To the Last Man

Last man
Last man

I’m wondering how it feels to die. Sometimes it is the biggest paradox of my life that I work in the thin line between life and death but death remains a mystery even its smallest bits. About life, I can stand at an ant hill and shout: hey folks, life tastes like goat drooping, sounds like a ghost, et all. And if the audience look confused I kick them. I’m licensed to cause pain. I understand life.

But death, what is death? How does it feel like to know that you are going away for good and you can never see another morning and that some idiot will start eyeing your woman and make her sing his name? To know that they will fix you in a small hole and take the rest of your empire? That you can never see another sun with the family?

It was in high school I first came face to face with the glare of life and its stark partner in death. I must have already told you of Mwalimu Marko. After he resumed lessons there was word that things were not very okay with him. Never would. We stopped saying it was witchcraft when things got really bad. We started sympathising. It was said to be Cancer, and they said the doctor had told him he had only five weeks alive.

He died after four and half.

It was the saddest funeral. I had thought that with all that sympathy God would spare him and take the cup to someone else. He remains among those for whom I have ever prayed. Yet he maintained his big laughter and joked with us at the football field every evening when the team trained.

Life and death, yet so much remains to imagination. How did he manage that smile when deep within everything was tough? Did he polish his Geography books knowing they’d never be polished again? How did he face his wife and how did she, him? Did he cry when talking to the kids?

Kids. My idea of life is filled with kids. Unlike the guy who imagines life is about flowers and gifts, I dream of me and the children playing in the yard. Hiding behind a blade of grass. Teaching how to hold a pen. Someone should explain why I have this craving for a daughter. Maybe because I’m a good caretaker or because everyone agrees I am a sadist to men. After all, the so-called sons-in-law need sadists sitting in that seat, and the unfortunate little thing that will show up for my Pearl of Africa will have to accept that idiots don’t just walk under my roof and cough nonsense.

What should one want in a daughter? I want anything. Because then I can learn to love. We want exquisite girlfriends with broad smiles and brittle fingers to hold our gifts. A tinge alto in their voice. We don’t want girls with a cricket’s voice. Sharp brain. Maybe because we want the same to extend into our daughters at birth. This will have the result that we shall love our children. But the hundred years of marriage will have gone to waste if from them we don’t learn to love. We must have human beings of all levels so they are the constant reminder that from the wide array of matter life offers, we can love to the moon and back without hurting our toes.

Maybe a soldier should not think of love. This is Somalia, and in Somalia there is no love but guns and smoke. Sometimes life in the horizon, but guns and smoke and plenty of death. Why should we have love in a dilapidated country whose people survive on chewing khat and butchering for fun? Perhaps life should craft another joke.

Or maybe we can live to love anything that comes our way.

My thoughts are disrupted by Sergeant Keli. A tall commanding figure with a scar above his right eye and a smile of the season south. God created. Nature forgot to put a grain of sadness in his heart. Such a humble soul that with litmus paper you will still not agree he is a soldier.

When I joined the Mariakani Barracks he was the first person I spoke to. He took us fresh recruits to our areas and asked to be briefed in case of anything. I later learnt he had been a close friend of my brother’s.

“HR-2 Sir, whom are we sentencing today?” A joke. His Royalty 1 was Karani.

“Your hours are numbered. You don’t need a sentence because those boys are coming for you themselves and I won’t have reason to defend you,” I say.

Those boys. It’s our euphemism for Alshabaab. In the last month intelligence reports have indicated they are plotting to attack one of our bases here. Sentries have reported abnormal behaviour. Every day we anticipate an attack. Attack to cushion their hatred for my country. Last year they massacred a big number. Fear. We laugh about it anyway.

“Not even when I promise to give you a wife and children for free?”

“I don’t take bribes, officer.”

“You can’t be Kenyan, then. Your passport will be confiscated. You will be jailed when we return home. You don’t take what?”

In the forces I have learnt a lot. Where we curse death, I have come to understand that there are worse things. I have seen children dying at the might of hunger. I have seen a kid in Baidoa suckling from a dead mother. We once detained a man who had cooked a leg of his dead daughter, and when we realised there was nothing much at the camp to feed him, we released him to go eat the remaining leg. This, as much as I should deny, remains true. And it will remain in the eye until man learns that his peace does not lie in the trigger but in the useless smile or warm pump in his chest.

