Dismissed and the Afterlife

Buses spewing exhaust poison. Rain coming. Conductors yelling. Heat sizzling. Locals clutching at their pockets. Strangers walking freely. Dust. Hate. Night fast closing in. A prostitute coming for your hand. People rushing to nowhere. Hundreds dismissed. Beggars with bowls. Street book vendor calling out. City Council police chasing after hawkers. Honking. Madness. Nonsense.

You will go down from Jamia to Bazaar to Tom Mboya. Then you will turn right past Eastmart to Archives just in case you bump into him as you go home. Right again to Tom Mboya statue. Touts are killing themselves shouting Kawangware. Utawala. Pipeline. Doni. Why don’t they shut up, these idiots? You pass Lazarus Inn. There is this little urge to get in there. Maybe catch a bimbo and learn to pour one for the way. For thy stomach’s sake, said the Jew. Don’t, Another Voice. Just a pint, says Voice One; in honour of the Jew or another. No, replies the Conservatist. Drown, let the rain wash away your tears, says Celine Dion. Just a lick, comrade; it’s gonna be a tough era, says Voice One. You are on a mission, you need a clear head, interjects Voice 156.

This dialogue is useless because you are already at the Double M buses and the people queuing there with an entitlement to affluence on their faces need more prayers. Waiting for a bus for more than two hours and still have to pay an entire 70 bob needs sympathy. You pity them. They will meet tomorrow at their places of work and brag to their friends about how their buses are disciplined you have to queue for a lifetime. Their friends will not want to be left behind and so they will say but our buses have no bedbugs. Those who queued yesterday will say bedbugs were long eliminated from their buses, and that now the only problem is the distance. Those who didn’t queue will ask those who queued to change their hood. Those who queued will say they can’t stay in a dirty estate. Later on there will be gossip. How that woman thinks she has it all. And swearing.

You are happy you are done with life. Three hours from now you will be far away from pain and worry. Peace.

You had gone to the Jamia shoe polishing stands for change you left three years ago. That day, the guy polished your shoes and when you reached home you realised he had given you less change. For three years you’ve been wanting to come remind him but this is that jungle where you never find time to go check on your debtors.

Before you came, you prayed to God that the man remembers you. He should remember people he owes and remember them well. And the exact amount. But you found his stall has been demolished or moved. Instead there was a Securicor van parking there with a barking dog that didn’t seem to like your scent. You don’t know whether the dog has eaten him and his stall and is now targeting anyone who ever transacted with the man. Poor soul. So he is not paying?

You cross to the side of Kenya Cinema and go on with Moi Avenue. Bomb Blast, rest in peace. Haile Selassie. Uhuru Highway. Now at this junction you realise how lost you are. This is not the direction good people take if they truly want to get to Kayole.

You turn. You look into the sky that is now dark. But before you say a thing you remember you and God are no longer on speaking terms. So you quietly cross to the afterlife of Haile Selassie and branch left on Parliament Road, right onto the famous Harambee Avenue. You pass between Office of the President and that of his deputy. Heavily guarded by scary faces in uniform. You want to do something scarier than their faces and see how trouble tastes; but then you remember there’s Alshabaab. Let everyone play with their age mates. You even stopped caring about our police when you realised there are majority of you trapped in other tougher frontiers. Losing battles. Unlike soldiers whose wars are aided by the invisible international community, yours are fought in your houses, in your minds, alone, in everything you touch and there’s no foreign aid.

As you leave behind this giant of KICC you feel the urge to go climb up there and square out things now. Offer yourself to gravity. There is sweetness in a death you choose yourself other than a random appointment by a God whom you don’t want to talk to. A death where you are the one with the strings.

The events earlier in the day come back. You see her again, the false smile, the exaggerated courtesy, all looks and nothing in the head. Normally when the HR girl calls you to her office, it is to discuss something about pay rise or a bonus. So today’s experience happened so fast in the wrong direction you’ve taken hours to come to terms.

You woke up employed and covered by the love of God. A God willing to talk. Then she called you in her office and said you are no longer needed by the firm. Remove all the pretension, that is what she said.

“We really thank everyone in the company for the efforts. Especially you…. However, the company is blah blah and we are paying you the salary for this month upfront. From tomorrow you may use the time to find another job. Make sure you clear with all departments before Wednesday next week.”

Find another job, how? How do I leave a community I have built to go find another job? And even if that were possible, which jobs are there this part of the equator waiting to be found by fools who have been deemed redundant elsewhere?

