on not stumbling in those godforsaken shoes. She was swaying her hips so fluidly while I followed suit giving a very poor rendition of her strut.

I pulled my elbow out of her soft fingers. Reluctantly. To answer my ringing phone. It was Mindy. I answered the phone and almost whispered.
“Why are you whispering to me in a shrill voice? Did you make it into the bank? Can someone overhear us?”
“Yes,” I answered in the most feminine voice I could muster and immediately hung up. I hoped the single word I had uttered was enough to answer all her questions. The pretty girl looked back at me. I smiled and rolled my eyes pointing my finger into the phone.

She ushered me into a crowded kitchen. There were wines and other liqueurs advertisers have everyone convinced are engineered for the female palate. I could see all of it was weak stuff. I wondered where she had left my whiskey.

I was put smack in the middle of heated gossip. The ladies quieted for a few moments to assess the new comer. I took an entire bottle of wine and sat at a table, removed from the grapevine network. I had just uncorked the bottle and poured myself a giant goblet of dry red. I took a sip and closed my eyes.

“Your number is up wino. Let’s go. Jen is waiting?”
“What?” I said in a man voice then quickly realized and followed it with a throaty cough and a whiny exclamation. It was the pretty girl. I picked up the glass. She shook her head and I followed her crestfallen. I was beginning to think she was intentionally trying to make me into a teetotaller.
“Jen is expectant. She can’t stand the smell. Sorry.”
I sighed and shrugged and followed her into Jennifer’s office.

After the normal verifications and key ins, only my signature and rubber stamp remained to complete the business. I picked the pen and I realized Jennifer was staring at me. Michelle couldn’t sign for Mitchell as no one had communicated change of signatory for the account to the bank. I looked about uneasily trying think of something to say. I pitifully looked at the two women silently observing me with eyes full of mirth. The gig was up. They suddenly burst out laughing and didn’t stop for a full five minutes. They laughed so hard that I too threw in a chuckle here and a slap to the knee there not to seem awkward, as a few people in the office were turning their gaze towards the office.

“Look,” Jennifer said through tears, “I know it’s you Mitch. Just sign the documents and carry on with your Friday. I’m not going to ask what the idea behind this is. Or who dared you into it. We’ll forget anything we saw here today.”
“Fancy dress day at the office,” I quipped punching the rubber stamp on the papers. I wanted to throw in a smart ass comeback. Burn them both before l’esprit d’escalier kicked in but I was wary to offend the pretty girl. I wasn’t ready to burn that bridge yet.

I walked out of Jennifer’s office with my ears burning. As I walked towards the elevator a short, fat man trotted up to me, briefcase and coat in hand. “Hey, lady. Pssst. Hey.”
I was ignoring him but he wouldn’t relent. He caught up and tapped my arm.
“Hey, I’m Robert.”

I recognized the voice. The sexist jackass who had said I wanted him. I shook his hand limply and smiled. He had sweaty palms. I wiped the clamminess on the back of Mindy’s skirt and turned up my nose.

When the guard at the door saw us he stiffened,saluted and cheerfully shook our hands. His eyes beseeching me not to say anything about our earlier interaction.

As we got to the elevator I saw the pretty girl walking swiftly towards us. She handed me a full glass of whiskey with an expansive grin on her face. Her irises were glittering in a moist expanse of gaiety. Still reeling from the fit of laughter from a few minutes before. I downed the full glass in a single swig and mouthed my thank you.
“I’m Sasha by the way,” she demurely held out her hand looking straight in my eyes. Robert impatiently pushed the “Door Close” button just as I was about to move in for a hug. I stared at him daggers as the doors closed and the descent began.

He put an arm on his waist, puffed out a puny chest that was dominated by a bulging pot belly right below and licked his lips while staring at me lasciviously. I felt like throwing up.

“Soooo baby, what are you doing tonight?”
I looked at him ludicrously. He was doing an attempt at a seductive leer. I shook my head.

He started edging closer. I moved to a corner. I was at least five inches taller than him without the high heels.

“Come on baby, let’s go have some fun. I’ve got a Benz downstairs and money burning my pockets. Anywhere you want baby. Tonight. And after you know what we’re going to do. Nasty stuff.”

I shook my head more sternly and held out my hand to keep the little man away from me, but he ducked under it and tried to pin me on the corner. I felt a hand try to grope me. I moved and slapped the hand.
“Okay, that’s enough lover boy. I’m a dude!” I let the bass out.
“Oooh, husky voice. I love it. Are you a lady boy? I’ve always wondered how that works. Having both of them. You know, thought I’d have to go to Thailand to figure that out,” he attempted to wink. “So, you’re on the market or something? How much for a smoking night with a handsome fella?”
“Robert, told you I’m a dude. Cock, balls, the whole shebang! Not a cross dresser. Not gay. Not a…uhm lady-boy. Comprende? Now back off!” I admit. I didn’t really say ‘back’, but you get the general idea. “And no lady would appreciate this pushy behaviour, man! And y’all say women nag. Damn! You practically have your thing out looking for orifices.”

The little guy was so consumed in his lust he didn’t hear anything I said. Before I could push him off, he put his hand on my backside. Enough with the warnings. I let off a jab aimed right between his eyes. The fist connected with flesh and bone and I heard a crack. Robert collapsed on the floor.
“When a lady says no she means no, dumbass!”

