Alex

There is something about having our worst fears come true that changes us. We become valiant; we take more chances, we listen to our instinct more and even venture to new things. Maybe it’s the realisation that nothing more can go wrong or that we haven’t began collecting new fears yet. This is what had pushed Alex to open up a vegetable stall in her neighborhood.

She was born Alexandria Aketch Oreo, a quarter a century ago. Her dad was a minister at the Migori Redeemed Gospel Church. Her mother was the Kisii’s level 5 hospital finest shrink. When she was named Alexandria, the women in her village noted that she would be a tomboy when she grew up. They did not care that the name was the feminine version of Alexander which means defender of men.

Alex would fill this role later in her life. Some of the older ladies in her neighborhood whispered amongst themselves that she would have trouble finding a suitor while she had that name.

Alex did not know of the whispers swirling around. In her little world she subconsciously subscribed to the mantra ‘mind over matter’; she did not mind the whispers because they did not matter to her. Her parents did not feel remorseful for choosing the name.

In the true biblical description Alex grew up in stature and in mind being loved by God and by men. Well, the women were gossiping about her. She wasn’t a top student but neither was she the bluntest tool in the shed.

Alex lived the cliché life of a pastor’s kid: she never went out, didn’t drink or smoke, and she never knew a man until it was the right time. Proverbial good girl.

When Alex went to college she chose to hitch rides in her dad’s Mitsubishi Lancer instead of taking the public transport. Part of the reason was that Alex’s dad let her drive them home while the other reason was that she loved sharing her music with him.

During the day she would spend time searching for new music and in the evening she would play it to her dad. On some days they sang along if the tune was catchy but on most days they would discuss the lyrics and beats at length. Daughter loved those moments with dad.

When one of the ministers in her dad’s church asked if he could date Alex, she confided in her dad. He then asked to check him out first before she gave Ben an answer. After going through his file and conversations with a few other pastors he gave the nod.

Alex did not change her routine with her dad though she was seeing Ben, who would insist on picking and taking her to school. She stood her ground. Ben let her. Her dad had told her that if a man changed her then he wasn’t one to keep. Alex agreed and made a mental note to take note when Ben changed, and leave. She hoped that day would not come.

Ben was what would be best described as a repented sinner (but aren’t we all?). Ben hadn’t had the privilege to grow in a loving home such as Alex’s. His past had been littered with failure and wrong turns. He had been christened warlord in his teenage years for picking fights with anyone who dared look him in the eye. His father had been an army general and it is possible he banked on this to create fear amongst his peers.

After high school he had impregnated a house-help and then framed her for theft. This had her fired.

Like all clouds have silver linings, Ben had found his lining in the church. This was the one place where people did not judge him. In church his errant ways were not questioned for he had encountered with the messiah – one who was able to turn around even the vilest of sinners like Saul to the reformed Paul. He took a role in mentoring the young men in church and soon he was bumped up to youth pastor.

The youth in his church loved him because he did not act holier than he actually was. He shared his past and cautioned the youth against falling in this self-destructive path. When some of the kids did not listen to his teachings and fell off the wagon, he visited them, prayed over and with them for restoration. Soon he became a darling to the church community.

Almost always the kids thought he exaggerated when he spoke of his rough past. The parents to the kids too thought it was a clever way of keeping the kids in check. They all had fallen head over heels with him and willed themselves to not find a fault. Alex’s dad couldn’t help himself too.

Ben however lived a different life story in his house. In his house his word was law, he never negotiated, nor consulted. If he woke up one day and decreed that breakfast would be served and taken at 4 am then that would be the Torah of the day. Alex would not have an option.

In the privacy of her thoughts, Alex knew without doubt that Ben was broken, but to the public she wanted to shield him, and protect him from the world in the hope that he would heal.

The strange thing with abuse is that we know and see it daily but we bury our heads in the sand and hope it will go away if we wished it away.

On days Alex defied Ben, she got beat up. Ben said a woman who wasn’t submissive to her own husband was like a ticking bomb to the world. And in an effort to bring world peace, it was up to him to pound her into submission. That’s the very least a man with such a highly functional moral compass as Ben could do for the world.