But you swallow that as you jump aside to avoid hitting a speeding garbage truck.

Every civilisation has its magic, and the magic of this land is between Moi Avenue and Tom Mboya Street. The side of the avenue has slugging people in suits and dinner dresses and heels. When you cross down to the street side you find the remnants of civilisation churned and spat in all cruelty and colour. A different world. Here is where a trolley man can knock you and you die and nobody asks. Where man and metal are both on the way competing for time and space. Where man looks at fate in the eye and says dare. This is the place you meet man in his unsophisticated pack. The beast. The wild hound. The undomesticated raw matter of the jungle.

People continue to rush. To their next disappointments. The rain has shied away but still they won’t stop. In and out of holes. Crazy noise typical of a Nairobi evening.

At last you reach OTC unharmed and take a Forward. It is congested as normal with sweating human matter. Men and women taking a virtual break from a day of slavery. Their shoes are smelling. Their collars are brown. They have small cold eyes which try to hide sadness. Those whose lives are torn but try to maintain a public image. Torn hearts. Torn families. Torn underwear.

Next to you is a large woman who has occupied her seat and three quarters of yours. You are choking. At the back a bastard is crying and if you had chance you would strangle it with the mother. There is a man talking loudly on the phone to someone in Homabay. A live chicken is clacking somewhere in a carton. Nobody seems concerned that a woman has grabbed your space in a public vehicle. It’s okay, let them.

Right now they are busy ignoring you and thinking they have a birthright to the city. When it’s thirty years in this place and their sun has set and their kinsmen are all over the place disturbing people for funeral contributions, that’s when lines will be drawn. For now let them think we are idiots together.

You try to imagine any other reason you should be alive. There is none. There is nothing to show for the efforts you have put in life in the last three years since you started working with New Africa Researchers as a report writer. You have always told yourself that the little bits you were putting in for humanity would come to bear fruits one day. Now every piece of that dynasty of bits has come crumbling. A small meeting with a HR girl and all your future goes just like that.

With God.

Many are the nights you didn’t sleep so the firm stands. You spent your evenings and weekends in office. You lost a wife and two girlfriends. For the firm. And now the firm sees it better to lose you!

You are not angry. You are disappointed. Feel cheated. Used. It drills down your heart you hear the innocent organ heave. What have they done me? Your forehead is hot. You need someone to punch. Or somewhere you can lock yourself and cry like a big man.

Along Jogoo Road the bus stops several times and to add passengers. Now you are close to three times the capacity in there and you can’t move a limb. Can’t even rotate your eye. The only evidence that you are still alive is the loud music now playing and you are feeling good because the child’s yells and the chicken have been subdued by Lucky Dube. Or the little thing has been strangled or suffocated. Thank God. Oh no, not God. Just thanks. The music. The Devil. Anything but not God.

Somebody told me about it

When I was still a little boy

He said to me, crime does not pay

He said to me, education is the key, yeah

As a little boy I thought I knew

What I was doing, yeah man

But today here I am in jail

God doesn’t create people to let them suffer. God doesn’t break the spirit committed to serving humanity. You were dedicated to your work. In all occasions you chose work over friends and family. Sometimes people said you had alienated yourself, killed your social fibre. You’d become colder. You worked. You didn’t commit yourself because you wanted more money or praise from above. You did it because to you the company was that helpless infant that needed cuddling and pampering. God said so. Now that same God has rewarded you with a dismissal. He has even made you the oppressed stock of lazy folks who think life is about taking a bus to town every day to look for money and returning in the evening with yelling children and sweating adults.

I looked all around me

But to see nothing

But four grey walls staring at me

You look at them. You have been like them for years. You have sat where they sit. You have been in the multitude of insects crossing the city to the other end seeking fortunes. You have had worries about the jam and arriving late. A prisoner rotating in a cell. Now there is nowhere to arrive late and you are even more worried.

Somehow, the conductor squeezes himself into the mass of desperadoes and it is your turn to give the tithes. Everything involving you parting with money is now a bitter affair. You are running broke. Oblivious, the man takes your money in a way you feel arrogant and there’s nothing you can do. The XXL woman next to you is so mean she can’t allow your hand easy journey back after you’ve given your fare. You might not know many things but you know some people who will really roast in heaven. Just the first day and they are treating you badly already.

dismissed

DismissedYou were foolish, says Voice 886.

No, I was not, replies you.

