When do you think the lights are coming back?
I don’t know.
How? This is supposed to be your house.
My house right, but now my mind is busy. Can’t waste energy thinking about a company rationing electricity.
But you can get time to stare at your phone for two hours?
I’m writing a story.
You? Writing a story?
Yes, unfortunately. And a masterpiece for that.
Hehe. Some things you just say let me laugh?
At a masterpiece or with it?
A masterpiece indeed… Is it about the politicians who have plunged the country into this dungeon?
No. No politics.
That sounds genius. A masterpiece not about politicians?
Unless you are one?
Yeah. The story is about us. You and I. In this house. Now.
Do we die in the story?
Do we live without girls?
Ask me if we are great in the story.
Okay, are we?
Then go ahead Mr Masterpiecer. How do we call one who writes masterpieces?
Misterpiece. Mouthpiece for an amateur like you.
Don’t joke with me. I’m a character in a masterpiece!
Remember I have your fate in these hands. To me you are what the insects are to wanton boys and I will not wait to demonstrate who the boss is.
What do we do at the end?
We are arrested going to commit suicide.
The plan is to go to climb tall tree and threaten that unless people decide to lower the cost of living we shall jump head down.
Nothing great about suicide. How do the people take it?
I wasn’t there yet. I think I’ll think about it tomorrow.
You should change the characters if you want to have a masterpiece. Let your people find solutions instead of running away.
It is silliness to live when to live is torment. And then have we the prescription to die when death is our physician. That is what they keep saying as they look for the tallest tree.
You have a good quote. What would you say if Malcolm X hadn’t lived?
It wasn’t Malcolm X. It was Hitler.
Oh yeah. He was very silly himself. I read somewhere that he abolished human zoos where Europe paraded naked Africans for sport.
I should write about him one day. Remind me if I forget.
That sounds great. A novel or a play?
None so canonical. Something avant garde.
Okay Misterpiece. So what do you write about me?
Nothing much. Just the truth.
A family sells their three goats every year to take the fourth goat to school. The goat keeps sweeping the bad grades available but finally graduates in the seventh year with a degree in General Science. He thinks he is a hero so he starts bedding anything in skirt. Soon there are three daughters and an incest son and he has no clue what to do about it. He is so broke he can’t afford his own life so he starts hopping from village to village begging employers to hire him.
One day he steals his boss’ phone and he is not only fired but police are also planted on his tail….
Wait, I told you I didn’t steal the phone.
Okay, sorry. One day his boss’ phone gets lost at the office. Our protagonist is the only other guy who was on duty that weekend. He later spends half the night at a secondhand phones corridor, and the other half at a tavern washing himself away. Come Monday, the Babylonians at work swear it is him. He fires his arse and makes himself an IDP. When that can’t work he takes his remaining loot and hops onto the next train to Nairobi.
Know what? You are the best classroom example of a failed griot.
Thanks for the compliment.
So with your degree in Agriculture you expect to spend the remaining bit of your life sitting in a dingy single room without electricity and writing boring stories?
A dingy single room that has hidden you from the barrel of a gun. What happened to appreciation, sir? If not for this room you would be dead by now.
That phone wasn’t even expensive. No sane policeman will pull the trigger on an African scholar because of an old Samsung.
Did you even hear yourself? You belong to Rhodes Island.
Hope it’s not you saying shit like that.
So how did your father take news of your kleptomania?
Kleptomania is you and your family… I told him the company wound up after investors pulled out.
And he bought the crap?
Buy or sell, it was the only available story.
You should have told him you resigned. That’s a sign you’ve grown balls.
My old man has a theory that anyone who resigns does not deserve a minute of life.
Quite an old man. Remember him for that and accept that fear runs in your line.
Not fear, I swear to you. My old man is made of sterner stuff if a legacy is what we are discussing here.
Women, laziness, or disorderliness? I understand a snake fathers a snake.
My father is a strict disciplinarian. Villagers nicknamed him Order because that is his second name. I think it is the army. My grandfather fought for the Queen in Burma and after independence, the only thing the family was known for was war. So dad was recruited in his late teenage and before long, grandma told me, he was the exact replica of his senior. Punctuality, cleanliness, general order and stuff.
Instead of fear, the one thing I will tell you runs in our lineage is violence. I remember him being detained at the barracks one time because they had clashed with mum. She spent her next few weeks at the hospital while he attempted to cut the chains. For him, the fist was everything.
One day he came home and found me quarrelling with mum. This was a year or two after his retirement. Mum had asked me to go to the shop and bring something I don’t recall. I had caught a grudge with the shop keeper that morning so I said, mum, later. But she wanted now. Now the ex-soldier finds us in the middle of a quarrel and enters the house like nothing is wrong. Then he gets out again, whistling, and goes as if for the gate. I don’t know how it happens. All I remember is a sudden grip in powerful hands. Then the blows and kicks. He beat me for so long I got tired crying. I think I slept. Or blacked out. But before shutting my eyes I remember seeing neighbours peeping through the fence at a reasonable distance and pleading with him to fear God and stop. Mother was now among them.