‘Ding dong. Ground Floor.’
The doors opened to Mindy standing there wearing my ill fitting suit. I strode out, her high heels in hand. I was fuming.

She peered behind me at the man groaning on the floor with a bloody nose.”Who that? What happened?”
“Randy Robert, the Lover boy. He was forcing himself on this guy.”

I wasn’t pretending anymore. I had assumed my normal gait and voice. Robert was gathering his things, scattered on the floor. The impact of the jab had sent his case flying open and the elevator doors closed on him as he gathered them and begun ascending.

“I wonder how he’ll explain the bloody nose upstairs?”
“He’ll say you did it in the elevator. That he was awesome at it. And that you like it rough,” Mindy said matter of factly.

I spat in disgust. For I knew I was a hypocrite who also would have embellished an ass kicking into a tale of heroic lady slaying. Mindy was in a contagiously merry mood as we walked towards the lot where she had parked my second hand Japanese automobile after fetching it from the office.

“Hey, your make up looks different! Did you do this yourself?”
“I know, right? Don’t I look pretty?”
“Tell me everything. Tell me. Tell me.”
I smiled at her child-like curiosity as I struggled into the passenger’s seat. “Okay. But first. You have to get me drunk enough. It’s traumatizing being a woman.”

The Taxi Driver.


He sat inside the hot car tapping his fingers on the steering wheel. He wiped sweat from his forehead with a bare hand and looked in the rearview mirror. He paused the tapping and gently poked the large pimple on his left temple. ‘Ouch!’ It was in the throbbing stage of ripening. He looked at his tired eyes. His lined face made him look older than his thirty years. His complexion was darker than usual. The corners of his mouth had ‘frown lines’. He made an effort to smile, but all his face could afford was a disappointing snarl.

He hadn’t had a fare all morning. Uber was slowly driving him out of business. With their cheap fares in a market where a year ago taxis were one of the most lucrative businesses. Kenyans are used to being overcharged for commodities and services without a whimper. The government exploits them, private corporations exploit them. The citizens exploit each other. It’s local culture.

The car wasn’t his. He was a hired driver who was supposed to pay himself with the fares. After giving the car owner a preset amount at end of everyday regardless of the state of business. Most days he ended with just a few hundreds for himself which wasn’t enough to feed him and pay a rent. He had therefore started living in his car by convincing his boss that he needed to keep the car overnight so that he could pick up a nightshift.

He caught a reflection of himself yawning. It was an excruciating yawn. His stomach grumbled. He could feel it’s hollowness. He switched on the radio to distract the hungry thoughts. He hated the music on radio nowadays. He moved to switch it off, but stayed his hand. He needed the distraction. He leaned back on the reclined driver’s seat and let his eyes wander among the faces of the people passing on the street. Trying to read them. The truly busy from the jobless pretenders. At a glance you wouldn’t differentiate the two groups. Kenyans thrived on appearances and even the unemployed youth will wear a suit and have the latest big screen mobile telephone, eat in a trendy fast food restaurant and wear designer cologne. Repacked in tiny 5ml bottles by innovative local traders to fit their third world budgets for a first world lifestyle. Only the very poor didn’t bother trying to hide the shame of their poverty. They just couldn’t afford the camouflage, let alone consistent meals.

He saw her crossing the street with bags in hand. She looked beautiful, although there was really no telling what lies beneath the several layers of make up they all wear these days. She was carrying an expensive handbag and a more expensive phone and tablet in one hand. She had a rather bulky duffel bag and a rolling bag on the other. Her red lipstick, sun glasses and lip piercing with a diamond stud told of an international woman of scandal. She was an obvious fare and several drivers had already started whistling and jostling as she crossed the road towards the taxi ranks. She made a great show of ignoring them and started poking the screen of her phone with a long, succulent and tastefully painted finger.

He lazily got out of his car and readjusted the seat to it’s ordinary position. He leaned on the bonnet and looked at her with bored eyes. Although women like her were often good fares that also gave repeat business, they would also con an unwitting driver and pick fights with drivers to get out of fares. One day a pair of them had even given him a thorough beating and robbed him.

She was probably on her phone hailing an Uber anyway. The hungry yawn struck again. He let his gaze wander to the passersby.

‘Hi…mmh driver. Wewe. Excuse me?’ She was standing in his personal space. ‘Can you take me to the airport. I need to get there quickly.’
‘Sure. But how fast we get there depends on how traffic is on Mombasa Road.’
‘Just try to get there as quick as you can. I know you taxi drivers have ways of doing that.’

He opened the rear door for her and put her rolling bag in the passenger seat. He didn’t see any point in opening the trunk. She was travelling light. Her eyes hadn’t lifted from her phone the entire time.

He switched on the engine and just as he engaged the gear, he remembered something. ‘You know our fares are higher than Uber.’
‘I know. Uber is for cheapskates. Just drive. I know the fare.’
‘Just thought I’d warn you before we leave.’
‘What’s wrong with you? Are you suggesting that I can’t afford a taxi or what?
‘Am sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude.’
She took her eyes off the screen for the first time since he’d seen her and gave him a haughty look. ‘If you don’t want my money just say it. Don’t treat me like the poor riffraff of your kind.’
‘Look lady, I’m not trying to insult you…’
‘What, you think I cannot afford three thousand…’
‘It’s actually five thousand to the airport.’
‘What? So in addition to being rude you’re also a thief.’
‘Look lady, I’m not trying to get into a fight with you. I just told you my fare. Good thing I did before we left here. Your are free to get another taxi. I don’t mind at all.’ He switched off the engine and stepped out to get the door for the lady. She looked him up and down with a sneer and sucked her teeth, but did not move.
‘Come on lady. You don’t want to be late.’