You got fooled. Threw away your time, she insists.

No, I was not foolish.

I am not foolish. I am not foolish.

I am not!

I am not foolish. What is foolish is love. Work, commitment, innocence, life, everything. If I were to see tomorrow I’d write about the principles of work. Three, never get emotionally attached to your job no matter how many times the boss lies you are part of the institution. Two, do at most what is in your contract and don’t add a grain. One, steal from your boss. Steal his money. Steal his hours. Go to the kitchen and steal sugar. Steal the mineral water he leaves on his desk. Steal the brown bread in the fridge. Steal spoons. Steal his books. Steal pens. Steal tissue paper. Steal a tile from the floor. Steal water from the tap. Steal everything until you are the only thing unstolen. The steal yourself. So that when the HR woman smiles sheepishly and delivers her message, you can easily cut her speech, tear a big fart, slam her door and walk home.

You hear the tout calling for more passengers. This is Hamza estate. The bus has already stopped and so has Dube paused. More people get in. You see the irony of life. People squeeze into places they are not supposed to, people are forced out of places they are supposed to be. If the capitalist at New Africa Researchers focused this much on retaining those who enter their circles, maybe things would be different now.

The bus chokes a bit, then leaves Hamza.

Many years have gone by now

Still no sign of you Daddy

Mother died of heart attack

Many years ago

When she heard that you were married again

Now, I’m the only one left….

But I was trying. I worked to fix things. Three years of fixing. I wasn’t running away from anyone. Day by fucking day I was scrapping away the shadow of poverty, hunger and disease.

Forgive me Sarah. Sometimes I said bad things. Sometimes I seemed to forget about you. Most times I was away. I thought I was pursuing a future for us. Now I lost you and I’ve lost it. When our daughter grows up, tell her I loved her so much.

Always.

Sign

What’s life?

This bus might crash here and the best people will do is to take photos and post on Facebook without the slightest disclaimer of graphic levels. Maybe someone will zoom in on the idiot crying at the back, by then nothing more than a flat mass of meat without a name, and get a few minutes to type ‘gone too soon’. As if there is an age for dying. When is it not too soon to die, sixty, maybe? Naive.

A lazy journalist will find the suicidal note in your pocket and bring all the theories those halfwits in newsrooms can create. A story of just four or five lines. ‘Shock As Suicide Note Is Discovered in Pocket of Crash Victim’. ‘How Victim Predicted Own Death’. Then it will be over. Tomorrow buses transporting workers and lesbians and donkey meat will pass here without care. Life will go on.

With God out of your life, you realise fate is not doing reliably. Nothing stands with the oppressor and serves you right. The people that mattered now don’t mind you. You saw betrayal in the eye of the HR girl. You didn’t know whether to sympathise with her or let it pass.

How she said ‘we’ like the company and her are same. Inseparable like this. And you were now a you with no name. You started working with the company three years ago. She came last year. You interviewed her. You interned her. Now she is the super we, you are an anonymous you. She said so firmly. You deserve to be disappointed.

Maybe she is innocent. She is a survivor of patriarchy. Beating the odds to rise in a system of penises will leave you with agefuls to shed off the imbalance of an inferiority complex and a self-imposed importance. You actually saw too much penis envy in that smile but because smearing a little discipline onto the cheeks of women is punishable by law these sides, she managed for home without a missing tooth and with her Third World makeup intact. Bullocks constitution.

The bus stops at Masimba and you alight. You walk to your small dingy cubicle at the periphery of the hood. Today you realise that even where you thought you belonged, you have all along been an outskirts man.

Your room is as you left it. The light falls on every corner of poverty. Every piece welcomes you. But you don’t want to belong to poverty. You don’t belong here. Here was to be a path, not a destination. A road to greatness. Three years, still waiting for Goddot.

No. I don’t belong here.

I’m not of here.

I don’t.

You leave the note on the table. Depends on if she will get here first before the rats. You have a final look at the room, at the things that have determined the real you, and say you will miss them. You close the door slowly. You go to the stairs and climb up. Second floor. Third floor. Fourth floor. Roof top. You walk to the side of the gate. Think of the people back in the village and what they will say. Where were they to say it when it mattered? The landlord will say how you should have told him your troubles; that same beast that could not allow you a minute more with pending rent. You walk to the brink and look at the city one last time.

You raise your foot. You jerk the other.

Space.

Gravity is good.

Terra Firma.

Life.

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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.