Who fights a war?

Men fight a war.

Who owns the men?

Poor mothers and dead fathers.

Who wins a war?

People. People with suits and bellies and long motorcades. People with children placed in fortified schools abroad. Those are who wins the war. Because soldiers will need supplies and petrol and new guns. But war is lost by all civilians from the left and the right of the battlefront. I even don’t know if I read that in a book but that is the sexing truth so yes, go tell the sexing president.

Men should learn the art of negotiation. It lengthens life.

I’m woken up by the camp alarm and gunshots. There are boots and yells everywhere. I grab my combat unit and throw myself out just as I see 4.12am on the clock. From a distance, crying machine guns hold hostage the chill of the coming morning. There is a yellow fire and smoke somewhere along the road to our main entrance.

We are under attack.

I mount onto one of the already moving Humvee’s. Plan is to secure the inner security ring fast and offer back-up to the men on the outer line.

Soon we are in the trenches on the inner perimeter wall. We are under the Artillery Battery Commander Maj Alawi. Two more Humvee’s and a tank with 2IC Cpt George crawl towards the main entry to the base and though we don’t know the exact numbers on the other side, there is satisfaction that we’ve done it with the script.

For a long time, maybe 10 minutes or more, nothing happens as we lie in wait and listen to the heavy gun battle about a kilometre away. I hope the fools will be repelled just soon enough. This is not the first time this is happening. It’s usually a bunch of youths, a dozen or so, who are tired of resisting suicide, and who think invading a military base is your piece of cake. The drones picked movement of a handful of them near the southern thickets yesterday. But we did not anticipate that offence would come as soon.

He was two years elder. When the call came, it came through the District Officer’s office. It was I who went to receive the message. It was a woman’s voice: … and Lieutenant K. S. Karani was among them…. The body… three days…. in service of the nation… sorry to the family and friends.

I sat at that office up-to evening. And even then I couldn’t walk so it was better when the APs, one of whom was a friend to Karani, offered to help. I remember being helped into the Land Cruiser, and when I came to I found myself in the main house at home. I looked at mum, who didn’t know a thing up-to now. She thought she should find me some paracetamols. I looked at her wrinkled face. Her aged hands. Her strong resolve. The hope. I looked at the mud walls of the hut. The poverty. Then I couldn’t hold it any longer. I broke into tears, this time letting the cry out as it wanted.

He was the only brother. My friend. Head of the family. Our future. Now he was dead. Dead with bullets in his head and chest. Dead for the country.

Mother reclined into her and didn’t manage a word. Didn’t cry. She fainted several times as mourners began making funeral arrangements. She had to be caged on burial day when uniformed soldiers fired 21 shots in the air. For their comrade.

I observed how death takes the strongest to humiliate the weak. I lost respect for death.

Gunfire. The other guys are not carrying just their normal Kalashnikovs and WW2 mortars. Under the morning darkness I pick bangs of superior equipment. The burning debris and longer duration of counter-offence now gives a clue to their numbers.

We lie in wait. On my side is Cpt Keli. Fate will have him slain before my eyes. It will be next to me that the bullet will come, right to his throat and cut the spine. He will collapse, and I will drop my gun to resuscitate him. It will be a waste of time, and giving the enemy leverage. He will go without a word. I will rise and sling my magazine over my shoulder in an attempt to fight what fate has brought before my nose.

I should fight like my brother. The few comrades who knew him in the line of fire say he was a hero. His name was mentioned at the National Heroes Day that year. Sometimes I have my doubts whether I will ever match half the man he was. Sometimes I have my doubts about life here. Those are moments I remain lonely, detached. Sometimes I question my conscience. Maybe I am just a crazy loser with a gun. Perhaps I should quit. Not perhaps; certainly. I’ve prepared to find my freedom at the end of this mission.

It took years to mystify the image of Karani. Him lying there in a cold military box for a coffin, wrapped in the national flags. Nobody was allowed to move closer. Nobody saw him die, nobody saw him dead. We may as well have buried a stone or rolls of toilet paper in a cold military box. And when people were giving their speeches, a villager asked the government to mourn with us and show appreciation for the fallen hero – offer me the military job as replacement of the gone breadwinner. Major RK knows the rest because he is the one who was in charge of recruitment the following year when we paraded our bare chests and showed 32 teeth at the DO’s offices. Ten years now and it looks like yesterday.