She just sat there and continued sneering at him. Other drivers had started to gather around the developing scene with grins on their faces. Obviously pleased he was losing a fare. Jealousy had become common among the drivers. Some petty disagreements over fares and parking spots had increasingly degenerated into vicious hatreds and brutal murders. Survival in the concrete jungle. Everyone is hungry all the time. Everyone has dependents always calling for money.
‘I’m not getting out.’
‘And I cannot take you to the airport at that price. Please just take another ride.’
‘But I don’t want another ride.’
‘Then you’ll pay the five k?’
‘Why do you have to charge me so much?’
‘We’re not going to argue anymore. Are you getting out of the car or should I kick you out?
‘Let’s go. I’ll pay. Eish! What do you take me for? I’ve got more money than you and your extended family will ever make in your entire lives.’

He swallowed the insult and let her win the argument. So long as she’d agreed to pay the fare.
He snaked city streets, trying to avoid the traffic lights that seemed to worsen traffic jams in Nairobi than eliminate them. Inside the car was totally silent except for the frenzied taps of the woman in the back seat on her phone and an incessant vibration in her handbag that she seemed oblivious to. He thought to say something, but he felt a dislike for her that pushed gall so far up his throat he could taste it on his tongue. Still the vibration distracted him and he couldn’t stand it. In a most polite tone he said,’Your phone is ringing.. or something in your handbag. It’s vibrating.’
She briefly glanced up at him through the rearview.’I’m ignoring it. Drive. That’s what I’m paying you to do.’

He continued the drive in silence. Near the Uhuru Highway junction with Haile Selassie Ave the vehicles gridlocked. He could see the vehicles stopped in all directions. A line snaked to his right up the hill. To his left, about two hundred metres ahead was a mess of vehicles. All trying to simultaneously get into the junction from and towards all directions. There was a policeman smack in the middle of this confluence, but he seemed to be making the situation worse and drivers could be heard swearing and hurling insults at him even from where the taxi was idling at a standstill.

He looked outside at the rows of billboards that flanked the highway on both sides. They were better cared for than the scrawny trees lining the highway that had stunted. They were no longer removable canvases but rather high end digital screens that colourfully flickered and showed a plethora of images and products soundlessly. One of these advertisements caught his eye. A local buffoon advertising paint was on the screen and although he couldn’t hear his words he smiled at the gaily dressed funnyman. He was a beloved character ever since his appearance on his first such commercial, but a stint on a live comedy show had proved he was best suited just advertising paint.

He turned his head to catch another video of scantily dressed girls dancing and making flirtatious poses on a giant screen. Apparently advertising a hip, new mobile handset by a popular phone brand. He wondered what scantily dressed women had to do with phones. He had one, yet hadn’t been with a woman, fully or scantily dressed in a very long time. He simply couldn’t afford dating at the moment.

The city was full of these such distractions. Distractions that filled him with desire for a better life. A happiness he knew he could only purchase with money. He looked at the pedestrians. Most of them walking this far out of the city centre walked because they couldn’t afford taxis or even the many buses plying to different parts of the city. Despite their best camouflage efforts with ties tightly wound around thin necks and women in mini dresses pattering by on high heels, he could tell the clothing and shoes were secondhand. Their faces betrayed frustration and hunger.

The traffic moved a few metres. He lazily edged forward after a cacophony of impatient hoots broke out behind him. His passenger had seemingly got bored with her phone and was peering outside the window at a group of street children upsetting a rubbish bin and violently scrambling for scraps of food. They caught his eye too and he could see their sunken cheeks and dead eyes as they strew the rubbish this way and that looking for anything edible. Better luck next time.

The traffic opened up long enough for them to pass the junction, but less than half a kilometer ahead was a roundabout and again they ground to a halt. The passenger wearily sighed and picked up her phone and headset to listen to music. He was grateful she hadn’t asked him to switch on the radio. The noise of the engines, the nauseating sooty air, buses blaring loud music and roars of the endless number of motorcycle taxis that snaked through the still traffic; sometimes climbing onto the footpath, missing mowing down frightened pedestrians by inches was enough nuisance.