Despite the hurt, Alex knew she loved Ben, and as long as love was patient, she would wait for him to stop beating her up. As long as it was kind, she would show him kindness. In her skewed worldview she hoped that Ben would learn kindness by watching her. Apostle Paul wasn’t wrong when he admonished wives to be submissive to their husbands so that if they aren’t converted then they can be by watching their wives walk in faith.

So she waited for him to have a change of heart. What she did not realise was that one cannot give that which he lacked. Ben could not be kind to her because he didn’t know kindness. Yes, he did know of the word but didn’t know how to put it into practice.

The longer she waited for him to be patient, kind and loving, the worse he got. He raped her in the living room and ignored her in the bedroom.
Most of her beatings had occurred in the kitchen because that was the claimed source of conflict. Either the food was not enough, too cold, too hot or just not pleasant to the eye.

When she was battered she would lock herself in the guest bedroom with her son and cry her heart out. She never breathed a word of the battering to her parents because she did not want to burden them with her marital issues. Often when she had cried herself to sleep next to her heir, she would wake up to his little hands clasping her swollen face whilst patting it with his tiny hands.

One day she woke up to find his tiny lips closing in on her swollen cheek ready for a kiss. This broke her heart into tiny shameful pieces. The blur from her swollen eyes cleared when she saw his tiny frightened face. This was the last straw that broke her back.

She could take the battering and the insults but she couldn’t let her son grow up knowing it to be a norm, that mums were battered and left helpless. That one’s mum was condemned to a life where they could not stand up for themselves. That mum was forever wrong and in need of correction. And that it was ok to live a broken life exclusively by choice.

As she prepared to leave, Alex thought Apostle Paul turning in his grave because she did not stay with her husband. But then Ben would learn patience and kindness elsewhere. On that day she resolved her parents could share her burden of a broken marriage.

At midday when the sun was high she walked out of her home with not so much as a second thought. She took money from the offering basket and walked to the bus stop. She did not bother that people stared at her and her bruised body. She did not care if the touts at the bus park took her luggage. All she wanted was to get as far away from Ben as she could.

Alex finally found her voice after three years from the day she walked out on Ben. He hadn’t bothered running after her in her parent’s house. Some of her relatives said the reason he didn’t show up was that he had never loved her. Alex, like her younger self, did not mind the rumor but was eternally was grateful Ben never came back. In a weird way she knew she was over that phase in her life because one cannot give what they lacked, and Ben lacked a myriad of things.

Alex came back to the city so she could enroll her sole heir to school. Her parents had begged her to stay but she opted to go and be independent again. She also thought her parents had been a laughing stock long enough.

The very flock her father watched over had turned against him for the failure of his daughter’s marriage. They said that if she truly was a pastor’s kid then she would have forgiven Ben. It did not matter to them if she died while playing the role of the pastor’s kid, just like they did not understand her name.

She did not expect to get a job overnight and so with the money she had, she walked to Marikiti long before the cock crowed and brought in vegetables that she would sell at her grocery shop.

Today she remembered this incident when she saw two lovers walk by hand in hand.

Alex, story of dreams, love and betrayal
Alex: story of dreams, love and betrayal

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Gacheri Gichunge is a creative artist who lives in scribbled words. Click here for more of her art.

GUEST POST: Protus, Shit and Other Shit (by Babji)

I’m four years old in this Nairobi but trust me, I’ve seen more shit than all the nineteen years I spent in shagz. My own shit I mean, not others’ smoking shit. Leave alone the time I landed my first job as a cleaner just after secondary. The time when a fat potbellied Mhindi would go across the road, eat pizza, croissants and top it up with a mug of Cappuccino then come to the loo. It was very usual to see a man straight from Galitos to my workplace straight to the washroom and seven minutes later, he gets out of the room, orange handkerchief in hand (it always is orange since it doesn’t show dirt) wiping his forehead, nose and moustache. The stench that would come out is worse than that of smelly feet, decayed carcass and soiled pampers combined. Some would not even flush the stinking shit, they’d just walk out and then I’d go clean it up.