Suddenly there is the sound of crushing wheels. The ground in Kulbiyau is tough. From combat experience, those must be at least five tanks. How do these poor guys afford a piece of a tank? We open fire at once though the vision is still hidden in the night. The bastards know how to tame a dark night.

At first I didn’t want to be a soldier. I wanted to be a History teacher. When the military thing came, and I wanted to turn it down, I looked at the situation at home and figured that a grass-thatched house would not take me into a class of History or even gossip. So I took the arm, and discovered it was a lovely job. Fell in love.

I have a girlfriend. This gun and smoke thing should go away. I want to go back to my nurse girlfriend. I should get back home soonest this thing is over. I don’t know what she will say when I eventually narrate this. Last time I told her of life here she pulled all the nurse in herself and told me not to return to the battlefield. She said we could move to a village in the Congo or Malawi and begin life until they forgot about me. I told her the army forgets deaths and not deserters, especially now that there is no clemency for the crime. She said something funny I cannot remember. We laughed and forgot the story.

I remember she broke her virginity that night. A month or two from now she will be a mother. So much in wait after this mission. I want us to get married. I want to hold the baby and feel as a father. I want life.

The idiots are beginning to overwhelm us. A good number of our men have gone down and we register heavy casualties as more RPGs continue to fly past our noses. From the way they have surged in you don’t want to imagine what has happened to those at the first frontier. And now their inclination, our hideouts in the trenches are partially exposed and so if they aim well we are all meat.

We fire gallantly. They have the aerial advantage, vision disadvantage. We have the trench guard and familiarity. An occasional RPG falls, digs the ground and uproots one or two of us. Several of our men are now down and done. Unless the other side is registering more pain, the situation is getting tricky.

The Major rises from the trench and stands fully above the shields. That is an outrageous move. I hear someone yell out to him to back down. He doesn’t. He begins to fire directly into the approaching enemy. He fires into the first truck and it blasts into flames as debris and shrapnel come crushing into our faces.

The blast happens almost the same time we spot another silhouette of a truck approach from the left and we change the direction of our muzzles. The lights are off but we can see the thing from the light of an approaching dawn – and that is where we aim as we find shelter from anything on the ground. This truck has not less that fifteen men with heavy artillery; the type you stop from a distance if you desire to live and go see your pregnant girlfriend. And we are now more exposed with a redundant number so we must act quick.

But then, another dark structure crashes into the burning mess, into us. An empty Humvee that doesn’t stop with our shooting. We stitch two and two, and those of us who calculate fast get it right. I am airborne, in the middle of nowhere, preparing to fall somewhere I hope to find safety, when the thing detonates. Metal chips cut into my back but now I don’t stop moving. Where I crawl, I crawl. Where I run, I run. I want to do anything that will take me furthest away from this nightmare. The whole infantry has been destroyed and though a soldier never flees the battlefield, a soldier finds safety and peace for which he exists.

By now I’m sure we’ve lost the armoury too. I’ve been shot in the left leg. I can’t believe I am retreating. I think of the situation at home if we lose this battle. I think of the attacks in Nairobi. I think of the dead lovers. I think of the widows. I think of Karani. I stop, start running, and stop again. Then I turn and start limping back into the drumming of guns that is now dominated by one side.

I find shelter at a tree stump and peg my gun. From now I don’t see anything but the enemy. The magazine gets eaten fast. It is almost 6am and I see the bastards fall. I take them down in droves as they fight to break the inner ring.

Then in the midst of all the ricocheting, I pick up one distinct bang. It isolates itself from the rest of the noise, and from there the other shots start reclining to the backstage. Something warm is gushing down my face from above the left eye. I feel it trickle down my face.

My gun goes down. Mid-size Riot Control Disperser. Something familiar cuts my nerves, then fades away. My mass begins to yield and as I follow the gun my mind races miles away back home. What is the nation doing – sleeping with the continent? I think of Esta. The young one. Mum. Will tomorrow ever arrive for them? Will Esta mourn me? Will the people I defend defend the young one from the pangs of theft and oppression?

Heaven; is heaven real?