She angrily snatched the headset out of her ears and threw the phone on her lap. He discreetly spied on her through the rearview mirror. He decided the spectacle in his taxi was more interesting than the dystopian views outside.
She sighed again. Deeply. Obviously to attract attention. He was still apprehensive of her due to their earlier argument. She writhed in the backseat and clicked her tongue with her gaze fixed outside. The traffic moved forward slowly for about twenty metres.
‘My goodness. We’re going to spend all day here.’
He looked at the rearview mirror and met her eyes. He couldn’t avoid responding to her.
‘Once we get past the Nyayo Stadium roundabout the movement will be a bit easier.’
‘I hate this traffic. I hope I don’t get late.’
‘I’ll try to keep good time. When is your flight leaving?’
‘In two hours..’ Her phone rang shrilly. She looked at it a long time undecided and then she picked it up.
‘Hello baby.’
‘Don’t baby me. Where is my money?’ The earpiece volume was loud enough for him to hear every word the angry man with a thick local accent was saying.
‘What money baby? I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘Vanessa. I’m not playing with you. The black duffel bag. I know you’re the one who took it. Bring it back or else…’
He avoided looking at the duffel bag. He could feel her eyes boring the back of his head to see if he was eavesdropping. He foolishly fiddled with the buttons and switches on the dashboard and then turned his gaze outside.
‘Baby would you seriously accuse me of stealing from you? Am I that ungrateful after you’ve taken care of me all this while.’ She started sobbing.
‘I know you’re lying to me woman. Bring me back my money in an hour. You know where to find me. Don’t make me look for you.’
She sniffed and let out a sad sob.’Baby you must believe me. I wouldn’t do that to you.’ Click. The caller hung up.
He was tempted to look at her in the mirror to see if she was shedding any real tears.

She immediately dialled another number. This time she spoke almost in a whisper, cupping her hand over her mouth and headset ‘He just called me. Are you on your way to the airport? Hurry up. We need to leave now!’
She hung up. ‘Can’t this thing move faster? I need to get to the airport now.’ He pretended he hadn’t heard her. His gaze was fixed outside. His mind quickly processing what he’d just heard. She snapped her fingers in his ear and repeated her impatient question.
‘I’m trying. Any particular reason for the sudden hurry? Two hours is still far off.’ He looked in the rearview purposely trying to catch her eye. She avoided his eye and started looking around uneasily.

The traffic opened and he gunned the old car towards the Mombasa Highway, taking the center lane. He looked at her in the mirror and could see her fidgeting uneasily. Picking up her phone and putting it down. Twiddling her fingers, tugging at her weave. He could tell she was scared out of her wits. Whoever she had stolen from was obviously not beyond carrying out the threat. He still avoided looking at the innocuous duffel bag that now seemed to occupy the entire vehicle and his mind. He could see she was trying to hide her discomfort. She even smiled once when their eyes met in the rearview.

His phone rang. He looked at the number. Mom calling. He stopped himself swearing as he picked the phone, his car speeding down the highway. Traffic was lighter than he expected.
‘Are you going to pick up your phone while driving, you moron?’ The bitch was back.
‘It’s my mother.’ He muttered and put his ear on the phone completely ignoring her. She crossed her arms angrily and stared daggers at him.
‘Hello mother.’
‘Son, you haven’t called me in a week. Not even to ask how I am feeling.’ She coughed painfully. He cringed and almost lost his concentration on the road.
‘Mom, I was going to call you tonight. You know I have been busy. I work night shifts too.’ He lied. He would spend hours idly waiting for fares. During such lulls is when he’d catch some sleep.
His mother was sick. Cancer and diabetes. He wondered how she’d contracted such luxurious diseases as they had lived a very frugal life necessitated by hardship. He was her only son. She depended on him entirely. She and a younger sister who lived with and took care of their mother. Really, all he could afford were painkillers and basic meals. He hated going home or calling. His sister paid the rent to the small shack she lived in with their mother by washing clothes for people in the middle class neighborhoods. He hated being a present witness to his mother’s slow death. Or his sister’s stagnation. She was twenty eight and marriage was out of question for her. Her elder unmarried brother couldn’t be able to take care of their sick mother. When she was younger she had been quite popular. She is a beautiful girl and was just about the only girl around who hadn’t gone for the easy money that was said to be in selling their bodies. That was before their mother got sick. Way before he had gone to prison. She was in school. She was always top of her class. She had dreams then. They all did. They ate supper together every night and had a good laugh. A tear ran down his cheek. He hadn’t been home in nine weeks. He slowed down.
(‘Why are you slowing? I said to pick up speed, you slow down? Are you thick or something?’ His passenger was getting hysterical.)
‘Mother, please. I’ll call you this evening. I promise. I’m driving a customer right now.’
‘Okay son. Please don’t fail to. I have to talk to you and to know you’re okay.’

He knew her medicine had run out a few days prior. She wouldn’t dare tell him when it did. She knew how hard life was for him. But he could always tell she was in pain by how her voice trembled. She trying to keep her composure, the pain trying to obliterate it. He made up his mind. All of the fares that day would go to her. He’d have to find a credible lie for his boss.

When his mother hang up is when his mind came back into the taxi. His passenger was screaming in his ear. Calling him all the synonyms of stupid you could find in a Thesaurus. He changed gear and picked up speed. The billboards he liked looking at while dreaming of a different life were zipping by in a rainbow blur.
There was little traffic to speak of on the highway and in less than an hour he was looking at the intimidating gates of the airport. There was a long line of cars awaiting security check and clearance before entering the airport itself. He pulled up behind the queue and slowed down to a stop.