Another time we were traveling to the village from the barracks. I was about twelve. We reach Nakuru and the bus stops so we can freshen up. Then me and some other boy we walk from the parking to the sides of the main road and begin to pee. Then a municipal askari spots us. Soon we are arrested and anything we say threatens to be used against us in a court of law. Our parents are unaware. So I begin to cry and the other chap joins me. But the askari will not hear. Some passer-by begs him for us, he will still not listen. He starts walking us to some you-can’t-guess-where place. I don’t know how my father saw us. He came and pleaded with the man to release us. But the man, perhaps sensing a coin somewhere, remained adamant and even tried to shove us ahead. He didn’t know he was shoving the son of Yakobo, son of Sumaili Abuti of the King African Rifles. In a minute the town askari had been turned into some black pulp with patches of dust, sweat and serious bruises. That was a good movie plot that was ending too soon. You can guess the admiration I had seeing my own father deal with the villain. Then, wait, he carried us on either shoulder (12 years!) back to the bus. People cheered.
When we reached home that afternoon he took me to the nearby school and commanded that I sweep clean the whole compound – punishment for peeing in the open. And later he instructed mum to cane me – sentence for crying in public when an askari arrests you.
Mine was not a father, I say. They were uncles. Every time a man came, mum would say he was an uncle. Then Uncle would stay a month or two before disappearing. Every time I would get attached, every time he would go, and every time I would get a heartbreak. This happened so many times I gave up counting.
Then I came of age and she had to tell the truth. Just the thought that I had a father somewhere was sufficient and I would have to get him even if it meant visiting his grave.
When I completed high school I went to see him. I had never seen him. No photo, no stories. We met at his house in the village. Have you ever met God? I can’t explain the adrenaline when my lifetime riddle was now unraveling before me. I didn’t have to ask who he was, and he seemed so at home like we were old friends.
You have grown, he said in an easy way. You are a man now.
Those were the first words I heard from my man. He never asked my name or what I wanted. Apart from his small pin eyes and a sharp nose, and the dark skin – only things I inherited from him – everything else was normal. And I did the most foolish thing I’d never done before. I liked him instantly.
Instead of hating him for the years he neglected us. I should have hated him for the suffering mum went through, the uncles and heartbreaks. But where hate had sat now stood a new warmth. A new life.
I don’t remember everything we talked that day. His wife served us food and I knew I had to do something if my mother was to continue having her son. Later when we parted, he patted my shoulder and asked if I had fare back home. No, I said. Then you remain. This is your home, he said. I will walk, I said. You are a man, he replied. You have grown.
Since then I’ve learned a lot from the boy. He has mended some of the conceptions I had created in my childhood. He has supported me catch up with being man. From him I have learned brutality and tenderness in equal measure. He has taught me to hold a weapon and stand for myself. He is my favourite.
Being a father is holy. You spend ages fighting for your squad. They stray, you fight for them still. That is being father.
It is also a tricky thing.
You fight for your ninjas like that and then they only dedicate a single day of the year to celebrate you. And the celebration is not even celebration with roast meat and libation. It is simply bragging between themselves and you get to hear none of it. How fair is that?
Others don’t even praise you. There is a guy who keeps saying his father is a curse. You actually know him. Remember that Ken guy who used to come to lectures late? The one with a grey head? He believes his father is the most foolish descendant of Black Adam.
Like there are a million ways of killing a rat, the ways of cutting away a father are not just saying that he is a curse.
By the way you are a father of four, no? How does a twenty-five-year-old broke man manage his wild children?
I give them all they want.
What they don’t want, problems, is what you give them.
Have they ever stepped at the door or your hole to ask for food? I provide.
After every how many years?
Go die. The goodness of being a father is that you sit in the control chamber and call the shots for your own kids. Others, like you, are spectators.
When you send them no upkeep you still brag you want to raise them alone?
Where are those that you raise well? What do you have for show?
The exact place you are sitting now….
Sat your child?
Sat the mother of my child two weeks ago. At a time like this.
She was here to collect tithes?
She was here to tell me about my child.
So she said your child is unwell or needs school fees?
No. She came to tell me she aborted it in her fourth month of pregnancy.
Sorry comrade…. You don’t know what it feels like to be a father. You should have taken her in to make another kid.
She was carrying another.
You pumped in another? That looks promising.
No. She conceived with another man.
An even better package you should take. No one fathers a child easily that way. When the lights come back we should call her.
She was killed that night.