I wish to be home. To fall into the arms of Mother. To let her feel the fading pulse. I want that when I come down, I come down to familiarity. I can give up everything now for a second more with the two women I love. I want to hold the mother of my child and whisper to the one inside. Tell her to live to the fullest when she finally comes out. To love those who love and love those who don’t. To seek content. I want to drop down at the feet of these women. I’m scared, God. The women, and I won’t cry whether heaven or hell. God.

God of Christians. God of Jews. God of Hindus. God of Pagans. God of Atheists. God Anything. God, a single last moment with them….

My weight hits the tough ground clothing the Horn of Africa. The gunshots and propellers have been reduced to small uninteresting murmurs. The air tastes thorns and red pepper. The night already looks on with indifferent eyes. I try to rise to face the enemy. I cannot. Right away I know I no longer belong here. Then comes an immediate dizziness. Then numbness.

Then, darkness.


Of Thunder and Smoke

She remembers the events in a smoke of memory that cannot be dismissed as too blurred. After all, it was her playmates and everything that happened to them left permanent spots on her memory. Fatu had come and said they would be going away. She had asked where, and the other girl had said just away. Far away. That they were going home.

She had wondered whether there had been a world beyond the market of Elureko where her mother sometimes took her when she went to buy panadol for sick chicken. That was the furthest she had known to be away. That was the end of the world. And it didn’t require a lorry to carry anyone there. She had asked her mother if there was another home for anyone else apart from the village where they played at night and basked in the moon. Her mother had only told her to go out and play. She had gotten so upset at the funny thing her friend had said. Perhaps when they grew up, she would ask her why she had lied of a possibility of a home away from this home.

Then the fever to go away had ended the way it had come. And they held hands and  went to school together. They sang behind Mwalimu Ellen during the afternoon lessons when the sun was hot. They lived for sometime. And then Fatu returned with the nonsense news. This time she didn’t want to hear any of the lies. But the other girl was adamant. She said her father had said that someone had said that some people were not needed. And that they were those people. She asked needed by who. And how would they distinguish between those who were those people and those who were not those people when they all looked the same. The other girl could not answer. The next day Fatu and Ebi were not there. She heard a truck rev outside their house and when she came out, only the smoke was what she could see at the corner where the road wound its tail towards the river. She tried to run in trail. But soon she was exhausted and she stopped.

She wonders how their home looks like. She wonders where this world reaches. She wonders if any single person can own a big part of the world like Elureko. Everytime she sees a lorry, she hates the driver because of what she cannot get off her mind. How could they drive away such beautiful souls from her life? She feels alone without Fatu. Fatu was her sister. Fatu was her friend. These days she no longer played. Even when her small sisters shared their toys, she never felt the taste. She sits aloof. She thinks of Fatu. Did she find another friend? Will she come back so they go to school together? It has been many days since. Has she shed her teeth? Did her parents die too? Is there even a world beyond this village and Elureko or the driver plunged them into the river?

She remembers the day people came to her home at night. It was about 8 in the evening. It was her father who responded to the knock and he remained at the door in conversation with the men outside. She couldn’t hear anything because they were whispering. Then her father closed the door and joined them at the table. But it didn’t take long before the men returned. They didn’t knock. They entered past the family into her parents’ bedroom. She could hear them overturning the bed and breaking their wooden box. They came to the sitting room, checked under the table and under chairs. Then they had gone away. She had wondered why her father had not stood to defend her and her mother.

She wishes her mother could die today. She’d have taught her how to cook and sit and walk like a girl. She’d have taught her how to sew clothes for the family and even make some money. She’d have taught her how to be a good girl and avoid flies. If her mother died today, she would die having taught her how to live like an orphan. How to run away and eat from the food thrown away at Elureko. She hears her small sisters play. She hears them call her to join them. She cannot.


Child of war
Child of war

She remembers how her mother died: It was Small Father who came with them. It was not many days after Father’s death. They grabbed her by her hair and hit her head on the wall. They kept asking why she had betrayed them. They said she had told people to come kill Father. I knew they were lying. Mother had loved father and me. I remember she had refused to eat anything after Father was buried behind our house. Now I was confused.
They beat her up. She cried. She bled. But they still beat her up. I couldn’t take it anymore. I jumped onto Small Father and bit his leg. He slapped me hard until I fell on the ground. I urinated. I couldn’t get energy to defend her again. One of the men drew a long knife and handed it to Small Father. He pulled Mother onto her feet by gripping her hair. Then he drove the brutal thing into her chest. It came out from her back. She threw her legs and hands. Then she died.
Small Father took me and told me he’d take care of me. He said I was now his daughter. He bought me good things and I played with my new our children. During the days that he didn’t go away to defend House, he would come and play with me and our children and say my father was proud of me. He would carry me on his shoulders and tell Small Mother not to give me a lot of work.