He suddenly craved a cigarette even though he didn’t smoke. He looked at his passenger more intently. She typed a text message on her phone. Probably to the person she was going away with. She caught him staring.
‘What?’
‘Nothing. Just wondering where you are flying to.’ His pulse picked pace.
‘Ummm.. Mombasa.’
‘They probably won’t stop you getting on board with all that cash. Unlike international flights. I bet you hadn’t thought of it that way. Seems luck is still on your side.’ A plan was forming in his mind. He would negotiate a large tip. She could spare the money. She didn’t seem like she needed a whole duffel bag full.
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m going on vacation with my boyfriend.’ She was going to blow it! Fucking outrageous!
‘You know he can easily find you in Mombasa. The guy on the phone. Very easily. It’s every stupid runner’s first destination. I don’t know what makes them think it’s far enough.’ He made no point trying to hide his fixed gaze on her in the rearview.
‘Who? What? You’re a crazy taxi driver. I don’t know what you are talking about.’
‘I can give you free advice. Help you not get caught. But you’ve got to give me a cut.’ He shuddered on remembering his criminal days. How easily it all slipped back and he became sly again. They used to call him ‘The Eel’ in his gang. He just couldn’t get caught. Well, that was until he got caught and spent six years at Shimo La Tewa Prison.

Her eyes darted to the duffel bag. She made a move to grab it. He snatched her hand. ‘Stupid move again. We’re already at the gate. You want these policemen to suspect we have something they should be looking for? You know they’ll take this money and split it among themselves. I can do you a favour and tell them myself.’ He was startled by the cold, steel edge in his voice. He hadn’t heard that voice in seven years since he had been released from prison.

She started trembling. She drew back her hand and tried to sink as far as she could into the seat.
He opened the trunk and smiled at the guards conducting the check. He even nodded and saluted one of them. They knew him. Back when business was better and his car newer, he would make tens of these trips in a day. They knew him, so it didn’t take too rigorous a search before he was waved through.

Her phone rang. She threw it far from her.
‘If it’s who I think it is, you’d better pick it. You need to keep him calm for as long as possible. Tell him you’re on your way.’
She timidly retrieved her phone and slid her finger across the screen. ‘Hello baby.’
‘It’s been an hour Vanessa. And I want my money.’
‘Baby, I told you I don’t have it. I’m coming back actually. I’m in a taxi at Chiromo.’
The guy on the other end burst out laughing. A laugh the driver was sure sounded very familiar. ‘You think I’m a stupid child? Are you forgetting who I am? I’m tracking your phone right now. I can clearly see you’re at the JKIA! I’m coming for you. You can’t run away from me you stupid, thieving bitch!’
‘But you also stole it from the Ministry! You told me yourself. You just took it. Public money. Taxpayers money! You just put it in a bag and carry it home! Isn’t that what you all cabinet ministers do?’ She screamed into the phone and tossed it out of the window like it had burned her hand.

‘You’re in trouble, huh?’ He whistled and shook his head, ‘A cabinet minister. You stole from a cabinet minister?’ He couldn’t help the admiration in his voice, ‘Damn, you’ve got balls young lady. How do you access those pigs?’ He smiled.
She didn’t answer. Just sat there trembling as he pulled up in front of the main door to the departures lounge. He turned around for the first time since the ride began.
‘Okay. That’s five thousand for the fare. Plus another fifty as a gesture of goodwill for the free advice. I’m sure fifty’s peanuts compared to the payday in that bag.’ He was thinking of his mother.

She eyed him for a moment and then he saw a coldness come into her eyes. She opened her handbag, counted out six thousand shillings and placed them in his hand.
He was flabbergasted. ‘What?’ He looked at his hand mouth agape and then at her. He thought of grabbing the wad of cash still in her hands, but he had seen one of the policemen guarding the entrance looking at them. ‘You’re unbelievable! You’ve stolen millions then you give me a measly, mean thousand? You’re greedy as fuck!’

She regarded him coolly and snorted. She too had noticed the curious cop. ‘You want to reap where you did not sow, young man. You were not there to help me open my legs to the disgusting bastard. I earned this money. Kissing his stinking mouth. Sucking his flaccid.. Look. I’m not giving you a cent more. Now take out my luggage and get lost asshole!’

He blinked furiously. He couldn’t believe the girl. He clenched his fists. He tightened his jaws and fumed. He got out and unloaded her luggage, carelessly tossing it about in anger. She grabbed the duffel and got on the queue. He placed the suitcase beside her and whispered, ‘Don’t go to Mombasa at least. Don’t be stupid. You’ll get caught too easily. Go towards Uganda.’
She whispered back with hatred and vitriol,’Fuck off, lowlife or I’ll scream rape.’

He started back to his car with his neck bent staring at her and the duffel bag she nursed like a baby. She was being too obvious. The dumb whore would get caught. He distractedly closed the back door and moved to grab the handle on the passenger door. The policeman had lost interest in them and was distractedly staring at women in tight clothes that kept passing in front of him jiggling their juicy, curvaceous bodies.

Her other phone rang and she looked at the screen and then darted her eyes around. He followed her eyes to see a young man with hair dyed yellow approaching her. She let out an excited shriek and ran towards him. ‘
‘Fucking clowns don’t know what they are doing!’ He muttered under his breath looking at the conspicuous couple everyone was staring at.

While everyone was glued on the technicolour distraction, the driver calmly and quickly strode to the queue, picked up the duffel bag and in two bounds was back in his car. He entered through the passenger seat and slid over to the driver’s side. No one seemed to notice the odd way of entering the vehicle. He looked towards her as he started his car. She was still busy giving the yellow head a tongue kiss. She turned around just as he engaged gear and let go the clutch. Their eyes met and her face fell when she saw the wide grin on his. She frantically ran to the queue. He laughed as she started screaming while he sped off. The stupid bitch was going to get caught anyway.

Me, My Father and His Brother.