I saw people’s shit, trust me. Smoking and steamy.Hard and diarrhoea, green and yellow, all that. And I had a chance to see mine as well. I walk into that room, drop my pants, squat then push like a woman in labour. Thereafter, I look back and look at the work of my rectum before finally turning the flushing water on. In shagz I never had the chance to see my own poop. Once you walked into a latrine, you just heard the sound of your dropping hitting hard against the bosom of earth. There, it’s met its fate. If you didn’t hear the sound, then it was obvious you had dropped it on the floor of the loo. Me I would move my right toe, knock that thing into the right place and go on. Once or twice, it happened.

You see, the latrines in shagz are floored by use of wood off-cuts. The pieces that saw mill guys feel are of no use are nailed together to make a floor with spaces between them. The doors are just gapings that always face the hedge, so when you come you have nowhere to knock, you just cough and whoever is inside coughs as well. The walls can be anything. Anything can be mud, iron sheets, tree branches tied together…. Anything.

Let me tell you about Protus’ latrine. A latrine and a half. This one, Protus’ latrine, was rumoured to be so clean till one would lick yoghurt from its floor. So clean that before you went in, your conscience led you to wipe your muddy shoes on the long grass nearby. No, it wasn’t cemented by the way. Just like the other latrines, it had a small opening carved at the centre of the room for poop. But so clean.

And then, it happened. It always happens, sindio? Especially during holidays. Protus was living in Nairobi, leaving only his wife and kids back at home. Two kids. But women whose husbands work and reside in the city always travel to see them. Even when the husbands make efforts to come over after every two Saturdays, she will always call the mzee that one Wednesday he is trading his sorrows with Wanjiku.

“Hey, Baba Nanii…. I’m here at MaaiMahiu…. Nitafikakitusaatatu (I’ll arrive around 9 p.m.).”

Then the man is taken aback.

“Ah, kwaniuliamuaje? (What did you decide?) – hic. Si you should have told me I buy (hic)… flour? Then the mama goes silent. He can’t even hang up. He’s looking at his pretty untouched Shiko.

Sikujiiunga.Kwanikwetuukinitoahatukuwanaunga?” she retorts what can only be translated as: I’m not coming for flour. When you got me at my parents’ home didn’t we have flour?

“But I was there last week. And I was coming (hic). And the line goes off. It happens, right?

Protus used to come, once after every three months. Early in the morning he’d pass at the lone footpath, loaded with a bag, a carton, another bag on the woman’s head and a paper bag. A really nice man, Protus. But then one day his Jaber said no. She too wanted to go and see Nairobi. One calm evening she clutched her handbag, a paper bag full of sukuma wiki and some onions, tied her younger child onto her back and walked behind some lady. This lady had on her head a sack.

Now, any Kisii person can tell you that sack carried a lot of matoke, then some avocados. We watched as the sashayed Protus’ wife so careful not to dirty herself. She took a Nairobi-bound bus. Then the lady who had escorted her came back. A young nice new lady who had never been seen in the village before, looked like her sister. Let’s call her Moraa. Now, you know what a new carcass means to a hyena. We watched from a distance, four heads together the way players stand conspiring on how to take a free-kick.

Now this is where the story begins. I however have to tell you that my cousin Oscar spent all the nights at Protus’ house for a better part of that holiday. We would eat our supper, go to our esaiga and when it approached ten he would dress like a mercenary. The head would be covered in a godfather, a large black overcoat and boots. Then he would carry a large metal rod. By four in the morning, he would come knocking… tired like a dog on a sunny midday, sleep for the next two hours then wait for the next night. Till when Moraa told Oscar that Protus would come the following day with his wife. You know, he always travels at night, and arrives here in the wee hours. That meant end of business between the two.