She wishes her father was still alive. To defend her. To take her to school every morning.

It was at night and Father had just come from his night shift at Factory. That night, there was an attack. There was noise all over as people ran. Father took me and Mother to the bedroom. He took the rake he worked with at Factory and told Mother to blow out the kerosene lamp. In that darkness, he kept telling us not to make any sound. Outside, people were wailing. They shrieked in pain. Even cows mowed if fear. Then I heard our door break. I heard feet on the floor. The bedroom door was whacked again and strong beams of light shone into our faces. I felt pain in my eyes. Father was contained even before he used his rake. When the torches shone on him again, he had been subdued. The men were talking in a different language. I heard Mother talk to them. She went to her knees and held the feet of one of the men. I knew she was pleading. But her pleas brought nothing. That night, I saw my father die. He wasn’t beaten. Someone just slithered a knife into his back and it protruded in his chest, opening ways of blood.

The next day, there was ash everywhere. Huts had been burnt. There was still smoke coming from the last thatches. Bodies lay scattered on the paths. Some did not have heads and some did not have hands. Some bodies lay on other bodies. Some faces were recognisable and others were not. I saw the head of the man who roasted maize for us at school. I knew it was him because the large birthmark on his forehead was still there and he was in his usual overalls with the picture of a child the front. I saw bodies of small children. I saw bodies of small girls like me and small boys. All lay scattered and quiet. I couldn’t believe that many people could get silent and immobile like that in just one night.

Many men walked on with bandage on their legs and hands and faces. There was blood everywhere. Small Father was among those who got off it unharmed because I didn’t see any bandage on him. But most of the others limped and cried. That day I saw big men cry. The attackers had injured and burnt. The next few days there were meetings of men because my small brothers told me Small Father was attending them to bring safety. But I needed not safety. I needed anyone to return Father back so I could hold him and ask him questions about Factory.

Her cousins are calling her. They want her to play. They say their mother will beat them if she sees Akwanyi not playing. She hears them call and plead. Now they have given her two dolls. But she doesn’t want dolls. Dolls don’t breathe. She wants her father. She wants her mother. She wants Fatu to come back so she could tell her that their school was burnt down and that they no longer go there. She wants Fatu’s mother to cook the food she used to cook.

She sees things in the smoke they do not see. She doesn’t want to play.