He had the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen. My dad has a beautiful smile. I inherited the straight rows of perfectly chiseled teeth framed by full Bantu lips. But he; he had a smile that lit up his entire being. Sometimes, when I remember him or see him in dreams, the smile is always there. Beaming on me. It feels like the smile of God.
My father used to buy The Time, The Economist, Financial Times and Rolling Stone Magazine and a few other local publications like The Weekly Review. The Rolling Stone was my favourite. Between its glossy pages I’d spend hours admiring the rock stars. Dreaming of being Michael Jackson. Of getting his white skin and long, straight hair. This was another rung on the musical ladder I’d been born at the foot of.
Before I could read or write English. Before I found my father’s library and stash of Rolling Stones, I would play records on my father’s sleek turn table and jiggle my little bones for hours. This was despite the fact that I didn’t understand what the rock stars and soul singers were really saying. I longed for the day I could understand the tongue and actually sing out the words. That, and a Sanyuan black and white television was how I learned to speak English before I went to school. I’d watch every program on the roster of the single channel we could get in the heart of Kenya.
As I grew into my teens, black pride found and engulfed me and I didn’t want Michael’s white skin anymore. I’d discovered African literature. I’d discovered Garvey. I’d discovered Afro-centric art forms and conscious, militant hip hop music.
In my late teens and early twenties I grew long hair that I braided and permed like the rappers. I was forming with music pulsating in my veins and an unquenchable thirst for stories from faraway lands that still gnaws at me.
As I was growing into self-awareness, he was away at university. The first member of our extended family and maybe clan to attend one of the most prestigious high schools in the country on merit. He did one better and went on to pursue engineering in university.
My grandfather’s wealth had been great herds of cattle which by then he’d sold to put my father and his siblings through school and college. I don’t think there were a hundred university degrees in my community, completely ignored and marginalized by the government at the time.
Our parents, my dad’s generation, had gone to tertiary college and trained as teachers, accounting clerks and bankers. They were the first generation of my community to break from the ancestral ways. They no longer sought to accumulate cows and wives as wealth. They valued cultivation over herding, education over tradition and Christianity over ancestral veneration.
They refused to teach their sons and daughters the traditions of the tribe. They dreamed of our surpassing them and going to university to become modern men and women. My father tirelessly worked to ensure his brothers, although brought up in tradition would break out of it and embrace the new world that had found our little enclosed community. Their fathers had successfully kept the British colonists out their territory and affairs. Partly by luck due to the harsh local terrain and partly due to the brutal ferocity of the tribe in attacking white administrative settlements.
My father really loved him. My father has always demonstrated with action, such a deafeningly profound amount of love for all his siblings beyond himself. Maybe as the first born, who insisted my grandfather sells off their inheritance (the cattle) and take them to school, he carries as a responsibility to steer them towards making good of themselves. Even as people grow into adulthood and differences creep in; my father still loves all of them with the innocent, unconditional feeling of a child. I later came to understand how important this deep relationship was for dad and his brothers for it shaped who they became.
A certain glint in my father’s eyes went out the day uncle died and since then his health has deteriorated. He blames himself for his younger brother’s death. His own mother (my grandmother) and a great aunt had accused him of failing to take better care of his fragile brother. He still says he didn’t realize his brother was the stereotypical tortured genius. He didn’t know how to shield him from the world.
I was not allowed to attend the funeral, but my elder brother, who as an early teen was deemed old enough to handle grief told me about it.
When my father first got the news that my uncle had died, he laid his head on the steering wheel and sobbed painfully for a long time. At the burial, my staunchly Christian dad still believed his chosen God would raise his younger brother from the dead like Lazarus, and wasn’t too quick to lower the casket into the grave. He expected an imminent resurrection. He desperately cried to the heavens, but his kid brother was gone and wasn’t coming back. I can’t tell if this great test of love and faith made my dad a tad more cynical of religion or if it gave him comfort after losing his most beloved brother, who died too young. Full of boundless promise. Childless.
He came into my life when I was nine. And very startlingly so. I knew and admired the brightest shining star in my grandfather’s kraal, but all along he was always at the margins of my life. He was always away in the city I hoped to go to when I grew up.
Even then, he was still a larger than life figure for me that I idolized and revered. I didn’t know that behind the calm, reserved, insanely talented, guitar playing, exquisitely handsome genius was a tortured, depressed soul. Finding this out later and looking back at the surreal relationship that developed between us, I’d go on to have a depressive relationship with him after his death. That started when I was circumcised and decided to take his circumcision name for my own in his memory.
After finishing university with a Bachelors Degree in Agricultural Engineering, he never got a job. He’d lived in Nairobi with a younger, married sister for years after, but his hard earned degree and promise never attracted any takers. My dad tells me, looking back on my uncle’s experience, his reverence for formal education waned somewhat. He’d gotten his degree at such a time when they were rare, but could never find work.
My uncle’s vision had been to transform the family farms which all border seasonal brooks, and turn them into models of ingenious organic farming.
I vividly remember the day I felt my uncle finally move from the margins and properly come into my life. He made me cross with him and I felt such a heartfelt ire towards him that today I recognize to be the shame of a child rebuked.