But nothing is sweet compared to the last drop of milk from a gourd. Nothing. Oscar knew that too well. And on that final day we all decided to escort Oscar. All the four of us- Oscar, Jeff, Farid and I. You know, it’s a few minutes past ten and we are walking silently, dressed like vampires. Nobody is talking. We’re just quiet, hands in our pockets, eyes straining to see where we are stepping. The only sounds we hear are of crickets, croaking of frogs and whistling of porcupines. Yes, porcupines whistle. A story is told of Mzee Nyamongo. This respectable old man, after having one too many, staggered home at the odd hours. Then he stopped and listened, someone was whistling rhythmically from the maize plantation. He listened again, that must be George.

“George” he called out.

Silence.

“George!” He called again. “Don’t you dare whistle at this time again, you are calling snakes!” He retorted. The whistling had stopped. He asked George what he was doing there at such a time and when he got no reply, he clicked and walked way. Then the whistling commenced.

We walked amid the whistling. Not scared even of the night runners. Night runners do not dare touch a group of people, they only scare you if you are alone. At the gate Oscar sat down, passed his right leg below the gate and pushed the stone that was leaned against the gate, that’s how the gates are locked in shagz by the way. And we slithered into the compound. Now, we did not intend to do the lady all of us. No. Neither were we planning to go and eavesdrop by the window of the bedroom as the two made herstory. It’s just Satan. It’s Lucifer, I tell you.

The kitchen was open with so much smoke coming out of the grass roof, and the lamp was still on. A child was crying from the bedroom and a lady crossed from kitchen to the main house. We dashed into the latrine nearby. Its door faced the thorny hedge and I’m sure I heard Farid cry out an Ouch. We hid inside the latrine, the much appraised latrine. It felt slippery. At was also used as the bathroom. We were so cautious not to slip into the hole at the centre, so we huddled close to the door, and peeped to see what was going on. The dogs had begun barking but none came to the doorless room. We shivered, we shook. We knew that shit was pending. We could see a spotlight moving around. It was Protus. He shone his torch towards the hedge close to the latrine, and then went away.

We were sure he would go to sleep, and probably Moraa would sleep alone in the kitchen as Protus and his wife slept in the main house, so there was still a ray of hope. We just stayed in the latrine, trading stories. Jeff told us of how he thought the next Bible would be. Yaani, the Bible to be used after God comes back, burns some of you and creates new beings. The Bible these new beings would be using. How many books it would have, how many testaments blablabla. Said the Bible would have a verse reading, “And behold that night, Satan lied to Jeff, Oscar, Farid and Babjy to go to Protus’ place. He spoke unto them. Isn’t this your last day to that place oh Oscar, why don’t you take with you…. We laughed. You should hear Farid laugh, wuueh! He forgets everything.

toilet

And the dogs heard the laughter, and then began barking. We knew Satan was on our necks. I particularly was upbeat. And I had to release the pressure. I tore a piece of newspaper I had leaned against that was tucked into the corner of the latrine.

“Shhhh, careful bana….” Oscar warned.

“No, I want to poop,” I hissed.

“What, but we can be heard yaa!”

I was already peeing. I would hear them breathing heavily. I would smell the fright in them. A torch lit somewhere close to the latrine. That fool was out again. I dropped. The poop hit water inside that pit making the sound. The spotlight began becoming stronger, reducing in size. A figure dashed out of the loo, another one followed and before I knew it, I was alone. Squatting in somebody’s pit latrine, less than two hours to midnight. Here I was, pushing shit like a woman in labour, my face wrinkled as the light finally fell on me.

“Babjy, is that you?”

“Yes Uncle, I was on my way from town and pressed so bad. I had to rush here to relieve myself”

“Mmmh, nice story you have.”

(For more mouthwatering stories from Babji, visit his site: www.babjy.wordpress.com)

 

G. POST: Me, My School, and My Grades (E. Khisa)

It is still fresh in my head when I greeted a white man who had visited our school as “thank you madam.”  He didn’t answer, and the way he looked at me I doubted if that was an appropriate greeting.  It’s not that Mr. Chelungusi didn’t do his work. He did it. In fact he covered the English syllabus in term one. He exhausted all types of compositions. He touched all areas in grammar. That was what he told us.