Image Source

Smell of Satan

They smell the damp smell of their houses. They smell kerosene smoke and poverty. Sometimes the bus plays Mugithi to hide us from our conditions. Sometimes it is Bob Marley or Lucky Dube who bring peaceful violence into us. Sometimes the seat-mate bursts a bed bug walking in his loins, and we share the smell together. Sometimes a preacher comes and if we can afford, we give something of the little we have to the man of God. Sometimes the bus gets stuck in the traffic and we sit in thought. Of the landlord and shopkeeper and the tailor whom we still owe 30 bob. Sometimes we think of our first love and how broken we were when it was cut; we wonder if they got married. We think of the village. The smell of flowers and the slow tempo and the mad man or even the violent bull of Chitechi. We miss to hear the shit hit the bottom of latrine pits. We always think lots of things together in the semi-darkness of a 4 AM city bus.
Sometimes we think far. Of our uncle who disappeared in the last election fracas. Is he dead or alive or unwell, nobody knows. We think of Mother. We think of the village pauper. We try to fathom why he has no wife, no brother, no family. They say he came from Rwanda some decades back. We think of the people living across on the other side of the city. Their castles scattered in quiet stretches of forested land. Whenever we reach there, we stop to think because we are not sure we are still thinking.
Sometimes it is just the simple thanks to God that at least we afforded bus fare today. Or the appreciation for our family and friends being in our lives. We think how our children will live tomorrow, and thank God that if it is not money, we shall bequeath them a wealth of character and attitude. As the bus manouvres the road, we manouvre corners in our heads.
In the evening we shall not be together. Some of us will still afford the bus back. Some of us will trot back home carrying dinner for the family. Some of us will just walk, from nothing, to nothing. Others will yield to the shame of returning with naked hands and so they’ll go to a den somewhere and drink themselves to hell. Hell of satan.
Reflecting now, we realise we cannot go back to the village. We came to the city to earn and get rich and help folks back home; it would be shame to go back empty handed. We ran away from poverty in the village, but we now discover we are even poorer years later. We realise we’ve been chasing our own tired shadows that refuse to be chained in some box of a material world.
So in the evening, those of us who shall be lucky will board Forward. Even the names give us the hope that we are advancing. We shall squeeze in the vehicle. A woman will come to the back-seat and squeeze into the narrow space remaining. Her ribs will eat into my ribs and it will hurt. She will be carrying a sack and she will put it on her laps. Then she will ask me to help carry her four-year-old because her six-year-old will be standing between our knees. The man on my right will be holding a red cock, like the one that carried the betrayal of Yeso Kristo. I know, because the thing will be so huge it can be dowry for an 18-year-old. He will be coming from the village attending a land dispute meeting. And the foul will be making so much noise, competing another man howling into his phone over some funeral arrangement back in the village where one Opwora has refused to cooperate.
The child on my laps will be heavy. But I love children. She will tell me she is called Bebi and her sister is Diana. Bebi will hold my collar and tell her mother how my shirt resembles her dad’s. By the time I will alight, I will have answered a thousand questions from the girl who will also want to alight with me to go see my daughter (I’ve already told her I have a girl her age).
The bus will stick in the traffic for long. But we shall sit in patience. People will keep exchanging a word with their seat-mates. Sometimes a joke. But mostly it will be the conductor’s remarks that will leave us happy. Evening buses don’t play loud music. Just the time conductors begin to talk.
Three months from now.
I will hear the chants from far. At first I will not know on whose side they will be. Then, slowly, and as they advance, singing, howling, grunting, cursing, I will listen and hear the words. And the language. Then I will shut my eyes from my position under the bed. I will pray the hundredth time. But it will be late. Too late.
They will knock down the door and come to the room. I will see their feet first. Deformed feet. Dirty feet. Missing-toe feet. I will see my feet in their feet. Then with one deft movement, the bed will go upturned. And we, exposed.
They will grab Tabitha first. She will gasp and try to resist. Amani will give a yell at the sudden shoving of her mother. That will be the last time I will hear Amani’s voice. The machete will come straight for the neck, crushing the fragile bone of the upper spine. I will watch as my daughter drops dead. I will die inside. A cord of meaning will be cut forever.
My loins will drench at the sight. I will want to rise to rescue any remaining bit of her. My blood. I will not find strength. Strength, the one I have always had walking to town and fro, will have gone too.
Motherhood will overcome Tabitha. She will go to her fours in an attempt to save our dead Amani. She will struggle in the now cooling blood. She will shake the limb form. She will hold it to her chest with the flailing hands falling both sides. She will return it to the ground and try to fix the dangling head. She will call. She will repeat the name, sometimes rolling the body as if waking it up for school.
Then she will be whisked off the ground. They will rip off her dress. The one Aunt gave her after we got married. I will watch as they dirt my wife. Tabitha will cry in pain and in frustration and in hate. Her eyes will be on me; calling me for help. She will ask me to save her. I will avoid her eyes. If only she knew. If only she knew that she and Amani have been my only security in the world.
Two men will come to me. Like they are noticing me for the first time. They will whisk me off the ground just as they have done my wife. One will lock my neck with an elbow from behind while the other will touch his panga to my adam’s apple. Some of the rest will be waiting for their turn on Tab, while those already done will be urging my holders to finish the job quickly.
“What are you still doing here, cockroach?” the one holding a panga will ask.
Words will fail me. Not because they call ‘outsiders’ cockroaches. They will fail me because for the first time I will register the face of the person asking. He will be Andi, the friend who first introduced me to the Indians at Industrial Area when I first sought my first job here. Andi, the one who always brings our family avocadoes whenever he goes to the village. It will be him, real and present.
Words will fail me because of the memories between Andi and I. On several occasions when he went to villages looking for bananas for his trade, I was the one who took care of his family. His three children were my children and my wife has been the real sister to his wife. Just last month he brought Amani a doll and said the girl was growing fast. That was before the war. That day Amani didn’t sleep at home. She followed her Uncle and although our houses are three doors apart, Amani did not return till the following morning because she said she was playing with her sisters.
Andi and I have walked to town together. We have roamed garages and car wash places looking for work. In the evenings we have on many occasions sat in front of our iron sheet block and talked about life. About our dreams and fears and about our landlord. I have borrowed from him money to buy bread and he has borrowed from me money for the hospital bill.

