We are in the house for the evening. She is helping with the dishes while I burn something to eat. Today is unusually cold and quiet. The outsider would say it is because it is a Sunday and people have retired this early to rest their bodies so they can report to their masters tomorrow in good time. It is the wrong side of the year to be fired because of arriving at work late. And with the depreciating coin and escalating living costs, the #1 thing you need to secure more than life and women is a job.
But that is not the reason it is all quiet.
Out there hovers a soul at work. Angel of Death. We don’t know where the angel will strike. We can’t guess when and how, and if it will be the Akond of Swat or what. But we are sure that one of us will be felled. Tonight. Tomorrow morning, if tomorrow falls on a lucky day, there will be a photo in the newspaper with blood all over it. The editor will of course blur the face, but who is interested in the face when the rest of the image is death and death? Atop it will be a big headline:
ANOTHER IS FELLED AS ANGEL OF DEATH STRIKES KAYOLE KINGDOM AGAIN
The photo will spark discussion thank you social media. All over will be philosophers and activists, each with the best view of Kayole.
“He deserved it. How do you live killing innocent citizens?”
“Do you solve a crime by another crime? Police must stop this brutality. Nonsense.”
“If you are standing with the robbers shame on you. The day you will come face to face with an armed teenager is the day you will know what this means. Kudos Hessy.”
“What if police are eliminating their accomplices? The killings are suspect.”
“I used to say the nonsense of letting the judiciary bring justice. Then one day they carjacked me as I entered the house. Took me to some God-knows-what forest and the rest is history.”
But as they claw each other with residues of classroom theories, they will remain what they best are – spectators. Observers hidden behind the great wall of keyboards and distance. On this other side will be us, if we will be alive, and an Angel of Death living large and following the next on the the list.
“Your dishes, you still have that taste from the village,” Esta says.
“Will you just do your job silently? Where are your good ones, rich girl?” I say.
She drops the dishes back in the bucket and breaks the taboo – looks me in the eye.
“Next time you say that I will hit you with this plate,” she says.
“And next time you call me that too!”
Things are no longer as they were. Life has changed. The streets that once glowed with vibrancy and life now stand aloof from us and cold. The drunkard knows the hour of not walking out alone. There is suspicion in every handshake and every smile. You do not want to catch someone looking at you twice. That could be the Angel of Death. Maybe one day we will live as a community again. We want Kayole back into our arms. And hearts.
The water is boiling. I add flour and start to stir.
“Why are you stirring like that?”
“Because I want you to stir.”
“You know you men are so funny.”
“We should do comedy on TV?”
“That’s not funny.”
“What is funny?”
She rummages through her handbag. I hear things knock at each other and I expect her to draw out a Kalashnikov. She gets out a packet of cigarettes and lights one.
“You need to marry.”
Silence. Then I say:
“I didn’t know you smoke.”
“Marriage. Other men are marrying.”
“And what do you have to show for your marriage?”
“At least I know I am fertile.”
“By washing my dishes while half-sober?”
“By getting babies.” She comes to where I’m sitting and puts a hand round my shoulders. “I didn’t tell you. I aborted.”
Abortion is death by all standards. Now I’m sitting next to an abortion machine. It’s official.
“How did Lenny take it?”
“He didn’t know.”
“Didn’t know how? Your man was bedding you all that time and still you didn’t tell him you had just killed his kid?”
“He wasn’t the father.”
It hits me with her former beauty she had many relationships.
“So you told the father?”
“Do I know him? Was he a friend?”
“Do you know him?”
“Yes? Who was he?”
“That’s a joke.”
“Yeah. It is a joke of deadbeat fathers who sire without knowing, and then let the mother go even four months into pregnancy with no clue.”
“Sometimes do you even listen to yourself?”
“I’m only saying it because you asked.”
“I asked because I wanted the truth, not some folklore.”
“Folklore has it that the woman was impregnated by the man at a friend’s birthday. The man she should have loved but who turned out the wrong guy. After bedding her he went emotionally absent. The girl found more charm in this other friend while she was returning home from town. Prince Charming was a bus conductor, but well-packaged. They got married, only they didn’t live happily thereafter.”
“Esta, you had my kid?”
“Does it matter now?”
“No, just look me in the eye and say it. Did you have my kid?”
“You know this is why I say you are too dumb. You can’t even charm a roach.”
“I didn’t know roaches abort. Roaches don’t abort, and so you aren’t one. You are Esta, a liar and a killer.”
“I killed a baby, yes. You killed the mother and the child.”
It is long after we have had our meal and the quarrel is over. Above everything else, this woman is perhaps what the house has been lacking. She asks whether she can take a bath. I tell her to check if the water in the jerrycan can last a bath. Then she asks where the bathrooms are. I laugh, like, have you forgotten this place so quickly? She hits her forehead with her palm. Then she pours the water in a 3-litre bottle and begins to undress. She drops her shirt, her trouser, her bra, until everything is down. She then steps in a trough and begins to pour water from head down.
“You haven’t stopped the behaviour of looking at women bathing?” she asks.
“I wasn’t looking at you.”
“You can make a good lawyer. Patel is under-using you.”
“True, I wasn’t. I was looking there,” I say pointing at her stomach that is bulging out.
She cups the tummy and smiles. “It is four months.”
I keep quiet.
“Don’t you think I am the unluckiest woman earth has ever produced?”
I keep quiet.