It was in December 1997. My father, after years as an ordained Methodist minister serving the most impoverished of circuits had finally gotten a favorable posting to the cooler, better developed parts of Meru. He’d spent most of these early years of Christian ministry in what was in essence voluntary missionary activity.
Growing up, I’d hear my mother dream of buying land, building a home and settling there and not going back to Tharaka. Back then, Tharaka was a semi-arid, hot and dusty place with scarce if any modern amenities. I grew up waiting on the day we’d finally make the move. My innocent prayers seemed to have finally reached an authority that could actually act on them.
My elder brother had been born when my parents lived and worked in an urban Canaan, where anyone from my community who made good seemed to migrate to. Even I was born there, but shortly after my father decided to take his family back home. So, unlike my elder brother, I was a proper country kid.
In light of this, you can imagine how excited I was to move from our hot, dry and backward homeland to the developed, fertile, semi-urban highlands of Imenti.
December used to bring with it the short rains. That year it poured. It took us four days to complete a forty kilometer journey due to the horribly impassable dirt roads that turned into sticky, slippery, ditch and pothole filled wastelands when it rained. We’d get stuck on stretches of the road for six to eight hours. My father’s old Land Rover 109 Series he’d acquired from a great uncle before I was born, broke down several times during the journey. We’d have to wait in the rain for mechanics to come from Meru. Some other forty kilometers along the same roads to come and fix it. The grown-ups would heave and push the vehicle unstuck. We’d climb on for another few kilometers before the truck would skid into another ditch and break some other part we didn’t have on hand.
You can imagine my relief when we finally emerged, muddy and exhausted and took a tarmacked road. Despite the muck and fatigue, my excitement was rising to a crescendo. The tarmac, hedged by electric and telephone lines made me feel like a savage who had left the jungles for the first time towards civilization. Never mind that in fair weather dad took us to the town for shopping sprees. Among the delegation accompanying us was my dad’s beloved younger brother.
We finally got to our new ‘home’ in the late afternoon of the fourth day. The church was beset in a large compound about ten acres in size and towards one end like a baby piggy-back riding was the manse surrounded by an evergreen hedge and steel gates. The entire field was covered by a lush green carpet of luxuriously soft grass that didn’t irritate the skin. The grass in my homeland then always felt like it had tiny needles designed purely to keep us from lying on or touching it. The cool air smelled fresh as if God lived nearby.
The grass was just too tempting and in childish ecstasy I lay down on it and started rolling like a barrel and laughing. Suddenly, my lithe frame was yanked from the ground. “Why are you acting like you’ve never seen grass or like this strange place is more beautiful than the home we left behind?” I raised my eyes to meet my uncle’s gentle rebuke. I didn’t understand why he had scolded me. From that point I tried my best to contain my excitement as we toured the house and I had my first physical meeting with a bath tub that before then I’d only seen on TV. I would go on to soak in it for hours at a time during the brief remainder of childhood I had. I would cast glances in my uncle’s direction, keeping my glee at bay. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. Containing a child’s excitement that was boiling like a kettle that had been on the stove too long.
By then, my father hadn’t built our family home. For most of my childhood we’d lived in a couple of rented, wood houses. We had only recently moved to a couple of concrete brick rooms my dad had built behind a shop front. Am not saying we were poor. For that would be a terrible lie. We had all the best things as children. My father had a lot of money to spend on our mom and us. Our living arrangements were decades ahead of the rest of the community. Even though our toilet and bathroom were separate from the living and sleeping quarters.
Now imagine a shower and bath-tub, a flush toilet with a seat when you’ve squatted aiming at a hole in the ground all your life. Imagine from fetching water with jerricans in a river to a stone house with piped water, a kitchen in the main house and a fireplace to warm our bones in winter. I wondered if it snowed there as I’d read of life in Europe in my beloved books.
A few days later, my uncle went back to Nairobi to continue his job search. We settled in our new ‘home’ and I forgot all about him and the perceived offense he’d committed against my enjoyment of our exodus.
The music bug still had me. My father encouraged it a lot when I was younger. He’d buy me toy electric pianos, flutes and harmonica. I liked the piano best. Our new home church had an enormous Casio keyboard that I loved pounding with my eager fingers at every opportunity. I composed my first song on my toy electric.
My father had stopped buying Rolling Stone Magazine when he committed himself to the church. Like any son idolizing his father, I stopped wanting to be Michael Jackson and now wanted to be like my mother, who has a voice like an angel, and supports dad’s ministry with beautiful worship songs. I still had a guilty pleasure though. I enjoyed the secular music on radio. I deeply loved and admired hip hop and rappers, especially growing up in what hip hop romantics refer to as the Golden Era. I later decided I was going to become a rapper after school.
After sometime, he came back from Nairobi with all his belongings packed in a large bag. I didn’t know or understand the circumstances surrounding his leaving the city and his job search. However, by picking up adult conversation and reading letters that had been hidden, I learned that my uncle had been rejected by family. I knew how and where to find the letters for I spent too much time sitting at my father’s desk in the home office. Trying to demystify his enormous theological volumes. Pretending to be him, signing and rubberstamping every available scrap of paper in that office. Standing on the table while delivering fiery sermons and holding some trophies in his cabinet aloft imagining I had won a grand slam. Ever since I learnt this information that could have been deemed too heavy for a ten year old, I could sense a deep sadness and a heart broken by betrayal behind his ever smiling eyes.