Political violence
Political violence. [IMAGE/]
“What are you still doing here, Impure Blood?” he will repeat. He will hit me with the side of the panga. Blood will clot in the cheek where the panga will have landed. My gums will rapture and more blood will fill my mouth. I will look him in the eye. At least I will afford that. I will travel and marvel in the depths that I will see behind his cornea. No violence. I will see a map of our story. I will see our brotherhood. I will see pretension. Not in the past.
Then I will hear a shriek. Looking in the side, I will be brought back to the present by Tabitha’s body hitting the ground. Her throat will be gushing fresh blood. She will look at me, trying to mumble something. It will be too late. Words, the easiest music of the air, will betray her. And me. I will watch her eyes bulge out larger. Then her struggles will reduce. She will lie still, eyes still on me. She will find peace.
Then the men will have grown impatient. They will remind Andi that there is no time. That they need to brush the hood and remove spots of impurity. Andi will raise his panga as the man behind takes a step away. I will see the rusty tool descend. I will close my eyes and wait….

If you are reading this then you are alive. But being alive alone does not count. Living the expanse of the earth alone is as uncomfortable and humiliating as death itself. So make it count. Make people live. Shun intolerance. We can disagree. People disagree so many times. Ethnicity, religion, nationality, race, gender, politics; all these are existent only to give us identity. So that we have Muhammad Ali the Jew and Muhammad Ali the nigger. Just names. But beyond them are our real struggles with poverty, hunger, disease, fate.
As you make war, hunger and poverty are waging a bigger war on your children, your mothers, your generation, yourself.

Wherefore; Wherefore?

She holds the phone longer than he should. Even when the other end is completely dead, she doesn’t remember to put it back on the table.