“Just when we were beginning to sort things out, Lenny is gone. They shot him twice in the head. That day he had promised to come home early so he could take me to a friend’s baby-shower. I didn’t know he was to meet Hessy. I could have clung to him. He might have been a criminal but he was many more things to me.”
I keep quiet.
“The thing in here,” she says holding her tummy, “the thing in here will never know what it means to have a father. And now Hessy goes online and publishes my photo as a tough gangster terrorising people. I have done bad things in this life. I have killed a baby. I have played a man. I have done drugs. But I have never held a gun. I have never used force to take what is not mine. Hessy is wrong on this. Hessy is wrong.”
She is crying. It is the hardest part of my life this evening. A killer who now turns innocent. I don’t know where I stand. I even don’t know what I’m doing, for when I come to, I am holding her in my arms like a little baby. I feel in my hands the delicate matter that has shattered with time. In place of the old Esta that was full of life, I have one whose pieces cannot be assembled now. I feel sad for her than for me.
Then she pushes me aside, completes her bath and dresses up.
“Thank you for the hug,” she says.
I don’t know how long we remain silent. Then she reaches her bag, gets her pack of cigarettes and soon the room is burning with caffeine once more.
“I was not the woman for you, Jay. Never would be. You were too good, too refined.”
“Should I take that as a compliment?”
“Depends on where you choose to stand.” Silence. “I was never going to be that wife.”
She left me on December 18, 2012. What followed was that I went through that toughest time one always remembers to the grave. I came from Patel one evening and found my door open. Her clothes were gone too. Only her belongings.
“How was work?” she asks.
“You are dumb?”
“Are you proud of who you are?”
“You asking if I would like to be someone else? The answer is no. But again I’d like to see things around me change.”
“How about that when you don’t want to change?”
“You don’t always have to change to have things around you change. Get money today and you will see.”
“So it is money you want?”
“Far from it. Money brings plastic faces. Without changing myself I want to see people around me happy. I want to deal with true people. I want to be embraced in warm arms. I want love.”
“With fate after your tail you still want all that?”
“Just shut up, man! Shut up if you have nothing to say!”
“Remember this is my house. I pay the bills to say what I want to say for the next thirty days.”
“Hessy is mistaken on this. He is following the wrong person,” she says, not to anyone in particular.
“Why are you here Esta?”
“You aren’t asking me to leave now, are you?”
“I just asked a question. And I need an answer.”
“Well, I need your help.”
“I’m broke now.”
“When I need money I know where to get it.”
“Okay then, I’m listening.”
“You saw on Facebook. You saw Hessy warning me?” Her voice is now firm.
Hessy is this killer cop who is reportedly cleaning the slums of crime. He goes for the seasoned criminals who, in his words, have refused to transform to something useful. He identifies the victim, publishes a death sentence on social media, and tells the target that his days are numbered. It barely goes past three days. The trigger. Blood. People say he is a tough cop. People say he is a group of cops. People support what he does. People say the justice and human rights groups should move in. But nobody knows how Hessy looks like. The killings continue.
“Everybody saw that.”
The cop went online the other day and wrote:
Esta, you better pray to your God. We busted you in Kitengela and you ran away. You left your husband and we nailed copper into his head. Joji is also dead. You escaped thinking that was escape. Run baby, the government’s arm is long. You will know you don’t know.
“I want you to help me reach him before he comes for me. I want to tell him I am innocent.”
“Those are empty threats, Essy. And in case, I still work for the Indian. The only armed man I am close to is that guy who opened the gate for you when you came to Patel’s garage.”
“You need to find a way. Please.”
When a woman is nagging it is one thing. When her words awake ghosts of the past is way another.
“Okay, I’ll see.” At the back of my mind I have no idea what I’ll see but that is what it means to be a man.
“What will you see?”
“Don’t worry. I’ll do my best.”
“This is about my life and the kid I’m carrying. This is about the future I want to make, the dreams I want to fulfill. How do you expect me to buy that you’ll see just like that?”
“Okay,” I say as I get my phone from the pocket. Then I move to the window.
“Halo Sam… How was your day? Do you guys still steal from civilians… You know that is the good thing about being a cop. You steal under protection of the government… Hehe… I have a small problem….” Blah blah.
When I’m done I tell Esta to calm down. Everything is in control.
“Whom do you take me for?” she asks.
“You are talking to yourself on the phone and you expect me to believe you are talking to a super officer out there?”
I keep quiet. There is no point fighting the truth.
“Jay, I think I should get out to catch some air.”
“Why, where to?”
“I don’t feel like I am here any more. Think I can get a bus to town. What should I bring you?”
“Esta, it can’t be now.”
As if she didn’t hear me, she takes my trouser hanging on a nail on the wall and dips a hand into one of the pockets. She shows me the coins.
“Essy don’t be a fool. What do you think thirty bob will do you?”
She grabs me in a wild gesture. Her embrace is firm. It is not the broken pieces I held just moments ago. She is full of life. Then she kisses me on the forehead and before I do anything, she opens the door and darts out. I listen to her footsteps. Even when she is down the stairs I still struggle to pick them from nature hidden in the dark. The night is now dead silent.
I cross the room and sit on the bed. In a few hours I have been with a clean soul currently trending on Hessy’s list. I have hugged a naked woman. I have confirmed I am fertile. I know tomorrow when I tell the fools at Patel’s garage nobody will believe.
Then from below my window I hear three gunshots.