He came to find me completely immersed in my amateur attempts at writing original songs despite my handicap with playing musical instruments. My training had chiefly been my tinkering with toys my dad lovingly bought me.
We immediately started playing together; he being sensei and I student. He taught me to play ‘Amazing Grace’ on piano. I have not forgotten how to to this day. It might be a song for beginners, but it means the world to me having been taught by him. I can still play it despite the fact that I haven’t touched a musical instrument since he died.
He would take out his guitar, handling it with the gentle hand of a man holding his lover. I would fire up my battery powered electric piano and we would sing our hearts out. We spent many a day singing together and I told him stories from the books I had read. I considered reading a story about a place I’d never been the same as having travelled there and I would always substitute the main character with myself and tell it like the story was my own. He would listen with a loving, patient smile on his face as I excitedly narrated the latest story I had read or got from my maternal grandmother. He would tell me his own too.
Thus we formed a deep bond that would transform my life. From idolizing him in my younger years to taking on his depression when I got to the age of his final years. At that age, I too found myself stuck in that same hole he was. Trying to pursue a career in what I went to university for, yet clearly knowing I wanted to do something entirely different with my life. Lacking in both the support and resources. I was luckier though. My younger brother could see it through my eyes. I had him and my dad to share the frustration with.
At that tender age I didn’t know my uncle was fighting depression. Or rather how bad it was to be depressed. I think he could sense my childlike innocence as he would relate to me his grand dreams. He would talk of going to MIT and taking me along to raise as his own.
Sometimes he would descend into a deep funk and would play his guitar and sing alone, then he’d pray for hours. He would be with our family and with me for stretches of time, then he would go to grandpa’s. Every time he came back or we went up to the country he’d have new songs to teach me. Oh, the nights we spent listening to Dolly Patton and Kenny Rodgers on his cassettes with him singing along to every word.
As time went along, he became more and more religious and all we would listen to was American worship songs which I too absolutely adore to this day. At that stage I had changed my idol to Don Moen. That was who I wanted to be.
My father’s record player had broken just before we moved so we didn’t carry it with us. My dad bought these tiny AM radios to listen to BBC on. By then cassette players were all the rage, but my father didn’t like music much anymore. He’d bought a television for him to watch the news on and for us to keep busy with Saturday morning cartoons, Sunday afternoon episodes of Sinbad, for WWF Wrestling Tuesdays and Fridays and whatever other crap came in between during the week. His once diverse palate for music and literature, Western and African had faded away and disappeared. Even his impressive library which I had tended lovingly as a little child and hoped to one day inherit, had somehow vanished. His brothers and relatives sold the books cheap when we moved and used the magazines to light fires.
My uncle was the first person I know to buy a cassette player. His first was a bright red Sony radio that had multi-colored LEDs flashing around the single speaker as the music played. He’d left us with it the when we had moved. When he came back for good he had brought with him the biggest radio and cassette player I’d ever seen. Its two speakers were detachable and it had two slots for cassettes. Even better, it was the only radio I know that could tune in to urban radio stations heard in Nairobi even in the farthest corners of the country. It was this radio that gave me a chance to be a part of that much talked about ‘Golden Era of Hip Hop’. I remember attentively taking lessons in hip hop from Muthoni Bwika. Again my ambitions changed and I wanted to be Tupac Shakur.
Watching my uncle caress his guitar, eyes closed. With his ever smiling mouth making these heavenly sounds in perfect, unaccented English made me want to learn to pluck the strings too. I asked him to teach me. With his comforting smile he told me to cut my nails and immediately began teaching me. It was a calm, gentle lesson that allowed us to talk some more.
He told me about his dream to buy a Land Rover Discovery. They were a new brand then. The ultimate symbol of success. I believed him when he said he would take me along when he either found work or got the scholarship to MIT. All I wanted was someone to teach how to play a plethora of music instruments. He told me never to be afraid to dream the most outrageous dreams. No matter how lofty and unrealistic they might seem to others, they are your dreams and you’re allowed to go a little crazy with them.
Soon after the guitar lessons began, he was called to Nairobi. Someone had a lead on a possible job for him. I don’t remember the day he left. I remember neither his mood nor demeanor. I was eagerly waiting for the guitar lessons to resume. It never hit me that, with the new job, I’d probably see him less. I was just waiting on my best friend.
Everything from that point comes in flashes. Like a hurried slideshow. He came back after a while smiling. His eyes happily danced and laughter once again rolled off his tongue. I don’t think we played any music that time for he spent most of it speaking with my dad. He then left for my grandpa’s. I don’t remember what his parting words to me that day were. I don’t even remember seeing him leave. He never came back though I kept nagging dad to bring him.
Several weeks or even months later, I’m not even sure, a solemn mood engulfed our home. In my childish innocence I couldn’t figure out immediately what was happening. I knew something was seriously wrong when dad didn’t come home for several days. Something he never did except during the Annual Methodist Conference which takes place every August in Nairobi. My younger brother and I were told he’d gone to grandpa’s to see my uncle who was feeling unwell. I looked in the eyes of the person telling us this and I instantly knew they were lying. My uncle was dead.
My younger brother and I were shielded against the mourning and the funeral. On the day of his burial we were taken to our maternal grandma’s where we spent the day with our youngest uncles and auntie who were just a little older than I. Sometime in the afternoon, I remember feeling a deep sadness overwhelm me. That was when I knew to say goodbye to my uncle.