There is something about Alshabab and Boko Haram and Americans and Zionists. They use the gun and slit throats. At least that is what BBC says and what it doesn’t. They make merry with the shedding of blood on streets, in malls, in learning institutions, on buses, in public places for recreation. They invade celebrations with their way of celebration; people perish. Only an idiot will then disagree that this is inhuman; must be stopped.
The people who perish when terror strikes, what do they feel like? You are hiding in a corner you know will be discovered soon. Then you hear the footsteps. They are soft on the tiled floor, but still footsteps altogether. They approach. It is a corridor and the corner you are hiding in is in room number three. You hear the steps stop, followed by a loud thud of a door being rammed open. Silence. Then you hear gun shots mixed with human shrieks. The human cries die first, then the gun rests. The footsteps come back to the corridor, and the same thing happens to room two. Then they move closer and stop at the door of room three; your room. Your girlfriend tries to dig into your clothes to hide. You are sweating all over. You’ve lost hope with hope. You even know it isn’t a nightmare this.
Your prayers are over, but you repeat them just in case God was busy the other time. You see the knob turn, then the door refuses to open. What you already know happens. Two shots, one hitting the vertical rail if your bed. Then a kick, and the door is all open. You are already on your knees by the time the door starts opening. She is behind you, holding tight to you by the stomach. All the three men are hooded. You can’t see their faces. Their guns are still smoking and their eyes don’t seem to have any mercy in them. You plead. By now your pants are wet and your t-shirt, which you bought only last week, could corrode from the acid in your tears.
In the five seconds they seem to give you, you think of your life. It began budding just the other day. You’ve toiled your entire life. You’ve never seen your father. Your mother died when you were six. Your grandfather who took care of you died when you were only eight. You have since then lived with your father’s brother, who has struggled to make both ends meet for his family of three wives, twenty six children, and still counting. You particularly remember how food was a great problem, not to mention school fees. Almost three thirds of your high school days were spent at building sites, struggling with mixers or carrying the ballast up the stairs whenever the power company slept on the job. You still made it for a degree in Sociology through a government scholarship. Your biggest dream has been to go back and help your uncle who has been your only father and mother. Just next year you should be entering your final year. And now this.
The three men look at each other. They nod. They raise their smoking guns and point them at you. The fingers go to the triggers. Then the deafening sound. Then darkness.
* * * * * * *
You are a lady. Most people think you are beautiful. But that’s not the whole story. There is this man from Senegal who has successfully sought your fourth finger and you love him. Salihu is tender. He is a gentleman. He speaks and behaves a man.
You met Sal more than a year ago when your father took you to a birthday party of the daughter to the Zambian High Commissioner. At first you did not know that he was the second seniormost man at the Senegalese embassy. You simply loved his manners and how he struggled to blend English, French, Swahili and that thing they call Berber. That evening you went home sure of one thing – that you were ready to fall in love again. And in love you fell before Arsenal scored a goal.
So you are at City Mall checking if they have the correct attires for the best man and flower girls. You should have gone to a fashion friend who is designing your gown but Liz said she saw better ready-mades. Naughty Liz. Lizard even. And that is the reason she has escorted you here.
Then you hear a loud blast. At first you think it is your chest; but your chest is still intact. People begin to run in all directions. Even those who do not know the exit points just keep running and wailing.
Gun shots follow. You are just about to reach the open area with counters when Liz pulls you back. This is followed by people running in your direction from the counters. Some are wailing. Some have clothes beginning to soak in red. A man almost makes it – but he doesn’t. As he negotiates the corner to take the row with juice, a bang blasts behind him. He falls down and stops writhing.
You decide to run and take the stairs to the first floor. It must be a robbery and soon the bad guys will be gone. Liz follows. The rest follow. But you don’t reach the stairs. Bang. Bang. You turn to see a wounded Liz, stretching her hand to you. For you. On the far end is a hooded man. In his hands is a smoking gun that points your way. You add ten to nine and get flight. As you run, the ghost of Liz follows you. Then when you reach the stairs, two more hooded men are there. Their guns point at you. Twang! Twang!

It is Monday evening. The kids are playing with Daddy. Mom is typing her postgrad project. She can’t wait to join them. Despite the few challenges, she believes hers is the best family between Venus and Mars. The house-help has gone to the shop with Nuru. Nuru is Daddy’s last born sister.
Then the exterior door opens. Nobody pays attention or shows any eagerness to see the kind of stuff Nuru and Edi are bringing. In fact it takes like twenty seconds for the clue to fall. It is the youngest kid playing who notices the hooded men standing midway into the room and tells Daddy “there is movie in house”. When the man discovers what is happening, it is already too late. The shots don’t bang. He just sprawls onto the floor as the good men sneak themselves back out and into oblivion.
The police arrive an hour later. The widow and orphans are beyond themselves. However, nothing has been stolen.

The helicopters fly higher than normal. The external lights are off. This is a moonless night. It is raining also. The one they used to call cats and dogs. In the first craft, two firing men sit on either side of the craft. The captain is in the centre, immediately behind the cockpit. With him are four more men reading a map and noting meticulously the bearings and topography. One of the men is a young man of about twenty and this is his first, and last, mission.
Down on the ground, people count this as February 6th, year of The Leopard Eating Her Children.
Then from nowhere the sky turns blinding bright. Thunder thunders up as yells and shrieks flood the air. The water penetrating the cracks into the houses doesn’t know it has turned red.
But it will know tomorrow. Tomorrow when the tired sun will yawn from the east. February 7th is a day many dead bodies will lie on the ground.
* * * *
To, or not to, is beyond the question.
The nurse collects the flesh and stashes it in a polythene bag. It could be nauseating to another person, but not Nurse Ket. Together with the doctor, under whose instructions she is working, they’ve been in this business since Kane killed Abel.
Fatuma rests in the bed, tired. She thought she needed a lot of anaesthesia for this. But again, Ket is Ket, and a ten-year work experience fondles her name.
The mass will never breath in or out. Never will it complain or cry for a breast
And Ket wraps the flesh in polythene after polythene. Like meat. Then closes the door behind her. Fatuma is a virgin again.
* * * *
She holds the phone longer than he should. Even when the other end is completely dead, she doesn’t remember to put it back on the table.