I failed in Mathematics too. Not that Mr. Wasio never came to class for Mathematics lessons. In fact I wondered why his subject was timetabled every day. Some teachers could miss school for various reasons – mostly, sickness – but Mr. Wasio never fell sick. The only time I thought he was unwell was the time I entered the staffroom and found him coughing. He was taking tea with a piece of roast maize. I think a mannerless maize grain mistook the windpipe for the oesophagus. And he didn’t go to hospital.

maths
maths

Now Maths and its mysteries. One day my mum asked me to help my younger sister solving some problem. The first sum was zero plus zero. I told her the answer was eight. My younger sister, Nanjala, and I never agreed on that until we called our mother in. She just laughed. “Is that how your teachers cheat you?”

Anyway, how can you conclude that zero plus zero is zero? How is that possible? When you add a zero on another zero, one thing will carry another on its head, and hence my correct answer eight. That is how I argued and made my answer relevant.

I also liked Mr. Namunguba’s teaching methodology and mannerism. He was our Kiswahili teacher. He could abuse you if you wrote a poor insha or dozed off during his Kiswahili lectures. Are lectures the same as lessons? I don’t know. He taught. But I still failed in Kiswahili.

Now this is the story. It wasn’t my fault to register low marks in KCPE exams. A witch and the madman were the reasons behind my dismal performance. Our home was 5km away from school. If you could wait until the sun opened its eyes, Mr. Masaba would beat you up till you farted. He was ever on duty. I never understood why. Perhaps it was because he was the youngest staff member. His colleagues were aging on an hourly basis.  He had completed his high school course just the other year, which meant he was still energetic. He was a good caner I must say. Therefore to avoid injuries on your behinds, you just had to rise as early as 4.30am.

But then, the morning dew was always cold, and we never wore shoes. Mostly because we did not have. And, even if you had, your schoolmates would laugh at you. I remember the day Kalulu came to school in shoes. I think he wanted to overcome the cold grass on the ground. Opicho could not help himself laughing. Mr. Chelungusi would say he laughed hysterically.

“Kalulu you are wearing shoes?” Opicho asked as his shoulders moved synchronically with the laughter. “So what do you want us to say? That you come from town?”

However, the morning dew wasn’t a big threat. The real threat was beyond that – a witch and the madman. There was this witch on fashion. He used to hang on thickly leafed trees which neighboured Sifumbukho’s farm with his head down like a bat. That is why we changed his name from Wabunulu to Wambuto – the bat. Any woman who coming from the milling shop as late as 6.30pm would have her family sleeping on empty stomachs. Wabunulu would take her maize flour and disappear behind the bush.

One Thursday, Mr. Masaba and Mr. Namunguba sent a warning to everybody about late-coming. They were both on duty. Everybody knew what it meant by those two saying, “Just come late if you want.” I asked mother to wake me up at 4 a.m. the following day. She pleasurably did that. I washed my feet as usual (bathing day was strictly on Saturdays – the day we went to church). Now the task before me was a breath taking one. There was only one route that could take me to school. And this route hosted the two terrifying human beings.

I started for school at exactly 4.20am. I came close to Wabunulu’s work-place, the tree, and became wise. I tiptoed stealthily, and after successfully passing, anybody with a good bicycle could not catch up with my speed. In fact Mr. Wasio, my Maths teacher, would never calculate the speed I had moved at.

Now, after two kilometres, I came close to where Mayende the madman slept. It was by the fence near the slaughter house at Chebukaka market.

This man used to walk with snakes in his pocket. That was one of the most threatening things about him. I wondered why those snakes never bit him. The wisdom I used at Wabunulu’s place flashed in my mind. I smiled and decided to tiptoe quietly. I did not make two steps.

I stood stopped after the first step. The urine from my bladder forgot that I had already washed my feet back at home. I shook.

Mayende was standing right before me. He was holding a snake in his right hand. Though the snake looked dead, I was not convinced. And a snake is always a snake, dead or alive.

He started toward me without uttering a word. That’s when I rediscovered my athletic skills. I made that 180° turn and took off. A bit of exaggeration perhaps but I think my knees hit the chin while the heels knocked the back of my head.

That was the first week of term two, and I stayed home till exam day.

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My Neighbourhood (E. Khisa)

 

My neighbourhood is Sichei, a princely village in Bungoma. Bungoma, though it is ten kilometers from Bungoma town. That’s how it goes down anyway. If people 200km from Mombasa can say they come from the city, why not I with my Bungoma? If the ocean besieging Madagascar down there can still be said to be Indian, thousands of miles from India, Indiana and West Indies, what is 10km?

A dusty road runs by my village, which is made use of by the people who go on foot, ride on donkeys, bicycles and motorbikes. The road is, however, uneven and full of ruts, and becomes a disaster management client when the rains fall.

Sichei prides itself in the heritage of mud-walled houses. Most of these have low roofs, a single door and no windows. Usually, these houses have only one room, which serves as a kitchen, bed-room, reception-room, store-room, and nursery.

Some of the houses have a court-yard also, where the cattle are kept. You can say that the lanes are very dirty and that will not be criminal. They are littered with the left-overs from homes of careless wives and even much more careless husbands. They have puddles of dirty water that breeds swarms of undisciplined mosquitoes. So to us, malaria and cholera are kin and kith.

My neighbourhood is inhabited mostly by farmers. These men are models of industry. The village has barbers with none too keen wits and dull razors; carpenters with primitive instruments; cobblers whose shoes are known more for history and durability than beauty; and blacksmiths who make ploughs and sickles. My village has a dispensary where sore eyes are cured, fever is treated, and where the government dumps unused pain-killers from the national hospital.

village
village

The centres of interest, however, include the school, to which most of the boys go; several churches with innocent souls and a mosque where the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer five times a day. The village has a couple of canteens where the villagers buy their salt and soap. It has hotels too where bicycle engineers, barbers and a few travelers stop by to exercise their abdominal rights. It also has the tomb mother to the late VP, Michael Kijana Wamalwa and another for the late great seer of the Bukusu, Omung’osi Walumoli.

The most important men in my village are teachers and a few military men. Most boys in our village are afraid of approaching their daughters because they are harsh. No. This is not unfounded. African men don’t squander their fear just like that.

One day, Msumbichi burst into my simba breathing no breath. I laboured to make him speak and when he did, the news wasn’t good. Apparently, Simiyu was dying. Where? Under the mango tree in the soldier’s home. That was itself danger twofold. He said that they had hidden in the fence of the soldier’s home and were busy whistling at Nastanjia, first born daughter of the military man, when trouble came. Their attention had been so much on her topography that when the father stopped his bicycle behind them, they did not hear. It only downed on them when their hands were tied at the carrier of his bicycle and were dragged to hell itself. I don’t even remember how Msumbichi said he had escaped.

So when we got there, it was just in time to get the soldier giving military drills to Simiyu. The young man was still tied at the carrier of the bicycle. Now the soldier’s work was to peddle round his compound, through the roughest places, and Simiyu was to follow in trail. The soldier stopped only once – when Simiyu’s father came. He got off his bike, moved near the man, beat him up, ripped off his shirt and tied him under the mango tree before coming back to peddle. It was only the pleading of his second wife and mother to Nastanjia, and the preaching of a pastor standing at the gate, that pacified the man. Father and son were later seen running from the soldier’s compound without, as they say, looking back. You’d wonder how Simiyu’s father managed in the bush without a shirt on.

So we all have the right to fear military men.

The Head Master of the school is a worthy man, and the adult school run by him contains pupils from the ages of 20 to 35. Next year, Paulo Simiyu and Ponfenja Msumbichi will graduate to form three. Because they are among the youngest in the school, the head has promised to waive half their school fees if they stop taking alcohol. Let’s wait and see.

Teachers and soldiers aside, the fertility of our land is what motivates and inspires my village mates. Farmers were one time advised by our village elder not to use foreign fertilizer from the shops since it would corrupt the sweetness of their land. I hope they heed. Otherwise the number of shortwires is going to shoot.

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